At last, we have now finished screening and post-producing a lot of material we gathered at ICTD2010 in December – the biggest ICT4D / ICTD conference in 2010 – and proudly present to you the final summary of the conference.
On the ICT4D.at Youtube channel you can see interviews and summaries of specific sessions and the four days of ICTD2010.
ICTD2010 is over now and we’re happy we were there, joined the organizers and got a very special view from behind the curtains on the conference. We are still publishing interviews and are planning for an extensive wrap up of the whole four days, but as the impressions are still fresh it’s time for me to write a very personal resume on what I’ve seen and heard there, and what I think is relevant for the ICT4D field as a whole.
Interdisciplinary research field vs. Mainstreaming ICT4D
What I really liked at ICTD2010 was that there were sessions and workshops covering many different topics. Different sector-specific viewpoints on ICT4D were all invited to the conference. There were tracks on health, microfinance, environment, gender, open source and many more.
The conference organisers identified this openness to other disciplines as the main reason why there were so many people wanting to participate. They event had to close their online registration early as a result of this big demand. Approximately 580 people registered it to the conference in the end.
Naturally, this diversity led to interesting discussions and fruitful exchange (as far as I can judge). To me it seemed to be a consensus at ICTD2010 to view ICT4D as an interdisciplinary research field on its own.
This of course opposes the view of several donor organisations who want to mainstream ICT4D in their general development efforts (here Richard Heek’s case against mainstreaming ICTs in development). In the Donor Voices session at the conference this tendency was underlined once more, especially by representatives of the Swiss, Canadian and German development cooperation.
It remains to be seen how this will develop.
Practitioners vs. Researchers
A topic which was addressed at several sessions at ICTD2010 was the gap between ICT4D practitioners and researchers.
At the conference, therefore people with both backgrounds were invited and already in the opening panel of the first day, Tim Unwin challenged five renowned practitioners to share their views and to “tell us (the researchers) what they think we should be doing”. Responses called for “focus more on people’s needs”, “more critical thinking”, “make sure community ownership” , “not focus too much on technology and tools”, “a directory of organizations working and researching in the field”, “justification to be able to work in ICT4D” or “research on the regional contextual differences”. See a wrap up of the Opening Panel: Practitioners Perspectives here.
Generally at the conference many people stated that practitioners and researchers should find an appropriate language to share their expertise, so they can simplify life for each other. Furthermore the need for better documented projects as well as more engagement of researchers in the field was raised.
An improvement which Anriette Esterhuysen identified in an interview we held with her was that “people are more willing now to talk about their failed projects”. Also, as is stated in the WWW foundation blog:
there were quite a few papers presenting failed initiatives. Failure can be as instructive as success. But as academic disciplines grow up, they become competitive for promotion and funding, and failure becomes shame.
This also fits with other recent initiatives to motivate people in ICT4D projects to publish their failure as well as their success (for example Mobileactive.org’s Failfare intitiative), as it’s people’s lives ICT4D projects are dealing with and repeating mistakes can have severe impacts.
Technology-driven vs. looking at the individual people’s needs
A very interesting sentence relating to this dilemma came from ICTD2010 programme chair Kentaro Toyama. Having swapped his position at Microsoft Research to the University of Berkeley recently, I asked him which differences between the two he noted in the approach to ICT4D. What he said was, that actually these different approaches to ICT4D drove him in the first place to take the position in Berkeley. At Microsoft Research he said, he was too much constrained to technology, which he considered not to be helpful in many cases (the complete interview with Kentaro Toyama here).
Many other voices also repeated the claim that “technology is not a silver bullet” and the need to look at the individual people’s needs. Kiss Abraham states in an interview we led with him that the focus on technology is de-humanizing the whole ICT4D debate and that much more research on the individual people’s needs and the changes technology brings to them is required. Ineke Buskens states in the same interview that researchers should keep in mind that real people with a purpose are behind all the research (complete interview with Ineke Buskens and Kiss Abraham here).
With our poster about “Stories from the Field: Mobile Phone Usage and its Impact on People’s Lives in East Africa” we were also addressed by a lot of interested people who said they were waiting for more research on such an individual level.
North and South
At ICTD2010 great focus was laid on bringing together researchers from “North” and “South”, to get away from the often-criticized approach to research FOR the target group, but not WITH them.
Furthermore, a very critical approach towards development was expressed. One very catchy quote on this topic was Geoff Walsham saying that development is not a final state, but we all are developing and that there is no need to consider countries of the “North” more developed than countries of the “South” (full length interview to be uploaded).
A novelty at ICTD2010 was the introduction of a Spanish track on the first day which was well attended. Dorothea Kleine said in our interview (full length interview to be uploaded) that conversations about ICT4D should be carried forward by different groups of people in different languages and that she hopes for more participation in languages other than English for future conferences.
Also Ineke Buskens tried to include French and Arabic speaking people in the ICTD2010 pre-confernce platform by translating several sent in texts to these languages.
Related to this, as was quoted by Whiteafrican and Afronline, the lack of ICT4D research by Africans was addressed. One paper (“ICTD Research by Africans: Origins, Interests, and Impact“) even specifically topicized the contributions of African researchers to the ICT4D debate. You can watch our interview with one of the authors – Paul Plantinga – at the ICT4D.at Youtube channel.
The decision to host the next ICTD conference in the Global North (Georgia Tech) was therefore heavily disputed and by some people regarded as a missed opportunity to bring ICT4D research back to the local, affected people. It must be stated though, that Georgia Tech obviously was the only university with a formal bid for ICTD2012, so the decision cannot be regarded as politically motivated.
Most of this is not new
An interesting and maybe worrying fact about the topics above, which I identified as substantial at the conference is that most of them are not new or just recently found out about.
We’ve all heard of that before, at conferences and events, in papers or news articles. As Tim Unwin states in our interview (part 2): “One of the things that probably sadden me most about the field is how little it has changed. We’re hearing much the same things we’ve heard for 3, 4, 5 years.”
Maybe the ICT4D field is still immature as is stated on the WWW foundation blog, maybe it is picking up slowly, or maybe the real decision makers – which are primarily the donors I would guess – don’t agree to the majority’s solution to the above mentioned topics as of yet. The “Voices of the donors” session at ICTD2010 suggests otherwise, but I’m curious if these “old” challenges will be resolved and new challenges will be identified until the next ICTD conference 2012, or if we’ll still be stuck with the current ones.
Some more videos from ICTD2010 we’ve uploaded to Youtube in the mean time.
First day – opening panel:
First day – pre-conference platform session:
Third day – wrap-up:
Interviews are constantly being uploaded, so check the ICT4D.at Youtube channel or watch them here:
The hashtag for the whole event in #ICTD2010, so check http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23ictd2010 for frequent updates.
On these Youtube channels you find videos of the conference:
Our video with flashlights of the first day is soon to come – we’ll announce it here when we’re finished.
From Monday 13.12. on we will be reporting from this year’s biggest ICT4D / ICTD conference – ICTD2010 at Royal Holloway, London. Our main job is to shoot interviews, sessions, presentations for a video-diaries for each day of the conference. People who can’t participate in person should that way get an impression of the discussions, talks and generally the vibe at the conference. Furthermore we will produce one video report covering the whole conference.
Al our material will be uploaded to our Youtube channel and some of it will be featured here on the blog.
So make sure to check it out frequently!
If you are thinking about visiting the well known ICTD 2010, which takes place from 13th to 16th December in London, you should consider staying two more days and visit the probably more technology related ACM DEV 2010 as well.
The 1st Annual Symposium on Computing for Development is being planned for December 17-18, 2010 in Royal Holloway, University of London, following the co-located 2010 ICTD Conference. Check out the website fore more information.
At ICTD2010, the biggest ICT4D/ICTD conference this year, just recently the accepted papers and posters have been publicized. The topics cover the most exciting and current topics in ICT4D today, and we are proud to announce that the paper we handed in – “A Qualitative Study of the Impact of Mobile Phone Usage on the Social Life in East Africa” was also accepted as a poster.
Registration for the conference has also opened already – so make sure you get a ticket before it’s too late. There’s also the possibility to apply for a scholarship for people to participate in the conference who might not otherwise be able to do so. Just as a reminder once again the dates:
What: ICTD2010 conference
Where: Royal Holloway University, London
When: 12. to 16. December 2010
ICT4D.at is partnering with Roayal Holloway for this event. Currently we are working with various other people of ICTD2010 to get the pre-conference platform up soon. We will host it here on our server. Furthermore we are working on a media strategy, as we are providing our video and radio skills to the conference organizers.
A lot is happening – and ICTD2010 promises to be a really exciting event. So make sure you check it out!
This year in December the probably biggest and most important ICT4D / ICTD conference this year will take place in London. Tim Unwin and Dorothea Kleine (both from Royal Holloway University) have gathered people from around the world to help them in pulling in as many opinions and viewpoints as possible from as many individuals and organizations as possible to make the conference a rich and helpful experience for the whole ICT4D / ICTD scene.
It aims to provide a forum for researchers, practitioners and all those with interests in the use of information and communication technologies in development practice to meet to discuss the latest research advances in the field. [from the ICTD2010 page]
Keynote speaker so far announced include Sir Tim Berners Lee (Director of W3C) and Lídia Brito (Director of Science Policy Division, UNESCO), furthermore the who is who of the international ICT4D / ICTD research and practitioner scene will be present there.
We at ICT4D.at are also contributing to the conference – currently by providing technical assistance for the pre-conference activites (to be announced), and at the conference with doing audio, video and web 2.0 coverage of what’s happening there. Furthermore we are advertising the event through our channels – so click the ICTD2010 London web page link here and make sure you attend the conference. Once again the dates:
What: ICTD2010 conference
Where: Royal Holloway University, London
When: 12. to 16. December 2010
For everybody interested in ICT4D / ICTD research and networking it’s probably the place to be this year. Registration opens soon, hope to see you there!
This weekend the second Africa Gathering in London – with the tagline “sharing ideas about positive change” – took place and I was there, representing ICT4D.at, taking notes of the presentations and shooting some blurry photos.
- Africa Gathering London – Saturday, panel discussion
- Africa Gathering London – Saturday, presentations 3
- Africa Gathering London – Saturday, presentations 2
- Africa Gathering London – Saturday, presentations 1
- Africa Gathering London – Friday, presentations 2
- Africa Gathering London – Friday, presentations 1
The event was – again – really great with presentations from different sectors and speakers with extremely diverse backgrounds. It was split in two parts with Friday as networking event with fewer attendees and Saturday with a bigger audience – although the format of the presentations of the two days didn’t differ very much.
My personal highlights of Friday were Leon Benjamin’s presentation advertising different – collaborative and self-organized – ways of organizing work, and Bill Liao’s musings on humanity – leading to such diverse things as “thrivability” and the planting of trees to save the planet. The underlying theme of both presentations was that “it” can’t go on that way – may “it” be the current “command and control” structure of society and organizations, or the destruction of the planet. The presenters showed ways how to improve the situation – and both incorporated more collaboration and leaving the current hierarchical system structure.
On Saturday, amongst other presentations there were two moving personal stories of people who now engage themselves fully in helping disadvantaged children. Kevin “Banana Man” Alan, a former martial arts trainer from Liverpool who was moved by a TV documentary in a way that he almost suddenly changed his life to dedicate all he had to helping children in Zulu Land, South Africa. His charity Banana Appeal plants fruit trees to feed the poor children and supports them to be able to go to school. The second personal story was rapper Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier in Sudan who was smuggled out of the country by an aid worker and deals with his past by writing lyrics and making music. He also formed a charity – GUA Africa – which works with families affected by war – helping the children to receive education. Two other very interesting presentations from Saturday were one about CreditSMS – now FrontlinsSMS Credit – trying to provide banking services to as many people as possible via sms (basing on FrontlineSMS), and one about Africa Rural Connect, a platform where ideas how to improve Africa’s agriculture are shared, rated and experience is exchanged.
I would like to mention another Africa Gathering participant here which didn’t have a presentation but showcased a prototype – Simon Berry of Colalife. He is campaigning to persuade Coca Cola to open its distibution channel in developing countries, allowing the delivery of “social goods” such as medication through this channel. I really like the idea and think it’s absolutely worth supporting. He presented at the first Africa Gathering earlier this year.
All in all I am happy to have attended Africa Gathering once more, there were a lot of interesting people around with a strong desire to change the current way of things. The location – The Hub close to King’s Cross – was very nice and there was enough time to socialize and get to know each other. The mix of presentations was interesting and inspiring, thanks Ed Scotcher and team for organizing the whole event.
Notes from the Africa Gathering London – “sharing ideas about positive change” – an event about business, IT, social causes and Africa.
Teddy Ruge, Richard White, Mariéme Jamme, Adesina Iluyemi, Justin Lyon, Guy Collender, Charles Warren
How can Africa seize the web?
- different angle – with mobile platforms, even without of internet
- Possibility to take away a lot of money from Western Union by using a web platform
- get the bandwidth in, but there’s also a lot of innovation around mobile phones
- Voice XML extending the abilities of sms
How will the web change business, what potentials are there for Africa?
- Africa has stories – seizing the web by telling our stories
- we need to be critical, to blog, to embrace the web, getting visibility
- we need to become trusted to become profitable
Are companies in the west really taking Africans seriously?
- The multidisciplinary approach is vital – only with the combined teamwork it’s possible to get anywhere
- It’s exciting that bandwidth comes to Africa, but technology is no silver bullet, we also have to look at the policy aspect
Is the web helping in the people’s impression of Africa & changing this picture or not?
- Actually both, other people are already telling Africa’s story for us, 99% is inaccurate
- In terms of business and credibility it is important to just engage with people who do business
- The quality of production in Africa is the same as in the west – provided there are the tools
Is the web a business opportunity or an empowerment opportunity?
- What’s exciting – African businesses being able to compete with any other business from any country
- There is a market for products from Africa
What can be done to improve the user experience for people?
- Stop developing your apps for the device, start developing web apps for the browser – that would be already great for Africa
- As long as you have access to your users, it’s easier to fix things if you’re using a browser
What’s being done with open source? Is it being pushed – as it is a big opportunity for Africa?
- It doesn’t really matter if it’s open or closed source, it’s important that it works
- It’s more about business models
- It’s an open market – we have a great opportunity to write our own software
- “If it works in Africa, it’ll work anywhere” – same for apps, Africa is the best testing ground
How can IT be used to generate income – without becoming techies?
- E.g. online gold farming
- Why not creating mobile apps and selling them on platforms?
- It’s about business models – most mobile apps are sold because of consumerism
- The environment for consumerism in Africa is not given
- So things are sold internationally
Should social media be taught in schools to encourage mutual learning?
- Just started a project to do that
- We have to start teaching social media – to create credibility for Africa
- The government of South Africa has concern that Africans can’t e.g. Twitter, … so at the World Championship all comments would come from Europe
- Waiting for the presentation where kids are pulled in to create things which are really fun
- How to create a fun experience, teaching young people without that they know they are taught something
What about quality of content? How to make sure to make traustworthy, unbiased content? Crowdsourcing?
- Crowdsourcing – example: following & retweeting people I already know
- Enhancing free flowing information by personal contacts
- Local content is important – quality comes from how it’s produced
- Creating a network based on mobile networks alone
- Africa has to create more content first, before talking about credibility
- Google can sort out trustworthy when there’s enough data
Can we seperate form and function? User experience is different in Africa.
- Representation of information should be minimized – put the content first and take design then
The biggest block for seizing the internet in Africa is a lack of ability – through corruption or otherwise. If Africa can achieve the legislative framework to prevent people from abusing the internet power coming in soon (e.g. by people wanting to make money out of others), the potential can be realised.
- right now we squeeze every bit out of the technology we have
- there are a lot of factors influencing internet in Africa – but it’s going to take a long time
- Example: three weekends in a row internet usage skyrocketed in Iran
- Cause: the local carrier was providing free internet access from a mobile on weekends
- Cost is an important point – possibly impeding potential of internet
- There needs to be more companies, more competition
- In the next years there will be a big difference in that
There are two needs to be understood concerning cables – international & national law. Some cables are coming from different continents. Is there a legal framework? Internationally there is a framework which prevents a monopoly. But what about national law? Competition is a way forward in that respect. People also have to know what’s going on and how to have a say.
It’s a vicous circle – the internet brings freedom but what if internet doesn’t come?
- There’s also a problem in content infrastructure
- Other language content has to be considered
- Operators in Africa claim that there’s no business model to roll out – because of poverty
- They rely on the Western model
- What people forget is that just because most people in Africa make few money doesn’t mean there is no market
- Few make business models for these people
- All the mobile companies make a lot of money – even the poorest people find a way to buy credits
- Now taking phones away from Africa isn’t possible anymore, we can’t go back
- Forget creating stuff for the web browser – look into the future
There’s txtEagle – crowdsourcing microtasks – there’s Google Voice sending free text messages for free, there’s the Skype business model – a lot of opportunities.
Once we’ve seized the web – where will Africa be in 15-20 years?
- Focusing on Uganda – there will be a lot of revolutions caused by technology, even political ones fueled by the enhanced possibilities to communicate
- A collapse of space – communication with people all over the planet
- Explosion of small communities – even only present online
- Global citizenship, global powerstructures changing
- Traditional banking sector will be bypassed by other models e.g. FrontlineSMS Credit
- African cities will be media capitals of the world
- There will be African industry, local innovations coming from Africa
- We need policymakers for sustainability and business
- New African leaders will advise many governments
- The mentality will be changed
- Knowledge and expertise and support will come from the west instead of charity