23
Oct 17

Event: WEF India Summit 2017. Tracing the ICT4D discourse

Eraptis, October 23.

I’d like to use my concluding blog post to zoom out a bit and take a bird’s eye view of our vibrant discussions about the interconnectedness of social media, data, and development and place it into a wider discussion about development discourse. The question I’d like to ask is really, how much space does the ICT4D discourse occupy in mainstream development narratives? To do so I have chosen to focus on a single session coupled with a number of tweets from the recent World Economic Forum India Summit 2017 taking place in New Delhi on 4-6 October 2017.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an independent not-for-profit foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland. It was established in 1971 with the mission to “improv(e) the state of the world” through public-private cooperation, and as such engages the “foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas”. Since 1985, WEF annually organizes the “Indian Economic Summit” event specifically aimed at shaping the political, economic and industrial agendas of India in partnership with multiple stakeholders as outlined above. The topic of this year’s event was perhaps specifically indicative of this aim: Creating Indian Narratives on Global Challenges.

Apart from broadcasting and recording the live sessions of these events WEF also shares additional content through blogs and reports, which are distributed through their website, and shared and communicated on various social media channels such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Participation in the events is however restricted to specific stakeholders.

The session I chose to cover directly addressed the overall topic of the event, “Creating Indian Narratives”, and took the form of a panel discussion comprising of the following participants representing government, private, and non-governmental stakeholders.

ict4d discourse

From top left: Ajay S. Banga, President and CEO of Mastercard; Dipali Goenka, CEO of Welspun India Ltd; Piyush Goyal, Minister of Railways and Coal; Malvika Iyer, Member of the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development’s Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality; Karan Johar, Head of Dharma Productions; Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Enterprises

My first impression of the session was that several of the participants did indeed mention various ICT solutions as being part of a new Indian narrative numerous times. This was not wholly unexpected judging both by the composition of the panel and the mission of the WEF. In fact, Murphy & Carmody even go as far as characterizing organizations like the WEF and international financial institutions as forms of social movements of their own (albeit top-down), with the aim of advancing corporate globalization and the neoliberal agenda. In this sense, it seems that the ICT4D discourse occupies a significant amount of space in the realm of mainstream development discourse, at least in the more traditional branches focusing on economic growth and structural transformation as drivers of development. But in what way does ICT play a role in this kind of development? In order to unpack some of the statements made by the panellists, I found the following conceptualization provided by Murphy & Carmody to be very useful. By distinguishing the forms of ICT integration into “thin” and “thick” categories, the importance and strength of ICT integration can be meaningfully discussed. Thin, or imminent, forms of ICT integration often lead to cumulative gains in productivity and efficiency at the level of the individual or firm. Whereas thick, or imminent, ICT integration is more transformative in its character, often leading to new forms of industrial organization and practices at the industry and market level. Or what Schumpeter would call “creative destruction”. So, with this in mind, what kind of ICT integration did the panellists advocate for?

One of the most interesting exchanges from this perspective occurred in the first round of addresses where Ajay S. Banga, CEO and President of Mastercard, began speaking about India’s “productivity challenge” as a barrier to growth, resulting in a large part due to a large portion of the Indian labor force being employed by the informal sector. For him, transforming the economy to provide formal job opportunities must be part of the new Indian narrative. However, one of the challenges facing this transition is a relatively low skilled labour force, which furthermore is not incentivized to gain new skills in an informal environment, coupled with a low incentive for firms to invest in such an environment. Dipali Goenka continued Ajay’s line of reasoning from the perspective of her own industry (textiles) experience arguing on the one hand that India is still an agricultural economy, with these sectors employing maximum workforces (mainly women). And that digitization could be a way of educating women to increase their skills and productivity in that sector. Dipali also argued for smartphone usage for cotton farmers to increase their agricultural productivity through better access to information on weather and crop conditions.

Furthermore, Minister Goyal in the second round of addresses talked about the role of entrepreneurship and provided an example of ICT solutions as an enabling force empowering individuals along the railroad nodes to franchise ticket sales through mobile devices by small-scale entrepreneurs. Ajay then added that his own corporation (Mastercard) has played a significant role in providing financial services to a large number of people in the world through electronic and mobile payment solutions and digitization, which he argued has increased efficiency and safety in the overall payments systems. This kind of transformation in the way of doing things, Ajay argued, is part of changing the Indian narrative. Moreover, a large part of this kind of business and system development within Mastercard is developed in India, by Indian developers, and is then exported to the rest of world.

Applying Murphy & Carmody’s conceptual framework of imminent and immanent ICT integration to these arguments generates some interesting insights. Firstly, it could be argued that Ajay’s opening statement regarding the “productivity challenge” to some extent is a call for an imminent and deep transformation of both structure and organization of the productive formal sectors in order to absorb and employ labour from the unproductive informal sectors. Whereas Dipali’s following argument can be viewed more as an imminent form of ICT integration where efficiency and productivity gains could be achieved both in the textile industry by empowering and educating female workers through ICT solutions, as well as in the downstream (garment) and upstream (cotton farmers) sectors of the value chain. Likewise, Minister Goyal’s suggestion of franchising train ticket sales through a mobile application to small-scale local entrepreneurs instead of opening local sales offices is also an example of imminent ICT integration where increased efficiency may occur on the level of the individual or the firm. But what about Ajay’s last argument regarding Indian driven innovation within electronic and mobile payments system development? Surely this must be an example of thick, immanent, ICT integration fundamentally transforming industry practices? Yes, but not necessarily in India, as this depends on a multitude of things. On the one hand, and as Ajay expressed himself, new innovations are being developed “for the world”. Thus, the benefits from both uptake and development of these new technologies may occur elsewhere as a form of economic extraversion, and profits generated from these new ICT solutions may be accumulated where the company’s head office is situated (Murphy & Carmody). Whether these skills and capabilities developed eventually spills-over to local entrepreneurs and spur innovation at the national level, countering some of the dependency from multinational corporations, is not certain.

To answer my initial question “how much space does the ICT4D discourse occupy in mainstream development narratives?” – it seems, from this example, quite significantly both directly and indirectly. What is more interesting however is to try and unpack what kind of development, and how deep. Murphy & Carmody’s framework has been very helpful in thinking about ICT4D discourse from this critical perspective. What are your thoughts? And what are other potential threats and opportunities to digitization and ICT4D?

 


18
Oct 17

Is BIG DATA against of for low-income countries?

Goda, October 18.

The development of new ICTs has brought many changes into our day to day life. These technologies are often seen as being undoubtedly good with the recognised capacity to make the world better. Big data is one of the key elements of it. According to Spratt & Baker big data is the belief which offers new and higher knowledge ‘with the aura of truth, objectivity, and accuracy” (Spratt & Baker, 2015).

However, my last post will be focused on Unwin’s argument that even if the purpose and introduction of such technology has a potential to do good, quite often this potential has negative outcomes, especially for poor and marginalized communities. Moreover, although big data is seen as offering new solutions for development issues (Spratt & Baker, 2015), it is mainly focused on “what is”, rather than on “what should be” (Unwin, 2017).

Big data benefits and risks have been discussed in all our previous posts from many different perspectives and illustrated by using different examples. As mentioned earlier, it can be used for various decision-making models. It can create added value or be used for manipulative purposes. So, as data becomes all-pervasive in our lives, it is getting more difficult indeed to achieve a right balance between possibilities and dangers of it.

bid data lowincome countries

According to Unwin, big data is designed “with particular interests in mind, and unless poor people are prioritized in such design they will not be the net beneficiaries“ (Unwin, 2017). In other words, big data primarily maintains the interests of governments or shareholders and it is much less interested in the people, especially from low-income populations. Despite such issues, in the previous posts was clearly stated that governments still play inevitably important role in creating the legislative and policy framework.

This concluding post highlights the most important aspect of big data which should be taken into account. Technologies need to focus on empowerment of people, especially of people from less developed countries rather than controlling them.

Therefore, there is no doubt that big data has been used for reasonable purposes. However, it is difficult to decide if all of them are positive. The use of social media to provoke a certain political change can be seen as being good and bad at the same time. Big data can be an opportunity in various contexts as well as a problem that needs to be solved. Everything depends on the context, particular situation and particular human intervention (Unwin, 2017).

Moreover, in terms of the less developed countries, as the world becomes even more digitally connected, there is a real need for the sharing the knowledge and technical capacity by richer countries and international organizations in order to improve global digital security. While this can cause privacy issues, it needs to be discussed openly and transparently within countries especially if it is related to an equal decision-making towards the reduction of inequality.

Additionally, even if Unwin declares that much more attention needs to be paid to the balance of interests between the rich and the poor than to the ways through which data are used I agree with Read, Taithe and Mac Ginty that data to become explicit, requires a careful analysis in terms of how it is being gathered and used. Especially when the technology itself becomes cheaper and social networking platforms such as Facebook became mainstream forms of communication (Read, R., Taithe, B., Mac Ginty, R, 2016).

However, it is not just the access to technology that matters. The data revolution risks strengthening specialists in headquarters. Thus, not only access to connectivity needs to be provided, but also governments should be innovative and open to new ideas. Also, there should be integrated an appropriate content which should empower, integrate less developed countries and help to use big data for their own interests (Unwin, 2017).

Nevertheless, despite all the risks in terms of poor communities, there are many potential benefits of big data analysis also. Among other things, such information can offer more employment opportunities, transform health care delivery, and do even much more than that (slate.com, 2016).

Therefore, the capacity to meaningfully analyse big data still has the same importance as a balance between developed and developing countries (Rettberg, 2016).

 


02
Oct 17

Have you #HeForShe’d yet? – Data for women’s empowerment?

Eraptis, October 2

As the third anniversary of the global #HeForShe solidarity movement for gender equality just passed us by on September 20, I decided to renew my commitment to ”he for she” (apparently, I had already committed to the campaign two years ago). But now that I’ve committed (again), what do I do? As I browsed further on the website I discovered their action kit specifically targeting students, I felt compelled to act, the results so far? A tweet and a blog post (starting small…):

Since its inception, the #HeForShe campaign, which is organized by UN Women, has gathered an impressive 1.5 million commitments, of which 1.2 million are from men, sparked over 1.3 billion gender equality actions and generated 1.1 thousand offline events and counting. Using “online, offline, and mobile phone technology to identify and activate advocates in every city, community, and village around the world” surely this must generate a large amount of data, possibly even “big data”, for analysis of the contribution of the movement towards UN Women’s core strategic pillars. This is important because achieving gender equality everywhere is absolutely crucial, and perhaps not the least so in communities and villages in developing countries. However, with this is mind, the question from my previous blog post echoed loudly in my head when I saw the global distribution of commitments on the interactive map on the #HeForShe site. Is all data created equal?

Photo: heforshe.org (accessed September 28, 2017)

Although it looks like the question “Have you #HeForShe’d yet?” is mostly a phenomena asked among “Western” men, there are also some beacons shining brighter in Magenta (the color symbolizing the movement) than others. In Rwanda, over 200,000 commitments have been made, of which over 160,000 are from men. While its neighbor Uganda have less than 1,000 commitments. Why this difference? Perhaps part of the answer spells Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. But does Kagame’s role as an IMPACT Champion for #HeForShe help to better position his country to empower women? It could, for a number of reasons – some which could be extrapolated from his quote:

Women and men are equal in in terms of ability and dignity, and they should be equal in terms of opportunity. As Rwandans, as a global community, we need every member of our society to use his or her talents to the fullest. – Paul Kagame

Kagame’s words can be elaborated further in terms of power by using Naila Kabeer’s distinction of positive and negative agency. The interpretation of the first sentence of the quote could be that of limiting men’s power over women (negative meaning of agency) by clearly making the statement of equality in both ability and dignity, coupled with a vision of equality in opportunity. Whereas the second sentence is more directed towards the positive meaning of agency aimed at nurturing the power to pursue ones own choices and goals in life. The latter aspect can be further traced to Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach and the notion of development as freedom. Although these elements are primarily aimed at altering the power balance of individual agency between men and women, there is also a structural aspect related to the issue of women’s empowerment. In this second dimension, Kagame’s position in Rwandan society offers the opportunity to greatly influence the structural and institutional barriers hindering such a development.

How could data generated by #HeForShe be used in order to measure the impact of the movement on women’s empowerment both in terms of agency and structure in Rwandan society? Here, we enter the domain of theory. A good starting point would be to depart from Dorothea Kleine’s depiction of the choice framework.

In her framework, the combination of individual resources (agency) and the structural dimensions of a particular society determine the degrees of empowerment of individuals in that society, and whether or not they can identify the various degrees of choice and use it to achieve a set of development outcomes, of which choice itself is the primary outcome. But choice is complex. In her paper, Kabeer points out the difficulties of qualifying choice itself referring to the conditions (access or absence of viable alternatives) and the consequences (the degree of importance) of choice. Furthermore, Kabeer has also demonstrated the conceptual difficulties of using indicators in order to measure empowerment due to a very complex and dynamic interrelation between choice and access to resources, achievements, and agency. However, combining the development outcomes suggested by Kleine with Kabeer’s insights from her “reflections on the measurement of women’s empowerment” could provide a practical blueprint for how theory could be used in order to analyze the large amount of data generated by #HeForShe and determine its impact on women’s empowerment in Rwanda and elsewhere.

Thus, the point I try to make here is similar to that of my previous post that data is “facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis”, but to make sense of it all we need to view the data through a theoretical lens. Do you agree? Let me hear your thoughts in the comment field below and let’s engage in dialogue!

 


26
Sep 17

Think About It – Is Bigger Better?

Diana, September 26.

Information and communication technology (ICT) haven’t even existed for some years ago. Now, it helps us to interact in the digital world. ICT gave way to Big Data revolution, namely, to all voluminous amount of structured and unstructured data which meant to be quarried with information. The amount of data that’s being created and stored on a global level is almost inconceivable, and it just keeps growing.

I challenge you to think about it one more time – is bigger really better? Let’s try to answer this question.

SAS Software

Taylor and Schroeder talk about that the development of data and technologies, as well as usage of those by people, have the potential to give the public a rich mine of information about health interventions, human mobility, conflict and violence, technology adoption, communication dynamics and economic behaviour.

The bigger data, the better: it allows us to perceive the environment in new ways. By having more information, we can do things that you couldn’t do before. We can collect information, share it, analyse it, learn from it and store it for years to come. Also, big data is a good tool to solve some of the world’s problems, like global food insecurity, medical care, energy and climate change.

Additionally, data and technologies bring together heterogeneous “development professionals“, such as donors, non-governmental organisations’ activists, government policy officers, consultants, academics, intended beneficiaries and so forth, who are active in various development aid organisations distributed all over the world.

In the data-driven world, the usage of data is also necessary. “Development professionals” are using data not only to promote and endorse development discourse but, as well, to save time. Big data accessibility and availability to useful information allows organizations to better understand the changing aspects of local field environments and, in turn, simplifies a better decision-making. Big data is a game changer if it is good, clean, accurate and transparent.

Nevertheless, what about the risks of losing data in the sea of all that informational overflow?

Taylor and Schroeder stress that bigger is not better, namely, there is an absence of good data. They lift up few drawbacks with “Bigger” Data. Data is not always simple and stable, namely, we need knowledge of how to use it. Most of the time, it is enough with some basic knowledge. It depends, of course, on what is the purpose of usage: a post on Facebook or managing a website.

Further, data can be bias. If we know the whole information on the matter, it can lead to the difficulty in understanding it and to the unwillingness to share it. The other risk here can be that we are not critical enough towards data we are receiving, namely, we buy it as it is, without the evidence.

Moreover, risks with an absence of the clear ethical framework, as well as rules for handling and sharing. The data revolution is so far mainly a technical one: the power of data to sort, categorise and intervene has not yet been clearly linked to a moral basis. In fact, while data-driven unfairness is evolving at exactly the same pace as data processing technologies, awareness and tools for fighting it are not.

Furthermore, anonymization techniques are unreliable. Data anonymization is the system intended to make it impossible to identify a particular individual from stored data related to him/her. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. One aspect of anonymization that worries individuals who value their privacy is that the process can be reversed.

The only way to stop big data from becoming big brother is to introduce privacy laws that protect the basic human rights online.”
― Arzak Khan

 


18
Sep 17

What is BIG DATA and why it can be dangerous?

Goda, September 18.

big dataOver the last few decades, information communication technologies (ICT) have developed gradually and brought many changes to global and international development.  The rise of the social media and evolution of big data are one of them. In order to talk about big data in the context of social media, we have to understand what big data means.

So let’s imagine the time when there were no computers yet and all the information was stored in written sources – books, letters and etc. Let’s imagine that we have so many of these sources that we have to open a huge library that would help anyone to find any small text or photo they need. This means that library must have a clear system and the ways to find any information quickly.

The same thing happened with the digital data. However, the amount of it is more than enormous comparing to written sources. Some time ago this process of handling and storing information was covered by simple databases, but when practically everything that goes on in our society moved into a virtual space, all the impressive amount of information needed to have impressive programs. This is where the term “Big Data” came from.

Many authors compare big data with the fuel that drives the next industrial revolution into every aspect of economic and social life (Tufekci, 2017). Soon, particularly in developing countries, big data will be able to help to improve even areas such as government decision-making, implementation of social welfare programs or scientific research.

There are lot’s great benefits associated with big data. However, big risks are also widely discussed. The three main big risks can be the following:

  • Quantity and the quality do not match. Having a large amount of data does not necessarily mean having a high-quality data. For example, many of the developments in digital humanitarianism are based on what is possible rather than what is needed. More and more money is being invested in developing these technologies but their use is often limited.
  • Moreover, everything can be tracked – how, why and by whom information is collected, stored and processed. Social media, music or videos have all been stored as a data that has become available for analysis. For example, Facebook always can show where you are or when was the last time when you were online.
  • Furthermore, it can cause big privacy problems. Data protection online is a significant and increasingly urgent challenge especially in the previously mentioned networking platforms and many others, such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Uber or AirBnB which have shown how huge amount of data can be achieved in the short period of time and, for example, how sharing one post on Facebook can make a difference.

Taking everything into consideration, it seems that big data will become inevitable everywhere. Nevertheless, despite its benefits, the three examples of the main risks of big data mentioned above are currently seen as very important challenges in the international development field which will be discussed in more detail later.

Thus, even if a huge amount of money is being invested in developing and improving digital technologies, their use is still quite limited. Also, these are the early days of the data revolution and many uses of it still remain unforeseen. Moreover, human impact how information is gathered and used needs to be considered too.

Therefore, thinking about the potential of big data, it requires more consideration about information gathering and processing especially in the light of accuracy, risk evaluation and assessment (Meier, 2015).

 


10
Sep 17

Hello there!

@Data4ComDev, September 10.

Blog

Welcome to our newly started blog. We are happy that you have found your way here already. You may wonder: who are you and what is this blog all about?

We are five students enrolled in a Master’s Programme in Communication for Development at Malmö University. We are currently in the process of exploring the possibilities and challenges of starting up this joint blog. No doubt it will be a little bit hard, very rewarding, extremely educating and, for sure, heaps of fun.

The theme we will be exploring is called Social Media, Data and Development. We will hence be looking into data in the context of development communication. That is what we have decided for now, and we are looking forward to figuring out the rest.

While you wait for us to finalise our plans, please take some time to have a look at our brief bios in the “about us” section in the top right corner. And make sure to come back soon, we are all up for some intense weeks of blogging.