Information Technology

Introduction 

Information Technology (sometimes called Information and Communications Technology, or ICT) refers to computers and networking tools. In addition to IT professionals working in aid and development, virtually all aid and development workers, no matter what their focus, use various ICTs in their work: financial management, logisitics, programme planning, monitoring and evaluation, communications, and so on. Aid workers of every kind, no matter what the focus of their work is, need to be able to master the basics of using:

  • word processing software
  • spreadsheets (both for budgets and data-tracking)
  • presentation software
  • database programs (inputting information and producing reports)
  • Internet tools (email and web-browsing)

Below are a few references worth your review, with links to web sites that will help you find further, more-detailed information about using ICT tools. The resources are a mix of aid/humanitarian-specific tools and tools to help aid workers no matter what the focus of their work:

 

Assessment of IT requirements for humanitarian action 

The Emergency Capacity Building project, funded by the Gates Foundation, has published an assessment of information technology requirements for humanitarian action.

 

Free & Open Source Software and Its Value to Aid & Development Workers

FOSS (also F/OSS, FOSS, or FLOSS) or Free and Open Source Software, is not always "free", in the sense that there's no purchasing price (sometimes there is), and not always non-commercial (there are a growing number of commercial OpenSource projects). It's "free" in the sense that the software is "liberally licensed" to grant the right to not only use the software but also to share it, study it and improve its design through the free availability of its source code. This is in contrast to the producers of proprietary, off-the-shelf software (companies such as Adobe or Microsoft consider their source code as a secret corporate asset). OSS is high quality software, is free or low-cost, and is frequently upgraded and further developed by dozens, hundreds or even thousands of dedicated professionals, many of whom donate their time to FOSS projects.

FOSS products provide a number of advantages over proprietary software for aid and development workers and those they serve

  • No-cost or low-cost for initial purchase and upgrades

  • Potentially no need to account for copies in use, reducing administrative overhead
  • Products are usually platform independent (doesn't matter what kind of operating system you have) or have versions for different platforms
  • Products can be altered as needed by the user.
  • New features, bug fixes, and modifications are made frequently
  • Reduces "vendor lock-in"; the software is meant to be used with other software, including competitor's software

There are OpenSource office suites, operating systems, content management systems, email platforms, web browsers, audio editors, image viewers, instant messaging platforms, and more. Most people find them as easy to use as proprietary software.

For instance, OpenOffice is an Open Source office application suite similar to Microsoft Office. It includes a word-processing function similar to Microsoft Word, a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel, a presentation function like PowerPoint, a database function like Access, and more. OpenOffice can open Microsoft files, and OpenOffice documents, spreadsheets, databases and presentations can be saved such that users of Microsoft can use them. Local, regional and federal government offices in Brazil, India and Malaysia, among others, have been replacing Microsoft Office with OpenOffice, with great success (you can see a list of governments and businesses that have adopted OpenOffice).

Another example: Ubuntu is an OpenSource operating system for desktops, laptops, and servers. NGOs and schools in developing countries, including The Republic of Macedonia, have been using Ubuntu instead of proprietary operating systems because of the cost, ease-of-use and open nature of the coding.

There's also Sahana, an open source disaster management system developed in Sri Lanka and maintained by the Lanka Software Foundation. Sahana is a free and open source (FOSS) Disaster Management System (DMS). It is a web-based collaboration tool that addresses the common coordination problems during a disaster from finding missing people, managing aid, managing volunteers, tracking camps effectively between government groups, the civil society (NGOs) and the victims themselves.

To find more FOSS items please visit the Free Software Directory. This is a UNESCO-affiliated project. It lists only those FOSS items that are not dependent on operating systems, however; that means FOSS items like NeoOffice, which is a free office suite for Apple Macintosh users, is not listed.

Also see:

Further Reading