Author Archives: beaubraddock

About beaubraddock

Beau is currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA Fellow with the Tulane University Center for Public Service in New Orleans, Louisiana. He graduated in May of 2014 from Newcomb-Tulane College with a BA in International Relations and International Development, and previously worked in Haiti and India. Beau loves to draw, paint, back-pack, fly-fish, pretend he is good at photography, and travel. An adamant lover of indie films and all things edible, Beau once escaped a falling burning tree in a forest, even though no one else was there to hear it.

Thoughts on the Digital Divide

Global_Digital_Divide1

As usual, the fall semester comes to a close, even though it seems as though only a few weeks ago the year was just beginning. As an international development major, I have taken many courses concerning issues like food security, community and capacity building, economic development, and the politics of international aid and democracy assistance. While all of these sectors rely heavily upon information technologies, it has been very interesting to study ICTs in and of themselves. As an International Relations major, my personal interest lies within government policy, international aid, as well as grassroots organizing for human and child rights. It seems to me that when evaluating regions, countries, governments, or even individual communities and population centers, the concept of the ‘digital divide’ and the enormous resource and infrastructure disparities that persist is the most significant ICT concept to understand.

When we explored the many countries that we each respectively chose, I believe we started out with many perceived notions or connotations of what the present condition of ICTs and development ‘on the ground’ was. Maybe we each began with one dynamic fact or story that we had discovered pertaining to our countries, but the exploration has required a large research of information and reports from many sectors. My country of exploration was India, and I became not so much surprised by what I discovered as much as I became frustrated at the state of affairs within the Indian bureaucracy. The enormous (over 1 billion) population in India serves as both a source of strength for the Indian economy, but also an enormous capacity building and education problem. The fact that so many young Indians are unable to access an education and adequate health avenues in a state with such dramatic wealth and prosperity demonstrates the intrastate demonstration of the digital divide.

The more important demonstrations of the digital divide however pertains to the specific users of digital technology around the world, as even though the most developed states of Western Europe, East Asia, and the Americas use roughly half of the internet content, they represent only 15% of the world’s population. As more regional hegemonic powers around the world like China, Brazil, Russia, India, and Argentina grow their service industries and educate their populations, the digital divide will become the method by which we analyze the readiness of these places. It will be important to remember the efficacy and evenness with which we implement ICT strategies in order to better spread technologies throughout the world, as we must not allow only certain ethnic groups or populations to persist to control the rapidly evolving digital tools which will play more and more important roles in our lives.


The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: What Makes Good Research?

This week in class, we examined both the field of IDEV as well as the role of citizens and different participatory media groups regarding their contributions to the field of International Development. Integral to this discussion about the field are the various professional standards and “good research” methodologies that provide the framework through which individuals contribute scholarly work.

In this post, I have chosen to highlight a few of the points and key themes that Kentaro Toyama and Jenna Burrell have written about in their fall 2009 article, What Constitutes Good Research?, from the Information Technologies and International Development Journal.

They begin by stating the fact that there seems to be much confusion and unnecessary judgment involving researchers using qualitative vs. quantitative methods. Toyama and Burrell posit that there needs to be more recognition that these are mere differences in research approaches and forms of evidence rather than measures of research quality. In particular, they use the multiple studies of mobile phones and their potential effect on macroeconomic growth to highlight examples of misjudgment and confusion.

Toyama and Burrell broadly identify four distinctive aspects that result in the unique qualities of ICTD research. The first is that ICTD involves a consideration of human and societal relations with the tech. world and specifically considers the potential for positive socioeconomic change. The second aspect is the inherent outsider vs. insider dilemma that allows for interesting perspectives through which researchers must operate. These circumstances greatly influence, according to the authors, the different past, present, and future experiences of ICTD researchers. The third aspect that they pinpoint revolves around the dynamic sensitivities of method due to human interaction and intervention techniques. Finally, they highlight the potential for methodological concerns due to the different backgrounds of ICTD researchers and their inherently diverse background knowledge that they bring to the table.

Toyama and Burrell next cover the issue of functional equivalence, or the overarching set of concerns with research quality and how it can be divided into issues of confidence and relevance. Confidence refers to issues of legitimacy and judgments of data and analysis, which they break down into accuracy, transparency and soundness of method, and empiricism. Relevance refers to the question of why the research would be of interest to others, either those practicing in the field or the general public, which Toyama and Burrell speak about in terms of novelty, disciplinary relevance, and generalizability.

Accuracy is the “extent to which a description of how research was conducted or what was learned from that research matches objective reality”, and posits that it is fairly easy to understand, mostly in terms of confidence intervals. They address the different theoretical schools of thought, such as interpretism and realism, and how they classify accuracy.

Transparency and soundness of method, sometimes referred to as rigor and replicability, are identified as the two most helpful ways of instilling confidence within research. As research inherently involves the presentation of material to outside individuals, Toyama and Burrell find that making the research rely on as many firsthand accounts as possible, in addition to the ease of replication by knowledgeable individuals will result in more sound research.

Empiricism refers to the necessary empirical grounding of ICTD research and reality based claims within research that reflect thoughts “of the world” rather than primarily flowing from theory or imagination. Toyama and Burrell write that research must have claims that are well and clearly supported with good evidence, either quantitative or qualitative, primary or secondary, with the ability for “confidence in the evidence itself”. In addition, they add that notions of “proper ICTD-related fieldwork” must be progressed as expanded, in order to allow for research that might rely upon “under-supported” institutional sites.

Toyama and Burrell find that it is “crucial” for a part of the research to attempt to cover ground that has not been inspected well before, in order to allow the research to contribute to the overall field. The issue of Novelty is an important one, and the authors note that it is important not to “simply repeat” work and consensus of the past.

The authors spend a large part of their article focusing in on the point of Generalizability, and the often over-generalizing that occurs within the ICTD community. They define generalizabilty much like that of statisticians, finding that “whatever patterns are found in the sample are statistically likely to be true of the population as a whole”, adding the varieties of case studies that can inform research. They note however that no single case study is adequate to form facts about a larger area, “though it can contribute toward models or hypotheses that offer illuminating” postulates or insights. Toyama and Burrell pinpoint the research surrounding mobile phones and their causal relationship with macro-economic growth in a region of India. Although the author of the study they mention warned against applying his research to other areas, they note the wide consensus among ICTD professionals towards the worldwide applicability of mobile phones for economic gains. The authors note that this area is most likely to receive tension and consternation, and conclude that great efforts to achieve both novelty and flawless execution must be maintained.

Toyama and Burrell conclude their article with the observation that more often than not, ICTD scholarly research seeks to be more “familiar”, rather than innovative paradigm shifting work. As no two researchers or professionals can dramatically alter the field by themselves, the authors lay out the framework for constructive next steps to be taken in order to consolidate and refine the methodologies that arrive from the various interdisciplinary fields that contribute to International Development. The authors see the need for more discussion between schools of thought and the variety of research fields is a necessary pre-requisite in the establishment of clearer standards and consensus.


Mapping Food 4 the Future

This week in class, we began working on a digital mapping project in order to provide future info-graphic resources via GIS and OSM for development professionals located in the town of Chitwan, Nepal.

r1_fullmap_cowpea_norm

Last year, when I was researching food security issues in Western Africa, I encountered an interesting initiative that has begun under President Obama, and is currently operated by a consortium of different US government departments. Known as Feed The Future, or FTF, the Department of State, USAID, USDA, the Department of Commerce, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the US Peace Corps, the Department of the Treasury, the US Trade Representative, as well as the US African Development Foundation all collaborate to operate as the US Government’s global hunger and food security project. The overall goal of this mission is to work towards the global eradication of extreme poverty, undernutrition, and hunger, all by collaborating with international NGO’s, the private sector, civil society, as well as the research community.

As the obstacles encountered in order to successfully implement this program are quite steep, the FTF has identified what they consider “19 focus countries” throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. A central area of focus are the countries within Western Africa, including but not limited to Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mali, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, and Chad. In their fiscal year 2010, or FY 2010 Implementation Plan for this region, it is quite clear that in order to identify the surplus and deficit states, as well as the necessary transportation opportunities to facilitate the complex logistics of food production, highly reliable and detailed maps are required.

Through the USAID link that will take you to the Famine Early Warning System here, one can view and understand the various food production maps for essential crops central to West Africa, like cassava, sorghum, millet, wheat, rice, cowpea, and yams. The Production and Market Flow Maps were developed by USGS and FEWS NET, in collaboration with local government ministries, market information systems, UN agencies, NGOs and other partners. In fact, Tulane University and the Payson Center played a central role in the development of the Famine Early Warning System, and you can read more about it here.

To find out more, visit the Feed the Future website for Western Africa, the FEWS site, as well as the homepage for USAID to learn about the various other initiatives that they work towards.


The World Wide Battle for Health Care

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This week in class we have been reviewing the role of ICTs within the health and wellness sector, as well as within the governance and government sector. The quickly changing political, technological, and medicinal landscapes not only within the developing world but within the highly developed world has meant progress in many arenas in terms of facilitating and reforming public health. It has come to my attention that since a large portion of aid and inter-sectoral projects to these LDCs has been within the purview of public health, it seems necessary to evaluate those very states that serve as the ‘examples’ of the very systems that hundreds of governments, agencies, businesses, non-profits, and NGOs are anxious to ‘replicate’. Obviously, no one state or system could possibly hold the key to the best method of administering/ overseeing the production of universal health to its citizens… or does one? This is the very question that I wish to explore and fuel with ample evidence and testimony from the field.

I also feel it would a be a disservice to this particular post, as this weeks’ posts are designed to reflect the appropriate subject area, if we do not mention the current and lively debate that is occurring within our own United States of America as the Obama administration carries out its implementation of healtcare.gov and the Affordable Care Act (aka- Obamacare).

My aim this week is to provide as many sources, documentaries, videos, op-eds, and expert testimonies as possible to provide a synthesis of data for our class to have either an in person or digital debate/conversation as to what kind of health system we feel will eventually be most effective in these very nations, tribes, communities, cities, mega-cities, and families that we all study so intently and care so much about.

I invite everyone to post and share their own reflective opinion after reading and watching what is available here to develop a well-informed, lively, and engaged discussion for this blog. Enjoy!

Op-Eds:

Ross Douthat, The New York Times, “But What if ObamaCare Works?” 10/26/2013

C.H., The Economist, “Why the Hysterics over Obamacare’s Software Glitch?” 10/23/2013

The Financial Times, Special Report: Global Health Policy, 8/01/2012 (link to a pdf)

Michael D. Tanner, The Cato Institute, “The Grass Is Not Always Greener: A Look at National Health Care Systems Around the World“, 3/18/2008

T.R. Reid, The Washington Post, “5 Myths about Health Care Around the World“, 8/23/2009

T.R. Reid, PBS: Frontline, The Four Basic Healthcare Models

John McDermott, The Financial Times, “What healthcare.gov could learn from Britain“, 10/22/2013

Interviews:

Professor Uwe Reinhardt, Health Economist, Princeton University, 11/10/2007

Ahmed Badat, M.D., General Practitioner, Shepherds Bush Medical Center London

Prof. Karl Lauterbach, Health Economist and Member of the German Parliament, 10/25/2007

Prof. Naoki Ikegami, Health Economist, Keio University School of Medicine

Pascal Couchepin, President of Switzerland, 10/30/2007

Nigel Hawkes, Health Editer, The Times of London, 11/1/2007

David Patterson, M.D., Consultant Physician and Cardiologist, Whittington Hospital, London

Reports:

l’Organisation mondiale pour la Santé, Research for Universal Health Coverage, World Health Report 2013, August 2013 (PDF english) (PDF français) (PDF español)

Michael Tanner, The Cato Institute, Policy Analysis, “The Grass Is Not Always Greener: A Look at National Health Care Systems Around the World“, March 18, 2008 (PDF english)

World Economic Forum + McKinsey & Company, Sustainable Health Systems, January 2013 (PDF english)

OECD, Health at a Glance 2011, OECD Indicators, November 23, 2011 (organization has reports on specific regions and countries as well)

Videos + Documentaries:

PBS: Frontline, Sick Around the World, April 15, 2008

One.org compiled list of 52 youtube videos about Global Public Health

Even More Resources:

PBS: Frontline resources for their special addressing international and domestic issues here


Mobiles, Markets, & Methodology

Reuben Abraham on Markets from the Economist Magazine October, 2011

*An ICT4D student has commented and posted about this specific article previously; my goal is to provide an alternative critique of this article, and demonstrate the major flaws with Abraham’s article

This week in class, we continue our presentations and discussions of the various sectors that contribute to ICT development. Today, we had an active dialogue about the state of multi-national firms and businesses, as well as whether or not certain industries and business practices were positively or negatively influencing the developing countries that we focus on.

As part of this week’s dialogue, we read Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence From the Fishing Industry in India from 2007 by Dr. Reuben Abraham, whom posits that mobile phones add an overall increase to the livelihoods of those actively involved in the fishing industry in India. Abraham recognizes previous research by Forestier, Grace and Kenny from 2002, whom found that inequality in the short term increased as a result of disparate access to capital between those at the marketing end of the supply chain and those at the production end. However, Abraham nonetheless attempts to show that individuals actively involved in all facets of the production chain of fishing have experienced an increased sense of safety and security, a closer connection to their loved ones and family, as well a benefit during times of emergencies or illness. This empirical evidence no doubt proves that the mobile, at least as a mere object of daily consumption, plays an integral and treasured role in the lives of fishermen, middlemen, and other players.

Unfortunately, Abraham’s article is initially positioned to determine specific quantitative results proving that the integration of mobile phones reduced risk as well as losses, resulted in less wastage of time and resources by fishermen, as well as aided in the decrease of price dispersion and fluctuation in the marketplace. Not only are these economic conclusions proved misplaced by the empirical and quantitative evidence that Abraham conducts, but also the actual methodology that Abraham uses to conduct these surveys renders any assumptions from his work unfounded and inconclusive.

The first of these market assumptions that he seeks to explore is the notion that mobile phones result in “less wastage of time and resources” by fishermen and middlemen. Abraham notes that the “exploratory data” implies that fishermen should be able to be out at sea for longer periods of time due to the use of mobiles, but unfortunately 50% of those surveyed in the Kerala, India fishing industry did not respond to this question. This lack of conclusive data does not aid his assumption in the least. Additionally, the assumption that mobiles “increased fishermen’s ability to sell their goods in the highest priced markets” was completely undercut by the mere hierarchy within the Indian fishing industry. Due to the relationship between fishermen and the middlemen whom control the commissions from the fish, the fishermen were forced to sell their fish in the markets where the middlemen were able to achieve the highest gains. Unfortunately, this left a gaping hole in the idea that a greater awareness of market prices due to communication from the mobiles would result in a net profit increase by fishermen. Theoretically, this assumption could prove valid in a region where this relationship provides more freedom to fishermen, but as far as Kerala, India and this survey is concerned it is rendered false.

Abraham then attempts to underscore the notion that mobiles result in “decreases in price dispersions and fluctuations”, which would result in greater price transparency along the region. However, due to the inability to collect data in Kerala before mobiles began to be utilized in 1997 (aka: create a control group), it is quantitatively inconclusive to suggest that mobiles have helped to maintain even prices and competition across the region. Abraham’s footnotes add incredulity to the inconclusive, as he post-scripts that market players “would potentially lose subsidies that they currently use” if the data showed “higher incomes than that which was officially reported”.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, the assumption that mobiles helped to reduce risk and losses, which is a valiant and worthwhile market enhancement, was proven by the data to “not translate into increased incomes” by the fishermen. With an equal number of those surveyed responding that they observed both an increase of incomes and no change in their incomes, there was no clear indication that they were reaping a greater benefit from the mobile phone, even though 75% of those surveyed stated that they felt risk had decreased. Additionally, since these phones were not part of any subsidized program or initiative, and since data plans are often paid in a ‘pay-as-you-go” system, if anything the fishermen have witnessed a decrease in income.

Adding insult to injury, Abraham astonishingly mentions in a footnote that those surveyed were “uncomfortable with answering,” honestly, since it seems that they assumed he “was a front for the mobile phone companies”. The potentially catastrophic effects of his lack of proper methodology for this article do not favor Abraham’s market assessment in any way.

What began as an attempt to evaluate the benefits of mobiles in the fishing market in India resulted in demonstrably inconclusive quantitative data, as well as troubling information from an empirical survey that seems to not have been undertaken in a responsible manner. Perhaps there is an industry in the developing world in which mobiles can make an impact, or furthermore, a way to actually increase incomes and achieve higher fishery market results without causing “the poorest of the poor” to suffer initially (better boats and fish freezers perhaps?). But one thing is for sure: it is not the fishing industry in Kerala, India.


This Week in Class: Realizing Rural Radio

logoThis week in Class, we read a 2011 report explaining the findings of a program called AFRRI from Farm Radio International, entitled “The new age of radio; How ICTs are changing rural radio in Africa”. I know what you’re thinking: Radio? Really? Isn’t that a bit outdated? However, what FRI found was that these existing technologies were already present in Africa en masse, and thus provided an opportunity to test the pairing of 21st century methods with prolific, accessible, and low-cost radios in order to improve food security in sub-Saharan Africa. I feel that overall, the FRIs findings demonstrate an excellent way to educate farmers, disseminate knowledge, and eventually elevate the food security conditions across Africa. However, many of their conclusions and recommendations are dependent upon funding and capital as a pre-requisite. In addition, enhanced human capacity and inspired outreach programs contribute greatly to these programs’ success, which means that individuals with the capabilities to reach these remote audiences must be found, trained, and nurtured over time.

The ability of radio to disseminate knowledge to people whom can neither read or write is an extraordinary asset. The low cost penetration of this medium, particularly for communities without phones or electricity explains the immense transcendence and applicability of a technology that was invented one hundred years ago.

Farm Radio International estimates that within sub-Saharan Africa, there are approximately 800 million radios in use. Additionally, through studies across a multitude of lower-income countries within sub-Saharan Africa, FRI finds that some 76% of households own a radio. These numbers provide the foundation to have an increased framework establishing a mass movement to provide increased rural agricultural education and training for farmers and businesses throughout developing Africa. Through a 42-month action program called “The African Farm Radio Research Initiative” or AFRRI, Farm Radio International partnered with 25 radio stations in five African countries to apply and test a range of ICT “packages” with the intention to enhance farm radio.

The AFRRI included three core items. The first, Participatory Radio Campaigns or PRC, implemented new farm radio programs across five countries and evaluated over time their listeners, the passive community, whom also played a central role in the designing of more programming and provided farmer feedback. The second, Radio-based marketing information service or MIS, established a much-needed service for smallholder famers whom required better access to market information. The third, ICT-enhanced radio, equipped radio stations with better digital technologies, ranging from desktop computers and internet access to portable digital recording and editing equipment for interviews in the field. Their research led to a variety of conclusions and recommendations for equitable and successful farm radio programs in future iterations. Among them:

-Computers and computer literacy programs more explicitly were “essential” to the emergence and growth of ICTs at stations in sub-Saharan Africa.

-Durable, portable, and multifunctional MP3 recorders, especially when combined with audio-editing workstations should be considered a staple among Farm Radio Stations.

-Farm radio stations should implement ‘on air call outs’ to agriculture experts as well as other farmers as a cost-effective way to include a plethora of informed and educated voices for their listeners.

-Regular, 30-minute reminders issued via SMS are an excellent way of encouraging regular listenership of farm radio programs.

-Farm radio stations should supplement their DJs with MP3 radios that are able to record and replay broadcasts in order to increase listening opportunities and group listening for communities.

-The use of the Freedom Fone or other IVRs (interactive voice responses) can be used in order to reach even more listeners through phone calls for additional or repeat listening opportunities.

-Establishing the Farm Radio Station complex itself as a wireless networking hub through VSATs (very small aperture terminal) is a cost-effective way of improving access in remote areas.

Make sure and check out Farm Radio International on twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and Picasa!!


The Indian ICT Economy at Large

In many ways, India is a leader among similarly developing nations, with high marks from independent analysts praising the quality of it’s management schools, the availability of new technologies and venture capital, as well as its highly competitive environment. Yet the economy for ICTs is limited by bureaucratic inefficiencies and underinvestment, particularly as it relates to fostering a robust domestic ICT sector to compete with states like China, Brazil, and the Asian Tigers.

From the small amount of information that is available as it pertains to the makeup of the ICT industry within India, it is quite clear that the country has neither historically invested heavily enough nor is it able to draw upon its existing resources in order to build ICT capacity.

As evidenced by data from the World Bank, the most recent figures as they relate to research and development expenditure as a percentage of GDP are unavailable, with the most recent data from 2007 indicating a historical trend of only .7-.75%. This is in sharp contrast to highly developed states like South Korea, which spent in 2010 roughly 3.74% of GDP on R&D, and the USA and Germany, which both in that same year spent roughly 2.8% of GDP. In an ominous continuous string of missing data, the most recent figures evaluating the number of researchers in R&D are from 2005 and show only 135 researchers per million people, compared to figures from Germany, South Korea, and China which showed 3,979 ppm, 5,481 ppm, and 863 ppm respectively. Statistical evidence pointing to India’s high technology exports in US dollars is also completely dwarfed when compared with that of Germany, South Korea, and in particular China. So what does this data indicate?

It is hard to adjudicate a lack of industry based on a lack of numbers as the only basis, given that more recent information as it relates to even much more developed economies is not available from the World Bank. However, with the data that is available, it is clear that India has not in any manner made a firm commitment by expenditure or investment in ICTs. India is noted for the vast foreign businesses that dominate their markets, yet it’s domestic manufacturing and research abilities are quite stunted. With this in mind, the NTP policy does begin to set precedent for a much more robust effort to integrate ICTs into the Indian economy of the future.

The information for this post came from the Indian National Telecom Policy of 2012, the World Economic Forum, as well as data on ICT development from the World Bank. Check it out y’all!