Blogs tagged as ICTs

  • Why universal access to the Internet should become a priority for Practical Action?


    June 27th, 2018

    This is the second part of “doing development in a digital world“ blog series. You can read the first part here.

    The Internet has had profound impact on our lives – from accessing information to communication with each other to civic participation. But for many people, access to the Internet is still a privilege, not a right. In this post, I would argue why universal access to the Internet should be a priority for Practical Action.

    The progress to achieve the global goal of “universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020” has been slow. ITU estimates that 3.9 billion people don’t have access to Internet, majority of them live in Global South. As an example, let’s take the countries where Practical Action operates (see Chart 1). Only Kenya and Peru have “significant” number of internet users – slightly over 40% of population. The lowest is Bangladesh at 14.4%. 

    Chart 1: Internet use in Practical Action focus countries (Source: SDG tracker)

    If we apply the gender lens, the proportion of women using the internet is 12% lower than men. In Africa, this gap is widens to 25%. Despite the popularity of mobile internet, South Asian women are 26% less likely to own a phone than men and 70% less likely to use mobile internet.

    At current pace, it will take another 20 years to connect the world.

    Access to the Internet is closely associated with human rights: right to freedom of expression, privacy and freedom of association. The United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution in 2016: “[the] rights that people have offline must also be protected online”. Nevertheless, digital rights are systematically undermined.

    We witnessed how governments and tech companies abuses their power to exert greater control over the Internet and markets. Authorities in Zimbabwe shutted down WhatsApp during anti government protests in 2016. Early this month, Bangladeshi authorities blocked a popular news portal “the Daily Star” for more than 18 hours without explanation. The Facebook data harvesting scandal and the accusation in conducting mass surveillance were another blow to the internet freedom.

    What makes me optimistic is that citizens and organisations around the world actively involved in access to the Internet debates. Around 80 organisations have joined Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) to “overcoming the affordability barrier to access for women, the poor, rural dwellers, and other marginalised populations”. India’s citizens fought and won the case for the net neutrality protection. Last year, India’s Supreme Court asserted the right to privacy protection.

    Chart 2: What ICT trend will positively impact the aid/development sector over the next 5 years? (Source: Catholic Relief Services)

    As highlighted by 619 senior development professionals participated in Catholic Relief Services’ ICT international survey, connectivity, i.e. access to the Internet, will have more positive impact than other technologies (see Chart 2). On the condition, of course, that people can  access and use Internet in a meaningful way. What the experience has taught us, we can’t completely rely to governments and big tech companies to work on these issues, however good are their intentions. Citizens, CSOs and NGOs should participate and build alliances for making universal access to the Internet reality as well as for the protection of digital rights.  

    I believe Practical Action is in the position to support these efforts. After all, people need reliable, affordable and secure Internet connection to access services that are provided by Practical Action. Practical Action could build upon its experience providing internet access to rural communities in Bolivia under the Willay Program 2007-2014. This wouldn’t be easy but feasible. As argued in my previous post, it would require commitment, time and investments. 

     

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  • Doing development in a digital world, and what does this mean for Practical Action?


    May 3rd, 2018

    This is the first part of “doing development in a digital world“ blog series. You can read the second part here.

    Practical Action has recently initiated a discussion – involving staff from the head office, and regional and country offices (RCOs) as well as Matt Haikin – on the subject of doing development in a digital world. What and how Practical Action can play role in this new paradigm?

    Many digital technologies have already been widely adopted in (global) development. Mobile data collection and dashboard, for example, are now omnipresent. Multi-channel communication, such as a website, mobile phone and social media are used simultaneously to reach target audiences. Emerging technologies, such as big data and AI, have been tested to predict disease outbreaks.

    The broader development benefits of digital technologies or digital dividends, however, is unevenly distributed (see picture). In many parts of the world people who don’t have access to the internet nor digital skills are unable to reap their benefits. Women, in particular, are being left behind in the digital revolution. From the project perspective, the concerns about the scale and sustainability in ICT4D, as well as in the broader development sector, remain acute.

     

    Why digital dividends are not spreading rapidly—and what can be done (source: World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends)

     

    DFID Digital Strategy 2018 to 2020 acknowledges the potential of digital technologies “to revolutionise the lives of the poor, unlock development and prosperity, and accelerate progress towards the Global Goals”. It lays out the strategy for achieving those ambitious objectives. Though slightly late in the game – for example USAID launched its digital strategy in 2014 and SIDA – in 2005 – the DFID digital strategy is nevertheless equally important, because it will impact the development sector especially in the UK and its priority countries.

    As digital technologies come out of age, NGOs are adopting new ways of working, increasing investments into digital technologies, building their capacities, conducting research and participating in digital policy debates. NGOs which have the skills and capacity are indeed more prepared for the rapid changes in the sector. They also have the ability to assess and mitigate digital risks. Across the sector, we’ve also seen leadership playing important role for the success of digital technologies intervention.

    Practical Action has aspiring goal “to transform the way technology is being used to improve the lives of poor people”. Digital technologies is inevitably to be part of it. What Practical Action can do to achieve this objective? In the process of the discussion mentioned above, several suggestions emerged:

    • A clear organisation strategy is required for integrating ICT4D across the organisation. What is our core proposition in ICT4D? Who are our target audiences and how can we reach them effectively? How can we align the organisation strategy with the government policies and regulations? Should we join coalitions like Data4SDGs, Internet Governance Forum, Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition and Alliance for Affordable Internet, and sign up to the Principles for Digital Development and Responsible Data practice, for example? Then the questions around availability of resources in term of time, financial and personnel.
    • Building capacity of staff members in the head office and RCOs. What is the organisation capacity to realise the benefits of digital technologies? Should we to provide staff members at all levels with digital literacy and data literacy skills? How can we reduce the skills gap in RCOs?
    • Providing technical support for staff members implementing ICT4D projects on the ground. Currently, we use the “community of practice” approach for sharing learning internally. Dedicated technical support may be required in the future. Do we need more hybrid ICT4D roles, i.e. those who possess understanding and skills in digital technologies and development, in RCOs? Or should we establish ICT4D central team to support operations in RCOs? Would hybrid structures and management models – halfway between centralised standards and local and flexible structures – be more suitable?
    • Improving the way we use digital technologies in projects. The application of digital technologies in DRR, WASH and Agriculture has delivered mixed results so far. How can we systematise and standardise our ICT4D approach? Can we adopt a technology principle to minimise the risks and improve project results? How can we ensure our digital solutions are widely shared and replicated?
    • Adopting digital technologies for measuring project performance. Monitoring and Evaluation is an area where digital technologies add value. In the past, we used different data collection platforms for research and M&E purposes. Have we identified pros and cons of these platforms? Is there a data collection and analysis platform that fits with our global operations? How can we collect good quality data, analyse and present it in the right format for target audiences?
    • New thematic work in digital technologies should be considered. Relevant examples are digital financial inclusion, last mile connectivity, gender and digital inclusion, the Internet of Things, digital rights, e-waste management and data for development. Latin America Office has experience implementing eGovernment projects in rural areas. Can we channel some of our ICT4D efforts to the critical issue in the region: improving citizen engagement, government transparency and accountability? Should we conduct research and advocacy-based evidence in the future, for instance, to fill the gaps in project interventions?

    Using digital technologies in the context of development is no longer optional. NGOs are changing the way they do development. The mapping exercise and discussions on this subject should be seen as a starting point. This is an ongoing process, rather than an one-off one, and would require active participation from key staff members, coordination and organisational support.

     

    More reading:

    Haikin, Matt (2018) A landscape review of digital technologies trends; their use in the international development sector (ICT4D) and potential relevance to Practical Action. Internal Report. Unpublished.

    This post was updated on 06/06/2018 with suggestion from Carlos Frias on eGovernment/Civic Tech in Latin America. 

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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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  • 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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  • GPS technology halts lagoon encroachment

    In the natural resource management arena common pool resources and open access are two aspects that are discussed at length. These topics continue to be challenging to researchers, practitioners, scientists and governments across the world. Sri Lanka is no exception.

    These challenges are clearly manifested in the small-scale lagoon fisheries sub-sector in Sri Lanka. About 116 lagoons and estuaries can be found around the island. Around 200,000 people are dependent on these intricate ecosystems for livelihoods. These lagoons and estuaries are very complex social ecological systems, posing different challenges in governing them. Sustainable Lagoons and Livelihoods Project (SLLP) has been jointly working with the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR) to build sustainable governance of 18 lagoons in Sri Lanka. This is a really challenging project which has generated a host of lessons.

    As Elinor Ostrom, the Nobel Prize winner in Economics in 2009 expressed it: “Clear property boundaries are a requirement for governing common properties”. This is the first requirement for building sustainable governance for natural resources. This process however, presents formidable challenges.

    Often, property boundaries of lagoon ecosystems are established by fixing concrete posts around their perimeters. Past lessons from Sri Lanka show that such physical demarcation of the lagoon ecosystem boundaries does not work, due to relentless illegal encroachments taking place which renders further steps in the process dysfunctional.  Landowners around lagoons possess old deeds, containing much ambiguity and lack of specific boundaries. This has been exploited by encroachers. How this happens is an interesting area for study. Often old deeds may include a clause such as; “eastern part of this land goes up to the lagoon”. This clause creates much ambiguity in defining the boundary between land and a lagoon. This ambiguity is used to advantage by encroachers by filling the edges of the lagoon and moving the concrete posts towards the lagoon. This has led to a situation where lagoon water surfaces are increasingly forced to shrink while the surrounding land is illegally extended. Finally, this gives rise to social conflicts among different users of the lagoon ecosystems resulting in small-scale lagoon fishers being victimized.

    Using GPS technology to halt lagoon encroachment in Sri Lanka

    The SLLP and DFAR began searching for alternatives, and innovatively introduced GPS technology to map-out the lagoon boundary catchment areas. This led to detailed maps being agreed upon for each lagoon for the first time. Because GPS points are indisputable and specific, the lagoons cannot be illegally encroached. Even if the concrete post are moved towards the lagoons, encroachments can be easily identified because established GPS points do not change. The process entails developing detailed maps with GPS points that will be legally declared as Lagoon Management Area. This is formalized by public Gazette notification. Subsequently, the Co-governance committee along with Lagoon Fisheries Management Committees (LFMCs) of a lagoon ecosystem can take legal action against violators in the event of illegal encroachment. This is a major deterrent to encroachers. Furthermore, these maps serve as indicators in the physical mapping of fish species and help as a monitoring tool for all stakeholders who are in the co-governance committee meetings.

    The first Gazette notification of this kind has been published for the Kokkilai lagoon. This lagoon spreads into two provinces; northern and eastern in Sri Lanka. Since this involves two different administrative divisions plus different social economic and political contexts, having clear proper boundaries has expedited the fisheries co-governance process, facilitating interactions between different stakeholders to develop a Kokkilai Lagoon governance plan. This process will further be replicated in other lagoons of the SLLP project while doubtlessly providing more lessons to improve demarcation work.

    The advantage here is that stakeholders such as fishers, farmers or extension workers can provide information to take legal action against encroachers and keep tabs on whether lagoon ecosystems are encroached by simply using of smart phones. This is an initiative that uses ICT to add value to fisheries governance.

    Using GPS technology to halt lagoon encroachment in Sri Lanka

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  • Mobile Data Collection System in Low Smoke Stoves Project


    February 5th, 2015

     Using Mogli MRV+

    Over the years our Low Smoke Project in North Darfur has proven successes as well as meeting beneficiaries’ expectations. This project illustrates the fruitful partnership between Practical Action, Women Development Association Network (WDAN), and Carbon Clear Company to facilitate access to LPG for  poor households .We are using a revolving fund system to encourage using a clean energy source and reduce the consumption of fuel wood in urban Al-Fashir. This partnership has achieved great outcomes worth mentioning whenever the opportunity arises.

    22862

    • 7000,+ stoves in use in El-Fashir
    • First carbon credit project in Sudan
    • First Gold Standard project to use LPG
    • Improved access to modern energy
    • Reduced indoor air pollution
    • Strengthened local delivery infrastructure
    • Strengthened communities
    • Reduced regional deforestation of approx 80 kg wood/ 30 kg charcoal per household each month
    • Cuts in carbon emissions of approx 4t/CO2e per stove-yr

    A key factor of success is good planning to monitor project activities and proper distribution of roles and responsibilities among partners. The following flow chart summarizes monitoring activities:

    Low smoke stoves (2)

    As seen above local networks are responsible for completing surveys for example (Kitchen Survey Questionnaire about 4\A4 papers for 40 households every 3 months – Usage Survey Questionnaire 1\A4 paper – Leakage Assessment Questionnaire 2\A4 papers for 100 households). Practical Action staff in Al-Fashir collect all the questionnaires, translating them from Arabic to English, scanning all hard copies, and using SPSS for analysis to prepare first draft report. Then the draft report is shared with Practical Action head office in Khartoum for comments. Finally, after Carbon Clear in UK performs its role as mentioned in flow chart, the report will be sent to the Gold Standard Foundation who will issue carbon credits.

    This monitoring mechanism is effective in a small project but it’s time consuming.  Our project now seems to be expanding to rural areas in North Darfur. That’s why it’s time for a technological platform through which monitoring activities can be done faster.

    Mobile Data Collection solution (MDC) works effectively in this case. In end of 2014 MOGLI MRV+ has been used by our staff in Darfur as system runs on Android mobile devices and tablets and functions Online or Offline. Allows our staff to collect, share, and visualize geographically tagged data in real-time “GPS CAPTURE”. It can be linked with Flicker and upload pictures at the moment captured. Moreover, it provides Mobile Signature and Multi-language function.

    To know more see this video on YouTube :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyVfKFstJWQ

    MOGLI MRV+ SAVES TIME, BRINGS TRANSPARENCY & INSTANT ACCESS TO DATA.

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  • What’s in a name?


    December 18th, 2014

    As we left the narrow alleys of Cusco, the natural delights of country life awaited us. The extremely beautiful countryside kept me glued to the car window throughout the journey.

    Being new to the place, for me, the most notable things on the way to Pomacanchi from Cusco were graffiti and lakes. The houses and walls that were painted with election symbols and slogans for the recently held regional and municipal elections pose stark contrast to the surrounding – a sort of visual pollution.

    However, the lovely lakes dotting the stunning landscape never let me look away. The area is famous for lakes and springs – Pomacanchi, Pampamarca, Acopia and Mosoc Llacta being the biggest and most important lakes in the area.

    A beautiful lake on the way

    A beautiful lake on the way

    Crossing Pomacanchi, the picturesque and biggest lake in the district, we arrived at the Pomacanchi District Municipality after two hours. Facing the yellow municipality building with arches is a wide square housing restaurants, parking space, flag poles, statues, benches and a small garden. We took quick sips of coffee and few bites of bread in a restaurant at the square. The local products were refreshing!

    As we walked along the corridors of the building, we were led to the Civil Registration Office. The office registers the birth and other important dates for Pomacanchi residents.

    Pomacanchi Municipality Building

    Pomacanchi Municipality Building

    Antolin, the office Chief welcomed us and showed around his office. Amidst a rack of old registers were two computers, a scanner, photocopier and a printer. Novice to the modern technology, he learned to use computers with the help of Willay Programme and started keeping the correct birth dates.

    According to Antolin, earlier it was quite difficult to register the exact dates. People used to relate the dates with some major events happening around the date and the registration had to be done manually – noting down the details in thick registers.

    When the residents came to collect the certificates, it used to take hours to find their respective certificates among the stack of old files. Adding to the woe, the spittle applied to the index finger while rummaging through the pages dabbed the certificates. Sometimes, the certificates used to get ruined in the process.

    To tackle this, the programme has developed a reliable system. Now, the data can be easily searched in the system. With the system’s help, Antolin finds the details of a beneficiary in his computer within minutes and prints the certificate instantly. He has also started scanning old certificates and recording them in the system.

    In Pomacanchi, around 200 births take place in a year. According to the National Census of Population and Dwellings 2007, the population of Pomacanchi was 8,340.

    As the terrain is difficult and people reside in remote areas, they walk even for two days on foot to get to the registration office for registering births. Earlier, they had to wait for hours to get their work done. Now, Antolin takes no more than five minutes to register a birth date. And the beneficiaries no longer need to wait for hours.

    Showing us the system, Antolin said, “It is easier and efficient with the system on place.”

    The system feeds to the national data. The programme has also developed manuals to operate the system. The municipality has a support system in place to deal with system breakdowns and errors occurring during the process.

    Along with Pomacanchi, six municipalities in Acomayo and two municipalities in Cajamarca use the system.

    Antolin, Chief of the Civil Registration Office in Pomacanchi describes the importance of birth registration.

    Antolin, Chief of the Civil Registration Office in Pomacanchi describes the importance of birth registration. (c) Practical Action/Mehrab Ul Goni

    So, what’s in a name? And why do people flock to Antolin’s office to get the name, birth date and other details registered?

    Antolin says birth registration is children’s prime right as it provides them with legal identity opening doors to other rights ranging from health care and education to participation in polls and receiving protection from state.

    As we left his office, he was feeling proud of demonstrating the usefulness of the system to visitors from other parts of the world.

    (The team visiting the Civil Registration Office in Pomacanchi, Peru included Amanda Ross from the UK, Mehrab Ul Goni from Bangladesh, Sara Eltigani Elsharif from Sudan, and Upendra Shrestha and Sanjib Chaudhary from Nepal.)

    The Willay programme in Peru began in 2007 and until 2010 focussed on promoting ICT for governance, implementing demonstration projects in San Pablo (Cajamarca) and Acomayo (Cusco), deploying telecommunications network, improving information management systems and strengthening capacities of public officials in rural areas. The programme, implemented by Practical Action, is in its third phase and aimed towards the sustainability of the system.

    The programme has been funded by Ministry of External Affairs and Cooperation –Government of Spain, Municipality of Madrid and European Commission.

    To know more, read the brochure or visit the programme’s website.

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  • Technology Justice


    December 23rd, 2013

    The word “technology” means many things to each of us. Who does not want to use mobiles or the internet to smooth her/his life and get the information required quickly?

    As we enjoy this life changing technology in towns, there are poor people in rural areas lacking all of these technological benefits. Those people do not even know about such technologies.

    ICT4D (Information Communication Technology for Development) is nowadays established in most western universities because of the important role that ICTs can play in the field of development and humanitarian aid.

    Picture1Within Practical Action many ICT projects have taken place to benefit of poor communities, such as the energy portal website in Practical Action Peru that allows access to Practical Action offices globally and the transfers knowledge to rural communities. Also the mobile real-time application introduced by Practical Action Kenya that uses smart phones to monitor what is actually happening in the field day by day.

    In Practical Action Sudan we contributed to information management software (IWG project) which assists in decision making on programmatic and geographical interventions across the Sudan. The project maps areas in Sudan covered by UN agencies, national and international NGOS, to identify interventions, gaps and facilitate sectoral programming.

    In addition Practical Action Sudan with the cooperation of experts and telecommunication companies planned the distribution of agriculture and pastoralism techniques to beneficiaries through mobile phones.

    We now have to decide – is it part of the government’s responsibility to handle technology justice and convince the commercial sector to contribute more to enhancing the lives of poor communities?  Or is it the responsibility of INGOs to convince governments at a strategic level to play a serious role in benefiting poor communities?

    I believe it is the responsibility of every one of us trying to push for technology justice throughout Sudan, especially in the rural areas that deserve better chances and choices of technology.

    This will offer the chance of giving a new generation a better way of life.

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  • Climb every mountain to measure mudslide risk


    September 8th, 2013
    Me and the mudslide measuring equipment

    Me and the mudslide measuring equipment

    This Chair’s Circle visit to Peru is going from one disaster to another.

    After seeing how communities prepared for earthquakes in Lima yesterday, we moved to mudslides in the Cusco region where the small, rural town of zurite is facing terrible dangers. Heavy rains have weakened the structure of the hills above. In 2010, a whole chunk of mountain sheared off after a hard deluge, and tore a new river, complete with boulders, through the heart of Zurite. Buildings were damaged beyond repair, and it’s a miracle no-one died.

    I climbed up to see Practical Action’s early warning system, installed recently. It’s a perfect combination of simple technology and cutting edge computer design. A video monitors any increase in ground cracks, sensors pick up movement in the soil, and all the data is analysed in situ before being automatically relayed to the town’s environmental department. This means people can be evacuated to safe places in good time when the ground starts to slide down the mountain face towards their homes.

    Zurite’s residents won’t be caught unawares again. We are acting now to reduce the loss of life and livelihood when the next heavy rains come, and as I reflect on our visit, tending my achy knees and blistered feet, I think that’s a great use of time, effort, and money.

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  • Social media and development – opportunity or threat?


    November 16th, 2012

    On Tuesday this week I attended a conference in London sponsored by DFID, the Omidyar Network (set up by the founder of the on line shopping empire eBay) and WIRED magazine. The topic of the conference was the use of new communications technology (social media, mobile phones and the web) to promote open government, transparency, participation and development. It was a high profile conference with a video message form the UK Prime Minister and a speech by the new UK Secretary of State for Development Justine Greening. More information on the conference itself can be found at www.openup12.org or on twitter at #OpenUp12 . DFID is clearly interested in this area and used the occasion to announce a new $50m fund created together with USAID and SIDA called Making All Voices Count to support the development of web and mobile technologies in developing countries that can empower citizens.

    At the conference there were some interesting examples of social media being used to promote transparency. The Ushahidi platform which was initially developed after the violence of the 2008 Kenyan elections was one. It allows individuals to post information by SMS, MMS or via the web about election irregularities, intimidation, violence etc. to create a real time map of problems that is available on line and which can be used to force government to take action. Ushadhidi has since been used in the Ugandan and Congo elections and in various disasters including the Haitian earthquake. The Ushadhidi platform (and another simpler version called crowdmap which can be set up and used in a few minutes) are open source and can be downloaded and used for free and have the potential to be used for non-emergency situations as well where you want large numbers of people to contribute to information that could be displayed on a map (for example – latest market prices for tomatoes at different town centres or the location of broken water points or villages without electricity connections).  There was also an interesting presentation on the use of Facebook and Twitter in Nigeria to co-ordinate political protest.

    One thing that struck me during the many presentations and discussions was that, just as in the real work, in the digital world there are many technology injustices. For example, depending on whose statistics you believe, in Africa, out of a population of over 1 billion people, somewhere between 400 and 750 million people have access to a mobile phone. But the cost of use, the level of connectivity, and the availability of electricity to recharge phones means that 90% of those people use less than 1 MB of data a month (in comparison the average data consumption in Europe and the US is between 150 and 400MB per person per month). This means most people are not really able to use the technology to access and exchange information beyond the most basic level.

    It also means that when we are talking about a new wave of political engagment through the use of social media, be it during  the “Arab Spring” or the co-ordination of political protests in Nigeria, we are talking essentially about political engagment by a relatively small ‘middle class’ urban group, who has the connectivity and who can afford the telephone bills.  There is a danger, as one participant of the conference noted during a question, that we overestimate the power of social media to change the balance of power and give voice to the marginsalised. Its use (at least at the moment) is just as likely to  simply accrue more power and voice to those who already have it.

    There is also a digital technology gender injustice to contend with as 300 million more men than women have access to mobile phones world-wide.

    Practical Action is certainly not Luddite in its approach to new technology. Around the world we are increasingly using social media and the web in our programme work, most obviously in Practical Answers, where we see the use of the web and  YouTube videos in Latin America to provide information to farmers, podcasting in Peru, Zimbabwe and Nepal to get recordings out beyond the reach of the internet, SMS messaging for agricultural help lines in Nepal and Bangladesh, and mobile phone networks being used to provide advanced warning of floods in Nepal.

    But we need to remeber that social media technology alone is no panecea and cannot, without other parallel action, overcome the more fundamental causes of poverty. You can’t join a twitter protest campaign if you live in a place that has no electricity to charge your phone!

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