Mind the Gap

July 29, 2009

Those of you who have travelled around London on the underground will be very familiar with these words …

The “gap” I am talking about here is the one between the global website and the local issue.  How can a global website, or a new technology like mobile meet the needs of local communities?

The workshops I ran in South Africa recently highlighted this as one of the key challenges to the success of the Betavine Social Exchange.  One comment I recorded was “technology is global, issues are local”.  I guess there must have been many an interesting blog on this topic .. but I am new to this area so I cannot point to them.  Another comment I recorded from Andre was that technology suddenly arrives in South Africa, or the developing world in general, as it is normally created elsewhere and so the local population have to catch up quick.

It was suggested that organisations like eRiders are springing up to help address this “gap”.   If you know of others please comment on this post!

The basic concept behind Betavine Social Exchange is to bring together 2 distinct communities;  the local NGO community with their knowledge of issues on the ground, and the global developer community (which includes local developers).  So, global solutions meet local problems – or do they?

Ilan Copelyn, who is currently doing some work with Sangonet, has also given me a few ideas on this issue … he wrote:

I see BSX being very active in:-

  1. Design – being the official forum where techies involved on the Mobile Social Development Solutions (MSDS) can seek advice and share experiences
  2. Implementation – clearly – though it’s a bit hard to swing in the early stages of a funded project – they would rather you find your own developers, get a quote, pay them and have someone accountable to timelines/milestones.
  3. Deployment – perhaps in terms of building a community of in country tech. supporters who would like to provide their service? I’m not sure about this…
  4. Long term operational support – I see a big role for OS developers picking up and extending the lifespan of MSDS. Mobile tech moves rapidly – there’s a very real chance of today’s solution being technologically obsolete in a year or two.  Also it is very useful to be able to extend a good app with new features, and with mobiles especially there is the need to keep extending the application to run on more handsets. The cost of this technological risk cannot be bourne by funded projects – it requires indefinite commitments to funding.  An open-source community could be ideal for this role.

If the Betavine Social Exchange is to be successful we must find a solution to bridging this “gap”.  It may come down to networking and partnerships in order to deliver solutions on the ground.  It is clearly the case that solutions are delivered locally, however or whereever they are created.


One Response to “Mind the Gap”

  1. To bridge the gap, we need to define it, I would suggest that it looks something like this:
    – Cultural: The language, social norms, and environment of a global website are different from those normally experienced locally in emerging markets
    – Technical: Common currencies in terms of the technologies and tools readily at your disposal differ globally and locally
    – Economic: The web is only a leveler if all communities using the services have, relatively, the same access costs and availability. This is not the case
    – Political: In some markets, and this does not necessarily apply to SA, there are political bias’ towards local solutions and services which constrain the viral spread, or politicise use of a global service.

    Having understood the nature of the gap, perhaps we can de-compose and try to understand and address the issues?

    A final thought, if ‘local’ means a village at one end of the Silk Road, and ‘global’ means another at the other end, How do they talk to each-other? Different languages, different cultures, and different environments? Why try to bridge the gap in the first place? Simply that they have a common purpose and interest in communicating, which they do through connecting the communities and villages between them. ‘Global’ may not be able to talk directly to ‘local’, but each can talk to a ‘regional’ in-between. If this is the case in the real world, then surely for BSX, it’s a case of working with intermediate groups like Kiwanja.net and Sango.net, to bridge the gap that you’re talking about?

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