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Ethiopia ICT4D Resources

1) Finding a comprehensive source for Ethiopia’s national ICT policy and strategies can be difficult. This link is to the government’s policy, as published by Ministry of Communication and Technology (MCIT):

http://www.mcit.gov.et/web/english/the-national-ict-policy

There is a pdf attachment for the policy, but the link does not work. On the top right corner, one may access the website in English, Amharic, or Afaan Oromo.

Here is another government report:

http://unctad.org/meetings/en/Presentation/CSTD_2013_WSIS_Ethiopia.pdf

2) Here is a link to the MCIT website. It is fairly comprehensive, a lists all of Ethiopia’s sector development strategies. It also links to specific resources for businesses, government, and citizens to facilitate partnerships.

http://www.mcit.gov.et/

3) This is a link to a pdf of a case study of Ethiopia’s SchoolNet project. As a student dissertation it is fairly comprehensive. I have also attached an infodev report on ICT in Education in Ethiopia.

http://edu-ict4d.com/thesis/ICTs_for_Development_in_Ethiopia_A_Case_of_the_SchoolNet_Project_EN.pdf

https://www.infodev.org/infodev-files/resource/InfodevDocuments_402.pdf

4) Finally, here are some relevant links that review national ICT. The EFOSSNET report is especially useful and does well to describe Ethiopia’s successes and shortcomings in regards to a wide range of ICT strategies.

http://www.giswatch.org/sites/default/files/Ethiopia.pdf

 

 


Lessons Learned: Tulane ICT4D Spring 2014

In the development world (as in every profession), most practitioners take technology at face value. ICT is construed as a tool to enhance proficiency and effectiveness on a broad scale, and because of its nature it may not even be considered for the more complex, and less blatantly obvious effects it can have on those beneficiaries who come in contact with it. I’d read previously about how development has the tendency to privilege technology and Western knowledge systems over indigenous knowledge systems, but I did not see a tangible example of this until I took this course. ICT applications are not immune from failure. In fact, as stressed by writers like Unwin and Heeks, they must be carefully incorporated into the culture in question so that they can have any success at building a connected knowledge society at all. From a theoretical standpoint, I now understand how critical knowledge societies are for growing an educated populace and a capable government, and part of creating such an environment is mediating between indigenous knowledge systems and modern, technology based paradigms. This is a responsibility every ICT project must take into account, or jeopardize not only its integrity, but also its effectiveness.

By extension, an interesting lesson this course has taught me is the importance of tapping into existing communications infrastructure when implementing a project. It seems obvious that this is necessary, but we in the West are many times led to believe that all new technological applications are progressive. This course has made it clear that utilizing a smart phone app to reach rural citizens who are mostly accustomed to the radio will not be successful. Furthermore, blanket applications of technology within a society that don’t realize the capacity for upkeep will inevitably be unsuccessful. Richard Heeks describes how this was a large issue in the ICT4 1.0 stage in the 1990’s and 2000’s, which attempted to replicate telecenters that had found success in North America in the developing world. These ultimately failed, as without training or even an intrinsic desire to use these centers, they fell into disrepair. It is not enough to implement a new technology, but it must be relevant to those who are going to use it. This course has demonstrated how key user efficacy is within ICT4D applications, a very important point when ICT is employed for life- saving disaster resilience and response purposes.

Finally, this course has imparted upon me the importance of technology in connecting with others in the developing community. Not only is it important to put yourself out there on ICT platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, but also it is also critical as a budding development professional to have tangible technological skills. Whether it is GIS mapping or social media expertise, anyone entering development today must be able to say that they are well acquainted with at least one ICT platform. Projects are increasingly relying on ICT apps to reach beneficiaries, and without these skillsets you will truly be out of the loop. I am glad that I have learned this now before it was too late, and I thank ICT4D at Tulane for imparting upon me the full weight of technology in development.


The Value of Crowd-Sourcing and Private Sector Data Analysis in Disaster Response

Today, Senior Geospatial scientist Steven Ward presented to the class the ways in which his company ‘DigitalGlobe‘ combines ICT, geospatial data, satellite imagery for use in a number of industries, including development. DigitalGlobe operates a number of satellites that take images of the earth’s surface and disseminates them to a number of clients, including the US government, Google, the UN, and various NGOs, among many others. An even more critical aspect of the company is the data analysis it provides, which is largely supplemented by crowdsourcing techniques. For example, scientists like Steven Ward will publicize certain images of a disaster area, such as satellite photographs taken of a mountain range in which climbers have gone missing. DigitalGlobe employees will then look at trends of information tagged on these pictures by the public, an analysis that is augmented by a number of algorithms that help to determine the degree of validity of the information they are receiving. They can then analyze the aggregate data to try and find precisely where the missing climbers set up their base camp, climbed, and eventually fell (find the story here). Though this specific case is tragic, it reveals a host of ways in which vital information can be amassed through ICT techniques such as crowdsourcing, as well as how tech-based firms can contribute their innovations and analysis in times of need.  The company is an important example of the private sector’s role in aiding humanitarian crises as well as its contributions in developing key information systems that can make or break disaster response.

Another important take-way from Ward’s lecture was simply the logic surrounding open-source data analysis, which is an ICT in itself. Ward pointed out that “more hands make light work”, which is a critical notion in time sensitive situations such as Guinea’s recent Ebola outbreak, where health care experts need as much data as possible to determine the pathways of an extremely lethal disease in a population dense area. Though some might worry that information coming from the masses is more likely to be incorrect, this is actually a misconception; Wikipedia, which is a compilation made by thousands of ‘amateurs’ has a credibility ranking of 8/10, while Encyclopedia Britannica, which is a collaboration of fewer ‘experts’, has a score of 8.8/10. The fact that these sources have such similar scores demonstrates a key point of value for crowdsourcing techniques: the more people that contribute to and review the data, the more accurate it is likely to be. Therefore crowdsourcing in itself is many times one of the most valuable approaches to mapping disaster and crises, as well as other, less time sensitive development sectors such as poverty, agribusiness land-grabbing, vulnerable agricultural lands, and thousands of other factors that may be critical to the interventions of stakeholders within the field.

 


ICT For Health and Behavioral Change: An Overview

ICT for health initiatives are widely popular interventions for disease control and prevention in developing contexts, and have been increasingly employed on both the patient side and for medical professionals over the last decade. Approaches of ICT for health cover logistics, telemedicine, supervision, data exchange, medicine reconciliation, and emergency notifications. They are also employed through a variety of mediums, including SMS services, mobile gaming, television programs, open-source software, and even voice and audio applications. Yesterday, David Kulick from the John’s Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health related to our class the ins and outs of developing ICT health related initiatives. The Hopkin’s Center for Communication Programs combines forces with the Bloomberg School to formulate projects devoted to changing behavior on a community and individual level, and has been active since 1988 in more than 30 countries. ICT initiatives for behavioral change, as compared with other ICT for health approaches, work to find “new, participatory ways to reach audiences with persuasive messages” that can transform ways of thinking and interacting to make a society healthier as a whole (jhuccp.org). An example of such a CCP program is MAMA, or the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action. This initiative, which is active in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa, uses SMS during weeks 5-42 of pregnancy and the first year of a baby’s life to inform a mother about antenatal care, nutrition, and even insecticide treated bed-nets to improve health outcomes. These techniques are used by many ICT for health projects, and are an important intervention that can provide beneficiaries with critical information in a short amount of time.

An interesting dilemma facing the ICT for health field is the stratification of beneficiary access, which is in turn reflected in the results of a given project. Mobile phones and televisions are commodities, and the poorest members of a community who made need such ICT interventions the most may not be reached due to cost limits. In addition, gender biases in many societies can restrict women’s ability to use applications; for example, many times a woman’s husband or male family member controls a phone, and a pregnant woman may not be able to view SMS messages concerning maternal health or she may be afraid that the messages will result in an invasion of her privacy. Another key problem with ICT for health applications is an issue that reverberates across development projects in general: their “one size fits all” model decreases their effectiveness in getting at the root of the problem. Mass SMS programs that intend to respond to health queries are not yet sophisticated enough to take into account demographic differences such as sex, age, or economic status, and thus may provide irrelevant and unusable advice to beneficiaries in need. ICT for health programs such as those maternal health applications developed by the CCP have made strides in decreasing maternal and infant mortality, but future health projects should look towards innovations that make applications more individualized towards the recipient. Changing behavioral norms is quite difficult, but ICT has the ability to harness changing technology to find cutting edge solutions to health issues and to apply these lessons to other sectors of development.


Is Development Knowledge Exclusionary?

I do not mean to detract from the theme of the specific application of ICT for development, but since our last class I have found that I cannot stop thinking about our discussion of development theory and failure. In chapter 3 of ICT4D, Unwin relates how current discourses realize the flaws of modernization theory and its belief that development beneficiaries were to be the passive recipients of Western information, for it was inherently more valuable than any knowledge that they may have possessed. Development has now embraced a people- centered model that sees traditional knowledge systems and community based approaches as critical to the development process (Unwin 40). However, though development has primarily shifted from “top-down’ to ‘bottom- up”, local information is still lost in translation, and Western actors are regarded as the ‘experts’ who can bring development to where it is needed.

Development must absolutely embrace participatory projects, but it also needs to reassess the degree to which development projects can be created and sustained by members of a developing community themselves. For, in the end, isn’t one of the primary goals of development to empower the poor to be their own agents of social change? However, the nature of development can be prohibitive of such grassroots entrepreneurship. Consider this: proper development practice, as taught to students at universities like Tulane, requires an enormous amount of literacy on subjects like management, budget-making, organizational frameworks, and perhaps most importantly, monitoring and evaluation. I have seen first hand that these topics have become skills that we must possess to be development practitioners and to carry out successful projects. At the root of this, these skills are required so that we can obtain grants and partnerships to stay sustainable and garner attention from donors. I am not naïve enough to think that development does not require people with such abilities. Yet we seem to forget that development knowledge itself is not only a Western concept, but also a privilege that many in the developing world cannot access. For example, how could a woman who has started her own village empowerment group write a monitoring and evaluation report for a grant-maker if she does not have more than a 6th grade education? Does this mean that she does not deserve a grant? Does her inability to send the grant-maker a 3-year strategic framework plan mean that her organization will fail?

My point is that development needs to go beyond cultivating practitioners in the first world. As we recognize that those who have lived their entire lives in impoverished areas know the most about what they need, we need to take the full step and embrace the fact that these individuals are perfectly capable of coming up with and executing a project on their own, although it may be in ways that lie in the margins of standard development practice. By this I mean that organizations such as the school I worked for in Ghana have found ways to sustain themselves for nearly a decade with little to no grant money per year and hardly any assistance from larger educational organizations or agencies (i.e. UNESCO). There is no M&E plan, institutional documentation is poorly organized, and the founder has not had more than a basic education, but hundreds, if not more than a thousand impoverished children have received a free basic education over the last decade and many have been given the opportunity to continue their studies at a higher level. If this is not ‘successful’ development, I do not know what it is. More importantly, it occurs informally, in a very Ghanaian context, in a Ghanaian way of doing things. This is important to realize when reflecting upon Mchoumbu’s point that “traditional channels of communication [should be] respected and not regarded as barriers to development” (Unwin 41). Development practitioners, grant-makers, and other Western actors must understand that practice and communication are culturally contingent and that seemingly improper conventions have merit in their own right. What must not occur in development is that a practitioner requires a local development worker to do A, B, and C, but that they adapt their own practice to local practice. Furthermore, a local entrepreneur cannot be excluded because they do not do things ‘by the book’. There is no room in development to be exclusionary; rather, we must take these locally made ideas and run with them, even if they do not fit status quo development protocol. These are the manners of doing things that reflect a culture and tell of the true needs of a society, and we have much to learn from how they may have been carried out before we try to change their execution.


Rural Telecenters- What Works, And What Doesn’t?

In Richard Heek’s ICT4D Manifesto, he describes how rural telecenters became “the archetype” of the ICT4D 1.0 movement of the 1990’s and 2000’s. Tried and proven successful in North America and Europe in the 80’s, they were attractive to the West for multiple reasons: they were simple to install, they directly delivered services to the poor, and they were tangible projects in poverty-stricken communities. Yet Heeks is quick to point out that they were inherently flawed from their inception. They were unsustainable over the long term, as they fell into disrepair and qualified maintenance professionals were hard to find. They had limited reach, as they were only accessible to those in walking distance and could not be used by many in the community. Finally, monitoring and evaluation were overlooked, and those stories that were successful were over emphasized to the detriment of those telecenters that did not find the same outcome. Given these systematic failures Heek’s description of ICT4D 2.0 leaves rural telecenters out entirely as he strives to detail projects that are less inherently flawed.

During a search of Heek’s manifesto bibliography, I was led to an publication that offered an alternative to a localized rural telecenters. The newsletter, published by a id21.org, described a project known as “Mobile Ladies” that is active in rural Bangladesh. In 2004 in Dhaka, the Development Research Network established a Rural Information Helpline that linked rural villagers to internet- connected responders to which they could give “common livelihood” queries. However, as 20% of the country still did not have mobile telephone coverage, millions of people could not access the Helpline. Thus ‘Mobile Ladies’ was formed, an initiative that employs village women by giving them a special cell phone so that they can listen to their neighbor’s issues and advise them on possible solutions within several days. According to id21, over 1/2 of the cases are health- related, and other inquires are related to agriculture, human rights issues (including legal advice in cases of rape, physical assault, or dowries), and education. Statistics reveal that 80% of those served are satisfied with the information they receive, 36% of the beneficiaries are housewives, and 89,000 women could potentially be employed by the project. Mobile Ladies also upholds a ‘no exclusion’ policy so that every villager can access the telecenter regardless of their caste, literacy, gender, or physical status, a vital approach in communities where many are marginalized on the basis of these characteristics.

Case studies from Bangladesh offer personal accounts of how Mobile Ladies has provided villagers with vital information that they otherwise would have been unable to obtain. The project has its flaws, however. It is expensive, and it is difficult to monitor the Mobile ladies themselves. Information can be lost in translation, and it is hard for the poor to turn it into action when they lack even the most basic of resources. However, with research I found that Mobile Ladies has adapted to changing trends in technology by offering social media and skype connections to their clients, revealing how the project is making strides towards sustainability as the first world innovations widen the digital gap. Mobile Ladies does not improve infrastructure or establish the backwards linkages and processes Heeks calls for in his manifesto, but its ability to acquaint rural villagers with modern technology and to provide hundreds of women with pay checks makes it an intriguing developmental tactic. Mobile Ladies provides a buffer against the widening gap as Bangladesh tries to catch up and ensures that some of their poorest citizens are able to benefit from ICT.


Can Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Technology Exist Side By Side?

While reading Tim Unwin’s text ICT4D, I was slightly dismayed by his descriptions of how development as a field has come into being and how it has progressed over time. Unwin spoke of how 17th century Enlightenment values of rationality and progress became intertwined with science and technology, which has in turn had important implications for development discourses in the 20th and 21st centuries. The author then briefly touches on how these beliefs became part of ‘dominant development practices’ from the industrial revolution to the green revolution and shaped attitudes towards the application of technology in the developing world. He makes a small concession to the fact that the notions of ‘rationality’ and ‘stages of progress’ are part of a dominant discourse and that there are other alternative conceptualizations of development that the book will address if they are of ‘particular pertinence’.

Unwin fails to address the fact that current applications of technology centered around ideologies of ‘progress’ are the product of an inherently Western world view that overlooks cultural difference and undervalues indigenous knowledge. In our discussions of a knowledge society, it is critical to remember that forms of knowledge are contingent on culture, space, and time, and that one system of knowledge does not have more or less value than another. I believe that one of the reasons development has largely failed in the ‘third world’ is that practioners approach development with not only a disdain for indigenous knowledge but also the belief that their knowledge is somehow more legitimate than that possessed by their beneficiaries. This is a dangerously patronizing perspective that can perpetuate Western hegemony and endanger knowledge systems that may be critical to effective development. It may also correspond with a lapse in ethical principles, a reality that has unfortunately occurred too many times with the application of technology to the third world by first world entities.

One of my favorite social activists, Vandana Shiva, describes how the belief of many Westerners that the indiscriminate application of technology will lead to progress leads to unethical practice here. Though she is mostly concerned with the use of biotechnology and the ignorance Western corporations, development practitioners, and scientists have towards traditional farming systems and indigenous knowledge of biodiversity cultivation, these issues resonate within the field of ICT. As budding development workers we must be aware that our knowledge and what we hold as true is shaped by our cultural context and is not in fact universal. We must take care to understand that we are products of our environment and learn to respect how this context shapes individuals and society. As Shiva states in her article, no technology is neutral, and neither are we. ICT must be carefully applied in developing contexts with regard to local culture and knowledge, and ethics cannot be forgotten, as unrelated as one think they might be to technology.

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