Author Archives: calliemedin

Madagascar National ICT Resources

  1. National ICT Policy: Published by the Ministry of Telecommunications, last updated in 2005.  Everything is in FRENCH!!
  2. Government websites:
    1. Economic Development Board of Madagascar: (this is the only government website with information about ICTs that is available in ENGLISH)
  3. External (non-government) resources:
    1. UN World Food Programme Madagascar:
    2. Telecoms Sans Frontieres – website kind of hard to navigate, but they have a Telecom center in Madagascar and have played an important role in disaster response initiatives, especially in the past year.
    3. FAS: Information about the current political crisis in Madagascar – this has had a HUGE effect on international relations and the current state of the economy, and this is a pretty inclusive source on how the political turmoil began, and the status of the government now.
  4. Notes: There really isn’t much information on Madagascar, and development has basically come to a complete halt because of the political crisis that began in 2009.  That being said, Madagascar is a disaster-prone nation (especially vulnerable to cyclones), so in the future (i.e. after elections are held in May 2013 and international sanctions are lifted) there should be some opportunities to study disaster response and preparedness best practices, etc.  However, almost all government documents and websites are in French (and are unavailable in English since they are mostly in PDF form so Google Translate will only do the first few pages, if that), so unless you are fluent in French I would not recommend selecting this country.

Lessons Learned from ICT4D This Semester

For me, the most fundamental ICT4D course lesson was the importance of accessibility on a deeper and more inclusive scale.  In the beginning of the semester, we discussed barriers to access and how there is a lot more than just a lack of an internet connection (for example) that prevents people from using new technologies.  For an ICT4D project to be successful, the technology being implemented must have a user interface that is appropriate to the target beneficiaries – that’s pretty much a given.  However, we can make something as user-friendly as possible, and yet no one will actually use it for more than a few months, so in the long-term the project is a failure.  Why?  Because unless we can make the direct benefits abundantly clear, people in our target population see no need to put time and effort into adopting and implementing new technologies.  One of my blog posts this semester discussed a project called Txteagle that worked with telecom providers in Kenya to use airtime minutes to motivate participating nurses who sent in SMS texts regarding supply levels at local hospitals and blood banks.  Even though the reward was small—only a minute of airtime per text—it caused a HUGE increase in participation, which benefitted the hospitals involved and thus helped to improve health care in those areas.  More recently, Txteagle has been used to survey vulnerable populations to collect data on disaster preparedness.  The success of this project supports everything we have learned about in class in terms of why it’s so important to make technology both easy and attractive to access for beneficiaries.

This idea of motivated participation as a requisite for success for development projects was further supported by our course lessons about building on existing framework.  Our assigned readings about the controversy regarding ICT4D as a “condescending” term really helped me to gain a deeper understanding of why it’s so important that we don’t come barging into a developing nation and try to change everything.  Implementing new technologies is difficult and can cause friction between developers and beneficiaries, but if we instead work to improve systems that are already in place, we are more likely to be successful in our initiatives.  Keeping this in mind, I felt like I had gained a much more realistic perspective on ICT4D.  From this class, I have learned that when working with developing nations, we must provide both means and reasons to access new technologies.  We are more likely to succeed if we work with pre-existing practices, via either increasing access or improving the technologies themselves.  I would have liked to have this information before taking the grant-writing IDEV course (Approaches to Sustainable Development); I feel like I would have been able to propose a much more plausible project had I been able to utilize the lessons learned in this class.

Open Data for Africa

Open Data for Africa is a knowledge-sharing platform set up by the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) to facilitate access to development data in African nations.  AfDB works in partnership with Knoema, an international company that provides public access to over 500 databases worldwide.   The data provided on this platform correlates to M&E and management of development results, including the MGD’s, in order to “foster evidence-based decision-making, public accountability, and good governance,” in accordance with worldwide development initiatives to strengthen “statistical capacity.”

Here’s a screen shot of some of the data provided on the super user-friendly website:

Screen shot 2012-11-28 at 10.44.40 PM

Through this platform, users can access information contained in AfDB’s data portals as well as data from regional and international partners.  In addition to the data collected and shared in traditional development surveys, Open Data for Africa is working to compile information on emerging and crucial development topics, including:

  • Food security
  • Gender equality
  • Climate change
  • Availability of quality data

Future plans for Open Data for Africa include expansion of this platform to all African countries so that a completely regional system may be established.

Cybersecurity Act (CSA) of 2012 Defeated

Last night, the CSA did not pass in the U.S. Senate.  This article explains how Congress could not agree to the regulatory approach to cybersecurity because the CSA was far too ambiguous.  It failed to address the following questions:

  • Cost?
  • Implications for critical infrastructure?
  • Standards introduced – would they become outdated before they are even fully implemented? Would they be developed by the government, and if so, how would we make sure that they are “good?”
  • How would the CSA affect innovation?

Depending on the strictness and nature of regulations, they could result in large costs for the private sector.  It’s more than likely that whatever regulations are put into place become outdated before they are enacted.  If they somehow manage to not be outdated, they have the potential to stifle innovation.  As our guest speaker, Ralph Russo, discussed in class today, the US is already WAY behind in terms of software innovations and cyber progress (when compared to China, for example).  So while the CSA has a lot of potential benefits, it doesn’t seem like it’s worth the risk of putting us even further behind in STEM research.

Instead of the CSA (which has already been defeated twice), this blog suggests information sharing between the government and private sector as a low-cost alternative that would still provide up-to-date warnings against cyber vulnerabilities and threats.

What do you think? Should we keep trying to modify the CSA until it passes, or is it time to work on different means by which to protect us from cyberattacks?

South Park and Social Media

Social media is an incredible tool to promote activism and raise awareness.  However, no matter what the cause, there are always people willing to exploit it for financial gain.  Last week, Comedy Central’s show South Park made fun of Lance Armstrong (and the recent discovery of his drug use) and the US’s obsession with the Livestrong bracelets.  In this clip, they talk about how people become so engrossed with whatever global cause they are ‘wearing on their wrists’ that they forget about why they were supporting the cause to begin with.  I think that this is applicable to the role of social media and the existence of virtual activism today.

In Anna Hamilton’s post this week, she wrote, “One potential problem with virtual activism is that it may take the place of conventional activism, which is far more involved and effective.”  I think that this is a very interesting point.  People all over the world use social media to raise global awareness and send and/or organize aid for the causes they support.  However, virtual activism can only do so much; the concern that it may replace conventional activism is a valid one.

The South Park episode pokes fun at people for treating global causes like fashion accessories – spending more time advertising your support than actually doing something about it.  Obviously, social media is used in super legitimate, globally beneficial ways by many people/organizations, and the surge in virtual activism is a wonderful, important aspect of ICT development.  However, many people end up spreading false information with detrimental effects (i.e. mass re-tweeting a fake picture of the Statue of Liberty underwater, as we discussed in class today) because they don’t take enough time to verify the validity of the information.  If people post statuses/tweets/blogs about current events, you’d think they would want them to be correct, right?   It’s good to raise awareness, but only if it’s for the right reasons.

Txteagle: Incentivizing Participation in Disaster-Preparedness Surveys

Txteagle is an interactive data collection platform that is incredibly innovative in its techniques.  They received funding to set up an application for nurses in rural Kenya to text in blood supply levels at local hospitals.  At first, the application was very successful, but within a few weeks, participation declined to close to nothing.  To counteract the decrease in engagement, Nathan Eagle, the program’s founder, created an incentive system.  Safaricom, the local Kenyan mobile operator, gave Eagle access to their mobile billing system.  This allowed him to reward participation in his application with minutes of mobile airtime.   So, for each text they sent containing data about blood supply levels at local hospitals, nurses received one minute of airtime.  This incredibly simple incentive system was wildly successful—almost immediately, all of the nurses began participating again!

This incentive program is applicable to a plethora of other data collection applications.  Eagle eventually integrated his system with Safaricom’s partners, so that 220 mobile operators worldwide were able to use his billing and compensation platform.  To put this in perspective, Safaricom and its many partners have access to 2.1 billion active numbers in 80 different countries.  Consumers need only to complete an opt-in process to begin sending information in exchange for mobile minutes.

More recently, Txteagle has begun working with the Global Network of Civil Society Organizations for Disaster Reduction.  This network, consisting of 300 nonprofit organizations worldwide, focuses on increasing the resilience of affected people to disasters along with minimizing the impact of the disasters themselves.  Txteagle’s platform is used to send survey questions to vulnerable communities in order to improve disaster preparedness.  To initiate communication, a “blanket SMS” invitation is sent out to a community; if a person opts-in, he or she is given the option to complete a survey via SMS text or online – either way, airtime compensation is still received.

I think that this is an awesome idea.  By incentivizing inputs, Txteagle is ensuring a much greater level of participation, thus enabling its partners to more effectively give aid to those in need.  Txteagle also works with the operators to provide incentives for them as well.  Because both the operators and the end users are being compensated for their participation, this program has a great chance of long-term sustainability.  It can be applied to so many aspects of development beyond just disaster relief, so future growth seems inevitable.


Mobile Usage Amongst Marginalized Groups in Rural China

This post by Unwin discusses mobile use in China among marginalized groups such as rural and disabled populations.  Mobile phones are extremely prevalent in rural areas, and are used by different groups for different purposes.  The predominant uses for mobile phones, by user, are:

  • Men: Economic information
    • Agricultural input prices
    • Market prices
    • Women: Social communication and Health Information
    • Young male migrant workers: Social – using mobile phones to meet women

Rural mobile phone users are most concerned with the price of access and the legitimacy of the information obtained via mobiles.  Unwin reports that there is a “lot of bogus messaging,” so the source of incoming information is important.  While mobile phones are widespread in rural China, they are still too technologically advanced for most of their target users; thus, many of their functions are not used.

This article brings up an important concept: that widespread access and usage does not necessarily imply full utilization and understanding of a technology.  If we were using a “one-size-fits-all” approach, we would say that the mobile phones have been successfully distributed to the rural population, and our work is done.  However, since we know that that approach is flawed, we would instead say that there is still much more to accomplish in terms of making the technology truly accessible (and understandable) for its users.

Unwin also talks about the use of mobiles for people with disabilities – specifically, for the blind.  Currently, there are not very many mobile applications for blind people due to obvious barriers to access (i.e. seeing the screen).  I think that it is important that we address the needs of all members of society, but because mobile phones for the blind would require very advanced technology, our efforts may be better spent elsewhere.

Role of Mobile Based Applications in India’s Social and Economic Transformation

This article examines India’s growth in the technology sector over the last decade and discusses the socio-economic impacts of recent increases in mobile technology.  Today, india is experiencing “technology leapfrogging” in the telecom industry.  The term “technology leapfrogging” is used frequently in this paper; it describes the bypassing of technological stages that other countries have gone through.1  India is further along in the ICT development process than many LDC’s; mobile technology is both accessible and utilized by both the rich and the poor.

What struck my interest about this paper is the classification of mobile applications into two major categories: “lifestyle enabling mobile applications” and “livelihood enabling mobile applications.”  Lifestyle applications refer to those “used primarily by the rich and the middle class users, who are mobile, computer literate and have access to information. The primary objectives of these kinds of applications are for entertainment, increasing productivity and improving the ease of life.”  Livelihood applications are “targeted at the bottom of the pyramid and the poor category. The primary objectives are social inclusivity, social and economic coverage, solving the information asymmetry, raising the income potential.”  This distinction between mobile technology applications based on the user profile makes it much easier to accurately gauge progress on an individual level.

The authors suggest a “causal relationship within the same country between higher mobile penetration and higher economic growth.”  To support this, they provide a very useful statistic, which I think supports many of the concepts we have been learning about in class: that “Indian states with high mobile penetration can be expected to grow faster than those states with larger mobile penetration rates, by 1.2% points a year more on average for every 10% increase in the penetration rate.”  I think that it is very impressive that increases in penetration produce an increase in the rate of growth.

While this isn’t my country for our class, I think this article is very insightful because it shows ICT development in a country that has already made some progress in this sector.  It talks about challenges for development at this level.  These challenges and potential problems differ from those I have read about for Madagascar, which is much lower on the ICT development scale than India.

Additional citation: 1

Madagascar: Using Information and Communication Technology to Protect Citizens Against Natural Disasters

Madagascar and many other coastal African nations have been severely impacted by cyclones throughout history.   Experts have attributed many of these tropical cyclones to climate change.  In addition to cyclones, changes in climates can cause drought and flooding; all of these affect coastal nations most intensely.  Recently, a growing number of these African countries are utilizing ICTs to help decrease or prevent (when possible) the impacts of weather-induced emergencies.  Current systems being implemented include:

  • Geographic Information Systems
    • Work with local governments
    • Identify flood zones on maps
    • Measure vulnerability to flooding
    • Plan new preventative infrastructure
      • Drainage systems
      • Levees
  • SMS Alerts
    • Text citizens to alert to coming floods or cyclones
  • Early warning systems
    • Use weather pattern simulation to predict disasters before they occur

Local communities in Madagascar are far from this technologically advanced.  The main system for disaster alerts is the ‘town crier’ system, in which a village leader will “walk through the community ringing a bell and shouting warnings and instructions.1” To improve these alert systems, the Government of Madagascar is currently testing an SMS warning system (~30% of the population has a mobile phone) in which alert messages are sent to local leaders and telecom providers.  The government has distributed 1600 SIM cards so far in an effort to increase the population’s access to this technology.

In addition to sending warnings before a disaster occurs, this system is also able to receive information about the impacts of the disaster once it has hit.  “Thanks to this system, we are able to monitor the impacts in less than 48 hours, and help to identify the most affected areas where the population needs immediate support.” (Raonvielo Andrianianja, quoted in article)

This new system is a great example of how ICTs can be utilized to help developing countries.  I especially appreciated that before distributing the SIM cards to rural areas, the government assessed the education level of that area and adapted the phones to that level.


Using Actor-Network Theory in ICT4D Research

Posted by Richard Heeks on 30 July 2011.

This article discusses a theory that is very applicable to development studies.  The Actor-Network Theory (ANT) provides a non-traditional perspective on social theory.  It has three main ideas:

  1. Sociology today focuses on humans as the only critical influences that shape the world.  However, people are not the only “actors” on the planet – everything affects the environment, including plants, inanimate objects, and even the Internet.
  2. Society is influenced by the interactions between people and the environment.  We must focus more on this relationship rather than trying to prove that the world is shaped by society.
  3. To understand society, our research should focus more on the big picture and less on individual data.  We can gain useful insight by studying the interactions between society and its environment.

ANT is relevant to ICT4D because of its emphasis on dynamics, innovation, technology and networks.  Actor-Network Theory gives a unique perspective, and can be used to answer many questions pertaining to ICT4D:

  1. “How do you explain the trajectory of an ICT4D project?
  2. What role does technology play in an ICT4D project?
  3. How does power manifest itself in an ICT4D project?  How were apparently powerless actors able to influence the direction of an ICT4D project?  How was it that apparently powerful actors didn’t get their way on an ICT4D project?
  4. How does a particular ICT4D innovation (be it a new technology or business model or idea) diffuse or scale-up or sink without trace?
  5. How did a particular ICT4D impact or ICT4D policy come about?” (Heeks, 2011)

I found Heeks’ third question to be particularly insightful, and I think that ANT can be utilized as a strong supplement to current analysis approaches.

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