In February 2001 I officially began by journey in the field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D). First, as a practitioner, leading the Development Cooperation programme at the Open University of Catalonia, running projects focused in e-learning for development. Then, as a scholar, as a lecturer at the School of Law and Political Science at the same university.
These eight years have been roughly condensed in an interview that Martin Konzett, Florian Sturm and Anders Bolin (all of them from ICT4D.at) made to me during the Cooperation 2.0 event in Gijón this month.
Need for applied research on ITC4D processes, modelling and scaling
Need for collaborative work among inst.
Nothing about us without us
Technological determinism: Mobiles are hammers and everything looks like a nail
Richness on diversity of views
Need for R&D agenda with South as shaper and agent
Development 1st, ICT as resources and tools
Don´t forget the users, they’re also stakeholders in ICT-based solutions
Spanish Coop to draw on available expertise for advice
Next stage on ICT4D: focus on KM, agenda transformation, along with dev agenda too… towards a Development 2.0?
Debate on ICT4D largely over, but still there underneath. More evidence, models?
Empower Southern actors for ICT4D innovation
Scale of problems are huge, but analysis helps to disaggregate in order to facilitate interventions.
Don’t discard pilots yet
ICTs can even serve as a stimulus for self-esteem in gaining more capacity by people
This presents a significant opportunity
Incorporate socio-emotional factors in ICT4D -related work
Knowledge and experience-based approaches, understanding models, process (the how’s?)
Then assess those kinds of resulting projects programmes to see how relevant such models/processes
Adequate KM is very important, hard to truly know what´s going on, but rigorous methods, evidence-based needed
Demand-driven projects interventions – do users have an input?
Detect real problems, then elaborate joint solutions
ICT4D is not new, there is considerable work already and learning; beneficiaries also present practices themselves (thanks for ICTs…?)
Vikas Nath: Wake up call that ICT4D have to focus on the “D”.
Merryl Ford: how do we know how, when and where we succeeded? How do we build the agenda? How do we reach the stage to collaborate in building together the agenda?
Anriette Esterhuysen: Development is continuous, and there are new challenges and everywhere, not only in developing countries or during crises. We need knowledge management, to keep learnings in mind. And look to small initiatives with small but really effective impact.
Najat Rochdi: Development 2.0 implies a huge shift, bringing in a new concept of multilateralism. We need to bring new stakeholders in.
Ismael Peña-López: What or who are development institutions? In a world 2.0 where everyone participates, institutions are in dire crisis of identity. We should bring in not only development institutions, governments or communities to whom we address development actions, but also the citizens that can enable them in the developed world by means of ICTs. Development 2.0 is not about institutions, it’s about people in both developing and developed countries.
Anriette Esterhuysen: Significant gaps in access to infrastructure makes it still difficult to link micro-to-micro levels of development cooperation. Notwithstanding, people are driven by commitment and come together to run projects. We have to let them build these projects on their own. To promote smooth evolution of projects instead of leaping from one to the other.
Vikas Nath: Cooperation has to balance powers, and be made from an even and empowered point of view. Countries have to enter the cooperation landscape in a position of strength. Cooperation 2.0 is the solution to balance powers. But we’re not seeing it: giving aid is somehow legitimizing donor countries to intervene at their own will in developing countries. And we have to end that.
Najat Rochdi: Cooperation 2.0 towards co-development.
Ismael Peña-López: we have to be able to list an inventory of all the resources available (funding, natural resources, human resources, knowledge), see who’s got what, and engage in a conversation on how to better allocate and exchange these resources. ICT4D are surely about knowledge management and the transmission of knowledge, not the transmission of “atoms”. And, the more countries specialize, the more likely we are to find ICT4D is the leading issue in Development Cooperation in general, as it is knowledge unbalance what really makes development differences dire (let aside humanitarian aid for emergencies).
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).
(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?
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):
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.