Author Archives: tanvishah1

ICT4D: Lessons Learned

I didn’t know what to expect when I first began ICT4D – it seemed like an odd technology class that somehow had something to do with development. However, I think many of the things we have been learning in all of our International Development courses were very visibly demonstrated in this class. For example, the practical needs and challenges of projects such as Humanitarian Open Street Mapping – it’s a perfect demonstration of “off-the-ground work” that is difficult to do, but actually useful and necessary at times. Also, it was good to hear that ICTs can be used in all sectors – environment and business, included. It may sound intuitive, but sometimes we don’t make the connection immediately.

I also learned that being aware of the growing power individuals have nowadays thanks to technological progress is crucial to coming up with new development methods that are relevant and efficient. If I were to enter the IDEV field, I would keep this in mind because it would help me not just let some community “catch up,” but maybe even become progressive.

Additionally, the Human-Centered Design framework has been a good model to think about when considering development projects. You have to involve the community to create an effective development plan, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have any input yourself. It’s a collaborative effort.

Should the Government know about Private Companies’ information security strategies?

In our class yesterday, Ralph Russo stressed the importance of understanding that no entity exists that has the authority to or even can regulate the internet. Therefore, there is the potential for many cybersecurity attacks to occur that can be, if not properly defended against, devastating to economic, political, and personal safety.

The burden of protecting sensitive information systems falls primarily upon the government; however, the private enterprises that control important services, such as power companies, health institutions, and food supply chains must also take initiative in securing their control systems because of the potential loss of business they may face due to a cybersecurity attack. In essence, both private and public entities must play an active role in defending our country against cybersecurity attacks, but the question is whether the government will require certain private companies, like utilities companies, to disclose cyber-defense strategies to the government to enhance overall national safety.

Interestingly enough, the Washington Post published an article this afternoon that reported that “[t]he White House has backed away from its push for mandatory cybersecurity standards in favor of an approach that would combine voluntary measures with incentives for companies to comply with them.” This current position is a result of the failure of bipartisanship; so many factors must be considered in a case such as this because of the freedoms and privacy rights of companies and individuals may be violated. Therefore, the White House wants to make information-sharing voluntary.

Do you think the government should be lax in its cybersecurity policies regarding private businesses that are critical to the daily functionings of American society? It seems to me that it would be in the best interest of both the government and these private businesses to share at least some basic information about the internet since separately, they are much more vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks than as part of a joint effort.

News Sites Less Trusted Now than Social Media Users

This is unusual for me – I wouldn’t really do an extra blogpost if I didn’t have to, but given what has been happening in the past few hours, I thought that I should comment, especially after our discussion on Tuesday after the bombing.

I heard from a friend last night that there was another shooting that happened last night, this time at MIT. I went onto CNN’s website to figure out what was happening and was greeted by very confusing information. It seemed that they were still talking about the Boston Marathon Bombing, but what I was looking for was information on the MIT shooting.

I decided to go to bed and learn more in the morning. I went on CNN’s website again and didn’t find anything helpful, so I turned instead to Facebook.

This is what a friend had posted:

“Okay folks, going to bed. I’ll try to summarize what I have so far for those who will wake up tomorrow.

MIT officer was shot and killed. Suspects were believed linked to the Marathon bombings and later confirmed. One suspect has been apprehended and killed, other is still at large. There was/is a police chase. Two bombs have been found and defused, reports of other bombs are popping up. There was huge firefight, which can be heard here: At least on officer is down. Swat and snipers are on the scene along with FBI.

This reddit thread is much more accurate than what you will see on CNN or other sites:

Hopefully more accurate information will be available in the morning. I hate to say it, but CNN has been really slow and botched up a lot of the reporting. Check reddit, twitter, and local boston news/ police broadcast for more accurate info.

And then this from another friend:

“This is the craziest thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Random people on the Internet are better at reporting news than the people who get paid to do it.

With his friends commenting:

this reddit thread has been more reliable then CNN” and “but in all seriousness, it takes news a million confirmations before they can report anything. The guys on the internet are going off of police radios, which are primary sources but can still lead to false reports (especially if the cops get a false lead). CNN has NO excuse though

Powerful stuff. Our once god-like media is being turned on for not providing enough accurate information fast enough. In an age when people want information immediately,  it’s tough to remember that getting accurate information still takes time.

Just wanted to add one more FB post that came up right now at 8:08 AM.

“New updates. CNN is doing a god awful job of reporting. Manhunt going on in Boston. Suspects believed to be brothers and from Chechnya, Russia. One is dead, other is still very much a threat. EOD departments are crawling due to number of bomb threats being called. Pertinent resources:”

ICT4Do’s and ICT4Don’ts

Today, Wayan Vota, a big name in the ICT4D world skyped in with us to answer some of our class’s questions about ICT4D. A common theme was whether ICT4D really works.


  • Can ICTs stand alone as development tools or should they accompany specific development initiatives?  (You should be able to figure this one out on your own if you know anything about One Laptop Per Child.)
  • What were the best and worst ICT4D projects? (OLPC seems to have surprisingly blown everything else out of the water for both…)
  • What’s more difficult: getting infrastructure to support ICT4D or community buy-in for an ICT4D project? (Most of our class got this one wrong – getting $$ for infrastructure is actually less challenging than having communities accept something that’s being forced upon them. Participatory development is much more effective than development practitioners coming into a community with a “plan for development” that they came up with without the help of any community members.)

But let me get to what I really wanted to talk about in this blogpost. I just saw this great article from The Guardian that gives 15 opinions of “open data evangelists” and “information services professionals” on how to develop countries using “information.”

Surprisingly, the most frequently mentioned information-development-tool is something we touched on once in class – the LIBRARY! Indeed, David Banisar (senior legal counsel of Article 19 in London), Lawrence Gudza (coordinator of Practical Answers/Action in Zimbabwe and South Africa), and  Jelena Rajic (librarian in Jagodina, Serbia) tout the important role libraries can play in development because of their ability to provide information to whole communities in a way that promotes equality and fairness. So DO support the libraries and hook them up with information and communication technology!

On to the don’t list.

Tony Roberts (co-founder of Web Gathering in London) says don’t ignore the political system – it can distribute information and institutionalize it much more quickly than a small, individual-by-individual effort can – and don’t make inequalities worse than they already are – avoid this by having a plan for sustainability to enable the most disadvantaged to be able to fully get out of the hole.

Samuel Lee (open data specialist at the World Bank in D.C.) provides a puzzling don’t. He says “don’t build new communities if you can leverage existing ones“. I’m not really sure what he means by “communities” – I’m assuming something like technologies or projects that facilitate development because he mentions how “leveraging communities that already exist… will also help communities cross the digital divide.” In any case, what I got out of this is don’t pay for something new and flashy when you can upgrade what you already have, dull as it may seem.

You can read the article for more advice these experts have on ICT4D, and I’m sure there are plenty of other articles on the subject. I just thought this was an intriguing article because not all of the experts come from the ICT4D world, or even regular development.

And just for funsies, here’s the most awesome library I’ve ever been to – the Bibliotheek in Amsterdam! It’s got a fancy cafeteria on the top floor and an awesome children’s area (complete with the real-life model of what’s seen in Het Muizenhuis)!

Mouse house1

Natural ICT Introduction: Mobile Phones and the Indian Fishing Industry

In his case study, “Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence from the Fishing Industry in India,” Reuben Abraham highlights how mobile phones have affected the fishing industry in India. In sum, the case study finds that there are substantial benefits to the industry, from the fishermen all the way to the consumers.

For the fishermen, these phones can greatly enhance working conditions as they are able to stay in touch with other fishermen, which provides a feeling of safety and  information on where to find large schools of fish. Other tangible benefits for the fishermen include being able to know current market prices, to reduce time and fuel inefficiency, and to fish according to the market demand, thereby cutting unnecessary extra effort. In addition, the boat owners are able to have better information as to the whereabouts and condition of their expensive investments, so they stand less risk than without having any information about their boats.

Some others in the fishing supply chain benefit even more than the fishermen – the middlemen. The  commission agents and merchants had less to lose than others in the supply chain before the presence of mobile telephones; however, these individuals are more certain as to the timing of when supply can meet demand and can essentially control market prices more than ever before. That being said, even the consumers benefit because they are able to know where to find what products they need and pay less with more market efficiency.

Overall, there are few negative consequences with the arrival of mobile telephones in the fishing industry. Mobile phones may increase vulnerability to corruption, harassment, and unethical practices from any of the supply chain participants to other supply chain participants. These incidents, however, are somewhat rare, and do not greatly reduce the benefits of mobile telephone availability in the fishing industry.

One of the most interesting parts of this case study is realizing that no development project or initiative introduced the fishing industry to mobile telephones. It was a natural occurrence and showed to be very successful mainly because the “beneficiaries” adopted the technology they themselves needed – they found something to meet their own needs. The case study was just a tool to help determine whether such an occurrence could be artificially recreated in another location to produce the same benefits.

The Munro Report: Crowdsourcing and Humanitarian Relief

This week in class, we were fortunate to have Robert Munro as a guest lecturer (learn about him here). Munro is a “computational linguist working in communication technologies,” which makes sense in the context of the case study he wrote about Mission 4636, a humanitarian aid effort that utilized crowdsourcing and text messages in post-2010-earthquake Haiti.

Munro gave us several examples of and lessons learned from humanitarian aid efforts utilizing crowdsourcing to process information: Pakreport (after the 2010 floods in Pakistan), the Libya Crisis Map (to follow events occurring in the country as part of the Arab Spring), and most recently, the Sandy Mapmill (to assess damages following Hurricane Sandy).

From the presentation, it seems that crowdsourcing for Pakreport was relatively efficient because of local people’s involvement, but that crowdsourcing for Libya Crisis Map was a failure. This failure arose from the fact that many locals did not want to be associated with the project out of fear of safety for their lives. Sandy Mapmill might be considered to be in between the other two, as volunteer-based damage assessment was greatly useful; however, it was determined that paying professionals would have been more accurate and cost-efficient than crowdsourcing. In the case of Mission 4636, one can apply the same basic lessons – utilizing locals’ (and/or people of the diaspora) knowledge was vital to the success of the project because they are more familiar with both language and locales than outsiders. It was clear that non-Haitians processed MANY fewer pieces of information than Haitians or former Haitians.

One point Munro hammered on was that private data practices should always be utilized in all cases to protect the identities of people in the disaster zones and that public mapping is generally discouraged, for the same reason.

Another interesting tool mentioned was “Natural Language Processing (NLP),” which is an automated language processing system that allows the processing of large amounts of language information. Of course, there are flaws, as with any automated systems – out-of-context translation and limitations because some languages are not already in the system; however,  NLP seems to be a valuable tool when there is just too much information to be processed and may expedite humanitarian relief efforts.

The presentation was very interesting to me since I never even considered that crowdsourcing could be used in humanitarian aid efforts. I’m glad that from Mission 4636, they were able to realize that “insiders” obviously have more helpful information and can be of more use to relief efforts than “outsiders.” This isn’t to say that the “outsiders” made no contribution; they definitely helped, but the majority of information processed was done rapidly and mostly accurately by those who knew the disaster zone.

Viet Nam National ICT Resources

Please find these new resources (you can look at the older blog post for the ITU, WEF, EIU, and World Bank citations).

  1. Latest National ICT Policy:

    Approving the strategy on vietnam information and communication technology development till 2010 and orientations toward 2020.Authored by: Phan Van Khai, Prime Minister
    Date: October 6, 2005
    Language: English

  2. Previous National ICT Policy:Master Plan for Information Technology Use and Development in Vietnam by 2005

    Authored by: Ministry of Information and Communications
    Date: July 17, 2002
    Language: English
  3. CIA World FactbookThe world factbook: Vietnam

    Authored by: Central Intelligence Agency
    Date: January 2013
    Language: English

  4. ICT sector in Vietnam:

    Authored by: UK Trade & Investment
    Date: January 7, 2013
    Language: English

  5. Good sources for other information:UNESCO
    Viet Nam Ministry of Information and Communications

Brief overview of differences between Approving the strategy on vietnam information and communication technology development till 2010 and orientations toward 2020 (2005 plan) and Master Plan for Information Technology Use and Development in Vietnam by 2005 (2002 plan) :

  • The 2002 plan actually mentions a project for national security and defense (“Using and Developing IT in National Defense”) and characterizes the area as being a “prioritized sector” in which to promote IT use, but the 2005 plan focuses more heavily on education and the economy.
  • Although both plans are very detailed, the 2005 plan seems to be more redundant and has several measurable objectives that seem to be more idealistic than those found in the 2002 plan. That being said, the 2002 plan is not as clear on actual measurable objectives except for in a few sections of the plan.
  • The 2005 plan introduces the idea of an “electronic Viet Nam” where everything, even the citizens should be “electronic”. There is more of a vision in the newer plan than the previous one.

Both are well written, and there is a clear progression from the 2002 plan to the 2005 one. It seems that Viet Nam knows more about what it wants to achieve in the 2005 plan.

Vietnam and gender inequality in ICT sector, but making headway in closing gender gap

As in most other countries, women in Viet Nam lag behind men in employment in the ICT sector, especially with regards to more “intellectual” work associated with the ICT industries. According to this presentation by Lee Anh Pham Lobb, of the participants surveyed, only 10.4% of the people employed in the “Specify/Design/Build” areas of software work are women, compared to 89.6% men. In contrast, 60% of the testing/support employees are women, compared to 40% men. When asked what could have caused this inequality, one male operational manager said, “‘ Women do testing better than men because women are always calm and patient. They can spend hours running the same test. Men cannot…'” and a female quality assurance manager said, “‘Design is still male territory. Men advises us (women) to keep out of this area.'” Clearly, if any change is to happen in terms of equal gender representation in the ICT industries, there must be some perception changes.

This imbalance has significant effects, especially when considering pay differences associated with more highly regarded positions, which also tend to be male-dominated. As we had discussed in class, many times, if all other factors were held constant, gender alone would not greatly affect access to and use of ICTs. Lack of resources, especially money, is often something that holds back many women from purchasing and using ICTs. Of course, in the case of employment in the ICT sector, the money dynamic is different, but it indirectly affects ICT access and usage by women not only because of what they earn but also because of the types of products and services that are designed. A paper by Tran Ngoc Ca and Bo Göransson explains that women’s needs are usually not considered in product and service design unless the designer is a woman. If you consider that for a moment, it would almost be as if all lefties’ needs were completely disregarded and they were forced to do things the right-handed way (which actually is true a lot of times, but unfair). Additionally, the way ICTs are used varies according to gender. “Many studies confirm that women are more likely than men to use ICT for family-related purposes, such as health and education, as well as for small-scale social business activities.” It seems that women’s use of ICTs is of great import to the success of many development initiatives, so their needs must be taken into consideration during the design process.

It is often said that development cannot truly occur until women are as empowered as men, until they have equal access to resources and can utilize their skills to maximize economic growth and social harmony. In Viet Nam, it seems that gender equalization in many ways may readily be achieved as more women play an integral role in development initiatives. As Viet Nam embraces ICT4D and considers it a high national priority, we may soon see more rapid development as more ICTs become “gender-friendly”. In fact, the paper also says that Viet Nam is already somewhat “seen as a quite pro gender development and equality.”

The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework: Technology as an Equalizer

In the last class, we discussed some of the approaches to development, not necessarily directly relating to ICT4D. One in particular, the Capabilities Approach advocated by Amartya Sen, reminded me of something I had learned about in a previous International Development course called Urban Spaces and Development. In the course, we discussed the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework (SLF), which, according to this DFID publication, is “a tool to improve our understanding of livelihoods, particularly the livelihoods of the poor.” This tool’s purpose is to encourage a holistic approach when undertaking development initiatives and underscores that the main focus is on people.

For that reason, the SLF fits very well into the Capabilities Approach, which focuses on human development more directly and much more so than the Neoliberalism/Modernization approaches, which emphasizes economic development as the precursor to other types of development. The SLF considers the inter-relatedness of the many different factors affecting people’s abilities to “create a livelihood for themselves and their households” and has distilled these factors  into five key  “assets”: human capital, natural capital, financial capital, physical capital, and social capital (IFAD).

One point that the DFID guide on SLF makes is that an important component of building human capital is “extending access to … knowledge generated [by the community, such as research]” by increasing and improving methods of communication, especially to include the poor, who have a particularly difficult time in becoming part of the knowledge society. Technologies to address this issue should be considered as to whether they are internally produced or externally introduced, relating to the suggestion that governments should create “polic[ies] to invest in… technology generation,” which reinforces what our class discussed last week about national policy having a significant influence on the success of ICT4D.

Technology is relevant to all of the assets, but the fact that it is hilighted in relation to human capital is significant because it proposes a direct link between individual exposure to technology and “development” of a community. It really promotes the creation of a knowledge society that permeates throughout a community, a process that depends heavily upon distribution of technology.

I really like the SLF because it does not promote a one-size-fits-all approach to development; it considers the different degrees of influence different assets have on individuals’ lives to build a development strategy that will most effectively impact a community. Technology seems to play an equalizing role because it will help in the inclusion of the “poor” (sorry, Richard Heeks) in the development of their communities .

Richard Heeks Strikes Again – Non-ICT4D National Policy Can Determine Success of ICT4D Initiatives

For this blogpost, I decided to look up some blogs that consider the topics we’ve discussed in class this week. I found ICT4DBlog, which features an article about why some ICT4D initiatives work and why others don’t. I read the article and thought it would make a great discussion topic, considering our discussion in class today about how national policy is often a driving force of the success of ICT4D initiatives, even if it is not certain that all elements of this policy will be implemented.

After having finished reading the article, I glanced up to see who the author was, and lo and behold, it was Richard Heeks!  I hadn’t heard of the man until a week ago (we read his article “ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track?”), but since then, I’ve learned about how he feels about the MDGs and how he feels development should occur. I agree with him on several points, but I’ll leave that aside for now and sum up the points he made in this article, “The Obama Presidency and ICT4D”.

Disclaimer: This article is from November 2008, but I believe it makes some important points.

It seems that at the outset of his presidency, President Obama did not specifically make ICT4D a policy priority, but he has put forth “policy stances” that promote 3 areas that do affect ICT4D:

  1. Technology: increase ICT infrastructure; promote “e-transparency” through increased ICT usage in the government
  2. Trade: reduce trade barriers; increase the prevalence of the “Made in America” phenomenon
  3. Foreign Policy/Development: increase aid from $25 billion to $50 billion by 2012 (not achieved according to Politifact); increase investment in AIDS/Tuberculosis/Malaria Global Fund and Global Education Fund; promote African entrepreneurship and access to “green technology”

Heeks is quick to point out that “support” of ICT and development do not necessarily translate to a combination of these two areas. And any relationship between the two is dependent upon the three areas mentioned above, as politics can carry forward or crush initiatives without even noticing.

Interestingly enough, Heeks believes that politics itself may have been changed by ICT. It’s possible that Obama’s campaign may have projected a “‘do-as-I-do'”  impact upon developing countries by unconsciously promoting “‘e-democracy,'” which came about as a result of his campaign engaging people in the political process through the internet.

As we learned in class today, policy stances do not equal guaranteed action. Policies are guidelines to help a country determine its priorities and to try to achieve the necessary changes within a reasonable amount of time. As we stand at the already-realized future of this 2008 article, it’s still unclear whether ICT4D  has itself become a national policy priority, but it is safe to say that ICT has been greatly utilized in most development projects.