School as a social innovation hub

Notes from the workshop School as a social innovation hub, from the conference Education Today, organized by the Fundació Jaume Bofill, and held in Barcelona, in February 20, 2014.

School as a social innovation hub
Chairs: Eugeni Garcia, PhD in Economics of the Public Sector and expert in education and public management

Poverty is a vicious circle that reproduces inequalities: there is unequal access to most opportunities (e.g. education), there is unequal appropriation of these opportunities, and, thus, coming generations reproduce their status as they unequally benefit from those opportunities. How can the educational system break this vicious circle?

The value chain of education:

  1. The student. At this stage, the family is the actor with a leading role.
  2. Conditions of educability. Besides families too, public policies have a strong role here; the social third sector too, especially in the care and socio-educational fields.
  3. Processes of teaching/learning, second opportunities: the school is of course the one with the leading role at this stage, but also public policies.
  4. Educational success (or failure).

But how do we actually break this vicious circle of poverty and exclusion?

Anna Escobedo, professor at the Department of Sociology and Analysis of Organizations at the University of Barcelona.

What is the role of families. How are these families? How the change of families affect children and their educability?

The context in Spain is that the expenditure in families (or support to families) and education is below the average, and almost 50% of what other leading countries are spending in these areas.

The actual model of the family is two workers and two carers. Less children but more wanted. More negotiating and less authoritarian. Social polarization: couples are made up by people with similar educational levels.

There is a genuine concern or commitment with increasing the implication of the parents in education, in quality time, in dedicating more time to it. And ICTs are also having a significant impact in the education of children and the role of families. The relationship with the teaching staff has also changed.

So, more implication with education but total immersion in the job market is implying a huge difficulty to conciliate professional and family lives. Complementary services led by parent associations within the schools are proving to be a cornerstone for this conciliation: circa 70% of children use this kind of services.

Families — parents and children — should take more part in the making of decisions in the school.

Joan Badia, professor of secondary education and expert in innovation, teacher training and academic planning in higher education.

Schools should acknowledge that it has not all the answers to all problems and situations.

On the other hand, schools should realize too that many issues that do not strictly belong to the field of action of the school (e.g. the situation in the family), do actually have an impact on the activity led by the school. So, the belief that some issues “do not affect” the schools is plain wrong.

Of course, this acknowledgement and realization can only be achieved through a high degree of autonomy from schools, so that they can design their own strategies and actions.

There is a strong need to reinforce strategies that enable second chances.

Marta Caramés, leader of the Paidós Project at Càrites.

Paidós Project aims at providing support to families so they can break the vicious circle of poverty by enabling networks of families. It provides day-centres where families and children can spend time, be given advice on several topics related to education in general and on poverty in particular.

Most of the people benefiting form this project are people that almost the whole day are occupied on sustaining their daily lives: where will I sleep, what will I need. Thus, children do not have a “peaceful” environment where to grow healthy and be properly educated and be cared by.

If families do not understand that education is an investment, then education automatically becomes undersupplied. We have to make it possible that families can invest (time, resources) in their children’s education. To do this, we have to help them in their basic needs, so they can free time now devoted to these basic needs and spend it on their children’s education.


Joan Badia: municipalities should have a major role in the planning of education, more decentralization should be enabled. There are three conditions for learning (from Ken Robinson): diversity, everyone learns differently; curiosity, learning driven by interest; creativity, provide spaces for creation. Different ways for learning within a context: service-learning, multistakeholder partnerships, etc. There is a gap between research and training: education in Spain seems to be lacking a liaison between the outcomes of research and their (non) introduction in training plans.

Anna Escobedo: parents associations and school councils should have deeper links and work closer. Participation and voting should go hand-in-hand. And we should not only focus on what is wrong, but on what is going well too, so it can inspire others.

New book published: Community action in the net

Book cover for Acción comunitaria en la Red

Some months ago, professor in Social Pedagogy Xavier Úcar approached Francesc Balagué and I and told us he was very worried: after many years working in the field of community action, the Internet had come and changed every definition we had on what a community was, and changed every definition we had on what interaction (or action) was too. He had just found out that community action might be lagging behind the pace of times. And he invited us to write a book on the new communities and how did they interact on the net, so that he and his colleagues could use it to catch up with new scenario after the digital revolution.

An appealing invitation as it was, we had grounded reasons not to accept it: one of us is a pedagogue specialised in instructional technology and the other one an economist specialised in the impact of ICTs and development. Thus, we knew almost nothing about community action, and only had a chaotic approach to new expressions of communities working together in the most different types of ways and goals. That is precisely the point, stated professor Úcar.

Hence the heterodoxy of the inner structure of the book that has just seen the light. Acción comunitaria en la red (Community action in the net) is neither a book on community action nor a book with very clear ideas. It is, but, a book that invites the reader to think, to elaborate their own conclusions, and to find out which and whether these conclusions can be applied and how to their own personal or professional cases.

The full book has been written by 15 authors and presents 8 case studies that depict and analyse how a specific community used the Internet and its different tools and platforms to share information, communicate amongst them, organize themselves and coordinate actions in order to achieve their particular goals. The structure of the chapters analysing the cases was totally free, but some relevant questions had to be answered somehow:

  • What were the history, motivations, goals of the community?
  • What led the community to use the Internet? How was the community articulated digitally? what provided the Internet that could not be found offline?
  • How was the process of adoption of digital technologies, what tools and why?
  • What happened to the sense of membership, identity, participation?
  • What was the role of the mediator, facilitator, leader and how does it compare with an offline leadership?
  • Is self-regulation possible? How was conflict handled?
  • How is digital knowledge, experiences and learning “brought back” to the offline daily life and put into practice?

The cases are preceded by two introductory chapters, a first one on the social web and virtual participation, and a second on digital skills, as we thought some common background would help the reader to better understand some digital practices (and jargon). The book closes with what we, both authors, learnt during the preparation of the book and from reading other people’s chapters. This concluding chapter can be used too as a guideline for the preceding cases.

Table of contents

From the official page of the book Acción comunitaria en la red at Editorial Graó.

  1. Introduction, Francesc Balagué, Ismael Peña-López.
  2. What is the Web 2.0? New forms of participation and interaction. Francesc Balagué.
  3. Brief introduction to digital skills. Ismael Peña-López.
  4. APTIC. A social networking site for relativos of boys and girls with chronic diseases and conditions. Manuel Armayones, Beni Gómez Zúñiga, Eulàlia Hernández, Noemí Guillamón.
  5. School building: new communities. Berta Baquer, Beatriu Busquets.
  6. Social networking sites in education. Gregorio Toribio.
  7. Networked creation and the Wikipedia community. Enric Senabre Hidalgo.
  8. Social networking sites in the Administration: the Compartim programme on collaborative work. Jesús Martínez Marín
  9. Local politics, organizations and community. Ricard Espelt
  10. Towards cyberactivism from social movements. Núria Alonso, Jordi Bonet.
  11. Mobile phones, virtual communities and cybercafes: technologicla uses of international immigrants. Isidro Maya Jariego
  12. Concluding remarks. Ismael Peña-López, Francesc Balagué


There is a lot of people to be thankful to for making the book possible.

The first one is Xavier Úcar. I have only seldom been granted such a degree of total confidence and trust, not only in my work but in myself as a professional. He was supportive and provided guidance to two ignorants in the field. He totally gave us a blank cheque and one of my deepest fears during the whole process was — and still is — to have been able to pay him back with a quality book. I really hope it has been so.

The authors of the case studies were just great. Some of us did not know each other and I can count up to three people which I still have to meet personally (i.e. offline). They also trusted in us and gave away a valuable knowledge and work that money won’t pay. Many of them won’t even make much use of adding a line on their CVs for having written a book chapter. I guess this is part of this sense of new communities that the whole book is talking about.

My gratitude (but also apologies) to Antoni Garcia Porta and Sara Cardona at Editorial Graó. I am fully aware that we made them suffer: we succeeded in transferring some of our chaotic lives to them when they had not asked to. Being an editor today must be both a thrilling and a difficult challenge. We all gave away time in the making of the book but the published they represent invested money too, and that is something that we quickly forget these days.

Last, but absolutely not least, it has been a real pleasure working with Francesc. I think we only met once during the whole process: when Xavier invited us to coordinate the book. Francesc then packed and went around the world for 14 months. Luckily he took his laptop and would connect every now and then. Our e-mail archive and Google Documents can testify that almost everything is possible if there is the will to do it.

And it was fun too. Oh, yes it was!

Computers or vaccines? Technology, social networking sites and new citizenship

I was invited to present a keynote during the VII General Assembly of the Spanish Red Cross, on 26 March 2011. I was asked to talk about what should nonprofits do in view of the proliferation of social networking sites, online participation, cyber-activism and so.

In such cases, I generally try to avoid the usual showcase of “best practices” and go instead to what causes made possible those “best practices”. It’s a tougher option, as it often implies a trade-off from the “wow factor” towards the “what-is-this-guy-talking-about factor”. On the positive side, I pursue the trade-off from the “let’s-copy-these-actions” towards “I-know-why-they-worked-and-I-understand-how-to-design-them-myself”.

On the other hand, the representatives of the Spanish Red Cross were choosing their President and the members of the boards of directors of different regional levels. That was a very strong reason to shift towards more strategic issues instead of strictly practical and punctual applications of social media and nonprofit technology.

Thus, the structure of my presentation was explaining:

  1. What caused the transition from an Industrial Society to an Information Society;
  2. how people were leveraging their access to information and communication technologies for activism and self-organization;
  3. what was being the impact like for institutions, especially those that represented people’s interests: governments, political parties and non-governmental organizations.

In a nutshell, the main message was that the Internet, cellphones, social networking sites, etc. are not a matter of how you inform your stakeholders, how you communicate with your volunteers or how you convince your donors, but a dire change of the game-board that requires serious strategic reflections and decisions in the very short term. Evidence shows that many institutions will either go through a deep process of transformation or will simply disappear, and NGOs are included in the set.

[click here to enlarge]

More information and downloads

Posters a the International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development — ICTD2010

I am presenting two posters at the International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD2010).

The posters are, actually, the usual poster and the corresponding academic paper explaining what the poster is picturing. Below can be found the two papers and the two posters for anyone to download. The posters are a set of 8 slides in A3 size plus a first slide that maps how to build the puzzle so it all ends up with the actual A0-size poster.

Peña-López, I. (2010). Towards a comprehensive model of the digital economy. Poster for the International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development – ICTD2010. Egham: UNESCO Chair in ICT4D.
Peña-López, I. (2010). Policy-making for digital development: the role of the government. Poster for the International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development – ICTD2010. Egham: UNESCO Chair in ICT4D.

Information and Communication Technologies and Development (2010)

Gender Evaluation for Social Change

Live notes at the research seminar Gender Evaluation for Social Change by Chat Garcia Ramilo, Coordinator of the Association for Progressive Communications Women’s Networking Support Programme, Manila (Philippines). Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Castelldefels (Barcelona), Spain, May 12th, 2009.

Gender Evaluation for Social Change
Chat Garcia Ramilo

Why gender evaluation? Evidence showed that ICT4D did not integrate gender considerations, though evidence also shows that effectiveness and impact of development projects increases if gender is integrated in design, planning and evaluation.

Gender Evaluation Methodology

Based on participatory action research.

  • Testing and development of a gender evaluation tool for ICT4D projects: teleworking, ICT training projects, telecenters, etc.
  • Capacity building in gender evaluation: telecenters, rural ICT projects, ICT policy processes and localization (of content)

Findings and challenges

  • a gap in capacity for analysis and evaluation of gender-based inequalities
  • weak focus on gender in project design, implementatoin and policy formulation
  • how to develop evaluative thinking about gender and ICT4D, and use it to shape new gender practices within the ICT4D sector? how to make it in a participatory action research framework?

How gender makes a difference in ICT4D and access to the Information Society:

  • Comparative access to infrastructures by women and men are determined by income levels
  • Capacity affected by literacy and education levels
  • Services affected by relevance of service, mobility, safety issues
  • Governance affected by opportunities for participation in policy processes

These aspects have to be taken into consideration if one is to design an ICT4D project in a specific place. The design of this project will sensibly be different depending on how gender is affecting the former issues.

But gender is not only about “women issues”, but also about social and cultural variables, how do the interplay of these variables impact on women and men.

The Pallitathya model

The Pallitathya help line Blangladesh center is a help desk service which consists in five basic components:

  • local content
  • multiple channels of information and knowledge sharing
  • intermediation or infomediation, human interface between information and knowledge-base
  • ownership
  • mobilisation and marketing

This project’s desing helped women with specific queries (related to gender) or with lower literacy rates to reach a knowledge that, had the ICt4D project been designed in a different way, they would most probably have missed.

Philippine Community e-Centers

Telecenters in peri-urban areas. Though in absolute terms there were not much difference in usage rates amongst women and men, difference could be seen in how the telecenters were used and what values they assigned to them. For instance, women used the telecenters as ways to meet people, as ways to socialize. There were also differences in patterns of access and utilization in relation to age, education and income.

Fantsuam’s Zittnet Service — Nigeria’s first Community Wireless Network

To increase female uptake of the Internet, especially in rural areas.

Coverage of signal was not the issue, but hardware and high costs of bandwidth. Still, even if coverage was good, women had to travel to the centers, and this was a barrier for uptake, as also was low literacy levels.

Maybe it’s not about a wireless network, but embedding this project into a wider one aimed to reduce poverty by supporting rural female farmers. Besides, there is a clear preference towards voice communication over written, and SMS over the Internet.


In distressful situations, women can send an SMS that is received by 5 institutions. Besides reporting of harassment and direct action by the authorities, these messages can be aggregated and thus infer patterns and profiles where harassment and distress are more likely to happen.

Why ICT4D (for women)?

  • ICTs can provide access to resources and contribution to income, knowledge, etc.
  • Indirect impact of ICT4D and access to income, knowledge, education, etc. on self-confidence and self-esteem. ICT4Ds have an impact on empowerment, in changing relationships, in agency.
  • Emergence of new roles (of women).
  • Changes in relationships

Why gender evaluation in ICT4D?

  • Evidence of change in gender roles and relations can be used for more gender sensitive policies and programmes.
  • Evaluations contribute to developing benchmarks and indicators for gender equality in ICT
  • Developing capacity in gender evaluation (and gender planning) is a key contributing factor in mainstreaming gender in ICT for development

Q & A

Q: What’s the general procedure for such projects? A: There are mentors that capacitate evaluation facilitators through workshops, and then an evaluation plan is developed together with all the members of the partnership working on the project. Online spaces are created (e.g. with Ning) to support interaction and network creation.

Assumpció Guasch: It’s easier to work about gender evaluation if the promoters — especially governments — of ICT4D projects already have some gender awareness. Another issue is knowing the ICT Sector and the Industry, what’s the legal framework they’re facing. And it is also important knowing what are the technological issues that are crucial in these projects.

Q: How important is the role of capacity building? How is sustainability dealt with in gender projects? A: To be able to have some impact, capacity has to be built. As part of the capacity building strategy, handbooks and toolkits are built so that a certain levels of capacity and impact can be achieved quickly. Empowerment is, arguably, a measure of sustainability, as the more empowered the people the more self-replicable the model. But projects are not that easy to translate from one place to another.

Cecilia Castaño: Besides direct, action and empowerment, a gender focus has also some other derivatives: a sense of listening to “unheard” people, creating community and raising awareness about gender.

Comment: mobiles vs. Internet? People like Barry Wellman state that mobile phones help strengthening the strong ties (e.g. family), while the Internet helps broadening your network of weak ties.

Ismael Peña-López: can the Gender Evaluation Methodology be transposed to other collectives (e.g. immigrants, lower income collectives, etc.) so that to better design ICT4D projects? I guess that in gender-based projects there is a part that is strictly related to gender, but another part that deals with identifying and managing inequality and difference. Inasmuch there is a “managing the difference” issue, I wonder whether some gender-based projects could be just slightly adapted to identify and improve other projects aimed to bride other “differences”: educational, income, etc. Methodology, handbooks and toolkits, etc. could be then split in two parts: identifying, managing and evaluating the differential factor; and then focusing in the specific differential factor: gender, education, age, income, disabilities…

A: Gender is not only man vs. men but is much more complex: education, income, etc. So, it really makes sense to address the gender issue in itself. A gender approach does not mean that the project is focused towards the e-development of women, but just trying to include a new variable in the project. And there’s gender everywhere, so it maybe does not make a lot of sense thinking about “taking gender out” of the equation.

Assumpció Guasch: some projects in Extremadura (Spain) have tried to apply gender methodologies into e.g. age issues. The difference between gender and other issues is the pervasiveness of the former.

More information

Mobiles in developing countries: hope or mirage?

The World Bank’s last edition of the World Development Indicators stated that Seventy percent of mobile phone subscribers are in developing economies, a mantra that was also repeated on Saturday April 25th, 2009, at Africa Gathering. At least during the second talk it was said that 61% of the 2.7 billion mobile phones in the world are in developing countries, as reported by Ken Banks. Besides whether it is 61% or 70%, the thing is that 83.3% of the World population live in developing countries, a fact that puts in perspective the relative (i.e. per capita) penetration of mobile phones in relationship with the rest of the World’s.

So, is there no reason to be optimistic about mobiles in Africa, then? Well, it depends. Let’s bring some data in for the rescue:

Mobile cellular subscribers 000s (2002) 000s (2007) Compound annual growth rate Cellphones per habitant (%) % digital % of total phones (mobile + fixed)

Source: ITU ICT Eye

Or, graphically:

Graphic: Factors of inequality and exclusion in the Network SocietySource: ITU ICT Eye

Data don’t clearly show the distinction between developing and developed countries, though it can be roughly inferred at least by (sorry for the rude simplification) looking at Africa and Asia (with mostly Low and Lower-middle income economies with very few exceptions — see the World Bank’s Country Classification). The big highlights are:

  • Developing countries have less cellphones per capita than developed ones
  • Most phones in developing countries are mobile and digital
  • The compound annual growth rate of mobile telephony is higher the less saturated is the market

A logical comment about the last statement would be that it’s natural that less penetration leads to higher annual growth rates. Well, it is not that logical: on the one hand, there are countries with penetration rates above 150% (United Arab Emirates, Macao, Italy, Qatar or Hong Kong), so the concept of “saturation” is a tricky one; on the other hand, there are plenty of other commodities and capital goods (e.g. cars or washing machines) that not even dream of reaching these growth rates.

That said, one need to be cautious when stating that there are “many” cellphones in developing countries: this is true in absolute terms, but most untrue in relative ones. But reality shouts out loud that this is changing at an overwhelming speed and that innovation happens at a terrific pace.

About Me

    I am Ismael Peña-López.

    I am professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Open University of Catalonia, and researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute and the eLearn Center of that university. Since november 2013 I am on a partial leave to join Open Evidence as a senior researcher and analyst. I am also the director of the Open Innovation project at Fundació Jaume Bofill.