Author Archives: jtriplet

Case Study: Use of ICTs in Greater New Orleans Crimestoppers

One of the greatest challenges currently facing the city of New Orleans is widespread crime that impacts both citizens’ daily lives and the city’s economy on the whole (largely regarding tourism revenues). For that reason, I decided to investigate Crimestoppers Inc. of the Greater New Orleans area (CS) and the ways in which this organization uses ICTs to achieve its goals. The overarching goal of CS is to positively impact crime rates. The organization seeks to accomplish this by facilitating the flow of information between citizens who witness crimes and police officials using assurances of anonymity and reward. During the process of communication and tip management, CS uses both communication technologies (land lines, cell phones, and web services) and backroom software (TipSoft) to gather and organize their information which is then relayed to law enforcement individuals. While I will discuss the basic organization and functioning of the ICTs in CS, the most interesting aspects of the program are the failures of the newest technology (texting tips) and its inability to be replicated in many developing cities.

Since 1982, the Crimestoppers Inc of the Greater New Orleans Area has received tens of thousands of tips that have lead to thousands of arrests. Over the years, CS has been able to incorporate increasing amounts of communication technologies and avenues into their programs. CS initially relied on tips from land lines, but as cell phones became more prevalent, they adapted their programs to receive tips from these new devices as well. Similarly, with the advent of the internet, CS has begun to receive web-based tips from an electronic form on their website. The most recent addition to the ICT features of CS has been text message-based tips, which I will discuss further later on. Additionally, since 2002, CS has been using a back office program called TipSoft to manage tips. This software, which has both phone based and remote repair support, allows CS offices across the country to securely manage their information. So far, the trend has been that increased avenues of communication means increased flow of information. In 2010, CS received 2,629 phone tips, 665 web tips, and 29 text tips. The information relayed in these tips led to dozens of arrests and confiscations, including a raid on 7 June 2011 in which police discovered five guns, $38,753 in cash, and one ounce of cocaine.

As evidenced by this example seizure, many people benefit from the CS organization. The citizens of New Orleans get to play an active role in protecting their community. The members of law enforcement benefit from the increased flow of information. Finally, the business community benefits from actively supporting CS (which improves their public image) and potentially from decreased crime rates which would have a positive impact on local businesses. As the members of CS like to note, the organization benefits everyone except for criminals. This share-holder buy-in is particularly important since CS relies on fundraising and grants. Each year, CS hosts two main fundraisers, which indicate the sustainability of the program since donors continue to believe in and help fund the program as long as they see benefits for the community.

While CS has traditionally been a thriving organization that has consistently benefitted from new technologies, a recent campaign to report tips by text has illustrated that not every ICT is equally well suited for reporting tips. The text messages are limited to younger generations which are less likely to report crimes. Also, the text tips that do come in are generally not as useful to CS and law enforcement since they are short, use often incomprehensible abbreviations, and only contain the information that the tipster chooses to provide. With phone and web communications, CS workers can use forms or ask specific questions to ensure that they have all the pertinent information. Accordingly, CS illustrates that the newest technologies are not always the best or most appropriate. As for an international context, while Crimestoppers does exist internationally, it is unlikely that the program could ever succeed in the most crime-ridden areas. In Mexican border cities such as Ciudad Juarez, for example, law enforcement tends to be so corrupt that they could not be trusted to preserve the anonymity of tipsters. Additionally, in many of these most dangerous cities, there is not an active climate of citizen participation in the judicial system as most residents would rather look the other way than become involved and face a certainly brutal death. The domestic applications of Crimestoppers, however, have proven successful. While it would be exceedingly difficult to prove CS’s impacts on crime rates, it is easy to see that the organization, using various ICTs, has been able to facilitate the safe flow of information from citizens to law enforcement.


Case Study: LifeLines India

For this post, I looked deeper into the case study of LifeLines India (found on pp 162-3 in the Unwin text). First, I will provide a brief summary of the information offered in the text. Next, I will share some of the information I found in further research of the project.

As stated in the text, LifeLines India is a telecommunications project which was established as a joint effort between OneWorld South Asia, British Telecom, and Cisco in 2006. This program attempts to use the internet in conjunction with voice technologies to “help alleviate poverty and promote sustainable development.” This combination of technologies is appropriate for the situation of a rural Indian farmer because:

  1. telephone networks are more readily available than the internet to the farmers
  2. many farmers cannot read at all
  3. even the farmers who can read still often face a language barrier, as much of the information on the internet is in English

The program works in the following way: farmers call a hotline and leave a voice mail with their specific question. Next, “knowledge workers” find the answer in a vast database. The farmer calls back 24 hours later to hear the response to his question, thus overcoming the obstacle of literacy.

The program was initially implemented as a small-scale pilot program in 85 villages. In the time since the pilot, the service has been expanded to reach a staggering 2066 villages, and the creators had a goal of using the same technologies and processes “to address additional topics, such as education, healthcare, microcredit, employment and disaster relief.”

To find more about the project and its current state, I visited the program’s website (http://liveliness-india.net). According to the most recently available information, the project has now expanded into the field of education as well as agriculture. Now, over 200,000 households access the data base for agricultural inquiries, while over 455,000 teachers in nearly 106,000 schools use the service to get both answers to questions and general teaching advice. The knowledge workers receive around 500 calls per day, and over 95% of the calls are answered within a 24-hour period.

Additionally, the website includes testimonial stories from farmers and teachers who have been able to better perform their jobs through this service. While I found no evaluations or monitoring reports from third parties, the program has received multiple international awards, as well as recognition from the United States Congress.

This ICT4D case study provides an excellent example of a way in which multiple technologies may be adapted and used to promote economic growth and equality.

J. Triplett


Lessons Learned: the Necessity of Appropriateness and Desirability

When I first began studying international development at Tulane, I started to accrue a small pool of unspecific knowledge. We learned that educating women can be the key to stabilizing population growth and creating healthy families. We learned that education can open a pathway to economic opportunities. We learned that development goes beyond economic growth and encompasses quality of life as well. While all of these concepts are, in fact, key to the practice of international development, they are not, on their own, sufficient to begin to address the ills of the world and serve as a more theoretical background to the more specific practices of the field of development. Through analyzing the use and importance of ICTs for development, more focused lessons learned have emerged. In nearly every case study in nearly every country, the success of an ICT4D project hinges on two components: the appropriateness of the technology employed and the desirability of/demand for the technology and the solution it offers from the community it aims to serve.

Appropriateness of technology is a paramount consideration which developers must assess during the planning phase of any ICT4D project. This can be seen through the example of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). The OLPC program seeks to ensure that every child in the world has a functioning laptop and access to the internet in order to greatly expand their educational opportunities. While this is a very worthwhile venture and such access surely would offer a new and effective mode of learning, the program seems to overlook a few very large obstacles. At the most basic level, there is an issue of electricity. In order to use the laptops, students must first charge them. In order to charge the laptops, students must first have access to electricity. In rural villages, electricity is not always present or continuous. Also, it is doubtful that even at the schools there will be a sufficient number of plugs to accommodate all of the laptops that need to be charged. Looking beyond electricity, there is also an issue of maintenance. While the program claims that an 8-year-old child should be able to fix the laptop, there is a marked lack of replacement parts, and language barriers could prohibit a child from understanding how to fix the technology. Moving beyond the question of appropriate technologies, developers must also consider the desirability of a project. If the community does not see the need for the project, it is unlikely that they will offer their buy-in and support. This was the case with an e-Education initiative, Enlaces, which was developed by the government in Chile. Instead of consulting teachers in the implementation of adding computers to schools, the government adopted a largely top-down approach. Now, while nearly every school in the country has computer access for the students, fewer than 50 percent of teachers actually use the costly technologies. Had the teachers been consulted further, they could have helped develop a plan that would truly benefit the students.

In examining both OLPC and Enlaces, the key lessons of appropriateness and desirability clearly emerge. First, developers must be absolutely certain that the target recipients truly want and need the technology in question. Once user demand is firmly established, developers must then ensure that the most appropriate technology is employed for the task. Although donors and even recipients often desire the most up to date and complex technology, sometimes simpler is better. In the case of OLPC, laptops may not be the most viable medium for offering expanded educational opportunities to the world’s children. When developers consider both demand and appropriateness of technology, however, it is much more likely that they will ultimately come up with a project that addresses the needs of a population, thereby improving their quality of life.


HumaniNet and Eagles Wings Foundation

Today, I came across a website, http://www.humaninet.org/index.html, which is an organization that helps facilitate “vital connections for the field.” HumaniNet focuses on helping humanitarian efforts throughout the developing world stay connected and communicate with team members under less than optimal conditions (no electricity, no internet, no mobile phone grid, etc.). This organization saw a need for “reliable, effective global communications,” especially in times of crisis when communication is most vital among members of disaster relief teams. Even in times of relative tranquility, “poor communications and paper processes” slow the progress of humanitarian organizations, although time grows even more important during situations of duress. HumaniNet functions to pursue research in order to better inform organizations of the different technologies and practices available to enhance their communicative effectiveness. Additionally, HumaniNet provides technical assistance in using the actual ICT devices and even works with organizations to find ways to reduce the costs of such ICTs. Catholic Relief/Caritas, Oxfam, and UNICEF are just a few among the many organizations which HumaniNet has assisted in some way.

Each month, HumaniNet focuses on one organization for its outstanding and effective use of ICTs in humanitarian and disaster response efforts, in September, HumaniNet spotlighted Eagles Wings Foundation (EWF), a 501(c)(3) based in West Palm Beach, FL, that works to bring disaster relief to those in need.  EWF has provided disaster relief during several major US hurricanes and in the Haitian and Japanese earthquakes as well. This organization seeks to “deliver critical goods” to people who have trouble reaching distribution centers or otherwise acquiring basic needs. EWF employs “Pathfinder Eureka” software to organize its data and perform its role in devastated communities. After conducting brief training sessions, EWF volunteers head out into the field to collect data pertaining to people in need of specific items who cannot procure them without assistance. The data are then programmed into the software via military grade cell phones that can operate without cell towers where its is compiled into a summary of needs distribution. With this compiled data, the volunteers are then able to assemble and deliver the goods to where they are needed most.


Glucose Buddy Smartphone App

When I was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes nearly five years ago, countless advances had already been made in the realm of diabetes management. Only a decade ago, blood glucose meters were large (about the size of a graphing calculator), slow, and somewhat unreliable. Now, however, meters are incredibly compact, fast, and astonishingly accurate. Insulin delivery systems have followed a similar trajectory of evolution and advancement beginning with syringes and vials which have recently fallen by the wayside in favor of more convenient pens and pumps. The progress is amazing and has made measurable differences in the lives of diabetics. Now, methods of keeping blood glucose logs are following suit. When I was first diagnosed, I would have to write all of my numbers and the time of day in a notebook to bring to my doctor so that she could adjust my insulin dosages accordingly. Now, however, there is a smartphone application, Glucose Buddy, which allows me to input this data into my iPhone (which I always carry around anyway) and transfer that information to my doctor electronically. This process cuts down on waiting time between doctor visits and is particularly valuable since I am a student in New Orleans, but my doctor works in Jackson, MS.

The application is very user-friendly and provides both patients and doctors with useful tools that a pen and notebook simply cannot offer. As soon as I use my meter to check my blood glucose level, I go to my Glucose Buddy app, make a note (before breakfast, after lunch, after exercise, for example), and punch in whatever number my meter displays. Glucose Buddy automatically detects the time of day, but it is possible to change that in order to retroactively add a meter reading. With this information, the app then adds the number and note to an electronic logbook, which is essentially a digitized copy of a paper notebook. The really interesting feature of this app, however, is that the program then converts the conventional logbook display into a graphical representation. The graph displays, with three different colored lines, the high, low, and average blood glucose readings for every day on which data was entered. This graph allows a patient and a doctor to quickly analyze readings in a visual manner, saving time and energy. Furthermore, the app has a “quick sync” feature which allows patients to send data to their doctors as the patient collects it, allowing for immediate insulin dosage corrections. This app can have great implications for people who either have trouble keeping up with a logbook or who do not live near their specialists. Especially in rural Mississippi, it is not uncommon for patients to have to drive upwards of two hours to visit a specialist. This means that time in between visits can be so lengthy that it prohibits the best possible medical care. Glucose Buddy essentially eliminates the physical distance between doctors and patients, allowing for timely and responsive healthcare.

While Glucose Buddy has proved very helpful in my personal attempts to manage my diabetes, I represent minority group of diabetic patients. By no means do all diabetics have access to either the internet or a smartphone on which do download the application, nevermind both assets at once. This tool could potentially revolutionize the way in which rural diabetic populations communicate with their doctors and receive medical care. Glucose Buddy makes it possible for patients who live great distances from their specialists to have a higher level of care, but people in these rural populations are less likely to have access to both smartphones and the internet. Furthermore, the application is only good if a patient actually uses it regularly. If a patient forgets to input data or fails to sync the information to his or her physician, the application cannot function at its full potential. Given the number of mobile phone subscriptions across the globe, however, it could be possible to create a Glucose Buddy type system for text messages. This would serve a greater number of patients by circumventing both the issue of internet access and the lack of availability of smartphones.


ACM’s 2011 CSCW Conference

In March of this year, computer and technology specialists and researchers from around the world gathered together for the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) annual conference, the Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) Conference. This year’s conference held special significance for the growing international nature of the conference, which, for the first time, was held outside of North America (in Hangzhou, China), and nearly half of all committee members were non North-Americans. While this conference encompasses several technologically related fields and areas of interest, the main goal is to share ideas and technologies which aid in communication via ICTs. The conference’s welcome note describes the conference as “a premier venue for presenting research in the design and use of technologies that affect groups, organizations, and communities.” In this way, the conference could potentially yield great improvements for ICT-based development projects since increasing communication is key to the success of development projects. In past years, the conference has added an increased focus on the role of social media specifically for development projects. At this past year’s conference, some workshops included “Socializing Technology among Seniors in Asia,” “Social Media for Development,” and “Mobile Collaboration in the Developing World.”

These workshop titles and the general climate of the conference reflect two ways in which social media could prove useful for the development sector. First, as is suggested by “Socializing Technology among Seniors in Asia,” social media can play an integral role in improving quality of life, which, after all, is a goal of development in general. The ability of elderly people to stay connected with far-flung friends and family via social media can transform a lonely existence into active golden years. Beyond making it easier for people in remote locations to stay connected with loved ones (or even for business purposes to further their personal economic situation), social media aids in the communication process between the various stakeholders of development projects. In a development project, it is vital for NGOs to stay in touch with both the people they are attempting to serve and the other partners in the project, such as private entities, members of civil society, or government agencies. Without active and frequent communication, a development projects cannot succeed, and social media could serve as a cost-effective option to achieve such communication.


ICT tools for rural development in Peru

Case study: The Huaral Valley Agrarian Information System

This case study assesses the use of ICT tools in rural Peru to improve agricultural productivity. The area of the Huaral Valley is an extremely dry area, but agriculture is the primary economic activity there. Accordingly, in the late 1970s, the government overtook the oversight of irrigation systems to ensure better water resource management. This ICT project attempted to create an Agrarian Information System (AIS) to help the irrigation boards better manage their resources (which was difficult considering not all of the board offices had computers and internet access) and to link farmers to critical information. Before, farmers did not rely on the technologies commonly used for agriculture in developed countries, such as weather forecasts and formal information. By connecting these farmers to resources over the internet, however, they would ideally be able to improve their crop outputs, thereby alleviating some of the poverty of the area.

This project, which has been operating since 2005, has provided computers and wireless internet access for every irrigation board office throughout the region and has placed computers in 10 rural villages to serve as access points for the previously underserved communities. In this way, the project was able to narrow the knowledge gap and wear down the digital divide. The system allows the irrigation board leaders to better monitor and allocate their water resources and allows farmers to access previously
unattainable information.

Now, information flows more freely through the region. Though the extent to which farmers’ productivity has increased as a direct result of this project has yet to be measured, the impact on the irrigation efforts is more tangible. Additionally, the project shows some best practices for ICT development projects as it focuses on sustainability and a variety of stakeholders. The buy-in from the irrigation boards and Commission has proved essential to the viability of the project. While these stakeholders are currently seeking to make the project function more similarly to a business model, their faith in the project is invaluable to its future success. Also, the project incorporated people from all sectors of society: the main
irrigation board, smaller irrigation commissions, government ministries, local and national agricultural institutions, and the community members themselves. For the future, the program leaders hope to keep expanding, offering computers and internet access to even more of the rural population. Additionally, there is currently a trial of 30 community members who have been given smartphones. The organizers hope to find a way in which these phones can contribute to the productivity and output of the local farmers.