Wednesday, March 17, 2010

NetHope Summit, Day Three - Build for the Field

Today was arguably the most important day of our conference. It was the day to visit programs in the Field. I was in the group that visited the Greenbelt Conservation Reforestation Project in the Gatamaiyo Forest Nature Reserve.

As I mentioned in my Monday keynote, we believe in building for the Field. We have been unpacking the meaning of this statement in the NetHope Collaboration Manifesto, which the Board of Directors has been reviewing. The latest draft states "The field workers delivering our organizations’ programs are our primary clients. Our IT solutions must work in the most remote and challenging parts of the world. In this, field workers are our most important teachers and critics. We seek to deliver technology that improves program design, delivery and impact in the Field."

One of the most important strategic questions we can ask as IT leaders is, who is our most important client? If you think about where our agency programs are delivered and connect the dots, it's obvious that our #1 client is the fieldworker. So seeing the technology that the Greenbelt workers are using to register trees they are planting was instructive in two ways. first, it showed how a combination of instruments could be used in a remote location to track progress; and second it underscored the need for simplicity.

The process for verifying the planting of a tree appeared to exceed the actual planting by about 10 to 1. I was told that this is a combination of World Bank and UN requirements. It seems to me the the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) time should not exceed the program delivery time. While the technology helped ease the data collection, the business process seemed antiquated. I could not help but think of Michael Hammer's edict about business process re-engineering: "don't pave the the cow path."

Nevertheless, it was appropriate for our group to get our hands dirty (literally) and plant a dozen trees. The photo above is the "NetHope" tree I planted in Kenya. It was fitting to leave a living marker that contributes to the ecosystem in an emerging country. We can do no better with IT in our organizations.

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