Author Archives: omahlerh

ICT4D Reflection: Design is Everything

In learning of the application of ICTs in development initiatives, I now understand that the design of the ICT is essential to the  success of the innitiatives.  The design of the ICT must reflect an array of factors from the physical design of the power source to the interface design to ensure usability. An ICT design that does not consider factors such as language, literacy, gender, infrastructure and culture ultimately will fail. That is why the design process must include the people it intends to benefit.

I have learned that the design process cannot happen in isolation.  I am an aspiring User Experience designer and before taking this class, I had always pictured my future self working in a lab with designers and coders, developing different ICTs with the occasional focus group or usability test. Since learning about human-centered design in the course, I know that my future vision must expand from just working with designers and programmers, to working with end users, policy makers, and the like throughout the design process.

The Best Technology Is Invisible

In preparing for our class presentations on ICT4D applications in the health sector, one challenge that came up time and time again is interface design of the ICT. Some challenges in interface design such as having an illiterate and multi-language language target group represent a problem removed from the technology itself. Meaning, the fact that an individual isn’t able to read the words on the ICT is not the consequence of the ICT design, rather the consequence of an insufficient education system, government, ect. However, some challenges in applying ICTs are far less daunting and interwoven.  The unnecessary complexity and large learning curves required of some of the ICTs implemented in the health sector is a challenge that can be simply solved by smart design.


In a blog post  by Ajay Kumar on User Experience (UX) design in ICT4Ds, he urged future ICT4D projects to design solutions based on a lower barrier to entry with a decreased learning curve, that require minimal to no training to use it. Ajay focuses on efficiency and usability- designing solutions that decrease the time and effort needed to train individuals to use them. To do this, he suggests that the design should


“…include existing skills that have already been trained to them (by their own self or otherwise). If they know how to make a phone call using their mobile phone – let’s try to think if we can do something using their mobile phones which just involves making or receiving a phone call. If they know how to write an SMS, maybe we setup an SMS system and interact or communicate with them using that. What if the staff only knows how to use Excel and to check their email? Then maybe, I’d design a web form simple enough to do their task.”


Jazz musician Charles Mingus said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” This quote is often used in online discussions of the great visual theorist, such as Edward Tufte, and in forums focused on topics ranging from infographics, graphic design to interface design. Creativity in design is not exhibited by making the interface itself a conspicuous visual statement, with loud decorations and heavy styling. Rather, creativity in design is the ability to create an interface that makes the complicated simple without distracting users from the content.


Cyborg anthropologist and UX designer Amber Case studies the interaction between humans and technology. As a usability theorist, she believes that, “the best technology is invisible”. Below is a video of her keynote address Cybrog Anthropology and the Evaporation of the Interface



For ICT4D, when designing solutions for problems in developing areas, the interface design must be creative–creatively simple, requiring minimal time and effort to learn and implement into daily life.

Hackathons to End Corruption

images-2 transparency_international1

Transparency International and
Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) have
collaborated to organize Hackathons that are aimed to challenge
anti-corruption and technology experts to work together and create
innovative solutions to corruption challenges. Corruption is an
impatient to the development process, therefore initiatives are needed
to make governments more accountable and less corrupt. This is there
ICT4D comes in. Both Transparency International and Random Hacks of
Kindness believe that technology can serves as a tool in the worldwide
fight against corruption. The hackathon relies on ‘problem statements’
from Transparency International chapters, and members of the public,
while Random Hacks of Kindness mobilizes their base of technological

These are the questions that they try to tackle together:

  • How can mobile technologies help us in monitoring elections across the world?
  • How can we visualise and structure our research data to engage more people?
  • How can we analyse public data through smart engines, or link
  • databases to shed light on the misuse of public funds?
  • How can we make e-solutions to prove the competitiveness of ethical
  • business behaviour?

Participants include hackers, coders, programmers, designers,
do-gooders, politicians, NGOs, political theorists and everyone else
ready to make a practical contribution to stopping corruption. The
Hackathon is live-streamed over the internet to over 8 countries who
have participants working together to find innovative ways to use
technology to fight corruption.

On example of such a Hackaton was headed by Transparencia Colombia who
with RHoK in Bogota, Telefonica, Movistar, Wayra Colombia, Microsoft
and Public,  developed a web and mobile citizen tool to report
electoral advertising for 2014 elections called Participa. They also
were able to developed an online platform for tracking citizen
corruption allegations on their way through Guatemalan public offices,
illustrating that the power technology has in the efforts to fight

Hacktivism: Releasing the Power of Technology for Social Change

This week in class, we read an article on CNN concerning the state of internet censorship in North Korea. The essential message conveyed by the article is that North Korea is a long way from being a free and open society, especially when it comes to technology and accessing information through the Internet. Technology  and access to information is a powerful equalizer- applicable to all functions of equality from quality of education to economic opportunity. Conversely, as is the case with North Korea, technology can also be used as a tool of oppression by restricting access to information and the ability to communicate with the outside world.

Yesterday, CNN reported that the hacker collective identifying as themselves as Anonymous, is beleived to havhacked the official North Korea Flickr account and Twitter account. The Flickr account hosted a “wanted” poster with an image showing Kim with a pig’s ears and nose-accusing Kim of “threatening world peace with ICBMs and nuclear weapons.” Anonymous demanded the resignation of Kim, democracy in North Korea, and uncensored Internet access for all North Koreans.

The Anonymous collective is part of a greater movement called hacktisism, a form of electronic civil disobedience that employs the use of technology and internet to promote political ends, human rights, free speech  and information ethics. Hacktivism is carried out under the promise that proper use of technology produces an impact similar to those produced by protest, activism, and civil disobedience.


A recent opinion piece in the New York Times, explains a hacktivist as, “someone who uses technology hacking to effect social change”. The opinion piece classifies hacktivism as being “fundamentally  about refusing to be intimidated or cowed into submission by any technology, about understanding the technology and acquiring the power to repurpose it to our individual needs, and for the good of the many.” However, there is currently a divide between different interpretations of hacktivists. The conflict is between “those who want to change the meaning of the word to denote immoral, sinister activities and those who want to defend the broader, more inclusive understanding of hacktivists”.

Hacking is illegal. However, in some countries, protesting is as well. This leads to the question of whether the intent of hacking holds enough worth and importance to over-write the technical illegality of the act it-self. People in North Korea do not have the option to achieve change through social media simply by the fact that everything they do online is tied to their identity, making it very dangerous to speak out against the government or try to access information outside North Korea’s censored barriers. The utilization of technology and social media as a tool of social progress has proven to be imperative. Again and again, having access to social media has proven to be an invaluable tool in fighting oppression as exemplified in recent movements such as the Arab Spring and the Syrian conflict in which access to information and unbiased media sources is near impossible. If Anonymous hacked official North Korean sites to try to change the state of censorship, oppression and restricted access to information of its citizens, should it be considered illegal? Or should it be considered an act of civil disobedience committed for the betterment of North Korean citizens?

An article published by info security holds that ” regardless of political motivation or intent, if there are victims of the attacks they perpetrate, then hacktivism has crossed the line.” Conversely, hacking collectives like Anonymous believe that technologies should be in the hands of the people rather than out of their control, implying that the intent of their actions weighs more than the illegal nature of their hacks.

Radio FreeEurope in Azerbaijan


This week in class, we have been discussing the various ways in which radio can be used in underdeveloped countries. What we may think of as an outdated technology, radio has continued to stay relevant in the field of development. Radio can provide education, information and news to the most rural populations whether it be learning about farming methods, or informing the public of healthy life practices to increase hygiene, sanitation, and reproductive health. More importantly, radio can be used to allow the oppressed to find their voices and identity, hold officials accountable.

Radio FreeEurope is a broadcaster funded by the U.S. congress that provides information and news to countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East- countries “where the free flow of information is either banned by government authorities or not fully developed”

In Azerbaijan’s case, the station exists because of the former. Azerbaijan has a Freedom House Freedom of the Press Index “Not Free” and Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index rank of 162nd/179. The government of Azerbaijan jails journalists and heavily censors all media. Since December 2008, all international broadcasters including Radio Azadliq, the BBC, Voice of America and Radio FreeEurope were banned from broadcasting on local radio requencies. On Radio FreeEurope’s website, it explains that

In an environment of total government control over national television and radio channels, Radio Azadliq has a firm reputation as the only source of unbiased information and the most professional media outlet in Azerbaijan.”

Radio is an important tool to providing unbiased news and consequently  the ability to hold a government accountable for their true actions. Radio and access to channels like Radio FreeEurope are powerful tools to political freedom and freedom of speech.

Profile: The World Economic Forum


The World Economic Forum (WEF) was first constructed in 1971 by a group of European business leaders who met under the partronage of the European Commission and European industrial associations. Professor of Business Policy at the University of Geneva, Klaus Schwab, first chaired the meeting, which took place in Davos, Switzerland. Professor Schwab then founded the European Management Forum as a non-profit organization. Click here to see the interactive historical timeline  for WEF.

The World Economic Forum has continued to grow to a state where , currently, “[t]he World Economic Forum is an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.”


Members of the World Economic Forum are leading companies in the world economy  Most members are global enterprises with more than US$ 5 billion in turnover, although this varies by industry and region. Listed below are descriptions of other participators:

  • Industry Partners- Industry Partners come from a broad range of business sectors, including construction, aviation, technology, tourism, food and beverage, energy, engineering and construction, and financial services. These companies are alert to the global issues that most affect their specific industry sector.
  • Foundation Members-Foundation Member companies drive the world economy forward. The Forum’s 1,000 Member companies are at the heart of all the activities and their support is essential in helping the Forum find truly sustainable solutions to improve the state of the world.
  • Global Growth Companies-Eligible Global Growth Companies demonstrate annual revenue between US$ 100 million and US$ 5 billion, and an average year-to-year growth rate of 15%. Importantly, GGC members are building a global business beyond their traditional markets and are committed to having a positive effect on the economies and societies in which they operate.
  • Technological Pioneers-Technology Pioneers are companies that are involved in the development of life-changing technology innovations and have the potential for a long-term impact on business and society.

The WEF publishes an annual “Global Information Technology Report” that gives an index of a country’s environment for adopting and implementing ICTs with several subindexes. The reports explains that, “the methodological framework of the Networked Readiness Index (NRI) has mapped out the enabling factors driving networked readiness, which is the capacity of countries to fully benefit from new technologies in their competitiveness strategies and their citizens’ daily lives. The Index has allowed private and public stakeholders to monitor progress for an ever-increasing number of economies all over the globe, as well as to identify competitive strengths and weaknesses in national network readiness landscapes.”

Additional information can be found at

Azerbaijan Technology Gender Differences

This week, our class discussions have been focused on barriers to use of ICT– mainly gender , and the potential equalizing effects ICTs may have on gender inequality. As I looked for some statistics on Azerbaijan specifically, I came across this blog written by Katy Pearce that provides research on ICTs in the Caucasus region. Pearce explains that the overall focus of her research is the adoptions and use of information and communication technologies in diverse cultural, economic, and political contexts. Specifically, she researches the barriers to ICT use, often socioeconomic in nature, but sometimes political or cultural. Pearce provides an enormous amount of technical statistics on the Caucasus region on her blog, one of which is a graphical breakdown of ICT use in Azerbaijan by gender.

Azerbaijan technology gender differences

To access the full size image, click here 

Pearce’s report explains that, unlike neighboring Armenia and Georgia, women in Azerbaijan are much less likely to own and use technology. Here are some reasons Pearce offers as to why these discrepancies occur:

  • Azerbaijani women may lack the economic and educational resources which would make them more likely to use technology.
  • Azerbaijani women may lack the temporal resources (due to household responsibilities) to have time to engage with technology.
  • Culturally and religiously, there is some evidence that Azerbaijani families discourage women from using the Internet because of fear of emancipatory activities or meeting men.
  • Many Azerbaijanis use Internet cafes for access and these, like in many countries, are places that are inappropriate or not safe for women.

Many of these reasons have come up in other reports and analysis for other countries. While I would be cautious to generalize to all countries and ICT use, I think that under the right circumstances, there are cases where a country profile may provide insights for other countries.