Technology – a silver bullet or a rubber bullet?

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For anybody interested in feedback, technology offers huge potential; the potential to reach communities, the potential to do so affordably, and the potential to access such feedback in real time. At Keystone we view these three elements as key to effective listening.

Aleem Walji, director of the World Bank’s Innovation Labs recently spoke about technology as a “real game-changer”, giving us the ability to use simple technologies like mobile phones to “listen at scale”. In his blog he poses a simple question – “how can we use the vast resources that global connectivity puts at our doorstep and tap into collective intelligence to solve today’s hardest problems?”

It is a question that is not easy to answer. While many organisations are (understandably) excited about the potential mobile technology can offer, many are questioning its silver bullet status.

In a recent blog on Feedback Labs, Varja Lipovsek discussed the success Twaweza has had in using mobile phones to connect the citizens of East Africa to government; “It’s a big accomplishment, but the big question, of course, is – so what?” Varja concludes, as we do at Keystone, that data collection is crucial, but data is only useful if it is actually used – “Each month, there are 2,000 Tanzanian citizens on the line – answering questions relevant to their daily lives, investigating the service-provision standards in their neighborhoods, voicing their opinions. To close the loop, the Minister has to pick up the phone and use the data.”

We need to get better at data collection, it does need to be cheaper, it needs to connect with people at bottom of the proverbial pyramid, and it needs to be in real time, or close to it. And technology offers huge potential to help here, but as the Hirschman Voice Cycle below shows, feedback is not simply data collection.


hirschman_voice_cycleFor technology to be the game-changer we all hope it can be, it needs to be just one piece of the wider puzzle. Feedback has to be a more encompassing theory and process than simply tools. After all, listening at scale is only valuable if you can then understand and act at scale.

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