UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at EQUALS annual meetings in New York

30977455738_16795cafc3_oRoyal Holloway, University of London, was one of the earliest  partners to join the EQUALS global partnership in 2016, and has largely been represented in the partnership by members of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D.  EQUALS is “a ground-breaking global network delivered by a committed partnership of corporate leaders, governments, non-profit organizations, communities and individuals around the world working together to bridge the digital gender divide – by bringing women to tech, and tech to women – and in so doing, bettering the lives of millions worldwide”.  Its activities are grouped into three coalitions (Skills, Leadership and Access) and a Research Group, with Royal Holloway being most active in the Skills Coalition and the Research Group.

30977455818_32711a3151_oEQUALS holds its annual Principals’ Meetings in the margins of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), and this year Royal Holloway was represented by the Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D.  The Principals’ Meeting on 22nd September discussed the progress made by all of the coalitions, and particularly the publication of the Research Group’s report entitled Taking stock: data and evidence on gender equality in digital access, skills and leadershipMembers of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D have been active in the preparation of this report, and the section written by Liz Quaglia and Ashley Fraser on A gender perspective of security and privacy in the digital age was particularly noted by the Rector of the United Nations University (UNU) in his speech launching the report.   EQUALS now has more than 70 partners, and before the Principals’ Meeting, there was a welcome event for new members.  In the evening many of us also gathered for the  EQUALS in Tech awards ceremony, which celebrated the activities of global initiatives in skills, access, leadership and research that have helped deliver the overall objectives of EQUALS.

43941036125_cdf0d24a59_oWith so many EQUALS partners present in New York this was also an opportunity for members of the Skills Coalition and the Research Group to meet to review progress and plan for the future.  We were all very grateful to UN Women for hosting these meetings, and much progress was made in moving the initiative forward.  In particular, there was widespread support at the Skills Coalition meeting for the need to change men’s attitudes and behaviours, and the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s new TEQtogether initiative, soft-launched at this event, was strongly supported.  Indeed, the Skills Coalition has subsequently agreed that a group of its partners would have this theme as one of its deliverables for the next couple of years.

Royal Holloway, University of London’s formal commitments to EQUALS for 2018-19 are:

  • Research Group: membership of, and active contribution to, Research Group – e.g. one chapter in 2018 report, as well as two people undertaking editorial work.
  • Skills Coalition: support UNESCO in the development of the outputs through active participation in meetings, including continued participation in Mobile Learning Week.
  • Other Coalitions: support Access and Leadership Coalitions and their deliverables by sharing knowledge and resources.
  • Implementation and testing: application of tools developed by skills coalition with students and staff at Royal Holloway, University of London (c.9,500 students and 1,700 staff)
  • Additional Initiatives: Development of women in science database, and TEQtogether

We are all delighted to be able to contribute to this important initiative on behalf of Royal Holloway, University of London.

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.

Royal Holloway, University of London, at EQUALS Focal Point meeting in New York

UN SmallThe UNESCO Chair in ICT4D was delighted to represent Royal Holloway, University of London at the first Focal Point meeting of the EQUALS initiative held on the side of the UN High-Level Political Forum in New York on 18th July 2017 .

EQUALS is a global initiative founded by the ITU, UN Women, the ITC, GSMA and the UNU, and delivered by a partnership of more than 20 corporate leaders, governments, non-profit organizations, communities and individuals around the world working together to bridge the digital gender divide – by bringing women to tech, and tech to women.

Royal Holloway, University of London, was created from two of the leading women’s university institutions in the UK: Bedford College founded in 1849 as the first women’s higher education institution in the country; and Royal Holloway College, founded in 1879, also as an all-women College.  The wealth of expertise of Royal Holloway, University of London’s researchers and teachers, especially  those involved in the UNESCO Chair of ICT4D in fields such as information security, business management, computer science and geography, is highly relevant to the EQUALS agenda of enabling gender equality in the digital age.  The Chair is also one of the first 20 research organisations committed to working as part of EQUALS Research Group led by the UNU-Computing and Society Institute, and looks forward to participating actively in the group.

EQUALS smallThis first Focal Point meeting brought together the founders and partners to explore ways through which the work of EQUALS can best be delivered through three coalitions of partners:

  • Access: Ensuring that women and girls have full access to digital technologies, devices and services;
  • Skills: Empowering women and girls to acquire skills to become both ICT users and creators in the digital world as well as in broader STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields; and
  • Leadership: Promoting leadership opportunities for women in the digital workforce including women’s entrepreneurship.

The work of EQUALS can be followed at:

Despite all of the global initiatives undertaken so far to use technology to empower women, digital inequality has increased.  As UNESCO reported in March 2017 “the global Internet user gender gap grew from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016, with the estimated gap highest in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) (31%) and Africa (23%). Moreover, Internet penetration rates remain higher from men than women in all regions of the world”.  EQUALS aims to use new approaches to reverse this trend, ensuring that women across the world have the access, skills and leadership to enable them to benefit from ICTs to the same extent as do men.