In my previous post, I have introduced various initiatives in partnership with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that encouraged usage of ICT tools for “challenging unequal power relations and increasing participation of marginalized girls in social transformation”(UNICEF 2013).

Although there is a short section about Privacy and Protection, statements such as “this is a relatively new area and it is not yet clear where and how information communicated or collected via mobile phones can expose marginalized adolescent girls to additional … risk” raise concerns.

In order to ensure “the safety of all involved” they suggest establishing protection measures for adolescent girls, but I ask: Why do you give a tool to someone and in the same time acknowledge that protection and privacy is not guaranteed?

Digital data protection is not yet a concern for a majority of governments in low and middle-income countries (Greenleaf, 2012) and about less than a third of the information in the digital universe can be said to have at least minimal security or protection and only about half of the information that should be protected is protected (Gantz & Reinsel 2011). In 2011, the amount of information created and replicated has surpassed 1.8 trillion gigabytes growing by a factor of 9 in just five years.

“While 75% of the information in the digital universe is generated by individuals, enterprises have some liability for 80% of information in the digital universe at some point in its digital life. We are seeing this discussion around trust unfolding before us today. Online data collection is becoming more invasive, data mining analytics and big data make it possible for businesses to profile individual consumers, and individuals are expanding their digital shadow through their use of mobile device applications and their participation in social networking sites. As a result, there are increasing calls from advocates, academics, and regulators to amend the current privacy and data protection regimes.”

There are also serious privacy concerns, particularly as firms increasingly sell personal data to other firms. Cerra (2013) notes that ‘these relatively uncharted waters are fraught with challenges as marketers struggle to walk the line between consumer exploitation and empowerment’.

I am by no means underestimating the advantages of the underlying potential, but ultimately we need to be much more critical in identifying what we gain in return for invasions of privacy.



Greenleaf, G. (2012). Global data privacy laws: 89 countries, and accelerating. School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 98 .

Gantz, J. and E. Reinsel. 2011. “Extracting Value from Chaos”, IDC’s Digital Universe Study, sponsored by EMC.

Paul Ohm, Response, The Underwhelming Benefits of Big Data, 161 U. PA. L. REV. ONLINE 339 (2013), http://www.pennlaw review.com/responses/8-2013/Ohm.pdf.

UNICEF. (2013). Integrating Information and Communication Technologies into Communication for Development Strategies to Support and Empower Marginalized Adolescent Girls.

Cerra, Allison, Kevin Easterwood, and Jerry Power. Transforming Business: Big Data, Mobility, and Globalization. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley, ©2013. Accessed August 14, 2017.

ICTs taught, lessons learned…

In 2013 the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published a report on the potential and challenges of ICTs in advancing the rights of girls and facilitating their engagement and participation for social transformation. The report highlighted many advantages such as access to knowledge and information, connection, efforts to overcome violence, exploitation and abuse.

One of the projects included “Map Kibera” which enabled awareness about surroundings via digital mapping. Girls were equipped with Geolocation devices to map and identify safe and unsafe places in Kibera, a large slum area outside of Nairobi, Kenya. Even though there exists a printed version of the map, critiques pointed out that the project is heavily driven by technology and the “work on the ground” could not keep up.

Source: Voice of Kibera

The Jokko initiative was launched by Tostan in partnership with UNICEF, which aimed to combat illiteracy while initiating social mobilization and exchanging ideas through text messages. According to the report there was no special focus on girls, although a large number of adolescent girls took part. One of the project managers at Tostan, Guillaume Debarin commented “you can’t just parachute technology into a village and think that it’s going to fix things”.

Source: SMS Africa

Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) is an initiative by Nokia, Plan International, and local partners that seek to give youth the skills and tools to communicate at local, national, and global level about issues impacting on their lives through technology, arts and media. A prerequisite for participation was literacy.  The project has been implemented in 2008 by 6 African countries and even though both girls and boys were included, a key outcome of the project was that girls assumed the role of group leaders, developing the confidence and skills to use technology and speak out publicly. Limitations to the project included lack of technology as “the Internet could be really slow” and schools also had a limited amount of computers (UNICEF, 2013). Additionally language and illiteracy, parental attitudes and tradition were hard to overcome and in rural areas physical distance proved to be a barrier for some girls.

According to a report by Spratt and Baker the risk is that inequalities are increased by the application of big data, with those that can afford the improved interventions benefiting accordingly. Bringing education to those that previously did not have access is a good thing of course, but if the quality of the education received by the relatively wealthy also increases, educational inequalities will remain pronounced (Spratt & Baker, 2015).

“People need access to internet-enabled devices, a good quality internet connection and a reliable source of power. Very large numbers of people in developing countries have none of these things, and could not afford them even if they were available. “

What happens when the digital world of 2.0 meets the 1.5 world of development policy? Sure there is unprecedented potential in the advances of technology, but it has to be relevant and applicable to the audience as well. Digital data protection is not yet a concern for a majority of governments in low and middle-income countries (Greenleaf, 2012) and I had a hard time finding any comments or findings about this particular aspect in the UNICEF report.



Greenleaf, G. (2012). Global data privacy laws: 89 countries, and accelerating. School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 98 .


UNICEF. (2013). Integrating Information and Communication Technologies into Communication for Development Strategies to Support and Empower Marginalized Adolescent Girls.

Hope falls flat?


Actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, for example signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on social media (Oxford University Press, 2017).

The ultimate measure of success is the outcome. How does online versus offline activism result in social change?

There is scarce but an increasing number of research done on the actual effect of slacktivism or online activism and what possibilities the Internet can have when it comes to recruitment and fundraising. The Internet has provided us with an unprecedented opportunity for information flow (Sparrow, Liu, & Wegner, 2011), social influence (Bond, 2012) and democratic revolution (Allagui & Kuebler, 2011).

A study published in the Sociological Science showed an inverse relationship between broad online social movement mobilization and deep participation (Lewis, Gray, & Meierhenrich, 2014). The data presented results from a period of almost 3 years looking at the Facebook application of Causes with an empirical focus on the conflict in Darfur. The study quoted Donovan and Henley stating Facebook is less useful a mobilizing than a marketing tool, which proved to be the case here as well. Although 1 million people registered for the cause in the aforementioned period, the total amount of donations barely reached $100.000, supporting the notion of “fast growing support and diffusion of protest through the Internet is followed by an even faster decline in commitment” (Laer, 2010). Otherwise socially minded participants have little incentive to contribute because they assume that the millions of other members will (Oliver 1984).

Kony 2012 was published on YouTube 5 years ago and up to this date has been watched more than a 100 million times. Joseph Kony was accused for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court  in The Hague, Netherlands in 2005. He is still on the run.

Another analysis on Twitter also established the fact that even though social media is a powerful communication tool, it is less prevalent as a mobilization tool (Guo & Saxton, 2014)

I think it is fair to say that the initial hope to set off social change combined with the possibilities of the Internet is questionable. Did we have too high expectations to what the online sphere could deliver? What is considered a success when engaging in protest for a particular cause? Raising awareness? Recruiting members to a community? Hard cash? The ultimate measure of success is the outcome… Success in my mind is when the will of the majority is represented in changing the direction of course for a social cause.



Allagui, I., & Kuebler, J. (2011). The Arab Spring and the Role of ICTs. International Journal of Communication , 1435-1442.

Bond, R. M. (2012). A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization. Nature , 295-298.

Guo, C., & Saxton, G. D. (2014). Tweeting Social Change: How Social Media are Changing Nonprofit Advocacy. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly , 57-59.

Laer, J. V. (2010). Activists Online and Offline: The Internet as an Information Channel for Protest Demonstrations. Mobilization: An International Quarterly , Vol. 15, 347-366.

Lewis, K., Gray, K., & Meierhenrich, J. (2014). The Structure of Online Activism. sociological science , 1-9.

Oxford University Press. (2017). Oxford English Dictionary. Forrás: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/slacktivism

Sparrow, B., Liu, J., & Wegner, D. M. (2011). Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. Science , 776-778.


Open Data, Bigly

Niklas Morberg on Flicr. CC by A

More and more data is being made available for the public. It is also an important tool for international development. But as we create more and more impressions – location, searches, likes – how do make sure privacy is protected? Especially in emerging markets where digital education, privacy laws have not been tested until more recently?

Meikle* (2016) breaks down the concept of social media into five key words in order to make it more understandable. They are networked, database, platform, public and personal communication. It has become a catch-all term but the digital processes and social behaviours behind it are nonetheless complex, and can be leveraged in different ways. As Meikle puts it, ‘Not all contemporary internet phenomena are social media’. Wikipedia, Uber, Netflix etc are not necessarily social, but what is interesting is that many of these Web 2.0 services, if not all, are reliant on databases. 

This final blog post will touch on how databases can be used for international development and how opening up the data contained within to developers can have rather positive effects.

A lot of work is currently being to create an open data community. One example such as the the Code4Kenya project ‘an outreach initiative, supporting intermediaries to work with datasets and to develop applications and services which make data more accessible’. It has 430 Government data sets that are open to the public.

Another example being the recent Open Data Festival held in Myanmar. Much of the work is centred around opening up ministerial data sets, or that of international development projects. ‘Open data also offers opportunities to better evaluate, monitor, and respond to the initiatives of other development partners, including private sector’ says the Mekong region open data Wikipage.

But where I think a lot of potential lies is in the practical application of open databases from other sources. In a previous post I touched on how Uber shares its trip data publically. Whilst that may have not yielded the results people were hoping, the experiment serves as a model for the future.

Once the private sector takes seriously the promise of the ‘innovation and business growth potential open data can unlock’, then resources will be funnelled towards it. Yes there will be fears over security, privacy and the for-profit agenda of private businesses, but these can be overcome once trust is built.

Source: Deloitte LLP Open Data Ecosystem Via Urbantide.com

I think that purely relying on the SDG process and Government involvement will mean that open data will not see the speed of change that is required. Of course, leveraging the private sector is already happening, and that will make these championed open data ‘ecosystems’ a lot more green. The there also need to be checks and balances, which is why creating a healthy culture of sharing databases, make it social will really make it a success.

*Meikle, G. 2016: Social Media: Communication, Sharing and Visibility. Abingdon: Routledge.

Has there been a ‘data revolution’ for a post-2015 world?

Ehpien on Flickr CC by A

Back in 2014 work for research centres and think-tanks was to provide input and analysis of how the world will deal with the end of the troublesome Millennium Development Goals and the advent of ‘post-2015’.

To me it always felt like post-2015 was the unknown, a tabula rasa for international development cooperation. Ushering the new dawn was to be the so-called data revolution, shedding light onto the state of the developing world.

The problem being that, as Jerven says to succinctly in the introduction to Poor Numbers, ‘technocrats, donors, and international organizations that may abort, change, or initiate policies based on very feeble statistics’.

It seems that many of the failings of development policy were being put at the door of the statisticians, and the narrative is that parts of the world are still in the dark.

Writing on the subject a piece by think-tank ECDPM’s Florian Krätke says that: ‘Accurate, timely, relevant and available data and statistics in many cases simply don’t exist, particularly on households and individuals. With donors becoming increasingly concerned with measuring results, calls for more and better data are increasing.’

Tech Crunch

Now we are into the era of the global Sustainable Development Goals – or Global Goals – how exactly do you monitor them? Who measures them? And what determines success?

Enter the idea of the data revolution.

In August 2014 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked an Independent Expert Advisory Group to make concrete recommendations on bringing about a data revolution in sustainable development.

In November 2014 a report was published by the Group that made specific recommendations to tackle what it sees at two main problems:

  • The challenge of invisibility, for instance gaps in what we know and when we know it.
  • The challenge of inequality including the gaps between those who know and those who do not know what they need to know make their own decisions.

Since the report the world has indeed seen huge leaps in terms of not only the amount of data being collected, but also the amount that is being made available publically. That is to say that with the proliferation of communications technology into every aspect of society (developing and developed) the amount of data has increased exponentially – and people are doing really interesting things with it.

Commercially, at least. Curiously, location based information has seen the most innovation. Transport for London allows most, if not all, of its data freely available to developers, fuelling a boom in the app economy and benefiting commuters. Citymapper, Uber and other companies all collaborate to some degree with third parties.

Today, there is too progress being made on data for the SDGs, especially at the higher level. National Statistical Offices (NSOs) met recently to ‘discuss how to promote the use (and re-use) of available SDG-related data sets and how to make them more widely available and accessible across data ecosystems’. It was, according to this tweet by Bill Anderson:

Most significant advance in the #DataRevolution to date. @UNStats & @Data4SDGs join forces on #interoperability

This is interesting because one of the main challenges of the data revolution is that complexity has risen alongside. More resources are needed to ‘unlock the power of data’ – including the existing data we already have.

So yes, it could be said that the importance of statistics and statisticians has grown too. They are the gatekeepers in the brave new world post-data revolution.

However much of the grunt work is now being done by computers. A live blog from the forum notes that ‘In the US many civic decisions are being left to algorithms now.’ This means that crunching the numbers of big data is an overwhelming task, which may lead to unseen failures. Particularly as ‘The majority of data capture is controlled by the private sector now’.

So has there been a data revolution? Well, yes, just as there has been an industrial revolution, the world is now driven by decisions of data as well as by fossil fuels. But just like with the industrial namesake, we won’t know how much noise and pollution is being created without hindsight. Can we control data and make sure that it works for sustainable development as well as commercial gains?


Linked in text and:

APA (American Psychological Assoc.)
Jerven, M. (2013). Poor Numbers : How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do About It. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press

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