All posts by Melinda Donnelly

Digital Divide: Examining Infrastructure

Last week, the Aid & International Development Forum issued a release on global infrastructure, stating that it is a pressing issue, with “$26 trillion required by 2030 to resolve Asia’s infrastructure funding gap. Another $800 billion is necessary to provide 1.5 billion people in the region with access to safe drinking water and sanitation.”

“To keep pace with the rapid growth of economies, population and urbanisation, Southeast Asia needs to invest $16 trillion in transport, energy, telecommunications, water and sanitation. This is more than 60 per cent share of the global investment required.”

The global gaps in telelcommunications, connectivity, and access to technology makes involving beneficiaries in communications that leverage technology a challenge. If access is not widely and uniformly available, segments of the population are left behind in this conversation and are unequally able to participate.

The Forum cites that Myanmar was the “3rd least penetrated mobile market in the world in 2012, yet a low cost SIM card was introduced to make mobile communication more accessible.” Still as of 2016, it states that one third of Burmese hadn’t ever used a mobile phone. Without financial access to this technology, mobile phone use is limited to employed workers and women are left largely “expelled from the mobile revolution.”

Across Southeast Asia, access varies greatly. In Thailand, where I live, more than half of the population is found to be using the internet. Cambodia leads the pack with 133.6 phones per one hundred people. Apart from limited access to this technology, it is cited that in Myanmar, internet penetration is as low as nine percent – but many don’t want to use the internet because of a negative perception of it.

 “Data service users have limited digital skills and, as a result, a limited understanding of what the ‘internet’ is”, states the report. Their usage is often limited to mainly social media and calling apps. There is also a lack of cultural relevance encouraging people to access the internet, as many still do not use it.

As development professionals, as we are called upon to utilize new media and engage our audiences in new ways that appeal to our funders, we must be reminded to listen to our stakeholders, and speak to them where they can be reached.

 

Infrastructure resilience & ICT development in Southeast Asia. Aid and International Development Forum. 16 March 2017. http://www.eco-business.com/press-releases/infrastructure-resilience-ict-development-in-southeast-asia/.

How do Beneficiaries want to be Engaged?

In my last blog post, I focused on urban listening, a way to use social media to monitor and aggregate conversations, gauge audience sentiment, and ultimately measure developmental impact in ways not being captured by traditional monitoring and evaluation methods. In that vein, I became more interested in the topic and found myself searching for:

Examples of development campaigns engaging beneficiaries

I googled, “best social media campaigns international development”

I wanted others’ takes on beneficiary engagement that had been done really well.

What I found were a lot of articles on how the United Nations is utilizing social media around International Day (they’re teaming up with the Smurfs to promote Sustainable Development Goals), and one article that I found particularly interesting (although almost a year old) which was one of the only resources that I could find talking about what beneficiaries wanted out of communications.

The article, posted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, presented several views of activists and development professionals speaking about how social media can engage more deeply with “beneficiaries.”

Aya Chebbi, a Tunisian activist and youth leader spoke during the opening session and implored the NGO members of Bond, “Speak to us, not about us.” This idea continued in the breakout sessions on campaigns and media. The speakers who led these sessions on social media, online activism and the role of global processes repeated this idea that people are not recipients of aid, but they are the agents of their own development if only the development industry would see them as such.

Danny Sriskandarajah of the CIVICUS Alliance, global network of civil society organizations and activists. Right now social media is mostly a fundraising and reporting tool of development NGOs and aid agencies. It’s just another way to “demonstrate results” and make appeals for financial support. But the power of social media remains in its ability to make the marginalized heard in their own voices.

It has been the in-country human rights defenders that NGOs introduced to me that have told the most compelling stories of rights abuse in Bahrain, Myanmar, Pakistan and Egypt. Instead of Human Rights First simply telling me about the civil rights abuses in Bahrain, the organization directed me to Bahraini rights defender Maryam Alkhawaja by elevating her social media feed. This allowed other human rights defenders to track her return to Manama from exile—the world was watching the regime as her flight landed, as she passed through immigration, walked through the airport and into the arms of her family.

Each presenter spoke about ways that the communications can be more participatory. Not just sending messages to stakeholders, but allowing them a chance to speak and deliver the messages themselves.

References

“Speak to us, not about us”: social media and international development. London School of Economics and Political Science. 11 March 2016. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/internationaldevelopment/2016/03/11/speak-to-us-not-about-us-social-media-and-international-development/

They’re Talking. Are We Listening?

Development agencies and programs around the world are staffed with skilled Monitoring & Evaluation professionals, responsible for tracking a program’s progress against its goals through quantifiable results – think back to the days of creating SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, time-based) goals for your professional evaluations or science class hypotheses. The program I work on, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, measures our progress against twelve indicators, which include standard measurements such as number of people trained, number of transactions recorded to track tuna catch, and millions of dollars leveraged from the private sector. While all worthwhile measurements that seek to quantify the program’s impact, does this really capture the full program’s full accomplishments (or failures) in way that reflect beneficiaries personal gains and experiences?

With developments in technology, data collection, and increased use of social media in everyday life, the amount of data is ever increasing, along with professions to analyze and assess this data. How can development tap into this potential?

Development agencies and non-profits are increasingly pushing out information using social media. But, should we be spending more time listening?

In response to America’s current political landscape and reduced funding of government agencies, a recent article in the Boston Business Journal poses how urban social listening can help to determine the impact of aid and social programs. In the study, researchers, “…began by listening to the ‘digital crumbs’ generated by collective searches and postings to social media like Twitter.” Urban social listening offers a, “systematic, rigorous collection and analysis of [social media] ‘crumbs…’ offering useful insights into understanding the government’s role in addressing urban problems” (Hollander and Renski, The Boston Business Journal).

It has been shown that there is an evidenced correlation between positive sentiment and health indicators. In a 2015 study, Twitter sentiment was shown to be a better predictor of cardiovascular disease than any conventional indicator like smoking or socioeconomics. Hollander, author of the Journal article, applies urban listening techniques to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). While he wasn’t able to find significant improved sentiment in cities with CDBG funding, it seems that the community scale being analyzed is too large to yield highly correlated results.

In development, non-profits and government agencies alike are increasingly using social media to communicate with stakeholders and beneficiaries, but listening is a newer trend. Payal Arora and Nimmi Rangaswamy echo this in Digital Leisure for Development: Reframing New Media Practice in the Global South. “…Research is driven by development agendas with a strong historical bias towards towards the socio-economic focus. Data that does not directly address project-based outcomes is side-lined.”

Tracking sentiment through social media is not a new concept, used for years in consumer confidence and political opinion. While certainly more people are tweeting on popular political opinion topics, how can we the development world harness and tailor these listening practices to hear our beneficiaries, and through listening show that their voice counts.

References
Arora, Payal and Nimmi Rangaswamy. Digital Leisure for Development: Reframing New Media Practice in the Global South. Sage Journals. October 10, 2013.

Hollander, Justin. Viewpoint: As Ben Carson Hearings Get Under Way, Can Social Media Help Identify Hud Impact? The Boston Business Journal, 2 March 2017. http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/news/2017/03/02/viewpoint-as-ben-carson-hearings-get-under-way-can.html

Eichstaedt, Johannes, et al. Psychological Language on Twitter Predicts County-Level Heart Disease Mortality. Sage Journals. Volume: 26 issue. Pages 159-169. Published January 20, 2015. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614557867

Big Data Catches: Furthering Development, not the Divide

Women in the port of Bitung, Indonesia prepare the day’s catch for market. 

The global fishing industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, with a recent report released by Stratistics MRC valuing it at $239.8 billion in 2015 — and projecting it to reach $320 billion by 2022. Southeast Asia is one of the largest contributors to this market, accounting for more than 50% of the world catch and with the largest concentration of fishing vessels in the world– over 3 million. More than just an economic powerhouse and one of the globe’s biggest sources of protein, Southeast Asia’s fisheries employ 93% of all fishery and aquaculture employees worldwide, and 10% of the world’s total working population.

The industry, while growing and a profitable employer of hundreds of millions, is also a large developmental concern. Its exponential growth and increased demands that it enjoys negatively impact the health of valuable ecosystems, marine biodiversity, and threaten already dwindling fish stocks. In addition to the environmental impacts, the region is rife with illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing – an issue that is gaining traction in development both because of its environmental impacts, but also because of its serious human welfare implications.

“Data has become increasingly important to the way we think and talk about conflict and our humanitarian responses to it” (Róisín Read, Bertrand Taithe and Roger Mac Ginty). In a world where technology is often looked to to address human problems, how do these issues relate to data and development? A number of non-governmental, governmental, private sector, and industry players are increasingly looking to data to gather information on an industry that, despite its wealth, is incredibly challenged by tracking and sourcing its products, far behind other food sector’s traceability capabilities.

With new U.S. regulations that will require a set of standard data to be submitted with every seafood import to enhance transparency (released in December 2016 and going into effect in January 2018) also serving as a catalyst, fisherfolk and industry must quickly get aboard supply chain data collection efforts, and figure out how to implement these systems in their operations. Data collection is challenged by limited connectivity at sea, hesitancy to invest, unwillingness to share proprietary data (such as location of catch), and complex supply chains.

So, how can development organizations address this challenge to increase sustainability, protect finite marine resources, and address serious human welfare concerns that include limited labor rights, forced labor, and slavery? While more data can equal more intelligent decision making, transparency, and the development of effective policy and regulation, it can also leave beneficiaries behind – often the most critical beneficiaries, those that have sole-source incomes, limited access to technology, and depend on the sector for their livelihood.

Not only do large scale commercial operations need to be addressed, but small-scale fishers – those that often catch only a few kilograms of fish per day and is their sole source of income. How can large scale operators and artisanal fishers, living in small coastal fishing villages comply with regulations and uniformly collect data in a way that doesn’t push small, independent fishers out of the supply chain? With the proliferation of big data, how can development take care to further development goals with technology, and not further segment society into groups that are more or less likely to adopt data technology? “…The way information technology [has] operated in the sector [is] equivalent to ‘buying a state of the art car, driving it into the desert and leaving it there’. More and more money is invested in developing these technologies but their use is often limited, driven not by a clear sense of what is needed to improve response, but by what the advances in technology enable.”

 

References:

Stratistics MRC. Commercial Fishing Industry – Global Market Outlook (2016-2022). January 2017. http://www.satprnews.com/2017/03/03/commercial-fishing-industry-market-size-share-analysis-report-and-forecast-to-2022/

Global Implications of Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing. National Intelligence Council. 19 September 2016. http://www.iuufishing.noaa.gov/RecommendationsandActions/RECOMMENDATION1415/FinalRuleTraceability.aspx
Third World Quarterly, 2016  Data hubris? Humanitarian information systems and the mirage of technology Róisín Read, Bertrand Taithe and Roger Mac Ginty Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, University of Manchester, UK. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01436597.2015.1136208