United Nation’s Benchmarking Tool

This Benchmarking system is jointly developed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development. Technical development is carried out by the Institute of Software Technology & Interactive Systems of Vienna University of Technology. We gratefully acknowledge the generous financial support from the Government of Austria.

The Benchmarking Tool is an interactive web-based system consisting of two modules: MDG Benchmarking and ICT Benchmarking.

The ICT Benchmarking lets you compare country data (provided by ITU: Total Tel. Subscribers, Mobile Subscribers, Main Tel. Lines, Internet Hosts, Internet Users, PCs) with your own quality of access (measured by your own Upload Speed, Download Speed, Google Search, Yahoo Search, MSN Search, access to Government’s Site) or with dataset spreviously saved by other users. Curious.

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Millennium Development Goals Indicators Dashboard

The Millennium Development Goals Indicators Dashboard is an attempt to show how the official UN Millennium Development Goals set could be used for assessing progress, or lack of progress, towards Sustainable Development.

Jointly developed by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and European Statistical Laboratory at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, the Dashboard can either be consulted online or downloaded and installed on your PC. Online version shows only data for Africa; local version only runs on MS Windows platforms.

To see an example of its functioning, take the policy that drives Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize: more than 96% of Grameen loans have gone to women, who suffer disproportionately from poverty and who are more likely than men to devote their earnings to their families. And now see the following map:

Women in parliamentary seats
Women in parliamentary seats, 2004 (ITU)
Red pictures most inequality, green pictures equality
[click to enlarge]

Technical note: the Millennium Development Goals Indicators Dashboard is built using the Dashboard of Sustainability, a tool you can personalize to create your own Dashboard to whatever you want to present graphically, the same way the Trendalyzer does.

More information

[via the Development Gateway]

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ICT contributions for water crises v3.0

Dick de Jong asked days ago whether I could provide with some examples of ICTs contributions to solution of water problems. I must admit I am in no way a water expert. And I must admit too that my knowledge in ICTs is not comprehensive or absolute at all. This said, I will nevertheless try and give some examples that do come in mind when talking about water and ICTs. Not magic solutions, just humble contributions. Some of them are common ideas already working, some others are just little variations of the former ones, some are just… just ideas. On the other hand, I’d like to keep this list as a brainstorming, so feel free to use the comments section.

In my limited knowledge of the issue, I guess that there are three ways of looking at the water problem, the so called 3R measures or actions: Reduction, Reutilization and Recycling. Honestly, I think ICTs can act, over all, in Reduction, a little bit in Reutilization and, maybe — but I don’t see how — in Recycling (besides computerized industrial plants, which is not exactly the issue treated here.

Concerning ICTs, I’d take this 5 step approach:

5 step approach to the Information Society development

So, with this framework (on one hand the 3R model, on the other hand the 5 step approach), these are things that ICTs could do to work for a better use of water resources:

Infrastructures

We understand by infrastructures everything to provide support where to run content and services. In ICTs, we can group them in hardware, software and connectivity.

  • Domotics (I): devices to optimize the use of water in taps or find leaks. Besides trivial control to avoid leaving taps open, I’m thinking on gathering data on consumption for all and every water source by date and time. Data analysis could show who’s bathing instead of showering or whether we’re using the toilet bowl as a trash bin. [reduction]
  • Domotics (II): as lots of energy come from water, everything related to energy consumption. There’s zillions of examples in this field. [reduction]
  • Artificial intelligence for irrigation systems (I): not just programming to water at night, but also to test soil and ambience humidity, plant real needs according to species, etc. [reduction]
  • Domotics (III) and irrigation systems (II): once used water is collected, ICT assisted water analysis could provide more efficient reuse depending on the degree of water cleanliness, from clothes washing to irrigation to bowl use. [reutilization]
  • Office software: not a joke. Taking into account the huge water needs to produce paper, working digitally really makes a difference. Web 2.0 apps just go deeper into this issue. [reduction]
  • Connectivity: if all the previous solutions/contributions can work in a digital network, there is no doubt that some synergies will arise. On the other hand, [reduction][reutilization]
  • Wireless sensor networks (I): related to the previous issue and with irrigation systems, wireless technologies to monitor the rural environment [and] apply crop prediction models that feed a decision-support system for farmers. [reduction]
  • Wireless sensor networks (II): for flood prevention. [reduction?]

ICT sector

This section deals with the existence of an ICT sector in any of the three (hardware, software, connectivity) infrastructure fields.

  • Free software community: this is the typical south-south collaboration. Only with a strong software community of developers, truly localized solutions, based on free software, can be possible. Take “south” in the sense you want. I take it as “anywhere where water optimization is required”, which is everywhere. The “south-south” philosophy is, nevertheless, more widely known. BTW, same applies to the closed software sector — just wanted to stress that open is better, specially when there is a need for open communities to provide more/collective wisdom. [reduction][reutilization]
  • ICT devices for water optimization: this should be placed before the previous example, but the free software community is a better known issue. So, same thing, but with hardware: localized hardware solutions for local water needs. [reduction][reutilization]

Digital Literacy

While digital literacy is quite a broad concept (technological literacy, informational literacy, e-Awareness…), we take it here in an even broader sense, including ICT driven training. This last aspect clearly belongs to the Content and Services section, but I think it is more pedagogical to deal with it in this section when talking about ICTs as water optimisation tools.

  • Digital literacy: as itself, to train citizenship on (a) infrastructure issues, so an ICT sector can emerge and (b) use of digital content and services, so people can benefit from the resources about water in the Net. [reduction][reutilization]
  • Advocacy: digital places (websites, brochures, blogs…) to raise awareness on the water problems. [reduction][reutilization][recycling]
  • e-Learning: virtual training to develop capacity building in the management of water resources, 3R policies, etc. [reduction][reutilization][recycling]

Content and Services

In other words: the finalist uses of the Internet.

  • Digital content: open educational resources to help you reduce, reuse, recycle your water. [reduction][reutilization][recycling]
  • Sort of a corollary of the Connectivity issue in the Infrastructures section, a virtual clearing house for second uses of water could be built, thus easily matching supply and demand for used water. Depending on how intelligent is your installation, demanding, supplying and matching could be done with no human intervention at all. [reutilization]
  • Geographical Information Systems (GIS): to locate and better analyze field data [reduction]
  • Mashups: corollary of the previous one, but somehow more in the web 2.0 trend. Web supported, collectively created/authored/maintained, etc. [reduction]
  • Online volunteering: online mentors to help manage your water resources. If payed, volunteering becomes professional consulting: same thing but more expensive. This example is somehow similar to the e-learning one, but the difference is in the means and the hows. [reduction][reutilization][recycling]

Legal Framework

Of course, this legal framework refers to everything to describe the rules of the game in the ICT arena.

  • ICT fostered water policies: provided all (or some) of the previous ideas are good, they can be fostered through public water policies or, even stronger, public regulation. Some quality regulations in other sector, all in all, just end up inducing determinate technology adoption by pursuing higher quality levels or industry standards. [reduction]

 

So, please feel free to contribute in the comments.

Contributors so far:

Selected links:

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Successful learning repositories

These days is taking place the virtual forum of the UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning Third International Seminar. OER: Institutional Challenges.

My colleague Juli Minguillón (and, BTW, now assistant director of the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute: congrats!) pointed the participants in the forum to Carmel McNaught’s keynote speach at Webist 2006, entitled Are learning repositories likely to become mainstream in education? PDF file (3.19 Mb)

Her main conclusions are that successful learning repositories:

  • are developed out of a genuine need within a
    community
  • have a core of committed promoters with
    sustained enthusiasm
  • articulate a clear direction and focus
  • consult with their user community(ies)
  • establish a good management process
  • are open access
  • facilitate easy addition of resources
  • have suitable granularity in searching

conclusions which, as it usually happens, have strong resemblances with the ones of a successful open source software project, as stated, among others, by Eric S. Raymond.

Could it be that it is not a matter of what are we opening, but whether we are opening it?

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Human Development Report 2006. Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis

The United Nations released on November 9th, 2006 the Human Development Report 2006, mainly focusing in two aspects:

  • The core of the report: a monograph on water
  • The publication of the Human Development Indicators

Concerning the first aspect, I just congratulate the UN for having made the effort of compiling and working in a subject that has long been told to be the main reason for this century’s conflicts, call it the Water Wars. Taking into account all bad news about climate change and the ongoing global warning, water might not be an issue, but the issue.

I somehow expected to see a section about the contribution of ICTs to water crises (re)solution, but I guess I am a little bit biased towards this field ;)

About the second aspect, I think the best highlight to be made is the one about income (increasingly unbalanced) distribution.

The world’s 500 richest people have an income of more than $100 billion, not taking into account asset wealth. That exceeds the combined incomes of the poorest 416 million. Wealth accumulation at the top of the global income distribution has been more impressive than poverty reduction at the bottom.

This is quite hard to bear. Provided that, with increasing productivity, the global economy is not a zero-sum game (i.e. what I win equals to what you lose), if inequalities increase this means that not only all productivity gains go to few hands/pockets, but that greed asks even for other people’s gains… and more. “So, you’re stepping into the typical discourse of making feel guilty the ones that have?”. Yes, I am.

In another order of things, is a nice exercise to “play” with the interactive graphic that relates income to human development. It’s curious to see how big differences in income (here measured by the GDP per capita) can produce similar a human development index (HDI), and even more: how countries with higher GDP per capita than other ones end up having lower HDI. It would be interesting to compare these differences with the corresponding Gini Indices: in some countries it seems like, again, inequalities might explain these differences in “performance”. See, for instance, some of the main oil producers in the Middle East such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar or Saudi Arabia compared to Mexico, Venezuela or Sri Lanka, where oil revenues don’t necessarily are equally distributed. See, also, what happens in South Africa compared to Bolivia, and guess what’s the heritage of Apartheid.

Main links

P.S.: I hope the UNDP made available spreadsheet files instead of PDF files as an easier way to provide all data as a whole.

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The Internet Bill of Rights, the Internet Governance and the Cyberspace Independence

Just five years ago, many people thought Chinese society and politics would be revolutionised by the Internet, a supposedly uncontrollable medium. Now, with China enjoying increasing geopolitical influence, people are wondering the opposite, whether perhaps China’s Internet model, based on censorship and surveillance, may one day be imposed on the rest of the world.

Reporters Without Borders have published The list of 13 Internet enemies. The enemies are: Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam (alphabetical order), all of them press freedom predators at least; most of them, much worse than this.

On the other side of Europe, The Internet Governance Forum met in Athens last week and held a workshop to deal with the creation of an “Internet Bill of Rights” to articulate the global rights and duties of Internet users from the viewpoint of the individual. While the idea has resonated in lots of newspapers, blogs and mailing lists, this is, so far, what we’ve got:

IGF Community Site Wiki: The Internet Bill of Rights page
IGF Community Site Wiki: The Internet Bill of Rights page

No pun intended. I really do not want to sound sarcastic, but just to show what we’ve got so far — including, for instance, the really good but not “widely officially” accepted Internet Rights Charter proposed by the Association for Progressive Communications. I really believe the statement I quoted on top of the article is more than likely to happen, and not only in totalitarian states but also in those states so self-called “democracy promoters”. More than ten years after, the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace is more than up-to-date. While there surely is a place — and a need! — for an Internet Bill of Rights, a minimums approach is a “hands off” approach.

Some days ago, Paco Lupiáñez pointed me to Introna and Nassenbaum Shaping the Web: Why the Politics of Search Engines Matters, where they write about the danger of letting the market freely shape the way search engines work, and how this can end in a biased World Wide Web perception, favouring the strong and silencing the minorities — even if search engines were driven by “neutral” technology.

So, on one hand we have the problem of Internet Governance and Internet freedom of access/use in general: there’s a strong need to control the controlers… so no control is exerted at all. On the other hand, some control must be set so there are no biases or exclusion risks. The Internet Governance Forum works top down, while Reporters Without Borders or the Electronic Frontier Foundation work bottom up. And the question is: will ends meet?

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