Tag Archives: Communication

Lessons Learned

This semester, we talked a lot about what organizations and governments should not do in developing ICT policies and strategies or where these organizations/governments failed in implementing these strategies. And in our last class, we discussed a lot of the reasons for this failure, some included the “top-down” approach, the “one size fits all” method and lack of transparency. But the most salient lesson I learned, or the most all-inclusive lesson, was about communication and I learned it from Laura Walker Hudson’s TechChange video.

Hudson discussed her history in development work and why there are so many failures and challenges to implementing ICT4D. From the video, I started to understand why some people in developing countries are reluctant to use new technology or incorporate new ideas in development, whether that be with simple SMS messages to alert farmers about crop sizes or weather updates or a crazy, new technology that promises to fix every problem. These people need to be interacted with and communicated with properly in order to implement ICT policies that will actually better their lives and improve development. Too often, organizations or social entrepreneurs go into a new environment, guns blazing, and expect to be able to institute change without consulting enough of the local community. Or they simply just do not have an idea of what the people actually need and just provide them with a technology or idea that was successful in another country and another culture. Hudson really impressed upon the important of face-to-face interaction in implementing new information and communication technologies and in our world of smartphones and instant messaging, personal communication is often lost.


Mobile Phones: Not Just a Technology

Recently, our class discussions have focused on the benefits of using mobile phones for international development, as seen with the Fishing Industry in India and the mobile phone use in Africa. However, through our discussions and readings I have noticed that we primarily focus on the use of mobile phones for business or for alerts, such as disasters or availability of clean water, and sometimes forget that mobile phone use is highly dependent on the culture and main focus of its users. When writing “Dead China Make: Phones off the Grid,” the author used an article written by Genevieve Bell called “The Age of Thumb: A Cultural Reading of Mobile Technologies in Asia,” which assesses the ways that cultural practices affect Asia’s mobile phone use. Bell argues that mobile phones are not merely for business calls, as they also maintain individual identities and social roles in Asia. Bell’s article focuses on the ways in which mobile phones are being “deployed, consumed, regulated, rejected, and naturalized in urban Asia” to understand how phones are being used as cultural objects in addition to technological objects.

Bell looks at mobile phones as “objects for communications, manifestations of information, as a form of identity politic, and as sites of anxiety and control.” Her research found that, just as in the US, Asia uses phones to stay in constant communications with friends and family to find out the newest gossip, know where their family is, and if everyone is safe. A lot of families interviewed even purchased phones for their teenagers to keep in touch. She also discovered that these users also use cell phones for information, such as streaming sports games and finding up-to-date scores, online shopping and payments, ordering taxis and even providing prayer reminders to Muslims. Additionally, Bell realized that several Asian countries censor phones and monitor every text message sent, as they are concerned that it could negatively affect cultures. Lastly, and what I found most surprisingly, is that people use these cell phones as identities –  the way they decorate it with cultural symbols, the telephone numbers they choose, thinking that those numbers are lucky, and the photos and backgrounds of their family. All of these little things prove that cell phones are as much a technology as they are a culture.

Some might ask why bother focusing on the cultural aspects of mobile phones, when we are only using it as a technology object for development. Well, I think it is crucial to understand the cultural uses of phones in order to understand how best to utilize mobile phones for development. Giving a fisherman a phone, without understanding his culture, would probably drastically limit the success of the ICT4D initiative.

Radio in Post-Disaster Haiti

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti was one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory. In the chaos and destruction after the earthquake hit, one radio station continued broadcasting and became a lifeline for Haitians. The station, called Signal FM, somehow withstood the earthquake and its tower was not damaged. Immediately after the earthquake, with electricity supplied by generators, the station started broadcasting important information about where to find help. One woman was even able to find her missing husband through a message she broadcasted on Signal FM. The station stayed on the air constantly for the two weeks after the earthquake. Originally they only had three days of fuel for their generators, but the Haitian government and several NGOs stepped up and provided funding to keep the station on the air. Signal FM organized a panel discussion on-air with journalists to keep people up to date on what was happening in the post-disaster chaos. According to this CNN report Signal FM reached about 3 million people in the Port-au-Prince area during the disaster and was also available to over the Internet. The fact that Signal FM combines traditional radio presence is combined with availability on the Internet is a great example of blending different types of ICTs in order to reach more people, as we saw in the case of the Farm Radio in Africa using SMS to tune people in to radio broadcasts.

Signal FM has been extremely important in disaster recovery in Haiti, especially considering the fact that Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, has only a 62% literacy rate. In this context, the radio is an effective ICT because it can reach large quantities of people in their native language and give them access to critical survival information in a post-disaster setting. The importance and effectiveness of radio in post-earthquake Haiti can be seen in the fact that the U.S. Army handed out solar-powered and hand-cranked radios to around 80,000 Haitians living in  a displacement camp close to Port-au-Prince. In situations of extreme disaster, where other ICTs are not feasible due to the destruction of infrastructure, radio is often the most effective tool in getting critical information to the greatest number of people. According to Louis Richardson, a Haitian earthquake survivor quoted in the CNN report, Signal FM radio was “the most important source of information.”

Historical ICTs: Yodeling and Fire Signals


The development of the ICT industry is centered on constructing ways for individuals and societies to communicate with one another and the different ways in which they experience space and time. Although the implements of modern technology such as cellphones, computers and the internet have increased the speed at which we communicate, rapid communication over large distances and regions is by no means a new concept. This notion was presented to me by Tim Unwin in, “ICT4D: Information and Communication Technologies for Development” and intrigued me. Before reading this I had never given any thought to how individuals and societies communicated over considerable distances and so I am going to briefly explore two traditional ICTs: yodeling in the Swiss Alps and signal fires along the Great Wall of China.

When examining yodeling and fire signals as ICTs it is interesting to look at how both forms of communication worked as ways to relay information of vast distances. During the Ming Dynasty, from 1368-1644, guards on the Great Wall of China employed the use of fire signals, as an efficient was to communicate. Fire signals could send a message swiftly across the entire 6,700-kilometer long wall. These signals included different sets of patterns that signified enemies, allies and the number of people approaching.

The same complex system of communication is also seen in the communicative mode of yodeling. According to an article on wisegeek.com the first official record of yodeling in the Swiss Alps is from 1545 and most experts agree that it was used as a way for herders, their stock and Alpine villages to communicate with one another. This mode of communication has since then become incorporated into the traditional music of the region.

These two forms of ICTs originated long before phones, broadband, or even electricity and I feel that is important to remember that people have always had the need and resources to communicate with one another. Exploring these two forms of historical communication within the confines of ICTs I am interested in learning more about how they adapt the defenition of ICTs and how new technologies have expedited the communication process.

Communication Is Key

In International Development, ICT is an aspect that many people have many doubts about. This is because a majority of ICT initiatives in developing countries fail or because sustainability is difficult in the ICT4D field. The concept of ICT4D can include work with disadvantage population anywhere, but there is a stronger focus with its application in developing countries. The idea of applying IT for poverty reduction is most commonly known by people not within the International Development field. However, ICT can be applied to more whether it is directly to benefit the disadvantaged population or indirectly assist organization (governmental or non-government) to improve a wide variety of socioeconomic conditions. This is something I too didn’t take into account. Before this course, I mainly viewed ICT4D as a concept in International Development that deals mainly with utilizing computers to improve the quality of life for developing countries and help them reduce their poverty rate. However, this semester, I learn that this is not the only case. There are a wide variety of subdivisions within ICT4D. They can range from e-health, to e-business, to e-government, to many more sparking to concept of ICT4D 2.0. The concept of ICT4D 2.0, a new concept to me before this course, is something that will help me as a development professional.  Sparking from the late 2000s, the idea of ICT4D 2.0 focuses on reframing the poor, where ICT4D 1.0 was about marginalizing them. Rather than creating a supply-driven focus, ICT4D 2.0 allows a demand-driven focus. ICT4D 2.0 sees the poor as active producers and active innovators. There is now a less “needs” thinking but more of a “wants” thinking in which we access what the poor themselves actually demand.

This is where the concept of information becomes valuable. Information is important because in order to create changes in development, communication of information with those receiving the help is needed. Information is a tool and resource for those receiving help to build self-reliance, empowerment, civil society, and knowledge for the people. On the other hand, often at times donors or organizations think that they know what the poor and marginalized need, but they often don’t. Gathering information from exchanges through communication will allow donors and organizations to find out what the poor needs and find effective ways to delivery those needs. For example, when you go into a country trying to decrease HIV/AIDS rate, you need to gather information on why there is such a high rate of HIV in the area.

Communication is needed because often times, ICT in development tends to concentrate first on technology and only later addresses potential that ICT offer to the poor and marginalized. Communication will allow us to understand and determine what those we help truly need. It is essential in participatory research and development where the researcher will development a relationship and understanding for the community they work in. It is a way to share information and issues that those who need development help want and need, so we can development a plan most suitable to their needs. The gathering of valuable information is done through communicating such as talking and discussing with the population that you are working with in order to have successful delivery of initiatives. The central idea to me about communication is to educate the people so they would accept your work. Ultimately, apart from having a great idea, acceptance from the working population will lead to success. This is something I will take away from the course and remember as I move forward with my career in development. Regardless of if the project is ICT4D based or health based, this concept can be critical; therefore, I would like to see it highlighted more in the future.

Pros and Cons of Mapping

In this article by “Web 2 for Dev”, the author discusses pros and cons of the kind of mapping we are about to engage in in our class. The author cites issues such as climate change and crisis situations as some of the positives. We have, of course, talked about this in class before and have analyzed how companies like Ushahidi work. The authors presents Google and Openstreet Maps as the front runners in mapping for developing countries and suggests that collaborative mapmaking would benefit the countries, and the users much more. The author raises concerns including privacy issues with the policies that Google sets out and “tension over indiscriminate online mapping over land ownership and resource use and control.” This is a very similar concern that the Homeland Security Professor presented: where do we draw the line between mapping to help those who can use these technologies, and breaching privacy?

Twitter and Blogging in ICT4D

This week we followed a recent ICT4D debate between several prominent development professionals. Although the theme of the debate was fascinating what I thought was more telling about the field and today in general was how this disagreement was taking place. All of those involved in the debate were on Twitter and followed each other. They actively blogged and commented on each others blogs. This created a virtual community of people with many different backgrounds and specific knowledge, but all investing, creating, and promoting international development. Image

The importance of twitter in ICT4D is outstanding. As a social media it is not often thought of as a high brow source of information, but #ICT4D leads to all the most recent news about the field, studies, information, and commentary. Twitter has allowed a global network of people to quickly, effectively, and intelligently discuss, comment, and interact together. ICT4D is the stronger because of it, as these professionals can bounce ideas off one another, develop a better understanding of what is happening around the world, and communicate with the public. Another benefit is that twitter adds a human voice to development. I personally follow a number of development professionals and am always impressed by the breadth of their knowledge, what other things they are interested in, their opinions, and some are very humorous. Obviously twitter in ICT4D suffers the same problems as we previously discussed, like unchecked facts and biased opinions, but regardless it has come to be a dominant factor in the field.

Blogging too is important as it allows for at least a brief introduction into what the development professionals are doing, feeling, and hearing about. It keeps everyone on the same page and is more informative than twitter (many people link their blog to brief tweets for further explanation). I enjoy getting to hear real life opinions that are not diluted in academic wordiness and correctness.

I will certainly begin to follow more of these leaders in development on twitter and on their blogs. I highly recommend everyone check them out. My personal favorite is Chris Blattman, but there are many others out there. Here is an aggregated twitter feed of professionals in ICT4D. Educate and Enjoy!

Security vs. Civil Liberties

In this article by CNN, the author talks about new policies put forth by Facebook in order to prevent phishing and malware. The article states that a recent survey claims 52% of businesses have experienced increased viruses and malware. The most common way to do this is to post a racy or controversial link on Facebook in the hopes that someone will click on it. Once  clicked on, the link makes you log back in and it steals your login information (just like email phishing). This is something that our guest speaker yesterday spoke about. Although he is a bit of an alarmist (and hilariously so) the point about deciding where to draw the lines between security and our civil liberties is extremely relevant to all of us. He never really delved much deeper into that (probably because he wanted to seem politically objective) but I feel that is a debate that really needs to be more prevalent. With as many people obsessed with Facebook as there are, security of your online information is an increasingly pertinent issue. What would these “fair and balanced” policies look like? How can we have the government protecting our online lives without feeling that our rights are being called into question? Thoughts?

ICT’s During Natural Disasters

In her article , over a year ago, Suzanne Choney suggested different ways to utilize the ICT’s at your fingertips during Hurricane Irene. The article is fairly informative, explaining how to take advantage of facebook, what Twitter accounts to subscribe to, and which Federal Department websites to regularly check. This is all well and good, but as Ms. Cohen put it on Thursday “we need to stop focusing on the next new shiny technology and really start bringing some value to people in need through our ICT use.” This is a great point because while the average Joe is more excited about the new Angry Birds app coming out, there are much more impactful technologies we could be initiating. One class member suggested that these disaster time services should be provided to everyone with a mobile phone – not just smart phones, and potentially provided without internet access. This is a great idea, especially considering how quickly the internet goes when a hurricane hits. Choney provides some very beneficial services, including the American Red Cross facebook page, the Dept. of Homeland Security homepage, and the @NotifyNYC Twitter page. These are all incredible resources, but when you take into account the reach they effect without a clear internet connection they lose a lot of their value.

Brain-Drain to Brain-Gain

In his article, Matthew Shaer notes the difficulties many countries in Africa have with brain drain. An estimated 20,000 professionals leave Africa each year to look for jobs in countries that are more economically successful. In an attempt to combat this brain drain, e-learning initiatives are being started to help connect students with the rest of the world while keeping their feet on the ground in Africa. “Since 1997, the Nairobi, Kenya–based African Virtual University has worked to improve access to web-based learning in sub-Saharan Africa,” and this will provide students all across that region with the type of resources the wish to find in the countries they are emigrating to. The courses provide a model called the “webinar,” which connects students and teachers through video and audio. These classes are intimate closely overseen so the teaching provided is as effective as possible.

There are some, like Conrad Coyanda-Parkzes, CEO of a telecom company called AccessPoint, who argue against these initiatives claiming that they are a band-aid solution to a very deeply rooted problem. Coyanda-Parkzes claims, “I don’t see enough lobbying for the basic stuff—electricity, the roads.” This is a great point, but at the end of the day, these students are experiencing and learning, which is something they have never done before – and that is what matters.