Throughout our ICT4D course one of the main things we did in in every case study was analyzing what was done incorrectly and how that diminished the impact that the project had or how it made the project fail. Personally, I believe that the most important thing I learned this semester can be extrapolated from this process: the importance of effectively planning a project before applying it. Although this seems very obvious it is clear that for a project to be effectively planned a lot of factors have to be taken into account. In relation to ICT projects, for me, the main factors project planners ignored were having an appropriate infrastructure in place that can support the new projects and having an effective mechanism to make the project sustainable.
Failed projects are common in the development world, much more than many organizations would like to admit, but personally I believe that this course has showed me the importance of analyzing these failures in order to try to avoid the same mistakes in my professional life. A clear example for me in this aspect is the One Laptop Per Child project. Although it is a great idea and has a very positive mission the project is deemed a failure by many because they did not take into account the infrastructure of many places where they donated the laptops. Like the creators of the project its very probable I would not have considered that to be such a critical factor but now I know, as I’m sure the OLPC directors learned as well, that externalities are very important and for a project to be effective it should take them into account.
After the presentation on Thursday I was left wondering about how much attention countries around the world, particularly my own country Mexico, paid to cyber security threats. I was shocked to find out that on a report titled Cyber-security: The Vexed Question of Global Rules which ranks how effective is the government’s response to cyber security in 23 countries threats Mexico was ranked last with a score of 2 out of 5.
According to the report the weakness in Mexico’s cyber attack defenses is that there are currently no special rules to combar cyber-crime. Instead, they utilize the current legal framework to address cyber crimes. This presents a problem as the existing legislature is not broad enough to cover new threats and thus is not adequate to counter cyber crime attacks.
Personally, I believe that Mexico should take cyber threats more seriously especially after the government was a target of cyber attacks in 2011 . For Mexico to address the issue seriously there should be special legal mechanisms to counter cyber-threats in the fashion of countries that rank higher such as Israel.
The Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) is an online tool that demonstrates the importance of having accurate and up to date information. FEWS keeps tabs on the developing world and shows the importance of how this information is expressed. In its essence, FEWS is a map which lays out potential famine threats across the world. Through the analysis of various factors, particularly those relating to short-term shortages of food or increases in malnutrition, FEWS creates a map which predicts the risk that a certain area has of falling into food insecurity.
FEWS was developed by the US Agency for International Development and is available online for those wishing to access its information with the objective of preventing famines in the world by identifying their symptoms before they occur. The FEWS system is an ICT tool that allows USAID as well as other agencies and non-profits knowledge of better targets for their projects as well as which factors they should target.
Although FEWS seems to be an excellent ICT tool to prevent world hunger, it has certain shortcomings that do not allow it to completely fulfill its mission. In the article Early Warning, Late Response (again): The 2011 Famine in Somalia, published in the Global Food Security magazine, the shortcomings of the FEWS system and its limited uses as an ICT tool are detailed. The article points out a missing link between the early warning system and response system. The article insists that although the FEWS system provides information, it is only enough when the food crisis is already underway. FEWS triggers responses from last-resource groups such as food alleviation organizations, rather than prevention projects. This only leads to temporary fixes rather than long term solutions.
In the following video Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, explains why education today is faulted. He utilizes the analogy of learning how to bike stating: “ Imagine learning to ride a bicycle, and maybe I give you a lecture ahead of time, and I give you that bicycle for two weeks. And then I come back after two weeks, and I say, “Well, let’s see. You’re having trouble taking left turns. You can’t quite stop. You’re an 80 percent bicyclist.” So I put a big C stamp on your forehead and then I say, “Here’s a unicycle.”
His solution for this problem was creating Khan Academy, an online database with instructional videos of various topics. With this method students can learn at their own pace and whenever they have time. However, what if this new technology could be used to provide education to children who lack access to it? What if instead of trying to force kids to go to school we could make school accessible to them at any time.
I believe that even though free online education resources are not a panacea for the education crisis in the world they can be a very useful complements to programs such as One Laptop Per Child. Khan explains this in his own words when describing the potential for Khan Academy “ Imagine what it does to a street kid in Calcutta who has to help his family during the day, and that’s the reason why he or she can’t go to school. Now they can spend two hours a day and remediate, or get up to speed and not feel embarrassed about what they do or don’t know”
Khan academy is just one example of how education is changing, and it is important to understand and take advantage of the potential that this new education can bring to the development world. Those working in improving education in developing countries should be actively trying to incorporate ICTs into their work and not only try to build more schools.
There is no escaping the fact that there exists a great divide in the use of ICTs between men and women. However, exactly how important is it to bridge this gap? Personally, I have always believed that morally this gap should definitely be closed but I was also pleased to discover that it is also common sense to do so as it can bring many advantages both to women and society as a whole. In the speech given by the UN-Women Deputy Executive Director Director Lakshmi Puri in April 2012 titled “Building Future Leaders and Decision-Makers in the ICT sectors” she argues why women should be given a central role not only in the use but also in the development of ICTs and outlines how this can be achieved.
According to Dr. Puri empowering women, particularly girls, in the use of ICTs provides “new avenues for learning, sharing knowledge, and education”. By teaching women how to use them they are offered new livelihood opportunities as well as a bigger role in political discourse and better productive capabilities. ICTs can be a way in which the gender gap is bridged in many areas enabling women to “build their future on a level-playing field with their male counterparts”. Finally, ICTs are also important as they can bring cultural changes particularly in relation to gender roles. By empowering both young men and women in their use, stereotypes and cultural preconceptions can be broken thus overcoming discriminatory attitudes.
Dr. Puri points out particular actions that must be taken in order to achieve this. First, she advocates enabling girls to start using technology at an earlier age as that makes them more likely for them to adopt their use. Additionally, girls should be able to access ICTs both inside and outside of school in safe and accessible spaces. Finally, women should also be part of the development of new technologies not only be their target demographic as this will lead to better technologies that address the needs of women.
Personally, I believe that the stance Dr. Puri takes in the spread of ICT usage and her work in prioritizing gender sensible ICT policies is not only right but also necessary step towards the development of underdeveloped populations.
Throughout the last decades a high proportion of ICT4D projects have failed in their implementation. Although this has caused a great setback in the development of communities around the world it is important to gather lessons from these ventures and use the experience obtained to create effective projects in the future. Based on this idea I believe that the article “6 Simple Guidelines for ICT4D Project Success” by Ajay Kumar in the ICT4D blog www.ictworks.org although not a scholar article provides important information for project developers. The article provides 6 basic qualities every project should have in order to be successful. Ajay Kumar provides this guidelines based on his experience on the field which includes working for the NGO Grameen Development Services.
Kumar prompts project managers to follow these 6 points when designing and implementing their projects.
1. Invest some time to understand the problem and hear it directly from the concerned parties and communities
- Kumar argues that often ICT4D project developers develop solutions to problems without considering the way in which the community will interact with their project and the only way to accurately make sure that the projects will be useful to the community is by making sure they are part of the creation of the project
2. Ask yourself: Is technology really needed here? Or is there a solution lying elsewhere?
- Kumar points out that rather than looking specifically for the technology needed to solve each problem project developers should first ponder if there is an easier or more viable solution even if it does not involve the use of ICTs.
3. Study what technologies are already lying around or have been used by “concerned parties” or communities and how they are currently using it.
- Each project shouldn’t not be based on completely new ideas, existing projects, especially those that have been successful should be analyzed and their techniques should be used in order to understand the target community will be affected by the project that is going to be implemented.
4. Can your solution be built using existing technology that the people(“concerned parties” or community) already use? If not, try to spend a decent amount of time to find the answer to this question again. Chances are, it’s possible.
- It is important to try to import the least amount of technology imports as possible. This is because often local technologies are often overlooked and even if they are not as modern as new technologies the target community is often trained in their use and using them can be more effective.
5. Keep in mind that your solution should require minimal (or no training) i.e. The focus should be on a lower barrier to entry & a decreased learning curve.
- Kumar points out that many previous projects fail because even though the technology is brought to developing communities there is a lack of knowledge in how to effectively use them and thus the projects become ineffective. By designing a project to require the lowest amount of training possible it is more likely that the target population will utilize the community and the project will be effective.
6. Build your solution in a way that you wouldn’t be needed at all after the implementation.
- Finally, Kumar stresses the importance of the sustainability of a project for it to be effective. An effective ICT4D project will not need the project manager forever; rather it is vital for the project to be managed and run by the target community in the long-run. Thus training the locals to run the projects and eventually putting it in their hands should be part of the project timeline.
Personally, I believe that Kumar’s suggestions hit a strong point in the world of ICT4D. Many projects have failed in the past and in order to not repeat these failures it is important to analyze what they did wrong and find solutions to those mistakes.
One of the objectives of MDG #8 is to “make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications”. When I read this objective a few questions popped in my head. Who are we making this benefits available to? Should we focus on a particular group? And finally should we put particular emphasis on women? According to the report published by the International Center for Research on Women titled “Bridging the Gender Divide” paying special attention to women when introducing ICTs should be of vital importance. By investing in ICT access for women both MDG #3 (Promote gender equality and empower women) and #8 (Develop a global partnership for development) can be addressed. The report states that “Improving women’s access to technology has the potential to spur their economic advancement and stimulate broader economics growth”.
Although it makes sense to invest in ICT access for women there a lot of barriers that make this difficult. The report lists four main barriers that impede female access to technology: Exclusion from technology education and design, limited free time, social norms favoring men, and financial institutional constraints. Although it can be hard to overcome these barriers when implementing ICT policy or programs if entities implementing these want to get the most out of them in regards of fulfilling the MDGs they should pay special attention to women. Luckily the report has a short list of to do and not to do basics when implementing ICTs in order for them to be inclusive for women. The report states that entities should:
- Engage women throughout the design and deployment process
- Focus on sectors likely to convey rapid and significant benefits
- Reach for partners with complementary capabilities
- Invest in training that is obviously needed
Additionally it states that they should not:
- Underestimate the complexity of ensuring access to and sustained use of existing and new technologies
- Reduce women to their role as end users
- Forget to document the journey
In conclusion, ICTs are important in the development of MDGs however if they are truly to be used to their full potential special emphasis should be taken on how they interact with certain groups particularly women.
In ICT4D Unwin discusses the extent to which ICTs are present in today’s world and how they are present in almost every aspect of our daily life. Furthermore, Unwin also points out their role as tools in the development and improvement of communities. Personally I believe that Unwin makes a very important point, ICTs are now present in areas that would not traditionally be associated with this kind of technology and are functioning as an aid to improve these fields. One such case is agriculture and the use it has given to ICTs particularly in developing countries. In the report titled “The Importance of ICTs in the provision of Information for Improving Agricultural Productivity and Rural Incomes in Africa” published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) it is proposed that access to technology will help farmers in Africa “improve agricultural productivity, practices and farmers livelihood”. The study argues that through the spread of information and knowledge farmers have the ability to improve the techniques they currently use and adopt new technologies. Furthermore, the report advocates for the spread of technology in the region particularly at schools to expose future generations to the power of technology. Despite the current increase in usage of ICTs in Africa and the potential they have for the agricultural development of the region certain barriers impede the spread in their usage. Particularly the report warns against two of them: high costs and monopolies. The report proposes that countries in Africa “cooperate in rolling out ICT platforms in terms of equipment and content”. This would reduce the costs of implementing new technologies and will allow for the cooperation in solving problems that exists throughout the whole region. In addition, to avoid monopolies and increase efficiency it suggests that governments in the region encourage competition between technology providers. In my opinion the impact that ICT can have in fields such as agriculture will serve as a stepping stone in the development of countries; however, governments of underdeveloped countries should create policies that facilitate the spread and use of these technologies in order to get the most out of them.