Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Planning infrastructure to meet specific goals and needs, and not in terms of specific technology solutions 9

Posted in UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on February 21, 2015

This is my 9th installment to a series on infrastructure development in an international context, and on building the right infrastructure systems for the contexts they would be developed for (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 25 and following for Parts 1-8.)

I have been primarily focusing in this series, on national-scale infrastructure development projects. And I have outlined in that context, some of the issues that can arise when undertaking this type of initiative in socio-politically stable countries (see for example Part 7), and in less stable contexts (see Part 8.) And over the course of this series I have at least touched upon a progression of issues that can create mutually supportive buy-in, or distrust and friction in designing, test-implementing, and fully implementing this type of high-cost, widely impactful enterprise. And one of my key take home lessons from all of this, as noted in some detail in Part 8 has been the need to establish and maintain a shared sense of purpose and of trust, so that have and have-not divisiveness cannot take over.

Then at the end of Part 8, I stated that I would continue its discussion here, with the following set of points that I would at least begin addressing now:

• I am going to continue this narrative with a discussion of visions and voices, and of making inclusion work without bogging everything down in endless discussion.
• And I will discuss at least some of the issues of conflict resolution here too, where that means ongoing effort and certainly for any endeavor with as long a timeframe as a national infrastructure development project would require, and where there are so many opportunities for setbacks and project complications and even when everyone seeks to act cooperatively on this.
• And after that I will expand the scale of this series’ discussion to consider multi-national infrastructure development projects, noting that I have already at least briefly discussed one real world example of that in this series’ Part 2 case study. My focus in continuing this line of discussion will be on how to make these larger, multinational infrastructure development programs work better than occurred in my Part 2 case study.

And I begin this with the first of these three bullet points and with a crucial issue: understanding how the various stakeholders and potential participants in a large scale infrastructure would view a proposed effort and both as to how it would positively and how it would negatively impact upon them. That, as a minimal starting point, requires bringing all affected voices into this conversation. If you do not achieve that first step goal, you run a very real risk that people who seem to be using the same language and the same basic words, are actually talking past each other from holding very different underlying assumptions. And you face the possibility that key voices might not even be included at all.

The later that any misunderstandings surface as to what would go into developing an infrastructure initiative, and at what cost and to whom, the more fundamental the disagreements that are likely to erupt and the more difficult it will be to equitably resolve them and still have this infrastructure development effort work. I wrote in Part 8 of the importance of trust. Trust can only reliably stand where there is fundamental shared understanding as to what would be trusted. And I ended my first bullet point by noting the risk of endless unresolved and seemingly unresolvable discussion. That possibility, on the positive side at least means that everyone is still talking. If any potential for trust and for willingness to cooperate really breaks down in this, it is also possible that a key stakeholder will simply pull out – perhaps even if that means realizing a worst case have and have-not scenario further on if this project is carried through upon but with only partial participation.

Briefly following through on this set of issues before proceeding to the second bullet point, an effective and I add realistic large-scale infrastructure development project has to allow for and be ready to adjust to set-backs and complications – which will arise and generally from unexpected directions. Let’s say that a key stakeholder tribal or other ethnically-defining group does seek to pull out of an infrastructure development project. And to keep this simple here, let’s assume that they simply seek to withdraw from it and not challenge its being carried through upon anywhere in their country. And let’s assume that this project can be functionally completed elsewhere and for other groups, tribes or other socio-political entities. If they come to see themselves as having been left out of an opportunity that they now see as positive and beneficial, and if their remaining reservations can be addressed, there is always at least in principle going to be opportunity to bring them into this as late adaptor participants, as this new infrastructure system is refined and further developed to achieve more of its full potential.

As I noted in my socio-politically stable example of Part 7 (and also see my series: Developing Critical Infrastructure from a Human and a Societal Perspective at the UN-GAID directory), even there it has to be expected that at least some tribal groups will want to opt-out from concern that in that case, computer and internet access in their children’s education would threaten their cultural identity and way of life. But if they come to see neighboring tribes benefiting from this, and with no realized threat to their cultural identities or heritages, they might decide to opt-in then, too.

• What I am writing of here is largely about building infrastructure in such a way as to build doorways for later participation and inclusion. That begins with communication and inclusion, and it calls for opening and maintaining lines of communication, or at least active opportunity to renew conversation as willingness to enter into that become possible.

And with this, I have also at least begun discussing the second bullet point issues as outlined for coverage here, above. I am going to continue that discussion and delve into the issues of the third bullet point in a next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at the UN-GAID directory.

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