Lo and behold: lo-tech communications

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By Naomy Nyalusi, from World Comics site

Without entirely meaning to, I have become a bit of an ICT “evangelist” on my team, promoting new ways new forms of communication can help us promote ideas in a more agile, more cost-effective way. Last month, our Private Sector Policy Analyst Anne Lindsay live-tweeted the EITI conference in Paris – she came back saying live tweeting is a game-changer at large policy events.

We have also set up an informal social media help-desk of sorts for partner organisations working in policy around the world. But our partners are doing most of the innovating themselves, Facebook stars like Aceh Institute (Indonesia) and Quiero para mi Municipio (Paraguay) are leading the way.

And yet with all of these changes, some older media remain just as effective as ever, something we need to take care not to forget.

World Comics is one reminder of the power of pen, paper and the rickety old photocopy machine. The “World Comics” concept – of simple, empowering training of grassroots CSOs in making comics – is the brainchild of Leif Palacken, Finnish ex-aid official, who began drawing at middle age.

The idea is to inspire what he calls the “local conversation”, with local language and local images. People with no previous artistic background or training can learn to communicate with comics in only a couple of days. The result is compelling in its authenticity.

These simple comics have been used to inspire conversation about child marriage, ending uncontrolled burning, and persecution of minorities.

With training of trainers in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, and even with asylum seekers in Europe, the technique has proven really powerful. The concept has been super successful in India, where World Comics India is generating its own inspiring narrative of communication and empowerment.

World Comics reminds us that the lo-tech is not to be simply discarded in this world of 2.0. (Are we 3.0 yet?)

Radio has been crucial in South Sudan in preparing for the referendum. Theater of the oppressed is used around the world with great effectiveness, for example by the Mozambican Farmers Union.

At a recent conference on Small Media, Iranian activist Hossein Sharif encouraged the audience to think about how the “ethic” of 2.0 can reinvigorate these pre-existing forms of expression, communication and participation. People have always been “participating” using media – sending messages to community radios and posting broadsheets – but the 2.0 ethic encourages us to think about how to speed up feedback and invent unmediated forms of comment and interaction.

We should focus on integrating the new tools into an already tried-and-true (and sometimes neglected!) field of development communications and participation methodology.

An interesting example of this is Frontline SMS’ new side project Frontline SMS Radio, that will provide community radio stations an SMS management platform, allowing them to react more effectively in realtime to feedback from listeners.

Please comment, or share other examples of this blending, we would love to hear about them.

3 Responses to “Lo and behold: lo-tech communications”

  1. dan mcquillan Says:

    i like the idea of an ethic of 2.0 reinvigorating older forms.

    a related idea is ‘abstract hacktivism’ which suggests that subversive overcoming of limitations is an approach that’s spread beyond technology in to the rest of society.
    (http://www.isk-gbg.org/abstracthacktivism)

    have you made a comic yet?

  2. J Gunter Says:

    Interesting to think about how much of appropriate and sustainable development has in common with this benevolent “hacking”.

    I would venture to say that many cultures have long had their own rich practice of customizing, altering and making things that are broken work better. Immediate feedback loops. (All existing well before this now mainstream concept of “hacking”.)

    Will work on a comic – seeing as how there is such demand. Speaking of which are also going to try and use more illustration and perhaps more animation in our work.

  3. Amy FrontlineSMS:Radio Says:

    I really enjoyed this post especially having met Leif at the World Comic event at Cafod a few months ago. Thanks for mentioning FrontlineSMS:Radio too! What I take from this discussion is the importance of using tools which are already in peoples’ hands (be it a pen and paper, mobile phone or radio) and empowering them to take ownership of their own projects. I see value in the fact that World Comics allows people to lead initiatives which are culturally relevant and make sense to them – from the language used down to the way in which people are represented through the drawings. Likewise, we see many interesting ways in which radio stations are using interaction via SMS to expand discussions on issues which are relevant to listeners and their communities.

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