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ICT4D 2.0: Where Next for ICTs and Development?

31 August 2009 5 comments

Are we seeing a phase change in use of ICTs for international development?

The “ICT4D 2.0 Manifesto” (http://bit.ly/W6y4a) argues that we are; moving from phase 1 (late-1990s to late-2000s) to phase 2 (late-2000s on).

The paper outlines some of the emerging characteristics of ICT4D 2.0, based on research from the University of Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics, and other sources.  Feel welcome to comment and add your own observations to this list:

a)    New Hardware Priorities: a need for innovation around low-cost, broad-reach terminals, telecommunications, and power.  A need to bring the hardware success story of the last decade – mobiles – even more centre stage.  The paper also discusses implications of broadband, cloud computing, and individualisation of hardware devices.

b)    New Application Priorities: the growth of participatory content creation, and the use of ICTs to create new income and employment for the world’s poor.  The paper also discusses implications of FOSS, and the growth of applications to address urban poverty, security, economic growth, and climate change.

c)     New Innovation Models: the growing need for – and potential of – innovation that moves beyond top-down, laboratory-type models.  This includes collaborative (para-poor) models that work alongside poor communities.  It also means greater attention to the grassroots (per-poor) innovation that is arising from within those communities.  The paper also discusses the new innovation intermediaries that are emerging in private and NGO sectors.

d)    New Implementation Models: based on the limitations of ICT4D 1.0 projects, there will be greater emphasis on sustainability, scalability and ICT4D project evaluation.  This will necessitate more process than blueprint approaches to implementation, and better techniques for closing design—reality gaps.  The paper also discusses new funding mechanisms and new organisation forms that are increasingly seen.

e)    New Worldviews: effective ICT4D 2.0 policies, strategies and projects will require “tribrid” champions.  They must understand enough about the three domains of computer science, information systems, and development studies to draw key lessons and to interact with and manage domain professionals.  Training programmes and working group formation must reflect this need.

The paper also discusses the need to move beyond ICT4D mainstreaming, to plan ICT4D policy structure and process as much as content, to engage with the growing “Development 2.0” agenda, and to shape ICT4D research priorities accordingly.

Above all, it argues, ICT4D 2.0 will require a new worldview of the poor; no longer characterising them as passive consumers but, instead, seeing them relate to ICT as active producers and active innovators.

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Attitudes to Science and Technology: Global South vs. Global North

Here’s an interesting piece of research on attitudes to science and technology in different countries from the Relevance of Science Education project that surveyed 14-16 year olds in 25 countries.  Countries covered were (roughly) low-income African (e.g. Uganda); low/mid-income Asian (e.g. India); high-income European (e.g. England).

There are three main findings:

– There is a significant inverse relationship between level of development (human development index score) and the rated importance and benefits of science and technology to society; though the decline from global South to global North is relatively small.

– There is a significant inverse relationship between level of development and desire to work with technology.  The differences are quite large: African and Asian youth are on average positively inclined; European youth negatively so.

– The gender gap in attitudes to science and technology is greater in industrialised countries than in developing countries; very significantly so in relation to getting a technology-related job.

There’s a generic conclusion.  Given the importance of S&T to economic growth, the global North is in big trouble unless it can keep importing science and technology graduates from the global South.

There’s specific conclusion no.1.  If you’re working on ICTs, focusing on ICT4D is a good bet: you’ll find a more receptive and faster-growing audience for research in developing countries; a more receptive and faster-growing training audience; and those might (er, ignoring the odd structural factor!) be more gender-balanced audiences.

There’s specific conclusion no.2.  Developing country audiences may be more techno-centric and less receptive to information systems-type approaches to ICT4D, which place less emphasis on the technology and which tend to be less optimistic about technology.

And there’s a question.  Why?  Why should it be that the poorer your country, the more positive you feel about and the more you want to work with technology?

Because you’ve been less exposed to technology?  Because you can see that technology makes a real, positive difference to your country’s problems?  Because . . . [fill in your answer here]

(My thanks to Roger Boyle for pointing out this survey.)

China Bans Gold Farming!! … Er … But In Fact It Hasn’t

The blogosphere has been awash with reports of the demise of gold farming (production and real-money sale of virtual currencies, items and accounts in online games), which is big business in China; worth US$1bn per year and perhaps more.  (Click here for the full analytical report on the history, size and trends in gold farming.)

A deep breath and a read of what was actually announced suggests otherwise.

This is a government restriction on the use of the quasi-Paypal-like currencies (mainly QQ coins) that are used extensively in China to pay for virtual game stuff.  As announced they can now only be used to pay for virtual stuff, and you can’t buy real things with them as game companies were allowing to happen, nor can you gamble.  This therefore is not about what gold farming clients do: use real money to buy these virtual currencies; it’s the mirror image.  And it’s not about the major trade in gold farming such as World of Warcraft, which relates to other types of virtual currency.  And it’s not about buying/selling in-game items.  And it’s not about the power-levelling of avatars.  Bottom line: it’s not about gold farming.

Two other things to say.  The Chinese government appears to be this very odd mixture of fantastically effective (think Olympic Games) and fantastically ineffective (think rules on piracy and intellectual property) when it comes to implementation.

Second, this mirrors quite closely something that happened in Korea around 2006 based around a game called “Sea Story”.  A huge amount of gambling and then illicit political payoffs arose around use of the Sea Story currency.  Government then banned trade in virtual currencies.  I’m not aware of any reports about damage to gold farming that resulted and – as might be the case in China – the legislation in Korea may have been as much about political posturing and being seen to be doing something (i.e spin) rather than an implemented reality.

Both these points remind us that announcement is not implementation.  If this regulation does come to fruition, it will relate to finance and defence of the RNB yuan.  Yes, it may affect some types of games in China but, no, it as yet appears unlikely to have much of an impact on gold farming.

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Grassroots ICT4D Innovation

13 June 2009 8 comments

Innovation – especially that associated with ICTs – has often held to a rather traditional R&D model, with the innovation being undertaken in laboratories and research centres based in rich, urban locations.  Viewed from the perspective of those based in the world’s poor communities this is a top-down, outside-in approach.  ICT4D developed this way can often fail because of large “design—reality gaps“: design requirements and assumptions are inscribed into the technology which mismatch on-the-ground community realities.

A common solution to the problems of “laboratory innovation” has been “collaborative innovation”: research outsiders and community insiders working together in some way to develop a new ICT4D application.  Many donor-funded ICT4D innovations work in this way.  A key issue will be the nature of the collaboration and participation of community members: something that does not always run smoothly.

But the steady diffusion of ICTs and ICT-related skills into poor communities has enabled emergence of a third model.  This is “grassroots innovation”: innovation from within the community itself; akin in some ways to the patterns of user-led innovation identified by Eric von Hippel.

The design—reality theory of grassroots innovation is a positive one.  By creating innovation by and within poor communities, their design features will match community realities.  These innovations are therefore more likely to be successful.

That’s the theory, but what about the reality?  Where are the grassroots innovations in ICT4D?

These are questions that I’d invite you to comment on with pointers.

Some anecdotal ideas I already identified in writing about ICT4D 2.0 were:

  • New processes e.g. beeping (or flashing) that allows a message to be communicated without the call being completed.  Street vendors use this to receive free “I want to buy now” messages from known customers.
  • New business models e.g. use of airtime as currency has allowed mobile phones to metamorphose into mobile wallets.  Those who own phones in poor communities have therefore been able to use them for payments or for receipt of remittances from distant relatives.
  • New products e.g. back-street rechipping of phones.  Informal-sector enterprises are emerging that strip and resell the circuitry from high-end phones, replacing it with basic calls-and-SMS-only functionality.  They then sell the resulting high-end-body-with-low-end-organs as a unique hybrid for those who want the latest look but lack the budget to match.

The 2009 IDRC PAN-ALL conference in Penang threw up another new product: the “wokbolic” which can dramatically increase the range of local wi-fi hotspots using a wok, a PVC tube, and some tin foil; doing the job of a parabolic antenna for around one-twentieth of the price.  See: http://bit.ly/CuTdU (Google Translate will make its usual “close but no cigar” job of changing the page from Bahasa Indonesia into English.)

These examples raise a couple of questions:

  • How scalable are these innovations?  Beeping and airtime-currency have spread like wildfire; but others may be more limited.
  • How grassroots are these innovations?  Some uses of mobiles that one sees are clearly developed by the individual users; but others like beeping are viral and came from who knows where originally; others still – such as the story of Pak Gun and wokbolic – are developed by those working with or within poor communities, but who themselves are not (or are no longer) members of those communities.

Nonetheless, as innovation goes hand-in-hand with diffusion, we can look forward to ever-more examples of grassroots ICT4D innovation.

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Bill Gates and ICT4D

18 April 2009 5 comments

I thought I’d report on meeting, talking and listening to Bill Gates today at the ICTD2009 conference in Qatar (pitiful name-dropper though this may make me).

 

First, why does he matter to the ICT4D world?  Because he is financially influential via the Gates Foundation agenda, and the various relevant bits of Microsoft: Unlimited Potential, Community Affairs, MS Research Technology for Emerging Markets, etc.  And because he is strategically influential: when he talks, people listen.  His views on ICT4D therefore make a difference.

 

His views seem to have softened since the earlier notion that he had an “anything-but-ICTs” view towards development and the Gates Foundation agenda.  In fact, his underlying worldview probably hasn’t changed: he is very much metrics-focused, and thus will believe in, argue for, and invest in what he perceives to deliver the best quantitatively-impactful bang for his development buck.  That’s why health is a prime interest – not from any subjective or complex rationale – but simply because that’s where his money can have most measurable impact (in terms of quality of life indicators).

 

Back in the 1990s, when he started to become really engaged with development issues, ICTs had little to offer because the infrastructure was not in place.  Now they’ve become a more important part of delivering measurable outcomes in health, education and governance; they figure more in Gates’ agenda for development.

 

He, nonetheless, remains very un-hyped about ICT4D, recognising the failures, the pilots that will go nowhere, the applications that are not delivering.  And his strongly metrics-based view of development is challenging but also refreshing; particularly for those of us in an academic environment that can sometimes get itself wrapped up in a lot of qualitative and/or post-modern crap.

 

If I was to critique his position, that could potentially come from three directions:

 

i.             A metrics-based view of development can lead to various lacunae; for example, it could struggle to deal with issues like capabilities, rights, politics, and the like.  However, Gates at least has a decent grasp of governance issues.

 

ii.            He is focused on social and (to the extent of transparency) political development, but seems to have much less to say on economic development; despite the centrality of financial poverty to the development agenda.  We discussed this a bit and I was surprised by how antithetical he is to micro-finance, and hard to convince about ICT-enabled micro-enterprise.  It seemed to me the underlying issue here is – perhaps in line with the Jeff Sachs’ view of development – that Bill Gates is only interested in massive-scale solutions.  Again, it’s down to metrics.  Vaccines that can eradicate a disease for the entire world – good; ideas on micro-enterprise that might produce a few tens of thousands of jobs – less of a priority for his money and attention.

 

iii.          This is therefore a top-down, “big development” model.  It is looking for laboratory-developed, massively-scalable innovations.  There is little or no room for more bottom-up, flexible models of the William Easterly-type approach to development.  There is little room for the idea of grassroots-innovations; e.g. looking at the ICT-based adaptations that poor communities are themselves making, and finding ways to harvest, evaluate and scale such innovations.

 

As per my IEEE Computer article on “ICT4D 2.0”, then, the Gates’ view on ICT4D seems rather stuck in a social development/poor-as-consumers mindset; it does not yet encompass a mindset of seeing the poor as active producers and innovators with ICT.

 

But finally, sitting across the table, I found those 1980s photos of him as uber-techno-geek kept crossing my mind; thinking what a long, long way he’s come.  Indeed, he has really metamorphosed since stepping down from full-time work at Microsoft; from a technology guy to a development guy.  But a development guy who, at least in part, will be going round the world inspiring geeks and others to find ways to address technology to the problems of development.  Which can’t be all bad for us ICT4Ders.

 

A video of Bill’s keynote address to the ICTD2009 conference can be found at: http://www.ictd2009.org/outcomes.html

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The Godfather of ICT4D, and ICT4D’s First Computer

1 January 2009 3 comments

When did ICT4D start?  Conventional histories might typically cite the World Bank’s 1998/9 “Knowledge for Development” World Development Report, released in October 1998 (in which case, we should’ve just celebrated ICT4D’s 10th birthday).

 

But the use of digital technologies to achieve development goals goes back much further than that.

 

To 1956, and the installation of the developing world’s first digital computer: the HEC-2M.  It was used to undertake numerical calculations at the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata, including statistical analyses for India’s national plans such as the Second Five-Year Plan (1956-61).  We should thus have already celebrated the golden jubilee of ICT4D.

 

Even more intriguing, one of the original team members that worked with the HEC-2M is in his 70s but still very much around: Prof. Dwijesh Dutta Majumder, who is now Professor Emeritus at the ISI, and currently researching particularly on medical image processing.

 

Unless there are any other nominations, I think Prof. Majumder should be christened the godfather (or perhaps midwife?) of ICT4D.

 

You can find out more about the HEC-2M and Prof. Majumder’s role in a couple of Dataquest articles, one from 1985 and one from 2006.  I am happy to report that the HEC-2M – ICT4D’s first computer – was designed by a professor in a UK university.  (Sadly it wasn’t me and it wasn’t Manchester; it was Prof. Andrew Booth at Birkbeck and the computer was built in the UK by the forerunner of ICL (for whom I used to work, so I can claim some connection!).  More details on Booth’s work here.)

 

Prof. Majumder also recalls that, although not automated and not “proper” computers, the first analogue computers in the developing world were separately but simultaneously developed and demonstrated in 1952 at the ISI and .. .. where else but ICT4D’s mecca, Bangalore, at the Indian Institute of Science.

 

IISc itself doesn’t appear to lay claim to this first, but I like this historical alignment of past and present.

 

Barring new information, India seems to take the ICT4D first computer prize.  For other continents, I can get back to 1960 for both Africa (http://www.ifip.org/36years/m16zw.html) and Latin America (http://www-di.inf.puc-rio.br/~lucena/bio_eng.html).  But I suspect those can be bettered; e.g. O Riain, Sean (2006) Dominance and Change in the Global Computer Industry: Military, Bureaucratic, and Network State Developmentalisms. Studies in Comparative International Development, 41 (1) pp. 76-98 claims the Brazilian Navy installed its first computer in 1958 but no source is given and I can’t find any corroboration.

 

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Impact Assessment of ICT4D Projects

3 December 2008 10 comments

What have we got to show for the billions invested in ICT4D projects?

 

By and large, we’re not sure because relatively little impact assessment of ICT4D projects has been undertaken; and what has been undertaken often lacks clear framing and rigour.

 

Impact assessment is therefore pushing its way up the ICT4D agenda.  For example, a number of ICT4D agencies have IA programmes; perhaps the biggest being the joint Gates Foundation/IDRC IPAI programme.

 

As a feed-in to that programme, staff with the University of Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics created a “Compendium on Impact Assessment of ICT-for-Development Projects”.  IDRC – the sponsor for its creation – has given permission for this Compendium to be shared, and it is attached here (2MB .doc file): idrc-ia-for-ict4d-compendium

 

The Compendium is arranged into three parts:

·        Overview – explains the basis for understanding impact assessment of ICT4D projects (including the ICT4D Value Chain), and the different assessment frameworks that can be used.

·        Frameworks – summarises a series of impact assessment frameworks, each one drawing from a different perspective.

·        Bibliography – a tabular summary of real-world examples of ICT4D impact assessment.

 

This is an ongoing work, and comments or pointers to similar resources are welcome.

 

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