Daily Archives: 5 October 2012

The Importance of Existing Infrastructure in Implementing Smart Grid Technology

As we have discussed at length in class, the extent of a country’s initial infrastructure plays a huge role in determining which technologies are appropriate for that region’s context. In the case of Smart Grids (efficient power grids that effectively utilize solar power and minimize wasted energy), existing infrastructure is similarly vital. As a news article in Renew Grid Magazine explains, private companies are flocking to invest in smart grid technology in the Asian Pacific, Singapore, and Australia because of extensive infrastructure, high technology acceptance, and advanced software. In addition, the establishment of these new systems has created a large market for telecom operators and equipment manufacturers.

This Article demonstrates how vital the current state of ICT infrastructure is to the future of developing countries. From the business perspective of development, it becomes clear that certain technologies must be in place for further technology spread to be funded. In effect, this means that the poorest countries are likely to be neglected from the plans of private tech companies. In the case of smart grids, which, once implemented, make ICTs more prevalent and efficient, ICT infrastructure must be in place to fuel further infrastructure development. Although we discussed the importance of infrastructure for starting novel ICTs, it is also essentially vital private investment and subsequent economic growth. Although the incipient information societies of the poorest countries offer little economic or social benefit to spending money on ICTs, this spending may be necessary for these countries’ future development. The link to the article is below:



ICTs: An Opportunity for Innovative Solutions to Development Issues

In anticipatin for our section on Human Centered Design, I sought out examples that illustrate the connection between ICT solutions and the development problems that they aim to solve. This article is centered on the role of technology in addressing environmental stewardship, a serious issue in many developing nations. I chose it because I think it is a superb example of an innovative ICT solution to a development problem.
GoodGuide is described as a social enterprise. What this means is that it’s goal is not necessarily to raise money, but to act as a platform for social change. By using GoodGuide, consumers are able to view information & ratings (such as environmental, health and society) about products they are considering and more easily make decisions about them. There are many other organizations that focus on providing information as a tool for conscious consumers. Some rate the sustainability practices of electronics, others gather information on how big corporations plan on mitigating climate change, if at all. The important link here is that an increasing amount of organizations are making it their mission to incorporate this type of information, one that has social value, into the public sphere.
The creators of such movements have acknowledged that providing important information about products might not be enough to stop people from unknowinlgy buying products that may be harmful to the environment or their own health. O’Rourke, creator of GoodGuide, stated that “Originally we thought that information will set you free. But we’re going up against millions of dollars of marketing.”
The notion that simply providing or accessing information can make social change is a powerful one. However, the above quote worried me a little bit. Most people will never bother to access the information that’s available to them. I went on GoodGuide and looked up a few of the products I use every day and have been buying for years (sun screen, shampoo, soap, etc.) and realized how little I knew about them.
I think an interesting exercise would be to apply this lesson to the developing world. If I never bother to access informatin about things that I encounter everyday, what kind of situtation woud someone be in if they never even had access to any of this information (news, data, reviews, social media) in the first place? Overcoming other challenges in development, be it health, environment or education, would be quite an uphill battle. This kind of thing makes me consider how we can use ICTs to address these and other social problems. I don’t think there are very many ICTs that are designed with this in thought, but I’m certain that there are (and will be more) that are used to do so.

A New Use for Turning Technologies?

Turning Technologies clickers were something that I rediscovered at Tulane Tech Day. Turning technologies is at its core a data collections technology.  My introduction to it was through one of my first classes at Tulane. The clickers were used to take attendance, to answer questions during class about the lecture or readings to gage our understanding, or to take quizzes as each of our clickers was linked to our student ID.

For the most part Turning Technologies has targeted their clickers towards education/educators. Whether it be a classroom environment  or professional development they have marketed their product as a way to gage an individuals learning.

But, I think this technology could be used in another way. Much of what we know and need to know about the developing world and it’s needs comes from surveys, an old but useful form of data collection. These clickers are inexpensive and work sans an internet signal, all you need is a computer, the software and a receiver. This could make data collection much easier, cost effective and efficient. These clickers can also function over almost any platform meaning that a language barrier is no longer an issue (though literacy might still be).

From what I see, these clickers could change the way information is gathered. Getting data from a large number of people, anonymously in a very small span of time.

Mobile Phone Challenges in Brazil

Brazil is an emerging economy that has blossomed over the last few years with the help of ICTs. However, as this article from the economist points out, that technology is now threatening to greatly harm Brazil’s economy. The big mobile companies in Brazil have faltered with regards to increasing capacity, hurting call quality and in turn reducing profits. People in Brazil are fed up with the awful quality of phone service, calling mobile telephony Brazil’s “most moaned about product.” The article sites a very interesting study for development purposes that says that raising mobile mobile phone penetration in developing countries by ten percent can increase GDP by 0.8% per year. Despite the statistic that 87% of Brazilians have phones, the fact that much of the country is severely lacking in service means that they are leaving much of this growth on the table. This is a huge problem for development in Brazil moving forward. This is especially true considering the fact that both the World Cup and the Olympics will be held in the country in the next 4 years. What should be opportunities to showcase the growth of the Latin American nation could instead turn into ugly black eyes for the nation if thousands who flock to watch and cover the events are constantly frustrated by poor cell phone service.

The article is a reminder that simply increasing cell phone penetration in a developing country is not enough to create development. Creating infrastructure is just as important for implementing new technologies as the technologies themselves. With mobile phones becoming the most important interface of ICTs as much attention must be paid to ensuring the correct infrastructure is in place to implement devices. This is a key area for Brazil to aid development and bears watching into the future.

The Humanure Power Project and Grappling With Infrastructure Deficiency in Development.

Janine’s recent post about the high level “need” for mobile phones which people in the developing world express vs. the less voiced (or perceived) “need” for toilets and sanitation facilities sparked a memory of an experience and a moral dilemma in development which relates to this week’s topics and themes which I’d like to share and open for comments/discussion.

One of the most celebrated development projects to come out of Tulane recently is the Humanure Power Project (HPP), designed by Tulane undergrad and grad students. The group won a substantial grant from the Dell Social Innovation Challenge to implement their idea for a business which would simultaneously address the energy and sanitation needs of communities in rural India. Community toilets will be constructed for public use, and the waste generated by them will be used to power 12V batteries, which community members may purchase and recharge to replace commonly used (and far more expensive) kerosene lamps. Initially, I thought this was a brilliant, creative, and sustainable innovation, and I proudly integrated it into presentations when I needed to explain the concept of social innovation in development to unfamiliar audiences.

At one recent presentation, I showed the HPP video and touted its development potential to a group of Tulane students, then hung around to take questions or comments afterward. One girl came up and shared her critical take on the extent to which the project serves the energy needs of communities. She first expressed doubt as to the efficiency of using human waste for power production (her uncle collects it and runs a program to convert it to plant fertilizer and bolster the Indian agriculture industry instead), then raised another issue which struck a chord. “Why should they want tiny batteries for power?” she asked, “They deserve real energy infrastructure.”

While the connection of toilets and biogas generators is innovative and, in my opinion, a small step in the right direction for extremely disadvantaged communities, I have to agree with the girl’s concern. As Unwin mentions, energy infrastructure provides such a platform for further development, and how much of it are we giving up if we provide only handheld batteries? On the other hand, HPP is providing much-needed sanitation facilities and stimulating commerce in the communities where it will operate, and when funds are limited and in-debt college grads take to the stage of development, its tough to argue with, “Well at least we’re doing something!”

Much of the dilemmas in development come from the deficiencies in foreign governments- particularly when it comes to infrastructure, which we have discussed in class as an essential consideration (if not prerequisite) for successful ICT4D work. But development practitioners know from experience that often if you’re waiting for governments to “get the job done,” in many cases, you shouldn’t hold your breath. Small, private-sector initiatives may offer more efficient and quick solutions. The question is, where do we draw the line and say “this energy source is good enough for now, in these circumstances?” How do we balance limited resources and feasibility with the idea that everyone deserves a sufficient energy infrastructure?

Is Social Media a Prerequisite for Development?

In this article from the Public Service Review, a panel of experts are asked this question: Has social media become a prerequisite for development or can it lead to negative consequences? Social media played a transformational role in the Arab Spring in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt; but it is important to ask whether or not the growing presence of social media use is necessarily a good thing.

The first expert, Dr. Hamadoun Touré, argues that, while social media has provided an avenue for the expression of dissent and popular sentiment, it has not provided practical solutions in crisis situations. He believes that, though the incidents in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt caught headlines, the true potential behind social media lies in more practical, less flashy uses: crowdsourcing, information sharing, etc. Dr. Touré wraps up his insights by stating that, for the array of uses of social media to truly reach their potential, we must work to provide high-speed broadband in many areas where a fast connection is still hard to come by.

The second expert to offer an opinion, Anna Kuznicka-Marry, describes how social media can be used to connect those in rural and isolated areas with news and knowledge that they would otherwise not have access to. She goes on to remind us, however, that access and literacy are often limited in certain regions of some countries, thus constraining the beneficial effects of social media. Social media is not, therefore, a prerequisite for development; while it can lead to progress, it can also be a force of destruction.

Next, William Echikson of Google discusses the potential uses of the Internet, but also talks about growing restrictions on freedom of Internet use, and the detrimental effects of such restrictions. He recognizes the importance of some limitations of freedom of expression on the Internet (citing, for example, child pornography) but also emphasizes that, when push comes to shove, freedom of expression is essential.

Finally, Heather Blake from Reporters without Borders describes the significance of social media in the context of the Arab Spring and for future advocacy efforts. She does, however, recognize certain limitations of social media, recognizing that it is not by any means the only prerequisite for development. Social media, like many other options, is only one of many ways to employ technology in the quest for progress.

School Libraries Using Resources to Teach Efficient Use of ICT’s

In the The Patriot-News article titled, School libraries are still about teaching students ‘to use information efficiently and ethically’, the reporter, Barbara Miller, focuses on a group of High School Libraries in Central Pennsylvania to compare and contrast differences in approaches to advancements in technology. Budget-wise, most schools seem to be investing in more digital resources (e-books). However, some school districts have cut librarian employment. Miller says, “West Shore School District, cut half of its 12 library positions…”(Miller 2012).

According to the Pennsylvania School Libraries Association:

  • At least 198 schools in the state had library services reduced for 2011-12.
  • 95.25 librarian positions were eliminated, 34.25 of them through attrition.

Has the role of a librarian changed? Well, the article explains that the primary role of elementary school librarians is to assist the children with learning how to read. Therefore, not many librarian cuts have been in the elementary schools. Traditionally, the role of a librarian has always been that of a resource provider. However, the growing role of a librarian is that of a technological resource provider using ICTs to increase the proficiency and relevancy of libraries. Capri Stiles, head librarian in Carlisle Area School District says, “It is the hub of technology — that’s definitely how we see the direction of our library”(Miller 2012). The article speaks of some librarians who have not been very happy about the new focus of their jobs–technology. Nor, the new obsession with reading books based on movies. I, myself, do not see this as something to be discouraged and instead embraced. As long as more students are reading, technology has done its part in assisting children become involved in the reading world.

This article claims that although information is easy to come by, understanding it is not. School libraries are now teaching how to collaborate online on programs like GoogleDocs and blogs.

The most significant striking passage was:

The effect of library cuts can be students who have to take remedial classes in college, or who won’t know how to find a job or succeed in the workplace. “This is the ultimate case of penny-wise and pound foolish,” Miller said. “If we do not invest in public schools and school libraries, we are just kicking the can down the road and will pay the price later on”  (Miller 2012).