SOME METHODOLOGIES TO CONSIDER WHEN ADOPTIING TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS
 Introduction

Organizations and communities are faced with numerous challenges that impede their progress and development.  Once an organization or community works together to identify these challenges, brainstorm on potential solutions they should then decide what methodology to adopt.  This process will lead them to collectively select the solution or technology they need to adopt in order to solve the challenge at hand. The organization or community goes further to analyse the requirements needed to successfully implement the selected technology solution. This discussion will first focus on some of the tried and tested methodologies for our part of the world and the models that are commonly emerging following the dictates brought by modern technologies.

Research methodology involving consultations with stakeholders
 2.1Overview

Research work that is often community-based and consequently dealing with people and society is therefore sensitive to community and society ecosystems.  ICTs as enablers for improvement and development are cross-cutting and therefore affect all sectors of the society. Technology integration in an organisation or community should engage all players if it is to fully address the intended objectives.  The nature of research work in organisations or communities has many variables to consider and this makes it difficult to use a single research methodology and therefore calls for other methodologies and models to be examined and assessed for their suitability.  The discussion on methodology and models is informed by other studies such as those by Lessem and Schieffer on Integral Research and Innovation (2010) where various trajectories are presented covering the Four Worlds namely the South, East, North and West.  Aspects of the Southern Relational Path from the South reflects  Lessem & Schieffer`s approach to Integral Research will be discussed in this article.  Future articles will then bring in components from the Eastern Path of Renewal and Northern Path of Reason.  These closely interrelated methodology trajectories are then discussed in the context of Mixed Methods model that provides for triangulation approach and finally the Socio-technical design which emerge as the preferred hybrid model out of these methodologies to address most challenges faced by organisations and communities.

 
Understanding the integral research trajectories

When conducting research work in a society and community environment, there is good reason and logic to examine the research methodologies that focus on models that incorporate pragmatism, rationalism, holism and humanism as developed by Lessem and Schieffer (2010). These methodologies are anchored in cultures of different world regions (transcultural) and each has a different implication for political, social and economic research and action.  From studies conducted by Lessem and Schieffer, four research paths from the Four Worlds emerge and these are:

Relational path, which is intrinsically Southern, is aligned with humanism and focus on self- sufficiency, community building and sustainability;
Path of Renewal, which is inherently Eastern and is aligned with holism development and conscious evolution;
Path of Reason, which is innately Northern, is aligned with rationalism social economy, knowledge creation and modernisation; and
Path of Realization, which is quintessentially Western and is aligned with pragmatism living economy, sustainable development and growth.

    
The full and complete structure of Integral Research and Innovation trajectories as discussed by Lessem and Schieffer (2010:57) is given below in Fig.1.
    
However, the nature and structure of the research work may focus on using ICTs and perhaps other appropriate technologies to enhance food security and sustainable socio-economic development primarily in rural communities in Zimbabwe.  This focus should be able to fall in one or more segments of the above methodology paths.

 
In conducting the research work and analysing the appropriate research methods, it is clear that we would be dealing with technology adoption, adaptation and utilisation in society and hence the socio-technical design systems approach.  The research would as expected in academia,combine selected relevant research studies from local and international researchers.It should also be informed by practical experiences and knowledge gathered by the researcher from interacting with professionals and other stakeholders. The grounding of the research project, the various activity sectors of the selected community or society and the cross-cutting nature of ICTs (the technology component) pose several challenges where one research method fails to independently and comprehensively examine all key aspects necessary to address, in this case, the selected research question.

 

It is therefore proposed to examine and adapt a triangulation approach and incorporate the Southern Relational Path, the Eastern Path of Renewal methodologies, the Mixed Method Model and Socio-technical Design model.  While the first two methodologies mentioned above are known and often adopted in integral research and social innovation studies, the mixed methods model and socio-technical design model are being incorporated to acknowledge the interrelationship that now exist where society is evolving and technology diffusion in society is widespread. This triangulation or multiple model approach incorporating the mixed method model and the socio-technical design model becomes relevant. Data and information are gathered, analysed and discussed within the context of the above models.

 
3.Instruments for Information Gathering

Any research is based on gathering credible and validated data and information that will be analysed and discussed in order to address the research question. Most research work use the following instruments to facilitate data collection:

 
Questionnaires:

These are used to support information gathering in the community. The parameters under investigation should include availability of communication and transport infrastructure, ICT equipment and their uses, ICT literacy levels, mobile coverage and access to mobile equipment and accessories.

 Interviews and discussions:

Interviews and discussions should be held with people in the community to assess their current challenges, ICT literacy, expectations, desires and appreciation of new technologies. It is important for the people in the community to participate in the selection of appropriate technologies that address challenges faced in the community.  The discussions also inform the people more importantly on the proper use, maintenance and management of the new technologies.

 
The discussion groups through proper ideation processes also bring out the community strengths, opportunities and available potential.  The gap analysis identifyareas that would be addressed during project execution.  The information gathered from interviews and discussions would inform the research project about the areas that need progressive interventions and propose possible solutions to responsible authorities.

 Multimedia toolkit:

In line with modern trends, a website should be designed to facilitate the gathering and dissemination of data and information.  The data about the community and its engagements include the potential for ecotourism, economic activities, community statistics, and agricultural activities through scalable e-farming platform starting at smallholder level. The data and information should be processed and stored in a database from where it can then be accessed and updated regularly.  The database has the potential of being accessed by stakeholders remotely and only selected information about the community is publicised through the website. This avenue also acts as a marketing and publicity platform.  Data and information about indigenous knowledge, culture and tradition has and continuously will be compiled and updated for preservation and dissemination to community inhabitants. Video clips, short films or animation can be used to portray a folktale or story about the  community. The instruments with appropriate modifications canlater be used after project implementation to assess the impact of technology integration in the society and the indicators for community development and transformation.

 

Previous research studies conducted in communities and societies that involve people and communities are generally discussed using one or some of the methodologies described by Lessem and Schieffer (2010) in their discussion about the Four Worlds under Integral Research and Innovation.  In a typical research project data and information gathered through use of various instruments and techniques are discussed in the context of the following identified methodologies.

 
4.Models of data analysis

 
4.1 Southern Relational Path

Some studies show that projects in Zimbabwe are more aligned to the Southern Relational Path which is anchored on humanism, self-sufficiency, community building and sustainability.  This model is seriously considered because it requires and deals with earlier experiences gained through society, community and sector engagements.  Examples of self-sufficiency and community building was demonstrated when some youthsfrom various communities in the ten provinces of Zimbabwe worked with local peopleto constructarural school building at Rukanda Secondary School in Mutoko district of Mashonaland East Province. The projectwas coordinated through the Scientific, Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC)and demonstrated how our forefathers constructed houses using rammed earth technology (dzimba dzemudhindwa).  The project demonstrated practical community building and self-sufficiency in terms of villagers using ordinary earth found around their localities to collectively construct decent houses for themselves.  This old technology is evident in countries such as Egypt and Zimbabwe who still have houses sometimes up to two or three storey buildings constructed using the same technology.

 

Most policies in Zimbabwe, ICT sector included, are often developed through extensive consultations nationwide involving people at various levels in the society.Communities in Zimbabwe and indeed otherselsewhereare accustomed to collective engagement when addressing community activities and challenges.  Village people support each other in the fields and other community activities that require collective effort, which in the process strengthens community building.  The Shona people and indeed other African communities are well known for extended family practices where a family does not exist in isolation from the other members of the family at large.  A married couple (Christian marriage or under Customary law) and their children are regarded as a nucleus family but are not completely dissociated from families stemming from the same parents and grandparents.  This structure gives rise to various intricate levels of the nucleus family concept which makes the extended family a strong and influential institution in the African culture and way of life.  This concept is truly aligned to caring and collective support and indeed humanism.  Through totems, the extended family expands much larger though it becomes weaker as we gradually move far away from the main stem.

 

Guided by elders and tradition, the extended family in practice allows families to assist each other because collectively and in broader terms, they function as one institution in which people express themselves through dance, music, art and culture.  The African people and their way of life provide a sense of caring, self-identity, trust and togetherness, which are key factors for collective engagement, participation, stability and sustainability in a community.  Innovation and indeed development can only be achieved when planning is conducted through stakeholder consultationwithin a community that is united and focused on shared vision and aspirations (goals). Participatory Action Research is integrated into the Southern Relational Path and therefore worth examining.

 
4.1.1 Participatory action research

Participatory action research method has been widely used in projects targeting grassroots development mostly in underprivileged rural communities of developing countries in the Third World.  According to Babbie and Mouton (2007:314), participatory action research method “has emerged as part of the search to render development assistance to the needs and opinions of local people.” It is my considered view that the above statement could easily be misinterpreted to mean developmental assistance coming through donor funding or support emanating from outside the community.  Development on its own has to be viewed at different levels depending on the environment in which it is being applied and experienced. This is to say development in the Western world should have a different interpretation from development in the developing and underdeveloped world.  The case of Chinyika community in Gutu province of Masvingo proved that developmental assistance could easily come from within the community itself after thorough introspection and consultations amongst the people about the past, the present and the future.  It was out of this exercise that led the Chinyika community to embark on a food self-sufficiency programme that was driven from within but this time adopting different approaches.  Exploring further on participatory action research, the following key principles are discussed:-

 
The role of the researcher as a change agent:

 Dr. Muchineripi and Mrs. Mlambo are change agents in the Chinyika story due to the leading and motivational roles they played in driving out hunger from the community.  It was observed that though the Chinyika community had attained food self-sufficiency, they could improve the quality of their lives and standards of living if technology was systematically and strategically introduced in the community.  This intervention could be brought about through the assistance of a change agent who guides the identification of gaps and selects appropriate solutions in close consultations with the community.  The open-ended and closed questionnaires, discussions with people in the community and observations were the instruments used in this paradigm to gather information that would lead to the identification of the gaps and finally the solutions.

 

Change agents should not only be engaged in situations where there are socio-economic challenges, political issues or where there are conflict situations as suggested by Huizer (1984) (cited in Babbie & Mouton 2007:315). The change agent concept should rather apply to any environment or community that needs to transform itself or move from one state to the other. Change agents can be found even at such low levels as at family setups where one child is inspired after realizing, for example, that education can transform the life of the family. The child becomes a change agent who is driven by the strong desire to better the lives of his or her family and eventually the community in general.This example in no doubt transforms the family and is thus emulated by other families in the community.  In turn, the end result is a ripple effect that raises the levels of awareness about the need to change for the better thus leading to an informed tribe and community.  There exist several such examples in many communities around the world where people strive to send their children to school after having seen the benefits and the impact this had had to neighbours in the community.

 
The importance of the roles for democratic participation:

Community people should be afforded an opportunity to participate on issues that affect them unhindered, without intimidation and in a democratic environment.  The involvement of the participants should not be limited to the ideation process alone but they should be allowed to contribute throughout the programme including implementing collectively agreed strategies that address identified initial challenges.  The data and information collected at every stage or acquired knowledge during the study was targeted at addressing challenges faced by the community.  Change agents such asDr. Muchineripi, Dr. Kada and Mrs. Mlambo certainly provided the people of Chinyika with an atmosphere where they could speak their minds and make suggestions on how hunger should be driven out of the community.  This approach was emulated by others in the community first before it spread to other districts.

 
Conscious and Awareness Raising as Empowerment tools:

Consciousness and awareness-raising are seen as necessary components of participatory action research and they contribute to effective transformation.  Conscientization according to Babbie and Mouton generally refers to raising participant’s self-awareness which is raised through self-inquiry which is further interpreted as a series of social inquiries by the people and associated reflections (Babbie & Mouton, 2007:322).  It is clear from the above discussion that participatory action research does not select the few but tries to include many people who in the process will be exposed to areas and concepts that are new to them.  The process would also consolidate some of those aspects that participants were not very clear about or in some cases the process may involve introspection which further opens doors for learning to discover new knowledge.  When people are made independent and masters of their own, they have the capability to produce knowledge autonomously.  This process gives a voice to the voiceless and indeed empowers participants because knowledge is power.  When people participate in knowledge creation that is directly useful to their community and are further involved in actions derived thereof, they feel empowered.  The Chinyika community felt empowered when they created new knowledge about small grains cultivation primarily to fend for their households but went on to increase food supply and food self-sufficiency.

 

 

Ownership for Development:

 When a community’s values, interests, culture and traditions are respected the people usually cooperate. Furthermore when they are consulted they feel recognised and take ownership of their actions and any project at hand.  These are key ingredients for sustainability.  The community would thus protect a new technology that is introduced after thorough consultations (with their involvement) because the identification of the solution to an identified challenge would have been done collectively by the community with the change agent as a facilitator.  Programmes that are brought into a community without the community’s knowledge or participation are often regarded as ‘foreign or impositions’ and it is difficult to expect the success of such programmes because they lack community involvement or buy-in.

 
These experiences and challenges were discussed by Warschauer (2003) in his analysis on the introduction of a model computer lab in Egypt. This particular innovation was established without consulting the recipients and this initiative faced stiff resistance in the community.  He further cites a similar project, the Hole-in-a-Wall,which was introduced in a community in India. It also faced rejection from parents who felt were not consulted beforehand and felt their children were spending more time on this innovation instead of doing their home work. These projects and other similar initiatives discussed by Warschauer tended to focus on the provision of hardware and software (technocentric) while underplaying the human and social systems that are critical for the success of the projects.In the case of addressing community challenges and particularly in the context of participatory action research, the community should be engaged in activities where all arms of the community from leadership, individuals and households to the village levels are considered and consulted as active participants.

 
Stakeholder Participation:

Programmes in a community will always attract participants from within and outside the community.  There are other stakeholders from outside the community (public, private and civic sectors) who out of interest or harbour long term economic expectations come to partner and participate in community programmes. In the case of ICT technology interventions such stakeholders envisions:

Mobile communications operators; who provide mobile network coverage and e-enabled value-added services,
Infrastructure providers; who provide roads, energy networks for power, and communications infrastructure,
Ministry of ICT; who develop policies that facilitate the provision of ICT services targeted at, among others, the rural communities,
e-Learning solutions providers: who provide e-content for education (students, teachers and community), and
Rural e-Applications providers: farm management application for livestock breeding and cultivation of a variety of crops in a community starting at household level.

Several providers and players from public, private and civic sectors came together to co-create a new thinking and developmental thrust. This would act as a model that would benefit other communities nationally and beyond.

 
4.1.2 Supporting themes of the Southern Relational Path Model

Essential supporting themes that are critical when analyzing the Southern Relational Path Model include: phenomenology, feminism, knowledge building, community building and transformation which are discussed below:-

 Phenomenology: Technology integration in organisations or communities brings in a phenomenological approach that examines the technology and techniques and their impact on the new environment. It means therefore any engagements should be carefully planned to consider all sensitivities in the community taking into consideration the strengths, peculiarities and uniqueness of each community and particularly what technology suites the environment. People particularly those in rural areas are close to nature, indigenous languages and practices, and these aspects are incorporated in the structures and implementation strategies of such a research work.  Some people have very low appreciation of, or are afraid of technology (technophobic) and these are the majority who should continuously be made to see the potential opportunities of ICTs.  Furthermore they can be provided with space to appreciate and experience the numerous benefits accruing to themselves, their families and the community at large through such interventions.

 

Feminism: Through feminism, the research work explores and recognizes diversity, ecosystems, need for lifelong learning, learning from elders and custodians of history and culture (indigenous knowledge systems) in communities. Discussing critical feminism, Babbie and Mouton bring out the debates surrounding gender and sex roles in modern society. Standpoint epistemology as advocated by Dorothy Smith and influenced by other feminist theorists including the works of Marx, concludes that the form of domination in most modern societies involves economically determined class positions and patriarchal rule. She argues that women, the working class and ethnic minorities unfortunately find themselves in the position of subordination (Babbie & Mouton, 2007:37). However, reflecting on the modern society that is heavily dominated and influenced by technology, ICTs offer distinct opportunities for women, youths, ethnic minorities and marginalized groups to be recognized and freely participate in socio-economic activities of the communities they belong to.  Through ICT, people can form or subscribe to any social network of their choice and contribute and share ideas freely.  ICTs know no boundaries and class levels and they are now made affordable and within the reach of many. This digital inclusion seeks to reduce the dominance of any groups or gender as ICTs give the voice to the voiceless, and this indeed is empowerment and emancipatory.

 

Modern methods of learning especially the use of ICTs once brought to the reach of communities will enable community residents to learn irrespective of their age, gender or status.  Knowledge is power and when systematically acquired in a strategic and focused approach, liberates or emancipates the learners and ultimately the communities and societies.  ICTs as enablers, catalyse development across sectors and now lend themselves well to people living with disabilities to ensure their inclusion in the digital age.  Mobile technology offers learning on-the-go and even the girl-child and housewives including those in rural areas now have opportunities to learn and network from wherever they are provided there is adequate network coverage.  Out-of school youths and adults can engage in distance learning programmes to equip themselves academically and acquire skills that are provided through ICT platforms.  This development opens up a whole new world for people who in the past were isolated and therefore lagged behind in terms of exposure and opportunities for development.The research work recognizes and incorporates marginalized voices in the community even those who in the past were bullied or were shy to contribute. They can now openly send e-mails or short messages over the mobile phone without fear.

 

Knowledge Building:Indigenous knowledge systems of most communities are slowly being lost due to lack of documentation and migration of people from traditional communities. ICTs now offer a platform to once again build strong networked communities whose indigenous knowledge can now be documented, restored and preserved. Knowledge and traditions that seemed lost but is still found in the custody of a few elders across clans can now be documented, re-enacted and preserved.  ICTs have removed boundaries/borders and have compressed the time and distance bringing people within the reach of each other instantly.  The elders in most communities were custodians of history, tradition, culture and values all of which were orally downloaded from generation to generation. ICTs show how this vast tacit knowledge and other relevant indigenous knowledge are tapped and stored safely in databases for the benefit of future generations.

 
With the introduction of social network platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and now ‘WhatsApp’ people can freely use these platforms to communicate and express themselves individually or at a group level.   Social networks have on one hand, positive impact in terms of fast, reliable and personal communication, and on the other, perceived negative impact as seen in the Arab uprisings (the so called Arab Spring).  In as much as it is a source of sharing knowledge, it must be controlled otherwise it can, in the long run, have negative influence and adverse effects on tradition, culture, customs and values.

Community building: entails establishing solid, sustained and respected structures capable of formulating clear objectives and goals, bringing people together who are driven by the same values and ethics. A community that works together can easily collaborate on collectively agreed community developmental targets.

 

Transformation: in this case, will be realized when the community or society fully accepts the adoption and adaptation of technology in their everyday lives. The opportunities that are brought by technology integration will bring social change and impact on the community thereby bringing about transformation and community renewal that hopefully, does not change the community’s identity but instead brings out who they really are.The foundation of emancipation is when the community is comfortable mentally and socially with its new environment, understands its past and has rediscovered themselves anew. Surrounded by the ICT revolution, the transformation of communities and societies are imperative given the dictates of the global networked (connected) village the world has become.

Courtesy of People's Voice

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Permanent Secretary
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Dr.Eng.S.Kundishora

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