IFIP WG 9.4 2018 European Regional Conference on the Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries

2018 IFIP WG 9.4 European Regional Conference on the Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries

Organised by IFIP WG 9.4, the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at Royal Holloway University of London and the European University of Tirana.

22nd to 24th June 2018, Tirana, Albania

By clicking the REGISTER NOW button above you will be directed to https://www.tickettailor.com/events/ifipwg94euro2018/156030 where you can pay securely for your conference ticket.

Key Dates

Abstract Submission Deadline: 20 March 2018 extended until 26 March 2018

Acceptance Notification: before 10 April 2018

Early Bird Registration Deadline: 30 April 2018

Camera-ready Version (the revised extended abstract) Due: 20 May 2018

Venue: Hotel Tirana International, Tirana, Albania

Theme: Digital Innovation for Sustainable Development

Information technologies in general are great drivers of change that can create opportunities for new and improved models of sustainable international development. Digital innovation, when adapted to specific needs, could have the ability to solve social challenges, but concerns about amplifying inequality, access to benefits and diverting resources away from more pressing development priorities remain.

We are particularly interested in submissions related to innovation agility, indigenous innovation in developing countries and digital innovation for sustainable development. However, we are soliciting submissions across the full range of topics of interest to IFIP Working Group 9.4 in the broad areas of technology and sustainable international development, focusing but not limited to the following areas:

  1. Digital innovations for poverty and inequality reduction
  2. Education for Development – New Approaches Tools and Models
  3. Equality and human rights
  4. Digital technologies and forced international migration
  5. Technology, automation and decent work
  6. International business and economic growth
  7. Sustainable and innovative cities and communities
  8. Responsible consumption and production
  9. Digital governance, peace and justice
  10. ICT4D in South-East Europe

Extended abstract submissions for research papers (2 pages long excluding references) or work-in-progress abstract submissions (1 page long excluding references) should be submitted by the 20th of March 2018. They will be peer-reviewed and collated into an eBook which will be published online with an ISBN.

The aim of the Regional Conference is to provide an engaging space for researchers and practitioners to share their work and participate in a number of additional workshops around the following areas:

  • Working in multidisciplinary research projects
  • Getting published in leading international journals
  • Impacting policy and practice

Confirmed Speakers

Robert Davison is a Professor of Information Systems at the City University of Hong Kong, currently researching on Knowledge Management and Collaboration in Chinese firms, and the Chair of the IFIP WG 9.4.  He has published over 200 articles in a variety of journals and conferences, and his work has been cited in excess of 6500 times (H=41).

In a Guide to Publishing in International Journals and Paper Development Workshop Robert will open up the black box of publishing from the perspective of an Editor in Chief of two very different journals: the AIS Basket of 8 “Information Systems Journal” and the niche “Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries”.

Call for Submissions

We seek proposals for panel or workshop sessions (1 page long excluding references) on topical issues bridging across multidisciplinary theory and practice, and professional development training workshop sessions on research impact, methods, fieldwork or publishing.

We are also seeking extended abstract submissions for research papers (2 pages long excluding references) for presentation at the conference.

Work-in-progress abstract submissions (1 page long excluding references) can be submitted for presentation as posters or demo installations. They will be displayed at the conference.

Submissions

Abstracts, panel and workshop proposals should be sent in in PDF format, by email to ifip94euro2018@gmail.com

The decisions of acceptance will be made based on the extended abstracts that will be included in the final proceedings. The aim is to have a balanced programme and experience, welcoming paper presentations on research, theory and practice, but also creating a space for professional development and networking. Therefore we will not ask for full papers.

Submissions should follow the formatting guidelines for the IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology (IFIP AICT). Submissions should include: Title, Author names, Address, Email/URL, Keywords, the main body of the extended abstract and references, if required. It is not necessary to include an abstract section in the extended abstract. A submission template is available HERE, and detailed information is available from:

http://www.springer.com/gb/computer-science/lncs/conference-proceedings-guidelines

Registration fees

Early bird

Before 30 Apr 2018

EUROS

Full price

From 1 May 2018

EUROS

Academics and professionals: Developed countries 290 330
Academics and professionals: Developing countries* 200 230
PhD students: Developed countries** 150 170
PhD students: Developing countries*,** 100 120
Distance participation: All*** 50 60
Gala dinner 40 50

The full registration tickets include the conference participation fee, a reception on the 22nd of June 2018, coffee breaks and lunches on the 23rd and 24th of June 2018. These fees include a discount of at least 10% for participants from all IFIP member societies. The gala and networking dinner on the 23rd or June 2018 has to be paid separately.

*Developing countries are considered those in the OECD DAC List of ODA Recipients: http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/daclist.htm Participants from developing countries can apply for a bursary by sending a cover letter along with their submission. Decision will be made based on merit and need.

** PhD Students willing to volunteer for facilitating the event can apply for a bursary by sending a cover letter along with their submission. Decision will be made based on merit and need. Priority will be given to local PhD students.

*** Online participation is for those who want to submit an extended abstract, but who cannot participate in person in the conference. They will have a chance to interact with the participants at the session when their presentation is scheduled and their contribution will be included in the proceedings.

 Accommodation, Visa and Transfers

The conference will be hosted at Hotel Tirana International located in the Main Square of Tirana, combining a truly strategic location and breath-taking view of the capital city.

Any visitor who holds a valid, multiple entry and previously used visa issued by a Schengen area country, United States, or the United Kingdom, or a residence permit in these countries can enter Albania without a visa for 90 days. Detailed information about the visa policy of Albania for foreign nationals can be accessed here.

Tirana International Airport Mother Teresa is about 30 min drive from the hotel.

Call for Participation and Bursaries

We plan to offer a number of bursaries to attract Graduate Students from universities in developing countries in Europe or outside, researching on topics of interest for the conference that may have difficulty obtaining support from their host institution to attend the conference.

Bursaries will be allocated on a merit and need basis. If you wish to apply for a bursary, with your submission, please include a cover letter (1 page) demonstrating your need for financial support.

Conference Committee

Conference Chair:          Endrit Kromidha, Royal Holloway, University of London

Programme Co-Chairs:

Kozeta Sevrani, University of Tirana

Tim Unwin, Royal Holloway University of London

Agim Kasaj, European University of Tirana

Programme Committee

Jyoti Choudrie University of Hertfordshire, UK
Betim Cico South East European University, Macedonia
Jose-Rodrigo Cordoba-Pachon Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Robert Davison City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Gentian Elezi Agenda Institute, Albania
Neki Frasheri Polytechnic University of Tirana, Albania
G Hari Harindranath Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Richard Heeks University of Manchester, UK
Ravishankar Mayasandra-Nagaraja Loughborough University, UK
Irena Malolli Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy, Albania
Silvia Masiero Loughborough University, UK
Petter Neilsen University of Oslo, Norway
Devinder Thapa University of Agder, Norway

Cashless India: A new digital divide?

Volume 3        Issue 2        February 2018

On November 8, 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation in a televised announcement, stating that “the 500 rupee and 1000 rupee currency notes presently in use will no longer be legal tender from midnight tonight”. The move, quickly popularised as “demonetisation” and affecting around 86% of the currency in circulation, was justified by the goal to “break the grip of corruption and black money” in the cash-intensive Indian economy.

Just over a year after demonetisation, its effectiveness for the stated corruption-reducing purposes is widely debated. A related debate, directly relevant for ICT4D, is on the Government’s statement that the poor and unbanked, who conduct most of their transactions in cash, would be able to cope with demonetisation through ICT adoption. In this view, quick diffusion of mobiles and rise of ICT education among the poor would enable a smooth transition to a cashless economy. Has the “demonetisation through digitalisation” proposition proven true?

Pro-poor ICT infrastructure was developed before demonetisation. It consists of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, a program providing zero-balance bank accounts to low-income households; the Unique Identity Project (Aadhaar) conferring residents a unique identification number and biometric credentials; and mobile phones being linked to national anti-poverty schemes. The combination of Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and mobiles, known as “JAM trinity”, acts as the Government’s main enabler of an ICT-based agenda for financial inclusion.

With the sudden need to deposit the old notes into bank accounts, relevance of Jan Dhan has increased, and Aadhaar has become an enabler of digital transactions. With the uptake of digital wallets, informal sellers were enabled to continue business through mobiles. This suggests that each element of the JAM trinity has acquired a new meaning post-demonetisation, enabling financial inclusion of the poor.

Yet, fieldwork conducted in the aftermath of demonetisation raises issues with this argument. As observation in street markets revealed, transacting in a cashless economy requires technologies that support digital systems, in a country where smarthpone penetration is estimated at just 17%. This raises problems regarding the integration of rural, tribal, and urban poor communities  in a system predicated on access to advanced forms of ICT.

 

My fieldwork has also revealed asymmetric distribution of information on how to navigate the new digital economy. Sudden cashlessness forced

 

poorer people to interface with banks and credit institutions, exposing them to confusing and often contradictory information on what to do. While volunteers have helped the poor adopt ICTs, an institutionalised system of support has been lacking, weakening the ability of vulnerable groups to interact with credit institutes and cope with the new system.

In a nation where an estimated 24% of the population lives without electricity, infrastructural problems make the picture more complex. India ranks 134 out of 176 countries in the ICT development index calculated by ITU, with only a minimum variation over time. Internally, inequality of ICT access puts isolated areas at risk when envisaging a digital transaction system, rooted on well-functioning ICTs. Fragilities in the accountability of payment systems have emerged even in well-connected urban areas.

As a cashless economy ensues in India, the real danger is that of widening the extant divide between those who own digital means of transaction, and those who are structurally unable to access them. While the former experience limited constraints in a digital economy, the latter risk to remain locked outside the network and experience economic isolation. As I have argued elsewhere, this may lead to determining a type of economic exclusion that did not exist before, inducting the quasi-coactive adoption of digital tools for the traceability of transactions.

Demonetisation was originally presented as a fix to an economy framed as cash-intensive and therefore ridden with corruption. As the move towards a cashless economy takes shape, guaranteeing access to the system and preventing the lock-out of vulnerable communities is paramount. ICT4D research and practice need cautioning against an emerging new form of digital divide, framed in terms of access to digital means of transaction. Bridging this new divide is of crucial importance to enable marginalised communities to sustain their livelihoods in the new cashless system.

Mobile Learning and Education

Volume 3       Issue 1       January 2018

Growth of Mobile Technologies

According to the latest International Telecommunications Union (ITU) data there are still substantial differences in levels of ownership of mobile devices and access to broadband internet between the developing and the developing world. However, it is promising to note that there is a steady growth in the ownership of mobile devices and especially mobile phones across the developing world. This growth in mobile technology adoption has brought much hope for improving the livelihoods of the most disadvantaged. Education is seen as one such domain and mobile learning in particular as an instance of the application of mobile technologies to achieve improved life conditions.

Mobile Technologies in Education

Notwithstanding the rapid growth in ownership of mobile technologies and the promotion of mobile learning as a new model for delivering education, many challenges remain and need to be addressed before we can truly achieve ubiquitous and impactful education via mobile learning. Recent studies suggest that while there is an increase in the adoption of mobile technologies in higher education many problems related to their effectiveness and usage remain [1] such as mobile learning infrastructure, institutional support and design problems related to the pedagogy and content suitable for mobile delivery [2]. These challenges require systematic exploration and this is particularly important in the developing world where the stakes are higher because of resource challenges.

Mobile Learning: Research Agenda for Developing Countries

There is a tendency in the developing world to adopt technologies, practices and models from the developed contexts without due consideration to the local contexts. Our research on mobile learning in Guyana and the Caribbean more widely acknowledged at the outset potential differences and the possible effects these may have on adoption.

Our ongoing research on mobile learning has thus far been two-fold. We are working towards developing a better overview of the level of adoption of mobile technologies in formal learning at the University level in Guyana [2] and across the Caribbean [3]. Our data so far has shown mobile phones technologies are the most widely adopted for learning, that ownership of other types of mobile devices is linked to income; and that students more than lecturers are likely to explore various features on their devices for learning [2]. While we noted an increasing trend in the use of mobile technologies, it is important to understand the factors that might hinder or promote the acceptance and adoption of these technologies in our context. To this end we have assessed a number of technology acceptance models [2] [3] with the aim of determining how well these models work in our context and to help us identify the factors that may or may not be holding up. We found that the attitude towards the use of the mobile technologies for learning is the most important driver of adoption in the Guyanese context. Further, factors may vary across the developing countries context.

Next Steps

We aim to explore two aspects of mobile learning in the near future; one focus will be methodological and the other focuses on mobile computational learning. Our aim is to establish whether these categories can explain the adoption of mobile learning and mobile learning technologies. Second, our work on mobile learning will take a different turn and will explore how mobile technologies can assist the learning of computing. We will undertake a project to bring computing to students at the primary and secondary schools level using the BBC’s Micro:bit technology. This small technology fits the description of the mobile agenda and will allow us to take technology to various schools and groups not constrained by classroom settings. This view of mobile learning will allow us to reach a wider cross section of society using a small resource base.

References

[1] Pimmer, C., Mateescu, M., & Gröhbiel, U. (2016). Mobile and ubiquitous learning in higher education settings. A systematic review of empirical studies. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 490-501.

[2] Singh, L., Thomas, T.D., Gaffar, K., & Renville, D. (2016). Mobile Learning in the Developing World: Perceptions Using the UTAUT Model. In Handbook of Research on Mobile Devices and Applications in Higher Education Settings. Eds Briz-Ponce, L., Juanes-Mendez, J.A., & Garcia-Penalvo, F.J.

[3] Thomas, T.D., Singh, L., Gaffar, K., Thakur, D., Jackman, G.A., Thomas, M., Gajraj, R., Allen, C., Tooma, K. (2014). Measurement invariance of the UTAUT constructs in the Caribbean. International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology (IJEDICT), 10(4), 102-127.

 

Inaugurating Crypto for Development

Volume 2      Issue 11      November 2017

Recent years have seen an impressive rise in the adoption of technology throughout the world. In the global South (Africa, in particular), the use mobile technology has provided access to a wide variety of new services, from weather forecasting for farmers to medicine validation, which aim at enabling development and increasing people’s quality of life.

A prominent example of this is branchless banking, which permits the delivery of banking services such as withdrawals, deposits, and transfers to remote, typically rural, locations, where it would be prohibitively expensive to build a physical bank branch. The positive, life-transforming effects of providing financial services to the unbanked have been praised in the literature, and the security research community has emphasized that such effects will be sustainable only by providing secure branchless banking solutions. Indeed a lack of security would eventually lead to diminishing confidence in the service, producing an undesirable backlash effect.

Much research has been done with the aim of proposing secure systems, ranging from solutions involving simple phones and scratch cards, to using advanced modern SIM features such as smart card web servers, to developing short message authentication protocols designed for human readability. While these efforts are well intentioned, the security of the systems that are actually deployed is still inadequate.  A recent study (Reaves et al., 2015) shows that most branchless banking applications used in the developing world are subject to several security vulnerabilities, highlighting the existing gap between secure technology design and practical technology adoption.  Such a gap is not merely technical.  There is a growing awareness that technology needs to be designed for and placed in a cultural and societal context, and that humans are a fundamental and integral part of the definition and delivery of security itself.

In a project developed within REFLECT (http://www.reflect-action.org) we use participatory methodologies, including visualization tools, to provide a realistic and insightful understanding of a community, as well as actively engaging its members. Such ideas are at the heart of many social-change initiatives. In our work we take a first step in bridging the identified gap between theory and practice in secure branchless banking by doing three things:

1) Identify and systematise assumptions that are being made on the resources and connectivity available in the locations where branchless banking is intended to be effective, as well as on the security models underlying the existing designs (e.g., entities and operations involved, notions of identity, and levels of trust);

2) Analyse the benefits of participatory approaches to the design of threat models, since such tools help develop a better understanding of what constitutes security for a particular community, and for what reasons this is considered to be so; and

3) Propose a participatory design approach in the context of Ghanaian local communities.

The outcome of this will be ways of better determining the cryptographic design of branchless banking solutions, and consequently preparing the ground for its successful adoption in local communities. Our initial work in Ghana aims to provide a better understanding of what core properties in branchless banking are significant to its secure adoption that can hten be explored further in the wider African contxt.

This represents the first key part of a complex journey to achieve such goal. The next step will be to engage with Ghanaian communities using the proposed participatory tools to understand what security in branchless banking means for them. This will challenge our identified assumptions and start a conversation that will help to develop more secure, context-aware technologies. Moreover, we envisage that this approach will be applicable to many types of technologies adopted in the developing world, thereby inaugurating C4D, namely Cryptography for Development.

 

Reaves, B., Scaife, N., Bates, A. M., Traynor, P., & Butler, K. R. (2015, August). Mo (bile) Money, Mo (bile) Problems: Analysis of Branchless Banking Applications in the Developing World. In USENIX Security Symposium (pp. 17-32).

Digital Crowdsourcing and Inclusion in Global Food Markets

Volume 2      Issue 10      October 2017

The OECD suggests that regulations and the industrialisation of agriculture have contributed to both economic growth and poverty reduction. However, with time, regardless of the higher connectivity and spread of ICTs, many people have become more detached from the land and from the farmers who cannot yet be replaced by machines. Many such farmers are still living in poverty in the Equatorial belt, although some of their exotic products such as coffee and cocoa are sold at premium prices in supermarkets in the richer countries.  A rethinking of digital platforms and ICTs could help to re-establish the relationship between consumers and farmers in global food markets.

The idea of using ICTs in agriculture for development is not new. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) has always had a keen interest on ICT Uses for Inclusive Agricultural Value Chains.  e-Agriculture also undertakes valuable research and policy work on ICT for sustainable agriculture and rural development. Kiva Labs has identified three problems where crowdsourcing can help: flexible credit, access to market infrastructure, and training. However, for a better understanding of ICTs for inclusive innovation in global food markets the focus needs to shift away from countries and regions, and towards entrepreneurs, the farmers and their interests.

Crowdsourcing is often presented as a mean for entrepreneurs to access resources from the many, the crowd. In agriculture it can help farmers to access capital for growth, innovation and better access to global food markets, and also improve collaboration with customers, suppliers and partners. Patch of Land, a real estate crowdsourcing platform promotes projects like Athena Organic Farm + Eco-Retreat in Canada as setting the stage by businesses offering a farm-based experience rather than only products, expanding into the digital space through crowd social entrepreneurship and innovation. But can farmers from developing countries harness the power of digital crowdsourcing to come closer to global food markets and consumers?

In developing countries such as Indonesia, the idea of crowdsourcing has been seen particularly positively. While several international crowdsourcing platforms offer global mutual programs, Indonesia has various local platforms in the Bahasa language. Some of them focus on a particular issue such as health (WeCare.id) and  culture (GerakanSejutaBudaya), while others focus on important general social issues supporting personal or social creative issues (GandengTangan, KitaBisa). Some of the crowdsourcing platforms are even available in applications from smartphones, making them more reachable.

In a pilot study conducted for this Briefing we decided to focus on two initiatives in Indonesia. First we examined BigTreeFarms a sustainable agriculture U.S. company sourcing organic cocoa, coconut and other ingredients for their products sold in global markets. Talking with their Head of Corporate Quality, Food Safety and Management, it was clear that one of their key challenges is educating their 10,000+ local farmer partners about organic food producing standards and ensuring that such practices are followed. Second, we spoke with GandengTangan (meaning ‘Hand-in-Hand’). This is a relatively new crowdsourcing platform designed to help individuals and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Indonesia to secure funding for growth and better access to local and global markets. Testimonials from successfully-funded projects on the platform show that the scheme has provided new hope to expand businesses in a different way. The two case studies lead us to ask whether the micro-crowdsourcing model and the large sustainable farming investment model can be combined together for a more integrated system.

Regardless of the many crowdsourcing initiatives and inclusive innovations in developing countries, few farmers use and leverage ICTs to expand their skills and gain better access to funding and global food markets. The challenge for crowdsourcing platforms in developing countries is not only to link the global crowd to fundraisers, but also to educate and mentor both parties to collaborate better in the international market arena. Further consideration of important aspects such as local culture, contexts, and trust, as well as useful training or mentoring that might help support them including language, global marketing, farming entrepreneurshis, information and financial literacy is necessry. There is much that ICTs can do, but further research is needed in this direction.

Curating Knowledge in the Future

Volume 2    Issue 9    September 2017

Two years ago, together with former colleagues at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and supported by the School of International Futures (SOIF), I worked on a research project that used foresight tools to explore ‘knowledge sharing in the digital age’. The ‘foresight approach’ involves a range of methods for getting perspectives on the future and creating a roadmap to inform policy and practice.  We were looking 15 years ahead and engaged with a range of stakeholders, mainly from the African context. Through workshops and interviews we identified key drivers of change and used the foresight tools to describe different imagined scenarios. The result was policy recommendations for achieving preferred outcomes in a world characterised by the freedoms which we would like to enjoy. In this briefing, I have chosen to revisit this topic as a short ‘thought piece’.

ICTs play an ever-increasing role in supporting innovation and in how knowledge is created and shared.  Our society is being reshaped for better and for worse, and the effects of ICTs are not neutral. For almost any ICT you can name, there are good and bad affordances. For example, take the role of drones in gathering data: we can celebrate some aspects of the role they can play in collecting life-saving information in a disaster situation such as the Nepal earthquake in May 2015. We can also resent and challenge the intrusiveness, invasion of privacy and danger to air travel that can result if their use is not regulated. However, if the information they can help to gather is not made freely available, and simply supports powerful people in wealthy organisations or governments, then what are the implications for future generations?

The digital divide exists within a daunting set of growing inequalities related to economic opportunity, power and knowledge. The ways in which knowledge is mediated and made available in our society is having a major impact on these other divides. Mediation itself takes place in different ways between people, between people and ICT devices, and between ICT devices.   The last category may sound surprising, but in a world where we now refer to the ‘internet of things’ and some of those ‘things’ themselves reflect growing ‘artificial intelligence’, it could be argued that knowledge can increasingly be developed by, and shared between, technology based non-human objects.  In simple ways, and without artificial intelligence driving it, we already see music devices and gadgets updating their software, and home devices such as Amazon’s Alexa products, playing a role in both mediating communication, and pushing and pulling information between the human world and the online repositories of digital files and products.

The world is now characterised by news and social media platforms’ intent on delivering alternative facts, fake news and fake research results. Alongside this they harvest insights through algorithms that analyse our online behaviours and preferences.  ‘Big data’ becomes big business driven by a global internet machine which if we are not careful will support the interests of ‘the few not the many’ (to turn around an overused party-political phrase!). So, what are our options for creating a future where we can retain a sense of identity, values and freedoms?  I certainly do not claim to have the solutions to such huge global challenges facing society, but offer three suggestions to the ICT4D community, all of which underpin the way knowledge can be created and shared in a digital age:

  1. Support ‘Openness’. Open models are discussed in the book Open Development (Smith and Reilly, 2013). These approaches have their challenges and total openness is likely to be unachievable, as systems are rarely totally open. However, open approaches support a different knowledge economy agenda that is more inclusive, accessible and aimed at addressing inequalities.
  2. Advocate for ‘Net Neutrality’. This principle and why it is so important is explained effectively in YouTube videos by Common Craft and Now this. Retaining total net neutrality may not be realistic. However, the principle of equitable access to internet based services is one of huge significance in determining how the internet develops and how knowledge is created and shared. If net neutrality is sacrificed, inequalities in terms of access and usage will flourish in the digital world.
  3. Develop skilled and trusted ‘knowledge intermediaries’. More and more information is held digitally. It is increasingly challenging to validate and assess the quality of what is found on the Internet. Skilled data scientists and information management professionals are in a sense the new librarians. We need trusted experts who work to provide knowledge as a public good for civil society, so that we can hold governments and big corporations to account, and access knowledge openly that enables us and our children to gain the best education and quality of life that we can.

We face what at times appear to be irresistible and negative forces, where freedoms are under threat and security and surveillance is growing.  Yet, the world is now a far more connected place, and writing this in Yangon, I reflect that the scope for interacting with and learning from people, from diverse locations, cultures and backgrounds, is growing day by day.  As ordinary people develop connections through their use of ICTS, they can seek to be more empowered and create an open movement and strong voice that can help lead us all to a brighter future.

The ICT4D community is well placed to ensure that ICTs are used for future good. I recommend developing skills in the foresight approach as a means to understand and shape the future. In some of my own work with Development Dreamers I have been experimenting with lighter versions of the foresight approach and will be happy to network and collaborate with others who have an interest in this.

 

Artificial Intelligence for Good

Volume 2    Issue 8    August 2017

In June, together with more than 500 experts in Artificial Intelligence (AI), I participated in the “AI for Good” Global Summit. Organised in Geneva by the ITU and the XPRIZE Foundation, the summit focused on a crucial and timely question: Can AI contribute to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that the UN has set to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all?

As an expert in automated decision-making, I know first-hand that AI is a uniquely powerful and transformative technology. AI can have a huge impact not only to further the progress of the wealthy countries, but also to foster the advancement of developing nations. For example, AI can teach people new skills and support lifelong learning. At the same time, the development of AI raises ethical and societal challenges for AI experts and policy-makers, who share the responsability to deploy an AI technology that is safe, reliable and fair.

Why is AI so special? As observed by Stephen Cave during the Summit, AI is a tool different from any other because of three crucial aspects: (i) AI is a universal tool, which will be soon incorporated in all other technologies (e.g. self-driving cars, smart homes, robotics, personalised medicine); (ii) AI can accelerate its own development, besides the development of other tools (e.g. machine learning is an AI tool that can improve itself as well as other AI algorithms); and (iii) AI is autonomous (AI agents make and implement decisions without constant human intervention). In addition, AI is based on data, which are often collected from people and contain sensitive information about them. Considering all these factors together, it becomes clear why AI generates excitement but also concern.

In the last few years, I have focused on the development of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for surveillance and disaster response applications. I have formulated techniques based on task planning and probabilistic reasoning to make UAVs smart enough to fly autonomously and strategically to achieve sophisticated goals specified by domain experts over a large geographical area and a long temporal horizon. The potential of intelligent vehicles in emergency scenarios is enormous as resources are limited and time is critical. However, these are challenging situations in which decisions can have a life-changing impact and human operators need to trust the machines and understand their behaviour.

At the Summit, Professor Virginia Dignum formulated three principles on which AI development should be based, which I find particularly relevant:

  • Accountability: an AI system needs to to be able to justify its own decisions based on the algorithms and the data used by it. We have to equip AI systems with the moral values and societal norms that are used in the context in which these systems operate;
  • Responsibility: although AI systems are autonomous, their decisions should be linked to all the stakeholders who contributed in developing them: manufacturers, developers, users and owners. All of them will be responsible for the system’s behaviou;
  • Transparency: users need to be able to inspect and verify the algorithms and data used by the system to make and implement decisions.

I would like to conclude with a provocative remark that Professor Gary Marcus brought to the table during the Summit and that I share: are we really so close to Strong AI  as many people seem to think, where “Strong AI” means a system that exhibits integration between all aspects of intelligence: common sense, planning, reasoning, analogy, language and perception? I believe that, although AI can truly change the world, we still need fundamental advances first. Key to achieve them are interdisciplinarity and global collaboration. In particular, I would welcome multi-disciplinary collaborations to make UAVs and drones truly effective in disaster response scenarios.

Identification for Development: Benefits and Challenges

Volume 2    Issue 7    July 2017

Over the past nine months, we have been listening to the experiences of lower income individuals with identity systems in India, together with the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore (as a research partner), Storythings and the Langtons (as communication experts), and funded by Omidyar Network. We have conducted 150 interviews across rural and urban sites in Karnataka, New Delhi and surrounding Uttar Pradesh, and Assam.  We observed identity-based transactions (such as getting an Aadhaar card, buying a SIM card, being tested for a disability certificate), had a heated radio discussion, and great workshops in Delhi, Bengaluru, Washington DC and Stockholm (at SIF) for input. Our aim was to understand user experiences of identity in a digital world  – what do individuals experience, what are the pain points, how can we move towards more inclusive systems which respect privacy, agency and dignity? All these are particularly relevant in India, where Aadhaar is currently a contentious topic.

Many of our interviewees spoke of the benefit of ID systems – an Aadhaar card which enabled benefits and services; a ration card which allowed subsidized food, kerosene and medicine. On the other hand, at a time when Aadhaar memes are being shared on how it is effectively compulsory, we asked questions on privacy, exclusion, bias and repercussions for groups such as senior citizens dependent on Aadhaar verification for pensions. These concerns are not unique to Aadhaar or the Indian context of course. There have been quite a few reports on identification exclusion in the United States, including immigrants, those homeless and out of prison in Ohio, the story of Alice Faith Pennington in Texas, and the intermediaries who are trying to help those in a catch 22 situation without IDs.

We heard many concerns around all the above.

  • Several women spoke of feeling uncomfortable in “male spaces” and sluggish bureaucracy impacting more on them because of impact on time needed for family care. Men often acted on behalf of women.
  • Non-formal migrants were particularly affected by requirements such as a permanent address, not knowing local networks for help etc.
  • A visually challenged teacher told us about the long process of getting both a blind and disability certificate and that in addition, when he went to get an Aadhaar card, he was pushed about and there was no help.
  • An HIV/AIDS activist laid out his concerns around Aadhaar being necessary to obtain anti-retroviral [ART] drugs: “now what has happened in HIV-positive communities, in all the ART centres, only if we have Aadhaar cards, the ART box is given. They are making it compulsory. Due to this, our identity of HIV positive is being shown. Now that Aadhaar is compulsory, few people don’t even have Aadhaar and even if they do, and because it is linked to everything, their fear has increased. It is already a stigmatised condition. Who have they asked before doing this? Have they asked our opinion?”
  • A transgender activist was highly critical of invasive identification for “screening committees” for transgender certificates.

Identification processes are not new. But the introduction of networked systems has introduced two major challenges: the huge impact if there are any mistakes; and secondly data is more easily accessible to many more people. Again, this is not unique to India, but the burden of proving you are lies heavily on individuals and impacts even more on those who don’t have time or resources to do so.

While we agree with the above World Bank Principles (and we are cautious of generalizing from 150 interviews), we still saw confusion around processes, and what individuals perceived as an opaque state, leading to the rise of intermediaries – some helpful, others exploitative. We need more evidence on “user” needs and concerns; stronger citizen’s rights with regards to identification processes, and more efficient and effective grievance redressal. In the words of the transgender activist: “when there is an identity card, it has to be beneficial for the people of the community. We do not want cards which create problems for the community.”

http://www.identitiesproject.com

Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development

Volume 2    Issue 6    June 2017

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have immense potential.  However, they are created by people for specific purposes; they reflect the interests of individuals and the companies, or organisations, for which they work.  They can be used to do good, or to do evil.  They usually have unintended consequences.

In the context of debates over “development”, ICTs can thus be used for enhancing economic growth, or for reducing inequality.  However, can they be used to do both at the same time?  Much evidence exists to suggest that with the emphasis over the last 20 years on economic growth as the mantra of “development”, embedded in the MDGs and now the SDGs, ICTs have played an important role in enhancing development (Unwin, 2009).  At the same time, though, their design, implementation and use have led to significantly increased inequalities in the world: between the rich and the poor, between men and women, between those with fewer “disabilities” and those with more “disabilities”, between richer countries and poorer countries, between those living in rural and urban areas …  Despite their potential to be used anarchically and disruptively, ICTs therefore seem to have been used primarily to reinforce existing power differences and inequalities – both by design and by accident.  At its simplest, ICTs usually act primarily as accelerators, both of growth and of inequality.

What we mean by “ICT for Development” (ICT4D) depends fundamentally on what we consider “development” should be.  If reducing inequality does not matter, and economic growth is indeed the aim of “development”, then ICT4D has been successful.  However, for those who are concerned about the implications of an ever more unequal world, as reflected in part in the commitments made towards SDG 10 (Reducing inequality within and among countries), then ICT4D has largely failed.

Based on my practice and research over the last 20 years, I have therefore crafted a different kind of book about ICT4D, intended to encourage everyone to reflect on their own roles in ICT4D, and to reclaim the moral agenda about using ICTs to enable poor and marginalised people to empower themselves.  It is called simply Reclaiming ICT4D (OUP, 2017).  In concept, it draws heavily on Jürgen Habermas’s Critical Theory focusing on interests, on empowerment and emancipation, on the complex intertwining of theory and practice, and on the power of self-reflection.

Reclaiming ICT4D calls for a radical rethinking of ICT4D and advocates the need for six transformations:

  • Designing and implementing technical solutions that prioritise the poorest and most marginalised people and communities
  • Reshaping the role of government and regulation
  • Crafting effective multi-stakeholder partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society
  • Ensuring that digital systems are resilient in the face of security threats
  • Paying greater attention to effective learning and understanding at all levels and in all sectors
  • Placing the poor at the centre of all that we do – working with the poor, and not just for them.

For those attending the 2017 WSIS Forum in Geneva, the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is convening a workshop on Reclaiming ICT4D at 11.00 on Friday 16th June (Room Popov 1).  Do join us to discuss these issues, and to develop an agenda that will enable the poorest and most marginalised to be empowered through the appropriate use of ICTs.  Outputs will be reported on the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D platform.

Above all, ICT4D is a moral agenda.  It is about what is right and what is wrong.  It is about what each of us does to make a difference.

Revisiting our (Disciplinary) Geographies of Development

Volume 2    Issue 5    May 2017

The fundamentals of ICT4D as an area of practice and research have been revisited several times since the early days, emphasising the limits of technological determination, as well as the problematics made invisible by simplistic definitions of the ‘4D’ (e.g. Toyama, 2015). Recent events and issues in what are considered advanced economies open up to scrutiny yet another, deeply embedded view: that advanced and developing economies can be mapped jointly onto geographical areas, separating North and South and distinguishing the advanced economies in Europe, North America and some Asian countries from emerging economies in Africa and Latin America.

This taxonomy is infused in the fundamentals of ICT4D as a discipline and has many implications. It also reinforces the donor-recipient humanitarian pattern evident from the beginnings of development practice, by assigning semi-permanent labels to countries and actors that are either on the giving or on the receiving side. The consequences of this have been amply debated, especially by Latin American scholars, noting how being on the receiving end hinders self-directed action towards change. These conceptual categories tend to render us impervious to the problems that are right on our doorstep: Europe, for instance, has been recently facing issues that are central to ICT4D practice and research. The number of people seeking refugee status in EU countries, for example, rose steadily to reach around 1.3 million in 2015 and 2016 (Eurostat). However, the migrant and refugee crisis is just one side of the coin. Europe also faces challenges that are endemic to the continent, some associated with the process of redress after the 2007/08 financial crisis. To this we can add inequalities, social exclusion and marginalisation based on gender, religion and ethnic belonging.

Since 2009, I have conducted research with disadvantaged groups in Europe, particularly one of the continent’s most vulnerable populations – the Roma minority. The Roma are widely considered to be the most discriminated and socially excluded European minority group, facing widespread poverty, low literacy and digital literacy, and lack of access to quality education and housing. Numerous efforts and programmes for social inclusion and economic redress have targeted the Roma. Outcomes are often unsustainable and limited, and true change and development have yet to be achieved. In my ICT4D research I have addressed issues around voice, social inclusion and cultural affirmation of the Roma (e.g. Sabiescu, 2013; Hagedorn-Saupe et al., 2015, Ch.5) and brought it in dialogue with the situation of other vulnerable groups across both North and South, most recently, within the EU project EduMAP, which takes a development communication lens to understand how adult education across the EU can better serve the needs of vulnerable youth. What the Roma example points out is that clear-cut distinctions and firm boundaries between developed and developing contexts are illusory. Poverty, inequality and exclusion, along with the issues posed by unequal access to technology and information literacy levels permeate both developed and developing regions. There is thus scope for ICT4D research and practice to contribute to more equal, inclusive, and tolerant societies in all parts of the world. This could be developed in collaboration, bringing together ICT4D and interdisciplinary perspectives for research and practice across regions historically targeted by development programmes, and what are considered advanced economies. It is also important to encourage cross-disciplinary dialogue and exchange through events that link across various disciplinary traditions and geographical areas of focus. These engagements will enable us to devise fresh perspectives on development and look beyond pre-defined categories and labels. Ultimately, a closer, unbiased look at our contemporary societies from multiple disciplinary perspectives compels us to acknowledge that in essence ICT4D perspectives, tools and sensibilities are equally needed across North and South, including what are traditionally considered developed and developing regions.

Innovating Cyber Security Engagement

Volume 2    Issue 4    April 2017

Introduction

Much of what we call “cyber security” has its roots in an area of study and practice called “IT security”, which can be described as the protection of computer produced data and information and the associated protection of the infrastructure that makes possible the production, circulation, protection and curation of that data. However, the protection of data is no longer solely a question of IT security. The widespread adoption of digital technology across all strata of society and the increasing reliance by governments and industry to engage with citizens through digital media brings data protection into the realm of everyday life. If data protection is to make sense to people, IT security must clearly link to the human security needs and concerns that affect the individual. By approaching data protection in this way, we are looking at and responding to the challenge of the protection of data in a more holistic manner that includes the social, political, cultural and economic as well as the technical. This is often termed “cyber security”.

Engagement innovation

To understand cyber security in terms of what it means in people’s every day lives, Royal Holloway has developed a programme of creative security engagement methods that are playful, participative, open- ended and democratic, and are designed to support and structure conversations about digital security. They tease out how digital security relates to other parts of everyday life and create spaces in which people can actively discuss what cyber security means to them.

Case Study

Creative security methods have been deployed as part of e-safety programmes. For example, a community centre in a lower socio- economic area of Sunderland (North East England) wanted to include e-safety as part of an education and engagement programme designed for local young people. The youth workers at the centre decided to focus on e-safety in the context of parental advice and the role they would like parents to play. It was agreed that creative methods would be used to enable this discussion. The researcher worked as a facilitator to help the youth workers and young people to develop the conversation through the co-creation of a wall collage.

The wall collage was co-constructed using the following process:

  1. The facilitator spent time observing the space and talking to the community.
  2. The facilitator worked with the youth workers and young people to create a series of open questions that reflected the e-safety interests of the community.
  3. The facilitator arrived at the Centre to start the project with some stimulus images and a large wall space.
  4. The facilitator worked alongside youth workers to ask the open questions with small groups of young people.
  5. The young people generated material for the wall collage.

The e-safety engagement was deemed a success because of the level of sustained engagement from the young people, showing that the topic was important to participants as well as being enjoyable as a mode of engagement. The young people produced a wall collage that demonstrated that they knew about e-safety issues but that there wasnot always a “right path”. Their narratives further showed that parents could be a security threat as well as a support.

The narratives gave youth workers an important steer on what type of e-safety support was most needed. This type of approach also enables information security researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds to collaborate by developing a shared understanding of the real-world security problems faced by a community. In particular, the approach enables a common understanding of the security concerns from the perspective of the individual.

Localising and Contextualising Access Technologies

Volume 2    Issue 3    March 2017

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has highlighted the importance of prioity assistive technologies to ensure the needs of people with a disability are met globally. Addressing this need requires a combination of innovative new solutions and the localisation in new communities of existing ones.  Localisation can be described as the linguistic and cultural adaptation of digital content to the requirements of a specific cultural market and GALA suggest that is beyond simply translation and includes other conventions such as date, time, currency, number formats, text, images, colour symbols, flow of information and product functionality. In order to complete such localisation there is a need to understand the differences between cultures and the problems that are likely to occur as a result. In seeking to address the global needs for assistive and accessible technologies such processes need to be recognised and considered. In truth, any definition of Universal design that fails to take account of culture and language cannot truly be referred to as Universal.

Our work in developing a framework for this in the Arab world has been based upon the practical experience of localising over 40 assistive technologies to support Arabic, working with developers to transition their technology, and with investment to mitigate any risks. The framework established has been effective in delivering in both the commercial and Open Source spheres. Full details of the Mada framework are available online alongside a downloadable summary of the key factors, which include the need to: 1) address design; 2) understand the language; 3) outline and address technical issues; 4) consider individual needs; and 5) deliver through partnerships

There is value in the clear discovery of requirements and local needs, generating a design that respects culture and language and recognises any impact on content. Great care should be taken with translation, which may be strengthened through the addition of a glossary and by engaging with both local translators and linguists.

Developers recognise a need to establish a consistent style regardless of the local version of a product. Later localisation is facilitated if a clear style guide for design is developed which includes the use of universal graphics and icons wherever possible. Testing with potential users, provides feedback that forms the basis of further development including both maintenance and updates. In the Tawasol project, (creative commons symbol dictionary for Arabic speakers) the engagement of users was central to design. The community was at the heart of the process of review and testing through a combination of approaches including face to face and focus group sessions to discuss and vote on design options, alongside an online voting and management system that allowed users and professionals to give continuous feedback.

The delivery of successful, innovative technology solutions for people with a disability requires full consideration of these issues and implementation of suitable processes. Used effectively they can help reduce the cost of transfer, and in the case of Open Source solutions lead to a well managed, distributable solution that is cost effective and will have impact.

The ICT4D community has an opportunity to address these issues in a systematic manner. In seeking to support the production of quality cost effective solutions there is much that can be done together to map the availability of necessary components for localisation. The availability of available text to speech engines, word prediction tools and algorithms, speech recognition API’s and symbols for communication all provide the bulding blocks upon which new solutions can be built. Where such direct tools do not yet exist then there is a need to stimulate the production of the resources upon which these are built. Frequency of words lists in the form of a usable corpus are essential and the work of language communities to build a shareable phonetic speech corpus is an excellent example of the ways in which research can directly impact upon the creation of solutions.

Such building blocks significantly reduce the cost of localisation. They directly engage language and cultural communities in the production of products and they stimulate local innovation and development. The use of Open licences for such resources can do much to enable digital empowerment for people with a disability. Sharing the availability of research and resources can accelerate that process significantly.