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)

Fourth Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (VII). Ken Banks: Making an Impact. The Role of Mobile Phones in the Developing World

Notes from the Fourth IPID ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium 2009, held in the Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, United Kingdom, on September 11-12th, 2009. More notes on this event: ict4d_symposium_2009.

Making an Impact. The Role of Mobile Phones in the Developing World
Ken Banks,

Alan Kay: The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Ken Banks: If you can’t find the perfect job you have to create it.

Mobile adoption by users drives SMS adoption by local NGOs which is increasingly driven by a range of formal and informal economic activity. The increasing pervasiveness of mobile phones has been followed by an according pervasiveness in SMS usage.

Mobile phones give people the chance to get involved in their own development. Traditional development was not participated by the target beneficiaries. Now this have changed as ICTs and mobile phones create plenty of innovation and business opportunities.

The fact that the mobile phone creates business opportunities has been a main driver for development, becoming a revolution in developing countries.

The weird thing being that most of the information — research papers, news, development reports — always speaks of the benefits of mobile phones and SMSs but never about what specific tools were being used to reach those benefits, what was used to provide a specific service, how and what could e.g. other NGOs apply in their own work, etc.


FrontlineSMS uses a desktop PC to send alerts via SMS, being used for health, education, coordination, etc. FrontlineSMS allows for group messaging between health workers, farmers, aid workers, etc.

FrontlineSMS can be used, for instance, to alert about an emergency in real time, even if e-mail does not work and voice communication is just not possible (because of quality of communication infrastructures, cost, etc.)

Why FrontlineSMS work:

  • Local ownership: of tool, of project, of data
  • Builds on local awareness: you don’t lead the project, you just provide the tool to the people that know about their needs and how to solve them
  • Platform is free and works on available hardware
  • Highly replicable and scalable
  • No need for the Internet
  • Easy to use
  • Responds to “their” need (bottom up)


Fourth Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (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,

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)