Strengthening Latin American NGOs in ICTs strategic use.


Lessons Learned and Recommendations, from Evaluating projects funded under the IDRC program "Capacity Development for Internet Use in LAC"


By Yacine Khelladi 27/11/01 © 2001-2002

Thanks to Katherine Reilly for proofreading my Spanglish


During the last 2 years (1999-2001), the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) “has supported small capacity-building training and networking activities by selected researchers and institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean” through the Capacity Development in Internet use (CAPDEV) program. “The project was a  response to the increasing accessibility of information and communication technologies (ICTs) by previously marginalized sectors of society…Priority was given to requests that involved collaborative networks, grassroots participation, innovative experimentation with Internet resources and uses, potential for future collaboration in regional networking (PAN) projects, and links with other IDRC-supported activities


0- The Context 2

1.   Lessons learned  4

1.1.            Capacity building in ICT use must not be viewed as just adding/acquiring new resources. 4

1.2.            Capacity building is a long process, from adoption to strategic use and appropriation; 4

1.3.            Sustainable integration of ICTs must be carefully integrated in a strategic plan and be part of self conscious transformation process  5

1.4.            Learn to Learn Lessons Learned  and to systematize your experiences  6

1.5.            Awareness building, participation and training with a vision to social impact, helps to empower individuals and to build a sustainable ICT integration process. 7

1.6.      Is small beautiful or big too big for small grants?  7

1.7.            Evaluation and learning  8

1.8.            Impact of ICT capacity building on gender variables  is not yet understood. 8

2.      Recommendations for the granting agency: 9

2.1.            Create mechanisms to accompany and support the capacity development processes. 9

2.2.            Develop methodological tools for grantee self help  10

2.3.            Develop better analysis/lecture grids for project proposal prior to granting  10

2.4.            Produce specific research on gender and ICT capacity building  10

2.5.            Enable real lessons sharing and promote systematization  11

Annex 1 On new Methodological elements since the last paper 12



0- The Context


The author was contracted to asses the program and among other internal issues, to evaluate:


(a)     the impact of each project in terms of: the beneficiary organization's ability to efficiently achieve general goals and/or particular projects; the working efficiency of the beneficiary, including involved professionals, researchers or development workers; and other development activities at the national or regional level;

(b)    the lessons learned in the process.


In general terms the assessment demonstrated the usefulness of the program to strengthen, with a relatively low investment, a large number of development organizations and networks, and to promote creativity and innovative applications/solutions in the use of ICTs for social development.  Of course, not all grants have produced the same level of impact, but some of the projects have been very significative , in terms of developing the capacity of organizations and networks to reach their social objectives and widen their range of impact


Most seeds have become flowers - organizations and networks that have adopted Internet use and become more efficient.  Others have become lovely trees - institutions, projects or programs that are being structurally transformed, with significant prospects for impacts on specific social situations.  Of course in many cases those processes will continue for months or years, and have not yet product realized their full impact. Also new approaches and applications have emerged as in the cases of educational research  and local media networking, In a particular case the grant played a vital role in saving an organization struggling to continue its social mission in very difficult context


Some of these impacts go beyond the grant objectives, as when they were inserted in broader processes or when they reinforced existing network synergies. And also some impacts occurred were not expected, when at the margin of the recipient institution, an endogenous processes have occurred, reinforcing the capacity of groups other than the expected, or, creating new – non planned- network dynamics (as in Oaxaca, Mexico).


The two and a half years long follow up shows up that many of these very interesting social and institutional processes and projects would not have taken place without access to the type of financial support provided by CAPDEV, and therefore, that has therefore demonstrated its great usefulness.




As of gender impact within the institutions, even though most of the projects were conducted by organizations which are aware of the importance of a gender perspective (some even being women organizations, as in Brasil and Chile), and, even though most made efforts to include women equally in their training and planning, we consider that a gender perspective was not effectively integrated into the projects.  There was a lack of concerted efforts to produce gender sensitive training modules, specific applications or methods to reduce gender inequality both internally and externally, or to address private and public power relations. There is here an entire field of research to be explored. In the following section on lessons learned, some of the possible fields of questioning are proposed.


Participation or civil society strengthening;


In general, all of the projects have helped the spreading  innovative ICT use among civil society organizations. But six of the projects have directly aimed at enhancing the capacity of civil society and/or grassroots networks to participate in specific social processes.  Most of these have truly amplified the reach of the organization’s concerns in their societies, as in the cases of the Peruvian Ashaninka and Oaxaca (Mexico) indigenous organizations network, Central American NGOs for post hurricane Mitch reconstruction, or the Uruguayan community organizations network.



1.      Lessons learned


Nonetheless, in many cases, we found evidence that impacts could have been much more structurally significant and sustained – impacts on the institution, network or application, on the ability of organizations to affect social development, on civil society strengthening, on reduction of gender inequality, etc.  As is described in the following section on lessons learned and recommendations, there is a need for: more specific and permanent methodological support in strategic planning; sustainability strategies; the inclusion of gender sensitive methods and social vision in the design of organizational ICT integration and the training modules; and a self evaluation in the assessment of internal and external impacts.


1.1.   Capacity building in ICT use must not be viewed as just adding/acquiring new resources.


To be relevant and effective, capacity development has to be much more than just training staff and acquiring new resources or facilities (computers, software, connectivity). 


For a meaningful impact, ICTs can and should be integrated in organizational activities, administration, activities (production) tasks and processes, learning and training, and in particular, communications and information use (access/diffusion, internal/external).  This can lead to a much improved use of available resources, through networking and public exposure, allow new internal and external networks, much more and direct learning and research, increase efficacy in delivering products and services, boost internal communication - in a word, radically transform the institution and its capacity to achieve its goals. [1]


1.2.   Capacity building is a long process, from adoption to strategic use and appropriation;


The process of capacity building of ICTs in development organizations for a social impact, is a long and time consuming process that needs too be better understood.


According to this assessment results, and adopting categories systematized by Kemly Camacho a researcher of Fundación Acceso (La Internet, un gran desafío, we can present the process in three steps as described in the following table:




Adoption (step A)

Connecting and Firsts Steps.

Getting connectivity, training, learning, setting user support, hardware, software, organizing access to resources, etc,

Strategic use (Step B)

Results in more efficiency in projects,

Begin of structural impact

Integrating the use of ICT in the organizations tasks, automation, speed, systematization, etc.; adapting structures  and processes. as in decision making, and working procedures etc

Appropriation  (Step C)

Structural Change Completed And New Organizational Paradigm

Creating new knowledge, new processes, new products or services, etc.




Effectively adopting the Internet  (step A) can lead to a significant change in efficiency in the institution (the impact could also be negative in this sense) .  However, structural change within organizations, that will potentially multiply the impact of the institution activities, occurs when step B is completed, when research, learning, services, communications, administration, etc, have been transformed through the integration of ICTs.


We can see from the CAPDEV projects that this process may require more time than was expected - to assimilate, adjust, integrate - and that resources must be allocated to sustain these processes.


The process is not necessarily linear, - step A “training”, step B “integrating ICT use in tasks”.  Activities can be developed together, and this type of strategic consideration needs to be envisioned in order to ensure the impact of capacity building efforts.  However, envisioning step C results without thinking through and assembling steps A and/or B can lead to bad results. Results are much more positive when current activities are first strengthened so that the tools can be used to develop and apply new knowledge. 


Also we learned that projects have to take into account the organization’s or community’s timeframe, and build a process with an adapted pace, that is certainly not as fast as the internet evolution, and that may not necessarily correspond to project’s grant timelines.


1.3.   Sustainable integration of ICTs must be carefully integrated in a strategic plan and be part of self conscious transformation process


The most impressive CAPDEV results were obtained when the integration of ICTs corresponded with a process of review that considered the organization’s situation, installed capacity, objectives and strategies to reach its social objectives.  Small seed grants for capacity development can contribute to institutional transformation and generate greater social impact if the institution first, or in parallel, clearly responds to questions such as: who we are?, what do we have? what is our agenda? why do we work? what is our actual and possible capacity?  A process of deep analysis is needed, which eventually revisits the institution’s mission, values, goals, and strategies; and which reflects on how available and possible resources could be mobilized to better attain those goals given ICTs use. When this analysis and creative process is not realized, Internet capacity development is unsustainable or very limited compared to its potential.


So, only the construction of an institutional strategic plan will facilitate the correct envisioning and planning of the ICT integration process, and allocate the required resources (human, financial, etc) to achieving a sustainable process.


Even where the impetus for ICT integration results from an external requirement (a project, a granting agency, external assessment), only deep analysis and careful planning can adapt existing resources, maximize internal synergies and scale advantages. And when external resources are scare, this process will set priorities and identify critical elements in the organization’s integration of ICTs.


Unfortunately the assessment found that almost none of the CAPDEV projects realized this type of planning and are therefore we found that they are now struggling to find external resources to sustain their ICT integration processes.


Only one organization realized such a process, and, with the help of a professional trained in strategic planning, produced a clear vision and an institutional project for the integration of ICTs.  Hopefully this plan will be implemented. The results of this particular project also suggested that this process of strategic planning must develop a systemic and non-linear (holistic, in terms of organizational transformation) form of thinking.


We also learned such complex processes, often including institutional strategy, demand professional and methodological support in the process of strategic planning for ICT integration.


1.4.   Learn to Learn Lessons Learned  and to systematize your experiences


Understating the potential and the particularities of the ICT integration process is a relatively new, but already experimented, area of knowledge, we believe that there are many elements that can be learned from compiling the lessons or evaluations produced by similar processes or organizations. We know that there is a large amount of data available, through Web sites, books, data bases, homologues, personal stories, etc. Nonetheless we found that most of the CAPDEV projects did not consider other similar experiences, stories or research results. We then asked: why aren’t organizations using the existing databases of learned lessons?


CAPDEV recipients responded as follows::

(a)           did not know were/how to search,  as nobody directed them (or they did not ask the right person)

(b)           did not realize the complexity of the process and therefore did not feel the need of searching answers

(c)           felt that the lessons they found did not fit their needs (for example too much theory, or cases of big/wealthy organizations)


On the other hand very few of the CAPDEV experiences have been systematized in a way that other organizations, entering similar processes, can use to learn from and build upon.


1.5.   Awareness building, participation and training with a vision to social impact, helps to empower individuals and to build a sustainable ICT integration process.


Training in basic internet tools (software or functions as email, navigation, etc) is much more efficient if there is:

·        an introduction or an awareness building activity that addresses the social, developmental and cultural aspects and impacts of the Internet,

·        meaning/sense building to its use in concordance with the organization and individual perspective and goals,

·        help in understanding the pros and cons of the adoption/appropriation process, putting in perspective the advantages and the necessary start-up investment.


Much resistance to the use of modern technologies can be lowered, and enthusiasm gained, when the impacts of the use of ICTs at the personal, local, institutional, and social levels, are aligned with individual perceptions, establishing connections with personal beliefs and motivational systems.


Not all of the CAPDEV projects integrated this vision in their training, resulting in additional internal obstacles to sustaining the process. The integration of these perspectives, given a clear vision of the advantages and risks of ICT adoption, is a way to sustain the process and ensure the support of stakeholders.


It is also important that an organization’s decision makers, leaders and coordinators be aware of the implications, future benefits, and necessary inputs, of successful ICT integration.


Another way of ensuring the positive attitude of organization members is to organize a participatory planning process, were all can provide inputs into the strategic plan.


1.6.   Is small beautiful or big too big for small grants?


At a certain point, when considering the capacity building progresses of the different recipients, we were inclined to think that small organizations were much more proactive, effective and creative in integrating ICTs and generating innovative uses or processes.


But after considering the previous points, about the necessity of conducting a process of participatory strategic planning, awareness building and vision sharing, careful resource allocation for sustainability, etc., we came to understand that the grant volume and efforts undertaken within bigger organization were not adequate. Larger organizations would need to apply more effort, more time and more resources to build an institutional plan and involve all their members in a common and conscious transformation process.


Smaller organizations, with fewer people to consult, fewer activities and structures to adapt, can even use informal internal exchanges to develop their integration strategy.


Thus the size of the institution matters, in regard to the grant amounts .


1.7.   Evaluation and learning


As most did not integrate the CAPDEV activities within a broader framework, very few of the recipients connected their results or outputs with institutional needs and programs. This explains why some of the capacity building processes were left uncompleted after the grant objectives were achieved (x computers installed, x persons assisted to a training). It is a consequence of the lack of strategic planning for ICT integration.


We believe that institutional learning for progress can only occur when a participatory assessment connects activity results with people, programs, projects and institutional needs and plans. When “learning” occurs to satisfy grant deliverables, it does not empower the organization.


The definition of an evaluation or self-assessment framework (what, how, who and when) should be part of the strategic planning process, which is participatory and includes vision-sharing processes.


1.8.   Impact of ICT capacity building on gender variables  is not yet understood.


Two grantees were women’s groups, and some others have integrated a gender perspective into their projects and activities.  However, we believe that the equitable inclusion of women in training activities is not sufficient for achieving progress towards gender equality, considering the structural change opportunity given by the ICT capacity development process.


For instance, we received negative responses to most of the following questions/indicators:

·        What about institutional strategic planning?  Were women equally integrated in the process? Were their specific concerns taken into account?

·        Was the option of female only groups in training considered?

·        What about the design of new ICT enabled work processes and decision-making structures? Were they designed to reduce the inequality in power relations, both within the institution and in the outer world?

·        After the change, who controls access to technology? Who is empowered to change or innovate? Who (gender) are gatekeepers?

·        Were the symbols, references, analogies images and stereotypes used in the training oriented towards empowering women? Did male trainers avoid male domination in courses by avoiding excessive "techie" language, which tends to intimidate other learners?

·        Were, when it was the case, female trainers chosen because their gender, and prepared specific gender sensitive materials or activities?

·        Was equal participation of men and women sought?  Were men encouraged to ask questions (instead of making "expert" statements) and were women encouraged to ask questions (instead of remaining silent)? Or when working in pairs, were male-female groupings avoided, since men tend to take over mouse and keyboard, while women sit and watch?


Most of the concerns raised by those questions were not considered in capacity building planning or processes.


That is why we believe that integrating a real gender perspective into ICT enabled organizational transformations is still an unexplored and potentially rich field of research.


2.      Recommendations for the granting agency:


We have found the small grants project to be extremely useful in terms of strengthening, with a relatively low investment, a large number of development organizations and networks, and promoting creativity and innovative applications/solutions in ICT use for social development. But we also found evidence that impacts could have been much more structurally significant and sustained. The following recommendations try to address this concern.


2.1.   Create mechanisms to accompany and support the capacity development processes.


A support mechanism should be created, so that the grant recipients receive permanent support in their capacity building processes, ensuring that maximum benefit is obtained from the grant and from the ICT integration process.


Support should begin at the project definition phase and should be directed at helping the grantee to locate and understand experiences and lessons, better their project proposal, implement strategic planning processes, carrying out assessment and evaluation, envisioning alternatives or creating solutions, etc.


This support may come from persons or institutions different from the grant maker so it is not perceived as a formal requirement. Eventually this role could be taken on by peers or previous grantees, or local not for profit groups specialized in institutional strategy building and ICTs. It might be preferable to choose a local, national, or sub-regional group, that knows the local conditions and possibilities, possible obstacles, services, resources or solutions available. It could also could be a (jump?) team of experts (planning, evaluation, connectivity and technology, training, sustainability).


This mechanism should at the same time monitor the projects and answer to their needs  and find solutions to problems. A sort of cocooning…


2.2.   Develop methodological tools for grantee self help


A body of knowledge, techniques and methods should be established for the grant recipients which addresses:


·        strategic planning and ICT integration, including conducting institutional assessment

·        awareness building and participatory integration in ICT diffusion;

·        the integration of a social vision in the training 

·        training for meaningful use of the Internet

·        self evaluation and monitoring which responds to institutional needs and goals, not the granting institution’s needs

·        technological solutions updates



2.3.   Develop better analysis/lecture grids for project proposal prior to granting


Research should be conducted to build a analysis framework that would:


·        Establish to which step of the internet integration process the project proposal/ innovative product services corresponds (and thus if contemplated activities and strategies are adapted to it);

·        assess if all sustainability parameters are included, as the relationship between the size of the organization making the proposal, the effort/resources required, and the grant amount;

·        check that all other factors (see lessons learned) which could contribute to maximizing the investment outputs, are considered.


2.4.   Produce specific research on gender and ICT capacity building


How can we use the opportunity of ICT capacity building, and the specific characteristics of ICTs, to enable new structures and relationships within organizations and within their environment?


Results should be practical tools, guidelines, check lists, gender impact assessment methods, and ICT training modules, which are more gender sensitive and which respond to this question.


2.5.   Enable real lessons sharing and promote systematization


Research on capacity building in ICT use for development should be directed at the question of how “lessons learned” can be effectively transferred to others, and not become lost in unused data bases. Research focused on better systematization of experiences should create:


·        Mechanisms to ensure that previously learned lessons, that currently exist in may different databases and formats, are effectively taken into account, examined and valuated, when institutions decide to pursue a similar strategic change process

·        Mechanisms to provide guidelines for the systematization of project experiences in a sharable format as methods for producing stories, traducing self-assessment in lessons, etc.












Annex 1 On new Methodological elements since the last paper


All the elements (framework, research question, variables and indicators, tools) in the previous version are described online at the CAPDEV evaluation web site that is password protected, also a description is freely accessible on line on the IDRC web within a paper presented at the PanLac meeting in September 2000.


Tree years ago, we formulated the following research questions, which respond to the research objectives of a) defining/measuring impacts on institutional capacity and the provision of research/development service/products, and b) the capacity development small grants program:


1.      if there is an integration of ICTs and positives changes in the different areas of the beneficiary institutions. (learning and training, services and production, project management, administration, communication - both internal and external, etc.)

2.      Changes in the visibility and external relations (with stakeholders, including object populations) of the institution

3.      if the  capacity of the individuals/members of the organization had bettered their efficiency, quality, and effectiveness because of the use of the new tools

4.      If the small grant had enabled the execution or design of bigger project, or bettered the execution of an existing one.


We feel that the methodological framework we built at that time was beyond the then current understanding of capacity building with ICTs, which tended to be limited to counting connectivity variables (time of use, amounts, number of computers, lines, kilobits exchanged, etc.).


But since that time, the region has produced several research activities related to ICTs impact evaluation, which enriched our conceptual tools, such as EVALTICA (IDRC evaluation framework design), MISTICA (ICT Social Impact Network), TELELAC evaluation component (LAC telecentres network), and work of Fundación Acceso on evaluating the adoption of Internet by Central American CSOs.


Fundación Acesso’s research work on the adoption of Internet by Central American CSOs, headed by Kemly Camacho, produced an interesting set of categories to explain the process of Internet integration in an NGO:


1 - The access to the internet: as connectivity, training, learning curve, etc.

2 - The strategic use of Internet: as organizational transformation of processes, structure, decision making, working procedures etc.

3 - The social/organizational empowerment of the Internet use: new or better services/products, organizational networks, new relations with the stakeholders, etc.


This model helped us to understand what was implicit in our framework.  Now, we can relate our research questions transversally and better understand, how the model presented by Camacho can help us answer our questions. We mean looking at our questions over Camacho’s categories:


Our questions

Correspondence to Camacho’s categories

1.      if there is an integration of ICTs and positives changes in the different areas of the beneficiary institutions: (learning and training, services and production, project management, administration, communication - both internal and external, etc.)

the process from A to B

2.      Changes in the visibility and external relations of the institution


this more an impact of B à C  (B: using it as an tool for communication to C networks and relations with stakeholders)


3.      If the capacity of the individuals/members of the organization had bettered their efficiency, quality, and effectiveness because of the use of the new tools


individuals go though

A à B à C

(connect, learn, change their way of work, new processes, etc.)

4.      If the small grant had enabled the execution or design of bigger project, or bettered the execution of an existing one.

from B à C


So now we can set a new classification of CAPDEV projects regarding Camacho’s categories



objectives of the project


(1) ISIS- Internacional Chile

A and some B

(2) SAKS – Haití


(4) RED Mulher – Brasil

A and some B

(3) Comunidad Ashanínka PERU

A and looking to C

(5) Bellas Artes de Ocaña - Colombia -

B without A + innovative application

(6) Red para la Paz Colombia Fundación Multicolor

A / C

(7) Colnodo Colombia

reinforcing A for C

(8) Desafíos Nicaragua


(9) Alforja Centro América

impact application B

(10) Transparencia Perú

A and C

(12) Puntos de Encuentro (nica)


 (13) Binigulazaa  Oaxaca – México

A and C

(14) GPDR _ Uruguay

A and some B

(15) La Calera (Colombia)

A some B

(16) Incorpore Costa Rica

A AND B some C



An emerging question is whether capacity development in NGOs has proceeded through all the required levels. For example, in going from A (connectivity) to B (strategic use) does the institution need to go through all the different aspects of connectivity: equipment, connectivity, training, user support, etc., or can it develop in both levels at the same time, integrate while developing training, and even innovate and create new knowledge. What is the relationship and the dynamic equilibrium, if one exists, in the learning process?


[1] Some Excerpts on the net :

“Donors and international NGOs have often understood it to be simply training in accountancy and financial management. What do the clients -southern NGOs - want and expect to develop capacity?”  In article NGOs and capacity building: for what and for whom?:


“Building the capacity of a community or local organization is much more than ensuring it has resources and inputs.” In  ICT capacity development issues by: Simon Batchelor


©  Yacine Khelladi 1998-2001