e-STAS 2009 (IV). Round Table: Luis Millán Vázquez, Bárbara Navarro, Fernando Bothelo & Martin Alee Konzett

Notes from Simposium de las Tecnologías para la Acción Social (e-STAS: Symposium on Technologies for Social Action) held in Málaga, Spain, on March 26-27th, 2009. More notes on this event: estas2009. More notes on this series of events: e-stas.

Round Table, conducted by Idelfonso Mayorgas

Martín Alee Konzett, ICT4D.at

ICT4D are enablers of empowerment and, most important, enablers of self-empowerment. We have to work towards a decentralized empowerment.

Bárbara Navarro, Google.es

ICTs have brought us (a) lots of information and (b) a voice to communicate.

Luis Millán Vázquez, FUNDECYT and expert at UN-GAID

We need to develop tools for the imagination, the Imagination Society. Most times, the problem is not doing things, but imagining them, thinking they are possible.

Fernando Bothelo, Literacy Bridge

We have to enable decentralization and taking ownership of the devices of control.

Q & A

Mayorgas: how to deal with control? Navarro: through open standards. Open standards provide confidence and make it possible improvement by third parties. Botelho: open standards have to apply to the whole process of information and communication, and think about it as an ecosystem.

Mayorgas: is cloud computing a solution to access ICTs? Konzett: a good thing about the “cloud” is that anyone can build their own “cloud”, with no need of being maintained or taken care of.

Mayorgas: IT for the people, or people for ITs? Vázquez: IT for the people, but not as a collective, but for the individual persons. We have to empower the individual beyond empowering communities. And universities have to bridge the knowledge divide.

Mayorgas: do we have to empower too the employees at firms (e.g. Google’s employees dedicating 20% of their times to their own projects)? Navarro: many interesting projects come from providing people with tools to enhance creativity. Botelho: Indeed, the processes are as important as the final results. The way things are done do matter and do determine the final results. And the methodology free software is being created and distributed is most valuable.

Luis Millán Vázquez: the Imagination Society — or the Information Revolution — links us through ideas, while the Industrial Revolution liked us through our common needs.

Marta Pastor: how do we actually bridge the digital divide? Fernando Botelho: when we take human rights seriously, everything else (i.e. access to ICTs) will be taken for granted. Luis Millán Vázquez: networks, technological literacy and ability to choose. Navarro: access to networks, open standards, declaration of access to technology and information as a universal service. Konzett: accessibility will most probably be not an issue, thus we should focus on education and open standards that enable decentralized innovation.

e-Stas 2009, Symposium on Technologies for Social Action (2009)

e-STAS 2009 (III). Battle of experiences between Ken Banks and Christian Kreutz

Notes from Simposium de las Tecnologías para la Acción Social (e-STAS: Symposium on Technologies for Social Action) held in Málaga, Spain, on March 26-27th, 2009. More notes on this event: estas2009. More notes on this series of events: e-stas.

Battle of experiences between Ken Banks and Christian Kreutz, conducted by Jaime Estévez

Ken Banks, Kiwanja, frontlineSMS.com

The best way to understand what’s happening in a developing country is to go there. In Nigeria, he set up a project using mobile phones, or better said, how mobile phones could be used on the ground in developing countries.

With Kiwanja software it is possible to use SMS to get information and to create conversations by means of SMSs.

Christian Kreutz, ICT4D Consultant

After working for GTZ, now he’s a consultant in helping organizations to use ICTs in development issues.

There is a lot of unrealized potential — or even unknown actual applications — in ICT4D. Lots of people use ICTs for activism, or for development cooperation, and don’t even “know” they’re doing it. The question, hence, is not “what can be done” but to be aware of “what is being done”.

In this train of thought, an important challenge is to make people and organizations to think beyond their (narrow) scope and see what others are doing in same or similar issues. Putting people in contact so that they share innovation is as important as raw innovation.

Q & A

Jaime Estévez: ICT4Ds for democracy? Kreutz: the more data that is published, the more transparency, hence more democracy. Banks: communication (through mobile phones, voice or SMS) is also a good symptom that we’re moving towards democracy, and this is happening in Africa more and more every time. Every citizen’s ability to monitor and report elections brings a lot of transparency to the whole process.

Estévez: how do ICTs transform participation? Kreutz: how do you combine top-down organizations with peer-to-peer collaboration? The pressure that organizations have to be open and horizontal is huge and most likely to be unstoppable. Banks: There’s a huge potential for people participation, the big challenge being bringing access to these people.

Estévez: how will ICTs impact organizations? Kreutz: it is very likely that ICTs will promote openness in organizations. Banks: Indeed, some top-down processes still have to be top-down (e.g. SMS banking services, because of regulations, etc.). The thing is how do create an environment for people to interact, but not necessarily imply the top-down debate.

Q: How can ICTs reduce violence in Africa? Banks: Public exposition (because everyone is monitoring and everyone reporting) has been crucial for actually reducing violence in the whole continent.

Q: Why helping “others” if we have problems “home”? Banks: this is a globalized world. There’s no more “others” or “home”. Indeed, the projects that work abroad will work too home.

Estévez: where do you get funding for your activities from? Kreutz: Most times you start with your own time and commitment. Banks: after a threshold (of time, and success) is reached, it is possible to raise money to keep on with the project and make it reach a wider scope. But the real stuff happens when people contribute on their own interest, in a decentralized way, and the project is supported by the community (of users) itself because the project matters. Kreutz: the case of Nabuur is just that: exchange of expertise, nothing to do with money or funding, and perfectly possible through the Internet.

Q: what approach should we take on ICT4D? Banks: (a) speak of target communities as yet another community, not “developing countries” and other condescending terms (b) benefit from the already existing knowledge in the places you want to work with. Kreutz: connecting people the most important thing to do.

Q: how to assess impact? Banks: it’s very difficult to measure the number of users of a technology or tool, what do they use them foor, etc.. A proxy for measuring impact can be to go and search for feedback on that impact. If you’re able to find (e.g. in a forum) feedback of an end user having actively adopted a technology or used a tool, that’s really useful for the promoter of that project.

e-Stas 2009, Symposium on Technologies for Social Action (2009)

e-STAS 2009 (II). Empowerment for Social Innovation

Notes from Simposium de las Tecnologías para la Acción Social (e-STAS: Symposium on Technologies for Social Action) held in Málaga, Spain, on March 26-27th, 2009. More notes on this event: estas2009. More notes on this series of events: e-stas.

Empowerment for Social Innovation, introduction by Ignacio Martín Maruri, Adaptive.

What’s empowerment? Why does not “empoderamiento” exist in Spanish? What’s the relationship between empowerment and innovation? Is it innovation just technological innovation? Or can we innovate in the field of citizenship? Is innovation good for empowerment… or bad, because it makes people comfortable and lazy? Or is it just the seek for comfort that makes people look for empowering innovations?

Empowerment? What for? Freedom? Progress?

Group work

Fernando Botelho: a main issue in empowerment is control. Empowerment without control — or with tools which are under the control of third parties — is not real empowerment. Open systems contribute to providing control (over the tools) to the empowered ones.

Roland Traumuller: Advances have to be taken in steps, steps that can be followed. Technology provides simple steps towards progress, towards empowerment.

Christian Kreutz: In the line of control, does empowerment makes sense within walled gardens?

Ismael Peña-López: empowerment is not about outputs, but about processes, which includes the selection of the (re)sources that are going to feed your processes.

Pierre L. Carrolaggi: Is it possible full control? Isn’t it an illusion? Not even in the free software field can you control everything.

Fernando Botelho: Absolute independence might not be possible or even desirable. Which does not mean that open protocols enhance interaction and interdependence — quite different from dependence.

Wilhem Lappe: Open protocols open the door for collaboration. And even if they’re not under one’s control, they make it possible to act and interact.

Christian Kreutz: There’s a difference between being empowered and potentially being able to be empowered. We might not be aware that there’s been a huge advance in the possibilities of empowerment, even if it has not materialized. This is why output is also very important, as it realizes the possibilities of some advancements towards empowerment.

Summing up:

  • control (of the tools, of the environment) is important for empowerment
  • processes matter more than output
  • though successful output raises awareness and shows reachable goals
  • control (of the tools) can be substituted by openness (e.g. open protocols) so that interaction happens freely without the need of control
  • the creation of potential empowerment (vs. real achieved empowerment) has to be brought under the spotlight as it is a successful achievement too

e-Stas 2009, Symposium on Technologies for Social Action (2009)

e-STAS 2009 (I). Interview to Carlos Argüello

Notes from Simposium de las Tecnologías para la Acción Social (e-STAS: Symposium on Technologies for Social Action) held in Málaga, Spain, on March 26-27th, 2009. More notes on this event: estas2009. More notes on this series of events: e-stas.

Interview to Carlos Argüello, Studio C., by Jaime Estévez

Founder and director of Studio C, Carlos Argüello has over 20 years of experience in graphic and digital design. Has stood for excellence as a creative and artistic director in the world of renowned companies such as Walt Disney Features, Cinesite (Kodak), Synthetic Video and PDI (Pacific Data Images). One year later, in 2001, he returned to his homeland, Guatemala, and created Studio C. His aim was to work with local talent offering their design and production experience in the fields of architecture, audiovisual production and graphic design.

Carlos explains how he began working as a waitress and accessing computers at random, learning their usage and focusing in multimedia edition. He then travelled to the US and began to work with Hollywood, which represented quite a personal leap in his career (working for Terminator II, Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” videoclip, Armaggedon, SpaceJam, Waterworld, etc.).

At the sweetest peak of his career, he used to come back to Guatemala (his homeland) but saw it through the eyes of a tourist. Then a plane crashed in front of his own eyes while waiting to take a plane in Cuba. And felt the need for a personal change, a change that could bring change to other people. And thought about doing something in Antigua, Guatemala that was beyond the typical local wish to emigrate to the US.

He created a team of geeky kids and teens that already played with computers, and taught them to create products for the media industry in Guatemala. The project grew and they moved the office to the capital. One of their flagship projects, working with “The Chronicles of Narnia“, which was a national event. Not only the technical output was high quality, but the “moral” output was: putting on the map a developing country in the arena of hi-tech media productions.

Besides these more commercial projects, they are also producing educational projects for minorities (e.g. the Maya community).

Now the project’s become a regional one, not only working in/for Guatemala, but also Mexico, almost all Central America and part of South America. The good point (or bad, depending on how you look at it) is taht there’s never been public funding to create the offices, which means the project is absolutely sustainable. All the resources come from the private sector. Which does not mean that the project is looking for wider support to enlarge its reach.

Q & A

Q: what’s the priority: the Economy, Education or Politics? A: They are interdependent. It is difficult to state whether a solution in one particular issue can come without the other two changing too.

Javier Estévez: is technology the solution to poverty or to inclusion? A: No, it’s not, but it’s a very powerful enabler and catalyst. ICTs are creating new paths of development. And, most important, paving them for any kind of people, whatever is their origin (e.g. indigenous people).

Q: Is this project a personal one? Would it survive would the leader (i.e. Carlos Argüello) quit it? A: Yes, it would. There’s been a deep empowerment of the people involved in the project, which have made of them independent and responsible people, and leaders at their time of their own local communities. On the other hand, they are no more stuck to their homelands, but have become citizens of the world and have established their own networks.

Q: Is this project a new example of “cognitive neocolonialism”? Will these trained people emigrate to other places where they’d be better paid? Is the project favouring brain drain? A: Most people involved in the project do not want to go and live and work abroad. If given good conditions at the local level, people have no reasons to emigrate. The key is local development at large, not developing a minority that, of course, would most likely emigrate.

Jaime Estévez proposes a headline: Carlos Argüello went to the US and came back to make Latinamerica less dependent from the US.

NOTES: the post cannot reflect neither the richness of Carlos Argüello’s talk nor how well conducted the interview was by Jaime Estévez. Thank you both!

e-Stas 2009, Symposium on Technologies for Social Action (2009)