The Digital for Development field has enormous potential—and plenty of room for learning. We launched this blog as part of our own learning process, and we hope to engage the Digital for Development community as we find our way forward.
El desarrollo de Coffee Cloud: Una herramienta de precisión utilizada por agricultores en la región centroamericana
This post is also available in English.
Durante más de un siglo, la roya ha representado una seria amenaza para la industria cafetalera mundial, especialmente en la era del cambio climático. No obstante, la toma de acciones eficaces y de forma coordinada entre los países centroamericanos productores de café ha sido una tarea difícil de lograr. En consecuencia, esta enfermedad ha continuado propagándose y sus efectos han sido devastadores. Entre 2012 y 2013, la roya ocasionó que la región centroamericana experimentara una reducción del 15 por ciento de su producción de café, lo que incluyó un alarmante 31 por ciento en Honduras. El gráfico siguiente muestra las pérdidas que experimentó cada país durante este período.
Building Coffee Cloud: A Precision Ag Tool Used by Farmers Across Central America
Esta entrada también está disponible en español.
Coffee rust has menaced the global coffee industry for more than a century, but particularly in the era of climate change. Nevertheless, effective, coordinated action between coffee producing countries across Central America has remained elusive, and as a result the disease has spread—to devastating effect. In 2012 and 2013, coffee rust reduced the region’s coffee production by 15 percent, including a staggering 31 percent in Honduras. The figure below shows the losses each country suffered during that season.
You Keep Using That Word: Why “Scale” Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers seven definitions of “scale,” involving variously weight, fish, climbing, maps, music, and—unexpectedly—lumber. Notably, none of these meanings is a synonym for “to embiggen,” the usage favored in the tech and development worlds. In these environments, which share little else, taking something “to scale” always seems to evoke Carl Sagan-esque notions of quantity. What this reductionist approach to vocabulary loses (in addition to small stiff plates that cover much of the body of some animals) is the range that makes this word truly useful. In English, if not in Silicon Valley, you can scale up, but you can also scale down.
Access for All in a Digital Economy: A Reflection on DAI Development Matters Roundtables in Nigeria
The technology revolution in Nigeria is remarkable compared to other countries in Africa (the country completely skipped the landline stage of development!). As one of the top destinations for investment in Africa, Nigeria is home to booming tech startups that provide a collaborative environment for entrepreneurs across sectors. Powered by the Nigerian government’s commitment to digital access, the digital ecosystem in Nigeria is likely to evolve further. Within this context, DAI’s office in Nigeria recently hosted two roundtables—one in Lagos and one in Abuja, both featuring insights from DAI’s Vice President of Technical Services, Brigit Helms, who recently published “Access for All: Building Inclusive Economic Systems.”
Apply Now to the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative WomenConnect Challenge
Digital technology has revolutionized the world by providing instant access to information, finance, and networks—all of which are necessary for women to reach their full economic potential and create more self-reliant communities.
Today, 1.7 billion women in low- and middle-income countries still do not own mobile phones. The internet user gender gap is greater than 40 percent in some countries. The persistent gender digital divide is reinforcing—and even exacerbating—existing socioeconomic gaps between men and women.
Advancing women’s digital connectivity is key to promoting their empowerment in an increasingly digital world.
10 Tips to Work Better with Small ICT4D Firms
Hi, [email protected] readers! My name is Inta, and I am the newest staff member at DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration. I come to DAI from GeoPoll, a U.S. registered small business in the mobile for development space. Making the transition from a small business specializing in ICT4D to a large business with a rockstar ICT4D team has given me some unique insights on the needs of small businesses. It has also provided me a big platform (thank you, [email protected]!) to share them with others, particularly people working for other major players in the international development sector. Below are some tips for using smaller, specialized technology firms—particularly U.S.-registered small businesses—more effectively in your development projects:
Longing for my SuperApp: Where’s the American Go-Jek?
Earlier this year I underwent a major life transition. After over four years living in Southeast Asia while supporting DAI’s ASEAN-U.S. PROGRESS project, I packed up my Jakarta apartment, shipped my belongings, and said farewell to the people and place that had become my home. The year 2019 was certain to be one of adjustment and inescapable reverse culture shock as I transitioned to life in America and a new position at DAI’s Bethesda, Maryland, office.
5 Takeaways From ICT4D 2019
This year’s ICT4D Conference took place alongside Lake Victoria in gorgeous Kampala, Uganda. It was my first time attending, and it was great to catch up with friends and colleagues (old and new) and marvel at how much bigger the ICT4D sector is since I first joined it in late 2010 and Ken Banks and I had been invited to speak on the one mobile for social good panel (true story!) at a telecoms event.
GIS Toolkit Overview Part I: Remote Sensing
Geographic information systems (GIS) are often misunderstood, or unknown to many. Even in the development community, we often have a shallow understanding of the technology once we delve into methodologies or use cases—particularly with satellite imagery, or more aptly, remotely sensed data. GIS and remote sensing are not synonymous, but scientifically and inextricably linked. When choosing a GIS/remote sensing methodology or technical analysis component for a project, it is important to understand the strengths and shortcomings of the available tools.
GIS image developed by the author when he was working for the Amazon Conservation Association.
Designing A Wildlife Identification Tool in the Philippines
Human-centered design (HCD)—the design and management framework pioneered by greats like IDEO.org and taught in countless design and business schools—is taking the development world by storm. And rightly so, in our opinion. HCD’s focus on empathy and creativity helps us design better, more sustainable solutions to some of the most difficult development challenges. We won’t go into too much detail on the broader HCD process or its application in digital development; my colleagues have written extensively on the excellent design work they’ve facilitated in places like Cambodia, Nepal, and Guatemala. What we’d like to do today, rather, is tell you about the time we almost perished while shadowing rangers in the forests of the Philippines, and what we learned in the process.
It is possible there is a bit of hyperbole inserted here. Possibly.
Apply Now to Redesign the USAID Center for Digital Development’s mAccess Online Platform
A digital ecosystem is the how and why users interact with government services, digital financial tools, and each other using mobile devices. A single data point alone may not tell the whole story for digital inclusion and how to best reach those in low-connectivity settings globally. To help address this challenge, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Center for Digital Development (CDD) developed the mAccess diagnostic site, an online tool for global decision makers to analyze the availability, cost of connectivity, and number of users for more than 100 countries. The mAccess tool was launched in early 2016 and has been shared across USAID.
Digital Identity Series Part 2: Digital Identity and Politics
Welcome back to the Digital Identity series. This week we continue the discussion of digital identity, with a focus on the politics of digital identification.
Let’s start with the recognition that a formal identity is often a starting point for inclusion—without it, a person may not be able to access services such as health care, banking, or education. In humanitarian emergencies, a digital identity may be required to receive vital provisions such as food, water, and medicine.
What Makes This Wireless Technology (5G) Different From All Other Wireless Technologies?
When thinking about the internet in an ideal world, I often think of an independent platform that provides a mechanism for free expression, commerce, and the exchange of ideas. Yet, as more and more of the global population comes online, the internet has become a reflection of global dynamics and geopolitical undercurrents. Today, this reality is manifesting itself around the impending roll out of 5G.
5 Tips for Doing International Design Research
DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration (CDA) relies heavily on ethnographic design research in our work. By focusing our efforts on people and the institutions around them, we:
- Define the problem in their terms, not ours;
- Learn of, and about, previous attempts to solve the problem;
- Develop our understanding of local culture and history, as well as how people seek and share information and use mobile technology so we can meet them where they are;
- Mitigate the risks inherent to spending limited resources developing software or building digital tools, given the costs of doing so;
- Build ownership of the solution among the population; and…
- Enlist those who participate as promoters of the solution among their personal and professional networks.
The author teaching design research in Phnom Penh with the USAID Cambodia Development Innovations project.
From One Qualie to Another: Insights from Qual360 2019
I have a confession to make: I am a bonafide, card-carrying qualie. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this term, it’s a (nerdy) colloquialism to define people who are really into qualitative research. I swear, it’s a thing.
So yes, I am a qualie. I have been involved in conducting qualitative, ethnographic research in some way or another throughout the course of my sinuous career. I get jazzed by learning about people’s lived experiences—the barriers they encounter when attempting to improve their health and well being; the things that make changing behavior a snap; all of it. Throw some neuroscience in there to understand what’s happening in the brain and the ways in which emotional responses catalyze behavior change? Yes. Yes, please. I am in heaven.
Game Mechanics—Great Tool for Designing Digital Development Services
📱 Smartphone connections continue to rise and people, globally, love to game. The Global Systems for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) estimates that by 2025 78 percent of all developing market mobile connections will be smart. By that time GSMA predicts that India will be the second-largest smartphone market by adoption globally (ahead of the United States), with 1 billion smartphone connections. Interestingly, India is already among the top five mobile gaming countries globally, expected to surge to 368 million gamers in 2022. If this is a bellwether for developing markets, we can expect gaming to be a significant force across the global south.
Digital Identity Series Part 1: Digital Identity and Informed Consent
This post marks the launch of a Digital Identity series here on [email protected] It is a pivotal topic to many of our technical areas: from health service provision, to cash transfers, and voter registration. It is also a topic garnering increased attention with the debate over privacy and data security—and the global refugee crisis reinforcing the opinion that there is “no single factor that affects a person’s ability to share in the gains of global development as much as having an official identity.”
Over the next few months, we will look at some of the issues and opportunities around Digital ID in the development space. Today, we look at informed consent: what it means to the development sector, the difficulty of getting it, and what we can do to make sure we aren’t leaving people behind, while respecting their privacy and the security of their data.
Nobody Cares What Tech You Use
Technologists and developers love to talk about the best tools for building new technology. MERN or MEAN stack, functional vs. object-oriented programming, vanilla development or frameworks. The internet is ripe with these discussions and attend any tech meetup and you’ll easily find multiple discussions comparing one tool to another. The performance and usability of one over the other, as if that is the goal.
Is Your Data in a Lake or Water Treatment Plant?
They say to write about what you know. For the first part of my career and through my formal education, my work was all based in the world of water and sanitation. Glamorous stuff—pipes and pumps, fecal coli-forms and treatment options, toilets and activated sludge. It made for great dinner conversation (or so says my wife). At some point, I made the transition from a water guy who worked with a lot of data to a data scientist who knows about water. And as I dive deeper into the analogies and lingo of modern data systems and tools, I lean on my engineering training to make sense of it all.
Apply Now to Support Digital Tools and Approaches for USAID’s Bureau for Food Security
Rapidly changing access to digital tools such as basic mobile phones is changing the landscape for how we can address the challenges to ending global hunger, undernutrition, and extreme poverty. “Despite our collective progress in global food security and nutrition over recent years, a projected 702 million people still live in extreme poverty; nearly 800 million people around the world are chronically undernourished; and 159 million children under five are stunted. Food security is not just an economic and humanitarian issue; it is also a matter of security, as growing concentrations of poverty and hunger leave countries and communities vulnerable to increased instability, conflict, and violence.” (U.S. Government Global Food Security Strategy 2017-2021).
KIC Mauritania: Winners Announced!
Since 2016, DAI has provided support to the Kosmos Innovation Center (KIC), which got its start in Ghana and expanded its work Mauritania in 2018. Last week, KIC Mauritania’s 2018 cohort of young entrepreneurs pitched concepts to a panel of judges, competing for more than $85,000 in total seed funding. Unlike KIC Ghana, which focuses solely on support to agritech startups, KIC’s Mauritanian startups have built a wide range of solutions across various sectors, from waste recycling to healthcare. Here’s an overview of this year’s finalists, their business concepts, and the final winners of the competition.
Building a Culture of Innovation in Cambodia
Many in international development want to be “innovative,” but how do workplaces develop cultures that promote useful innovation? The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched Development Innovations (DI) in 2013 to help Cambodian civil society organizations and tech companies leverage technology to address social needs. This objective would require new ways of thinking to create new ways for solving problems.
Machine Learning Changes the Business Case for Automated Phishing Attacks
Researchers have demonstrated the capability of machine learning to help with everything from saving honeybees and tracking flu vaccine uptake, to aiding in the fight against bioterrorism, and plenty in between.
But machine learning can also be put to less-scrupulous uses just as easily. Social engineering is a type of cyber attack that deceives users into creating security breaches, typically through emails and phone calls (often called ‘phishing’), and the marriage of machine learning with social engineering is poised to be a burgeoning issue in the near future. This issue is a global problem, but developing markets are often at the highest risk for cyberattacks due to the lack of capacity to defend against and track such attacks. As such, they often find themselves as the testing grounds for novel attack methods before they reach more developed markets.
Lessons from the Fall Armyworm Tech Prize: The Importance of Ensuring Goals Align
One of the attractions of awarding prizes in global development is that the prize sponsor shifts the responsibility of achieving results onto competitors. While this approach can inspire a range of creative solutions and spur a nascent market, it also means many finalists will develop something valuable whether they win the award or not. For a prize to be valuable to both sponsors and competitors, sponsors must clearly communicate prize objectives so that competitors have the best chance at success and can assess whether devoting resources to achieve those objectives makes sense for them, win or lose.
The (Missing) Digital Principle: Educate the User
We in the international development community talk a lot about privacy and security in digital development. We try to think through privacy and security in terms of the data we collect, what we do with it, and even how we address issues of consent around data collection. There’s an entire digital principle about it.
In discussions like these, privacy and security are framed entirely in terms of the paradigm of extraction—collecting and gathering data from end users to organizations. This is an entirely valid and important discussion to continue having. However, there’s a discussion we’re not having that’s arguably even more important, and that’s around the privacy and security of users.
Working in Agriculture? Using Digital Ag Tools? Please Fill Out This Survey!
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has worked with Missions to integrate digital tools and technologies into Feed the Future activities since 2015, first through the U.S. Global Development Lab-led Digital Development for Feed the Future(D2FTF) initiative and now through the Bureau for Food Security (BFS) (BFS). BFS works with DAI’s Digital Frontiers project, a buy-in mechanism that allows Missions to receive digital solutions for resilience and food security assessments as well as program, project, activity design, and implementation support.
Photo credit: CABI
As part of this work, DAI-led Digital Frontiers is conducting a survey of agriculture projects to understand their experiences using digital tools in their work. These findings will be used to inform BFS’s digital strategy. If you are working on an agriculture project, we are very interested in hearing from you.
Please take 10 minutes to fill out our survey.
We thank you in advance for taking the time to complete this survey.
Questions? Please email [email protected]
Access as an Assumption: The Unintended Consequence of Increasing Digital Access
In our quest to increase digital access, we tend to focus on the dividends, rather than the negatives that can arise. We are understandably excited about edging closer to universal access and the new business opportunities and improvements to service provision that accompany it. But while we are improving in our endeavor to promote online safety and security, bridge the gender digital divide, and include people with disabilities (all great stuff!), we could be overlooking some negative consequences of increased digital access.
How Digital Tools Help Combat Illegal Mining and Logging in the Amazon
A recent report prepared by the Amazonian Geo-referenced Socio-Environmental Information Network (RAISG) and InfoAmazonia, in coordination with eight other Latin American institutions, published a map that shows more than 2,000 data points across the Amazon where illegal activity is occurring. This includes illegal mining and logging in 96 protected areas. Most of the illegal activity is taking place in Venezuela where there are a reported 1,899 data points documenting illegal mining or logging. Venezuela is followed by Brazil where 321 cases of illegal activity are recorded. In Ecuador, the number drops to 68, and in Peru, 24. For organizations, governments, or advocates looking to protect the Amazon, this digital tool seems like a blessing. Yet, based on my experience it’s unclear whether these information-streamlining tools are actually limiting illegal activity.
A Resolution to Support the Tech Sector Where We Need It Most
On January 5, I posted the message below on Facebook to hold myself accountable to my New Year’s resolution.
It’s simple. I want tech businesses to grow and thrive in Nigeria outside of Lagos. I want to support someone who grew up in, works in, and wants to continue working in my hometown, Uyo. This is not just my resolution, but has been my life’s work since I started Start Innovation Hub five years ago. Start Innovation Hub is an ICT firm and innovation lab that works to expand the tech industry by supporting tech startups and talented individuals in Uyo. We build skills and connect entrepreneurs to economic opportunities, as well as support local businesses by developing software solutions. You can’t deny that the tech sector in Nigeria is growing rapidly, but the concentration of firms in Lagos means that places like Uyo are left behind. Through Start Innovation Hub, I hope to change that.
The Four Rs: An Interview With the Lean Research Initiative
We are huge fans of the Lean Research initiative at DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration. I recently went to the Massachusetts Institute for Technology’s MIT D-Lab and sat with Elizabeth, Kendra, and Kim, the team behind Lean Research, to learn more about the genesis of the initiative and what tools and resources they offer ICT4D practitioners eager to “right-size” their own research approaches.
Citizen-Centered Design and Frontier Insights in Kabul
The Center for Digital Acceleration is excited to announce that we’re taking MiMuni, the open-source transparency and citizen participation application developed for Guatemalan municipalities, and replicating it for five municipalities in Afghanistan through the Strong Hubs for Afghan Hope and Resilience (SHAHAR) project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The first iteration will be with the Municipality of Kabul.
Frontier Insights in Kabul, part of DAI's citizen-centered design process.
6 Tips for Making Great Monitoring and Evaluation Dashboards
Technology and data are converging in ways that allow monitoring and evaluation (M&E) professionals to more effectively monitor, evaluate, learn, and adapt on their projects. Dashboards are one of the key tools contributing to this trend, having become more accessible and user friendly through platforms such as Microsoft PowerBI.
Dashboards are an information management tool that visually track, analyze, and display metrics and data points to monitor the status of a project. DAI is creating dashboards for all new projects to enable teams to learn, evaluate, and adapt to project realities in near real-time. Ultimately, these dashboards make for better monitoring and evaluation and—in turn—better projects. Therefore, it’s important to get it right. So where should you start?
Frontier Insights: Cyber Security Edition
The headline says it all: “Over a billion people’s data was compromised in 2018.” Among the most egregious offenders were some of the most popular tech platforms in the world: Facebook, for example, admitted it had leaked the personal data of nearly 150 million users; Twitter leaked the passwords of nearly all 330 million of its users; and even mighty Google had two of its products hacked: Firebase (an app monitoring tool) leaked the data of more than 100 million users, and Google+ leaked 500,000 users’ personal info.
Looking Ahead: What We’re Thinking About in 2019
In our last post, we reviewed our top posts of 2018. The most-read articles covered a lot of ground—from Fortnite for development to digital lives in rural Malawi to making your own chatbot. We equally expect 2019 to be full of interesting projects, engaging conversations with colleagues, and, as always, meaningful opportunities to keep learning and doing better, more impactful work.
Here are a few topics we’re thinking about as we dive into the year. Let us know if you want to collaborate as we explore where they’ll take us—and stay tuned to our blog for updates throughout the year!
[email protected] Year in Review: Top 10 Posts of 2018
This year, [email protected] published more than 50 posts covering everything from women’s entrepreneurship in Cambodia to cyber security for development to smartphone apps for fisheries in Central America.
We featured digital experts from organizations such as John’s Hopkins University, Simprints, Every1Mobile, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), and Panoply Digital, and generated nearly 47,000 page views. The blog continues to explore the potential of digital technology across sectors, geographies, clients, and constituents, reflecting the work that we do. As we continue to engage with all of you—and with the ICT4D community through DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration (CDA)—our focus on research and products will expand as we ensure that our field-focused deployments of digital solutions are responsible, inclusive, and dynamic.
In our final post of 2017 we reviewed the 10 most-read articles of the year. With our audience and number of blog posts continuing to grow, we now present our top 10 for 2018. These posts showcase a range of topics, content, and writers. Going into 2019, we hope you will connect with us, read the blog, and subscribe to [email protected] so you don’t miss any updates in the coming year.
An Embarrassment of Riches
Years ago, yours truly was struggling with a major life decision, one that had led to many a sleepless night: Where to go to grad school? I’d been accepted into a number of programs and was agonizing over my options. My dad had graciously taken on the role of my sounding board until one day he blurted out in frustration, “you have an embarrassment of riches, Rachel. Just decide!”
Cyber Security Series Part 3: Pirated Software
It’s been about two months since I last contributed to the Cyber Security Series, but don’t let the time fool you into thinking we haven’t been engaging extensively on the topic. As many of you might remember, the Center for Digital Acceleration (CDA) published the Digital Inclusion and a Trusted Internet report in October on the topic. For those of you who have not read it, I highly recommend it, particularly if you’re interested in cyber security or data privacy.
The first post in this series focused on the issue of trust and the second post argued that investment in regulations that support the enabling environment, strong institutions, and skills of the population are key to integrating cyber security across a country’s economy. This post focuses on a more micro-level challenge—pirated software—and how addressing it is key to responding to cyber security overall.
Data, Analysis, and Information (Not as Boring as It Sounds)
If you aren’t excited by the headline—you should be! In this blog I will highlight a few issues I run across when discussing projects or planning data analytics solutions. Going into the details of each of them would take quite some time, so I will keep the anecdotes (data?) brief. There will undoubtedly be many interpretations of the data -> analytics -> insights/information flow, but this blog is simply an opportunity for me to share my own thoughts. After all, what are we as good data stewards and scientists without proper debate?
Coming Soon: Global Digital Health Forum 2018 & ICT4Drinks
The Global Digital Health Forum—an annual meeting of health-focused government stakeholders, technologists, researchers, and donors from across the globe—is coming up December 10 through 11.
Three experts from DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration will be featured at five separate events, so come find us! Full list below:
Powering Women’s Entrepreneurship in Cambodia
Meet Lida Loem. Lida is the co-founder of SHE Investments, a social enterprise that helps Cambodian women turn their entrepreneurship skills up to 11 (yes, out of 10) with training, mentorship and networking in both cities and rural regions of Cambodia.
SHE’s vision is a world where investments in women in developing countries are seen as opportunity, not charity. They work with current and aspiring entrepreneurs across Cambodia, and see themselves as a catalyst for women’s economic empowerment through increased income generation and employment opportunities. Their work helps to bridge the gender gap in business and entrepreneurship, strengthening and diversifying Cambodia’s economy.
Human-Centered Design for a Digital Farmer Business School Application: A One-Day Roadmap
Human-centered design (HCD) is a central focus of DAI’s. We’ve written extensively about how we work with our partners to follow this complex and time-consuming (but very important) process and even came up with a more concise, budget-friendly Lean HCD approach.
As part of our continued commitment to the approach, Karim Bin-Humam and I recently traveled to Ghana to run a workshop on HCD for the Sustainable Smallholder Agribusiness Programme (SSAB), implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
This was lean HCD on steroids: We asked participants to produce a HCD roadmap in just one day.
Participants chose their methods from the ideo.org design kit.
Meet the 9 WomenConnect Winners Who Are Using Tech for Good
Choosing just nine shining examples from more than 500 applicants of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded WomenConnect Challenge was no easy task. The global call—put out in March by Ivanka Trump and USAID Administrator Mark Green—sought examples of the changing ways in which women and girls’ access and use of technology help drive quality health, better education, and improved livelihoods for themselves and their families.
Digital Inclusion and a Trusted Internet
Back in 2014, when I was leading USAID’s Digital Inclusion Practice, I was invited by the U.S Department of State to present on the importance of information and communication technology (ICT) in driving economic growth. The cyber training was intended to equip foreign service officers with the knowledge and tools to represent the broad range of policy priorities enumerated in the President’s International Strategy for Cyberspace: Prosperity, Security, and Openness in a Networked World.
Getting the Basics of ICT4D Right
There’s a tendency in any field of business (and life!) to focus on the newest, shiniest objects. Just like obsession over the release of the latest iPad, the ICT4D community holds a special place in its heart for the newest technology offerings. Machine learning, blockchain, and the internet of things (IoT) come to mind today, whereas in years past it was crowdsourcing, social media, or smart phones.
Financial Sector Deepening Mozambique: The Regulatory Sandbox Startups
All over the world, digital tools are creating opportunities for the those without bank accounts and expanding the array of financial services, known as fintech.
The Financial Sector Deepening project is increasing financial inclusion in Mozambique.
Mozambique is no exception—whilst literacy rates there are low, and the ICT infrastructure and regulatory framework are underdeveloped, traditional banking is still not serving people’s needs. The financial inclusion rate is at 42% (Work Bank Findex 2017) and there is a clear need for financial services to be available for poorer, more rural and marginalised populations.
Business Concepts from KIC’s 2018 Agritech Entrepreneurs
The award-winning Kosmos Innovation Center in Ghana has completed its final round of pitches for the 2018 cohort, and as with previous years, the program’s (very) early-stage young entrepreneurs continue to impress. Unlike previous years, the eight finalists this year were given six weeks and a small stipend to develop their minimum viable products (MVP), in addition to nine months of KIC-funded capacity building and market research. This meant that each team had the chance to meet with users, tweak their revenue models and designs, and even raise revenue to demonstrate proof-of-concept. As a result, I found that this year’s teams were well ahead of their 2017 and 2016 counterparts—their pitches were more compelling; they were more confident in their ability to answer judges’ questions; and their nose for entrepreneurship opportunities was keener.
Here’s a run-down of each team’s business concepts for technology-driven Ghanaian agribusinesses.
Cyber Security Series Part 2: Understanding Cyber Security as Part of the Digital Development Conversation
In our first post in the 2018 Cyber Security Series, I discussed why cyber security should be a key consideration in the design of digital tools that help support sustainable development efforts. I highlighted that trust in digital tools should not be taken for granted, but rather constantly invested in by designing digital tools with user input, but also with security in mind. Now I will take a look at some of the other key analog complements that need to be considered when deploying secure, integrated digital systems for sustainable development.
DFID and DAI Host Malawi’s First Digital Development Forum
Over the last few weeks, DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration has been working closely with the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID)’s Malawi office to conduct a digital scoping study of its portfolio. Building on some of the user research we’ve conducted in Malawi, we’re identifying areas where DFID can make small, focused investments in digital innovations to improve the impact of its programs. And we’re also helping the team build relationships with the small, but growing, group of Malawian technologists tackling development challenges with digital tools. As part of this effort, we put together DFID’s first-ever Malawi Digital Development Forum last week, which brought together local technologists, development implementers, government decision-makers, and DFID staff for a day-long technology exchange.
Fishing with Smartphones
Much has been written about the digital divide and the failure of ICT to meet the needs of the poorest users. As World Bank President Jim Kim says, “We must continue to connect all people so that no one is left behind … because the loss of opportunities has a very high cost.”
In Central America, some of those ‘left behind’ include more than 135,000 fishermen. Without access to vital information about how climate change affects fishing, their very livelihoods are under threat.
September 2018 ICT4D Happy Hour Roundup: Were You There?
Happy hours are the sinew of the ICT4D community: They are how we connect. For a few hours each month, we put aside the titles, affiliations, competition, and enjoy each other’s company over a few drinks.
September was a particularly busy month on the ICT4D happy hour calendar, so let’s take a quick look back on what happened. Hopefully, you’ll join us for the next one!
The Americas’ Effort to Integrate, Distribute, and Use Open Data to Make Decisions
I was happy to represent DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration at AmeriGEOSS week recently in Brazil, sharing experiences of how DAI has developed platforms and tools for decision-making in Central America.
Kosmos Innovation Center wins 2018 P3 Impact Award
We’re so excited that the Kosmos Innovation Center—the Kosmos Energy-funded project DAI helps implement in Ghana—was announced the winner of the 2018 P3 Impact Award at the annual Concordia Summit in New York, that takes place alongside the United Nations General Assembly.
Cyber Security Series Part 1: Trust is Why Cyber Security Matters to Digital Development
We’re launching one of our final series for 2018 on cyber security with this post on why it matters to international development. Stay tuned and subscribe to our newsletter if this topic interests you!
Thinking About the User Part I: Design Considerations for Mobile Apps
Think back to the last time you used a mobile app(lication) with unwieldy menu placement, indecipherable icons, and inconvenient user-configurable options. These may seem like minor nuisances in the everyday life of app interaction, and frankly, most users probably never notice (or maybe don’t realize that they notice) or hardly care. But user experience in application design is critical to ease of use, efficient navigation, and longevity of mobile-based application technologies.
Fortnite for International Development?
Fortnite—a free, online multiplayer video game—has amassed more than 125 million players worldwide during the mere 14 months since it debuted in July 2017. The game features a fast-paced, Hunger Games-inspired format mixed with community, celebrity, and story, and so far it’s working. Everyone from athletes to musicians are going public with their fandom and some parents are shelling out $35/hour for a Fortnite coach for their kids.
Image © 2018, Epic Games.
August Roundup: Leapfrogging Technology, ICT4E in Conflict, and Facebook in Myanmar
Ah, the dog days of summer. Usually a slow time for work, that means there’s extra time to sit at your computer looking for good stuff to read, struggling with either being uncomfortably warm from the summer heat or excruciatingly cold from over-aggressive office air-conditioning. We get it. We got you. Fresh ICT4D reads from our August Roundup below!
5 Top Resources for Digital Access Data
The global community has recognized the importance of digital equality—affordable, universal internet access as one of the Sustainable Development Goals. When we are implementing digital programs, access and inclusion are key concerns: We don’t want to leave anyone behind.
The Rising Tide of ICTs for Accountability
A tectonic shift is taking place in commerce, and we’re all a part of it. At its core, it boils down to one concept: accountability. The accelerating movement toward web-based management tools, data analytics, and automation among businesses—coupled with the rapid growth in mobile phone technology—has reduced the cost of doing business, slashed barriers to entry, and reduced the time elapsed from concept to market-ready solution. The result is increased competition, more customer choice, greater accountability to the customer, and the sound of the sledgehammer falling upon formerly protected industries. Customers in the many business-to-consumer verticals (admittedly not all) have more bargaining power than ever before, and can hold businesses accountable for poor performance by downloading a competitor’s solution with a few simple clicks.
Getting Started with RStudio, Part 2
This article is part 2 of a series exploring the basics of importing and analyzing data in RStudio.
In a previous post we introduced the R programming language, RStudio as a development environment, and examined rainfall data for May. The data we analyzed was stored in Google Docs. We used some functions to pull the data into our work environment, and displayed the data over time using a line graph. In this post, we’re going to make an improvement to this analysis. Specifically, we’re going to streamline the way we access weather data.
Essential Actions: A Human-Centred, Global Approach to Privacy Rights
We’ve read the headlines: large-scale breaches of highly sensitive information in the United States, in the Philippines, in Nigeria, in India … the list goes on. The message is consistent: somebody, somewhere, needs to do something to protect us. Enter the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), the EU’s (in)famous answer to protecting the personal data of its citizens. Some applaud it as the world’s strictest privacy standards; others consider it outdated from the start. (We’re in the age of blockchain and AI; you tell me how to exercise right to erasure here.) Either way, GDPR concepts are useful to international development contexts.
Coffee Cloud: El proyecto digital para los caficultores de Centroamérica
Del 2010 al 2014, el grano de café de América Central sufrió una enfermedad que sacudió las economías de la región. Las exportaciones disminuyeron en un 55 por ciento. De 2012 a 2013, se perdieron 374,000 empleos correspondiente al 17 por ciento de la fuerza de trabajo. La Roya, o roya del café, amenazaba los medios de subsistencia de casi 2 millones.
Take it to the Farmer: Behind the Scenes of the Fall Armyworm Tech Prize Co-Creation
Along with human-centered design and lean startup, co-creation is an approach arising to prominence in the development lexicon over the past five years. Some of us (myself included) have used “co-creation” without understanding what it means, simply assuming it was an event that brings together a variety of partners to brainstorm ideas to solve a problem. Only when I attended the Fall Armyworm Tech Prize co-creation workshop from June 26 to 29 in Kampala, Uganda, did I grasp the nuances of co-creation and realize the significant benefits it holds for the end users of co-created products.
A Time of Change. And Reflection.
I can’t remember exactly what I was doing when the grenade went off up the street—probably brushing my teeth or something mundane like that. I was halfway through my two-week visit to Ethiopia and looking forward to getting out in the field. I was also completely unaware of what had just happened. It was a sobering day. I spent all afternoon watching the news. First one person confirmed dead, then two. One-hundred and fifty or so wounded. Fear on the faces of a populace that had recently been so full of hope.
Image credit: AddisBiz.com
DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration Featured on Podcast
Digital Health in International Development: Using Tried & Tested Technology Innovatively
I recently took part in the DAI panel discussion on “Digital Health in International Development: Current Realities and Future Trends” in London. It delivered fascinating perspectives from across the health, tech, and development sectors. Here’s a few key points I shared during the discussion and hope to stimulate a continued conversation.
Deadline Extended! Apply Now: Support USAID Missions to Improve Broadband Connectivity
DAI’s Digital Frontiers project has extended the deadline to July 3 for proposals from interested organizations to help the U.S. Agency for International Development implement the Better Connectivity, Better Programs: How to Implement a Demand Aggregation Program (How-to Guide). The initial Request for Proposals (RFP) and related information can be found here.
Answers to RFP questions were emailed to interested offerors and can be found here.
Have questions? Email [email protected].
Catching Up with the Winners of MIT’s Grand Hack for Health
Let me start by saying that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Grand Hack is kind of a big deal. I don’t make the point as an affront to other hackathons—certainly not DAI’s own—but not many other hackathons can claim to have generated more than $150 million in venture capital and spawned more than 40 viable companies. Those two facts qualify the Grand Hack for royalty status among hackathons, which makes it even more surprising that the event is run entirely by students, MIT’s Hacking Health group. It’s also the reason why I was so excited to get a taste of MIT’s secret innovation sauce from the inside—as a mentor, alongside my colleague Kristen Roggemann.
Coffee Cloud: The Digital Project for Central American Coffee Growers
From 2010 to 2014, the Central American coffee bean suffered from a disease that rocked the economies of the region. Exports declined by 55 percent. From 2012 to 2013 some 374,000 jobs were lost—17 percent of the labor force. Roya, or coffee rust threatened the livelihoods of nearly 2 million.
Coffee rust is a fungal disease that covers the leaves and prevents photosynthesis, slowly constricting plants’ ability to process sunlight, reducing bean yield and eventually starving the plant to death. The warmer, wetter conditions wrought by climate change creates a better ecosystem for the fungus to grow. Its impact on Central American economies is significant as coffee exports are the region’s largest source of foreign income and coffee supports a vast supply chain, in turn supporting dozens of adjacent industries.
Trends in Digital Health: 4 Takeaways From Our UK Event
In comparison to other development sectors, health programs have historically been early adopters of digital tools. What have we learned over the last 10 years, and where are we heading? How can we build systems that integrate data from independent actors across the health ecosystem? How can we use lessons learned to support innovation? How can we adapt to expanding digital access and support the growth of local capacity?
Apply Now: Support USAID Missions to Improve Broadband Connectivity
The rapid expansion of mobile and internet access in the developing world holds the promise of catalyzing resilient economic and social growth. However, the availability and cost of connectivity is a significant barrier to fully realizing that vision.
To help address this challenge, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Center for Digital Development developed the Better Connectivity, Better Programs: How to Implement a Demand Aggregation Program (How-to Guide).
Working With Tech Service Providers: It’s About More Than Tech
Are you a nonprofit focused on improving maternal health outcomes? Or maybe you’re a civic engagement organization that encourages young people to become more involved with their local governments. No matter the objective, technology can both help you be more efficient internally and more impactful externally. The idea of tech is often easy: “Oh, we’ll just build an app for that!” But relationships with technical service providers are fraught with pitfalls that can jeopardize outcomes and derail even the best intentions.
5 Recent Reads We Loved (And You May Have Missed!)
As our Center for Digital Acceleration team grows, we are finding new ways to share knowledge beyond our epic WhatsApp group chat that grows more ridiculous and off-topic by the day. We have some voracious readers on the team, so in prep for this post I took a minute to poll them to find out which recent articles they found fascinating—and I had missed them all! Since I can’t be the only one, I am sharing them with you to ensure these gems get as wide a readership as possible.
Replicando la App de Transparencia en Guatemala
Note this post is also available in English
El pasado mes de febrero del año en curso, retorné a Guatemala con el fin de dar seguimiento a una iniciativa tecnológica denominada Somos Chiantla, que promueve la participación ciudadana y la rendición de cuentas en el municipio de Chiantla, en el departamento de Huehuetenango. De igual manera visité los municipios de Sacapulas y San Rafael Pie de la Cuesta, con el fin de replicar esta herramienta en estos dos municipios, con un enfoque eminentemente participativo y colaborativo, considerando propuestas de autoridades de gobierno local y representantes de la sociedad civil para personalizar la aplicación atendiendo a sus gustos y preferencias.
Un participante en Sacapulas vota por las mejores formas de actualizar Somos Chiantla.
Getting Started With RStudio, Part 1
This article is part 1 of 2, as we explore the basics of importing and analyzing data in RStudio.
As a data scientist, I spend a lot of my time working in a programming language called R. RStudio is an open source integrated development environment (IDE) for the R programming language, which focuses on programming for statistical analysis. You could arguably do data analysis in almost any computer programming language, but R offers some of the most accessible statistical functions of any language available today. You could also do this work in a business intelligence application such as Tableau or PowerBI, or conduct statistical analysis in STATA, but R and RStudio are free and open source. In this post, I’m going to introduce a few lines of code to get you started on your journey into R.
ICT4D Conference: Unpacking the Complexities of Integrated Health Data and Data Ownership
“We are at an inflection point in digital development!” Lauren Woodman, CEO of NetHope, boomed over the crowd of 750-plus participants the first day of the recent ICT4D Conference in Lusaka, Zambia. It may indeed be a critical time for technology, but the means of reaching our collective goals can create healthy disagreements, ones that should be unpacked in exactly the kind of setting the ICT4D Conference creates.
A Do No Harm Framework for ICT4D: Inspiration from SwitchPoint 2018
SwitchPoint 2018 was an inspiring, passionate, and delightful indulgence: Spending two days in lush Saxapahaw, North Carolina, thinking about big ideas and learning from leading experts in small group sessions in between performance art and live music shows felt like such a departure from Conference As Usual. I felt space opening up in my brain to start really processing what the speakers were saying—the real act and action of listening versus the usual ruse of secretly responding to emails on my phone while half paying attention and nodding at key pauses.
Digital Insights Malawi: Information and Communication in Rural Communities
Last month, I spent two weeks in Malawi trying to gain a real understanding of technology use and media consumption habits of people in rural and marginalised communities. Along with a team of enumerators, I spoke to 183 women, men, girls and boys (ages 14 to 80) in different traditional authorities (TAs) in Northern, Central and Southern Malawi.
Alice talking tech in Mponda, Mangochi, Southern Malawi.
TicTec 2018: Key Takeaways from the Impacts of Civic Technology Conference
Last week I was at MySociety’s annual civic technology conference, TicTec, in Lisbon. For anyone who couldn’t make it I unfortunately can’t share all the takeaways, like the delicious Pastel de Nata, but here are a few treats for the mind.
Forking a Live Tool with Design Thinking in Guatemala
Esta publicación también está disponible en español
This past February I was back in Guatemala, working with the fine people of Chiantla to improve and iterate Somos Chiantla. I was also in two new municipalities—Sacapulas and San Rafael Pie de la Cuesta—helping them create their own, personalized, forked versions of the app.
A participant in Sacapulas votes for the best ways to update Somos Chiantla
Writing Code is for Everyone—Now the Code Partners Scholarship Makes it Affordable
When someone needs a website or mobile app, they search for a coder. Almost anyone can be trained to write code and enter the digital workforce—once there, opportunities abound: from helping businesses, governments and other organizations build the websites and apps they need to supporting the digital systems that power economies worldwide.
Blockchain for Development Part 2: Implementation Considerations
As discussed in Part 1 of this two-part post on blockchain, “Understanding the Tech,” the blockchain hype is pervasive in international development these days. It is my view that blockchain does not deserve the “Swiss army knife of new technology” label that has been thrust upon it. While blockchain is exciting and potentially very useful, appropriate application of the tech can be evasive. If you need a quick and simple run down of blockchain, check out Part 1. Here I will give you a glimpse of some of the potential uses for blockchain in global development programming, and some of the challenges.
Submit Your Session Ideas for ICTforAg 2018
As in previous years, DAI is co-sponsoring this year’s ICTforAg conference in Washington, D.C. The conference is on June 14 at FHI 360. The conference is now accepting submissions for lightning talks and breakout sessions here. The deadline for submission is April 13. Use the guiding questions below to shape your session ideas, and see you all in June!
Blockchain for Development Part 1: Understanding the Tech
Bitcoin has launched the term “blockchain” into the world’s tech vernacular. Unfortunately for blockchain as a technology and a theory, it is often, for better or worse, synonymized with Bitcoin. Because of this, the ideas of public, transparent, and unchangeable information immediately come to mind as soon as someone mentions blockchain. While this is true for Bitcoin, this is not necessarily the case for all blockchains.
Putting Liberian Cities on the Map With OpenStreetMap
As the world becomes more urbanized, data on cities and the residents who inhabit them is key to building and governing sustainable communities. Yet this data is simply not available for many rural and urban areas around the world. Many cities lack base data sets—such as accurate maps of their cities that identify key infrastructure, services, and human settlements. In some cases, these maps exist on paper, but in other cases, are only available in closed, proprietary systems or not at all. This was the case in the Liberian cities of Ganta, Gbarnga, and Zwedru.
How a Pilot Project in Haiti Brings Optimism for Digitally Enabled Health System
I recently presented during a TechChange course titled “The Future of Digital Health.” I was asked to discuss the implementation of the Haiti Strategic Health Information System (HIS) program, a five-year, U.S. Agency for International Development-funded initiative that is consolidating and integrating Haiti’s disconnected health information assets. Preparing for this presentation gave me a chance to reflect on the past year—the progress we have made, the challenges we have encountered, and the future of digital health in Haiti.
How to Engage and Support Local Innovators: 3 Takeaways from the Digital Development Forum
On March 9, I moderated a workshop called “How to Engage and Support Local Innovators” at the USAID Digital Development Forum. I was joined by three expert panelists: Danielle Dhillon from the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) at the UN Foundation; Toni Eliasz from the World Bank’s Digital Entrepreneurship Program; and Tyler Radford from the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). All three are focused on nurturing local technologists and innovators. Toni and Danielle support local startup ecosystems and Tyler builds communities of volunteer mappers. What have they learned through these efforts?
Playing The Right Role In Haiti’s Growing Mobile Sector: 4 Key Principles
Digital financial services have been a robust part of the development sector for over a decade and their impact continues to grow. This blog post is part of a series produced by mStar that focuses on successful projects that achieve results-driven impact in people’s lives. This post was originally published on the mStar digital development blog.
It’s an exciting time for mobile money expansion in Haiti. Digicel’s MonCash—Haiti’s largest mobile money deployment—has reached nearly 1 million customers and $400 million in yearly transacted value in 2017. This customer base represents a +1500 percent increase from 2015, the same year Digicel rebooted its strategy, marketing approach, product offering, and sales and training force.
Getting ICT Into the Hands of More Women
March 8 is International Women’s Day! To celebrate, we’ll look at a course on women and ICT inclusion developed by USAID Digital Inclusion, mSTAR, and Panoply Digital. Click here to access the course.
ICT for Citizen Engagement and Advocacy: Lessons Learned from Mozambique DIÁLOGO
The Mozambique Democratic Governance Programme, DIÁLOGO, funded by the U.K. Department for International Development, worked with citizens, civil society, local media, and municipal government to engage more effectively on local issues. DIÁLOGO supported innovative solutions, including mobile- and web-based technologies, to amplify the voices of citizens and help governments respond to their demands. The programme ran from 2012 in the five urban municipalities of Beira, Maputo, Nampula, Quelimane, and Tete, and ended last December.
DFID’s Digital Strategy: What Does it Mean for DAI?
Last month, the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) launched its much-anticipated Digital Strategy 2018-2020: Doing Development in a Digital World, outlining its vision and approach towards using technology to have a bigger, faster, and more cost-effective impact on the lives of poor people—particularly those who are marginalised.
Getting Past the Blockchain Hype Cycle
Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs), commonly referred to as blockchain applications, are possibly the most talked about innovation of the day. And the most commonly discussed DLT applications are those that involve financial transactions with cryptocurrencies. Fortune Magazine recently listed “The Fintech Renaissance” as the second-most important technology trend of 2018, and with good reason. Last month Bitcoin saw more than 400,000 transactions per day. Despite warnings of Bitcoin’s volatility, the increased investment in cryptocurrencies is hard to ignore.
But what about all of the other promises of DLTs? There are no shortage of articles written about their impact on data security, the value of smart contracts to create efficient online transactions, and the value of data democratization and transparency through shared ledgers. While there are case studies for each of these promising areas, distributed application developers are in short supply, and active implementations for global development projects are rare. As a result, I get the sense that blockchain may be entering the peak if its hype cycle.
Why is DAI Investing in a Coding School?
“S3” Site Selection System: A Data-Driven Decision-Making Tool for Effective Engagement
Recently while on assignment in Haiti, a project manager for a local agricultural development project asked my team why we weren’t targeting certain rural communities. According to him, those communities are the ones that could really benefit from the type of work we were doing. While we had good reason to work where we were working, the question stuck: How can we be certain that we are targeting the right communities?
We Don’t Need to Reinvent the Wheel, But it’s Time to Invest in Roads and Highways
Here’s the good news: Over the past 10 years the digital health community has begun to heal from a severe case of pilotitis. As a community of innovators and health systems researchers, we increasingly recognize that creating and testing new digital health tools in the absence of investments in the enabling ecosystem is likely to produce limited, short-term, and small-scale impact. Without concerted efforts to fertilize the soil in which the seeds of innovation are planted, those seeds will never mature beyond a sapling. That is, unless we pay attention to the policy and regulatory environment, the telecommunications and electrical infrastructure, and most importantly, the availability of trained and appropriate human resources to facilitate scale-up and sustainability, we cannot expect national-scale digital health projects to thrive.
KIC Expands its Support of Tech-Driven Entrepreneurship to Mauritania
Regular readers of [email protected] will know that we’ve been supporting Kosmos Energy’s Innovation Center (KIC) in Ghana for the last two years. KIC’s work with young tech entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector has garnered awards and plenty of media attention, and Kosmos is now looking to apply what it has learned to a new country: Mauritania.
Looking Ahead to 2018
The new year provides a great opportunity to think about priorities for year ahead. Last week we wrote a post highlighting the top posts of 2017. The most-read articles covered a lot of ground—from reflections on specific projects, to advances in our thinking on best practices for human-centered design (HCD), to technology reviews. So, what’s on our minds for the year to come?
Lean HCD: How to HCD When You Can’t Travel to the Field
Back in late 2015, I landed a unique design gig. The job came via Nexos Locales, a USAID-funded, DAI-run project that works with municipalities around the Western Highlands of Guatemala to improve public financial management and citizen engagement. A newly elected mayor in the municipality of Chiantla wanted to open his finances to the public to close the space for corruption, and I was asked by the project to scope out the activity.
Q&A Responses: Looking For a Partner to Fight Fall Armyworm
On December 7, DAI released a request for proposals (RFP) for a prize implementation partner to confront fall armyworm. This partner will join DAI and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in designing a results-driven prize to find digital tools and services that help smallholder farmers across sub-Saharan Africa. Thank you to those who asked questions about the RFP. We have reviewed your questions, and provided answers to each below.
GeekFest 2017: Talking Gender-Disaggregated Data with Alex Tyers, Panoply Digital
Welcome to GeekFest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals for our #geekfest2017 interviews are 1. to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, 2. feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and 3. to support the overall growth of the ICT4D community.
This week I chat with Alexandra “Alex” Tyers, Co-Founder and Director at Panoply Digital. Alex is a mobiles for development (M4D) professional, specializing in monitoring and evaluation for innovation, mobile learning in emerging markets, and women’s mobile and ICT access and use. Alex recently spoke at our Frontiers in Digital Inclusion Event in London on the importance of gender-disaggregated data for digital access and inclusion.
Apply Now: Looking For a Partner to Fight Fall Armyworm
Today, DAI releases a request for proposals for a prize implementation partner to confront fall armyworm head on. This partner will join DAI and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in designing a results-driven prize to find digital tools and services that help smallholder farmers across sub-Saharan Africa.
A farmer in Ethiopia inspects his fall armyworm-infested maize. (Photo Credit: FAO/Tamiru Legesse)
GeekFest2017: A Discussion with Cassandra Mickish Gross
Welcome to GeekFest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals for our #geekfest2017 interviews are 1. to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, 2. feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and 3. to support the overall growth of the ICT4D community.
This week I’m speaking with Cassandra Mickish Gross from the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs to discuss the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Knowledge for Health Project. In this post Cassandra reflects on her experience developing a digital health platform. We explore the choice between an established solution with the potential to scale, versus one that has clear evidence of impact on health outcomes. During the interview, she reflects on the Faster to Zero Initiative, implemented in partnership with HealthEnabled, that aims to support the Ministries of Health of South Africa and Uganda in the scale-up of digital health tools and accelerate the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
3 Key Takeaways From Our London Digital Inclusion Event
Earlier this week, we were joined by Alex Tyers of Panoply Digital, Saloni Korlimarla of the Cherie Blair Foundation (CBF) for Women, and Guillaume Touchard from the GSM Association (GSMA)’s Connected Society Team at the delightful Makers Academy space in Shoreditch, United Kingdom, to discuss, debate, and engage around the challenges and opportunities for increasing digital inclusion and access.
DAI Launches 'Lean HCD: A Case Study in Human-Centered Design in the Highlands of Guatemala'
Today DAI launches Lean HCD: A Case Study in Human-Centered Design in the Highlands of Guatemala. This landmark report is the culmination of 18 months of close collaboration between DAI’s ICT team, the USAID Nexos Locales project, and the people of Chiantla, a municipality in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, to design a tool for budget transparency and citizen engagement.
Tailored Technology Enhances Resilience Programming
FHI360 recently hosted its annual Technology for Resilience workshop in Bangkok. In doing so, conference organizers created an opportunity for technologists and development practitioners to learn from active technology projects that promote community resilience, and work together on innovative solutions to what are often seen as intractable problems. In this post, I’ll look at some of the technologies showcased during the conference. But before doing so, let’s define resilience.
Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls Exacerbates Digital Exclusion
Raise your hand if you have experienced online harassment. I am sure the response is a virtual flurry. Although digital technologies have the ability to empower, connect, and liberalise, they can also serve as platforms for marginalisation and abuse.
5 Podcasts for Human-Centered Designers
In the field of international development, human-centered designers (HCD) are charged with rapidly developing empathy with a specific, targeted, marginalized population, diving into a social challenge which that group faces, and parlaying that understanding and access into a locally-tailored solution.
Doing so successfully requires one primary skill: listening. That means listening in the traditional sense: to an individual, as DAI does in our Digital Insights work. But, more broadly, listening for design in the international development space means listening to an entire population to identify social challenges as well as the cultural, political, and economic dynamics that affect them and perpetuate the problem.
Digital Insights: Would Haitians use Mobile Money for Banking?
In late September, I traveled to Haiti to conduct research on how Haitians engage with financial institutions and mobile technology to explore the feasibility of introducing mobile money as an avenue for the provision of financial services. Together with the team from the USAID/Haiti Finance Inclusive project, implemented by DAI, and with support from our sister USAID/Haiti project Finance Pour Tous and two key credit unions—Caisse Populaire Fraternite (CPF) and Socolavim—I visited nine locations through the northern and central provinces of the country to interview 181 credit union customers as they went about their business.
Why a Dashboard Isn’t Just a Dashboard
I distinctly remember an early conversation with colleagues when I began working in digital development in which a peer dismissively waved his hand at the idea of implementing a live data dashboard, saying “A dashboard is a dashboard is a dashboard!” The finality of that line stuck with me. I assumed that the dismissal came from a person who was bored with dashboards, like a kid who opens a birthday present to find he has received yet ANOTHER dashboard. Well, interactive data dashboards—just like automobile dashboards—may not be the newest, hottest, shiniest thing in the ICT4D toolbox, but they’re still important and their often hidden values go unappreciated by many.
8 Do’s and Don’ts in Adaptive Management and Learning in ICT4D
This is a guest post by Kate Heuisler, Chief of Party of DAI’s USAID-funded Cambodia Development Innovations project.
Development Innovations supports innovators and boosts the use of information and communication technologies for the overall development of Cambodia. The project is structured to be flexible and adaptive—because we need to. Really, most creative development programs should build themselves to be learning organizations, to be ready for big pivots, regardless if you and your partners use digital innovations. The development world is regularly disrupted—by political changes, natural disasters, new technologies such as social media—and is no longer built for static, five-year plans. Donors and funders need partners that can learn by doing, and are not afraid to adapt strategies and implementation plans to continually improve.
GeekFest 2017: Delving into Public Access with Duduzile Mkhwanazi of Project Isizwe
Welcome to GeekFest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals for #geekfest2017 are: to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, to feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and to support the overall growth of the ICT4D community.
This week we are focusing on public access as a solution to closing the Digital Divide. Being able to access free public wifi can be crucial for those who cannot afford internet subscriptions: It can be the difference between finally finding that job, getting the training you need or linking up with a valuable investor for your new venture. The 2017 A4AI Affordability Report noted the importance of public wifi for engendering use of the internet: Research shows public wifi as one of the most popular options for online access.
We sat down with Duduzile Mkhwanazi, CEO of Project Isizwe-an organization making great strides in providing free public wifi in South Africa, a country where inequality is rife and the affordability of mobile data is just out of reach for many, despite 99 percent 3G coverage.
Practicing the Principles for Digital Development in East Africa
This is a guest post by Mustapha Issa, Field Manager and MAST Coordinator and Gilead Mushaija, GIS Database Specialist, both from DAI’s Feed the Future Land Tenure Assistance project.
At the recent Practicing the Principles for Digital Development event on October 12 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 80 participants from organizations including DAI, the Ministry of Works, Transport, and Communications, and private organizations from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda attended.
The Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) and the Human Development Innovation Fund Tanzania (HDIF-UKAid) stewarded the event and were joined by leading organizations in endorsing the Digital Principles. DAI is a signatory to the Principles.
Three Key Takeaways from USAID’s New Gender and ICT Survey Toolkit
This past week USAID’s Global Development Lab and mStar project released the Gender and ICT Survey Toolkit. In an informative webinar (you can listen to the recording here), the team that produced the report discussed both the content and the context surrounding the genesis of the toolkit. I tuned in and spent the majority of the time silently cheering, thrilled to hear USAID promoting research tactics and information needs that align with what we on DAI’s ICT team are doing with our Digital Insights work. In between cheers, I feverishly took notes and captured these three key takeaways.
Testing Data Collection with OpenDataKit
Primary data collection: One of the most challenging, but necessary, components of any research project. Mobile and browser-based technologies have revolutionized the speed and efficiency of collecting data, enabling teams to work together on a centralized database without the headache of managing paper forms, or multiple excel documents.
If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you’ve used Googleforms or Survey Monkey for your work. But what if you need to collect data in regions without 3G or LTE coverage? You’ll need a tool to manage offline data collection, and load the data once you access a wireless internet connection. Fortunately, there are several tools designed to do just that, and one of them is completely free and open source. It’s called OpenDataKit (ODK). Let’s take a look at how this technology works.
Open Innovation in 60 Minutes or Less
When we do “open innovation,” it’s essential to define the problem we are trying to solve. And crucial to that process is crafting a good “Call.” Can this be done in 60 minutes or less?
DAI facilitated workshop on open innovation at the Triangle Global Health Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Second Chance Fund: Learning and Iteration with Tech in Cambodia
Any honest digital designer will admit it: Most tech tools fail. At least the first time around. Getting your users to drop the old way of doing things and use your new website (or gadget, or app) isn’t easy. It doesn’t matter if it visualizes their transactions in some really clever way, or sends their user data to the cloud for real-time analysis, or even if it saves them time or money. Behavior change is difficult, and doubly so when you’re designing across cultures. Why? A few reasons:
Investments in Internet Access Must Include Investments in “Critical Digital Literacy”
Expanding internet access in ‘last-mile markets’ is a priority for development agencies—and rightly so. The economic costs to countries that do not offer their populations internet access is high: Studies have detailed the internet’s macroeconomic boost to GDP, the economic and employment benefits of the growth in the digital sector, and the impact of ICT on small business revenue and job creation. Internet access has also been shown to improve learning and health outcomes and catalyze civic engagement. Reading these reports, it seems we’re in an all-hands-on-deck moment to get bandwidth into every last corner of the earth. But what about the risks?
Photo from Kenyan Daily Star
Catalyzing Ghana’s Growing AgriTech Ecosystem
This is the wrap-up piece for 2017 in our ongoing series about Kosmos Innovation Center (KIC) Ghana and its annual AgriTech Challenge, which DAI supports and helps implement. We’ll pick this series back up again for KIC’s 2018 cohort, but in the meantime, browse our KIC archives here, here, and here.
Open Source Series Part 3: Spatial Analysis with QGIS (Article 2/2)
In my last post I introduced QGIS, and previewed some of the basic functions in the upcoming release of Version 3.0. In this second of two articles, I’ll compare using QGIS in professional organizations to the use of proprietary software, and provide recommendations for organizations seeking to test the waters with spatial analysis. I’ve also reached out to three GIS professionals with experience integrating spatial analysis software into diplomatic and development work environments, and shared their perspectives in a Q&A section below.
Data Management Series Part 3: Painting a Vivid Picture with Data
Welcome back! After reading the previous two posts in this series, you’ve come a long way: you’ve devised a brilliant monitoring, evaluation, and learning plan, set up your data storage and management infrastructure, and conducted your baseline data collection. It’s finally time to get to the good stuff and dive into the data to make sense of it all—with eye-popping graphics worth of downtown billboards!
Data Management Series Part 2: Don’t Let Your Data Get Dusty
So, after reading last week’s blog, you’ve developed the world’s most robust monitoring, evaluation, and learning plan. You just conducted a multi-tier baseline assessment, validating your data by triangulating data points through five different surveying tools and are excited to dig in to multivariate regression analysis. But wait! First we need to talk about data storage and management!
In the international development world, an all-too-familiar sight is binders of data sitting idly on shelves in rural government offices. We all acknowledge that there are much better ways to store and maintain our results. However, many organizations only move one or two steps up the ladder: from paper and pen to .xlsx or .csv files on a laptop. While this may enable you to conduct the minimum analysis needed to satisfy your donor in an annual report, does it really maximize the value of the data we collect?
Data Management Series Part 1: Planning and Collecting
If you’ve been paying any attention to the so-called data revolution, you may have heard the expression “Data is the new oil.” The phrase has been attributed to and adopted by countless people and organizations to whom the central reasoning is clear: In the information age, data is an incredibly valuable “commodity.” The purpose of the analogy as originally made by mathematician Clive Humby in 2006 is significantly deeper though. He said that data is valuable, but cannot be used if it is unrefined. Like oil, data has to be changed, transformed, broken down, and analyzed for us to actually draw out the value locked within. This is true for anyone producing or accessing any type of raw datasets, including development organizations.
Open Source Series Part 2: Spatial Analysis with QGIS (Article 1/2)
In part one of this two-part article, we’ll explore the open source geographic information system (GIS) software package, QGIS, through a look at its history, and take a sneak peek at the upcoming release of Version 3.0, which is scheduled for release this fall.
There’s been a buzz around the release of QGIS version 3.0 for a couple of years now. QGIS has been my go-to desktop GIS application for the past five years, so I was thrilled to receive an e-mail from the QGIS LinkedIn user group with a link to beta test QGIS 2.99, a pre-release copy of the version 3.0. No hesitation there, it was finally a time to give it a whirl.
GeekFest 2017: Discussing Blockchain and Economic IDs with Shailee Adinolfi of BanQu
Welcome to GeekFest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals for #geekfest2017 are: to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, to feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and to support the overall growth of the ICT4D community.
This week I’m speaking with Shailee Adinolfi, Vice President, Account Management and Marketing at BanQu. We discuss blockchain technology and its application to finance and commerce. For an in-depth primer on blockchain technology, we encourage reading this article in the Harvard Business Review.
Blockchain Summer News Round-Up: A Big Splash Into the Pool or a Dip of the Toe?
This is a guest post by Colleen Green, Senior Financial Sector Specialist at DAI and avid swimmer.
Blockchain technology has been in the news a lot this summer, and like the child standing at the edge of a swimming pool, the news is equal parts enthusiastic, cautious, and speculative about what lurks beneath.
Photo from the 2016 Blockchain Summit
Lanzamos ‘Somos Chiantla’, App de Transparencia, en Guatemala
Note: This post is also available in English.
Nota: Esta entrada es la continuación de una publicación anterior que explica nuestra fase de diseño digital, que fue centrada en los ciudadanos de Chiantla.
El 25 de mayo, el Alcalde Carlos Alvarado Figueroa anunció desde el Teatro Municipal de Chiantla el lanzamiento de Somos Chiantla, una aplicación móvil para la transparencia presupuestaria municipal y la participación ciudadana de Chiantla, uno de los municipios apoyados por Nexos Locales y ubicado en el Departamento de Huehuetenango.
Results of HCD: Governance App Launches in Guatemala
Nota: Esta publicación también está disponible en español
Note: This blog post follows an earlier post which covers our pre-development human-centered design phase.
On May 25, Mayor Carlos Alvarado Figueroa stood on stage at the local municipal theater and announced the launch of Somos Chiantla—a mobile app for municipal budget transparency and citizen engagement for the citizens of Chiantla, a town in the Western Highlands of Guatemala and one of Nexos Locales’s partner municipalities.
Human-Centered Design for Behavior Change in Health
One of the largest barriers to improving health outcomes across the world is the difficulty of changing behaviors. Building a stable health system that provides quality products and services to its beneficiaries can only go as far as the patients’ willingness to trust that system. There may be clinical evidence that proves the health benefits of a given drug or device, but can that evidence compete with history, cultural norms, stigma, trust, and many more behavioral and societal pressures that often preclude widescale adoption?
Open Source Series Part 1: What is Open Source?
Here at DAI we rely on software applications and data systems for our everyday work. From internal chat applications, to business intelligence software, to online data collection platforms, technology systems enable us to do our work more efficiently and effectively. But when working on international development projects, we must consider other factors such as access to desktop versus mobile devices, computer processing power and storage, levels of technical acumen, and maybe most importantly, cost.
Refugee Co-Lab: Using Design Thinking to Integrate Refugees into Communities in Greece
This is a guest post by Ting Shih, CEO and Founder of ClickMedix
More than 800,000 refugees came to the Island of Lesvos, Greece, to seek safety and a new life. Many of them came from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other conflict-ridden countries. As the refugee crisis in Greece subsided, there are about 3,000 refugees who now remain there, anxious to find ways to integrate and contribute to Greek society. The refugees I met are educated and skilled and some used to run their own businesses. They’re not helpless, but they are constrained and in a state of limbo as they await asylum. This state of uncertainty and despair is especially challenging for refugees who were, until recently, productive members of the workforce. Our role is to help them understand their new pathway, by leveraging what they already know to do as well as provide new skills.
One of them is Jalal. He is just 22 and full of energy and aspirations. Jalal is building his own social enterprise to help fellow refugees and working as a translator at a local law firm. He even taught himself English during his stay in Greece by interacting with international volunteers and other aid workers. Is Jalal unique? Are there more budding entrepreneurs like him? Can we help them achieve their dreams?
GeekFest 2017: Talking Open Source Design, Makerspaces, and Global Supply Chains with Jessica Berlin
Welcome to GeekFest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals for #GeekFest2017 are: to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, to feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and to support the overall growth of the ICT4D community.
This week I’m speaking to Jessica Berlin, the co-founder of the MakerNet Consortium and founder and Managing Director of CoStruct based in—you guessed it—Berlin, Germany. Before taking the leap as an entrepreneur, Jessica worked for a number of German and U.S. government organizations and development agencies as well as nonprofits in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America—experiences that inspired her to start her own company to create new programs, provide innovation strategy consulting, and build public-private partnerships to advance business and tech innovation in emerging economies.
5 Things to Consider When Doing Mobile Data Collection
This is a guest post by Nafessa Kassim, Director of Business Development, and Al Ismaili, CEO and Co-Founder of Bamba, a mobile data collection company in Nairobi, Kenya.
Development organizations now have a plethora of mobile data collection tools at their disposal, and choosing between the various options available can often seem like a daunting task. But even after finding the right tool, it is imperative to think through and address the most common challenges that arise in the mobile data collection process. In the last five years of helping development actors integrate mobile phones into their data collection processes, we’ve identified five challenges they run into most often.
Photo credit: David Staten
HCD in the Field: Trading Counterfeit Rupees for Real Insights with Farmers in Nepal
My colleague pressed $1,000 in visibly fake Nepali rupees into the hands of each farmer, inputs dealer, and agricultural entrepreneur. Then, she grandly opened the doors to our ersatz haat bazaar (an outdoor, rural marketplace) and instructed them to, “Pay what you would be willing to spend on the products.”
Inside the Data-Driven Farming Prize’s “haat bazaar.” Yes, we know inside makes this an oxymoron. Photo by Kathaharu Studios.
For two hours, the din associated with an actual marketplace poured out of a Kathmandu conference room. The Data-Driven Farming Prize’s 13 finalist teams became sellers straining to attract prospective buyers from among the invited participants. But how did data analysts, graduate students, and entrepreneurs transform into wily hawkers? Why was a simulated haat bazaar a Data-Driven Farming Prize activity?
Lean Design for Development: A Practical Approach to Human-Centered Design
Bilateral donors and foundations continue to look to digital tools to innovate. Why innovate? Given the intractable nature of many development problems, innovation speaks to the desire for different results, to try something new, or to apply something old in a new context or in a new way. Digital tools hold the promise that a program can leapfrog traditional development pathways, amplify impact, and create real game-changers in people’s lives. One way to increase the possibility of success in deploying any digital tool is to follow the principles for digital design - particularly design with the user. Human-centered design (HCD), and its close cousins, co-creation, design thinking, and lean startup methods, can serve not just as an activity but as a process for effective creation, iteration, and implementation.
6 Things I Have Learned About Delivering an Introductory ICT4D Training
On the ICT team we wear many hats and have many responsibilities. We are technical specialists who support our company’s global development projects in the design and use of digital solutions. We are evangelists who teach others about the potential of digital technologies to enhance and sustain the impact of development programming. We are thought leaders who answer strategic questions about where digital development is as a technical field and where it might be going. These are the aspects of our work that often appear in our blog posts.
But another hat we wear is as trainers: It is our responsibility to familiarize our projects and clients with the fundamentals of digital design and to equip colleagues with practical knowledge on how to effectively integrate digital programming into their work so they can design and deliver their own digital programs. Since joining the team some 19 months ago, I have had the chance to train 100+ people in three countries on the fundamentals of digital development. Below are my biggest takeaways on how to ensure that participants get the most out of their training.
Iterating Digital Insights with Cambodian Civil Society Groups
Civil society organizations (CSOs) play a critical role in public life: understanding citizens’ daily challenges, providing services to address those challenges in the short-term, and pursuing long-term policy solutions. In Cambodia, there are hundreds of CSOs, but a wide variability in management capacity, technical capability, and staffing has given rise to domestic and international organizations that exist to help these CSOs carry out their important social role more effectively.
Interviewing the director of a Cambodian CSO for Member Insights.
Domestically, the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) functions as a membership association for Cambodian civil society organizations, and provides training, research, and technical assistance to roughly 170 member organizations. From the international community, there is a wide range of donors, foundations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that support Cambodian CSOs, including USAID’s Development Innovations (DI) project. DI helps local CSOs, technology companies, and social enterprises design and use new technologies to address Cambodia’s development challenges.
The Viral Success of Horticulturalist Chat Groups: An Uzbek ICT4Ag Case Study
In the typical way things happen at large global firms with highly decentralized project management, I first learned about the exceptional digital work being done by DAI’s U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Agricultural Value Chain Activity in Uzbekistan project (AVC) through an email referenced in a meeting about something totally different. I took a photo of the email—true story, I even sent the shot to my colleagues I was so excited—followed up with the listed contacts, and two weeks later was having a fascinating conversation with two dynamic Uzbek colleagues, Kamil Yakubov and Sardor Kadirov, who manage AVC’s digital initiatives.
Women in Agritech: Profiles from Ghana
This is our latest piece on Kosmos Innovation Center (KIC), a DAI-supported initiative that helps young entrepreneurs build tech startups that address challenges in Ghana’s agricultural industry. Find out more about this project in previous [email protected] posts here and here.
The KIC works at the intersection of three fields traditionally dominated by men: agriculture, entrepreneurship, and technology. In response, the KIC is tapping into the potential of young female entrepreneurs. Below we profile some of the women co-founders playing a key role in developing business concepts, designing technology products, and pitching to potential investors.
9 Lessons on Digital Design from ICT4D 2017 in Hyderabad
I spent the last week at the 2017 ICT4D conference in Hyderabad, a four-day feast of presentations, discussions, and panels on how international development organizations are using new technologies in their work overseas.
What Bike to Work Day Tells Us About Open Data
More than 17,000 Washington, D.C.-area residents are commuting by bicycle today, as part of the 17th annual Bike to Work Day. The event’s rising popularity parallels the region’s growing investment in bicycle infrastructure and multimodal transportation. This is a positive trend, particularly for those of us who want cities and urban areas to provide safe, convenient, and diverse transportation options for all residents. But is there a larger message for international development? What can Bike to Work Day tell us about the importance of open data for civic engagement?
How to Run an Electronic Cash Transfer Program: A Kenyan Case Study
Working on an ICT team can sometimes feel like being the Morpheus of the development world—all we want to do is show development project teams that digital tools can unleash immense potential. So we try our best to sneak ICT elements into projects in any way possible: short blurbs in project proposals, ICT strategy documents while on technical assignments in the field, or straight-up bribery. Whatever it takes to sugarcoat the red pill. So imagine our surprise when we were asked to meet with a DAI-led project that already has multiple ICT tools integrated into its workflow: the Kenya Hunger Safety Net Programme Phase 2 (HSNP2), funded by the U.K. Department for International Development.
GeekFest 2017: Exploring Mobile Money and Women’s Financial Inclusion with Yasmin Bin-Humam
Welcome to GeekFest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals for #geekfest2017 are: to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, to feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and to support the overall growth of the ICT4D community.
In this installment, I’m picking the brain of my own sister, Yasmin Bin-Humam, a Financial Sector Specialist at the World Bank Consultative Group to Assist the Poor. Yasmin is establishing a community of practice focusing on solutions to improve women’s access to financial services, such as mobile and digital services.
Takeaways From F8: It’s Zuckerberg’s World—We’re Just Living In It
F8, Facebook’s annual conference, was my first trip to Silicon Valley—I’ve been to the Silicon Wadi in Israel and the Silicon Savannah in Kenya, but never had I stepped foot where it all began. It was the perfect sort of baptism by fire into the ethos of the place that brought us semiconductors, personal computing and smartphones: a gathering where the future is dreamed up by developers and defined by technology’s limitless potential. It was wild.
I’ll outline below a few of the innovations that are particularly relevant to the work we do, and then make an argument for why the practice of ICT4D is more important than ever.
First Contact with the Planet API and NodeJS
We love remote sensing here at DAI and luckily for us, satellite imagery APIs are starting to pop up all over, like springtime flowers. One of the most prominent imagery providers is Planet, a small company with lofty service and product offerings for remote sensing. Planet builds and launches small satellites that image the entire world every day. It provides access to that imagery through a web platform, and it gives developers access to its data through a web API.
Meet Honduras's Innovation Community
Chronogram of the 2016 Honduras Startup accelerator from hondurastartup.com
In December 2016, I spent a month in Honduras helping launch the new USAID Local Governance Activity and, replicating some work I did in El Salvador last year, I decided to get to know the innovation and technology community. Why?
DAI is currently launching four new USAID-funded projects in Honduras: local governance, a justice & human rights project, an environmental governance project, and the new school-based violence prevention project. My goal in writing this piece is the same as it was when I wrote Hey USAID, Want to Promote Innovation?: to get those new projects to think creatively about how to achieve their goals.
Digital Insights Rwanda: How Do Rural Youth Use New Technologies?
In early March, I spent a week in Rwanda building a profile of how young people in rural areas use media and technology and interact with rural financial institutions (RFIs). With the help of the Rural Youth Agribusiness Forum (RYAF), we interviewed 116 young people (aged 17 to 34) in a ring of towns and villages outside the capital, Kigali.
A Digital Insights interview in a rural area outside Kigali.
SXSW 2017: The More Trends Change, the More They Stay the Same
The annual South by Southwest Interactive Music and Film Festival with all of its thought-provoking panels, workshops, keynote speakers, and booths demonstrating the latest gizmos, gadgets, applications, and trends has come and gone—and for the second year, I was in attendance to make some sense of it all.
Jhatkaa: Tech-enabled Citizen Advocacy in India
Our top post of 2016 was my interview with Avijit Michael, the director of Indian citizen advocacy organization Jhatkaa. In his interview, Avijit mentioned they had created a tool for citizens to report local issues via WhatsApp. Needless to say, we were intrigued. So, in the spirit of investigative journalism, we sent one of our staff members to India to find out more.
Digital Insights Bangladesh: How Urban Youth Stay Connected
It’s late January in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which means I’ve managed to avoid the usual heat and humidity, but the bustle and throng are just what I’d expect of one of South Asia’s largest cities. Even though I grew up in India, I’ve never had the chance to travel to its sister republic to the east. And yet, all at once, everything seems familiar—the cars, the noise, the smells. My guide through the city is Ontiq Dey, an eager young graduate student of economics and a seasoned data collector. He and four of his classmates are DAI’s street team for our first-ever Digital Insights study in South Asia.
Digital Insights data collectors gathering information from students in Mymensingh.
Ecosystem Insights: How Trade Associations in Rural Afghanistan Use Mobile Tech
We’re pleased to launch a new research product on the blog today: Ecosystem Insights (EI). EI seeks to understand how key groups of stakeholders use digital tools to connect with each other and share information, pushing beyond the individual personas of our Digital Insights work to gain insights into how groups access and use ICT in both their personal and professional lives. We conducted this research alongside our partner CIPE’s star provincial teams in Herat, Kandahar, Balkh, and Nangarhar. Not surprisingly, even in rural Afghanistan, smartphone and social media penetration rates are much higher than currently published reports account for. These findings continue to prove that DAI’s investment in this research is worthwhile: Designing a sustainable and high-impact ICT intervention will always start with knowing the what, how, and why of users’ ICT habits.
I Made a Facebook Chatbot (And You Can, Too)
When I first heard that Facebook Messenger was introducing chatbots, I immediately thought back to junior high summers. Back then I was spending a lot of time in my parents’ basement on the computer–safe from harmful things like sunshine and other people–getting into flame wars with people on IRC that (more often than not) turned out to be chatbots. Not my greatest summer. Fast forward some 20 years, and chatbots are back with a vengence, this time with a significantly improved value proposition: (near) last mile access to native language information and services.
Our Digital Insights research in Indonesia, Honduras, and Palestine emphasized the popularity of Facebook and FB Messenger in the marginalized communities where DAI and other development implementers work. In Indonesia, 77 percent of the people we interviewed said they use Facebook on their phones; in Palestine that number was 95 percent. In Honduras, 80 percent of our respondents across urban and rural areas said they use Facebook. If development projects want to reach people with information and services, we must meet them on the platforms where they already spend time: in more and more cases, as access to the internet, smartphones, and social media grow, that means on Facebook. (No, not exclusively and not in all instances. read our Indonesia post, and see which social media messaging app is king there.)
Crowdsourced Data Collection Provides On-the-Ground Insights
At the end of 2016, we published a post on the digital data collection sector. In 2017, we’re delving deeper into this growing sub-field of ICT4D with interviews, technology reviews, and guest posts. We’re kicking things off with a piece from our friends at Findyr who specialize in gathering insights from emerging markets using mobile-enabled, trained data collectors from the field. Kelsey Buchbinder is a Business Development Associate at Findyr.
Unemployed? Stop Looking for a Job and Create One—Insights from INC Monterrey
Guest blogger Caity Campos is a specialist in our youth and workforce development unit. Here she reviews the recent Innovate Network Create (INC) Monterrey conference, a gathering of global entrepreneurs from a variety of disciplines.
Finally, a conference that wasn’t boring, cliché, or overly esoteric. The Innovate Network Create (INC) Monterrey, held in November was exciting, innovative, and inspiring. Lest you think I am being hyperbolic, let me share some conference highlights:
Remote Sensing Part 4: The Everest of Satellite Conferences, SatSummit 2017
#SatDiversity and #FatData are two hashtags I did not expect to see blaring across the screen when I attended the SatSummit conference this week. These bold declarations are something new: a compression of expression, capturing with perfect brevity the major themes of a fledgling tech space on the cusp of bringing real change almost as quickly as the terabytes of data that rain down to Earth from satellites bearing the names of these space-technology pioneers. Here’s some key takeaways from the event.
More Data, Less Risk: Innovators Chart a Path to Financial Inclusion
The phrase “Catch-22” was originally coined to describe a paradoxical situation that someone is unable to escape from because of contradictory rules or regulations. Think, for example, about the recent graduate who is unable to obtain a job because he or she does not possess any previous work experience, yet cannot gain any work experience because he or she cannot get a job. Fortunately, as tends to be the case with graduates who persist, compromising expectations and demands, eventually someone takes a chance, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and chooses to invest in their potential.
Remote Sensing Part 3: Identify Healthy Vegetation From Space
DAI’s excitement about the upcoming SatSummit is approaching perigee levels, with the conference less than one week away! This is Part 3 of our Remote Sensing Series. In case you missed them, here’s Part 2 and Part 1.
You could live a perfectly fulfilled life while taking for granted all the colors that appear in the natural world. However, when you ask “why?”—a fascinating level of complexity is revealed, and this is especially true for the colors of nature: green forests, blue skies, red roses, golden sunsets.
Remote Sensing Series Part 2: Landsat is the Stalwart of Satellite Imagery Platforms (and it’s Free!)
Some incredible things were happening in the United States in 1972: Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” was the No. 1 song on the radio; the first “Godfather” film was released; and NASA launched the first in a series of satellites designed to provide consistent and reliable coverage of the earth’s land cover. The platform—the Earth Resources Technology Satellite or ERTS-1—was developed in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which agreed to handle the storage, archiving, and distribution of the data products. The second satellite, eventually renamed Landsat 2, launched in 1975, operating in parallel with ERTS-1 for a few years until the original satellite was decommissioned in 1978.
Situamos a la Ciudadanía en el Centro del Proceso de Diseño en Guatemala
This post is also available in English.
A finales de 2015, el proyecto USAID Nexos Locales recibió una solicitud novedosa. Fue enviada por Carlos Alvarado Figueroa, que acababa de ser elegido alcalde de Chiantla, un municipio de 75.000 habitantes en el altiplano occidental de Guatemala. Alvarado había sido elegido por su plataforma de transparencia presupuestaria y auditoría social, y formó parte de una ola de reformadores de buena gobernabilidad que fueron elegidos después de la revelación del escándalo denominado La Línea, que envió a prisión el Ex Presidente Otto Pérez Molina y la Ex Vicepresidenta Roxana Baldetti.
What Good Is the Internet of Things to People Who Don’t Have the Internet?
As I write this, the annual Consumer Electronics Show has just wrapped up in Las Vegas, having introduced an allegedly eager public to smartphone-enabled hairbrushes, Bluetooth-capable vibrating hotpants, and refrigerators that tweet when you’re running low on soy milk. This is what marketing departments call the Internet of Things (IoT): devices that are networked for sensing, control, and/or coordination. Under the stifling blanket of hype, though, new platforms, network protocols, and data repositories really are enabling applications of value, in addition to the tweeting kitchen appliances which, one hopes, will stay in Vegas.
GeekFest 2017: Q&A with Ian Schuler, CEO of Development Seed
Welcome to Geekfest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals in launching #geekfest2017 are: to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, to feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and to support the growth of the ICT4D community.
Hiring ICT Staff (Or, How to Get 500 IT CVs Without Really Trying)
Kabul, 2016. I’d been here before: a cold cup of Nescafe and stack of overly formatted CVs on the table next to me, an over-worked HR officer slow-blinking at me from across the room in subtle panic. Of the 35 CVs in the stack, culled from hundreds submitted online, only two had any mention of ICT experience—the rest were full of network engineering degrees, Oracle and Microsoft certifications, and years and years of experience managing IT networks and project systems. If I had been looking to hire IT staff, I would have been spoiled for options—but I wasn’t. I was trying to hire an ICT officer, and it was almost impossible. Just as it had been in Cambodia, Jordan, and Senegal. Why, oh, why was hiring ICT staff so hard, and what could we do about it?
[email protected] Year in Review: Top Five Posts of 2016
That’s a wrap for 2016, folks. We launched this blog in February with a sense of curiosity and caution, unsure who would read it—or if it would be read at all. Since then, we’ve grown steadily to more than 2,000 page views a month, collaborated with colleagues throughout the ICT4D ecosystem to host 12 guest author posts, and had the privilege of teammate John DeRiggi being interviewed by the BBC’s program “Click,” about his post on Machine Learning in Afghanistan.
We’re Putting Citizens at the Center of the Design Process in Guatemala
Esta entrada también está disponible en español.
Back in late 2015, the Nexos Locales project in Guatemala received a novel inquiry. It was from Carlos Alvarado Figueroa, who had just been elected mayor of Chiantla (CHEE-ahn-tlah), a municipality of 75,000 in the Western Highlands, and he had an idea. Alvarado had been elected on a platform of budget transparency and social audit and was part of a wave of good governance reformers that swept into office on the heels of the Línea corruption scandal, which saw both President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti jailed. He wanted DAI’s help to design and develop a mobile tool to give the citizens of Chiantla (Chiantlecos) better access to municipal government. In particular, he wanted to give Chiantlecos an easy, transparent view on how his government was allocating and spending money, facilitating social audit and giving citizens the ability to more easily communicate with his administration. So, the project called me, and I called the Mayor.
Next Steps: Making Countering Violent Extremism Approaches More Rigorous
This is a guest post by a friend and colleague of the DAI ICT Team, Ben Dubow. Ben is a partner at Omelas, a firm that works to bring together data scientists, software engineers, and counterterrorism experts to defeat violent extremism. Debuted at the annual meeting of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Safe Cities, Omelas currently has operations in Europe and the Middle East. It was co-founded by Ben, Evanna Hu, and Bjorn Ihler.
I started my career by conducting threat analyses of suspected jihadists. I’d trawl their online profiles and then use a mix of instinct and experience to decide what to include. It made sense that sharing a post from a Taliban website signaled radicalization. It made sense that following a jihadist preacher signaled the same. It made sense that liking a Facebook page for bacon lovers signaled some apprehension about fundamentalism. But making sense was the extent of the proof we had.
Remote Sensing Series Part 1: The Foundations and Applications of Remote Sensing
This is the first in a series of posts about remote sensing. DAI is entering an orbit of excitement about the upcoming SatSummit on January 31!
Origins of Remote Sensing
One day in 1800, German-born British citizen and musician-turned-astronomer, Sir James Herschel was doing something we’ve all found ourselves doing on lazy Sunday afternoons: He was playing around with a prism, investigating the temperature differences between the bands of colorful light that splay out in this familiar natural sequence:
Herschel placed a thermometer to the left of the red band and found invisible infrared light.
Mobile Data Collection: A Sector in Flux
In recent years, mobile surveys and data collection capabilities have increased alongside rapidly expanding mobile phone penetration in the developing world. And with this trend, there has been a proliferation of small firms that have entered this space. At DAI, we realize that by allowing us to quickly capture hard-to-gather data and conduct surveys across our portfolio, new tools can change the way we execute development projects as well as win new business.
Crowdsourcing Ideas—The Challenge Fund Model for Innovation
I apologize for using the word “innovation” in the title of this post. I know… I work in ICT4D and I’m supposed to be a champion for innovation in all its forms. The truth is, for me, the word has nearly lost all its meaning. Innovation is easily one of the most overused and least-understood words favored by businesses, academia, and yes, international development agencies. So instead of writing a post on how we can “promote innovation,” per se, I prefer to write about how we as development practitioners can use promising models to source, finance, and apply new solutions—be they digital technologies, products, or processes—to development problems based on open competition, collaboration, and evidence.
4 Things I Learned at MIT’s TechCon
This past week I attended TechCon 2016, co-hosted this year by MIT and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). TechCon is the annual gathering of the Higher Education Solutions Network, a partnership between USAID and top universities to harness the academic power, passion, and curiosity of students, researchers, and faculty to solve global development challenges. Spoiler alert: it was GREAT. It’s easy to forget in the day-in, day-out of ICT4D work that “technology” has a far broader remit than the work we as ICT4D practitioners do in it. Engaging with researchers and academics conducting research far outside my normal scope awakened a sense of real and joyful curiosity I hadn’t felt in awhile. So beyond this humble reminder, and that Boston in autumn is truly glorious, here’s a few other things I learned at TechCon.
Counting People is Hard: Biometrics can Help
This is a guest post written by Ben Mann, a development specialist at DAI with a wide range of interests. He is a policy wonk; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) technical expert; ICT enthusiast; and general advocate for improved use of data and visualizations. Follow Ben on twitter @bhmann
One of the core functions of an effective monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system is the ability to accurately count things. Depending on your M&E strategy, you may be counting the number of schools built in a district, number of boreholes functioning in a region, or the number of microloans given to farmers in a cluster of villages. From my experience designing and operationalizing M&E plans for a range of private and bilaterally funded programs, counting people is by far the hardest and most complex to do—especially when you are trying to observe and record information on the same people over an extended time.
Hey USAID, Want to Promote Innovation?
GAN CEO Patrick Riley and the managing directors of startup accelerators at the GAN Summit 2016
Should Big Data Be Open Data?
This is a guest post by Michelle Kaffenberger, Applied Research Consultant, and Bill Kedrock, Independent Consultant. The post uses Nigeria smallholder farmer data collected through the Growth Enhancement Scheme as the backdrop for a set of initial principles to guide those weighing the pros and cons of opening big data.
We propose that when considering whether big data should be made open, decision makers should apply a litmus test including at least the following three questions, and likely many others according to the specific context of the data.
App-a-Thon 2016: Viber for Development
As we’ve ramped up our Digital Insights work over the last few months, we’ve had the opportunity to talk with people around Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East about the digital tools they use to stay in touch with each other and the world around them. These conversations have reminded us that we have to work hard to stay on top of the growing number of messaging apps on the market today, as what was popular six months ago might no longer be today. “App-a-Thon 2016” is our way of quickly immersing ourselves in different messaging apps to learn about their functionality, look, and feel. How does it work? The entire DAI ICT team signs up for a platform, and for one week, we use it to chat with each other, send images and video, and explore the quirks and features of the app.
Geeks Like Us: How Academic Research Can Help us Create Better ICT Programs
In a not-so-distant past life, I was at the PeaceTech Lab, a spin-off from the U.S. Institute of Peace. For the most part, the Lab executes in-country technology and media projects, but one vestige of its parent organization’s think tank legacy is the Blogs & Bullets project—a research initiative done in partnership with some of the wonkiest political science and data analysis geeks from American University, George Washington University, and Stanford University. As I’ve made my transition into a full-time ‘do tank’ like DAI, it has become easy to dismiss (or forget) the somewhat esoteric pursuits of our friends in academia. But with the release last week of the latest installment in the Blogs & Bullets series, I was reminded just how important the work of the Ivory Tower is to advancing our understanding of the role of ICT in creating real world change in the places where we work.
Have You Read the 2016 Digital GAP Act?
Update: Since I wrote this, Congress.gov removed the text of the bill. It’s now pasted at the bottom.
Have you read the Digital Global Access Policy (GAP) Act?
If you’re an ICT4D practitioner, you should.
The bill was just passed in the House and is speeding toward a Senate vote. So, what’s it all about? In short, it enshrines the growth of affordable internet access as a tenet of U.S. foreign policy by promoting: