by Linda Raftree, MERL Tech co-organizer.
At MERL Tech London, Maliha Khan led us in an exercise to map out our shared history of MERL Tech. Following that we did some prioritizing around potential next steps for the sector (which I’ll cover in a next post).
She had us each write down 1) When we first got involved in something related to MERL Tech, and 2) What would we identify as a defining moment or key event in the wider field or in terms of our own experiences with MERL Tech.
The results were a crowdsourced MERL Tech Timeline on the wall.
An approximate history of tech in MERL
We discussed the general flow of how technology had come to merge with MERL in humanitarian and development work over the past 20 years. The purpose was not to debate about exact dates, but to get a sense of how the field and community had emerged and how participants had experienced its ebbs and flows over time.
- 1996 digital photos being used in community-led research
- 1998 mobile phones start to creep more and more into our work
- 2000 the rise of SMS
- 2001 spread of mobile phone use among development/aid workers, especially when disasters hit
- 2003 Mobile Money comes onto the scene
- 2004 enter smart phones; Asian tsunami happens and illustrates need for greater collaboration
- 2005 increased focus on smartphones; enter Google maps
- 2008 IATI, Hans Rosling interactive data talk/data visualization
- 2009 ODK, FrontlineSMS, more and more Mobile Money and smart phones, open data; global ICT4D conference
- 2010 Haiti earthquakes – health, GIS and infrastructure data collected at large scale, SMS reporting and mapping
- 2011 FrontlineSMS’ data integrity guide
- 2012 introduction and spread of cloud services in our work; more and more mapping/GIS in humanitarian and development work
- 2013 more focus and funding from donors for tech-enabled work, more awareness and work on data standards and protocols, more use of tablets for data collection, bitcoin and blockchain enter the humanitarian/development scene; big data
- 2014 landscape report on use of ICTs for M&E; MERL Tech conference starts to come together; Responsible Data Forum; U-Report and feedback loops; thinking about SDGs and Data revolution
- 2015 Ebola crisis leads to different approach to data, big data concerns and ‘big data disasters’, awareness of the need for much improved coordination on tech and digital data; World Bank Digital Dividends report; Oxfam Responsible Data policy
- 2016 real-time data and feedback loops are better unpacked and starting to be more integrated, adaptive management focus, greater awareness of need of interoperability, concerns about digital data privacy and security
- 2017 MERL Tech London and the coming-together of the related community
What do you think? What’s missing? We’d love to have a more complete and accurate timeline at some point….