Empowering African IT Companies
Frank Tilugulilwa is an IT trainer in Tanzania. He teaches local IT companies how to build services and revenues around so-called “Free and Open Source Software”. Such software can be copied and modified by every company and every individual client. Frank has written a training manual with over 80 other IT trainers and experts throughout Africa (and from elsewhere in the world) in an example of a community-generated learning content. His experience with commons-based peer production started back in 2008 when almost no training materials rooted in an African context were available. Frank and other African IT and business experts developed over 250 pages of practical, open-licensed, modular training material. This has also resulted in a vibrant community of trainers who have a strong sense of ownership of their subjects and who know and trust each other. They are sharing their knowledge amongst themselves and their trainees, local IT companies across the continent. Again, we see the power of peer-to-peer learning centered around a knowledge commons: the process began as a capacity building program called ict@innovation launched by German development agency GIZ. The project aimed at creating business and learning opportunities with free and open source software in Africa. Now it is a community of more than 1,200 co-learners, co-producers and businesses (UNCTAD 2012: 65f).
This example can serve as a starting point to provide good practice measures on how initiatives can structure learning around peer-production processes. The following points are guidelines for those who wish to initiate or participate in cross-border commons-based learning communities – incorporating own experiences, recommendations of the “Peeragogy Handbook” of 2013 and other sources. It looks at how community empowerment managers can foster global “participatory cultures”, as media scholar Henry Jenkins has put it.
Good Practices of Organizing Learning in Peer-Production Across Borders (Table 2)
- Let peers handle the co-facilitation of learning
- Foster self-election of roles based on merit or other community values
- Support different commitment levels that accommodate newcomers and facilitate the ‘migration to more demanding roles’
- Value and respect mentorship and meritocratic leadership, give it visibility
- ear self-governance and infrastructure governance towards openness, freedom and autonomy
- ocument participation and self-governance processes and provide them as step-by-step guides
- Focus on communication, provide explicit discussion prompts, build feedback loops
- Set only a minimum of rules to let room for emergent behavior
- Seed and grow the community through open calls Frank Ilugulilwa - IT Trainer in Tanzania
- Provide a thoughtful sequence of learning events and spaces
- Address quality and certification issues through learner created assessments and badges [7. For more on quality assurance, measurement of accomplishment, skills, quality and certification in peer-learning, check Mozilla et al. (2012), Schmidt et al. (2009) and peeragogy.org (2013, p. 74ff, p. 115ff).]
Motivation and cross-border trust:
- Make it fun to contribute
- Encourage, reward and recognize contributions
- Stay close to real-world practical knowledge of contributors: turn their working environment into the learning environment
- Create relatedness, empathy and trust across boundaries
- Break language barriers through accurate translation
- Address cultural differences in collaboration styles, recognition systems, norms
- Provide for multiple perspectives on common problems and challenges
- Use an open license, which is in line with the business or non-market goals of participants
Sources for table above: peeragogy.org (2013: 31ff, 53ff); Fischer (2011: 46, 52); Bacon (2012: 126, 151ff); Hagemann/Seibold 2013; Ahn et al. 2013; Jenkins 2006; Fuster Morell 2010; Zhang et al. 2012; Wenger et al. 2011; and Preece/Shneiderman 2009
About the Author
Balthas Seibold is a senior project manager for ‚Global Knowledge Sharing & Learning’ at GIZ, the ‘Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH’. He focuses on open knowledge cooperation to foster the freedom to learn and innovate in developing countries. Balthas has a special interest in the knowledge commons and social networks and their potential to build human capacities, link up people and foster open learning worldwide. Before 2012 he led capacity building programs with GIZ that promote the open source IT-sector in Asia and Africa such as ict@innovation. Balthas has also worked at InWEnt – Capacity Building International, UNESCO’s bureau of strategic planning, the GTZ and the UNDP.
The author would like to thank the following persons for invaluable input and detailed comments (any errors and misjudgments are of course his own): Philipp Schmidt, Andreas Meiszner, Susanna Albrecht, Kader Ekici, Christian Gmelin, Petra Hagemann, Claudia Lange, Sarah Malelu, Sabine Olthof, Natalie Maria Stewart, Lennart Stoy, Miriam Unverzagt.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to GIZ or any other affiliation.