Tag Archives: development

China ICT4D Resources

China is not a country that has explicitly laid out its plans for information and communications technologies development, but they have published a few documents that outline some of the ways they plan to improve these areas of development. The closest document they have to a ICT4D policy is called, “China’s Informatization Strategy and its Impact on Trade in ICT Goods and ICT services”, was published by the General Office of the CPC Central Committee and General Office of the State Council of China in 2006. China’s 5 year plans published by the National People’s Congress, most recently published in 2010, also contain some information related to ICTs.

Government Publications:

China’s Informatization Strategy

China’s 12th 5-Year Plan can be found by searching for it, but is only available in downloadable .pdf files

Other Agency and Organization Publications:

Rural Informatization in China can be downloaded from the World Bank. This is a working paper, so new versions are published when major changes need to be made.

IDC’s Top 10 Predictions for China’s ICT Market in 2014 and Beyond is a press release from a data analysis company highlights some of the more important indicators and what they might mean for the future.

 

Remember that the Chinese government is not keen on publishing documents that are clear in their intentions or expectations. So, market trends, data indicators, and other sources of information are the best way to understand China’s relationship with ICT4D’s.

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Lessons Learned: Tulane ICT4D Spring 2014

In the development world (as in every profession), most practitioners take technology at face value. ICT is construed as a tool to enhance proficiency and effectiveness on a broad scale, and because of its nature it may not even be considered for the more complex, and less blatantly obvious effects it can have on those beneficiaries who come in contact with it. I’d read previously about how development has the tendency to privilege technology and Western knowledge systems over indigenous knowledge systems, but I did not see a tangible example of this until I took this course. ICT applications are not immune from failure. In fact, as stressed by writers like Unwin and Heeks, they must be carefully incorporated into the culture in question so that they can have any success at building a connected knowledge society at all. From a theoretical standpoint, I now understand how critical knowledge societies are for growing an educated populace and a capable government, and part of creating such an environment is mediating between indigenous knowledge systems and modern, technology based paradigms. This is a responsibility every ICT project must take into account, or jeopardize not only its integrity, but also its effectiveness.

By extension, an interesting lesson this course has taught me is the importance of tapping into existing communications infrastructure when implementing a project. It seems obvious that this is necessary, but we in the West are many times led to believe that all new technological applications are progressive. This course has made it clear that utilizing a smart phone app to reach rural citizens who are mostly accustomed to the radio will not be successful. Furthermore, blanket applications of technology within a society that don’t realize the capacity for upkeep will inevitably be unsuccessful. Richard Heeks describes how this was a large issue in the ICT4 1.0 stage in the 1990’s and 2000’s, which attempted to replicate telecenters that had found success in North America in the developing world. These ultimately failed, as without training or even an intrinsic desire to use these centers, they fell into disrepair. It is not enough to implement a new technology, but it must be relevant to those who are going to use it. This course has demonstrated how key user efficacy is within ICT4D applications, a very important point when ICT is employed for life- saving disaster resilience and response purposes.

Finally, this course has imparted upon me the importance of technology in connecting with others in the developing community. Not only is it important to put yourself out there on ICT platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, but also it is also critical as a budding development professional to have tangible technological skills. Whether it is GIS mapping or social media expertise, anyone entering development today must be able to say that they are well acquainted with at least one ICT platform. Projects are increasingly relying on ICT apps to reach beneficiaries, and without these skillsets you will truly be out of the loop. I am glad that I have learned this now before it was too late, and I thank ICT4D at Tulane for imparting upon me the full weight of technology in development.


Technology contributing to VAW

All too often we view ICT4D projects as a means to empower women and minimize the gender divide, and overlook how technology can exacerbate gender issues, such as violence against women (VAW). While ICTs can decrease/stop VAW, it can also be seen as a facilitator, as technology can provide additional platforms for violent action. In order to understand how technology can exacerbate VAW, it must be understood that VAW does not simply include physical violence, but also psychological, economic, and sexual abuse. The MDG3: Take Back the Tech program, which was a project created in 2009 to strengthen women’s rights activists to use technology tools to prevent technology related VAW, categorizes technological violence into 5 broad categories including online harassment and cyberstalking, intimate partner violence, culturally justified violence against women, rape and sexual assault, and violence targeting communities. There are several ways in which violence is committed with the use of technology:

  • Mobile Text Messaging and calling
  • Intimate Photos and Blackmail
  • Mobile Phone Tracking
  • Manipulating Photographic Images
  • Use of Internet to Fake Recruit victims
  • Violation of Passwords
  • Listening and Recording Phone Conversations
  • Monitoring Web Browsing

According to a paper from the Association for Progressive Communications, men are misusing mobile phones to harass and threaten their partners, and even track their partner’s phone to know her location at all times. Technology has added another dimension to the issue of privacy, as men try to gain control of their partners by tracking and monitoring their every move. Additionally, in several developing countries husbands are using intimate/pornographic photos of their partners to blackmail them and gain control. Men have even been known to use fake advertisements to lure women into forced marriages, guess partner’s passwords, and disrespect their privacy by listening to phone conversations.

Technology related VAW is a dangerous and growing problem as technology enables violence by allowing anonymity, automation, affordability, action from a distance, and propagation. Technology does not only provide an affordable and detached way to harm women, but has also made it easier for the offender to remain anonymous, to stalk and monitor their partner, and to create damage that can follow their women around forever. While technology is a promising way to improve gender equality, I think we must not ignore the growing and serious issue of how technology can exacerbate VAW. After reading this paper, I question how we can protect women from technology related VAW.


The Kony 2012 Effect

http://invisiblechildren.com/media/videos/program-media/kony-2012/

It’s been two years since the Kony 2012 video went viral, and after shooting star-like rise to fame and subsequent critical analysis and fall, the Invisible Children movement is more or less, well, Invisible. The video was a documentary made by three college age students and highlighted the child soldiers in Uganda and the “night walkers”, Ugandan children who would walk into local cities to sleep safely at night in order to avoid becoming child soldiers.
The video is perceived as a call to action- donate to their organization, and you can help stop Joseph Kony and free children soldiers. Just as quickly as everyone began posting the video on Facebook, Twitter, and social media, critics began slamming the video as inaccurate representation of the real-time situation on the ground in Uganda. They claimed that Kony hadn’t been seen for years and the short film was just that, a film. While the organization Invisible Children did (and continues to) have good intentions of helping children in Uganda, their lack of transparency created controversy and confusion among young people about how to do good in the world, and who to believe.
The trend of using social media to promote development is a dangerous one, as proven by the Kony campaign. It can be instantaneously effective and reach a huge audience. However, the population reached can often be uninformed and easily hooked into a cause. The topic of cyber security this week reminded me of the Kony campaign, and how simple it is for something- like a short video- to spread so quickly on the internet. It’s different from a virus or cyber attack, but can be damaging to the developing world all the same.


Universal charger policy a solution for developmental issues?

In class on Tuesday, we discussed the challenges people in developing areas face when it comes to cell phone use. One of the things we discussed was the difficulty of charging the phones. When people have many different types of cell phones with many different types of chargers, finding replacement chargers for misplaced or broken chargers becomes difficult and expensive. As one person in class said, few people can simply go on Amazon and have a new charger sent to their houses. 

When we were discussing this in class, I thought of the European Union’s plan to make a universal phone charger mandatory for all cell phones. When I looked up the specifics of the plan to refresh my memory, I found an Agence France Presse article from Thursday discussed the European Parliament approving draft legislation for the plan. The plan now goes to the European Commission for approval. 

The article describes the legislation: “If adopted in its current form, the legislation would include all “radio” products, meaning any piece of equipment which receives or emits radio waves with the purpose of communication, including mobile phones, GPS systems, tablets and wireless car door openers.” 

A universal charger policy such as this one could be beneficial for developing countries. It would provide easier solutions to one of the most common problems with cell phones: keeping them charged. Having the same type of charger for all devices will mean that someone nearby will always have a charger to borrow. It will also reduce costs of chargers because different manufacturers would be making the same device. Charging centers would also be more easily used because only one type of charger would be necessary. People would be able to spend less time and money worrying about how to charge their phones and more time using them to the fullest potential. 

There are, however, some potential drawbacks to a universal charger policy as well. One of the major drawbacks could be that the policy would disincentivize  tech companies from innovating. Perhaps a new technology comes along that charges a phone in half the time. One company would not be able to capitalize on that development because it would either be prohibited from introducing the charger, or the entire industry would have to go along with it; perhaps creating a free rider problem. 


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.


Can you Define Failure?

The vast majority is very quick to criticize ICT4D projects and highlight statistics such as the World Bank statistic that states that about 70% of ICT projects fail, without even understanding the context of these numbers. In this case, how does the World Bank define failure? What constitutes a project as a failure? Some projects may be black and white with a clear boundary between success and failure; however, most projects lack this definitive boundary. For example, the Zambian Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) program, known as Learning at the Taonga Market (LTM) was launched in 2000 to create low cost, high quality education for educationally and geographically marginalized areas in Zambia. The LTM integrates IRI, which acts as an active teaching tool, and the Lifeline radio, which is a dual-powered device that uses both wind-up and solar technology minimizing the dependency on other energy sources to teach lessons written and recorded by the Educational Broadcasting Services in conjunction with the Education Development Center. This program was designed to use existing technology, such as the radio, to provide high-quality education for over 800,000 children who cannot attend school. Since its implementation, over 160,000 children have received education through the LTM and these children have tested better than the children attending mainstream schools.

While this program appears to be working, some people argue it is another failed ICT project. Even though the demand for the LTM program and the enrolment of G1 participants have steadily increased, the retention rate is uncomfortably low as only 2,916 of the total 7,782 learners completed G5. Additionally, when testing the participants’ literacy and numeracy skills, it was apparent that the children had gained knowledge. However, the mean numeracy score dropped from 71.5% in 2001 to 63% in 2003 and the literacy skills dropped from 56.6% in 2001 to 48.8% in 2003. Even though observers noticed an improvement in literacy and numeracy skills, the tests proved otherwise. Does this mean that the project failed?

The lowered retention rate could be due to a lack of monitoring and evaluation; some people could be counted as “drop outs” even if they just switched IRI centers. Additionally, the discrepancies in the numeracy and literacy tests could be due to the different sample sizes tested in 2001 and 2003. Therefore, is it accurate to consider this project a failure on the basis of somewhat skewed data? And even if the data were accurate, should this project be classified as a failure based on two statistics, even when vast improvements and increases in demand have been noted? All these questions cannot be answered unless we define failure.