Tech in Social Development

The World Bank asks how technology can engage marginalized communities.
"Intentional Futures helped us build the knowledge base, relationships, and internal buy-in to become leaders on technology." - Aly Rahim, Practice Manager, Social Development


The Social Development team at the World Bank ensures that marginalized communities have a voice in the development that happens in their backyard. While most of this work is done face-to-face, in the past decade they’ve seen the use of mobile phones skyrocket. This inspired the Bank to explore the potential of technology to better collaborate and get feedback from their constituents.

Having witnessed successes and failures on the use of technology in international development, the Social Development team knew that a strategic approach was necessary. They asked Intentional Futures to help.

We knew that they needed more than a research report; the World Bank needed to build organizational buy-in and broad understanding of technology application in international development. So we took them on a learning journey, starting with a needs assessment where we learned about the risks, barriers, and opportunities within the team’s work. These findings fed into the development of technology evaluation guidelines, and, eventually, a three day a Tech Tour.

We met with experts from Stanford and companies including Orbital Insight, Open Garden, and Benetech. The discussions in these sessions, along with the collaborative workshops at each stage of the journey, helped the Social Development Practice become enthusiastic and well-informed about the potential for technology in their field.

As a result of our work, the World Bank is planning four pilot programs using these products to improve citizen engagement, analyze citizen feedback, and cultivate social inclusion.

What We Made

Using workshops, interviews, and a survey, we created a list of priorities areas and evaluation criteria which guided a broad canvass of over 200 potential technology products. Of those, we selected the five with the highest potential for impact. We conducted additional feasibility research on these five products and summarized our findings into short product profiles. The profiles were used to educate potential pilot partners and built acceptance throughout the Social Development Practice leadership.

The leadership also wanted to explore specific applications of these products and understand issues around the risk, equity, and ethics of using technology with marginalized populations. To address this, we met the product owners, technologists, and academic experts. We learned how the products fit into current projects, about examples of poor technology roll-out, and ways to be smart consumers of technology. We summarized the Tech Tour’s key takeaways and action items in a written report.

At the end of the project we wrote a short article encapsulating what we learned which the team shared with the rest of the World Bank.


Because of this project, the Social Development Practice now has the organizational buy-in, subject area knowledge, and practical tools they need to implement technology solutions into their work. The real-world impact will be proved out soon: of the five products selected through this process, four are currently being developed into pilot programs in places like Uganda, near Lake Chad, and in the Middle East.

Read the World Bank's blog post about the project here.

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