ICT4D research meeting: Grace Ssekakubo on bureaucracy and my own clarity on what I should be doing right now.

At the meeting today Grace addressed all of the pitfalls and personal troubles he experienced with the PhD process. The biggest topic he touched on was that of the stiff and restrictive UCT bureaucracy. His eventual solution hinted at the fact that you should be thick as thieves with your supervisor and essentially make sure that you are in complete synchronicity. It also greatly helps to have a champion for your cause for when it comes to dealing with the bureaucratic beast.

Another topic emerged from the general lamentation of topic changes, and drastic deviations of the research question.  In general I reckon this is also very much a supervision based issue.  Richard brought up a beautiful analogy of him growing up in a small village and having to take his bicycle to the shops, 20 km away, every other day.  About 2 km into the ride he would have to overcome and immense hill, and sometimes would start crying from exasperation halfway up. Although, once the hill was defeated the rest of the ride would be relatively smooth (at least in comparison). One day, his cousin let him in on a secret: He needed to wait at the bottom of the hill for a lorry or biggish bakkie, and grab a hold of the back. Concentrating on balancing himself on his bicycle, with his hand firmly planted on this truck, he would be able to get to the top of the hill much faster and with greater ease. Although this trip wasn’t easy per say (he would have to concentrate on staying on his bicycle, anticipate any stops or turns from the truck, and make his presence known and admissible to the truck driver) it would allow him to overcome the hill. Richard’s point was this: If you have a hill to climb, you need the right supervisor and they have to be on the same page as you. You need to have full trust in them to guide you to your end point, elsewise you might sit somewhere halfway up a hill, crying.

I’ve realised the value of these meetings in another regard as well: sitting with this beautiful true-life parable I’ve realised that I, so to speak, have the shoulders of giants to stand on. I’ve been procrastinating so hard on going through readings for clues on the questions that I should ask, that I’ve completely missed out on the clear way forward:

I should be questioning the gaps: not only what I can gain out of reading these articles, but what information is left wanting. What questions were not asked, and especially in regards to my Nokia research: how can I go about addressing practical needs, what are people not getting from their use of technology?

For right now, i shouldn’t be concentrating on methods or conceptual frameworks. Those will become clearer as my study progresses. I should not imagine what practical solutions I want to help materialise, as these product will not be designed to accomodate my own media ecology. I should only concentrate on asking the questions that might elicit truthful answers from people who may be unaware of their own technological needs.

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