Digital and media experts working in the Global South share their experiences of using technology for media development. Here are their tips to making digital technology projects more successful.
Digital technologies offer enormous possibilities for people in developing countries to exchange information and engage with ideas in ways never before possible. But such technologies also come with potential pitfalls. After all, there are many media development projects that at first appeared to offer surefire solutions to freedom of expression problems but ended up failing miserably in the field.
In order to learn from those working at the forefront of digital technology in the Global South, DW Akademie recently brought together 20 digital activists, software developers and storytellers for a three-day digital tech lab. Here’s a summary of what these experts said is key to using digital technology for freedom of expression.
1. Believe in yourself
If you have a dream, a goal – even if it is difficult – it can come true. If you concentrate and put all of your effort into it, you can do it. Ahmad al Bazz, Palestine. Photo and multimedia journalist
Think about why you want to do what you want to do. And then don't think about the walls around it. Find your own way, and don't look at how other people do things. Sahar Habib Ghazi, Pakistan & USA. Global Voices
Every one of us has something special within them. There is a special seed, you need to look for it and care for it in order to make it big. If we want to be innovators, we need to think about ourselves and about our best practices rather than imitating others. Alhareth Rayyan, Palestine. Palvision
2. Clearly define the problem
This is a creative problem-solving exercise that is often overlooked. No matter how innovative your ideas might be, they will be ineffectual if you’re not addressing the right problem. Hannah Williams, South Africa. Open data advocate
Know exactly what you are dreaming about changing. There are people who innovate just because they think they can benefit from a certain trend. In many cases, this doesn't work. Following your own dream is much more important. Bektour Iskender, Kyrgyzstan. Kloop.kg
3. Network and share your ideas
Once you have an idea, don’t sit on it! Share it, spread it. You never know, the next person you talk to might have a building block for your idea. Look for peers and mentors. Find someone who can direct you, who you can go to with your ideas. Brenda Otieno, Kenya. Afrika kommt participant
Get in touch with people with different backgrounds, nationalities and technological skills. As a journalist, you might have a great idea but you don't know how to implement it. A web designer or a graphic designer can fill that gap. Nalan Sipar, Turkey & Germany. DW innovative programming
4. Be open-minded
Think broadly; don't try to narrow yourself to what you already know. Open your mind and try to be open to different approaches. Hans-Ludwig Marciniak, Germany. DW Akademie project manager for the Middle East & North Africa
Sometimes people are afraid to try new things. "What's all this digital stuff here?" or "Let’s just stick to radio, that’s always worked" are things I often hear. But be open to new technologies and try them out. Vera Freitag, Germany. DW Akademie Latin America
5. Be persistent
Try, try and try again. We’re experimenting all the time. There’s no unique way to achieve your goals. The best thing about working in media is you can develop and perfect ideas all the time. Fabiola Torres López, Peru. Ojo Público
You need to forget about sleeping. And you need to know that change won't come straight away. Saed Karzoun, Palestine. Social media trainer and journalist
Stay in the game. You will fail. Everyone does. If you can keep the costs of these failures manageable, you can stay in the game to make the next idea – or the one after that – a success. Persistence is more important than inspiration. Douglas Arellanes, USA & Czech Republic. Sourcefabric
6. Know your users
You need to understand the needs of the targeted users. We've seen digital tools that require a lot of literacy and gadgets that aren't available in some communities. If a project wants to succeed, it has to know the constraints of the societies. Jude Mukundane, Uganda. Computer scientist
7. Try to include offline users
Think about new ways to bridge the gap between people with access to computers and cell phones and people who don't. Christine Harjes, Germany. DW Akademie digital projects for Africa
There are a lot of problems in the countryside, such as isolation or violence, which are just as important as issues in the city. You should think about that and create tools that include people who don't have technology. Oscar Para Castellanos, Colombia. Rutas del Conflicto
8. Don't be afraid of failure
Failure is scary but you have to go through it and you have to fail quickly. Learning can be difficult because at the beginning there is so much you don't know. Luckily right now on the Internet you can learn almost everything in a cost-effective way. Penhleak Chan, Cambodia. Open Development Cambodia
9. Learn some basic IT skills
I have met lots of people with great ideas but somehow they had never thought of the technological constraints. That’s why I think it's good to have some background IT knowledge. It’s not necessary to know how to code or to program but it's good to have a basic understanding so you know whether your idea is viable or not. Thura Hlaing, Myanmar. Software developer and activist
10. Just do it
Now we are experiencing a society where there are basically two types of people – very passive people and those who have ideas but don't know how to make them work. We need innovators to bring these ideas to life. Tholakele Nene, South Africa. Journalist
The quotes were collected during the South2South #mediadev lab, held in Bonn, Germany in December 2015. During the three-day event, participants worked in teams to develop digital technology prototypes to help solve issues facing freedom of expression in the Global South. You can read more about the lab here.