Observing the EHAS-URJC case: symbiosis among ICT4D projects, research and postgraduate teaching
The EHAS Foundation and ICT4D
How can telecommunications help in development? Who benefits from our technology? Is technology neutral? What and which are the real needs?
Let’s be humble and rigorous. Let’s address one only problem and keep working on it for decades, improving and improving… let’s do as much as possible to make telemedicine to be a useful and sustainable development tool for isolated rural areas in Latin America. This is the aim of EHAS Foundation.
The first thing that was done was a problem tree. Then, communication networks were conceived in order to try and solve the different (communication) problems identified. And, over those networks, create, adapt or improve applications to provide medical services. Everything was to be done with a local partner, always.
A core aim has always been sharing and transferring knowledge, learning together.
EHAS usually works in isolated areas, without any kind (or definitely expensive as satellite) of communications infrastructure, and with snail-mail based services. Thus, the idea is to set up broadband appropriate technologies over which run common services.
The Napo Network, for instance, covers 500Km in the Amazon region, from Iquitos to the border between Peru and Equador, and links several primary healthcare centres and healthcare workers.
How is practice, research and teaching in ICT4D put together?
In a first stage, some “just development – no research” solutions are put into practice. They are based in narrow-band communications, with adapted sets of standard solutions. The problem is that these solutions, though technically sexy (e.g. send e-mail via VHF radio) are often unsustainable: they are too difficult to implement, and difficult to use.
On the other end there’s the possibility to wait until ubiquitous solutions brind all common services everywhere. Which, besides illusory, provides little interest.
The solution is low-cost appropriate technology that requires lots of research and development. Good results are only possible after long-term research and high investments.
But once the network is built, the network itself becomes a laboratory: it permits to evaluate technology, improve strategies for sustainability, a shared infrastructure for several purposes, a platform over which to develop new services (tele-stethoscopy, health info-systems, tele-microscopy), etc. Lots of research subjects arise once the technology is put at work.
After 12 years working this way — development, research, development, research, etc. — it was time to share formally, so here came the URJC’s M.Sc. in Telecommunication Networks for Developing Countries. The master provides an excellent framework where M.Sc. theses can be done.
Fifth Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (2010)
Notes from the I International Workshop on Research in ICT for Human Development, at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, and held in Fuenlabrada, Spain, on May 13th and 14th, 2010. More notes on this event: ict4hd10.
Round Table. Research for Development. Where is it heading in the ICT context?
Javier Simó, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (Spain)
Not theories, but practice: research should be aimed at creating an impact, at appliying into reality what has been researched and the outcomes of that research, such as in Health.
ICTs should be a tool to reach higher levels of efficiency and efficacy. And they should not deal with avant-garde and state-of-the-art technology, but on what are the best tools available to make a change in developing countries.
- Identify the needs
- Invest in R+D
- Deployment, management and maintenance strategies
- Strategy of sustainability
Thus why wireless technologies are a priority in ICT4D research.
Jordi Aguiló, Scientific Coordinator of the Latinamerican Science & Technology Development Programme
Strategic lines: Free software and applications in general, micro- and nano-technologies…
Topics: food technology, health, industrial development, etc.
Applied case: measuring IOP by a contact lens (with embedded nano-technology) to prevent glaucoma.
We tend to create new technologies and then look for the problem that they can solve. We should proceed inversely: first find the problem, then look for the solution.
Manuel de Oliveira Duarte, Universidade de Aveiro (Portugal)
Besides technologies, competence in their usage is critical: we should not forget to train the people that are to use the technologies that are going to be applied.
The relationship between technological infrastructures and development is not automatic. Things to do:
- Train the users
- Foster competence amongst telecommunication operators
- Create the conditions of a public universal service
Ismael Peña López,, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya UOC, ICTlogy.net (Spain)
For an elaborate reflection, please see: Research in ICT4D: the convergence of social sciences and technology.
Beatriz Novales, Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development AECID (Spain)
ICTs can be very helpful to development cooperation agencies, especially in the following areas:
- Decentralization, creating cooperation networks.
- New management of human resources, in more and better training.
- Procedures and organizational strategies.
- Transparency and accountability.
- Harmonization of a complex system.
Arturo Velasco (ESF): How should we measure research in ICT4D? Ismael Peña-López: Richad Heeks has been reflecting on ICT4D research in its very worth reading him. We surely have to move from “impact” (as usually measured) towards citations and “usefulness” of that research as assessed by both researchers and practitioners. Javier Simó: We have to change the ways we assess research and certify it, so that “cool topics” are not rated over less trendy topics (i.e. development). Manuel de Oliveira: we should not only assess what is “publishable”, but what is interesting.
Valentín Villarroel: what are the priority projects? how to foster them? Manuel de Oliveira: the role of the scholar has to be reinvented. Business models are a priority in developing countries.
Q: what is the flexibility between doing research to advance a discipline and to advance people? Jordi Aguiló: we should do one thing at a time, we are either researchers or practitioners; we do research in top-research or we do innovation for development. But we cannot play both games [I absolutely disagree with this point of view].
I International Workshop on Research in ICT for Human Development (2010)