SIF13 (VI). Transforming international development through ICTs

Notes from the Stockholm Internet Forum on Internet Freedom for Global Development, held at Münchenbryggeriet (The Brewery) at Södermalm in Stockholm, Sweden, May 22-23, 2013. More notes on this event: #sif13.

Transforming international development through ICTs

Moderator: Bertrand de La Chapelle, Program Director at the International Diplomatic Academy, Member of the Board of Directors at ICANN.

Panelists: Marlon Parker, Founder RLabs; Robert Kirkpatrick, Director of the UN Global Pulse; Juliana Rotich, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Ushahidi; Usha Venkatachallam, Founder & CEO, Appropriate IT; Laura Walker Hudson, CEO, Social Impact Lab Foundation, the Makers of FrontlineSMS.

We are witnessing a paradigm shift in international development through the use of ICTs.

Then we talk about ICT4D, it is not more about infrastructures, but about applications. How are these new technological platforms allowing development cooperation to do things?

Ushahidi allowed, with very low cost, to raise awareness on political issues but also on crisis response, environment monitoring, etc. The technology is only an small part of the whole project, where training and human interaction are the most important part of all.

Global Pulse is about collecting information in real time and to use it for decision-making. Before, it was about letting information flow and feed development projects; now it is about seeing the patterns that people leave in the data that are automatically generated and try to infer policies after that. There is a powerful field in passively generated data. The UN has a lot of maps on almost everything, but they are missing one thing: people. With passively generated data, you can put people on the maps and in real time.

FrontlineSMS lets you manage SMSs virtually with any device, which makes of it a universal tool that can be used by anyone. The choice of platform is usually very political and has different impacts. Being platform neutral is crucial in development not to exclude anyone.

Reconstructed Living Labs (RLabs) put the tools in the hands of the citizens for they to use them for their own purposes, without a third party directing a specific usage of a given tool. And if a community is created around the lab, the more advanced ones will hep the least advanced users.

Appropriate IT does not teach programming, but how to learn (by yourself) how to develop software. Training is about giving tools and giving voices.

The inclusion of ICTs or technologies in general change the social tissue of the community that appropriates them. They will change the relationships of power, they will change how socialization happens… so, we have to be very careful on these bottom-up approaches because, as legitimate and well intended as they may be, they can also cause social harm that will only be visible in the medium or long term, but not in the short term.

One thing about Scale is horizontal scaling, that Is what FrontlineSMS is doing: trying to get nearer communities or clusters where almost everything learnt in one place can be replicated easily.

Social franchises are a way to quickly replicate methodologies or specific applications of technology. It also creates a sort of meta-comunity, a community of communities doing similar things with similar tools. Indeed, this meta-community has high returns of scale, as everything that is developed by the meta-community can be applied in the local communities.

But how too coordinate the whole sector of innovation for development? How to avoid the “pioneers’ curse”, where the pioneer always remains a pioneer walking in their own? Pioneer projects should try to open gates for others coming behind, to make connections between communities and projects.

When speaking about open data and opening data from big carriers, the approach is not that carriers should be opening their data for free (which actually is at a positive cost), but to think about what “business model” will invite the carrier to open their data because they will benefit (and/or profit) from it, and which you can build upon your development project.

Data driven development is a paradigm shift from ICT for development approach. Enabling platforms, generative. Big data, visualization, build on top.

Sustainability and scaling through horizontal scaling. Investment in tools providers, to generalize the technological layers.

Strong emphasis on cooperation, on sharing data: data analysis, dissemination, visualization, decision-making. Sandboxing as sharing what you do with data, in the open.


Stockholm Internet Forum on Internet Freedom for Global Development (2013)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2013) “SIF13 (VI). Transforming international development through ICTs” In ICTlogy, #116, May 2013. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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