Author Archives: emcdona1

Lessons from ICT4D

This class has not only helped to understand how to implement ICTs and ICT related projects in developing countries, but it also built on a framework that we have discussed in previous International Development classes. One important lesson from this course which many of my classmates have touched on is the importance of having a flexible implementation model. Projects should be adapted based on the culture and location of the project, and it is of up most importance to have information available that fits the needs of the local community.This is an important lesson for all development projects, but it is especially important in ICT4D. All communities are in different stages of their relationship with ICTs, and these must be considered.

In addition, another important theme is the continual monitoring of projects and the updating of technologies. As seen in the past several decades, technology changes rapidly. Projects must be kept up to date but not changed at such a rapid speed that it becomes impossible to keep up. Local stakeholders must be trained to use the technologies rather than just supplying the technologies but not giving the necessary tools to use them. After the training and implementation, monitoring must continually occur.

Like many of my classmates, I feel that I came into this class with completely different expectations. It was interesting to see downsides of ICTs, and investigating projects that failed was eye-opening. The lessons I learned will most certainly translate to later endeavors.


Thailand ICT4D Resources

1) Executive Summary, Thailand Information and Communication Technology Policy Framework (2011-2020): This is Thailand’s third ICT policy, IT 2020. It was drafted by the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center, National Science and Technology Development Agency, and the Ministry of Science and Technology in May 2011. It is written in English, but can also be found in Thai here.

Information Technology Policy Framework 2001-2010: Thailand Vision Toward a Knowledge Based Economy: This is IT 2010, the ICT policy framework preceding IT 2020. It was published by the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center, National Science and Technology Development Agency, and the Ministry of Science and Technology in November 2003. It is written in English and Thai.

2) Ministry of Information and Communication Technology: overseeing the the IT 2020 policy

Ministry of Science and Technology in Thailand: drafted the IT 2020 policy and the IT 2010 policy

National ICT Policy in Thailand 

3) New Silks Roads: Promises and Perils of the Internet in the Thai Silk Industry: Mark Graham, University of Kentucky. This study investigated “how exactly the Internet could “expand markets and disintermediate commodity chains” in the Thai silk industry.

4) The Global Information Technology Report – World Economic Forum

Asia Pacific Future Gov

5) It was easy to find resources on Thailand. Most of the resources I found were in English, which made the information very easy to find. Their government also has a lot of presentations and papers posted that I found very helpful. I struggled to find ICT case studies, but once I found one, I stumbled across many others.


FEWS NET: A Famine Early Warning System

Ever since the Indian Ocean tsunami in December of 2004, there has been a push for early warning systems of all types. One system in place even before this natural disaster is FEWS NET, or Famine Early Warning System Network. According to their website, FEWS NET was developed in 1985 by USAID. They saw a need for an early warning system to detect food insecurity after famines in East and West Africa. Now, FEWS NET allows agencies to plan for and respond to food insecurity disasters.

Check out this video about FEWS NET. Jim Verdin from USGS says that FEWS NET is “an activity that boils down to simply paying attention”. He further explains that FEWS NET is in place to ensure that devastating famine no longer occurs in the developing world.

One current example of how FEWS NET functions as an early warning system involves the drought in Haiti. Because FEWS NET tracks the weather patterns, agricultural production, and food prices in Haiti, Haiti was able to offset the effects of the drought and the spread of the drought by arranging for food rations from sources such as the United Nations’ World Food Programme.


Phone Phreaking

After learning more about cyber security and cyber hacking in class on Tuesday, I began thinking more about the impact that these two things could have on the developing world and projects implemented in the developing world. The presentation in class focused in cyber attacks and specific viruses and malware that have been used against the United States and other countries. It also touched on the implications cyber-warfare can have on the developing world, including human rights issues with spying on citizens and also the vulnerabilities that arise specifically in developing countries.

Hacking is “big business”, and digital currencies used in developing countries are especially vulnerable to being hacked. Another blog post touched on the helpfulness and innovation of M-Pesa, a service used in Kenya to transfer money via SMS in order to pay for goods and services. I was interested to see exactly how M-Pesa is affected by cyber hacking. I found this article detailing some downsides to M-Pesa due to phone phreaking (phone hacking). Hackers will spoof the caller ID, using the number of a bank. Users of the mobile money services then are tricked into giving the “financial institution” their information, and money is extracted from their bank accounts. It is estimated that US $13,000/month is stolen using this hacking technique. I assume this problem will only get worse with time as technologies become more and more sophisticated.


OpenStreetMap

I wasn’t familiar with OpenStreetMap before yesterday’s Skype session with Robert Banick. If you haven’t heard of it either, I highly recommend checking it out. After his lecture and our discussion, I looked up a little more on OpenStreetMap and I found this case study written by Steve Chilton. He points out the need for instant information, especially during disaster situations. Chilton even uses Hurricane Katrina as an example, stating that it serves as the perfect example of how not up-to-date maps may have a severe effect on how crises are handled. He specifically points out a problem the Red Cross had with Google Maps after the storm because they had no idea of the state of US 90 bridge. Only locals would have been able to share information like that, and a crowd sourcing map could have been the solution.

This example got me thinking as to how this platform could not only affect our city of New Orleans, but also the large effect it could have on the developing world. The really interesting aspect to this concept is the immediacy that new information can be uploaded to the maps. Chilton talks about how OpenStreetMap was able to map Gaza during and following the Israeli/Gaza conflict by compiling various resources and applying them to OpenStreetMap.

I think we will see much more of OpenStreetMap in the future, and if you want to learn more you can click here!


And the Oscar Goes to…

In my humble opinion, it is wonderful to have so many ICT4D projects to look out for. Most of these projects have good intentions and goals, BUT it seems there is a clear problem (as many of my classmates have identified below) with identifying and admitting that ICT4D projects have failed. Oscar Night Syndrome has taken over the ICT4D sphere, instilling a false hope that all ICT4D projects are successful and beneficial to the communities in which they are implemented. This syndrome creates pressure to always make ICT4D projects look good, even though sometimes failure is obvious. I read an interesting article on ICTworks about the Oscar Night Syndrome and how exactly to begin confronting failure. One problem is the lack of implementation of M&E (monitoring and evaluation). The article suggested 4 ways to improve upon M&E. These included:

  1. Quasi-Experiments
  2. Qualitative Analysis
  3. Common Standards
  4. Implementation Evaluations

All four suggestions could possibly begin to change the ICT4D culture of hiding failure. Quasi-experiments (experiments lacking the random assignment to a control group) would be a lower cost way to perform experiments while still collecting data about the success of the ever changing technologies implemented. These experiments in general would ensure that the outcomes of ICT4D projects were measured not only during the project implementation but also in years after. Another way to ensure this data is measured and evaluated is by emphasizing the use of quantitative AND qualitative data collection. Yes, quantitative data is helpful, BUT many times qualitative data gets to the root of the projects, finding the true impact the project has made on the recipients. This data can be collected in a variety of ways, including focus groups, observation, and even social network sites. 

In order to improve upon these first two categories, the language and standards of M&E must also be clarified. The measurements of success and failure must be quantified in some way in order to show the success of a specific project. The article goes further to suggest the possibility of an M&E framework that could create a comparison of different projects and their success and effectiveness. Finally, the article suggests an implementation evaluation. This would allow the ICT4D project developers to see their projects’ implementations alongside their peers’. It would create an opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes in implementing their projects. 

I believe all of these strategies for improving M&E would help ICT4D as a whole by removing the stigma from failure. If project failures continue to be swept under the rug, the same mistakes will keep being made over and over again. M&E will help ensure that project failures are pointed out and the Oscar Night Syndrome looses prevalence in the ICT4D sphere. 


Kudumbashree Initiative

In Richard Heeks’ article ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track, Heeks praises Kerala’s Kudumbashree initiative. He likes the initiative for the “real and direct benefits” it provides for poor communities. Heeks says that the initiative brought women who lived below the poverty line opportunities to become involved in ICTs “through hardware and services enterprises”. The women then have tangible benefits, including an income and gender empowerment. This method of ICT development has been found far more effective than other large broad reaching and over arching projects.

This initiative is also double edged sword in that it provides ICT capabilities to the region while also empowering women and increasing their income. Heeks, in his article, hopes that more agencies and governments will begin to look at ICT development this way.

Heeks describes the initiative slightly, but he didn’t go into detail about the organization. So, I got interested in what exactly and specifically the organization’s goals and mission were. I found that the ICT project was just on of Kudumbashree’s initiatives. The organization is one of the largest women empowerment organizations in the country, serving over 50% of the households in Kerala. One of the most interesting things I found on their website was a segment of their mission statement which read that they aimed to, “combine self-help with demand-led convergence of available services and resources to tackle the multiple dimensions and manifestations of poverty, holistically.”

This segment of their mission statement describes exactly the approach taken with the ICT Initiative. The organization found a demand in the community for ICT and used women who needed empowerment to meet the demand. I think Heeks is spot on with his hopes for other development agencies.