ICTs and Civil Society: Nigeria

Next Steps

Broad Reflections: Towards Broader Power and Participation

The MacArthur sponsored symposium on ICTs and Civil Society in Nigeria, held at DBI in Abuja on July 14 & 15 hosted as a private event for the MacArthur grantees (and followed by an analogous public event on July 16), demonstrated that civil society actors in Africa are enthusiastic and thoughtful about the potential for ICTs to positively impact their work. However, the community feels broadly behind the curve and in need of capacity building and support in order to make the most of these technologies. In this way the symposium truly struck a nerve as evidenced by their enthusiasm for the material and commitment to sustained work in the area.The symposium speakers provided a range of inputs from conceptual stage setting to broad awareness raising and practical technical training, with an attempt to lay the groundwork for collaboration among Nigerian NGOs. The principal focus was on current Web 2.0 interactive technologies such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, SMS mobile text (Frontline SMS), and data mapping (Ushahidi). The goals and activities of greatest interest were health, civic participation, transparency, justice and human rights.

The environment was very interactive, with a wide variety of experience and perspectives resulting in a lot of impromptu sharing among participants. The program featured experts from the US, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana, working in academia, NGOs, government, and business. The cross-African interactions were very fruitful, and the engagement of the NGO community at both the private and public events suggests still other possibilities.

Over 40 NGOs from Nigeria and the rest of Africa as well as some members of the public participated in this conference.


Outcomes of the meetings

We had a very succesful meeting at Abuja and the feedbacks received so far indicate that there is a demand for more sensitizations like this to empower the civil societies. One indication of the demand came from the immediate steps that emerged from the meeting. First, our local host, the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI), has committed to scaling the meeting, proposing to organize and host similar ICT and Civil Society symposium at the Nigerian State level. This provides the most palpable recognition of the unmet need for ICT sensitization and skill development among civil society actors. The organizers of the MacArthur workshop in Abuja have been invited to work with DBI as this symposium series is developed and rolled out. There was a clear need for rich online resources that the Nigerian NGO sector can use to assist them with using ICTs. A second outcome of the workshop was a commitment to reinvigorate WANGONET - the West African NGO Network that has operated for the last ten years - as just such an online source for technical training and sharing of best practice. We are supplementing this with our own online resource. Third, a number of participants immediately took to blogging, Twitter, and using Facebook for business purpose. Of course, sustaining these efforts is the real challenge.

The team from the University of California, Santa Cruz are really excited about implementing an open-source medical record system for a resource contstrained environment such as Nigeria. The objective is to improve the lives of underprivileged people in Nigeria through health care delivery service and advocacy. They have chosen to implement Open Medical Record System (OpenMRS®) as the medical record framework and already have a potential site in Kaduna, Nigeria. OpenMRS has an Express package that is specifically built to track and follow HIV/AIDS cases. The team held very useful follow-on meetings with the participants exploring different ways in which ICT could be used to potentially expand and improve health care delivery services in Nigeria. OpenMRS has been implemented in several African countries, including South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Lesotho, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.

Finally, and in many respects integrating the above activities, there was considerable excitement about the possibilities ICTs can play in ensuring a robust national election in 2011. A number of specific activities where identified: online information sharing for civic participation, election mapping and monitoring, NGO coordination, the use of rich new media to better and more broadly engage the electorate, and the importance ICTs can play in ensuring fair polling and reduce the chances of election theft. 


Next Steps for Organizers and Proposed Steps for MacArthur

The organizers feel that the 2011 elections provide a particularly important and rich opportunity to enhance the positive impact of ICTs in Nigeria. Indeed, all of the immediate outcomes from the symposium described above can sit within an election 2011 framing because of the broad and deep interest in transparency and governance issues. We believe, therefore, that the election provides a unique opportunity for MacArthur to not only promote fair elections, but also to help catalyze Nigeria's civil society use of ICTs. Therefore the organizers propose that the already resourced follow-on symposium planned for next year use the 2011 election as a frame - exploring ways that ICTs can enhance the civic processes and election outcomes.

As part of that effort, we will continue to engage with the participants. This more exploratory interaction will be supplemented with a rich but straightforward online resource developed to continue the learning process. It will share the materials from the symposium, while supplementing them with a series of other tools we hope will be of particular utility to the participants as they continue to explore the use of ICTs.

For its part, MacArthur may wish to consider ways in which this enthusiasm can be conserved and leveraged. Continued interaction among participants, both online and in person, will be generally helpful, and would benefit from a shared focus. Supporting some modest demonstration activities that will make clear the importance ICTs can play in this election would help build capacity to use ICTs for social change and create momentum, while offering a locus for interaction. A modest but successful demonstration project could be built upon and scaled into broad meaningful interventions in time for the 2011 election. A set of people including grantees and resource people assembled at the Abuja symposium could be uniquely well positioned to design and implement a powerful initial project.


Final Thought

While Nigeria's infrastructure remains lacking it continues to improve, and despite deficits civil society sees ways in which new media can promote substantial social change. The 2011 elections represent a sort of clarion call, in which a wide range of organizations are motivated to invest scarce resources to achieve a good outcome. Pragmatically, the team that has been assembled, the timing of the elections, recent successes elsewhere in Africa, and the agreement among NGOs, to say nothing of the importance for Nigeria's development, make this a unique opportunity.