Tag Archives: infrastructure

Designing Institutions that Foster an Information Society

In beginning to study information societies and what contributes to their functionality, the issue of infrastructure continued to show up as a confining factor. A country can have access to highly developed technology, but if it lacks a sufficiently developed electrical infrastructure the functionality of this technology will be compromised. Social and political environments can contribute to the success or failure of ICT4D as much as anything else. A blog post from ictlogy.net describes what the author, Ismael Peña-López, states are necessary precursors to a successful information society.

In his post, Peña-López argues that the nature of an institution that fosters the development of an information society is crucial to its functionality. Such an institution should have a multidisciplinary approach and be independent in political and economic terms. This means that it should not be placed under the control of another ministry or department (to avoid bias) and that it should not receive revenue solely from a particular party or lobbying interest. This makes sense when considering how these outside interests could affect unequal accessibility and widen the digital divide within a country.

Peña-López goes on to lay out a set of three important issues that an institution foster ICT4D should consider. One is stressing the importance of context, or understanding the meaning of each data set. This means close analyzation of the state of development of the information society is required. The second is that the institution should provide policy advice, including monitoring and measuring the impact of these policies. The third states that an institution should set up and execute programs that support ICT for development. The format of these programs will rely heavily on the understanding and data previously gathered. The combination of these three things set up a basic framework for an information society that minimizes the digital divide and fosters the development of the society as a whole.

Ghana’s National ICT Policy Focuses on WSIS’s Objectives

The World Summit for Information Society’s National e-Strategies for Development are guidelines for countries to incorporate into their national development plans. These guidelines offer insight into why some countries have failures in terms of ICTs and others are more successful. Specifically, the strategies focus on infrastructure, access, capacity-building, diverse language identity, ethics, cooperation, media, confidence and security, enabling environments and multiple applications (sectors). Typically, the strategies offer a future-oriented approach.

The methodology of the report is comprehensive. The “data” provided is qualitative. It outlines first what the action item is, a description of the item, followed by countries’ policy examples. It looks at specific countries’ policies to determine whether the WSIS strategies have been incorporated or not.

I think the WSIS strategies are great in helping countries focus on areas of improvement for ICTs. Looking at Ghana, every one of the line action items are mentioned within its National ICT policy. However, there is great importance placed on infrastructure and enabling environment. Infrastructure is mentioned in two of the eleven plans for policy change. The policy focuses both on the under-developed physical infrastructure and the poor and limited communications and telecommunications infrastructure that Ghana has. The action item, Enabling Environments , means to set up an environment that supports ICTs via eliminating barriers or in Ghana’s case, improving physical and communications infrastructure. The environment and infrastructure work together in Ghana’s policy.

Human capacity building, ICT-applications, media and the rest of the action items are mentioned to some capacity in Ghana’s national ICT policy. However it is ironic that Ghana’s policy is from 2003 while the e-Strategies for Development came out in 2010.

Salient Lessons

After taking ICT4D for a semester, doing all of the readings, and looking at all of the case studies, I think that I can safely sum up the salient lessons in ICT4D in two key points: Local knowledge and infrastructure. While these two things may seem, well, lets say, not all encompassing. I think they target the main problems that ICT projects encounter.

First, lets talk local knowledge. This knowledge may include but it not limited to, local customs, business deals, market influence, everyday technology practices, literacy levels, demographics and much more. These are all things that must be known before an ICT4D intervention can be successful. Without this knowledge. You may not know that technology wont be used for the purposes that you thought it would be, or that the community as a whole doesn’t need or want that particular kind of technology because it isn’t relevant to their lives.

Secondly, infrastructure. I’ll say this again, infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. Without this ICT4D is doomed to fail. Infrastructure needs to be built prior to and/or alongside ICT4D in order for technology to be and stay useful and relevant.

Telemedicine in Ethiopia

This article, a resource Professor Ports gave to my “Health in ICT” presentation group, is a good case study on the topic of telemedicine. Telemedicine is defined as a healthcare delivery technology where physicians examine patients from distant locations using information technologies. It has been growing in popularity for many reasons because:

  • there is a clear need/shortage of physicians
  • poor infrastructure of clinics in general and access to them
  • physician communication can be increased

As I mentioned in my sector presentation, sub-saharan Africa has less than 10 doctors per 100,000 people. In Ethiopia, for example, there are only 38 radiologists nation-wide, and 30 of them are in the nation’s capital. The country’s lack of infrastructure makes it difficult to provide healthcare as well, and often times when clinics are set-up in rural areas they are ill-equipped, according to the WHO. Since its inception, telemedicine has been able to reduce costs and provide optimal utilization of the healthcare system in many countries. This case study illuminates how telemedicine has been beneficial for cardiac patients, since they would not need to factor in as many travel costs. Other possible benefits of telemedicine may include:

  •  reduced direct and indirect costs to the healthcare sector, patients and providers
  • enhanced equality among citizens, in terms of access to special medical services
  • improved cooperation between specialized care and primary healthcare centers
  • promote the proficiency of physicians and other healthcare practitioners through ICT trainings and conferences

There are many examples of telemedicine in Ethiopia and have been supported by many international organizations and NGOs. There are many stakeholders involved, including the patients, doctors, universities , IT workers, and government and development workers.

While it is true that telemedicine has made significant contributions to healthcare sector of Ethiopia, many major challenges do exist. There are cultural, economic, organizational and technical issues. One example is that, since there are not many specialists in the country to begin with, they do not have much time to set up these tele-sessions. The technologies might also be difficult for the doctors to use. Other obvious barriers to this method of healthcare include the absence of affordable and reliable telecommunications and the power infrastructure. Internet also costs a good deal of money, and might be delayed. With all of these challenges, there must be a strong commitment in order to make telemedicine more mainstream. In this article’s abstract it was expressed that the universities and higher education have a great role in assisting with these sorts of initiatives. How do you think universities can make lasting contributions to projects such as these? What do envision as the future of telemedicine?

Micro Grids & Mobile Phones

While some dismiss mobile phones as toys for entertainment, they are seen as more of a tool for subsistence in countries like India. Electricity is one of the most problematic barriers to mobile phone access in developing nations. Remote areas are not connected to the grid, and the closest area that is could be hundreds of miles away.  Rather than letting this lack of infrastructure deter development, an organization known as Mera Gao Power is helping one of the poorest states in India develop a micro-grid.

Rather than having one large, central plant produce all the power for a region and then distribute it, a micro-grid allows many small energy sources to produce energy for nearby facilities. This type of energy supply is very fitting for villages in Uttar Pradesh, because they typically require very little energy, so a relatively small setup is sufficient for two very important needs: lighting and phone charging.

In a village of 100 households, four solar panels produce enough energy to supply both light and mobile charging. Since they use very little of the energy that is produced during the day, it is fed back into the energy grid and stored in a bank of batteries so it can be used when it gets dark. This allows users to have lighting rather than relying on kerosene lamps at night, and to charge their phone at any time.

One point that should be made is that most developing countries lack conventional utilities (with power plants, a region-wide energy grid, etc.), so small to medium scale solar project make much more sense. It’s not going to be profitable for a company to take on the financial burden of connecting remote areas to the energy grid since those areas use so little energy.  The cost of building that infrastructure would take an extremely long time to be paid back since users in those areas simply won’t need (or be able to afford) a sizable power supply. Generation on a smaller scale, such as through solar setups, can provide a consistent power supply without a heavy investment in costly infrastructure.

While this setup may have some drawbacks (same inefficiency, investment, etc.), I think that it puts a fine point on how important mobile phones have become. This program and others like it tout a reliable energy supply as a means to having light and the ability to charge mobile phones. The fact that mobile phones were one of the primary considerations is very telling.

Link to article: “Indians villagers’ lives transformed by new energy delivery system

OLPC Applications in Burkina Faso

Warschauer and Ames’s article, Can One Laptop per Child Save the World’s Poor?, provides insight into the many flaws of the OLPC initiative. Though the program has good intentions, “the poorest countries targeted by OLPC cannot afford laptop computers for all their children and would be better off building schools, training teachers, developing curricula, providing books and subsidizing attendance” (Warschauer and Ames, 34). In February of 2008, three years following the launch of the OLPC initiative, the national knowledge sharing platform on ICT4D (NTIC) in Burkina Faso held a workshop to discuss the possible implementation of the program in Burkina’s education sector. The workshop provided sector experts the chance to demonstrate and discuss the usefulness of the specialized XO computer. After much heated debate, it was decided that the OLPC could not successfully be integrated into the education sector at that time.

On the surface, the XO computer seemed like the perfect solution for connecting kids in developing countries– it was cheap, small, rugged, and efficient. Very little power was needed for it to run and it could withstand the harsh environmental conditions of countries like Burkina Faso. The open source software and content meant that users could alter programs and expand on existing software, but what the program failed to account for was the lack of capacity in the targeted countries to support, maintain, and rebuild various parts of the XO computers when they broke down. The problems encountered with this top-down distributing laptops approach brought about many questions for the Burkina NTIC to focus on. Would the OLPC meet the needs of the schools and people in the educational sector in Burkina Faso, what were the pros of the system, what were the cons, how would the program be introduced, and when would be the right time to introduce it?

It was determined that even though the laptop would increase access to knowledge, enable people to take part in the information society, introduce children to technology at a young age, and withstand harsh environments better than an ordinary computer, the OLPC could not be successfully applied in Burkina Faso because it needed to be adapted to local needs.

The OLPC would not be useful in Burkina Faso for many reasons. Foremost the current infrastructure, ie. bad connectivity, lack of energy, etc., could not support the OLPC. There are no resources available for technical maintenance of the laptop, and there are other problems within the educational sector that are much more pressing (lack of school rooms and bad working conditions for teachers).

In the end, the workshop led more to discussions about how ICTs might be used in the Burkina education system; the focus was on changing teaching methods rather than on the use of the OLPC itself. It was concluded that substantial efforts must be made to improve infrastructure, teacher training, curriculum development, and technical support networks before a program like OLPC could be successfully introduced to the nation. For the OLPC to work, both teachers and students should be trained to work with the software/hardware. OLPCs should first be distributed through community centers rather than just among children aged 6-12, and the content should be adapted to existing educational curricula. Further, the maintenance and life-expectancy of the computer parts also need to be improved.

Even “developed” countries do not have the means to buy a computer for every single child, so how do we expect the OLPC to reach everyone among the poorest of the poor? Only a few years ago, people did not ever think that a mobile network could be successfully implemented into countries like Burkina Faso, but look where we are today. Over 90% of people worldwide now own or have access to a mobile phone– maybe someday that same 90% will be able to own or access a computer and internet. It may be far off, but with some much-needed changes and re-considerations, the OLPC could provide a platform off which to grow connectivity around the world.

For more information and specific findings for the Burkina NTIC conference, follow this link.

The Importance of Existing Infrastructure in Implementing Smart Grid Technology

As we have discussed at length in class, the extent of a country’s initial infrastructure plays a huge role in determining which technologies are appropriate for that region’s context. In the case of Smart Grids (efficient power grids that effectively utilize solar power and minimize wasted energy), existing infrastructure is similarly vital. As a news article in Renew Grid Magazine explains, private companies are flocking to invest in smart grid technology in the Asian Pacific, Singapore, and Australia because of extensive infrastructure, high technology acceptance, and advanced software. In addition, the establishment of these new systems has created a large market for telecom operators and equipment manufacturers.

This Article demonstrates how vital the current state of ICT infrastructure is to the future of developing countries. From the business perspective of development, it becomes clear that certain technologies must be in place for further technology spread to be funded. In effect, this means that the poorest countries are likely to be neglected from the plans of private tech companies. In the case of smart grids, which, once implemented, make ICTs more prevalent and efficient, ICT infrastructure must be in place to fuel further infrastructure development. Although we discussed the importance of infrastructure for starting novel ICTs, it is also essentially vital private investment and subsequent economic growth. Although the incipient information societies of the poorest countries offer little economic or social benefit to spending money on ICTs, this spending may be necessary for these countries’ future development. The link to the article is below:


Mobile Phone Challenges in Brazil

Brazil is an emerging economy that has blossomed over the last few years with the help of ICTs. However, as this article from the economist points out, that technology is now threatening to greatly harm Brazil’s economy. The big mobile companies in Brazil have faltered with regards to increasing capacity, hurting call quality and in turn reducing profits. People in Brazil are fed up with the awful quality of phone service, calling mobile telephony Brazil’s “most moaned about product.” The article sites a very interesting study for development purposes that says that raising mobile mobile phone penetration in developing countries by ten percent can increase GDP by 0.8% per year. Despite the statistic that 87% of Brazilians have phones, the fact that much of the country is severely lacking in service means that they are leaving much of this growth on the table. This is a huge problem for development in Brazil moving forward. This is especially true considering the fact that both the World Cup and the Olympics will be held in the country in the next 4 years. What should be opportunities to showcase the growth of the Latin American nation could instead turn into ugly black eyes for the nation if thousands who flock to watch and cover the events are constantly frustrated by poor cell phone service.

The article is a reminder that simply increasing cell phone penetration in a developing country is not enough to create development. Creating infrastructure is just as important for implementing new technologies as the technologies themselves. With mobile phones becoming the most important interface of ICTs as much attention must be paid to ensuring the correct infrastructure is in place to implement devices. This is a key area for Brazil to aid development and bears watching into the future.

The Humanure Power Project and Grappling With Infrastructure Deficiency in Development.

Janine’s recent post about the high level “need” for mobile phones which people in the developing world express vs. the less voiced (or perceived) “need” for toilets and sanitation facilities sparked a memory of an experience and a moral dilemma in development which relates to this week’s topics and themes which I’d like to share and open for comments/discussion.

One of the most celebrated development projects to come out of Tulane recently is the Humanure Power Project (HPP), designed by Tulane undergrad and grad students. The group won a substantial grant from the Dell Social Innovation Challenge to implement their idea for a business which would simultaneously address the energy and sanitation needs of communities in rural India. Community toilets will be constructed for public use, and the waste generated by them will be used to power 12V batteries, which community members may purchase and recharge to replace commonly used (and far more expensive) kerosene lamps. Initially, I thought this was a brilliant, creative, and sustainable innovation, and I proudly integrated it into presentations when I needed to explain the concept of social innovation in development to unfamiliar audiences.

At one recent presentation, I showed the HPP video and touted its development potential to a group of Tulane students, then hung around to take questions or comments afterward. One girl came up and shared her critical take on the extent to which the project serves the energy needs of communities. She first expressed doubt as to the efficiency of using human waste for power production (her uncle collects it and runs a program to convert it to plant fertilizer and bolster the Indian agriculture industry instead), then raised another issue which struck a chord. “Why should they want tiny batteries for power?” she asked, “They deserve real energy infrastructure.”

While the connection of toilets and biogas generators is innovative and, in my opinion, a small step in the right direction for extremely disadvantaged communities, I have to agree with the girl’s concern. As Unwin mentions, energy infrastructure provides such a platform for further development, and how much of it are we giving up if we provide only handheld batteries? On the other hand, HPP is providing much-needed sanitation facilities and stimulating commerce in the communities where it will operate, and when funds are limited and in-debt college grads take to the stage of development, its tough to argue with, “Well at least we’re doing something!”

Much of the dilemmas in development come from the deficiencies in foreign governments- particularly when it comes to infrastructure, which we have discussed in class as an essential consideration (if not prerequisite) for successful ICT4D work. But development practitioners know from experience that often if you’re waiting for governments to “get the job done,” in many cases, you shouldn’t hold your breath. Small, private-sector initiatives may offer more efficient and quick solutions. The question is, where do we draw the line and say “this energy source is good enough for now, in these circumstances?” How do we balance limited resources and feasibility with the idea that everyone deserves a sufficient energy infrastructure?

Infrastructure Challenges in the Western Cape

  • Cape Town’s ICT professionals want to make the city Africa’s “Silicon Valley,” or a hub of new and innovative ICT technologies
  • But ICT infrastructure and the high price of broadband are holding the Western Cape back from its full potential in the ICT sector
  • The Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille began plans to create the world’s largest mesh network in the Western Cape to accommodate the area’s lofty ICT goals
  • In order to improve the ICT infrastructure and broadband there must be an effort between the Government and the private sector to move the province forward
  • New infrastructure in the region could push forward the ICT potential in South Africa and the rest of the continent and create a center for African ICT entrepreneurs to improve the very backwards current African standards of ICT
  • In the discussion of ICT infrastructure it is important to consider the environment that the technology is in and it is important to consider the financial and educational capacity of those using ICTs for the technology to be successful. The Western Cape is one of the most developed areas of South Africa and of the rest of the continent. This area could very well play a key role in furthering all of Africa’s ICT goals by becoming the continent’s equivalent of Silicon Valley