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The Promise and Limits of Technology

In this lecture, Malabika Sarker discusses challenges of using technology as well as how technology can be beneficial.
MALABIKA SARKER: In the era of 21st century, technology can play a major role in engaging the community. But it has its limit. In Nigeria, there are layers of skepticism and frustration regarding the polio eradication initiatives. Not only there is mistrust of the government that primary health care is neglected, but also community lacks trust in health worker. Please, take a pause and think how they might see uses for technology to help addresses these challenges and concerns. For example, in helping to communicate messages from various stakeholders quickly or allowing community leaders to share messages with members of the community.
Take another pause and think how is this similar to or different than the challenges outlined in Pakistan in the video that started the lecture.
When considering technology as a way to improve the effectiveness of social mobilization, use of mass media and social media are common technological approaches related to community engagement. For example, polio-related messages through SMS for public awareness has been an approach in standard social mobilization situation. There are some caveats. This is not always successful, depending on the context. For example, ISIS Radio in eastern Afghanistan had been used to propagate against polio activities and banned people from vaccinating their children or some Facebook pages have posted incorrect information against polio. Another example of using technology includes sharing pictures and videos of some well recognized national celebrities athletes. This has had a good impact on community engagement in some polio endemic regions.
But this approach also has had contextual issues. While this approach may work in Kabul or in some other areas of Afghanistan, this approach has not been well received in other regions, mainly southern Afghanistan where locals were not happy seeing their national celebrities dressed in Western clothes with short sleeves. In sum, technology can be helpful but must be tested in new areas– different culture, different religion, different language– before broader application and scale in those new ideas. Otherwise, the considerable resources spent on the technology might actually work against the effort. Remember, the context matters. If your partner organization decides to use technology as a means of engagement, there is some consideration that comes to mind. First and foremost important, know your audience.
This is one of the principles of community engagement. It is necessary that the organization considers the various types of technologically reliable available in the community and about the community engagement to suit that method. Second, resources at hand. Although the notion of using technology as a means of community engagement is existing for any partner organization, but the resources available should also be considered when choosing to use technology or the choice of which technology to be used. Third, iterativeness of your engagement. What is the frequency of your engagement with the community? Community engagement [? occurs ?] in repeated cycles.
There is a need to consider the number of times you have to use technology to engage the community, putting it in mind the cost required to achieve such. Fourth, appropriate level of engagement. Here are some questions you should provide answers to. How complex is your project? How much time do you have for community engagement? How do you want the community to feel at the end of the engagement? And finally, the type of technology. What is the right type of technology to be used for the engagement? So what could be the potential roles of technology in community engagement? It increases coverage and improves access of community members to the information. It requires less time and more money.
Some forms of technology do not encourage feedback. It is paramount to link both offline and online forms of engagement. In [? service ?] of technology uses in the polio program, the use of geographical information system or GIS in mapping the community was very important. GIS has been used in the polio program to capture imagery of location, especially the hard to reach locations, and measure population density of such places. This is necessary in understanding the community. In addition, use of telephone calls and texts to remind community members of immunization activities can be another strategy. But the telephone calls and tests can be useful in keeping an eye on changes as they develop within the community without necessarily being physically present.
Field staff can communicate happenings in the community with the managers who are not on field. Taking pictures and videos to show community members can be another effective strategy. It is important to note that the use of technology in community engagement has limits. Some members of the community might not have access to technology to get the dissemination information. Cost of acquiring the technology by the partner’s organization can be problematic. Some community members may be underrepresented, such as older population. The message might be lost in the clutter of other messages, such as electronic mail or text messages. And the community members might not be given opportunity to deliberate.
And this can result in lack of consensus in the ideas for a course of action, such as online polls.

Malabika Sarker, MBBS, MPH, PhD
James P. Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, Bangladesh

In the lecture “The Promise and Limits of Technology”, you learned about the challenges related to community engagement in Nigeria, which include:

  • Skepticism and frustration regarding the polio eradication efforts
  • Mistrust of the government and concern that the focus on polio is undermining primary health care services that are needed
  • Rumors and concerns about whether external stakeholders are covertly pushing other agendas: For example, contraception through the polio program
  • Community members lack trust in health workers
  • Some community members are uncommitted or refuse polio vaccinations

Now, answer the following questions about the challenges in Nigeria:

What do you think are some ways that technology could help address these challenges and concerns?

How is this similar to, or different than, the challenges outlined in Pakistan in the video Pakistan’s polio campaign that you watched at the beginning of this lecture?

As you reflect on these questions, recall the key considerations for using technology in community engagement, as described in the lecture:

  • Know your audience
  • Resources at hand
  • “Iterative-ness” of your engagement
  • Appropriate level of engagement
  • Type of technology

Please take a moment to share your thoughts in the discussion.

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