This month, Marines turned to companies for renewable ideas. They invited 13 companies to their desert base to pitch them ideas about inventions and advancements in solar and fuel efficiency technology. The companies that showed up were almost all start ups. The developmental implications of this article are that technological advances are often spurred on by the military and eventually passed on to the private sector. A cutting edge solar power generator design picked up by the Pentagon today will likely end up being utilized in a developing country somewhere down the line. Additionally, with a deep pocket and interest in the field of solar energy, the military provides an incentive to scientists to continue to develop new and innovative approaches to solar power. This benefits developing nations since that technology will often by donated or replicated for their use at some point in time.
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) is a 501(c)(3) environmental health and justice organization working with communities that neighbor the state’s oil refineries and chemical plants. Their mission is to support communities’ use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable neighborhoods that are free from industrial pollution. LABB’s purpose is to assist with their fenceline neighbors’ campaigns to make industry accountable for its pollution.
On Tuesday, April 20th, 2010. BP’s offshore oil rig, known as the Deepwater Horizon, exploded. Over 200 million gallons of oil were spilled in the months that followed. LABB was able to quickly deploy the Oil Spill Crisis Map (OSCM) because the organization had preliminary plans already in place (the OCSM was intended to be a chemical accidents map but became an oil spill crisis map when the BP oil spill started). The OSCM is based on Ushahidi technology, meaning reports are sent in by ordinary citizens, verified, and then visualized on a web based map. According to Anne Rolfes of the LABB, it’s tool for all of us to understand the extent of the damage. This use of public testimony is changing the field of disaster management by allowing reports to be generated from local sources. Crisis Mapping has two uses. The first is for emergency response in times of a disaster, and the second is to facilitate information sharing, transparency and accountability. Anyone who sees, smells, or feels the impacts of chemical accidents, and has access to a cell phone or computer can make a report. LABB asks residents near industry and anyone else in impacted areas to assist in getting people to make reports of their current conditions. The more reports submitted, the more powerful each individual report becomes. People can also get alerts sent to their e-mails or phones when a report is submitted near them. See the map here.
The intended beneficiaries of the project include anyone impacted by the oil spill who needs an outlet to make a report. Strengths of the project lie in the capabilities to update the map in real time and the low costs incurred by the project (very cheap to run an Ushahidi website and many of the website managers are volunteers). According to Anne Rolfes, the biggest obstacle that LABB ran into was promoting the website. LAAB believed that that people would use the website automatically, but LABB quickly found that they needed to promote it better and convince people of its usefulness. Looking back, LABB feels that the OSCM would have been more effective if it had been a part of emergency response preparation so people would have been already familiar with the reporting process.
The most salient lesson that I have learned from this semester is the importance of working with your target population every step of the way. It’s disheartening to have learned about ICT projects in the past that have failed because they did not properly incorporate the people their project sought to help. Too often, a solution is created by a development group without the input of the target population. The development group is then surprised when their tools/plans are not implemented efficiently. I have learned that in order for an ICT project, or any development project for that matter, to be successful the involvement of the target population is crucial. Prior to creating a solution to a development problem, the group needs to go to the country and meet with citizens of the target population. They need to properly determine the needs and concerns of the population. Are there any cultural, religious, or gender related obstacles that need to be dealt with? What relationship needs to be made with the village elders or government officials? How can the target population best assist with the implementation of the project? These questions and more need to be addressed during the planning and creation process in order to achieve success. When actually implementing the project, it is crucial not to overlook the importance of proper training of the target population in the use and management of the tools/system. Too many ICT project fail because target populations are left unprepared. As a result, the tools/systems are inefficient or even cast aside. ICT can’t be about showing up at someone’s doorstep and expecting them to take to your project when they lack prior knowledge of it and adequate training.
Another lesson that I learned from this semester, which has further solidified what I have taken from other development courses, is the importance of accounting for all variables/aspects of your project and being prepared to respond when one of them inevitably does not go according to plan. This applies to any project in any field, but I feel that it is even more relevant in international development. Tireless efforts need to be made in order to think of every single variable that needs to be addressed in order for the project to be a success. This includes all aspects of the planning, operations, logistics, and finance/administration fields. Very few projects every go completely according to plan, so it is important to be prepared for as many variables as possible in order to minimize the chances of something unexpected happening or a problem arising that you can’t fix. This reality stresses the need for a pilot project to be implemented to identify and create solutions for any potential obstacles and issues with the project. I believe committed preparation and quickly learning from mistakes is the key to success… I would like to be able to get hands-on experience with more of the ICT tools that we discussed in class.
Invisible Children has created the Early Warning Network System. It involves the installation of new high frequency radios to help track the Lord’s Resistance Army. Now people living in remote areas without phones can report attacks using the new radios. Also, through FM radio broadcasts and community-based defection fliers, Invisible Children will be sending “Come Home” messages directly to LRA members. All that information is relayed to their Ushahidi styled website. The LRA Crisis Tracker makes attack information publicly available through a digital map, a breaking newsfeed, regular data-analysis reports, and a mobile application—all of which can be found at LRACrisisTracker.com.
There are many strengths and weaknesses to this project. The Early Warning Network System now connects remote villages and leaves them with time to prepare for the LRA. The LRA Crisis Tracker puts up reports in real time the NGOs and Congolese military can use to pursue the LRA. The concerns about the project are its durability. Because of the budget, the “radio towers” are only radios attached to the tallest tree branch. This makes them susceptible to weather and security threats.
The article argues that e-government raises, not lowers taxes. Quality cost-benefit analyses are limited in industrialized nations and even more so in the developing world. However, the pattern seems to be that the money saved through e-government measures is outweighed by the introduction and maintenance of e-government. Costs like hardware, software, internet connectivity, and the cost of an IT staff are added to inherent costs in a developing nation (low labor and high IT costs, low volumes of transactions across which costs can be spread, the learning curve, and the need for government e-services to be run in parallel with existing face-to-face, phone and postal service channels in order to bridge the digital divide and avoid excluding large sections of the population from access to government services. However, the author does not support the idea that e-government is a waste of money. He argues that the benefits lie elsewhere (time saving, oversight, service quality and equity). I agree that the start-up costs will outweigh the money saving benefits, but I believe this trend will undeniably change with time. E-gov will become part of the social fabric and the necessary infrastructure will be improved up. Investments on e-gov will see returns. http://ict4dblog.wordpress.com/
A majority of the world’s youth live in the developing world. ICT can be used to improve the lives of these youths, but in the coming years as ICT booms, it will also be a major source for employment. For example, huge populations of young people in Sub-Saharan could currently benefit from and will soon will need employment. ICT will provide an outlet for that; however, it will blow right past the developing world if the youths do not receive proper training and education for ICT jobs. According to the article, barely 15% of the half a trillion dollar global IT-enabled services market, which is expected to treble to between US$1.5 and 1.6 trillion by 2020, has been tapped, according to the World Bank. Developing regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa reap the least rewards from this unprecedented opportunity for economic growth and skilled jobs. The fact that they experience higher youth and overall unemployment levels should serve as an impetus for creating an enabling environment for ICT innovation and expansion. In order for this to occur, school curriculums and youth centers will have to incorporate ICT training in order to improve the skills and employability of the nation’s youth. Additionally, this increase in ICT skills could enable youths to start their own businesses. http://www.ictworks.org/news/2011/11/07/ict-must-be-used-improving-employability-youth
One of the topics covered by several ICT4D organizations at Fail Faire DC 2011 was the reflection upon recurring themes that led to the failure of their projects in certain areas. The importance of the end user was one of the biggest issues discussed. Determining an effective and sustainable technology solution is a fated failure if the actors intended for its use are unable to adopt it. The prominent feeling at Fail Faire DC 2011 was that in any project design, technology is the easy part; accommodating people is the factor that makes solution design challenging. 3 major components of failure were discussed in detail. The first was overestimating the end user’s knowledge of ICT. Speakers feel that in many cases it is appropriate to assume that end users will have no prior knowledge on the use of technology. Another problem is assuming end user adoption. Implementing technology in the developing world represents a significant shift in the way local individuals carry out their current work. Preemptively assuming that users will take to a solution often leads to lack of complete adoption. Additionally, incentives and encouragement are of great importance to the project’s success. Finally, failure can occur when the end user’s needs and wishes are not met. You need their support if your project has any hope of success.
In South Africa, national unemployment stands at 24%– and that number is even higher in many areas outside of major cities. Mobenzi, a new tool created by South African company Clyral, is a project to target unemployed workers to allow them to work over their mobile phones. “Mobenzi agents” use mobile phones to complete mobile tasks that are difficult for computers to process. The program concentrated on two main areas: sentiment analysis and improving SMS-to-computer compatability.
Mobenzi agents receive a stream of texts and tweets about a topic and then follow a checklist on their phone that categorizes the information; i.e., is the message positive or negative and if it is negative, noting what was the problem, and how the problem can be resolved.
The second task used Mobenzi agents to convert text speak into computer-compatible forms. Agents would receive a text [for example this from the Mobenzi blog: “im looking 4 brick laying work in Dbn next week. John”], and then transform the information into a computer-ready format [example translation of previous text: “Name: John. City: Durban. Job: Bricklayer. Available: 23-11-2009”].
Mobenzi is formally slated to launch in April. The venture is funded by the Shared Growth Challenge Fund. For now, the program is still just ramping up.
I believe there are a number of concerns about the sustainability of this project, including the payment to the agents as well as the accuracy of their sentiment analysis. However, with proper training this project could help lower unemployment since only a phone is needed to do the job.
To learn more about Mobenzi, click here.
Originally posted on Blackboard by Jesse Seng.
Agriculture can serve as an important engine for economic growth in developing countries, yet yields in low-income countries have lagged far behind those in developed countries for decades. Jenny C. Aker argues that mobile phones may be one mechanism to increase effectiveness and efficiency for agricultural extension (delivery of information to small-scale farmers) in low-income countries. Farmers, with limited access to information sources, have not been able to take advantage of innovations in agricultural production (from seed types to information about pest control or crop rotations) and have been largely unable to increase their yields and hence incomes. An example of this approach to ICT4D in action is the Kenyan government’s National Farmers Information Service. In analyzing this approach some questions arise. Are the farmers able to call a hotline or are they only able to text? What is the cost to the farmer? Are farmers taught how to use the mobile phones and how to access the agricultural extension service? How will you measure the effectiveness of the agricultural extension program?
Bribespot is a mobile app for Android that allows people to submit reports of corruption and bribes. People can also submit reports on a website and instances are plotted on a map using Google maps API. The app has been downloaded 600 times. On the site, about 700 total reports have been submitted and visualized, from around the world. Bribespot adoption and use has been widespread in Lithuania. To help verify reports and strengthen accuracy, Bribespot staff manually check all incoming reports. First, reports should state a specific instance of a bribe. Second, no names or specific accusations against a particular individual are allowed; these are edited out. About 2 percent of incoming reports are inappropriate and deleted. Bribespot also monitors how many reports are submitted from a unique phone.
Issues with Bribespot:
- Ushahidi already has a similar system in place and they can cater to people who do not own smart phones (although the benefit of the app is that people can view the map instantly with smart phones).
- This info is not being sent to anyone who could potentially do something about it. The corruption is not addressed. The additional issue is that those accused of corruption could hack into the database and figure out who has been making reports about them.
- Bribespot does not have a database security plan.
- Good first step to bringing corruption cases to life. Hopefully a partnership can be created with anti-corruption groups and investigative journalists.
Original Post by Jesse Seng