Author Archives: meghanspector

Indonesia: National ICT Resources


National ICT Policy: Last updated in 2001. Published by the Indonesian Telematics Coordinating Team (TKTI).

The TKTI has no English language website, but UNESCO is a good jumping off point.

External Sites:

APEC ASEAN: Indonesia’s Approach to Tariffs in 2010.

The Heritage Foundation: Country Report: Indonesia 2012.

World Bank: Poverty in Indonesia.

The Economist: Indonesia’s Poverty Line.

The Ford Foundation: Grant Making: Indonesia.

Japan Media Communication Center: Public Broadcasting in Indonesia.

All sources are in English unless otherwise specified.

Finding ICT resources that are up to date and not focus on Foreign Direct Investment or industry development is difficult.  Although it initially seems like there are a lot of sources and information available, little is from a human development perspective and English language government sources are scarce, so proceed with caution.





Lessons Learned: Don’t Believe the Hype

ICT4D looks to the future to try to address problems as ancient as rebuilding after a disaster and needs as base as a child’s need for food during a famine. The staying power of these problems makes the world seem incredibly bleak and can foster a strong sense of alienation that only grows as the divide between the haves and the have-nots expands. The successes and failures of our field offer a multitude of lessons about what we are capable of and what we still fall victim to when setting out to change whatever small part of the world we can.

  • 1.) Very smart people can do very stupid things, so proceed with caution and humility, even if you’re sure whatever you are dealing with is wonderful. I think for many of us, the bleakness of the development world fosters an intense desire to find the silver bullet and turn the whole world on its head. It’s easy to get excited about a new project, or innovator, or idea of your own and get tunnel vision. Good projects have failed because the leaders thought they had such a universal or perfect idea that they didn’t need pilots, and only saw the flaws in their work once it had been deployed en masse (or, alternatively, fail to get funding because they didn’t pilot). Bad projects have gotten huge through sheer force of personality and media manipulation, only to crash and burn, succeeding not only in not helping anyone at all, but often causing harm. Research, feedback and repeat monitoring and evaluation may take up time and money, but they are not short-cuts that should be taken, especially if the justification is “Of course my _________ will work, it’s perfect. I know best.”
  • 2.)Leading off of the first point, projects and initiatives need to get target community participation whenever and wherever they can.  Every project seems to benefit from increased target community participation, input, and eventual management, and many suffer for lack of it. If a project can get stakeholder participation, I feel it should embrace it, and if it can’t, the leaders need to take a step back and make sure that lack of participation isn’t the community signaling that the intervention is unnecessary or unwanted.

As far as tools, I feel my first foray into mapping, facilitated by this class and the Red Cross, will help immensely in my future career, which mostly concerns determining the most efficient and equitable means of distributing public goods in states with limited funds, and how to prioritize development. Being able to access and interpret more empirical data through mapping is vital, especially in areas with a lack of official and up-to-date mapping. More philosophically, the nuances of development that we’ve been shown in the class have, I believe, made me a more thoughtful person. Before Rob Munro, I never would have considered the issues surrounding public mapping, even though looking back it seems so intuitive that there are very real concerns with publishing such sensitive information. There are so many causes and effects and realities of life on the ground that I think we miss out on when just looking at raw data and looking for quick interventions, and the cautionary tales presented in our class has really helped me proceed more cautiously and less dogmatically than I would have before.

I think in general, the best frameworks for tackling a problem involve enabling existing community initiatives and focusing on bottom-up projects. While there are of course many things (especially in physical infrastructure) that must be financed and implemented on a governmental or higher level, I feel all projects would benefit from community involvement and that community voice should be the main driver of project creation and implementation. The mantra of “if we drop it in, they will come” has largely failed, and the most successfully utilized initiatives have been those that already had clear demand. Grassroots projects have the benefit of already containing a number of dedicated individuals who have proven an intense desire for the intervention, and a commitment of time or money to see it through. By focusing on what target communities are telling us they need, rather than us telling them what they need and what we’re going to give them, I think we can decrease the paternalistic flavor of many ICT4D programs and increase both the sustainability and benefit of interventions.

The Lagging Cyber-Security of Indonesia

Indonesia is currently experiencing explosive growth, especially with regards to Java’s ICT sector, which the government is heavily focused on developing into an Indonesian New Taipei. Despite this focus on the cutting edge of ICT, the government itself has had some problems with modernizing, especially with regards to cyber-security.

When we as Americans think of .gov internet domains, we think of extremely secure areas. In Indonesia, the national domain is instead a symbol of vulnerability. The domain has been hacked numerous times, both by political protestors and more malicious hackers. The most famous, and embarrassing instance, was when a university senior names Dani Firmansyah was able to hack the website of the General Election Commission during an election and changed the candidate names. While the hack caused no damage, it certainly sent a message about the state of cyber-security in Indonesia. Other highlights have been the replacement of security camera feeds at the House of Representatives with graphic pornography and over 3 million individual cyber attacks so far.

While statement attacks like the pornography and candidate name changes only embarrass the government, the malicious attacks are often less noticeable and can lead to serious security breaches and monetary losses. Given how focused Indonesia is on Foreign Direct Investment, so many breaches are no doubt hurting the economy by decreasing investor confidence. The current asymmetrical trajectory of Indonesia’s ICT development is a serious hindrance to national security and investment, and must be addressed as the country moves into the digital age.

WaterForLife and #firstworldproblems

In early October, a hubbub was created online when a video of impoverished Haitians reading tweets tagged #firstworldproblems was released by charity WaterforLife. The video, created by marketing firm DDB, attempts to garner donations by pointing out the problems inherent with #firstworldproblems trend. Critics and embarrassed privileged teens and young adults everywhere began to lambaste the campaign for missing the point of the tag, (that they know they’re whining about inconsequential things). If it’s true that there is no such thing as bad publicity however, DDB seems to have accomplished it’s goal. A relatively small and unknown charity has now been written about extensively in newspapers around the world, and their video has received millions of views on Youtube. Criticisms of the campaign in ways also seem to enhance the message: the lives of these individuals are so privileged that they have time to whine about how a water charity is being mean to them.

One of the most thoughtful articles I read about the whole debacle was the article in The Guardian, which talked not just about the video and the backlash, but about the more subtle problems with the trend. Namely, the self-referential tag creates an inside joke that necessarily excludes the unprivileged in the developed and developing world. Further, an us-and-them mentality is created by trends which delineate the world so severely and takes as a given that the developing world has some problems, the developed world has others, and never the twain shall meet.

While I understand the feeling that WaterforLife missed the joke, the video still managed to use social media as a platform and illustration of why they’re mission is so important, which I found exciting and fresh. I also think critical discussions of the problems with exclusionary trends predicated on privilege, such as #firstworldproblems, will be increasingly important in our global world, especially as social media brings us closer than ever.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, the WTO, and GMOs in India

During our class discussion of the future of rural and agricultural development, the idea of GMOs as a future means of alleviation of poverty and hunger was advanced. Although a contentious issue, it is an empirical fact that genetically modified crops offer increased food security through drought resistant and higher-yield crop varieties. However, we should not let the promise of the technology blind us to the trade policies of some of the largest GMO producers and pushers. One of the chief problems that has arisen is the patenting of life. Large multinational corporations like Monsanto enter a country, extract the seeds and strains they consider of value, and patent them. They can then claim sole rights over the seeds and sell them back to the community they were taken from, at a premium. Given that multinational corporations have the backing of the WTO, smallholder farmers are unable to export any patented crops unless they pay a licensing fee that cuts deeper into the razor-thin profit margins of the millions of smallholder farmers in India alone. So far in India at least, the result is a surge in bankruptcy and suicide among smallholder farmers, fueled by an acutely increased sensitivity to price fluctuations and poor harvests due to the increased cost of farming for those least able to afford it.

Several developing and developed countries are actively fighting the WTO agreement that patented life (TRIPS Article 273B) and/or the rise of GMOs in general. One of the breakout stars of the resistance movement is Dr. Vandana Shiva, who succinctly and I believe convincingly argues against the WTOs IP legislation in the video embedded below. How we look at agricultural rights has important implications for discussions of globalization and human rights, which I believe makes everyone a stakeholder in the fight for agricultural sovereignty.

I have included several other resources below for learning more about the current seed-war, as well as a link to the website for Navdanya, Vandana Shiva’s organization:

Anthropology, Development and ICTs: Do We Miss Out By Focusing on Quantitative Gains?

We’ve all seen how ICT4D projects can be derailed by poor planning and lack of follow up, but do we miss out on important “fuzzy” data by focusing on quantitative results? Attached is an anthropological case study of mobile phone use by teenagers growing up in Indian slums. The anthropologists, sponsored by Microsoft Research, looked into how youths living in a slum utilized mobile phones that they sought out on their own (absent any ICT4D initiative). As anthropologists, they focus on understanding what is happening and why, rather than seeking normative solutions. This focus gives anthropologists a different perspective than development workers, and I find it very useful in terms of providing context. By not focusing on what could be the researchers are able to develop a deeper understanding of the community as it is.

The youths overwhelmingly used mobiles for entertainment delivery, although in at least one case this sparked a love for technology that was parlayed into a business. The researchers assert that entertainment is a valid ICT use and that by looking at how marginalized communities integrate ICT without intervention, and what they rank as important, we can design better intervention programs. Although the anthropologists involved in the study at times seem hostile to ICT4D adherents I found their perspective on ICT4D and the dialog of what is given importance in ICT initiatives interesting.  Personally, I think it’s vital to strive for improvement, but I wonder if passing judgement on what ICT use is valid propagates an us and them mentality.

Full Publication and Related Article.


Development of an Operational Coastal Flooding Early Warning System

This week’s discussion of appropriate technology kept at the forefront of my mind disaster management, and the trade-offs we encounter with each type of technology in a disaster situation. The immediate concerns with loss of life and property damage found during disasters test technologies and expose weaknesses in a way that few other field situations can. With that in mind, I sought out to discover which technologies were chosen as part of various disaster management and early warning systems, and what limitations each technology dealt with.

Many coastal areas still use warning sirens, others utilize wildly popular GIS services; some areas rely on single town criers to spread the news while others rely on automated mass SMS. The most successful programs use a mix of systems and attempt to develop fully automated early warning systems to minimize risk of operator error. A paper published in National Hazards and Earth System Sciences explored integrated coastal flooding early warning systems in Taiwan and how technology synthesization can lower death tolls and decrease property damage.

While choosing the correct technology to meet a community’s needs should certainly be at the forefront of programs, knowledge of how to blend technologies into the same programs can be extremely useful and can address complex issues such as early warning systems in a way that focus on a single technology could not.

Midwives with Mobiles: A Qualitative Study

While researching Indonesia’s National ICT policy, I came across several articles discussing individual programs and case-studies in Indonesia. One excellent article, that I think serves as a great case study, is Midwives with Mobiles: A dialectical perspective on gender arising from technology introduction in rural Indonesia. The paper is clear, concise, and provides both useful background on ICT penetration and gender in LDCs as well as specific information on the use of mobile phones is post-2004 tsunami Indonesia to increase access to and between community healthcare workers, specifically among females. Although the paper identifies itself primarily as being concerned with ICT4H(health), as students of Development we share the same concerns, obstacles, and goals as the authors.

The World Vision pilot sought to rebuild and improve the healthcare within the rural Indonesian province of Aceh. The region’s already inadequate healthcare system was severely debilitated by the 2004 tsunami, which wiped out most of the front-line healthcare relied on by Aceh’s impoverished rural communities. Mobiles were given to midwives, who were then able to connect to patients, doctors, and each other to improve quality of care by increasing access and decreasing the wait period for transmission of time-sensitive information. The linked paper is a qualitative study based on patient, midwife and doctor interviews that seeks to recognize and remedy the inefficiencies and failures of the program, which suffered from limited mobile use and acceptance due to cultural, socioeconomic, and gender constraints between patients, midwives and doctors not accounted for in project deployment.

The paper’s bibliography is an excellent jumping off point for further study, as it directs readers to a number of scholastic sources both general and specific. I would recommend this paper to anyone with a particular interest in the intersection of gender and public health, especially as relates to ICT.

MXShare: Cloud Phones for the World’s Poorest

MXShare was mentioned in passing by Richard Heeks in “ICT4D Manifesto,” but this exciting technology deserves more attention from our class. Developed by Movirtu and patented by Nigel Waller, MXShare allows individuals who cannot afford a mobile phone to own a cloud phone, accessible from any mobile or land-line using a unique PIN.

The detractors I read considered MXShare a flashy re-brand of calling cards, but there are a few unique differences, the most important being that MXShare users can receive messages and calls tied to the cloud number. A better conceptualization would be to think of Mxshare as a SIM card that can be popped in to any phone to access the days messages and make and receive calls. This is a great program because it is simple, useful, and takes advantage of technology already widely in use. In addition, mobile owners receive a small credit every time they allow an MXShare user to use their phone, which fosters community involvement and creates a positive cycle for cloud and physical phone users.

Overall, it is the simplicity of this program which excites me; it addresses a need and improves access to the most impoverished without the need for government grants, extensive training, or infrastructure development.

Recently, Hewlett-Packard partnered with Movirtu to increase access to MXShare:

An in-depth look at the technology can be found in their patent application here:

The company that developed and implemented the system can be found here:

The implementation of the technology is being studied in Kenya: (Page is in French).

Foucauldian and Habermasian Theory Of Discourse

During the readings, the ideas that resonated most with me were credited to Habermas, someone I had never studied and knew little about. I wanted to learn more about his theories of discourse and how those theories could help us think about the structuring of ICT4D initiatives in a non-exploitative way. Although explicit domination is addressed by the normative nature of ICT4D in a way that it never was under IT or ICT, implicit or even accidental relationships of domination can arise when funding, goals, and ideological interest override or warp program objectives. We should think critically about who benefits from our programs, where our funding originates, and what might be motivating our backers. While this must, by necessity be done on a case by case basis, I feel that a focus on general theory can help engender necessary thinking about our discourse with and about target groups.

To this end, I looked more closely for examples of Habermas’ theory, and scholarly works that related his communication theories to IT, ITC, and ICT4D. The most helpful paper I found compared Foucauldian and Habermasian concepts of discourse, and can be found at:

A second paper that I found illuminating looked at the role of economic, administrative and cultural power with regards to ICT and e-government in a democratic process. Although the paper is focused on Sweden, its role as more of a case-study than a purely theoretical paper helped me think about the actual application of Habermasian theory on the ground.

Finally, for anyone with the time and fortitude to take the plunge into the somewhat dense writings of the man himself,  The Theory of Communicative Action (Vol 1), can be previewed, discussed, or purchased as an e-book from Google books.