Eko Prasetyo

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Eko works as ICTs for Development Officer/ Digital Technology for Development Officer at Practical Action, UK. Eko specialises in project management and research of ICT-led initiatives. Eko's previous work experience includes researching citizen-generated data for Open Knowledge International, advocating open data for World Wide Web Foundation, and managing mHealth service for Jhpiego as well as eLearning programmes for UNESCO. Eko holds an M.Sc. in ICTs for Development from the University of Manchester, and a BSc of Informatics from Islamic University of Indonesia. Connect Eko on Twitter @talibambu

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Posts by Eko

  • MERL Tech London: What’s Your Organisation’s Take on Data Literacy, Privacy and Ethics?

    March 26th, 2018

    ICTs and data are increasingly being used for monitoring, evaluation, research and learning (MERL). MERL Tech London was an open space for practitioners, techies, researchers and decision makers to discuss their good and not so good experiences. This blogpost is a reflection of the debates that took place during the conference.

    Is data literacy still a thing?

    Data literacy is “the ability to consume for knowledge, produce coherently and think critically about data”. The perception of data literacy varies depending on the stakeholder’s needs. Being data literate for an M&E team, for example, means possessing statistics skills including collecting and combining large data sets. Program team requires different level of data literacy: the competence to carefully interpret and communicate meaningful stories using processed data (or information) to reach the target audiences.

    Data literacy is – and will remain – a priority in development. The current debate is no longer about whether an organisation should use data or not. It’s rather how well the organisation can use data to achieve their objectives. Yet, organisation’s efforts are often concentrated in just one part of the information value chain, data collection. Data collection in itself is not the end goal. Data has to be processed into information and knowledge for making informed decisions and actions.

    This doesn’t necessary imply that the decision making is purely based on data, nor that data can replace the role of decision makers. Quite the opposite: data-informed decision making strikes balance between expertise and information. It also takes data limitations into account. Nevertheless, one can’t become a data-informed organisation without being data literate.

    What’s your organisation’s data strategy?

    The journey of becoming a data-informed organisation can take some time. Poor data quality, duplication efforts and underinvestment are classic obstacles requiring a systematic solution (see Tweet). The commitment from senior management team should be secured for that. Data team has to be established. Staff members need access to relevant data platforms and training. More importantly, the organisation has to embrace the cultural change towards valuing evidence and acting on positive and negative findings

    Organisations seek to balance between (data) demands and priorities. Some invest hundreds of thousands dollars for setting up a data team to articulate the organisation’s needs and priorities, as well as to mobilise technical support. A 3-5 years strategic plan is created to coordinate efforts between country offices.

    Others take a more modest approach. They recruit few data scientists to support MERL activities of analysing particularly large amounts of project data. The data scientist role evolves along the project growth. In both cases, leadership is the key driver for shifting the culture towards becoming a data-informed organisation.

    Should an organisation use certain data because it can?

    The organisation working with data usually faces challenges around privacy, legality, ethics and grey areas, such as bias and power dynamics between data collectors and their target groups. The use of biometric data in humanitarian settings is an example where all these tensions collide. Biometric data, e.g. fingerprint, iris scan, facial recognition – is powerful, yet invasive. While proven beneficial, biometric data is vulnerable to data breach and misuse, e.g. profiling and tracking. The practice raises critical questions: does the target group, e.g. refugees, have the option to refuse handling over their sensitive personal data? If so, will they still be entitled to receive aid assistance? To what extent the target group is aware how their sensitive personal data will be used and shared, including in the unforeseen circumstances?

    The people’s privacy, safety and security are main priorities in any data work. The organisation should uphold the highest standards and set an example. In those countries where regulatory frameworks are lagging behind data and technology, organisations shouldn’t abuse their power. When the risk of using a certain data outweighs the benefits, or in doubt, the organisation should take a pause and ask itself some necessary questions from the perspective of its target groups. Oxfam which dismissed – following two years of internal discussions and intensive research – the idea of using biometric data in any of their project should be seen as a positive example.

    To conclude, the benefits of data can only be realised when an organisation enjoys visionary leadership, sufficient capacity and upholds its principles. No doubts, this is easier being said than done; it requires time and patience. All these efforts, however, are necessary for a high-achieving organisations.

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  • Is blockchain the right technical solution for our projects?

    February 21st, 2018

    I recently met with colleagues who were keen to use blockchain for global development. As you may guess, our conversation started with the key question: Is blockchain the right technical solution for us? 

    Simply put, blockchain is a distributed database that maintains a shared list of records. These records, called blocks, are linked together as a chain. Each block contains encrypted transaction data known as hash, hash from a previous block and a timestamp. When new data added, all records are simultaneously updated to ensure immutability and almost in real-time.

    Blockchain has been named to become next disruptive technology capable of changing the way we trade and interact. The key attributes, including public variability, transparency, privacy and integrity – are what makes blockchain more appealing than centrally managed databases, even despite its downsides, such as high energy consumption, slower processing time, and perhaps, higher cost.

    There are two versions of blockchain. A permissionless blockchain, like bitcoin, allows anyone writing and reading the blockchain/database; there’s no central entity managing the membership. In contrast, a permissioned blockchain allows only a limited number of users to have access (write and read) to the database.

    Donors, non-profit organisations and tech companies are exploring – designing, testing and researching – blockchain technology for development. BanQu use blockchain to create a digital identity for refugees. The Start Network and Disberse are experimenting with blockchain for transferring grants. UNICEF Innovation will fund blockchain startups. More use cases of blockchain for development are likely to emerge as its popularity increases (or is it hype?).

    Do we need blockchain in the first place?

    Blockchain is “a machine for building trust” which can provide a high degree of accountability. Using blockchain, in principle, “only makes sense when multiple mutually mistrusting entities want to interact and change the state of a system” (Wüst and Gervais, 2017). And, when (an online) middleman – in blockchain usually called a Trusted Third Party (TTP) – is not available to facilitate the interaction.

    The flow chart below describes steps for determining whether blockchain is appropriate for our projects.

    Flow chart: Do we need blockchains? (source: Wüst and Gervais, 20172)

    Flow chart: Do we need blockchains? (source: Wüst and Gervais, 2017)

    As previously discussed, blockchain is a form of a database. Therefore, it is suitable and can add value to the projects which requires a database in the first place. Writers correspond to entities or consensus users with the write access to the database. If there is only one writer, blockchain is not needed. If a TTP is available, but usually offline, it can act as a certificate authority in a permissioned blockchain. If the writers are known (or registered) and mutually trust each other, a centrally managed database with the shared write access is most suitable.

    What are other factors to consider?

    When implementing a technology intervention, we need to look at enabling environment: factors that can accelerate or hinder a project implementation.

    If the answer of the previous exercise is yes, i.e. we need blockchain, we should combine the assessment with the following questions:

    • What are the skills and capacities of a project implementer to initiate and maintain blockchain technology (in the long run)?
    • How blockchain technology challenges – standard and interoperability – will be solved?
    • What and how the government policies and regulations may impact blockchain adoption?
    • What ethical considerations of testing blockchain on vulnerable citizens should be taken into account?
    • What are the potential outputs, outcomes and development impacts – both positive and negative – of blockchain technology? Who will benefit from the blockchain application most?
    • If blockchain technology eliminates or reduces the role of TTP, what are the implications for development actors (organisations, government and private companies)?
    • How to ensure the blockchain technology does not exacerbate the digital divide?

    Where to look for more information?

    In the UK, the newly established Charities Working Group on Distributed Ledger Technology meets once a month to identify practical steps for blockchain application in the sector. The upcoming Bond Annual Conference 2018 and MERL Tech London 2018 will have sessions on the potential blockchain impact on development.

    In addition, reports from GSMA, Open Data Institute and Institute Development Studies provide some guidance for a non-technical audience who seek to understand blockchain in the policy context.

    Blockchain is a new and complex technology. Its application provides both opportunities and challenges. Some organisations may seize the momentum by developing a proof of the concept. Others may prefer to wait until the technology has matured. Regardless the decision, we need to avoid the hype and look carefully at blockchain suitability for our work.

     

    Reference 

    Wüst, K. and Gervais, A., 2017. Do you need a Blockchain?. IACR Cryptology ePrint Archive, 2017, p.375

    Featured image credit: Descryptive.com, CC BY 2.0

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  • What is Information and Communication Technologies for Development and why it matters?

    December 18th, 2017

    Colleagues in Practical Action often ask how Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) can be defined. Is a radio program offering health information to young girls in India ICT4D? What about a web portal providing agricultural content in Peru? Or perhaps a mobile app used by M&E team in Kenya?

    Practical Answers intervention in India, Sunalo Sakhi, uses ICT to raise awareness about sexual and reproductive health among young women and girls living in slums (credit: Ananta Prasad)

    Different terms are used to describe the relationship between Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Development (D). Each term represents views of their advocates with its own merits and challenges. For example: ICTD, ICT4Dev, M4D, KM4D, Development Informatics, Digital Development and ICT4D. ICT4D is the most commonly used term among them.

    A broad definition of ICT is devices or techniques for processing or communicating data. When discussing ICT, we narrow down the scope to digital ICT such as laptops, internet, software, smartphones, the Internet of Things etc. Other types of ICT, e.g. analog sensor technologies, may be relevant too, but they are increasingly being digitised. There are three main benefits of ICT: process benefits (cheaper, more, quicker, better, new), affordances  (communication, computation, transaction) and broader changes (automatisation, innovation and equalisation). The connector word ‘4’ (reads: for) brings the attention to what kind of ‘development’ we seek to address. Development usually refers to international development, that is both geographic and agenda-specific development.

    ICT4D is therefore “the application of any entity that processes or communicates digital data in order to deliver some part of the international development agenda in a developing country”. As field of research, ICT4D is a combination of academic disciplines: computer sciences, information systems, development studies and others fields such as geography, economics, governance etc.

    Development agenda determines why and how ICT used for development. For example, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identify ICT-specific target under Goal 9: “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020”. Other ICT-specific targets are under Goal 4 (higher education), Goal 5 (women’s empowerment) and Goal 17 (innovation capacity).

    Many ICT4D projects fall short of their promise. Critics argue that frequently flaws in implementation techniques lead to failing to deliver the intended benefits. Inadequate planning, hardware failures, insufficient technical support, lack of political support and financial constraints are among the most common reasons for that. Others point out at the unintended consequences and contradictory effects that ICT can have in development: ICT, including ICT4D, is often associated with inequality, environmental damage, health problems etc.

    In order to make ICT work for development, we need to understand processes and challenges emerging from technical, social, cultural, institutional and political realms. ICT4D doesn’t simply mean ICT adoption in the development practice. ICT4D is ‘multifaceted, dynamic and contentious socio-technical processes’ (see Figure: ICT4D Value Chain).

    ICT4D Value Chain (Source: Heeks, 2017)

    A good example is Practical Action’s knowledge management system, Practical Answers. Practical Answers has served local communities and practitioners in a number of countries for years. It processes and distributes technical information through web portals, a mobile app, call centre, radio programmes and podcasts. Each country implements Practical Answers in its own way. In India, Practical Answers produces educational radio programmes for young girls living in slums. In Nepal, Practical Answers is embedded into community libraries. In Zimbabwe, Practical Answers trains government officials and community leaders to produce agricultural podcasts.

    ICT4D may not solve all problems our societies experience, but it helps to materialise the  development agenda in new forms that haven’t existed before.

     

    Reference:

    Heeks, Richard. 2017. Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) (Routledge Perspectives on Development). Taylor and Francis.

    Zheng, Y., Hatakka, M., Sahay, S. and Andersson, A., 2017. Conceptualizing development in information and communication technology for development (ICT4D).

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  • From Connectivity to Co-creation: How can ICT accelerate the achievement of SDGs?

    November 2nd, 2017

    ICT is a key enabler for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). How can ICT contribute to SDGs? – We summarise takeaways from Global Science, Technology and Innovation Conference 2017

    The Global Science Technology and Innovation Conference (GSTIC), which took place on 23-25 October 2017 in Brussels, aimed to accelerate the development, dissemination and deployment of technological innovations for the achievement of SDGs. With representatives from key stakeholders from national governments, UN and other international organisations, academics and the private sector attending the conference, GSTIC became a platform for finding new technological solutions and co-creating for solving complex challenges in diverse societies. We, the Practical Action representatives, had an opportunity to participate in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as Enabling Technology sessions. The sessions explored how ICT solutions – software, hardware and data – can potentially impact SGDs.

    Connect the unconnected

    It is widely accepted that connectivity is one of key priorities for achieving the SDGs. Approximately 3.9 billion people – that is, around 53% of world’s population – are still offline. According to ITU, we need to “connect as many people as possible”. SES, a satellite operator, demonstrates how connectivity barriers can be overcome. It deploys a satellite-based e-health platform, Satmed, in Vietnam. Satmed connects doctors and nurses in three maternity hospitals across the country. Its broadband capacity transfers live visual data. Doctors can analyse symptoms and give advice online to other doctors and nurses based in other hospitals.

    Adequate regulatory environment

    Regulatory framework has been lagging behind ICT developments. The Policy Lab suggested multi-stakeholder dialog to “define new roles and responsibilities and retooling system” to cope with the current reality. Humanitarian interventions, for example, rely heavily on ICT. Collecting data about migrant flows helps to deliver humanitarian assistance, but at the same time exposes vulnerable populations to new threats, e.g. human trafficking. This should lead us to question the ethics of data collection and use: Who owns and controls data? How long they store data? How data is being used? What data security measures are in place?

    Collaborative partnerships

    New models of partnerships engaging governments, NGOs, CSOs, academics, private sector and citizens – women, young people, farmers and more – should be encouraged. The work of the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL) is of interest in that respect. The Network actively engages end users and encourages multi-stakeholder participation in co-creating innovative ICT products and services. Prototypes are tested and experimented with in real life, and feedback is used for iterative design process. With 400 international networks, ENoLL is able to launch projects quickly and share their lessons.

    Business incentives

    One of the ways to address the sustainability of ICT solutions is by bringing in private investment. In some cases, the government may only subsidise the early stage of ICT developments. The government of Qatar is implementing the TASMU Smart Qatar Program for improving public services. For that purpose, it aims to spend QR 6bn (£1,19bn) over the next five years. To date, around 100 use cases across key themes, such as transportation and healthcare, have been developed. Half of them are expected to attract private investments.

    To conclude, GSTIC highlighted the roles of ICT as enabler for achieving SGDs. But let’s not forget that technology is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. ICT solutions should equally benefit all members of society especially marginalised communities who are, in many cases, excluded from the debates.

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