Technology Justice | Blogs

  • 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.

    More reading:

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  • Learning through experience


    March 26th, 2018

    “ All genuine learning comes through experience “John Dewey

    I earned two degrees while working in Practical Action. I often boast it as one of my biggest achievements in Practical Action. My colleagues sometimes quip “when did you work, then? “ – implying how did I balance the work and study. The fact is I never had to study. The learning I gathered in my work was enough to earn me the degrees. I went to universities just for accreditation (balancing the field visit schedules and the exam routines was tough though!!)

    As I am preparing to leave Practical Action after 11 years of service, I wish to keep some of the key learning on record. Let me start with the professional ones,

    Too much focus on delivery kills innovation
    Timely delivery of the project targets including the financial target is important and binding. However, too much focus on delivery limit innovation. Innovation is an iterative process. An idea or technology has to go through several rounds of refinements before it is ready for uptake. If we become too impatient about the delivery from the onset, we may end up promoting the crude ideas and unproven technologies which may not work in long run. Hence, if we expect our projects to be innovative, we should be careful to consider the fact right from the project design and negotiate with donors accordingly.

    We were able to do that in the Strengthening the supply chain  of construction materials project, which I have been managing since last 2 years. As a result, we have been successful to demonstrate various new technologies like CSEB, Stone Cutting machine and innovative idea like Demand aggregation. The project had 4 months of inception period fully dedicated to understanding the context and testing the new technologies /ideas. The inception period was extended by 2 months to allow the ideas to mature further. Actual uptake of the ideas / technologies started only after 9th month. However, it didn’t take long to catch up the financial and physical targets as the ideas were mature and strategy was clear by then.

    Successful demonstration of technology alone doesn’t automatically lead to uptake
    I spent major part of my tenure in Practical Action promoting Gravity Goods Ropeway. I genuinely believe it is a great technology. It holds enormous promise to help 100 of thousands (if not millions) of people living in the isolated hills of Nepal and other mountainous countries in the developing world. However, the technology didn’t tip beyond some isolated success cases and sporadic uptake by few organizations. On retrospection, I feel that our implicit assumption that the successful demonstration of the technology will automatically lead to replication didn’t work. We focused our efforts on demonstrating the technology, which we did really well. However, we missed to demonstrate the incentive that the uptake of the technology will entail to different market actors (government and private sector), except for the poor farmers. The farmers, however, lack resources to uptake the technology on their own.
    The hard learnt lesson, however, came in handy in the Supply chain project, in which we consciously demonstrated both , the technologies and the incentives they entails to different actors. As a result, the market actors (private firms) are scaling up the technologies /ideas in the project districts with light touch support from the project. The firms are spreading the ideas and technologies beyond the project districts on their own.

    Resource poor not the knowledge

    It may sound like a cliché but over the time I have truly started believing that the people we are working for may be poor in resources but are rich in knowledge. They may not present their ideas in the development jargons that we are used to hearing but they always offer the most plausible insight and most practical solution to any problem. Hence, when you feel you are running out of ideas ok  stuck in problems, go to them. If you have patience and right ears to hear them, you will always be rewarded with the most innovative yet Practical ideas.

    Attitude is more important than intelligence
    In last 11years, I got opportunity to work with several people – people with different level of intelligence (IQ) and different attitudes (EI). Just to paraphrase them in the terminology we use in Practical Action for performance evaluation – people with different level of technical competency and behavioral competency. Though, I eventually, learnt to enjoy working with all of them, my experience boils down to the following 2 conclusions,
    • People with right attitude are more important than with higher intelligence for success of any project. Hence, if you have opportunity to choose between the people with right attitude and higher intelligence, go for former.
    • When people are given which is often the case, work through their attitude rather than trying to change them. Attitudes are difficult to change if they can be changed at all.
    I feel vindicated after reading this article. It argues the importance of attitude over intelligence for personal success. But, same hold true of success of any project.

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  • MY EXPERIENCE IN CSW62


    March 23rd, 2018

    It was my first time to the United States and I was so excited about visiting US and participating in the UNCSW62. Before travelling, I almost told everyone close to me that I am going to the UN and that I have got an opportunity to speak about some of our work in India. As much I was excited, I was nervous too about the presentation, as it went several rounds of revisions with the CSW62 preparatory team (Charlotte, Loise, Patricia and me), but finally a decent presentation was all set to go. I had to speak more than what was written on the slides and so I sort of practised the presentation within myself. In the other hand, I thank Chris, who was getting all logistics organised at New York so that we have a good stay. I must thank Sarah Sandon for her guidance and for approving my participation in the CSW62.

    The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was held from 12-23 March 2018. Practical Action was represented by Loise Maina – Gender Advisor and Arun Hial – M & E Manager (Me) from India. Unfortunately, a third member – Patricia Monje Cuadrado, Chief fundraiser based in Bolivia was not able to travel to New York due to a family emergency.

    We were expected to participate and represent in FOUR separate sessions.

    The first one was ‘Empowering Women and Girls’ organised by NAWO. The National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) is an umbrella organisation of over 100 organisations and individuals working to make gender equality a reality. The Alliance has been accrediting young women and men still at school (16-18) to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women for over a decade. Loise Maina discussed relevant strategies to empower women and girls and provided some relevant examples from Practical Action’s work with rural communities. This session resulted in better understanding of the NAWO delegation on the overall purpose and context of the CSW2018 theme.

    The second session was ‘Innovation – using ICTs to empower rural women’ organised by ADVANCE who work in the priority areas of entrepreneurship, education and justice for women and girls.  I got the opportunity to share about how Practical Action is using media and ICT to raise awareness and share knowledge on menstrual hygiene amongst girls in India through the innovative ‘Sunolo Sakhi Project’. As a result of this presentation, people shown interest to get connected with us or get us connected with relevant organisations that can support in scaling up this programme. We have lined up follow up actions on this. Oh there was so many questions about the presentation, everyone wanted to know more about Sunolo Sakhi.. I would say about 90% of the questions were around my presentation, and of course it’s not because they did not understand what I said, but the questions were seeking more information about the program.

    The third one was “Increasing prosperity for rural women: Implementing gendered SDGs targets in goals 2, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16”. This session was organised by the UK NGO Alliance that works with partners based in the UK, as well as with local partner organisations across the world. Loise Maina, Gender Advisor shared about Practical Action’s work to increase incomes and link rural women farmers to sustainable markets in the cocoa value chain. This session was considered to be quite practical and helped to demonstrate proven interventions that can help improve rural communities’ livelihoods. Loise had prepared herself with a PowerPoint presentation, however, the session did not have opportunity for that and needed a five minute speech. Loise managed this so wonderfully with huge confidence and she was very clear on what she wanted to communicate with the audience. About questions, yes there were questions to Loise and they got relevant answers. This session was chaired by one of the Hon’ble MPs of UK.

    The fourth session was “Innovative Use of Media for Rural Women and Girls”. This session was organised by PRIDE which works with organizations across the region to ensure education that promotes holistic development options.  I could share experience from the implementation of the Sunolo Sakhi project in India that promotes awareness and education on menstrual hygiene through ICTs and media. This has created a space for Practical Action’s gender work and that is well accepted. This too was a quite engaging session, now some of the old faces have sort of accepted Practical Action doing Sunolo Sakhi kind of work.

    Apart from these four sessions, we were engaged in many of the side events suggested by Sarah and Charlotte time to time, it really helped us to get to the relevant ones. The overall experience in CSW62 was great and we could participate in number of sessions knowing about gender issues in different spaces as well as networking and connecting with new people and organisations. We have a list of follow ups to be done and have listed lessons learnt for those who will be taking part in future CSW events.

    We could also do some sightseeing together in Times Square and World Trade Centre etc.

    I was blessed and privileged to be one of the participants from Practical Action and it was worth attending CSW62.

    Look forward for the new connections and collaborations to take its own shape to benefit the underprivileged women and girls.

    JAI HO

    For more information, please contact

     

    Arun Hial (Arun.Hial@practicalaction.org)

    Loise Maina (Loise.Maina@practicalaction.or.ke)

    Some more pictures

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  • ‘Woman’s Hour’ in Odisha

    Growing up and becoming a young woman in India can be a confusing, terrifying prospect in some rural and poor urban communities. Young women are given the barest of facts and no proper explanation of what is happening to their bodies. Traditions tell them they are both ‘unclean’ while menstruating; and that they are ‘now a woman’. They face up to the terrifying prospect (still practiced in some rural communities) of physical isolation in separate huts for the entirely of their period; as well as the potential of early marriage (despite child marriage being made illegal) to a man likely twice their age or more.

    Sunolo Sakhi radio broadcast

    So what can a simple radio show do in this context? How can the broadcast word make any difference? Of course it cannot be powerful on its own, but when combined with the courage of those teenagers and young adults, it can create shock-waves of change.

    This is something I heard about first hand during a visit to Sunolo Sakhi clubs in the town of Bhubaneswar in Odisha State in November last year. Their Facebook page is here. And see this short Video to find out more.

    A radio show now in its 3rd series with more than 30 hours being on air so far and being broadcast across six towns in the state of Odisha is allowing young women the chance to understand menstruation and all that surrounds it. The show, broadcast for an hour on a Saturday afternoon and then available as a podcast, allows girls to phone in and ask questions of an expert. Practical Action has supported the radio show, and helped girls and young women to form clubs at the community level where they can get together to listen to the show and discuss it.

    Sunolo Sakhi in braille

    To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018 #IWD, the team launched a braille version of the accompanying material: part of a commitment to make it even more widely accessible.

    These girls have not had an easy time of it. They had to fight with their mothers and fathers to be allowed to even meet up. There was fear that the knowledge would be disrespectful and turn their daughters against them. All this simply to listen to a radio show together once a week.

    The groups have been built, by social community workers. Building trust is essential, we start with a small number of slums (15 per month), and groups are now operating in 80 slums. Social mobilisers work with mothers in the community to build trust. These ice-breaking activities are essential: menstrual hygiene remains a cultural taboo and without building trust, awareness and openness girls would not be granted approval to join the clubs. Forming clubs is not easy, and it is essential to work closely with mothers and other families and community members, especially men.

    Members of the Sunolo Sakhi club

    On the show, questions are answered about the practicalities of menstruation: what is normal; and whether the myths they’ve been handed down are really true. They sometimes listen with their mothers. It opens a space for discussion, guided and organised by local facilitators. This may be the start of allowing these young women some basic agency. In urban contexts at least it can help gradually change the myths that constrain them. They will never forget what they’ve learned from week to week – and when asked how they would pass it on to their daughters they were adamant that the secrecy and taboos of the past would end in their generation.

    Speaking at launch of Sunolo Sakhi braille edition

    I confess I’m a fan of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour – a national treasure of British radio which has been occasionally criticised as being too ‘safe’ with its discussions of how to make the best cakes, but also for being dangerously radical. It shares an objective of being a space where women lead the discussion about the topics of the day and how they experience them. It was a revelation to hear from these young women about the power of radio to both challenge and inform.

    What did the girls think should be the future of the show? They felt there was still much to do on the issue of menstrual hygiene, but other associated issues were important too, in particular questions of child marriage, and there certainly seemed a huge appetite for the format and content.

    Sadly no commercial radio station wants to take the show on with its own resources. But for the time being Practical Action hopes to continue our support. Personally I have rarely seen such fantastic value for money in empowering girls to take control.

    Happy International Women’s Day 2018 #IWD #pressforprogress

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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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  • Enhancing Flood Resilience through Livelihood adaptation


    February 7th, 2018

    “The 2014 flood was worse than the 2009 flood but the loss and damage was less because people had learned from the earlier event.” Dinanath Bhandari

    I am currently visiting the Practical Action Nepal flood resilience project in the western region, which has been supported by the Z Zurich foundation for the last five years. The project is working in 74 flood vulnerable communities adjacent to the Karnali River, located in the Terai plains, the flat lands that connect Nepal to India. The western Terai is one of the poorest regions of the country and has faced migration from the mid-hills by landless farmers looking for space to farm. When they arrived much of the unoccupied land was next to the river, the flood prone area which has fertile soil great for agriculture, as long as you can save yourself and your assets when the monsoon flash floods arrive. It is in this context that the flood project operates, and I’m fortunate enough to be exploring the lessons from phase one with my Nepali colleagues before we start a second phase.

    Mrs Mana Kumari Tharu and her elevated rice store

    The raised grain store

    In the Terai flooding is a matter of life and almost every year a flood event of varying severity occurs. For many of the poorest members of the community this can be a devastating loss as hurriedly harvested rice stored in traditional ground level storage jars are ruined by the flood waters. It only takes moisture reaching the jar for the rice to spoil. One simple measure to avoid this problem is to raise the storage bins off the ground. But the problem is the bins can be very heavy and wooden structures aren’t strong enough to support their weight. So the project has provided 40 of the poorest households with concrete platforms to elevate their rice storage bins. Mrs. Mana Kumari Tharu[1] told me that now when she gets the message to flee to the flood shelter she is less worried about her precious rice. She knows it has a much better chance of surviving. If she can preserve this staple food supply her family will have enough to eat and will not be forced to adopt erosive coping strategies such as selling equipment or livestock. This will also reduce their dependency on relief food aid, something that not all families will be fortunate to avoid, hence ensuring those supplies reach the remote families who need them the most.

    The off farm training

    Youth workshop trainees from Rajapur

    We joined a workshop in which 12 young people between 20 and 35 years old, came together to share their experiences of a series of off farm training courses in which they had enrolled. This gathering was organised 12 months after their training to learn about their experiences and whether they had been successful in their new careers. The 14 young people gathered had been trained in such diverse topics as carpentry, dressmaking, engineering, plumbing and construction. The course was validated by the district education office and each of the graduates received a certificate which greatly enhanced their employment opportunities. All of the participants reported success in finding work and the story of one young graduate Mr. Anil Tharu who went to Kathmandu was particularly interesting. After receiving his certificate he tried to find work locally but was unable, so he ended up paying a middle man to join a construction project in Kathmandu. Initially he had to pay back the travel loan and the finders fee for securing the work. But he quickly realised that there was more work in Kathmandu than there were skilled workers. So he was able to pay back his loan find work on his own and after three months, he has saved enough money to return to Rajapur. He is now employed with a local construction company building houses and earning 30,000 Nepali Rupees (£200) per month.

    Mr. Sita Man Tharu and Mr. Prem Thapa discussing his Banana plantation

    The banana plantation

    Mr. Sita Ram Tharu is a traditional rice farmer who grew up in the Terai region. He was invited as a member of one of the target communities to attend a farmer field school at which a number of different cultivation methods were demonstrated. He said that most of the methods on show didn’t interest him, until they presented banana plantation. He and his wife, who suffers from high blood pressure, found that the annual chores of preparing the rice filed, growing the saplings, dibbing them out, caring for them during the rainy season and finally harvesting and winnowing his crop was getting too much. In addition the rice plants were vulnerable to flash flood events washing the young seedlings out of the ground. So Mr. Tharu replaced his seasonal rice plot with a banana plantation. He purchased the tissue culture produced saplings for 45 Nepali Rupees (30p) each and planted them in this plot. He admitted that the first year the labour was excessive, but now the 90 trees are established the job of wedding the plantation and harvesting the bananas is a lot less stressful than the challenge of producing a rice crop. And he knows that if a flood event does occur his banana trees have a much greater chance of withstanding the water providing him with continued income once the waters recede. The old rice plot used to generate a maximum of 30,000 Nepali Rupees (£200) per year, his banana plot now generates over 200,000 Nepali Rupees (£1,400) per year. When I asked him what he did with the extra money, he said he had put some in the bank in case his wife needed medical treatment for her blood pressure, and the rest he had used to send his son to Kathmandu to study for a master’s degree.

    All these stories demonstrate the transformative power of well targeted interventions and local choice in their uptake and adoption. This wasn’t mass development but locally targeted appropriate development, but I am still wondering if this will be enough to make the people and their communities flood resilient?

    Next steps…

    I am interested to explore with my Nepalese colleagues how these individual successful pieces of the puzzle, could fit together to tackle the underlying resilience challenges facing these people. Floods will undoubtedly continue, and will be supercharged by climate change making the monsoon rains more intense as we saw last year. But what can the individuals, the communities, the local government, private sector, national government and international community do to build the resilience of these people? These three examples are all successes in building resilience, however we still have a long way to go to roll this out across this one river basin let alone the other twenty plus river basins that criss-cross Nepal.

    More to follow….

    Find out more

    Discover more ways to build community flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal by exploring the resources library or sending an inquiry . Or share your own experiences with the Flood Resilience Portal community.

    [1] Tharu is indigenous to the Terai with over 70% of the population sharing this surname

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  • Ropeways: connecting rural communities


    January 12th, 2018

    By Sanjib Chaudhary and Ganesh R Sinkemana

    If you look up at the steep hills mounting over the Budhiganga River at Taptisera in Bajura district, you’ll believe why people call them ‘bandar ladne bhir’ – meaning cliff where even monkeys slip down.

    There are three options to get to the top of the hill – a dangerous vertical climb of one and half hour, a strenuous trek of three and half hours and a six hour long tiring hike along the ridges. In addition, you’ll need to cross the Budhiganga River to get to the foothills before you begin your climb. And not only the water is chilly but the depth of the river is also another thing to worry about. You don’t know how deep the waters might be until you step into it.

    Reducing the travel time to less than two minutes
    However, this seemingly unsurmountable height and distance has been reduced to a descent of one and half minutes, thanks to a gravity goods ropeway (GGR) installed recently at the bank of the river.

    A gravity goods ropeway carriage. (c) Practical Action/ Ganesh R Sinkemana

    The GGR was installed by BICAS (Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors) project in coordination with government and other stakeholders. The project, supported by European Union, focuses on building the capacity of 45 local organisations to promote inclusive and sustainable growth and increase the income of 7,000 households from agriculture and forest-based enterprises in the remote mid and far-western districts of Kalikot, Mugu, Jumla, Bajura and Bajhang.

    The GGR operator and chairperson of the users’ committee, Prem Saud, says, “It has made it easier to bring the produce from the upper part of Mana village and has encouraged the residents there to produce at commercial level.

    Prem Saud, the GGR operator at Badimalika Municipality. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    In return the items of daily need reach the otherwise rugged terrain at nominal charge. Prem charges Rs 2 per (1 USD = Rs 101) kg to get the items to the upper station from the bottom station. The vegetables and other agricultural produce now get to the roadside in Re 1 per kg which is way cheaper than employing a porter who would demand at least Rs 500 – 1000 per load of 50 kgs.

    The agricultural produce from the villages reaching market in no time means people are encouraged to produce more, eventually shifting to commercial farming. In a way, a ropeway acts like an enabler for inclusive business – integrating the smallholder farmers into national markets.

    Suitable transportation for mountainous topography

    Considering Nepal’s topography, gravity goods ropeways have proved to be a life-saver for communities where road construction is very difficult. The aerial ropeways, built to connect communities living high up in the hills to road-heads, operate by gravitational force. Two trolleys, running on pulleys, go up and down simultaneously on parallel steel wires – while the one with heavier load gets down to the road-head due to gravity, the other with lighter weight goes up to the upper terminal .

    According to studies, aerial ropeways are three times cheaper than the equivalent road construction in Nepal and installing a gravity gods ropeway costs around Rs 2,500,000. While descending through the hilly tracks take two to three hours of walking to reach the road-head, the same load can get to the lower terminal in less than two minutes. This reduces the drudgery of the community people and saves a lot of time.

    Women have many responsibilities,” said Sita BK, a midwife from Mana village. “For example, I have to do the household chores, cooking, farming and carrying loads. Here the GGR has helped because we no longer have to carry our rice up from the market.

    Shanti BK (45) receives goods from Tipada Bazaar at the upper station of the GGR at Mana village, Bajura.

    About 50 per cent of Nepal’s population still lives at least four hours walk away from the nearest dry-season road. Looking at Nepal’s topography the importance of installing ropeways, at places inaccessible to build roads, is obvious.

    Replicating the technology beyond borders

    In spite of the manifold benefits of the technology, only around 20 gravity goods ropeways have been serving rural people in Nepal. The first gravity goods ropeway was successfully run in Marpha, Mustang to transport apples from orchards to road-heads by Practical Action in association with International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in the year 2001.

    Practical Action has also built gravity goods ropeways in Samtse, Bhutan and has been invited to Myanmar and Nagaland, India to survey and help construct the ropeways.

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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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  • Energy Supporter Objects – The Variety of Energy Technologies and Uses in Refugee Settings


    December 5th, 2017

    A blog authored by Sarah Rosenberg-Jansen and Anna Okello. December 2017.

    A ‘missing link’ in humanitarian energy access

    Energy is a critical need for refugees and displaced people: millions of displaced people do not have access to energy, and humanitarian agencies and refugees themselves struggle to work with complex energy technology systems and products – as we discuss in the Moving Energy Initiative Report. Recognising this, Practical Action has developed an extensive portfolio of work on energy in humanitarian settings. This includes current research into how refugees practice and perceive energy, undertaken by working with communities to understand how refugees in Kenya engage with energy technologies and the objects that surround them, funded by the University of Edinburgh among others. By ‘objects’ or ‘energy supporter objects’, we mean items and technologies which are integral for, or attached to, sources of energy to make energy-use possible. These technologies can be seen as missing links between the energy supply (e.g. a solar panel) and the service (e.g. a fully charged mobile phone) – the energy supporter object is the phone charger, because without it the end energy use (charging a phone) is impossible. Other examples would include, matches, wires, cooking pots, vehicles for transport, and appliances such as clocks and headphones.

    Our research shows the extent to which communities maximise their total energy access needs by using a variety of energy objects and technologies. This goes far beyond having solar lanterns and improved cook-stoves, as, for people to use these products effectively, they require a great many additional technologies and objects.

    A comprehensive approach to energy poverty in humanitarian settings

    For humanitarian decision-makers to be fully aware of how communities’ use and value energy, we argue that it is vital that the total energy life of refugees is taken into consideration. Energy supporter objects form a core part of the realities of refugee lives, and systems of support and humanitarian response need to consider these physical things as well as basic energy access technologies to effectively work with communities. For example, a bicycle may not be considered an energy technology, but many people are reliant on this form of transport to enable them to move batteries to be charged, to transport firewood, and to deliver diesel fuel.

    Energy supporter objects in practice: Kakuma Refugee Camp

    One area Practical Action works in is Kakuma Refugee Camp, which is in the Turkana District of the north-west of Kenya. In Kakuma there are many diverse communities; with people from Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The camp population is currently estimated to be over 180,000 and has been in existence since 1992. In the past few years, the camp has expanded quickly with new arrivals coming from South Sudan or being relocated from Dadaab camp, which may close.

    In Kakuma, there are a dynamic set of markets, energy products and services available within the communities. During our research several types of ‘energy supporter objects’ emerged as being key to the community, including matches, wires, and phone chargers. The table below provides a summary of some of these objects and the type of ‘traditional energy objects’ they are often connected with or to in the Kenyan context.

    Communities solving their own problems

    While we don’t suggest that humanitarian agencies should provide energy supporter objects as part of their responses or aid programmes, we want to draw attention to the ways local communities are already solving these problems themselves. Many of the refugee and host community businesses that exist within or close to refugee camps are already centred on energy supporter objects and are supplying this demand gap themselves. For example, the picture below shows a refugee business owner who sells solar panels. But in his shop, there are also batteries, matches, torches, extension cables, light bulbs, chargers, speakers, sound systems and radios. By supporting and facilitating these markets, humanitarian responders have an ideal opportunity to also support income generating opportunities and the self-sufficiency of refugees – which can lead to increased human development and wellbeing of communities.

    Refugees’ energy access priorities in reality

    In many cases, our research found that the energy supporter objects were more central to business owners and refugee households than the source of energy itself. The picture below shows a music store in Kakuma camp, the owner of whom has multiple energy appliances: a computer, screens, keyboard, fans, a television and sound system. The source of energy for this business was actually a mini-grid connection, however, when discussing energy, the business owner focused almost exclusively on the appliances and uses of energy. This finding is in-keeping with Practical Action’s Poor People’s Energy Outlook report series, which has long maintained that it is not the energy supply but energy services that matter most to marginalised people – people care about what they can do with the energy, not where it comes from.

    We suggest that NGOs and practitioners can focus on the way that people use energy and the practical realities of living as a refugee, to more successfully deliver support and energy access technologies. Understanding energy supporter objects is one angle that could be used to achieve this. More information on the energy lives of refugees and displaced people is available from the Moving Energy Initiative and Practical Action’s work on humanitarian energy.

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  • Loss and Damage at COP23


    November 30th, 2017
    Taking the Loss and Damage debate beyond the contentious issue of compensation to identify the mechanisms needed to address the losses and damages occurring as a consequence of climate change, especially for the 
    poorest and most vulnerable.

    The 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held under the presidency of Fiji. This is the first time a highly disaster-vulnerable country has been the president of a COP, and hence disaster and climate resilience featured heavily on the agenda. In particular the Loss and Damage debate on the limits to adaptation and measures to overcome these limitations received a lot of attention. Loss and Damage remains a political concept, developed during the UNFCCC negotiations, but with its technical roots in climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction. To explore the challenge and the limits to tackling Loss and Damage in poor and vulnerable communities Practical Action with our partner the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA) presented at a number of events to highlight the challenge.

    Colin McQuistan presenting on the role of technology such as Early Warning Systems to reduce the impact of Losses and Damages

    At one event in the Fiji Pavilion, Practical Action’s discussed the role of technology to tackling intolerable risk that remains even after standard disaster risk reduction and mitigation measures have been adopted. In spite of resilience building efforts, losses and damages still occur signalling the ‘beyond adaptation’ challenge.

    Overview showing the three pillars of climate action and their relationship to the key global agreements and loss and damage.

    Practical Action presented findings from a case study, exploring the role of technology in climate risk management to the threat of flooding in the interconnected river systems of the South Asian region.  The study showed that only a limited set of the available technologies are accessed and used for flood early warning in the region. Insufficient capacity and funding leads to the implementation of the bare minimum, with early warning system implemented in a largely copycat way. However as climate change progresses, the demands on these early warning systems will increase, however if no action is taken, the technology available for these people remains the same. This means their adaptation deficit will increase. We have developed a policy framework (see above) for the Climate, Disaster and Sustainable Development discourse to inform rethinking Access, Use and Innovation from the perspective of the poor so that technology can be used to reduce loss and damage and contribute to rebalancing climate justice.

    This has been mirrored in a recent blog by IIASA calling for a process that involves the active participation of those in politics, public administration, civil society, private sector and research to find new solutions to tackle increasing levels of climate risk for those that need it most. Losses and damages as a result of climate change are not going away and without urgent action they are only going to get worse.

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