Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Developing critical infrastructure from a human and a societal perspective 6

Posted in book recommendations, business and convergent technologies, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on December 10, 2013

This is my sixth installment to a series on infrastructure and on developing it to fit and work within a social context, based on my recent experience in East Africa, and particularly in Northern Tanzania (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 16-20 for Parts 1-5.)

I have been focusing in this series on the issues and challenges of bringing computers and internet access into Tanzania’s public schools, and particularly into its rural primary, secondary and high schools. And in the course of this I have been discussing their tribal structures and languages and societal factors that might facilitate or hinder this goal, and how it is in fact a national goal. And I have at least briefly outlined some of the issues and options that would go into any technologically based approaches for reaching this goal, should a requisite political will be applied towards achieving it.

My goal for this posting is to at least share some thoughts on that last point – that last requirement for any sustaining follow-through on reaching this: “… should a requisite political will be applied towards achieving this goal.” And I begin that with the fundamentals, and certainly for an endeavor of this type.

• Politics is the art of compromise while keeping to your core values and the needs of your constituents, and a process of consensus building as a means of achieving agreed upon positive ends.
• It is sometimes cynically stated that a statesman is a dead politician, with the explicit implication that this label is piously applied to the now departed by their now former political opponents who do not have to be concerned about them anymore. But a more meaningful definition of statesmanship would center on its ability and willingness to communicate a new vision to constituents, and to bring them to see value in what for them has been new and different, but that would also bring value to them.
• Actually developing and implementing a fundamental infrastructure change of the type envisioned here, with the bringing of computers and internet access into the public school system of Tanzania would call for real statesmanship and the dedicated effort of politicians who are willing to spend political capital and take personal career risks in pursuit of larger, longer term goals of overall societal importance.

My goal for the balance of this posting is to at least briefly outline some of what that means, at least in general terms, starting with a focused discussion of how people come to accept change and adapt new technologies into their own lives, and both individually and societally. A great deal of research has been done on that and particularly with regard to new technology diffusion and acceptance and both from an individual behavioral and from a sociological perspective. I have already touched upon some of this in earlier series and individual postings and delve into this topic area again here. For background discussion and references see my series: Social Networking Community and the Pace and Shaping of Innovation at Social Networking and Business, postings 133 and following for its Parts 1-7, and I particularly note as relevant its Part 6 and Part 7 where I explicitly discuss acceptance and resistance to change. And also see:

• Rogers, E.M. (2003) Diffusion of Innovation, 5th edition. Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster,

for its discussion of the diffusion and acceptance of innovation, as this is researched and understood from a wide range of perspectives.

Innovation that arises at one point – at one place and from the efforts of one individual or at least one actively involved group, has to diffuse out into a larger community and be accepted there if it is to become a basic part of what is generally accepted and used. And different people view and evaluate new and different, in different ways and according to different acceptance criteria and strategies.

• The earliest adaptors, sometimes referred to as pioneer adaptors, gravitate towards the new and different and start out more favorably inclined to try out new and novel and at least in part because it is new and novel to them, and they can be among the very first to get to try it.
• Then come early adaptors who might want to know more about what they would try out than a true pioneer adaptor would, but who are still comfortable trying an innovation that might still be in its later development stages. They are willing to adapt and try a new innovation that does not have a performance track record yet, for their community and their purpose of use. They are willing to help build that evaluation-results track record that others who follow can decide from as they consider trying it too.
• Middle adaptors come next and they are also more accepting of change and innovation than not, but they want to see how this innovation that they are considering using has worked for at least some others. For people comfortable online already, they want to be able to see crowd sourced reviews from others and from their experience, at least as independent validation of a decision basically already made.
• Late innovation adaptors start out more resistant to change and to accepting innovation then they are open to it, and need to see more substantial validating feedback from other people’s experience with an innovation before they are willing to take what they see as the risk of trying it too.
• And finally, lagging adaptors need to see that an innovation has for all intent and purpose already become mainstreamed and generally accepted before they are willing to try it and adapt its use too.

Personal computers from desktop size down to handhelds and with laptop and tablet computers in-between have long-since been mainstreamed in many countries and for people from a vast range of cultures and traditions. But the challenge here is not in the hardware or software that would have to be adapted, but rather in the flow of new information and new perspectives that this technology brings when used, and with all of its potential to both support or challenge any prevailing view or opinion, tradition or cultural norm.

I have written from early on in this series of postings about how Tanzania is a single country with two unifying national languages and a unified public education system. But I have also written about how historically, there are already deep divisions and both between and within tribal groups as to openness to change. Consider the Maasai as a working example of this, and more traditionalist semi-nomadic, and more settled Maasai communities and their willingness or lack thereof to even send their children to public schools at all (see Part 1 and Part 2 of this series for a discussion of this.)

• Bringing computers and internet access into these schools, with the change they would enable and even make inevitable will face resistance, and as communities see the change that it can bring as this new facility actually develops there will be backlash reactions too as well as acceptance.
• When I wrote above that enacting this type of development program will require true statesmanship, that is what I specifically had in mind – that challenge.
• And developing this and making it a basic and accepted standard part of the public school experience will require shifting more and more people and communities and the people of more and more of Tanzania’s tribal groups into seeing more positive value than threat from the flood of information and perspective that their children will come to discover online.
• This means shifting the adaptation curve from pioneer and early adaptors on through late and lagging adaptors so that more people are willing to try and accept change than resist it and push back against it. This will mean leading and educating the political constituency that Tanzania’s politicians face and answer to, to see more value than threat from this new and innovative change.

Here, I explicitly point out a fundamental complication that this type of innovation program will bring with it, and most probably regardless of how computers and internet access are brought into the public school system, when and as they are:

• This change will be challenged up-front and from its earliest stages by late and lagging adaptors who would prefer to see essential funds expended in more standard and currently pursued directions – with that resistance coming from both politicians and their supporting constituents.
• But more resistance, and I add more deeply held resistance will come when and as this program begins to take shape and as children who have gone online to learn bring what they are finding there, back home with them and back to their communities too.

And as a final thought here, some of this resistance, and particularly some of the most deeply and sincerely held resistance that online access will bring, will come from unexpected directions. That, among other reasons is why I proposed developing an approved educational system web portal in Part 5 of this series – to help insure that a significant body of online content that is not seen as threatening can be made officially available for use by the school system and its students and teachers, and available from the beginning of this program, making online that much less threatening to those who start out seeing it as a challenge to their traditions.

I am going to end this posting and this series here, at least for now, acknowledging that I have only briefly touched on a few issues of what has to be seen as a much more complex puzzle. I will most definitely come back to this complex of issues, and I will not forget this challenge. Meanwhile, I offer this posting and the first five series installments that preceded it as a gift to a friend who is running for national political office, and who is going to have to directly deal with the issues and challenges that I started discussing here as his country seeks to more fully join the overall global community. I realize that I have been writing this from the vantage point of a still very sketchy and limited understanding of your country and its strengths and history and challenges – in spite of your sharing so much with me in discussion about these issues and about your nation’s political challenges. I am looking forward to hearing back from you on some of this and I will add updating corrections where I have simply misunderstood or made faulty assumptions.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) and at my Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 directory, and see also that directory’s first page.

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