Sunday, December 26, 2004

ICT for Development: Empowerment or exploitation?

- Has for background a rights-based approach to development
- Looks at the value of ICTs from a rights and empowerment perspective
- based on the Reflect ICTs project, with pilots in Burundi, India and Uganda

Quote from the report:
"ICTs can be used to strengthen local traditions and cultures of communication, but only by design: people need to appropriate the technology and give it functions which suit their needs and motivations. This requires sensitivity to the communication practices and prejudices of the people in question, both in the way the technologies are designed and marketed, and the way that they are chosen and introduced within a project."

This is missing from many projects. Donors are in a hurry to show results and they don't want to spend time doing truly participatory needs assessments. There is an assumption that ICTs on their own are "empowering" so that if you build telecenters, people will just come. I don't think it works that way. It's not that simple.

I liked the fact that the document is written for non-techies (probably by non-techies as well), but the appendix providing details about the various ICTs is so simplistic that I don't know who is going to learn much out of that. I was specifically looking for some mention of power issues (meaning "energy" issues) but power in this document refers only to power relations in the context of "empowerment" vs. "exploitation".

Thursday, October 28, 2004

ICT for Development - Online Discourse | incommunicado
A post to another blog area... related to the Incommunicado Work conference of June 16-17, 2005.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Enlace Quiché: Using ICT Tools to Support Intercultural Bilingual Education

Interesting project - valuable lessons about how projects can lead to follow-on activities and then the creation of an NGO that is going to continue activities beyond the initial project's duration and funding.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The Asia Foundation: Utilizing ICT to Address Human Trafficking

Human trafficking seems to be the "political correct" modern day bureaucratic terminology to refer to slavery. If you refer to slavery, it's likely that people will think you're talking about something that ended a long time ago, so perhaps it's best to call it human trafficking. There are actually many forms of modern slavery, and human trafficking has been getting an increasing amount of attention from development agencies in the past few years.

The Asia Foundation started a program to look at how ICTs can be used to address human trafficking. The answers are not simple and there are numerous challenges and opportunities to explore.

1. Low levels of ICT capacity among groups fighting human trafficking. Many NGOs in developing countries are getting connected and increasing their IT capabilities. There is no reason for those addressing human trafficking to be left behind.

2. Sensitive nature of transfer of information over insecure channels
That is indeed a serious issue, but there are many human rights organizations that have been dealing with other sensitive issues and they may have important lessons to share about how to handle communications and sensitive data.

3. Lack of accurate data to convince policy makers of the nature and scope of the problem. Databases built on rigorous methodologies for capturing the nature and scope of the problem in specific countries would be quite helpful.

See also the Anti-Trafficking in Person In Asia Web Portal at

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Information Technology and International Development

"Between a rock and a hard place"
I am neither a practitioner nor an academic. I am somewhere in between.... or is it that as a knowledge broker, I should be trying to be the bridge between theory and practice, between the academics and the practitioners. I work more closely with the practitioners than with the academics, yet it often seems that the practitioners are too busy "doing" and wondering why some things don't happen as they'd expected and they're not looking to the academics or to theory for some insights into what went wrong. When the practitioners are happy with their successes, they're not likely to link their success to any theory or previous research either. They'll talk about learning from experience.

This is not to say that practitioners ignore theory. In fact, many have the theoretical background and theoretical frameworks in the back of their heads. What is missing is a more systematic look at existing theoretical frameworks to extract insights and create more stable and enduring linkages with practice. Practice should be more inspired by theoretical insights and the practitioners' insights should inspire researchers/academics a little more (you've heard that before?).

These Sunday morning theory/practice thoughts came out as I was scanning through the two past issues of the relatively new journal, Information Technologies and International Development, published by The MIT Press. In the second issue (Winter 2003), there is an article by Raul Roman titled "Diffusion of Innovations as a Theoretical Framework for Telecenters." Roman notes that while there is a growing body of literature on telecenters that is targeting policy makers, practitioners and those who set up telecenters, there has been little attention paid to any theoretical frameworks beyind telecenters. There have been discussions of evaluation frameworks and evaluation methods for telecenters, but that's it.

This caught my eye because a couple of months ago I was looking into diffusion theory and Rogers work in particular to think about ways to develop a theoretical framework for a study of IT adoption by SMEs in Macedonia.

It also caught my eye as I have been thinking about replicability and scalability issues and suddenly, a light was turned on. How can we talk about replicability and scalability of IT projects without talking about innovation diffusion theory. More thinking to be done.....

Sunday, August 22, 2004

"I tried going back to reading fiction, sick and tired of the jargonic, bureaucratic works I and others produce. I must be very picky because I find it really hard to find something I really enjoy reading in fiction. I'd rather write it myself."

That is what I wrote in my last entry in this blog. Reading it again, it sounds excessively arrogant. It's nice to write quickly without too much self-editing, but then, there's a greater chance of being misunderstood. In that paragraph, I did not mean at all to suggest that I prefer writing fiction to reading fiction because I am in any way a better writer than anyone published. Quite the contrary, I have very limited confidence in my ability to ever be published and no real interest in even seeking to be published. What I really meant is that I enjoy the creative processes involved in writing fiction much more than I enjoy reading other people's fiction at this point. Yet, to be a good writer, one has to read others' work!

I finished "Another Day in Paradise." Some of the stories are really powerful and rang very true. I did not spend much time as a humanitarian worker myself. I was working with Action Internationale Contre la Faim for three months in Liberia, followed by a year with the United Nations Development Program, also in Liberia. These experiences (however short compared to that of many of the humanitarian workers profiled in the book), in addition to a long history of worldwide travel as a child, have had a profound impact on my thinking and how I view my work away from the field and how I view short visits to developing countries that I have been able to take in recent years.

The field is where I would have wanted to be if my career had continued to be my primary goal in life. The field, however, would not have been compatible with a family life. I opted for the family life.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Excerpt of reviews of "Another Day In Paradise" -

I tried going back to reading fiction, sick and tired of the jargonic, bureaucratic works I and others produce. I must be very picky because I find it really hard to find something I really enjoy reading in fiction. I'd rather write it myself.

So here is what I am reading these days. I bought a bunch of books at one time, which is totally atypical for me.

- Another day in Paradise: International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories, compiled and edited by Carol Bergman
- No room at the table: Earth's Most Vulnerable Children, by Donald H. Dunson
- Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, by Kevin Bales
- Silent Terror: A Journey Into Contemporary African Slavery, by Samuel Cotton
- Free the Children: A Young Man Fights Against Child Labor and Proves that Children Can Change the World, by Craig Kielburger, with Kevin Major
- Emma's War: An Aid Worker, A Warlord, Radical Islam, and the Politics of Oil - A True Story of Love and Death in Sudan, by Deborah Scroggins.

This is all part of a personal project but the personal and professional are never so far apart. So, you ask, what does this have to do with Knowledge for Development? It has to do with feeling so far away from where so called "development" is supposed to happen. It has to do with wondering what it is that I contribute, wondering whether I am not part of the problem. It has to do with knowing that not only do I not have any answers to development problems, but I could be contributing to the problems. If we can't help, the least we should do is "do no harm".

To a large extent, it is the ethical and moral issues around development and humanitarial issues that I am interested in at the moment. The distance between the "helpers" and the "beneficiaries" is too great. The words we use are wrong. The realities we live in are too separate. Yet to feel productive as a professional, to feel that at least, I am not hurting anyone and perhaps I am doing something to contribute to solutions rather than problems, then it is essential to consider that distance, to look at the ethical and moral issues, to wonder and ask questions where questions need to be asked. I know very little, but at least I know that.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

A good read: "How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas," by David Bornstein

"An idea is like a play. It needs a good producer and a good promoter even if it is a masterpiece. An idea will not move fromt the fringes to the mainstream simply because it is good; it must be skillflly marketed before it will actually shift people's perceptions and behavior."

Friday, May 21, 2004

Conflict-sensitive monitoring and evaluation

This is a very interesting document providing practical advice to develop monitoring and evaluation systems that are "conflict-sensitive". By "conflict-sensitive", the authors are referring to a "system that captures the interaction between project and context, and to identify relevant indicators to monitor this intervention."

Conflict-sensitive M&E is really part of a broader approach to conflict sensitive project design and implementation and this document is just one module of a series that addresses conflict-sensitive development projects.

Related questions:
1. What are the obstacles/constraints to M&E in conflict situations? In some situations, either pre-conflict, conflict or post-conflict, going around asking questions or asking people to fill questionnaires is going to be problematic.

2. Are ICT projects even more problematic than other types of projects with regards to M&E in conflict situations?

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Moving books where they need to be...

Camel Mobile Services in Kenya

Uganda Bookmobile

There was a little brownbag today around the Uganda Bookmobile. While there is only one Bookmobile in Uganda, it seems that there are many ideas for using bookmobiles not only in other places in Uganda but around the world. The main problem at the moment isn't the lack of ideas for scaling up and replicate in many different settings, but rather to find business models that would make the individual bookmobiles or networks of bookmobiles sustainable.

- What's the demand for the kinds of books that are being made available at the moment? When you're starved, you'll eat about anything but what's offered to you isn't always what you would have picked, given some choices, and it's not always what's best for you.

- Who will pay for the books? Can a ministry of education pay for a dozen bookmobiles to go around the country and print essential book collections for school libraries? Do the children (and their families) end up having to pay for the books?

- How can the price per printed page (about 1 cent) be further reduced to truly make the cost of a book affordable in rural areas of developing countries?

- How can the content available for printing be systematically collected and organized in such a way that databases of printable documents are easily searchable? Is there software available to quickly cut-and-paste a series of documents, print and bind them into a resource book?

- Can a bookmobile serve a small network of telecenters? I'm really interested in exploring this option because the bookmobile can be a very effective marketing tool for the telecenters. Also, for the cost of one bookmobile, 4-5 telecenters can have access to a bookbinding facility. There are many development-related information resources that are online but would be costly to print multiple times for users of a telecenter. If a telecenter is able to identify key resources of value to the community, the bookmobile can help print out high-quality booklets/books to fill the shelves of the telecenter's library. Sometimes libraries become telecenters and sometimes telecenters can have a couple of bookshelves and a system for lending books or allowing patrons to read books on site.

- What about CD-ROMs from the Humanity Library collection? Would it be possible for all this information to be part of the bookmobile's database? If the CDs are located in a telecenter, can a traveling bookmobile print on-demand based on what the telecenter patrons or staff have selected as essential resources.

There is certainly a great need to think about the sustainability of different bookmobile models, partnerships with content providers, strategies to get local communities to produce and publish their own local content for local distribution, partnerships with existing local organizations, including local governments, agricultural extension offices, health centers.... Good luck to the "anywherebooks" team! I suspect they will be busy for several years to come.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Press release on Global Support for Information Society Targets

Information Society Targets- What are the priorities?

Based on an online survey with 1250 respondents... here are the priorities:

1. Connecting universities, colleges, secondary schools and primary schools with ICTs
--- 85.43% viewed this target as a very important.

2. Connecting scientific and research centres with ICTs
--- 84.76% viewed this target as a very important.

The list goes on but I thought it was interesting that the two highest priorities were the two listed above... The main problem is that these two statements focus on "connecting", which is really only part of the issue if it is seen essentially as a technical/infrastructure problem. Connecting educational institutions will do absolutely nothing by itself. There is so much that must be done to prepare administrators and educators to use the technologies effectively.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

"Informational Influence in Organizations: An Integrated Approach to Knowledge Adoption." By Stephanie Watts Sussman & Wendy Schneier Siegal. In Information Systems Research, Vol. 14, No. 1, March 2003, pp. 47-65.

I came across this paper looking for information on decision making processes in the adoption of Information Technology, which led me to the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) and ultimately this paper.

Abstract:"This research investigates how knowledge workers are influenced to adopt the advice that they receive in mediated contexts. The research integrates the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) with dual-process models of information influence to build a theoretical model of information adoption. This model highlights the assessment of information usefulness as a mediator of the information adoption process."

I must admit that I wasn't particularly interested in the findings but much more interested in the model itself and its conceptual underpinnings.

Reading notes:
--- Technology Acceptance Model (TAM): people form intentions to adopt a behavior or technology based on their beliefs about the consequences of adoption and their evaluation of these consequences. --- [that sounds reasonable!]
--- Perceived usefulness is a fundamental predictor of user adoption [sounds pretty obvious!]
--- Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM): Elaboration involves attending to the content of the message, scrutinizing and assessing its content and reflecting on issues relevant to the message.
--- Under conditions of high elaboration likelihood, argument quality is a critical determinant of informational influence.
--- Under conditions of low elaboration likelihood, source credibility is a more critical determinant of informational influence.
--- Source credibility is used in this study as the key peripheral cue that individuals use to assess a message (without any reference to its content). There are other possible peripheral cues that individuals use to assess messages (ex: subject heading, # of people the message is copied to, the status of people the message is copied to, etc...)
--- Prior expertise influences the extent to which individuals are likely to elaborate because of increased ability to process information.
--- Motivational levels also alter recipients' elaboration likelihood.

Why does all this matter?
1. By understanding how people adopt mediated advice (advice sent via email), we can design processes that support effective information adoption. I'm thinking this has important implications for online coaching and support to project staff in the field.

2. The external validity of potentially shared knowledge -- how useful it is for the problem at hand -- is actually more important than the internal validity of that knowledge. In short, just-in-time (valid) knowledge is what people need, so the timing of the advice is important.
Knowledge for Development - FURL Archives

I decided to experiment a little more with web tools and started a FURL (not sure it's a noun!). Am I "furling"? That doesn't sound very nice...:)

The FURL will be a tool to organize web links in specific categories and make them accessible on the Knowledge for Development web site. The BLOG will remain a tool for more in-depth postings, reflections, etc...

Monday, May 17, 2004

Dissemination pathways and indicators of impact on development: a review of the literature

This paper is part of a larger program (funded by DFID) titled "Spreading the word: practical guidelines for research dissemination strategies."

"Practice what you preach" looked at the "Spreading the word" project itself to see how it had been disseminated.
The power of questions: putting the interactivity into online self-study

How questions can be used in training... I've always thought of questions as being a very important tool for learning and especially useful to facilitate others' learning experience. Not only you can pose questions that learners need to answer but you can encourate learners to ask themselves questions. They will usually come up with questions that are most relevant to them in connecting existing knowledge to new knowledge.
'Sous l'arbre à palabre' or 'Under the palaver tree': The story of an ongoing partnership with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)

Question: Is the palaver tree the community level equivalent of the water cooler at the organizational level, with regards to knowledge management?

More on the palaver tree... "In the shade of the palaver tree"
Torres, Rosalie T. and Preskill, Hallie S. "Communicating and Reporting: Practices and Concerns of Internal and External Evaluators." Evaluation Practice, Spring/Summer 1997, Vol. 18, Issue 2.

This article reports on the findings of a survey of evaluators and focuses on communicating and reporting practices.

Reading notes:
---- don't bother writing long, elaborate reports, even if a few people will read them, their actual impact is likelly to be limited.
---- delivery findings/lessons through a variety of communication channels, add visuals, use understandable language.

---- continuous engagement of stakeholders works best to ensure "utilization" of evaluation findings.

---- challenge of balancing negative and positive findings.

---- internal and external evaluators tend to face the same challenges. Internal evaluators often have a better understanding of the politics involved and are sometimes in a better position to adjust their message and communication strategies for maximum impact.
The Economic Impact of ICT: Measurement, Evidence and Implications

I am collecting resources on evaluation of ICT projects and programs. This large study focuses on OECD countries and is essentially quantitative but my interest is mostly in the analytical framework upon which the study is based, the types of arguments that are being made relating ICT to economic impacts.
Ethnographic Action Research: A user's handbook developed to innovate and research ICT applications for poverty eradication

This is a very interesting approach and one that seems to be gaining momemtun and credibility among some development agencies. There is, in some places, a move away from traditional evaluation approaches and towards a learning approach to project and program evaluation that makes the most of qualitative methods.

Reading notes:
------ By observing our actions we can generate knowledge and learn from our experiences --- informed reflection.... That's quite obvious to me at the individual level, but more difficult to realize at the organizational level.

------ Need to integrate research into the project's continuous cycle of planning and acting ---- yes, but the word "research" will scare off a lot of people, why not call it "systematic learning" or action learning.

------ Develop a research culture through which knowledge and reflection are constantly fed back in ways that help projects develop ----

------ Idea: connect with academia (ph.d students) who would have the time and interest in doing field research.... even better, connect with academia in the country where the projects are being implemented.

------ Question: How costly is all this? Ethnographic action research is very time consuming. It doesn't fit well with short project cycle frameworks that are being used by most development agencies.

------ Question: How do you integrate action research/action learning into an organization's work without making it a large project? Is it possible to start small and grow based on positive experience and evidence of benefits? How do you successfully bring in an action learning approach into an organization that is heavily influenced by pressures to document "successes"? How do you help an organization transition from evaluation to learning? How to you go beyond paying lip service to "lessons learned". There is a tendency to document "lessons learned" but very little evidence that lessons have been truly learned.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

A Story About Teaching Digital Storytelling at Scottsdale Community College

I'm interested in using storytelling both in instructional settings and in knowledge networking in organizational and cross-organizational context. This is an interview but the page has some interesting links to related websites about digital storytelling.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Negotiating the Net

I attended a presentation earlier today which introduced a book titled "Negotiating the Net" to be published later this year. The book is the result of more than two years of study on the African continent to identify critical issues that affected the diffusion of the Internet. The authors, led by professor Ernerst Wilson III of the University of Maryland, looked at Critical Negotiating Issues (CNI) that emerged in different countries on the continent, their timing and evolution. The book is based on country case studies and the presentations by various members of the study team followed this country case study approach, with an additional focus on continent wide critical negotiation issues. This link takes you to a different presentation than what I was presented today.

One thought came to mind: This study is clearly in the tradition of the literature on the political economy of reforms. It looks at critical issues of contention that affected the diffusion of the Internet. It identifies key stakeholders within government as well as in the private sector and civil society and it analyzes the arguments and motivations of all sides to better understand the blockages, hurdles and other obstacles that countries have to overcome to promote the rapid diffusion of the Internet.... So, my question is: How was this study influenced by the literature on the political economy of reforms (if at all)? Was this literature on the political economy of reforms taken into account when developing the framework for the study or later on when analyzing the data collected through numerous interviews in the countries selected as case studies? Is there anything that can be learned from the existing literature on the political economy of reforms that would apply to the politics of Internet policy making? What have we learned from reforms in other (non-IT) fields in terms of policy formulation, coalition building, capacity building, transforming policies into implementable action plans, etc... that would apply to Internet and broader IT policy areas? What is different about IT policies?

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Learning Quotations -

Some insightful quotations.... I just bought "Learn more Now: 10 Simple Steps to Learning Better, Smarter and Faster", by Marcia L. Conner and each chapter and sub-section starts with one of these quotations.
The high cost of not finding information: Reinventing is more fun than reusing - Tuesday, April 20, 2004
Why People Do not Ask questions - Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Personal Content Management

A post on Dave Pollard's blog...

I'm increasingly convinced that many knowledge management initiatives fail because they do not sufficiently address knowledge management skills and attitudes at the individual level. Unless individuals become more adept at "personal knowledge management", the higher level goals of knowledge sharing within and across organizational units and all the technology in the world will not really provide solutions. I still do believe that technologies can help us a great deal, but we need first to concentrate on making sure that we, as individuals, are effective users of the tools we have at our disposal.
Revisiting the Magic Box: Case Studies in Local Appropriation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)

This FAO study is a follow up to a 2001 article addressing the same issue of "local appropriation". Local appropriation of ICTs "is about communities and groups selecting and adopting communication tools according to the different information and communication needs identified by them, and then adapting the technologies so that they become rooted in their own social, economic and cultural processes," noted the authors of the 2001 article. This document provides interesting case studies from Uganda, Costa Rica and Mexico.

What I was specifically looking for were reference to evaluation frameworks that may have been used to assess the impact of some of the projects and initiatives mentioned in the document.

The original paper had noted the lack of rigorous monitoring and evaluation of of projects and recommended the development of frameworks or guidelines for measuring impact. Yet this document laments that there is "still an absence of analytical tools and methodologies for monitoring and evaluating ICT interventions."

Tracking down 24 case studies that had been originally documented, the study found a clear absence of data that would demonstrate how well they were doing.

I have been trying to argue something for a while and this is the first time I see it written down in a paper: " several projects have received more attention than really justified because of connections with international organizations, while the global community has missed some projects... because of their low media profiles."

Unfortunately, the paper itself does not say much about new methodologies or tools to address the lack of rigorous evaluation of projects. The authors mention an upcoming document by Warren Feek entitled "Virtual Change: Criteria and Indicators for Assessing the Impact of Information and Communication Technologies on Development Trends." I will keep an eye for it then....

Friday, February 06, 2004

Taking Charge of Learning: Tips for Students: Syllabus

David G. Brown

"My recurring pedagogical theme is that each student is at the center of his or her learning. As teachers-professors we catalyze. We coach. We connect. In the end, however, each student must take personal responsibility for learning. Properly used, each student's computer is an efficient and very effective tool that enhances the pursuit of this responsibility. "

I could not agree more.
Paving the Way to Excellence in eLearning

A report produced by the National Learning Network, a national partnership programme designed to increase the uptake of Information and Learning Technology (ILT) across the learning and skills sector in England.
Stephen's Web ~

Online Conference Discussions

This article by Stephen Downes provides some interesting suggestions for adding online components to face-to-face conferences. However, there are so many variables to take into account that generalizations are very difficult.

Under what conditions will an online component add the most value to an event? How does the online component help to address the conference's objectives?

What do we mean by an online component? Are we just talking about a conference web site with key documents, presentations, etc.. or a discussion space where conference participants can communicate before, during and after the live event?

What about conferences that are entirely online, live or asynchronous...

Who should be invited to participate in online discussions associated with a conference and what is the exact purpose of such discussions? Are these really "discussions" where participants are expected to interact with each other or is the purpose primarily to allow participants to post questions/comments, without truly interacting with each other and/or with speakers.

Announcing the online discussions in conjunction with the announcement for the live event can be tricky because the target audiences can be different. Are the expected online participants people who will be attending the live event as well or are those people who cannot attend the live event at all? One more complication: What if the people participating online are able to see a webcast of the live event but are not able to interact directly with speakers in any other way than through the online discussion element?

Thursday, January 22, 2004

IDPM - DI Working Paper No.16 - Knowledge and Learning in Online Networks in Development: A Social Capital Perspective

Sharing Knowledge to Achieve Development Goals

This is the 6-page version of a much larger (100+ page) document prepared by the evaluation department of the World Bank (OED). Interestingly, the title of the larger report is slightly different: "Sharing Knowledge: Innovations and Remaining Challenges," but perhaps nothing should be read into that difference.

The incentives structure within the World Bank (and many other development organizations, I assume) is such that taking a critical look at one's work is practically suicidal. It may be possible to be critical of one's work internally but to one's colleagues and supervisors, it is always a good idea to focus on the positive and avoid speaking of failures (whether one's own or that of colleagues).

Thankfully, there is OED. While OED (the Operations Evaluation Department) is part of the Bank, it is independent and from what I have seen, quite capable of taking a critical look at the bank's work. This particular report and the shorter "precis" focused on the World Bank's knowledge initiative that was started in 1996. For some, the World Bank has been an innovator and pioneer in terms of integrating knowledge management strategies throughout the organization and a model for other development organizations. For others, the World Bank's knowledge initiative was just another way of controlling development knowledge.

The report points to both successes and failures of the Bank's knowledge initiative. In short, while the strategy was sound and relevant, there remain some challenges, in particular in terms of the linkages between the knowledge sharing activities of the Bank and its actual operations. The Bank is doing a lot of important knowledge sharing but most of it is not sufficiently supporting the Bank's operations (lending and non-lending activities). Another failure relates to the lack of monitoring and evaluation of the knowledge activities, though this report is clearly a major first step in addressing that problem.

Suggestion: Read the short document first and if there are specific issues you'd like to explore in more depth, tackle the larger report titled "Sharing Knowledge: Innovations and Remaining Challenges" (October 2003).