Innovative Uses of Mobile ICTs for Development

Notes from the the II Encuentro Internacional TIC para la Cooperación al Desarrollo (Development Cooperation 2.0: II International Meeting on ICT for Development Cooperation) held in Gijón, Spain, on February 10-12th, 2009. More notes on this event: cooperacion2.0_2009. More notes on this series of events: cooperacion2.0.

Round table: Innovative Uses of Mobile ICTs for Development

Merryl Ford, Emerging Innovations Group of the Meraka Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Mobile voice Wikipedia (MobiLed: you send an SMS to the mobile Wikipedia with the name of an article, and a voice reads you the whole article on your mobile phone.

Remote tutors that, through SMS, help kids in their Maths homework.

We have to de-skill the process of mobile application creation, thus why at Meraka they’re creating open source platforms for people to code mobile applications without much knowledge on developing applications.

Kentaro Toyama, Microsoft Research India (MSR India)

(disclaimer: he’s going to play the devil’s advocate)

The focus on putting development first, and then technology. If we speak about “M4D”, we’re putting technology first. Unless you have a strong interest in mobile phones (e.g. you’re working for Nokia) you should focus on what’s available, not just on a specific technology. Development is about human and institution capacity.

On the other hand, there’s also even more simple and broadly accepted technology than mobiles: television, community radio… so we should also focus in these if our arguments are cost, simplicity, broad usage and so.

There’s hype around M4D as there was hype about telecentres 15 years ago. It just does not make sense to fund projects that explicitly (ex ante) have to be run by mobile phones. And this happens. And this is hype.

Oleg Petrov, e-Development Thematic Group of World Bank

(in kindest answer to Toyama) The mobile phone is the new sibling, the new tool in the development toolbox. Enthusiasm vs. hype. It’s just enthusiasm, and other technologies, just like siblings, are “jealous” of the newcomer. But it’s a powerful tool indeed. We have not for forget about everything but mobile phones, but as a new tool, it deserves special exploration to determine its real potential and weaknesses.

The World Bank has plenty of projects that follow this excitement to test M4D: for health, for education, etc. We need a community of practice, ways to test this technology. Raise awareness and also move forward in the next direction of building toolkits, making it simple.

If you just look at the human side of development, you’re likely to miss (or not be up-to-date) state-of-the-art technological developments that might give you hints or ideas on how to solve human problems.

Jan Blom, Nokia Research Center – India

Anecdote: 6 months ago, a cab driver in Bangalore, using the mobile phone to SMS and as a GPS, but knowing nothing about what e-mail was. So: M4D is absolutely real.

There’s a dire lack of public information available (sometimes it does not even exist). M4D can focus on making this public information available, in providing location based services. There is much utility in taking local data, uploading to a central server, and publish it online (like Ushahidi does).

Stéphane Boyera, Device Independence Working Group of W3C

(also answering Toyama) It’s not that it’s a hype, it’s that technologists are approaching development in their daily lives, which is new and it’s great. Of course, when coming from the Development Cooperation field one must focus on humans, but the thing is that techies are approaching humans through tecnology, and the specific technology of their specific fields.

Q & A

Najat Rochdi: we have to know all the technologies available to be able to make the best decisions.

Stijn Vander Krogt: what is the role of governments in M4D? Isn’t it to analyse all that’s out there? Petrov: absolutely, this is one of the key roles of the World Bank, to provide advice on what can be used to solve any kind of problem. Thus why organizations have to know, and raise awareness, of the different applications of tools for human development.

Manuel Acevedo: What do we do when some laptops are really cheap and simple, and some mobile phones become increasingly complex and expensive? Thus, our task is to inform people of all the options available. Can we build multidisciplinary teams (as in research) at the government level? Can we build multi-institutional approaches in ICT4D?

Q: are we confusing needs for development? Are we artificially generating needs for gadgets? Aren’t we trying not to develop rural areas, but the broaden the target market of telcos?


Development Cooperation 2.0 (2009)

Stéphane Boyera: Mobile Phone for Human Development?

Notes from the the II Encuentro Internacional TIC para la Cooperación al Desarrollo (Development Cooperation 2.0: II International Meeting on ICT for Development Cooperation) held in Gijón, Spain, on February 10-12th, 2009. More notes on this event: cooperacion2.0_2009. More notes on this series of events: cooperacion2.0.

Mobile Phone for Human Development?
Stéphane Boyera, Device Independence Working Group of W3C

More than 4,000,000,000 mobiles phones today, circa 80% people covered by mobile phones: a revolution. Mobile phones are changing the way people work, communicate, live. But there is still is no evidence on the impact on development besides person to person communication.

Nevertheless, mobiles have changed the landscape in the developing world: access to education, to health, to agricultural informtion…


  • Connectivity: bandwidth and devices
  • Information availability: Relevant and useful services
  • Information availability: Affordable, accessible and usable services

Notwithstanding, mobile phones solve — or minimize — hardware and connectivity issues in relationship with computers and Internet access, so it is easier to focus in services (instead of hardware), thus why we find more and more applications for mobiles phones in developing countries. In this same train of thought, mobile phones enable a bottom-up approach in designing mobile phone based projects.

Reasons to promote mobile for development (M4D):

  • Scalability
  • Open to entrepreneurship and local innovation capturing
  • Putting governments out of the critical path
  • Putting pressure for more transparent accountable Governance

Challenges and barriers

  • Capacity building, curriculum and degree at universities
  • Availability of software and tools, free or open source, easy to use
  • Awareness, as the major point to be solved in the nearest future
  • Accessibility, of both services and content
  • Availability of services, including localization of such services, adapted to local languages and culture
  • Information literacy

The mobile phone is the swiss army knife: it’s got plenty of tools and fits in your pocket. SMS, the flagship of mobile tools, has easy setup, is tied to plenty of services, has free reception, is available on all phones.

Mobile phones, and besides voice, have also data access, web access…

Voice, that seems underrated, is actually one of the easiest “technologies” to use, included illiterate people. But there are few services that rely on voice. So more research and investment should be put on voice.

Next steps?

  • Community building around the creation of services and content, to do research on M4D
  • Understanding the needs, issues and challenges in the field
  • Identifying and bridging challenges to lower access barriers
  • Solving the empowerment challenges: lowering development and deployment barriers, and building capacities


  • Constrained device
  • Mobile networks still very expensive
  • Maybe other approaches (e.g. low-cost laptops) can better fit some purposes better than mobile phones

We have to move from the proof of concept to real, broad and successful implementation stories.

Some links:

Q & A

Stijn Vander Krogt & Anriette Esterhuysen: Internet link is still a need. We should combine, do not substitute, PCs and Internet access with mobiles.

Anriette Esterhuysen: what’s the importance of open standards for mobile phones? Q: Of course they are crucial.


Development Cooperation 2.0 (2009)

University and ICT4D

Notes from the the II Encuentro Internacional TIC para la Cooperación al Desarrollo (Development Cooperation 2.0: II International Meeting on ICT for Development Cooperation) held in Gijón, Spain, on February 10-12th, 2009. More notes on this event: cooperacion2.0_2009. More notes on this series of events: cooperacion2.0.

From one unit to another.University. Open Source and Cooperation
Santiago Palacios Navarro, Universidad del País Vasco

There’s no intensive use of free software neither in development cooperation institutions nor in developing countries. Its use would help to cut down on costs and spare money for other things.

Examples of easy to use applications to be implemented in development cooperation: Moodle, Joomla, WordPress and Public Knowledge Project.

University Observatory for Development Cooperation (OCUD): Results of the 1ª Phase.
Nuria Castejón Silvo. Conferencia de Rectores de las Universidades Españolas

Goals of the OCUD: promote quality in university development cooperation.

It’s a portal with information about best practices, materials… in the field of University Development Cooperation.

There is a participative section where universities publish their development cooperation activities. It manages institutions, people and projects.

Monitoring Information Systems
Jon Legarrea Oteiza. Universidad Pública de Navarra.

End of degree projects within the Degree in Computer Science, helping the Red Cross to manage and share information between staff, volunteers, expatriates, etc. Worsened by the fact that in many places connectivity is expensive or inexistent.

System to transmit information, sending smallest packages, and with nodes of the network that can either operate isolated or networked when connected one to the other or to a central server.

End of Degree Projects and other ways of integrating Cooperation for Development in Universities
Sandra Pérez Martínez. Ingeniería Sin Fronteras-Asturias.

Project in Tindouf (Argelia, refugee camp for saharaui people). The project is a diagnosis of communication systems in refugee camps.

Also projects about technology transfer on water management.

Try and combine both technologies: radio communication between water management installations.

Same between health institutions to detect needs for pharmaceuticals.

Communications are done by using radio taxis.

Conclusions: awareness raising at the university, useful knowledge transfer and a platform to boost nonprofit activity in the developing cooperation sector. Technolgy can be reused, saving duplication of efforts, wasting resources, saving time, going straight to the technology that has been already tested.


Development Cooperation 2.0 (2009)

Kentaro Toyama: Research on ICT for Human Development

Notes from the the II Encuentro Internacional TIC para la Cooperación al Desarrollo (Development Cooperation 2.0: II International Meeting on ICT for Development Cooperation) held in Gijón, Spain, on February 10-12th, 2009. More notes on this event: cooperacion2.0_2009. More notes on this series of events: cooperacion2.0.

Research for Development at Microsoft Research India
Kentaro Toyama. Microsoft Reserarch India

Microsoft Research India is a computer science research lab focused in technology for emerging markets.

They promote the ICTD Conference.


  • Immersion: ethnography; qualitative social science
  • Design: iterated prototyping; design, engineering
  • Evaluation: randomized control trial; economics
  • Implementation: partnership; political science (this point relating implementation usually transferred to partners)

Is technology always worth it? It depends: if the increase of productivity is smaller than the cost of technology (applied to achieve this increase of productivity), then, the cost-benefit analysis results in negative returns, even if productivity increased. Microfinance in developing countries seems to be a clear example of this, at least at the front-end (though further research is needed because in some cases it might pay back).


  • Microfinance and Technology: raise of productivity by adding technology. Might not be cost-effective.
  • MultiPoint in Education: increasing education quality with several kids using same PC and by means of multipoint devices (i.e. each child their own mouse to interact with the screen). No significant impact on education
  • Digital Green for knowledge transmission in the field of agriculture: storyboarding with video. Results: 7 times more adoptions of new techniques, 10 times more cost-effective.

Key lessons

  • Development first, then technology. The goal is not to close the digital divide, but to achieve a development goal.
  • Expend time with communities, not with “experts”.
  • Multidisciplinary of teams, not individuals.
  • Quality through great people, not processes
  • Sustainability is case-by-case, there’s no magic bullet. And sustainable models are often very different among them.
  • Impact as the goal, ideology has to be set aside

Notwithstanding, there are three counterexamples (e.g. the mobile phones) for the first three dots in this list!

Q & A

Q: Why should Microsoft invest in basic research of this kind? A: Knowledge is created, even if (in principle) roughly related with your direct interests. It’s good for the morale of the company and their workers. Being concerned about the future of the World makes you aware of the future of your own company. And, sometimes, Microsoft (Microsoft-not-research) is up to do the follow up and scaling of a prototype or pilot project.

Q: is research tied to business models? A: no, it’s basic research bound to find impact. Implementation (and their related business models) come after. But if the impact is positive, and there’s a justification to go on with implementation, business models will come.

Q: How are research projects chosen? A: It’s up to the researcher. There’s an abolute trust on their criterion.


Development Cooperation 2.0 (2009)

Centres for Research and Innovation Development and for ICT

Notes from the II Encuentro Internacional TIC para la Cooperación al Desarrollo (Development Cooperation 2.0: II International Meeting on ICT for Development Cooperation) held in Gijón, Spain, on February 10-12th, 2009. More notes on this event: cooperacion2.0_2009. More notes on this series of events: cooperacion2.0.

How do we go forward in the field of ICT4D R+D+i?

Florencio Ceballos,

  • ICT4D are a clear niche that can grow outside the circuit of development issues
  • Capacity building happens locally, and this means building confidence, trust.
  • Institutional independence has to be promoted to enable real capacity building.
  • Focus on networking: promoting open networks for capacity exchange

It’s not as much as how you design agendas, but how you make them evolve, how to shift the paradigm. And this shift of paradigm is towards openness.

Caroline Figueres, International Institute for Communication and Development

There is a need for a research to ground some “evidences”, and showcase successes in the field of ICT4D under the rigour of scientific analysis.

People in the South should be put in the agenda of ICT4D research, as most of the output is targetted to developing countries.

Co-creation (e.g. in the sense of Don Tapscott’s Wikinomics) is a very powerful concept. Capacity building can be enabled this way by means of knowledge workers co-creating together.

Kentaro Toyama, Microsoft Research India (MSR India)

How to do formal research in ICT4D? Several steps:

  1. Immersion. Ethnography
  2. Design, involving people, where technology is just one component and a cost-effective one
  3. Evaluation, including finding statistical significance on the impact of a specific project or action

It’s a good idea to break the link between funding and the research agenda. The researcher should be able to pursue their own interests and not be tied (or upset) to the need for funding.

Experience in research might be as important as (or even more) than experience in development. Accuracy of the scientific process is crucial.

Andrés Martínez, EHAS Foundation.

Evidence has to be demonstrated to convince policy-makers and funding institutions that some actions are to be taken and deserve being supported (politically or economically).

  • Research is needed in the impact of ICTs in welfare, health, education
  • But also, research is needed on how to provide appropriate and cost-effective infrastructures, as most communities just do not have access to either hardware or connectivity
  • Sometimes the context is unknown. Thus, research should focus not only on the impact of a specific project, but on what the context (sociocultural, health, education, economic) is.
  • Research on services.
  • How to measure empowerment and mainstreaming of technologies in specific communities and sectors (e.g. the Health sector)

The only way to promote research in the field of Development and ICT4D is to foster publication of research results in indexed publications. Despite the interest of the topic, if the work is “well done”, then it can be published. It is highly relevant to find the problem you want to deal with your research, more important than finding “the” solution.

And diffussion is absolutely worth doing it. On the one hand, results of the projects and the research undertaken. On the other hand, not only information about the results, but knowledge transfer through assistance, direct training, formal education, especially to achieve multiplier effects.

Merryl Ford, Emerging Innovations Group of the Meraka Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

There’s sometimes resilience to empowerment. Capacity building is not only about specific (digital) skills, but also about changing mindsets.

  • Slogan on disabilities in SouthAfrica: Nothing about us, without us. We need to make sure that we don’t do things “for” people but “with” people. Africa should take ownership of its development agenda.
  • Interventions should be simple
  • The cellphone is the PC of Africa
  • Sustainability, replication, massification. A pilot needs to be scaled at any stage.

Q & A

Q: research on impact… is a real need or an imposed “need” of the inner structure of development cooperation, projects, agencies and so? Ceballos: The need to measure impact is real. Many policies are put into practice based on intuition, on vision. So we do need to evaluate these policies to support or reject such intuitions. Martínez: short-run projects are difficult to analyze accurately, as there’s no time to do it properly. A solution would be that everyone involved in the projects collected data and helped to analyze it.

Q: How do we cope about the cost of maintenance of cellphones in rural areas? A: There are alternatives (e.g. via radio) that do not charge per call… but the maintenance of the whole network does have a cost. Certainly, it’s not a matter of absolute costs, but a matter of cost-benefit analysis, seeing whether the project is worth running it and find out how to support the overall costs.

Q: How do we put social research together with tecnology research in development related research? A: The problems that research has to face have to be far ahead enough. And they require plenty of time. In this sense, everyone involved in ICT4D should be in a same conversation, to gather all sensibilities and be able to look far in the horizon.


Development Cooperation 2.0 (2009)

Multistakeholder Networks and Multi-Network Actors in Development

Notes from the II Encuentro Internacional TIC para la Cooperación al Desarrollo (Development Cooperation 2.0: II International Meeting on ICT for Development Cooperation) held in Gijón, Spain, on February 10-12th, 2009. More notes on this event: cooperacion2.0_2009. More notes on this series of events: cooperacion2.0.

Round Table: Mul-stakeholder networks and Multi-network actors in Development

What are the key factors that made a network successful?

Stephane Boyera, Device Independence Working Group of W3C

At the W3C more than one hundred working groups in the last 15 years, issued 70 standards. How could this be made possible?

  • It’s a multi-stakeholder forum
  • Powers are evenly distributed along the components of the network
  • Having standards is a key thing for success
  • A focussed programme. Working groups have limited lives (12 to 18 months) and expected results to be issued at the end of it
  • Members are fully committed. And if they are not, they just cannot participate
  • There are tools to support international, distributed work
  • Don’t put value on the network, but on the network’s goals, do not promote the Internet bubble, don’t move away from the goal

Caroline Figueres, Global Knowledge Partnership

  • Have to review on a regular basis the purpose of the network, so that it adapts to the changing needs and goals of the members.
  • Win-win perspective: a good balance of what members bring in and what they get from the network
  • Have to be clear about what is your motivation in being part of a network – and cope with other members’ motivations
  • Based on trust (might take years to achieve an optimum trust level)
  • The network is not there for the benefit of the chairman but for the benefit of the members. It should promote everybody
  • Gender balanced

Anriette Esterhuysen, Association for Progressive Communications

  • Diversity seen as a strength, not as a weakness
  • Flexibility
  • Regular contact
  • Distributed “ownership” of the network and its outputs
  • Manage delivery
  • Get critical feedback
  • The personal dimension: institutions but also human beings (with their daily human problems) have to be represented in the network
  • Branding, indentity
  • The network should provide more than what individuals face daily
  • Learning space, exchange as equals
  • Gender issues are really important for both the inner performance and public outcome of the network

Oleg Petrov, e-Development Thematic Group of World Bank

  • Don’t take sharing for granted
  • ICTs are great, but they have to be used in an innovative way, try and rethink completely the way things are being done
  • Don’t take ICTs for granted either


Vikas Nath: what’s exactly the role of the private sector in multi-stakeholder partnerships? Why is their participation so important? Figueres: people from the private sector is more solution oriented. There’s a confusion between what the real needs are and what you think their needs are. The private sector is a powerful informing agent to identify the real needs and bridge them with policy.

Vikas Nath: how to tell back to the society at large what is not working in a network (not only sharing good outcomes)? Petrov: things get wrong if you take things for granted, as knowledge sharing or knowledge management. And knowledge management has to be linked to operations, to task managers.

Manuel Acevedo: how to avoid “network fatigue”? how does knowledge absorbtion (vs. just generating knowlegde fluxes) happens? Esterhuysen: to recover from network fatigue, one can “retreat to the boundaries of the network” and people respect this. And even people retreating back to work again at the local level. Knowledge absorption is about knowledge management, repeating concepts, going back over same topics again and again… Boyera: networks limited in time and tied to achieving specific goals is a way to avoid network burnout. There’s no sense preserving a network that serves no purpose.

(My personal opinion on the previous topic: do we really need knowledge absorbtion? If we just don’t memorize everything we write down, why not use the network as a permanent extension of our cognitive resources? as another way to fix memory. I see networks of people, experts, institutions as just part of the cognitive and knowledge storage resources we have at hand: our brain, libraries, hard drives…)

Q: how to know not people but what (interests) they represent? How to encourage exchange? Boyera: it’s better to have leading networks for specific topics. If working groups work in related or overlapping domains, coordination and cooperation between networks is the way to proceed.


Development Cooperation 2.0 (2009)