Posted by & filed under Open Letters.

Hi William,

You asked me to put in writing the “Big Vision” that I was telling you about regarding Dadamac’s UK-Africa collaborations and our alternative, grass-roots led, approach to International development. So here goes.

The Dadamac Big Vision is something fit for purpose in the 21st century. It is completely practical and every part of it is do-able. It has all been demonstrated on a small scale, much of it over many years. I make this point because there is so much hype around, especially when people talk about International Development, or the Internet, or mobile phones in Africa, i.e. things that are relevant to this Big Vision.

This Big Vision is not a technical fix, nor an add-on to the usual ways of doing things. This is an alternative approach that is already starting, and could not have happened before the 21st century. It is an updated  version of “people helping people” that is emerging now because of the way the Internet and mobile phones are changing how we live our lives. We communicate so much more easily over long distances. People are no longer limited to communicating by letters home if they live thousands of miles from their friends and families. The Internet has been described as the “death of distance”.

UK-Africa communication and collaboration is easier than ever before. This means there is no longer any excuse for a disconnect between sources of external funding for “International Development” and on-the-ground realities – see It’s time to end this development disconnect The Dadamac Big Vision is a natural approach to suit an increasingly connected world.

The technology to enable communication

One of the first building blocks for the Big Vision is effective communication between people. One element of communication is the technology that enables us to talk to each other, to communicate and collaborate at a distance. Technically that is getting easier. It is also getting cheaper, and the necessary digital communications infrastructure is reaching further out from big cities into rural areas.

Regarding ICT (Infromation and Communication technology) and Dadamac: from its earliest beginnings Dadamac has, in a very real sense, had its main home “on the Internet” rather than at any of its key physical locations in Africa or UK.

The quality of information

Another building block for the Big Vision is the quality and value of the information that people are communicating.

Information that people share depends on a mixture of things, especially their shared interests and the quality of their relationships. Social media demonstrate the power of shared interests, combined with effective communication. Communities of interest, communities of practice and communities of influence are increasingly forming across geographical boundaries thanks to the Internet.

Dadamac is built on strong relationships between people who have inter-related interests, and practical projects, and who are communicating in ways that help each other.

Sharing information

Yet another Big Vision building block is the way that information is captured, processed, and made available. Technically this is getting better all the time. The Big Vision combines the best aspects of human information gathering with the best of digital information processing. The result will be an information and knowledge resource of great value, that is freely available, and enables development projects large and small to learn from each other, freely and effectively.

Dadamac had been harvesting and sharing information about locally initiated, needs-led, integrated community development in Nigeria for many years, and is increasingly doing it for other locations as well. We also enable collaboration and peer-to-peer support. The ways we can deal with information will be taken to news level in the Big Vision, both technically and humanly, as we work with more people, deal with more stories and upgrade our digital information processing systems.

A critical mass

In the Big Vision all the things we are currently doing in Dadamac in a small way, with minimal resources, will be happening in a bigger, better, faster, way.

At present we are involved with a small number of innovative projects, at various locations in sub-Saharan Africa. These show what is already being done on the ground, by determined, “changemaking”local people, and illustrate what is possible, separately and together. Digital technology (phones and the Internet) make UK-Africa collaboration and information sharing possible. Dadamac in the UK adds value by harvesting and sharing information from the grassroots, by placing the work in a wider global context, and by supporting “changemakers” in various ways. The breakthrough point will come when we have a critical mass of projects represented. Our present constraint is lack of resources to harvest and share information that we know is “out there”.

At present the Big Vision is only visible to people who can add their own imagination to our evidence of what is already happening (and ready to happen) and thus see what Dadamac could become once it reaches a critical mass.

An “information commons”

This is what will happen after the critical mass is reached, based on what is already happening in our UK-Africa collaborations, and through our wider global connections.

There will be a huge, easy-to-access collection of information about what people are doing to enable community welfare and development in various locations in Africa. It will be be a freely available, continually updated “information commons” about what works, and what doesn’t and why.

The information will be contextual. If you want to know the full ongoing story behind some basic information you will be able to dig deeper. You will be able to follow the ongoing stories of what is happening in different places, as people try to address challenges in their communities and implement their various solutions. You will be able to learn about people tackling local problems, including not only the final success stories, but also the difficulties they are facing and the lessons they are learning.

This contextual shared knowledge is more useful than just reading about solutions. Context is a helpful guide when judging how good a fit someone else’s solution may prove to be in the particular situation you are trying to address. (If you have come across the idea of pattern language, then imagine a massive collection of patterns addressing every imaginable aspect of community development.)

Whatever the challenge or opportunity in the community you care about you will be able to find other people who are dealing with similar situations and learn from their experiences. You will be able to ask questions and get answers.

If you want to share your own story, as it happens, then you will be helped to do so. We know that people who are busy “doing stuff” seldom have the time or inclination to step back and “repackage” their knowledge, experience and insights for other people. That is what has given rise to the Dadamac approach of pairing a changemaker with an “information agent” in order to harvest in-depth information accurately and effectively over a period of time.

In the Big Vision:

  • Practical changemakers are helped to feed their ongoing stories into the “information commons”
  • People wanting to become changemakers, and well as researchers, funders, politicians etc have access to accurate and timely information
  • The changemakers’ challenges, opportunities, successes, failures, and learning experiences are shared
  • Outsiders are able to contribute additional information and other resources
  • Good ideas are easily available to be copied and adapted
  • The “information commons” is continually updated, growing and improving

A new approach to International Development

Our approach is radically different to traditional International Development approaches, which are top-down, externally generated, and (by our standards) “big budget”, even at the “pilot project” stage.

Instead of externally initiated “pilot projects” with plans to “go to scale” there will be locally initiated projects, normally on tight budgets, some of which will “go viral” i.e. being repeatedly shared, copied and adapted. There will be masses of locally created solutions to genuine  problems, drawing on “the wisdom of the wider community of problem solvers”. Instead of top down “interventions” designed externally for nameless “beneficiaries”, there will be solutions created by people who are driven to solve problems because they know the people in the communities where the problems are experienced, and they care about their long term well being.

Structures for growth

My main focus at present is to set up appropriate structures to accommodate rapid growth.

We need:

  • Organisational structures that are flat – reflecting our online origins and communication processes
  • Structures that enable people to be self-directed and pro-active – because  “Dadamac people” are like that anyway and tend to be working in independent ways often at a distance from each other
  • Ways to maintain “Dadamac DNA”: the values and vision that have brought Dadamac this far – because as we grow some people may join who don’t automatically share them
  • Ways to include new people quickly and effectively – so they can see what needs doing and decide what to take on
  • Clearly defined roles and accountabilities, so people know what is expected of them and what they can expect from others – extremely important, especially when people are unpaid and “doing their own thing”
  • Clear procedures for dealing with “tensions” and whatever needs agreeing – which is why I’m preparing to launch Dadamac as a holacracy

To this end I’m exploring the theory and practice of Teal organisations, and the role definitions and procedures of Holacracy – which of course brings us back to:

  • How you and I met through the Teal for Startups working group – where I’m learning more about Teal organisations while considering the Dadamac “Big Vision” in that context
  • Our one-to-one Skype where I told you about my problems in describing the boundaries and purpose of Dadamac – which I need to clarify for Sally McCutchion of EvolvingOrganisation who is my Holacracy facilitator
  • This “homework blog” that I’m writing for follow-up, as you suggested, in order to share more clearly what I told you about the Big Vision