Mainstreaming proprietary software formats into dev aid publications

Mainstreaming the Environment into Humanitarian Action

Dear Readers,
as much as I would like to share the following link to a very nice training toolkit with you – a toolkit that has been up online for some time now and recently got an extra section on sustainable sanitation – I am seriously wondering what the good folks at UNEP’s Environment, Humanitarian Action and Early Recovery programme are doing all day long. Probably not anything related to knowledge management & IT.

“UNEP and Groupe URD have developed a training toolkit to assist humanitarian actors to integrate environmental considerations into their policy development, planning, programme design and operational activities. The training toolkit consists of 11 modules, with each substantive module containing a summary, PowerPoint presentation, trainer’s guide, training materials and key supporting documents.” (src)

I know it isn’t good style to publicly criticize others, but producing a toolkit that consists of documents saved in DOCX, PPTX or WMV format just isn’t appropriate in any way. This may work for those in charge behind their desks in Europe or the US, but not out there in the field.

Instead, all documents should rather be in Portable Document Format (PDF). Along with a free & light-weight portable PDF viewer. There are quite a few out there with open licences.  And the videos – how about AVI instead of Windows (!) Media Video (WMV)? Or Theora? And a portable VLC player for MS Win, OSX and Linux.

How many dev workers in Africa are on Apple computers due to the malware threat? Right.

This publication is just an example. In fact, there are many others – yes, even in 2012 – that are produced in a similar way and which make me think that there’s no real passion behind it. This issue probably wouldn’t arise if everything was accessible via the web – which could also be displayed on small mobile phone screen, instead of 48 MB *.pptx files. Maybe we also have to blame ourselves for producing PDFs that can be shared on- and offline, but whose content would be much better in old-fashioned html.

An example of a passionate project is Alex Weir’s CD3WD collection. That’s much more information than any one of us can handle, yet it’s all usable.

What do you think?

2 comments » Write a comment

  1. H,

    Thanks for the fresh perspectve.

    Can you recommend a ste or resource for best practces n terms of IT for the development sector and partcularly those based n settngs wth low bandwdth / unrelable Internet connectons?

    What open lcense PDF creators do you recommend?

    Thanks for any advce you can provde.


  2. H Ryan,
    thx for the feedback. Open PDF vewers I’d recommend are those whch are avalable for all three major platforms. I lke the selecton on ths ste: because they focus on portable apps. Gven that you often can not nstall apps on a locked-up IT envronment for securty reasons, a portable app may be a good nterm soluton (but for Wndows only).

    PDF Creator: I wouldn’t shp any DVD / nfo materal wth such a creator software, but f t had to be one and Wndows-only s ok, t would be PDFCreator But of course, Offce 2007 on Wn also saves as PDF.

    I thnk a real progress n ICT4D would be the consequent use of laptops wth open operatng systems.

    The realty s that a donor provdes a fund, and a local agent then does the purchase of hard- and software, whch often results n an HP desktop pc wth a UPS and Wndows as OS. Now magne you’re stuck somewhere n Afrca n a project where you can’t progress because some malware nfected the system. I’ve seen some projects that just ddn’t take off due to ths problem.

    Another software collecton I lke s the OpenSource DVD .

    I thnk n the end t’s less about the rght software, but rather the provson of documents n neutral / compatble formats. So you as a reader / recever won’t have to go to and download a 48MB plugn to convert DOCX nto DOC format.

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