Principles for Design & Development

Community Insights on Principle 2: Understanding the Existing Ecosystem

icon-principle2On October 6th, 2014, Dalberg and Internews hosted an interactive session on the second Principle for Digital Development, Understanding the Existing Ecosystem. Andria Thomas of Dalberg and Mark Frohardt of Internews led the event, which launched with a discussion around what it means to understand the existing ecosystem, and then focused on what could success look like in this context.  Participants shared existing communities of practice and resources available as a starting point to better engage in ecosystems relevant to their work. You can watch the entire event here.

Highlights of the discussion are captured below.  Does this content resonate with you? Are there aspects of the discussion that you would modify? Join the discussion using the comments section on this page.

What It Means 

  • Consider what “ecosystem” means in the context of your work. Some use it to refer just to agents, (such as individuals, institutions, or communities); others use it to refer agents and the broader systems in which they act, (such as the surrounding legal, technical and political environment, and the process by which information collected, curated, analyzed, shared, and used.) This discussion uses the latter definition.

Understanding the Ecosystem

  • Allocate time and resources to gather information about, understand, and engage with the context and communities in which your project or program will be deployed.
  • Use a white board to map out key ecosystem components.
  • Consider all actors, including institutions, communities, and individuals. Within institutions, think about different actors/roles that may be relevant, such as in a workflow analysis.
  • Consider the regulatory environment, including policies, laws, and other rules that may impact how tech-supported development projects are owned and can operate.
  • Consider the political environment, including how changes in political parties could change personnel, structure, and/or mandates of government ministries.
  • Consider the technical environment, including standards, platforms and tools, to maximize interoperability and encourage reuse and/or adaptation of existing tools as relevant.
  • Consider systems, including the processes by which information is shared, and how capacity is built around information to refine knowledge and institutionalize it as practice.

Engaging the Ecosystem

  • Identify networks of trust and influence in the ecosystem; these will provide key connections and distribution mechanisms for impact.
  • Identify and leverage conduits and processes that are appropriate and effective, and use these to inform intervention design.
  • Combine an information ecosystems approach with human-centered research to create a systemic view of local dynamics and emergent behaviors. Use these insights to inform program or project design, and maximize impact.
  • Consider strengths and weaknesses in local systems by examining the 5 R’s: roles, resource, relationships, rules, results. (See p.8 in the Local Systems Framework linked in the Resources section below.)
  • Consider using an open, crowdsourced approach that enables relevant actors to self-identify and self-organize. (See case study as an example.)
  • Think about how to make an ecosystem more inclusive, such as by using influence to empower marginalized actors.
  • Design to enable feedback loops to strengthen the ecosystem and make tech-supported interventions sustainable.
  • Consider resources and incentives. What value do critical stakeholders derive from your intervention to make it relevant and sustainable over the long term?
  • Consider the drivers of the ecosystem, both as it exists today and in the future.

You can also download a PDF of the Community Discussion document here.

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