Local Content Grants - Signs of a good start by the ICT Board

Many Kenyan techies did not have a very normal weekend of 17th to 18th July 2010. For the simple reason that the deadline for submitting applications for the 'tandaa' grants was the Monday following (19th July). They had to do last minute write ups and touch ups on their local content grant proposals. Of course there had been a whole month or so to prepare and submit the proposals comfortably. Needless to say our last minute action culture did not excuse even some of the most organized amongt us. According to the ICT board,  of 1,800 applicants, 667 successfully completed the application process.  Indeed it is likely that many of the 1100 or so proposals that were not completed were merely time barred.

Aside from our 'nice' culture, it may not be too early to give the Kenya ICT board a pat on the back for some noticeable milestones they have achieved with the first round of the local digital content grant financed by one of Kenya's many World Bank loans. Several characteristics of the ICT board process pleasantly distinguishes it from the other local grant management programs.

1. Online Proposal Application
Many government grant programs (eg. in HIV&AIDS grants) involve a tedious process of preparing and submitting physical documents. More often than not 3 or 5 copies of the same document are required. The ICT board's application process has done well in demonstrating that this does not have to be the case. The 'tandaa' application was through a fairly straight forward online form. The form questions were designed to encourage applicants to be straight and to the point in responding to questions using word count limits. The board went further to present a sample grant application and guidelines which were rather useful. A dump of the complete application information that was provided by the system including an application code and was rather useful. 

Many people would easily say, and stereotypically so, that such an online application process is only possible where the targeted applicants are IT and internet savvy. My suggestion is that such stereotypes will end in the near future as more and more Kenyans get assimilated into the web culture. It is worth noting that the very reasoning behind the local content grant is to recruit more Kenyans into an online knowledge society by generating more online content and applications they can relate to.

2. FAQs and Answers
I was impressed by the thought of not only holding pre-application regional workshops in Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret and Nairobi to educate Kenyans on the grant but going ahead to post the questions frequently asked about the grant on the ICT board website. It would look like a very basic thing to do to many people but it did make a difference especially for those who could not attend the regional workshops - more so for those who needed some last minute clarifications.

3. Application closure feedback and survey
One more impressive thing was that the board provided feedback to proposal applicants a day following the deadline. The feedback included a mention of how many proposals had been attempted (1800) and how many were successfully concluded (667). The feedback email provided a further reminder that the proposals would be reviewed and results communicated in three weeks. Even more impressive was the  fact that  along with the email feedback, the board administered a 9 question survey on the application process experience to the applicants. One of the survey questions was whether the applicants wished to have their proposals availed to venture capital firms and other funding agencies. In view of the observation that only about 40 of the 667 proposals would be funded in the first grant cycle, the ICT board came out as proactive with the intention of facilitating financing beyond the grant. 

Future expectations
Some friends from outside our small economy might wonder why I am so impressed by the above little successes. It might help them to note that such little efficiencies do not happen every day in our government systems and they are indeed noteworthy. On a continued note of pessimism, we should look forward to the ICT board achieving more successes in this first cycle such as
  1. Stick to the deadline for completion of proposal evaluation and formal communication on results (15th August) while providing a sense of objectivity and fairness  in the overall grant award.
  2. Publish analysis of the 9 question application closure survey for more insights on the general perceptions, feelings and experiences of the applications - (might provide useful insights to future applicants)
  3. Publish the list of successful and unsuccessful grants promptly after proposal evaluation - at least on the board's website
  4. Good luck in monitoring project execution by  successful applicants for enhanced accountability and impact to the local digital content industry.
On a more trivial but perhaps important note, it might help for more specific timelines to be communicated for application deadlines in future. Stating that the application deadline was 19th July 2010 does not give enough guidance as to whether applications should have been submitted before 00.00hrs 19th, 00.00hrs 20th, or close of business 19th July - typically 17.00hrs. 

Lets look forward to more 'little' successes from the ICT board - hoping other grant making institutions will follow the good examples.