A Word on tools, technologies, and devices

"But they are useless. They can only give you answers. (on computers)" — Pablo Picasso

ICT4D project tools and technologies are often characterized by their deployment in atypical environments.

Devices might need to be able to withstand harsh weather conditions, rugged environments of dust and rain, inconsistent power grids, and a host of other uncommon challenges.

Making sure that you have gear that will operate effectively and reliably in those conditions can often make or break a project's success.

Much has changed in the global south device landscape in recent years. You can find local repair shoprs for laptops and smartphones, independent app developers, and innovation hubs in central and remote locations.

The days of packing everything digital or electronic that you'll need into a fieldwork setting are sunsetting at the global market for devices and electronic value chains proliferate to all corners of the globe.

People first

It's important to remember, as well, that the core objectives of the field worker don't change with modern technologies. The work continues in empowering people to make a difference in their own lives for themselves and their communities.

Tools and technologies don't supplant this objective; they supplement it.

As a digital development practitioner, you should not get caught up acquiring or importing the latest gadget or suite of devices that will allow you to be remotely autonomous. That's not the dream scenario.

You should also not aim for your environment to be closely match the connectivity ecosystem (is always-on, ubiquitus, multiple modes of connection, etc.) that you've come to expect living in connected, industrialized environment.

Noble fieldworker

On the same token, your task is not to eschew modern conveniences and creature comforts in order to experience a romantic expectation about life off-the-grid (though taken in doses, this can be quite valuable).

The challenge is in striking that balance. You want to be able to leverage the tools and technologies most appropriate to the task at hand for achieving real outcomes, without either being consumed by their demands of resources and time, nor by making your own work more challenging by explicitly avoiding that which might make the most sense.

Finally—it's important to approach any tools and technologies with a healthy amount of detachment and skepticism.

Field experiences are chock full of challenges—weather, water, sand, sun, theft, robbery, degradation, isolation, and misaligned expectations. Manage your expectations of perfect field experiences accordingly—and maintain a positive attitude.

The secret sauce of the successful field worker consists of healthy parts patience, resilience, a keen ear, and an ability to always be learning.

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