Category Archives: Technology Tools

Lessons Learned

There are a lot of people in the world who want to implement ICT4D projects. They have great intentions with great ideas. Good intentions and ideas is not enough when trying to develop a successful development project. When a project is not implemented correctly, it is difficult to see any lasting results. In this class we learned about what qualities make an ICT4D project successful and what makes it fail.


The most important thing I learned about the success of ICT4D implementation is that it is important to utilize existing technologies and that it is crucial to be culturally sensitive and relevant. Many times, ICT4D organizations throw new technologies at people. There are many issues with that. For one, the area may not have the correct infrastructure to support these ICT4D tools. Without proper training, these people will probably not be able to utilize these tools. If they do not find the technology relevant, they probably wont use the tool either. It is important to have someone that can teach how to use the new technologies as well as the relevance of it and how it will better their lives. Using existing technologies facilitates the transition. For example, M-pesa is a mobile banking organization in Kenya. They have been very successful because most of the Kenyan population already owns mobile phones. Their mobile banking works with any type of basic phone, and has had a huge impact on the lives of the people who use it. This project is relevant, and easy to use and that is why I think it has been able to help so many people.


Facebook’s new “Nearby Friends” feature could be a tool for disasters

During Tuesday’s class we discussed different technology tools that can be used to respond to disasters. Today, I read an article on about Facebook launching a new feature called “Nearby Friends” and I thought it could be an interesting tool that could be used to respond to natural disasters, though it certainly does have some drawbacks. If users choose to turn the feature on, their friends will be able to follow their location. The idea is that the feature will enable face-to-face interaction by allowing users to see which of their friends are nearby. Users are also able to choose which friends are able to access their location information. Furthermore, the location is only shared with friends who have agreed to also share their locations. The feature will automatically update the location of the user.

The initial safety and privacy concerns are mitigated since Facebook made the feature opt-in and gives users much flexibility in choosing who is allowed to view their location. Users must be cautious with who they allow to follow them and parents must be especially vigilant about their children. But, if used properly, it gives only people close to them the ability to view their location. In times of disaster, this could be extremely beneficial. Following disasters, family and friends often have a difficult time locating their loved ones. This feature has the potential to allow people to quickly locate their loved ones. It could be deployed in disaster zones for this purpose.  It is, however, limited in how much it could be used since the app would still require some type of network connection to continue sending updates.

#hastag Activism: Does it Work?

Twitter has been widely credited with being a driving force in the Arab Spring uprisings of the early 2010s and for good reason – twitter allows individuals to rapidly disseminate information and to spread opinions and views quickly. While few dispute its previous impact on international events, does twitter activism work when it comes to less dire circumstances?

Recently, noted comedian Stephen Colbert came under fire for an incentive and out-of-context tweet regarding asians. A twitter fire-storm ensued, with #CancelColbert trending across the nation. Ultimately, Colbert’s show was not effected in the slightest – he was even given a promotion to replace David Letterman on The Late Show on CBS.

What does this say about Twitters influence on activism. The Wall Street Journal claimed that “Twitter may be the most powerful amplifier for individual voices that history has ever produced” but then acknowledged that its 140-character limit can be its biggest downfall. In the case of the Colbert situation, in which the original quote was taken out of context from a joke poking fun at the Washington Redskins, this was certainly the case. #Hastag activism will continue to be a driving force in world events, yet its lack of depth may inhibit the proper amounts of information to be spread

The Value of Crowd-Sourcing and Private Sector Data Analysis in Disaster Response

Today, Senior Geospatial scientist Steven Ward presented to the class the ways in which his company ‘DigitalGlobe‘ combines ICT, geospatial data, satellite imagery for use in a number of industries, including development. DigitalGlobe operates a number of satellites that take images of the earth’s surface and disseminates them to a number of clients, including the US government, Google, the UN, and various NGOs, among many others. An even more critical aspect of the company is the data analysis it provides, which is largely supplemented by crowdsourcing techniques. For example, scientists like Steven Ward will publicize certain images of a disaster area, such as satellite photographs taken of a mountain range in which climbers have gone missing. DigitalGlobe employees will then look at trends of information tagged on these pictures by the public, an analysis that is augmented by a number of algorithms that help to determine the degree of validity of the information they are receiving. They can then analyze the aggregate data to try and find precisely where the missing climbers set up their base camp, climbed, and eventually fell (find the story here). Though this specific case is tragic, it reveals a host of ways in which vital information can be amassed through ICT techniques such as crowdsourcing, as well as how tech-based firms can contribute their innovations and analysis in times of need.  The company is an important example of the private sector’s role in aiding humanitarian crises as well as its contributions in developing key information systems that can make or break disaster response.

Another important take-way from Ward’s lecture was simply the logic surrounding open-source data analysis, which is an ICT in itself. Ward pointed out that “more hands make light work”, which is a critical notion in time sensitive situations such as Guinea’s recent Ebola outbreak, where health care experts need as much data as possible to determine the pathways of an extremely lethal disease in a population dense area. Though some might worry that information coming from the masses is more likely to be incorrect, this is actually a misconception; Wikipedia, which is a compilation made by thousands of ‘amateurs’ has a credibility ranking of 8/10, while Encyclopedia Britannica, which is a collaboration of fewer ‘experts’, has a score of 8.8/10. The fact that these sources have such similar scores demonstrates a key point of value for crowdsourcing techniques: the more people that contribute to and review the data, the more accurate it is likely to be. Therefore crowdsourcing in itself is many times one of the most valuable approaches to mapping disaster and crises, as well as other, less time sensitive development sectors such as poverty, agribusiness land-grabbing, vulnerable agricultural lands, and thousands of other factors that may be critical to the interventions of stakeholders within the field.


Is Crowdsourcing the Next Solution?

Before this semester, I was familiar with crowdsourcing only in the context of consumer behaviour, using it to search for the best restaurants, hotels, etc. It was not until Dr. Stephen Ward spoke to our class that I realized the endless broad and diverse applications of crowdsourcing using available GIS and satellite imagery of the Earth. Dr. Ward discussed how DigitalGlobe launched their crowdsourcing platform Tomnod on March 11th in order to increase efforts to find the missing Malaysian plane. Using Tomnod, over 25,000 people have been able to scan satellite imagery and tag highly important areas, which are then run through algorithms to sift out all irrelevant information. Within a couple days, Tomnod uploaded over 1,235 square miles of high-resolution satellite imagery of the Gulf of Thailand, making me question how, even with crowdsourcing, we would be able to efficiently sort through the massive amounts of data to find the important details. Although computers use complex algorithms to determine what is noise and what is most likely relevant, I cannot help question the reliability and efficiency of this process.

According to The Stream Official Blog, some users, reported coordinates for interesting objects, such as an outline of what appeared to be a plane underwater, and oil slicks and metal/plastic debris. However, several people are skeptical about the practicality of using crowdsourcing to find the plane, as the plane probably will not resemble a plane any longer and the lack of visibility of debris due to the limited resolution of the satellite. What prevents people from tagging every rock or garbage they see? Also, how are we certain that the algorithms don’t discard any relevant information?

Over the past five years the developments in crowdsourcing has enabled it to be applied to several disciplines, such as science, international development, and security. It has been used to find missing people, determine future famines, highlight current conflict areas, and supply information that would otherwise go unknown. That being said, I fear we still lack the scientific capacity to rely as heavily as we have been on GIS and crowdsourcing. We cannot significantly reduce ground searches and ground operations until we successfully use GIS and crowdsourcing several more times. In the future, I think GIS and crowdsourcing will alter the development sector; however, we must continue to develop innovative ways to more efficiently and accurately deal with the influx of data before we rely on this method.

Mobile Banking For Everyone

Mobile banking has become very popular in the developed and developing world. It is especially beneficial in the developing world because it addresses many of the problems they are facing when dealing with cash currency. Before the use of mobile banking, small business owners and customers were forced to physically walk to each other to transfer payments. This became a problem, especially for women business owners because of the risk of theft. Another issue people living in a rural community face is distance from a bank; in many cases there are not banks within walking distance,making it difficult to withdrawal and deposit money. Because of these issues, along with others, mobile banking has boomed in the developing world.

M-Pesa is a very popular mobile banking program that started in Kenya, with 43% of their current GDP flowing through this system. (ITpro) M-pesa works with any basic mobile phone. It allows users to pay for goods or even withdrawal money from a M-Pesa office or ATM, with a simple text message and without a debit card. M-pesa has become so popular that this payment is accepted at a large variety of places including local markets, and by street vendors. It has also facilitated the transfer of money. Many Kenyan’s send money to their relatives. Before mobile banking, they would send their payments with someone going in the same direction, and many times their money would never reach the recipient. With M-pesa, transferring money to love ones is as easy as sending a text message. Some businesses even pay salary through M-Pesa. There are transfer fees as well as ATM fees, but they are comparable to other bank fees, but much simpler.

This video shows how M-Pesa has been impacting the lives of Kenyan’s.

“Smart” Undies

In class on Tuesday, March 18, we spoke about the difference between front office and back office in terms of the potential for ICTs in education. On Thursday we spoke of ICTs for health.  This article is about technologies that keep you away from the office altogether—the doctor’s that is.  Most of these technologies are mHealth technologies, defined by Meredith on her blog here.  There are eight initiatives: “smart” pill bottles, health tracking briefs, ThriveOn for customized mental health help, wearable fall protection underwear, baby monitor clipped to clothes, smart footwear, smartphone thermometer, and Scandu Scout to analyze vitals on your smartphone.  These are all new concepts that were on display at a recent South by Southwest conference.  I am going to analyze the two types of technological underwear.  Pixie Scientific is the company that created the health tracking briefs, smart diapers that contain an indicator panel that tracks UTIs and monitors hydration to prevent disease.  These diapers sound like a great idea for public health, more so than the ActiveProtective underwear with 3-D motion sensors to detect falls.


However, if Pixie Scientific and ActiveProtective could combine the two?  How amazing!  They would be preventing UTIs by tracking hydration, injury with micro-airbags in the underwear, and a call for help.  The cons to these undergarments would be cost—Pixie Scientifics briefs are disposable and the infant version has been around for a while.  ActiveProtective must be brand new, because there is not any information online yet, but I can’t imagine micro airbags and whatever “call for help” technology is, is cheap.  Pixie Scientific seems to still be in its research stage.  I found a funding project for the program on indiegogo.  The company claims they will use the $21,491 raised to “fund manufacturing, a data-gathering study at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, and another study meant to collect data for FDA registration”.  Mainly these diapers will screen for: urinary tract infections, prolonged dehydration, and developing kidney problems.  According to UrologyHealth, approximately 40 percent of women and 12 percent of men will experience at least one UTI in their lifetimes.  I’m a big fan of these diapers because I’m a public health major, and if they can reach their stretch goals: to search for endemic diseases and screen for early signs of type 1diabetes, that would be a huge deal in terms of promoting higher quality of life through disease prevention.