Information for Development: (micro)tribute to Hans Rosling

One of the things that thrills me about attending the Second Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium is seeing Hans Rosling in the flesh, as he will be there as keynote speaker. I’ve always loved his work with Gapminder and how information or statistics, graphically presented, can be so revealing — and appealing.

My friend and colleague César Córcoles now reminds me that prof. Rosling was back at TED this year (he also was there on 2006). The presentation, as usual, is impressive, fun… and impressive. But, over all, I loved the common sense he showed when he explained the way he understood the dimensions of development, where crosses state the importance of each item as a mean and as a goal:

  Means Goals
Human Rights + +++
Environment + ++
Governance ++ +
Economic Growth +++ 0
Education ++ +
Health + ++
Culture + +++

As shown in the table, Economic Growth is the most powerful mean, but the real goal is not GDP increases, but Human Rights and, over all, Culture, which is what makes people’s live happy. For your enjoyment, his two speeches at TED.



Update:Two more videos by Hans Rosling at information aesthetics (thanks César




Second Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium

As I already announced, next August 30th and 31st 2007 the Second Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium will take place at Karlstad University (Sweden). If you’re doing research in this field and can somehow manage to attend the meeting, this is an absolutely not-to-miss gathering.

I’m planning to be there and present a communication named Unpeeling the layers of the digital divide: category thresholds and relationships within composite indices, which is the evolution or follow-up of the one presented last year: The e-readiness layers: thresholds and relationships.


Project Internet Catalunya: education, digital divide, e-Awareness

The results of the Project Internet Catalonia, directed by , were presented yesterday at the Open University of Catalonia headquarters. Actually, it was just a formal presentation, as the [reports] are to be made public and available to everyone […] between October 2007 to January 2008.

Nevertheless, professors Castells and Imma Tubella, directors of the project, gave some highlights of their (40 researchers were involved) main findings.

Under my point of view — and own interests, of course — there are two important statements that would explain both successes and failures in the field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development, digital (il)literacy, and digital content and services use:

  • The study shows that the more independent and capable people are in developing projects, the more they will use the internet. And the more they use the internet, the more autonomy they can achieve.
  • The Internet […]requires some educational level, because we live in an uninformed Information Society, and this will not be solved by the Internet. The Internet deepens a historical divide: the educational: It is not just a matter of access, but to receive the appropriate education to know what for and how to use the Internet

Put short: ICTs are catalysts and multipliers. Capable people — and developed countries — will find an amazing tool to boost their abilities and the reach and scope of their energies. Illiterate will enter new — digital — illiteracies that will make them opt out of something they don’t understand or find useful at all, widening the gap of their illiteracy, unpowering — impoverishing — them.

Hence, the role of education is more important than ever — let aside health and economic development, of course — and the teaching staff is the key element in the incorporation of the internet into school education, but the scenario is quite sad:

  • the presence of internet in the classroom is very low in comparison to the use made of it by teachers and students outside of school
  • the majority of computers with an internet connection were to be found in the computer studies classrooms to which students had much less access than they did to their own classroom
  • until very recently teachers tend to use the internet to maintain the traditional teaching patterns, rather than trying to use it to innovate
  • a good number of school directors do not prioritise the integration of ICT and the internet for educational ends

This is something I wrote about in my post Nativos Digitales [Digital Natives — post in Spanish] at the Educación y Cultura [Education and Culture] blog, were I stated that:

It’s likely that one of the steps we have to make, as teachers — but also as parents, as education begins (or should begin) at home —, is accelerating our “nationalization” in the digital world: we’ll always have the accent of our mother tongue, but only by speaking in the same language understanding will become possible. And, let’s face it, digital natives will not learn a dead language, ours, the one of letters and mail, phone calls, or incunable facsimile editions with yellowish pages.

Manuel Castells writes a summary about the project in Manuel Castells’ World of Communication


e-Awareness and the invisibility of computers

In 2005, the e-Divide Team carried on a survey and compared computer use among US and Vietnamese students. They found that that Americans did use computers more frequently at home and at schools. One of the reasons might perfectly be that even if the proportion of students having one computer at home almost equal among US and Vietnamese students, most of these computers in the US where connected to the Internet, while more than half of the Vietnamese where not. When looking at computer availability at the school, 92% of American students almost never had problem to access computers at school, vs. only 21% Vietnamese.

So far, the charts bring no big news. But the following one is really interesting:

Vietnamese vs. US students computer use
Source: e-Divide!

The authors of the survey read these data this way:

Awareness of the role of computers in the future
Most students at Pinkerton Academy think that computers are important for their future career. However, Vietnamese students have much higher awareness of this issue. While only 38% of American students think that computer is very important to their future career, this number is 70% in Vietnamese students.

One explanation for this way of thinking is that while computer use “wouldn’t make a difference” for any American, digital literacy in Vietnam really can, as we have seen in Bangladesh or India’s Bangalore, where — among others — offshoring of coding routines to these countries have hugely impacted local economies and created the emergency of new middle classes based on the IT Industry.

But I’d rather explore a second explanation. In 1987, Robert Solow stated his famous aphorism You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics, known as the Solow Paradox. These “invisibility of computers” has sometimes been related to the “invisibility of technology”: some technologies (i.e. electricity) have become so natural that have become factually invisible, hence you click on the switch and don’t see light coming out of a miracle. Thus, computer are so perfectly integrated within productive processes that have become invisible for statistics.

Under this point of view, the question is: who is, really, more aware of computer’s impact on one’s career: Vietnamese students, 71% of whom state that computers are very important to their future career? or American students, which for a 62% of whom computers have already become invisible?

To stress this last point, let’s remember that Vietnam ranked 178th (out of 181) in the Digital Opportunity Index for year 2006 and had just 23% of the value of the US score to the ICT Opportunity Index for the same year (76.66 vs. 322.73). To make things simpler, let’s consider a country with almost 100% literacy (not digital, but just read and write), and another country ranking quite poor in this aspect. And let’s put the former question under this new approach: Importance of being able to read and write to future career?. In the first country, the highly literate, no one would even consider saying that being able to read and write makes any difference, as everyone is supposed to be able to, hence you’ll be judged by other skills. In the second country, literate people would consider, on the contrary, that this is a highly valuable skill.

Yet another example. Put it in another scenario: all in all, who’s got more e-Awareness? Digital Immigrants or Digital Natives?


Global Theme Issue on Poverty and Human Development Planned for October 2007

The Council of Science Editors is organizing a Global Theme Issue on Poverty and Human Development in October 2007. Science journals throughout the world will simultaneously publish papers on this topic of worldwide interest – to raise awareness, stimulate interest, and stimulate research into poverty and human development. This is an international collaboration with journals from developed and developing countries.

ICTlogy, the review of ICT4d (ISSN 1886-5208), will be joining the initiative.

Thanks to Francisco Lupiáñez, for pointing me to the original piece of news, and to Jeni Reiling, for kindest attention.

More info


The Personal Research Portal: Web2ForDev

My proposal for a thematic showcase for the Web2forDev – Participatory Web for Development conference has been accepted. Thus, I’d be presenting The personal research portal: web 2.0 driven individual commitment with open access for development in Rome next 25th to 27th September, 2007.

As you might have noticed, this communication is quite similar to the one I’ll be presenting in York three weeks before. But, even if the abstract applies for both presentations, the focus is quite different.

In York the focus will be on research and diffusion of research. So, the stress will be, in one hand, in scholarly networking and old and new ways of knowledge sharing and building among colleagues. On the other hand, and over all, the stress will be put in self-archiving and self-publishing as parallel ways of scientific diffusion, dealing also with old and new ways of peer review. Put short: I’ll speak about the concept over the tools.

In Rome the focus will be on open access for development. There, the stress will be on new ways to access scientific knowledge by developing countries’ researchers and, reversely, on digital identities, networking and presence on the Net by these researchers. Put short: I’ll speak about the tools over the concept.

On one hand I’m afraid I won’t be able to explain really brand new things from one conference to the other one — they’re just 20 days away one from each other. On the other hand, I believe there is so much to be explored in the field of web 2.0 and how these concept and tools can be applied to research and development (a different thing?), that the potential debate will provide what I might be lacking of, hence I expect to come back home full of new learning, ideas and interesting input.

Eric Gundersen will also attend the conference, presenting Portal 2.0: Using Social Software to Connect Geographically Dispersed Teams, which seems to have a pretty similar approach to my paper. Shouldn’t miss it! :)