ICTs and Citizenship

HIVOS is currently undertaking a survey to get a better understanding on how existing or new technologies (ICT) can support citizens at scale to be an active, involved participant of society. I was invited by Marc Lepage to take part in it, which I appreciate as it is always good to be reminded to think once in a while. Here come the questions and the short answers I gave to the survey, in part because it was a requisite, in part because of lack of time to do it better.

In 5 years time, what do you think will be the technology most used by citizens in developing countries to get information and to interact with others (including government)? Please, elaborate on your answer.

Personally, I find it reasonable to think that mobile phones will still be the most used technology. On one hand, due to its actual and growing pervasiveness above other devices and platforms. On the other hand, because more effort is being put in improving the flexibility and applicability of such devices by developing more and more applications for them while, at the same time, reducing their cost and simplifying their use thus shortening the learning curve.

Notwithstanding, the late generation of ultraportable devices or 4P Computers (e.g. the Acer Aspire One) – cheaper than other laptops, containing the most usual features (Internet browsers, desktop office applications, etc.), low power consumption, etc. – make us think of the possibility of seeing these devices as substitutes of not nowadays laptops but also desktops, maybe not at the household level, but yes at the SME and the local administration levels. As said, their lower cost compared with other devices, the features, added to the possibility to gain from VoIP where affordable connectivity is available make of such devices a most likely next step from mobile telephony towards a higher Internet use.

Worldwide we can see many successful small scale ICT/NGO projects. In your opinion, what blocks implementation at scale? Please, where possible refer to examples from the field.

First of all, I’d would be more sceptic at the fact of being “many” successful projects at all. I agree there are some of them, but I would not count them as many, at least in the long run, where the project ended being a pilot and became part of the daily life of the community, and sustainability left to be an issue and became just part of a more comprehensive business plan / daily costs of life.

That said, I see the following points as possible barriers to a major implementation scale:

  • the project, even being successful, was tailored without the active participation/knowledge of the government bodies, thus making it more difficult to be considered as a self-owned project
  • the project has not returns of scale, or is not scalable at a reasonable cost/benefit ratio. So, it is affordable at small levels (maybe because of a defective design regarding sustainability that only shows at greater scales) but is prohibitive for bigger shares of the population
  • the project requires skilled human capital that is available at small scales, but not at bigger ones
  • political situation swings or instabilities
  • loss of interest of the promoting institution (NGO, government, international aid agency, etc.) of going the long path of widespread implementation once the fancy and newish part of the pilot project has ended, proven successful and reported the major share of personal/institutional satisfaction and/or media timespan and/or published in peer reviewed journal.

What examples from the field do you know are strong in enabling citizens through new technologies to make their voices heard and/or influence the societies they are part of (e.g. monitoring election, accessing media, monitoring the quality of local service delivery)? And what do you expect to see in 5 years?

Some real examples: Global Voices, Mobile Monitors, Fix My Street, My Society…

I find many more examples can be found in personal and institutional blogs and websites, and social networking sites in general. Mobile (SMS) powered mobs should also be taken into account.

I would expect not many different things, but (hopefully) a higher degree of adoption I would not dub as pervasive. Web 2.0 and SMS based initiatives are still part of either the geek realm or absolute frontline early adopters.

Indeed, a chasm has been growing between those early adopters and the late comers, as it happened with the ones that have access to affordable and quality ICTs and those who have not. This chasm is being created by both the cost of being continually up-to-date and the message of geekery/elitism that these digerati (wanted or not) send to the non-initiated.


Hints for a literature review for an e-Readiness assessment on Ethiopia

I’ve been recently asked to give some advice on what topics and what issues should be included in a literature review introducing an e-Readiness assessment on Ethiopia. Here comes what my thoughts are:

Starting point and References

To begin with, the next categories from my own bibliographic manager are one possible place where to start digging about such works, being the former the more relevant:

Yes, this produces hundreds of references that are all of them (or almost) worth having a look at. To make it easier, one can then look for some other literature reviews and/or comprehensive approaches to the topic, so that we are pointed to the main references in the field. In the case of e-Readiness and Ethiopia, I believe the next ones are musts:

  • All the whole work published by Bridges.org is, undoubtedly, the best way to picture oneself a map of what is e-Readiness and what has been done in this field. Is is now a little bit outdated, but it still is a reference.
  • George Sciadas‘s work implied a break in the field, clearly separating a before and an after eras in the measurement of the Information Society and the Digital Divide. The reflections that led to the Infostate model are, to my understanding, a fundamental knowledge for anyone interested in how to measure or assess digital progress.
  • Concerning Africa specifically, the unavoidable reference is the Research ICT Africa team and their work, whose main authors/editors are Alison Gillwald, Steve Esselaar and Christoph Stork, among many others.

After these comprehensive approaches and main references about the subject, other references would be ITU, The World Bank, the World Economic Forum, the Economist Intelligence Unit, UNCTAd. A cross-search between these authors and the categories mentioned above will show up most interesting documents.

Besides, a look at the ICT Data category in the wiki will also list some of the main existing indices and data sets.

Topics and Scheme

There are, at least, three things that I’d like to see included in an e-Readiness assessment on any country:

  • A general overview and context about this country, and not only about its development of the Information Society or Digital Economy, but as a whole: economy, society, etc.
  • Then, the necessary shift towards the state of their Information Society, with a special focus in what is understood by ‘access’ in this specific country. This is, by far, the most important thing — to me — in any e-Readiness assessment. The definitions of access (and the lack of it: the digital divide) are many and do not necessarily coincident across countries. Is access ownership of infrastructures? Is access the possibility to communicate, from wherever and using whatever? Is access the capability to use available devices? Our understanding of access will determine both the literature we choose and the analysis we made of what our eyes will be seeing.
  • Last, and according to the previous two points, some real data providing an empiric evidence and measure of what we stated before. Maybe this is not exactly literature review… but maybe it is: what have been looking at and what they did came up with the ones that preceded us. Most of this information will be found at the same references we talked about in the References section.

So, summing up: what is my reality — both in terms of discipline and social context — and what have others said about it.


Third Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (IX). Thematic session 6: Education, Agriculture

Notes from the IPID ICT4D PG symposium 2008, Mekrijärvi Research Station, Joensuu University, Finland. 8 and 9 September, 2008.

Gudrun Wicander, Karlstadt University:
The Use of Mobile Telephones as a Tool for Capture Statistical Data

A need for efficient management of primary education, based on an education management information system (EMIS) in developing countries (Tanzania). But how do we collect data in these communities? Can mobile phones help in this?

First, a mapping of the information flow in primary education administration and the data flow within EMIS was drawn. Second step will be mapping mobile phone ownership and use.

Background: rise in enrolment rates in Tanzania, with retention and drop out problems due to overcrowding, financing and inefficiency problems, etc. Timely and accurate school data is necessary to allocate per-capita funding for the school and provide a central government with appropriate management information to support planning. Existing pilot study in Kenya run by John Traxler, University of Wolverhampton in 2006, showing many benefits from using SMS and mobile phones for data transmission: speed, (low) cost, etc.

Instead, if done by paper, a lot of data are not processed, as it has to run through (bureaucratic) many levels.

The idea would be how to use the mobile phones that everybody has — and not handhelds that almost nobody has — to make a more flexible structure of data collecting, sending and processing.

Ugo Vallauri, University of London: The Landscape of e-agriculture in the Kenyan context

e-Agriculture: is an emerging field in the intersection of agricultural informatics, agricultural development and entrepreneurship, referring to agricultural services, technology dissemination, and information exchanged or enhanced through the Internet and related technologies. More specifically, it involves the conceptualization, design, development, evaluation and application of new (innovative) ways to use existing or emerging information and communication technologies (ICT) (FAO).

Some critiques:

  • In Kenya there is a focus on (agriculture) market information through several devices and conduits… but who does it benefit? It involves empowerment of dealers.
  • e-Agriculture also focus on information on crops, on exportation, on higher sales. But the scheme can collapse if market behaviours are unreliable.
  • And third, most times projects are “technology hungry”, where relevance of content is let aside

Guiding lines in research:

  • work with communities choosing to integrate ICTs in their lives/works
  • participate, not impose a point of view
  • choose partners building on existing infrastructure, simple solutions

Teemu Laine, University of Joensuu: Contextual Mathematics Through Pervasive M-Learning Technologies for Developing Countries

Plenty of “smart” objects, connected through wireless networks, and with pervasive penetration.

What about: learning facilitated by a (smart) mobile device in a context-aware environment, providing contextualized content depending on your location.

The experience of SciMyst, a pervasive mobile adventure game with multi-player characteristics for supporting social interaction among the players. SciMyst system can be perfectly adapted for education.

MathMyst: ethnomathematics with pervasive m-learning. Should work with usual, cheap end-user mobile phones.

Joseph Kizito Bada, Makerere University/University of Joensuu: The Potential of Web 2.0 for building HIV/AIDS Preventive Knowledge network among students and teachers in Uganda

Strong commitment of the government of Uganda to fight HIV/AIDS. Lots of projects run by several and different institutions to do so by using ICTs to inform and raise awareness: discussion lists, websites, mobile games, etc.

The purpose of the research is to design, develop and evaluate educational web software to fight HIV/AIDS. What are the best practices, what has to be taken into account when designing such software, etc.

The pedagogical methodology followed is constructivism.

The development research approach is twofold: practical and innovative ways of solving real problems, by relying in problem solving; and proposing general design principles to inform future decisions.

Features: social networking, video on real life experiences, preventive educational content with online assessment, open source software.

More info

Joseph Kizito Bada (2006) An Empirical Study on Education Strategy to E-learning in a Developing Country .


Third Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (2008)

Third Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (VIII). Thematic session 5: Regulation, Education, Wireless

Notes from the IPID ICT4D PG symposium 2008, Mekrijärvi Research Station, Joensuu University, Finland. 8 and 9 September, 2008.

Andrew Mollel, University of Joensuu: The legal and regulatory framework for ICT in developing countries

ICT Regulation at the international level: no distinct international ICT body of laws, but a gathering of different related issues: WIPO, UNCITRAL, ITU, WTO, UNDP, etc.

But the changes that the Information Society brings in, they affect the national regulation of Tanzania, e.g. Tanzania Evidence Act, 1967; documentary evidence, electronic signature…

So, national rules are affected, but there is not such a thing as an international agreement or framework to have a common legal framework.

More info

Andrew L. Mollel & Zakayo N. Lukumay (2007) Electronic Transactions and the Law of Evidence in Tanzania

Temtim Assefa, Clint Rogers, University of Joensuu: Integration of ICT in Education

  • What assumptions do you have?
  • What are the questions you put?
  • What is your point of view?
  • Is there some inherent good/benefit in the ICT?
  • In the context of limited resources (time, money, brainpower), does the enhanced benefit of ______ justify the cost?


  • Implementation should be participatory
  • Solutions should be prioritizided
  • Monitoring a mujst
  • Projects implemented though pilonting
  • Change attitudes that see ICT4D as magic solutions
More info

William Easterly (2006) The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good

David Hollow, University of London: Working collaboratively with private-sector partners in the evaluation of ICT for education initiatives: reflections on challenges encountered in the field

Partnerships to enhance ICT based education for development. The goal of the research is mainly focused at monitoring and evaluating ICT4D projects that the private sector was carrying about in the field of education (e.g. providing content for $100 laptop projects) in partnership, either with other private sector institutions (e.g. nonprofits) or with the government).

Challenges, dilemmas and lessons from working with a partnership: parameters, mindset, time, language, ethics.


  • Compromise is vital but decide what is non-negotiable
  • Conflict will occur
  • Critical analysis is the foundation

Jinchul Choi, Ajou University: Smart Environments using Wireless Sensor Networks in Developing Countries

Use of ubiquitous sensor networks (USN) combined with RFID technology in developing countries:

  • USN could suit the low-labour cost locations of developing counties
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Natural disasters prevention
  • Landmine clearance
  • Agricultural management
  • Surveillance and tracking at supply chain management

Case studies: bridge health, to test the conservation state of a (big) brigde; blood & anti-cancer drug monitoring system; earthquake and volcano monitoring system; flood warning & water quality monitoring system; u-Health monitoring systems


Third Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (2008)

Third Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (VII). Thematic session 4: impact measurement

Notes from the IPID ICT4D PG symposium 2008, Mekrijärvi Research Station, Joensuu University, Finland. 8 and 9 September, 2008.

Raimo Haapakorpi, Tumaini University: Directing the IT department at Tumaini University in Tanzania

SWOT methodology to analyse the work of an ICT director in a Tanzanian university.

Some of the strengths/weaknesses are based on cultural issue. Sometimes highest (personal) commitment is not liked to the sufficient knowledge to achieve some specific goals. And while strong opportunities seem to be coming in the horizon because of the deployment of ITs and IT training, loss of key staff and the cost of management are threats to be seriously taken into account.

How to motivate IT professionals… and retain skilled ones in the country, avoiding them to get away to more appealing professional opportunities?

Ismael Peña-López, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya: From e-Readiness to e-Awareness. Design of and evidence from a comprehensive model of the Digital Economy

Henrik Hanson, Peter Mozelius, Florence N Kivunike: An analysis of Best and Worst Practices in Aid Projects

Jan Mosander (2008) Pengarna Som Förnsvann. The money that disappeared, abuse of the Swedish aid (SIDA).

Worst practices:

  • Investment in a local entrepreneur… that will take the production abroad.
  • Engage in the restoration of a building without the local community being aware of it
  • Telecenter with all facilities provided… but no means to maintain it (not even to pay the electricity)

Best practices:

  • Technology adapted to the local needs and possibilities
  • Clear business model, sustainable
  • Find synergies with other local initiatives (e.g. telecentre + healthcare centre)

Shilpa Sayura telecentres in Sri Lanka:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Commitment
  • Local ownership
  • Government support
  • Public-Private partnership


  • Bottom-up approach
  • In depth pre-study
  • Partner commitment
  • Local skilled coordinator
  • Communication strategy
  • Iterative monitoring
  • Openness and flexibility
  • Sustainability

Florence Kivunike, PhD Student, DSV-Stockholm University: ICT Implementation in Rural Communities in Developing Countries: Towards a Quality of Life Perspective

Rural communities in developing countries: majority of the population, poor, isolated and based on farming.

Generic ICT4RD model: to increase the impact in rural communities through ICTs, mainly to alleviate poverty and isolation.


  • Unintended, innovative use of personal/simpler ICT (mobile)
  • Limited or no use of externally motivated ICT (computers, internet)
  • Attributed to focus on the supply side, not in quality of life improvement

Need to go back to the roots and perfectly define what is quality of life: subjective, multidimensional:

  • Cummins: Subjective Well Being Homeostasis (SWB), quality of life is maintained at a level of stability — Cummins, R.A. (2001). The subjective well-being of people caring for a severely disabled family member at home: A review. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 26, 83-100.
  • Amartya Sen: capability approach, development as freedom

Methodology: description — qualitative approach to refine indicators and concepts — quantitative approach to get proper data and perform analysis.

Uduak Okon, Royal Holloway, University of London: Communicative Ecology in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria: Findings from the field study

Participatory Action Research combined with Ethnography.

What is a ‘sustainable community’? Existing and future residents meet their needs, are sensitive to the environment and contribute to high quality of life… a ‘western’ definition difficult to apply in developing countries.

Methodology: redefining ‘community’ and ‘sustainability’; understanding the communicative ecology; engaging communities in critical dialogue.

‘New’ definition of sustainability: equal opportunities, standards of living…

‘New’ definition of community: geography, language, culture, social norms and values, collective responsibility, shared leadership…

Communicative ecologies (Tacchi and Slater): the complete range of communication media and information flows in a community.

Postma Louise, North West University: Analysis of a Higher Education Virtual Learning Community in South Africa for the Emancipation of Faculty

How to empower faculty in a changing environment, where integration is needed?

The objective of the analysis will be how integration and debate can take place in virtual environments, heavily relying in Habermas in the sense that communication can be improved by avoiding distortions.

Textual and contextual analysis, to see how discourse is constructed — and distorted.


Third Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (2008)

Third Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (VI). Seugnet Blignaut: ICT development in South Africa, a comparison between Finland and South Africa using SITES 2006 project data

Notes from the IPID ICT4D PG symposium 2008, Mekrijärvi Research Station, Joensuu University, Finland. 8 and 9 September, 2008.

Keynote speech
Seugnet Blignaut: ICT development in South Africa, a comparison between Finland and South Africa using SITES 2006 project data

Sometimes education (specially syllabuses designed in the “North” for the “South”) do not takes into account everyday skills, skills and literacy used during daily tasks: reading, writing, numeracy skills, social skills, information literacy, communication, Internet browsing, etc.

So we have to design — as South Africa is doing right now — an e-Education Policy that aims at the achievement of such ICT or digital skills for everyday life. And a priority of this policy is equity: poverty and equal opportunities is a must.


SITES, fostered by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), studies measure the evident of impact of ICTs in education, based on a comparative international quantitative studies.

  • How ICT affects learning and tgeaching in schools
  • Is there any indication taht education policies make any impact on pedagogy

Main problems found in Module 1:

  • Computers not connected to the Interent
  • Lack of peripherals (e.g. printers)
  • Licensed copies of software
  • Teachers’ inadequate ICT knowledge and skills

Module 2 was more based on a constructivist approach, which means the design of surveys and activities followed this pedagogical model too.

  • Major concern in preparing students to use the Internet “responsibly”
  • Out of five, most countries score around 3.3 in ICT vision, connectedness,…
  • Almost 100% of kids in the sampled schools had access to both a computer and the Internet
  • But the student/computer ration varies within a wide range depending on country and even inside each country
  • A majority of teachers believe they need more computers and, actually, more technology in general, as e.g. smartboards

There is content, there is technology… but it does not reach the non-initiated (non-geek) teacher. So more effort should be put not in creating more content or installing more infrastructures, but on making the existing ones more findable, known, accessible, etc.

ICTs in Education is still an add on at two levels. First, it has to be integrated in curricula. Second, it has to be integrated in the teachers’ mindset by, among other things, providing them with digital literacy too.


Third Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (2008)