Understanding e-Waste Management in Developing Countries

2 February 2016 Leave a comment

Organisations are the largest consumers of ICTs and the largest producers of e-waste.  But what shapes their e-waste decisions?  Why do some recycle, others donate, and others dispose?

To understand this, research in the Centre for Development Informatics by Loga Subramanian first categorised four different e-waste strategies:

  • Indifferent: the organisation does not adopt any strategic position in relation to e-waste.
  • Reactive: the organisation adopts the minimum e-waste strategy necessary to react to its context.
  • Proactive: the organisation pushes its e-waste strategy ahead of the basic reactive minimum.
  • Innovative: the organisation sees e-waste as an opportunity and adopts an innovative strategy in order to address that opportunity.

eWaste Strategies

To explain these differences, a six-factor model was developed of e-waste strategy determinants.  Key external determinants were:

  • Government regulation: in particular the threat of fines and other costs associated with non-compliance with environmental regulations.
  • Peer pressure: especially where there is some form of sectoral association.
  • Client requirements: where these include a need for particular environmental standards or actions.
  • Corporate reputation/brand image: given environmental actions are seen to directly correlate to image and reputation.

Key internal determinants were:

  • Financial impact: the financial implications of e-waste decisions.
  • Organisational culture/leadership: the complex of values, beliefs, assumptions and symbols which organisational leaders promote and which shape all decisions and actions.

eWaste Strategy Determinants

Applying this model to India’s largest e-waste producer – the ICT sector – Loga found a significant difference in strategies between different organisations:

  • Very large firms adopted a proactive strategy, driven by significant internal and external pressures that reflected their position within global value chains.
  • By contrast, ICT sector SMEs were largely indifferent to e-waste, felt few external pressures due to their position within localised value chains, and typically used informal channels that produced some financial return on their scrap ICT.

Given these insights, what are the policy implications?  Current legislative approaches – transferred from the global North and based on the principle of extended producer responsibility – are unlikely to help.  e-Waste recyclers must be brought into the legislative and financial equation.  SMEs must be placed within the purview of legislation (they are currently exempt), and SME associations must place e-waste onto their agenda.

If you would like to know more, please refer to the journal article reporting this research, published in the journal, Information Technology for Development and available via open access: “Understanding e-Waste Management in Developing Countries”.

Digital Dividends: Thoughts on the 2016 World Development Report

13 January 2016 Leave a comment

Some years back, helping run a session at the World Bank, I introduced myself to a table of participants.  “Oh yes”, came the sniffy response, “you’re the ICT failure guy”.  This was a World Bank that believed in – and heavily promoted – the development benefits of ICTs, and had little time for any contrary evidence.

Judging from this year’s World Development Report – “Digital Dividends” – that rose-tinted optimism has been replaced by a much more realistic, and somewhat downbeat, perspective on ICT4D; a perspective that’s emerged from strong engagement with the current evidence base.

Three Divides

WDR2016 is a tale of three divides.

The first is an impact divide: a gap between ICT’s widespread diffusion and its actual delivery of benefits – the “digital dividends” of the title.  As one would expect, the Report does a great job of laying out those dividends, particularly through pithy frameworks and graphics.  It shows the way in which ICT affordances of efficiency, inclusivity and innovation have driven productivity, growth and jobs in the economic sphere, and more capable and responsive governments in the political sphere.

Yet alongside the digital dividend has come:

  • a digital deficit: inequalities in the distribution of these benefits with a few “haves”, many “have nots”, and far more “have lesses”; and
  • digital ills: cybercrime and curtailment of online freedoms that sit beside the ICT4D unmentionable, online pornography.

The cause of these problems – at least the digital deficit – is the two other divides.

The digital divide is familiar territory: the problems of accessibility and affordability with customary prescriptions that mix competition and regulation, and at least a mention for the applicability problems that arise from digital illiteracy.  But of more interest is the strong recognition that a social divide is the main determinant of the pattern of ICT4D impacts: a gap between the regulations, skills, and institutions needed to deliver digital dividends for all vs. the actual regulations, skills and institutions present within developing countries.

Those who believe in a contextualised, socio-technical approach to ICT4D will nod along to all this.  Even the consequent prescriptions – “regulations that allow firms to connect and compete; skills that technology augments rather than replaces; and institutions that are capable and accountable” – while they have an expected flavour of neo-liberalism, constitute a broader digital policy agenda than often promoted in the past by the World Bank.

Digital Development

This broader agenda reflects a bigger picture issue: the Report is one more marker of the transition from “ICT4D” to “digital development”.  The absence of ICT4D (it gets no mentions save a bibliographic reference to one of my papers) in favour of digital development is more than just a change in terminology but – as I’ve written in an earlier report (see here for edited version) – reflects the slow change from ICTs being a tool that assists development to their being the platform that mediates development.

The agenda for digital development will be substantially shaped by the Sustainable Development Goals, with their three essentials of transformation, inclusion and sustainability:

  • As noted above, WDR2016 identifies how much ICTs have already delivered; how reality has so far undershot the transformative potential of ICTs, due to technical and social divides; but also what the solutions might be.
  • Inclusion – or rather lack thereof – is also a key Report theme, citing concentration of economic and political power, state and corporate control of citizens, and inequality of economic impacts. The Report’s focus on economic and political domains means it has much less to say about ICTs and inequalities in other domains such as social and family and cultural life.  It is also rather mixed in its perspective on ICTs and inclusion: at times arguing inequalities “persist, not because of digital technologies, but in spite of them”, but in other places explaining how ICTs have facilitated digital monopolies, automation of middle-income jobs, and digital authoritarianism.
  • Sustainability and its operationalisation through resilience gets a brief acknowledgement but – as I’ve noted in my “ICT4D2016” paper – much remains to be done to really get a grip on the coming e-sustainability and e-resilience agenda.

The practice of digital development will be substantially shaped by Development 2.0: the ICT-enabled innovations that challenge existing development structures and processes: users as digital producers, the power of the crowd, digital participation, network structures, data-intensive development, and open development.  In largely reviewing the existing evidence base, “Digital Dividends” has less to say about these.  But they are identifiable within the Report as part of the coming flow.

WDR1998/99 (“Knowledge for Development”) had an important impact in kick-starting ICT4D.  WDR2016 faces a different world – one far more mature, and perhaps a little jaded in its experience of ICTs and development, but it reflects this evolution well and will be a vital pointer for the “digital development” future.

 

Disclosure: I was an invited Advisory Panel member for WDR2016.

Discussing ICTs and the SDGs

Now the Sustainable Development Goals are with us, what are the implications for ICT4D?  A recent discussion held by members of the Centre for Development Informatics gave some pointers.

The MDGs have run their course, achieving a mixed bag of success. The post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – an ambitious set of 17 goals and 169 targets – take over the proverbial baton in the global race towards achieving, what has been described as “the world we want”. There are criticisms of the efficacy of these types of goals and the processes by which they are derived.  But they provide a starting point and framework around which actors with varied mandates can gather. Indeed, the SDGs have already begun to shape the development discourse, development models and development funding mechanisms.

The discussion was initially motivated by a blog post from Tim Unwin where he critiques the limited role of ICTs within the SDGs.  While several discussants sympathised with many of the points raised in Unwin’s article, others took an alternate view. Too great a presence for ICTs could risk re-kindling the ICT4D hype-cycles that generated unrealistic expectations in the 1990s and early 2000s. If the telecentre age taught us anything, it is that overemphasising the ability of ICTs to generate development outcomes is counterproductive for developing communities, as well as for donor and ICT communities.

Others argued that the low profile for ICTs was encouraging because it reflected the times in which the SDGs were written: a recognition of the embeddedness and pervasiveness of ICTs within a progressively digital society. Consequently, not only are ICTs now seen as instrumental, they have become a platform through which development activities are increasingly mediated. For instance, even if not explicitly mentioned, it is impossible to conceive effective environmental monitoring that does not involve sensors, satellite imaging, and a solid infrastructure to handle the data generated. Additionally, ICTs are now raising development issues of their very own: digital identities, digital exclusion, privacy and security come to mind.

Another theme we tackled was the relationship between the SDGs and ICT4D research. The questions considered included: “Do we obtain our research agenda from the SDGs or from what we see happening in the world of ICTs? Should the engagement of the ICT4D academic community with our peers in policy and practice be informed by the SDGs?”.

There was consensus that, while the SDGs might not necessarily drive ICT4D research agendas, they can provide a vehicle and language through which we can make more explicit linkages between our research and the development issues of our day. Developmental progress is often seen to result from changes in behaviour. Identifying and fostering the factors that cause or inhibit behavioural change are, therefore, integral to development planning and policy-making. ICT4D researchers can improve the support we offer to policy, practitioner and entrepreneurial colleagues by providing better evidence of how ICTs impact behavioural changes that are aligned with the realisation of the SDGs. Therefore, we discussed the need for ICT4D researchers to become more adept at discerning issues of causality around human behaviour and ICTs.

As researchers motivated by global inequality and pressing social concerns, we felt our work should not just focus on addressing knowledge gaps but development gaps. Here, the SDGs provide guidance. Case in point, Goal 13 calls for urgent action against climate change and its impacts and a recent survey of ICT4D research identified significant gaps in our knowledge about ICTs, the environment and climate change. So, if you have a particular concern for the environment (perhaps we all should?) and are keen on starting a PhD, this might be an area on which to focus.

The example above highlights bigger questions about the relationship between knowledge gaps and development priorities and how knowledge gaps around particular development priorities, such as climate change, have remained scarcely addressed within our field. On this theme, we focused on how the SDGs can be used to bridge these gaps and priorities. One practical approach for academics and anyone interested in addressing development priorities within the ICT4D space – practitioner, policy maker, entrepreneur or combination – is to use the SDGs as a stepping stone to find that unique point where the wider social concerns of development, our desire to make a difference (personal actualisation), and sustainable mechanisms (through business, NGO, public agency, etc) intersect.

ICT4D Brown Bag Priorities

On Addressing Development Priorities through­ ICT4D

These are just a few ideas. We are curious to hear what others have to say and welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.

Written by Ritse Erumi, Juan Gomez and Ryo Seo-Zindy (CDI PhD Researchers)

Stakeholder Analysis of Open Government Data Initiatives

17 December 2015 Leave a comment

Many different actors are involved in open government data (OGD) initiatives, and it can be hard to understand the different roles they play.

Stakeholder analysis can help, such as mapping onto a power-interest grid (see example below).  This analyses stakeholders according to their power to impact the development and implementation of open government data, and their level of interest in OGD.  The former measured via a typical sources-of-power checklist: reward, coercive, legitimate, expert, personal, informational, affiliative.  The latter measured via text analysis of stakeholder statements.

Primary stakeholders are “those who have formal, official, or contractual relationships and have a direct and necessary… impact” (Savage et al., 1991:62). Others who affect or are affected by OGD but less formally and directly and essentially, can be categorised as secondary.

Applying this to Chile’s open government data initiative produced the mapping shown in the figure.

OGD Stakeholders

 

We can draw two conclusions.  First, that OGD in Chile has been mostly determined from within government. Second, that it has otherwise been shaped rather more by international than national forces.

Three absent stakeholders can be noted:

  • The local private sector is not an active part of the ecosystem at present, restricting options to derive economic value from OGD.
  • Citizens are not active in discussion or use of open government data, restricting options to derive political value from OGD.
  • Multinational firms and investors are not directly involved, but have a tertiary role: they are an audience to whom the presence and progress of OGD is sometimes projected.

In sum, this is an “inwards and upwards” pattern of open government data which is shaping OGD’s trajectory in the country.  Government is the “sun” and other stakeholders merely “planets”, so that perspectives and agendas within government dominate. One agenda is to broadcast signals of democracy to the outside world.

In facing “upwards” to these external stakeholders, what matters most is an appearance of transparency. This can be satisfied by the presence of datasets, some empowerment and accountability rhetoric in pronouncements, and membership of the Open Government Partnership and adherence to its minimum standards. This is not to say that government stakeholders care nothing for delivery of results; simply that the external audience-related incentives are much stronger for appearance than fulfilment.

Stakeholder analysis should therefore be a fundamental tool for open government data researchers and practitioners; helping them to understand the identities, strengths and weaknesses of key OGD actors.

This research is reported in more detail in: Gonzalez-Zapata, F. & Heeks, R. (2015) The multiple meanings of open government data: understanding different stakeholders and their perspectives, Government Information Quarterly, 32(4), 441-452

The Multiple Meanings of Open Government Data

14 December 2015 Leave a comment

Many different stakeholders are engaged with open government data (OGD) initiatives, and they understand OGD differently.  In what way?

Recent research from the University of Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics identifies four different perspectives that derive from OGD’s conceptual foundations (see figure):

  • The bureaucratic perspective – associated with ideas of government data – sees OGD as a government policy that uses greater data management efficiency and effectiveness to improve public service delivery.
  • The technological perspective – associated with ideas of open data – sees OGD as a technological innovation that improves the functional qualities of government data infrastructure.
  • The political perspective – associated with ideas of open government – sees OGD as akin to a fundamental right that will empower citizens and improve transparency and accountability of government to citizens.
  • The economic perspective – emergent from the ideas of open government data itself – sees OGD as a means to create additional economic value through new products and services.

OGD Perspectives

This perspectives model was applied – via template analysis of text from reports and interviews – to analyse open government data in Chile, which was one of the second cohort of Open Government Partnership members.

Analysis showed a dominance of bureaucratic and political perspectives. The technological and economic perspectives are present but they are not really incorporated into the mainstream discourse around policy and strategy on OGD in Chile. This reflects the lack of voice for technical experts and private firms within that discourse.

Looking at the two principal perspectives, there is the sense of a mirror image. The bureaucratic perspective is strongest within government and is shared to some degree by international organisations and local activists. The political perspective is strongest outside government via international organisations and local activists and is shared to some degree by government stakeholders.

Within government, the political perspective is used particularly for outwards messages around the values of OGD that are broadcast to international stakeholders.  But the bureaucratic perspective prevails in internal discourse around the administration and implementation of OGD.  With the bureaucratic perspective therefore dominating implementation, it can be argued that the political perspective reflects aspiration but the bureaucratic perspective reflects reality; a reality that has therefore not yet fully delivered on the political or economic potential of OGD.

Using this analytical model as a lens to examine specific OGD contexts will help those involved understand themselves, those they work with, and how best to manage the different identities and values of all OGD stakeholders.  We therefore invite others to repeat this perspectives analysis in other countries.

This research is reported in more detail in: Gonzalez-Zapata, F. & Heeks, R. (2015) The multiple meanings of open government data: understanding different stakeholders and their perspectives, Government Information Quarterly, 32(4), 441-452

Data-X Development: What’s In A Name?

16 November 2015 3 comments

What should we call the growing presence of data in international development?

That’s a question I posed on the ICT4D Facebook group.

Though #datarev is a popular hashtag, “data revolution …” did not arise, and just as well – it is naive hyperbole to suggest data is going to transform development structures.

The proposed terms fall into four orientation categories.

1. Goal-oriented terms. The main one here is “data for development” which is admirable in focusing on the purpose of the data, and in offering a ready-made acronym – D4D – which I’ve talked about earlier. It’s moderately-popular, partly thanks to Orange’s D4D Challenge, and has a nice continuity with ICT4D.  The term is new, but the main problem is its failure to reflect the changing role of data in development – data has always been used for development purposes.

2. Facilitation-oriented terms, especially “data-enabled development” (DED) (data-facilitated, data-catalysed as synonyms). This has the same problem as D4D: per se, the term gives no sense of the change that has occurred. And DED has no presence in the field as a term.

3. Impetus-oriented terms, especially “data-driven development” (DDD) (data-centric as a synonym). This has some presence in the field, though less so than D4D, with – for example – a World Economic Forum group and report on DDD, and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data having some commitment to the term. I’m guessing this will become more widely-adopted – “data-driven” already has Wikipedia entries for equivalents such as data-driven journalism.  However, it rings many alarm bells in placing too much deterministic emphasis on data as an agent in development – put simply, people not data drive development.

4. Change-oriented terms, especially “data-intensive development” (DID) (data-rich as a synonym). The great thing about this term is that it explains what is new and different – that data is playing a greater role in development decisions and processes – without so-much falling into traps of determinism and value judgement. I think “data-intensive development” is the most appropriate of the terms on offer.  As yet it is little-used, so the only way is up . . .

If you’ve got a better suggestion, you’re welcome to say what it is and why it’s better.

Actor-Network Theory, Technology and Development

What can actor-network theory offer to our understanding of technology and development?

This blog entry summarises the answer from an open access paper in the journal Development Studies Research: “Technological Change in Developing Countries: Opening the Black Box of Process Using Actor–Network Theory”, and it builds on an earlier entry on ANT and development.

Technology rather dropped from the development agenda during the 1980s and 1990s, but has re-emerged strongly in the 21st century; not least due to the spectacular diffusion of ICTs.

Yet, to date, conceptualisation of technological change in developing countries has had three problematic gaps:

  • It has been de-humanised: organisations are recognised as actors but people – as identifiable individuals with agency – rarely appear in the technology and development literature.
  • Technology may be understood as a physical artefact, as a system of elements, as the embodiment of knowledge. But it is not seen as playing any active role: technology is acted-upon but is not itself acting.
  • Research has tended to study factors or social structures affecting processes of technological change. But it does not describe those processes in detail: actual practices of change tend to be black-boxed.

In sum, research to date has typically stood outside the technology processes it seeks to investigate; freezing them in time and concealing their main actors.

As luck would have it, these are just the kind of lacunae that actor-network theory was intended to address.  Yet application of ANT to cases of technological change in developing countries has been rare; and within development studies literature, almost non-existent.  So new ANT-based case studies of technology and development are required to assess what insights actor-network theory can offer.

One such case study – applying Callon’s “moments of translation” to a digital information system in the Sri Lankan public sector – is presented in the Development Studies Research paper (which should be accessed for full details).  It finds that an initial network supporting technological change fell apart in mid-project, and had to be reconstructed around a new technology design and a new vision for future change.

Three challenges emerged in applying ANT:

  • Methodological: admission of subjectivity in framing an ANT-based case, and problems of thinning out detail to fit a journal-length account.
  • Analytical: that ANT can provide a rich description of how things happen, but stutters in seeking to analyse why.
  • Instrumental: the difficulty of extracting practical guidance from ANT other than rather “Machiavellian” prescriptions.

On the other hand, the case analysis shows that ANT can open the black box of technological change processes and offer new insights:

  • Networks: explaining the networks of relations that both support and oppose technological change, and also the detailed process by which they come to be formed, dissolved, etc.
  • Technology: exposing the active role that technology plays in international development – shaping, enabling, co-operating, resisting, etc.
  • Human practices: providing a detailed account of the role played by individuals and groups in technological change; particularly the way in which lead actors modify the perceived interests and even identities of others involved.

ANT therefore shows us not just that human interests, identities and relations change in a technology-and-development project; it also explains in what way they change, how it is that those changes come about, and how they relate to the project’s trajectory.

The case analysis shows that ANT will not help answer questions about the impact of context on technological process, or about the developmental impact (in the traditional sense) of technology. However, it may help to answer questions such as:

  • How do we explain the trajectory of a technology and development project?
  • How does a particular innovation in a developing country diffuse, scale up or sink without trace?
  • What role does technology play in processes of technological change?
  • How does power manifest itself in such processes? How are apparently relatively powerless actors sometimes able to influence the direction of technological change? How are apparently relatively powerful actors sometimes not able to get their way on a technology project?

As the technology used in development becomes more complex, more interconnected, more intertwined into the lives and livelihoods of developing communities, and changing at an ever-faster pace; then ANT will likely become more relevant and more useful as a conceptual frame.

 

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