An important advantage of digitalization and remote sensing, in particular, is that it facilitates informed decision-making, can serve as an instrument for empowerment (increased transparency), and supports inclusiveness. But how is this put into practice and take existing power relations into account?
Especially in the context of tackling poverty, many factors play a role and often there are conflicts of interest (just look at history in general). In many cases, investments of some sort are needed and politicians and administrators are very good at saying “we’ll look into it” very eloquently, which frequently leads to the (indefinite) postponement.
An example from my own experience: As a young engineer I was involved in a protest march of indigenous people to the capital city claiming their right to drinkable water. As the recently elected president profiled himself as the president-of-the-poor there was no nice way to keep people out and the office of the vice-minister filled rapidly with poncho-clad representatives of the community. After a vivid discussion, the vice-minister said that it was a complicated matter that needed more study. I intervened that we already had a technical design and substantial funding and that the only thing we needed from the government was about 20km of second-hand (note: not second-rate) steel tubes to cross a deep valley (which we knew the government had in-store). Fortunately, all this was already discussed with the technical people from the national water agency. Within five years the system was completed.
What did I learn from this?
- A certain level of political will is required.
- The community / communities’ concerned need to be united behind the cause.
- The solution needs to be clear, technologically feasible and financially affordable.
For a long time, I did not come across practical literature on this topic. But when doing a study on digitalization for the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs I interviewed people from WWF and IUCN on an initiative called Shared Resources, Joint Solutions. They produced a small handbook on influencing. It has now disappeared from their website, although they have a lot of documents with examples of the rights-based approach. Therefore I present the main steps for action from the handbook here:
Ten steps to develop an effective influencing strategy:
- Who are you? (Creating a manifesto of legitimacy, which should determine whether, or not, power holders will listen to your arguments and respect your interests on the issue. This can be based on e.g. mass mobilisation, expert knowledge or personal relations).
- What is the problem?
- What policy has to change to solve the problem?
- Who is the power holder of the policy change?
- Where in the decision-making process are we?
- Who are your friends (and not)? (stakeholder (power) mapping)
- What is your strategy to influence?
- Make an activity plan.
- Just do it! And monitor and learn from it.
- Be flexible! Adjust your strategy to new developments.
This leads to Nine Assignments to Develop your Influencing Strategy:
- Who am I? Assignment #1: Write or draw a manifesto.
- What is the problem of the powerless? Assignment #2: Formulate or draw the problem.
- What policy has to change to solve the problem? Assignment #3: Formulate or draw the policy change.
- Who is the power holder of the policy change? Assignment #4: Make a profile of the power holder.
- Where in the decision making process are we? Assignment #5: Make a timeline of all the decisions leading up to the policy change.
- Who are your friends (and not)? Assignment #6: Build a partnership with allies.
- What is my strategy to influence? Assignment #7: Work out an influencing strategy document.
- Make an Activity Plan? Assignment #8: Make an activity plan and timeline.
- Do it! And monitor and learn from it! Assignment #9: Do a reality check on the resources.
Indeed this is a recipe for lobbying, but the power dimensions that always play a role are addressed and there is a nice fit with the example I mentioned. We aim to take these lessons to heart in the development of services in the AfriCultuReS (http://www.africultures.eu) and TWIGA H2020 projects.