ICTD2010 (I). Round table: the future of ICT4D research

Notes from the Information and Communication Technolgies and Development — ICTD2010, held at the Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK, on December 13-16, 2010. More notes on this event: ictd2010.

Round table: the future of ICT4D research

Tim Unwin, chairing the session, encourages the speakers to elaborate on the future (10 years ahead) of ICT4D research, what topics, fields, etc. should be on the table.

Erik Hersman, Ushahidi.

What is the point between tools and uses? Is Firefox or the Mozilla Foundation ICT4D too?

There is too much focus on the PC and not as much on mobile phones, which so far seem the ones that have made a deeper change in poorer communities.

Anriette Esterhuysen, Association for Progressive Communications

ICT4D research is too much often disentangled from what practitioners are doing. And when it approaches the field, it is quite often “market analysis” for telecom companies rather than real research.

There is a strong need for deeper analysis and, especially, focus on policy, on strategy. more analytical thinking. And an analysis that is based on hard data that practitioners cannot usually extract and analyse.

Indeed, to reach policy makers, research should also be about blogging, about communicating, about reaching out.

Stop looking at the solution (e.g. mobiles for development) and look instead at the problems (e.g. lack of drinkable water).

Anita Gurumurthy, IT for Change

Many research is not related with the “community factor” of reality. Thus, it fails at linking the importance of the community with empowerment, solidarity, progress, development.

How we make sense of the models, the numbers, and translate them into real application at the political, democratic, macroeconomic level.

On the other hand, how do we train or engage practitioners in the academic dialogue, in the ethos of research.

Ken Banks, Kiwanja / FrontlineSMS

How do we measure and look up at data? What should we be looking for to measure impact?

We should make some research that lists the tools to do research and the tools to measure the impact of that research. There also is a need for an organized directory of Who works on ICT4D, where, how. And, a list of projects and their impacts.

Indrajit Banerjee, Information Society Division, UNESCO

We spend too many time isolating the “ICT factor” of projects that work. We should shift the focus to what is the context where these ICTs worked, because that might be the actual success factor.

On the other hand, academics should cluster together and create bigger research groups that somehow stepping out of the structures of Academia. Academics cannot be just reporting on the work that practitioners are doing; they’re behind the curve, amateur journalists, if that is all they do.

Discussion

Q: What happens with ICT governance? Anita Gurumurthy: Definitely the UN should be having a word on that.

Q: What should the role be of local communities in ICT4D? Ken Banks: local communities should be the ones leading the implementation of projects and solutions. Erik Hersman: Indeed, there are many innovations that rise amongst local communities.

Q: We need all components: practitioners, academics, different disciplines and approaches…

Q: There should be bridges between academics and practitioners. The former should be more aware of what happens down on the terrain; the latter should be more knowledgeable about methodology, impact assessment, etc.

Q: There is a big issue in ICT4D concerning non-accessibility for disabled people, including illiterate people that never went to school. The accessibility factor should be urgently addressed in ICT4D research agenda.

Information and Communication Technologies and Development (2010)

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, Kiwanja.net

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

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)

Downloads

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, 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)