National ICT Policy:
1) FORESTA ICT Policy Analysis Report
Report Published by FORESTA in 2010, analysis of Colombia ICT policy starts on page 29. English.
2) Global Information Technology Report 2012
Published by World Economic Forum, English
3) Latin Lawyer Business Law Resource
Overview of telecommunications capabilities, English.
4) Difficult to find any official government portals regarding ICT policies, but the Foresta report was a very detailed analysis of the history of the policies and was an invaluable resource for research.
As someone who would by no means consider himself to be tech savvy, I had my doubts going into this ICT4D class. I know my way around Facebook and can generally find out any information I need from Google, but that is pretty much the extent of my technological knowledge. However, this class was less about strictly technology and more about people. It was about how we can take the latest technologies, whatever they may be, and utilize them in a way that will benefit society and especially to counteract poverty and underdevelopment. It was about how we can effectively teach people in lesser developed areas how to work with technology and use it to improve their day to day lives. This realization made me much more comfortable with the class and made it an interesting one to be a part of.
The most important lesson for me that is worth remembering is that technology in itself is not a cure-all to development issues. As we learned through our study of One Laptop Per Child, simply handing out computers or cell phones to people in lower developed nations does not accomplish much to improve their quality of life. Giving a rural farmer in Uganda a laptop will probably create more problems for him than solutions. Technology must be accompanied by instruction, technical assistance and the right infrastructure to utilize it to its full potential. In addition to providing the technology, ICT4D initiatives must teach local populations how to use it, and specific ways that it can help them achieve their daily tasks. Developers also must think of whether the technology will even work in the desired community. As with OLPC, laptops in the classroom do not help if there are no electrical outlets with which to charge them. Similarly, a mobile phone does no good in an area with no cell phone service or poor coverage. Initiating a successful development strategy goes much deeper than choosing a technology and how it will be used. There are many factors that must be taken into account and even one overlooked could be the difference between a successful project and a failed one.
Probably my favorite class of the year was the guest lecture by Ralph Russo on cybersecurity. It was fascinating to think of how many different facets of our society are linked with technology in today’s digital age. It was also amazing and alarming to think of the things a talented hacker or cyberterrorist would be able to do using a computer. With the increasing amount of resources that are located or run online (transportation, medicine, electrical systems, etc. etc…) cybersecurity is of paramount importance. I would love to learn more about the methods being used by businesses, governments and the like to keep these systems safe and their information protected. Perhaps in future semesters this can be explored even more in depth in class. This is just one of the many takeaways gleaned from this class and a topic that I will surely keep my eye on into the future.
During his talk on Tuesday, Adam Papendick talked a lot about the Cloud and the way that it is becoming an emerging resource in the tech field. Specifically he mentioned Software as a Service (SaaS), where software and other data are hosted on the cloud and accessed via thin clients such as cell phones and tablets. The proliferation of these types of devices and their use to access information and applications has made Software as a Service a popular delivery model for applications. An example of this talked about in class is Google Docs, which is used very frequently in classrooms and businesses to centrally store data to be accessed anywhere. The popularization of SaaS applications has led Forbes to dub 2012 as “The year of SaaS.”
The article points to the recent trend of technology “trickling up” from consumers into businesses. Companies are just now adjusting to technology that became popular among the public years before. In the past, computers and other expensive cutting edge technologies were reserved for large companies and would spread among the general public later on. In the last ten years new products such as the iPad are bought up and popularized by the public, then companies play catch up to realize their potential benefits to the office. This is an interesting observation and has implications to be considered for the ICT4D field. Andreessen says that, “now it’s the case that you go to an Apple store and see what the enterprise will use in 5 years.” The idea that consumers are now ahead of the trends when it comes to big ICT inventions can aid developers in predicting what technologies will blow up and reach the greatest amount of people. Developers can then be ahead of the curve in deciding what technologies to utilize in projects, rather than building around a technology that is popular at the time but will be dated by the time the project is fully implemented (think floppy discs as a means of storing data before USBs blew up and now the Cloud starting to date that technology as well). Developers would be able to implement programs based around consumer technologies and predict what types of applications will have the most impact. Cloud based applications are widespread now, but developers with the foresight to utilize these application in their infancy would have had their applications well established and they would have become increasingly effective with the rise of the Cloud, separating themselves from developers and businesses that jumped onto the technology after they became standard.
Interestingly enough, the Colbert Report had a segment on last night’s episode that is very relevant to our cybersecurity talk today. Christopher Steiner, the author of “Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World,” came on the show to talk about the way computers have taken over the operations on Wall Street. As he mentions in the clip, algorithms are now in charge of between 50-70% of the daily trades on Wall Street. These algorithms make things more efficient, because they can make trades almost instantly without having to rely on a broker to call them in. However, the rise of computer trading has serious consequences based on what we learned in class today. All of these computers are dealing with an extremely high volume of trades, involving people’s money from all over the world. Security is paramount in order to protect people’s investments and the economy as a whole. As they discuss in the clip, there was a brief market “Flash Crash” in 2010 that resulted from a faulty algorithm that was dumping futures too quickly. Considering this happened without the intrusion of a hacker, it is not hard to imagine a scenario where a skilled Cyberterrorist manipulates the algorithms and thereby hijacks essentially the entire United States economy. As Steiner says, “You can lose control of the stock market literally in 30 seconds.” That is a scary thought and one key example of why network security is so important as we continue further into the digital age.
After learning about E-Government and E-Governance for the sector presentation, I decided to do some further research on e-government in the US. On October 21, the Center for Digital Government released its Digital States Survey, an evaluation and ranking of the ICT practices of each of the 50 states. The letter takes a look at what state governments are doing to digitally connect with their constituents and assigns letter grades based on achievements in tech related service areas. The only two states to receive A grades were Michigan and Utah. Pennsylvania, California, Minnesota, Ohio, West Virginia, and Tennessee were the only states to be awarded an A-. The most improved state since the last ranking in 2010 was Indiana, while the largest dropoff state was Florida. I was interested to examine what specific actions caused the rise and fall of the two states based on knowledge of e-Government.
In the case of Indiana, it was largely a result of initiatives put in place a few years ago finally making gains in the ICT area. This reflects the idea that once the initial foundational technology is put in place, states and communities will see development as the technologies are improved upon and as people learn how to better utilize them. One aspect that contributed to improvement was the consolidation of ICTs, as enterprise IT initiatives are deployed for all 92 executive branch agencies, elected officials and the courts system. The state operates over 200 websites to serve various state functions, including more than 10 portals to ensure interagency communication and efficiency. Increased oversight also played a role in Indiana’s improvement, with performance measures implemented for each executive branch agency and results that are reported quarterly.
As for Florida, their problems stemmed from the lack of a statewide ICT leadership agency. The previous one, the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology was defunded on July 1 of this year. The proposal for a new agency to fix the ineffectiveness of the old one was shot down when Governor Rick Scott vetoed the bill. While there are plans to come up with a new state strategy in the next legislative session, the fact that this leadership vacuum was allowed to happen reflects a lack of emphasis and direction regarding ICTs at the government level. These two examples show that increased priority on digital policy implementation and a cohesive, well-defined government strategy are keys to creating effective e-Government.
The World Bank has recently recognized the value in crowdsourcing for development. Last year the World Bank Disaster Management used crowdsourcing in Latin America and the Caribbean, partnering with Yahoo, Google, and NASA, among others. Recently they have applied crowdsourcing to the educational field, in response to systemic problems at the local and regional levels. Crowdsourcing could be used to raise low scores by sending out requests for instructional success stories, or to connect teachers to share educational strategies and solutions. One program that has already been implemented is the Open Innovation Portal, started by the US Department of Education. Open Innovation uses crowdsourcing to bring teachers together to share their knowledge on problems plaguing school systems such as dropout rates and difficult children. The program has seen instant results. Just four months after the start of the program, over 4,000 people signed up and shared many innovative ideas that may receive donor funds in order to be more successfully implemented or merely used as effective methods by other participants in the program. This is just one example of crowdsourcing being used here in the U.S. to promote educational solutions. This demonstrates one of the nearly endless ways that crowdsourcing may be utilized as it becomes a more popular strategy in ICT4D.
After reading the Warschauer & Ames article on One Laptop per Child, I was inspired to research Colombia, my country of choice for my paper, to see what kind of progress the program has made there. OLPC has had a presence in Colombia since 2008. I found an interesting video in which Nicholas Negroponte discusses bringing the project to Colombia:
The interesting thing about the way the program was initially implemented is that it was a partnership with the Colombian Ministry of Defense. A big object in the way of development in Colombia is the civil war that has been waged there almost constantly since 1964 between the government and various guerrilla groups. The government has been accused by many of committing human rights violations throughout the conflict. For this reason it is a good sign that the Ministry of Defense would attempt to fight its image problem by redeeming itself with participation in the OLPC program. However, it also raises skepticism at whether or not the Ministry is doing it for the right reasons or rather as a tool for propaganda or other hidden agenda.
Despite arguments on the program’s true impact, Colombia has had great success in terms of numbers of laptops distributed. The local governor in Caldas purchased 65,000 laptops to be distributed through the region. Native star Shakira’s foundation purchased 700 laptops for three schools in different Colombian cities. Most recently 11,000 laptops were distributed to public schoolchildren in the city of Itagüí. Colombia currently has 54 educational institutions across the country that implement the OLPC program independently. While we have learned about the detractions of the OLPC program, it is hard to argue that getting that many laptops in the hand of children and providing them with at least the opportunity to learn and experiment with technology is a bad thing. Education is a huge problem that is holding back development in Colombia and the country is desperate for progress of any kind. At the very least the country currently has a greater capacity for ICT4D than it did before the implementation of the OLPC project.