Tuesday, September 25, 2007

DO NO HARM - Unintended Consequences of International Philanthropy
A Presentation by Perry Gottesfeld, Executive Director of Occupational Knowledge International, sponsored by the Society for International Development's Washington, D.C. Chapter. September 25, 2007

o The presenter started by pointing out that there is a growing obsession among donors for measuring results and impacts, yet these efforts are focused on “intended or anticipated” impacts and pay not attention to unintended impacts of programs.

o By “unintended consequences”, he meant negative unintended consequences and there was no mention of potential positive unintended impacts or consequences.

o He gave a couple of historical examples of negative unintended consequences of international assistance (arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh resulting from wells digging for rural water supply; and vaccination syringes and vials burned after use)

o Then his main case study was the one laptop per child initiative and his focus was on the battery component. He calculated the amount of lead needed to produce the batteries for a billion laptops and the resulting lead emissions. The idea was to scare everyone with big numbers that don’t really mean anything because they’re being presented totally out of context, without comparing the laptop to any other alternatives, for example.

o The lack of comparison to alternative schemes for introducing IT in developing countries was particularly disturbing and even more disturbing was the fact that the audience, while aware of the one laptop per child initiative, didn’t seem to have much knowledge of anything else that might have been going on with IT in developing countries and didn’t seem to have a good understanding of why anyone would want children and youth to have access to computers and the internet.

o I was getting agitated but feared getting pummeled by tomatoes if I suggested that ICT might actually have some positive impacts or that while I was skeptical about the one-laptop-per-child initiative, there were lots of other ways to use technology effectively to support development goals.

o Part of the solution proposed by Mr. Gottesfeld is a battery certification program that would encourage battery manufacturers to use more environmentally friendly processes and for environmentally sound recycling of lead-based batteries.

o Mr. Gottesfeld mentioned a number of possible assessment methodologies that could be used, including, and most appropriate for technology, the Life Cycle Assessment.

My conclusions

o Donors should indeed pay attention to the potential negative impacts of their interventions and in the context of technology, the first step might be to think about recycling and disposal issues. However, can we expect USAID to do much to promote significant efforts to address the potential negative impacts of technology while it is working hard to open up markets for US corporations providing such technologies in developing countries?

o There is a huge need for an awareness campaign centered around what ICT can and cannot do for developing countries, a need to educate the development community, those people working in fields other than “ICT for development”. Too often, we talk to each other within the “ICT for Development field” and we’re assuming that everyone else has the same knowledge base. The reality is that we often work in sectoral silos and we develop a discourse that doesn’t disseminate well beyond our own limited circles.

Some random related items:
1. SA8000 - Social Accountability - Workplace standards
2. Using ICT to Reduce Environmental Impacts

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

What happens when the perfect job opportunity appears in front of your eyes but it would require moving to the other side of the continent, moving from the East Coast to the West Coast?

Here is what might happen:
1. I tell myself that it's obviously not the PERFECT job for me since it's not a very convenient location based on my current residence. The perfect job would be the same job description, located within 30 minutes of my house.

2. I start to wonder whether I really can't get my family to consider the West Coast. It's not the first time I've looked at Seattle jobs after all... why not re-initiate that discussion with the family?

3. I remind myself that I've already made other career redirection decisions very recently and I might want to stick to them and stay the course..... for a while.

4. I force myself to remember that a) job announcements can be deceiving and don't necessarily tell me much about what the experience will be like; b) the chances I'd actually get the job should I apply are X %?

Does that mean that the most likely response to dream-like opportunities flashing in front of my eyes is to find excuses for not pursuing them? Or, does is it just a normal second stage: first I get all excited about the opportunity, second I think it through and it's just not going to work... third I either let it go or I try to find a way to make it work... somehow. After all, it's not necessarily the position, paycheck and/or job title, that are of greatest interest to me. What if the real attraction is the nature of the work to be performed?

Here's the job announcement responsible for my "ouch" moment!

"The Center for Internet Studies of the University of Washington, Information School, has an outstanding opportunity for an experienced research manager and research coordinator to oversee the implementation of an 18-month study examining ICT public access environments across 25 countries. This research program focuses on libraries and other public access venues across a wide range of countries of differing socio-economic conditions, and aims to collect data that will allow comparative analyses of the political, economic, human resource, and technological and physical infrastructure factors among others that affect public access to ICT. Interested applicants are encouraged to apply early. For full job descriptions, please visit: http://www.cis.washington.edu/about/jobs.html "

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ann E. Tenbrunsel, Kristina A. Diekmann, Kimberly A. Wade-Benzoni, and Max H. Bazerman. "Why We Aren't as Ethical as We Think We Are: A Temporal Explanation." Published September 6, 2007.

Udo Averweg & Susan O'Donnell. "Code of Ethics for Community Informatics Researchers." Community Informatics, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2007).

I've developed a fresh interest in ethics. It's probably not too surprising as someone who does a significant amount of work on evaluation that I would come across some tricky situations.... so I'm reading up on other people's experience and trying to identify guidelines that satisfy my own internal sense of right and wrong --- and everything in between.