Call for Participation
Ann Arbor, MI – July 20 to 25, 2008
Application deadline: February 28, 2008
musings and meanderings of a multi-disciplinary researcher learning about information technology use in developing regions
Call for Participation
Ann Arbor, MI – July 20 to 25, 2008
Application deadline: February 28, 2008
CALL FOR PARTICIPATION:
Workshop at Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) conference 2008:
Building an International Community: Designing Interactive Systems for/ with
Communities in the Developing World
To participate in this workshop at DIS 2008, please submit a 1- or 2-page
position paper describing your experience, findings or interests relevant to
the themes of the workshop.
Deadline for submissions is January 14, 2008.
Notification of acceptance by January 21, 2008.
So (one of my paper reviewers recently noted that one should never start a sentence with “so”) , at the end of the banquet on the first night of ICTD2007, Kentaro (the ictd superman) introduced the two bids for the next ICTD conference. The two candidates? Buenos Aires (aka tourist and salsa heaven) and Carnegie Mellon’s campus on Qatar.
I’m honestly really divided between the two. My vote? That we pick both, choosing one to be ICTD 2010 or 2011, two conferences from now.
One of my main concerns about the content in this year’s conference, is that it seems even more biased towards Indian projects than last year’s, when we had at least one paper from China, as well as keynote speaker Prof Zhiwei Xu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Out of the 18 papers and 20 posters:
I think several regions are under-represented. This is not to say that there is a flaw in the review process – I’m sure part of it is just that Microsoft Research India is just producing a lot of high-quality research, and another part is just that there are a lot of ICTD projects in India, so a good bulk of the submissions are about reasearch in India. Indeed it’s a lot easier to set up WiLDNet links in Tamil Nadu than in, let’s say, Ghana. I might suggest, however, that maybe some communities just didn’t get the invitation? Or that they saw that the conference was in Bangalore and thought the invitation wasn’t for them. Or they saw the program committee and At the same time I’m not sure that there’s much more we as a community can do to draw in more perspectives from projects in other countries; there’s some diversity on the program committee, they provide scholarships for participants from developing countries, and we’ve always been (as far as I can tell) an open and inviting group of people. Okay, well, I guess I for one could start writing more papers on my work in Uganda and Ghana. (Which might mean that this is a generational issue, since many of us wet our toes in India.) But I think a healthy next step could be to hold the conference in one of these under-represented areas. And, unfortunately for my decision-making process, both of these fit the bill. At the same time – given that Rahul Tongia is already firmly on the program committee, along with M Bernardine Dias (who I don’t think I’ve met yet), perhaps it makes sense to use this opportunity to engage with the universities in Argentina. But then again, this conference is still in its fledgling years, so I can also see how one would want to go with a well-known quantity and give the less-well-known quantity a year or so to become a well-known quantity. I know a certain School that does the same thing with PhD applicants…
If I were forced to choose, I would vote for Qatar (I don’t think I actually have a vote). It’s closer to Africa, where I’m likely to be at the time of the next conference. And the Argentine bid’s (I’m really sorry I forgot your name) tourist video was a little over-the-top for me; I think it was so long and so flashy that by the time it ended I forgot whatever academic reasons there were for locating the next ICTD in Buenos Aires. Besides, I’m really not all that into salsa.
But unfortunately not Live! from Bangalore… ICTD2007 (in my opinion) was a smashing success! (With of course very little smashing, except for that errant glass hiding under a chair…). The conference was held at the Ashoka Hotel in Bangalore, India on Saturday and Sunday December 15-16, 2007. Before I digress into my overall observations, immediately below are links to my notes from the keynotes and the sessions I attended. The usual caveats apply.
ICTD 2007 Opening Keynote Notes – Anirudh Krishna
ICTD 2007 Session 1: Design Notes
ICTD 2007 Session 2: Extending the Boundaries of ICTD
ICTD 2007 Session 3: Telecenters
ICTD 2007 Panel Discussion Notes: Meaningful Research for ICTD
ICTD 2007 Session 4: Alternatives to Real-time Internet
(Oops, no notes for Sessions 5 and 6)
ICTD2007 Session 7: Children and PCs
ICTD 2007 Closing Keynote Notes – Paul Polak
The (unedited) notes available in the links above are not verbatim (I can’t type quite that fast), and don’t include everything said. Please don’t attribute content in these (especially the Q&A) to the labeled speakers without consulting with the speakers first – I may have misheard what they said, or paraphrased it in a way that misrepresented their meaning. For the talks themselves, you should refer to the corresponding papers for details and missing graphics, although of course the Q&A won’t necessarily be represented. In any case I hope these notes help you find ICTD work that is of interest to you!
The keynote speakers were both incredibly engaging. Anirudh Krishna spoke on his research on how people move in and out of poverty. For me – two main points were:
Interestingly, two papers spoke directly to the topic of aspiration. Renee and Kathi’s paper on gender and shared computing in Chile and India (Akshaya) looked at women’s aspirations; Joyojeet’s paper on his work with parents of schoolchildren in India talked about how computers factored into children’s aspirations as well as parent’s aspirations for their children.
Paul Polak started off the closing keynote with some of Krishna’s slides on the consistent divisions (asset/status-wise) between extreme poverty and poverty, and between those in poverty and those who are not. And then went on to talk about his last 25 years of work talking with and listening to $1/day farmers, trying to understand how they want to move out of poverty. His takeaway: we need to collaborate and co-design with them to find ways to help them make more money, noting that by starting with the problems they give priority to, one opens up the door to addressing their next priorities… Anyways – his talk was packed with interesting stats, observations, an three-step how-to’s, courtesy of the editor of his forthcoming (Feb 2008) book Out of Poverty.
Tap also did an awesome job with the poster session – probably the most interesting and engaging poster session I’ve attended; since each one was also accompanied by a peer-reviewed conference-length paper, all of the posters exhibited real work, real ideas and were well thought-out. The posters in the same room as the sessions, exactly where everyone was during the break, so they had great exposure to a great audience.. And the fast forward session, in which each author gave a 90 second intro to their work, was a brilliant way for all of us to get an overview so we could quickly target the posters we were interested in during the poster session.
Before I close, there’s a couple of presentations I want to highlight as ones that I thought were especially interesting and well-crafted. (Apologies to those who presented in the sessions I missed – I’m sure J Sherwani and Indrani’s presentations were excellent, and I’ve also heard good feedback about Aishwarya Ratan’s paper on Welfare, agency, and ICT4D.)
Digital Green provides a sort of “Indian Farmer Idol”/YouTube to farmers employing new agricultural technology advocated by the Green Foundation (see paper for details) . I think it’s really interesting to note their results on how various deployment/video strategies affected the farmers’ adoption of practices, with low receptiveness to expert-facilitated video and hole-in-the-wall/tv-broadcast strategies, and 6-7x more adoption with videos including low/medium-skilled mediators working with local farmers. These results underline ideas and observations from Janaki’s paper on the role of trustworthiness in the Parry information kiosk: information access is not sufficent – “whether a community uses the information services offered by information kiosks depends, among other factors, on the perceived quality of the information offered by such services.”
This was a one-paper session. Janini’s presentation did a great job of explaining the transnational flows of e-waste, and the associated issues. It would definitely be remiss for us not to consider these issues as we pursue our ends of employing ICTs for development, and as markets (some consequent of ICTD movements) draw more and more toxic materials into developing countries.
I’m really impressed by Revi Sterling. Out of all the papers presented, hers truly integrates theory and practice, enabling theory-backed (driven?) engagement in development using novel technologies.
Of course in this session (as with Session 3 on Telecenters), I’m a little biased. I think I must have listened to Joyojeet’s research talks at least two or three times each now, but I’m still riveted every time. With all of the (often hype-driven) push towards information-kiosk-as-community-centers and computers-in-schools (with Internet or without), I think Joyojeet’s findings on the engagement of the local communities with these projects are critically important, but often not done because they are, well, hard to do.
Rabin’s paper on usage models of classroom computing gets started on some important critical thinking about how one can plan for computers in schools. Although they did pull out some numbers on public spending in other countries, I wonder how these models translate outside of India. I just visited some secondary school computer labs in Jinja, Uganda (urban, private schools, no internet access), and indeed, the multiple students per shared computer model is the norm, with one school putting 10 students at each of their computers. At the same time – multimouse/multipoint is certainly not mainstream – so their representation, while nice, isn’t representative. In Uganda’s secondary schools, computer education is largely about basic “theoretical” (what is RAM, CPU, etc) and practical (create a word/excel/access/powerpoint document, print, move files) computer skills. While they are taught with 10 students to a computer, they are tested with one person per computer (they have to test the students in shifts, since there aren’t enough computers). I think it’s possible that a multimouse approach might be useful for teaching/learning certain aspects, there are limits to where that approach can be employed in teaching computer skills. I think their main arguments still hold up – even the single-user-per-community-computer model is significantly more financially feasible than the single ownership model.
That’s all she wrote.
But hopefully she’ll also write a couple of submissions for the next ICTD conference!
I’ve been thinking about services and social entrepreneurship and all sorts of good things about making money in such a way that the public as a whole benefits.
And really, that is what entrepreneurship (“social” or otherwise) is about – finding some way that makes things better for some set of customers. And in many cases, it is about making things free (or virtually so), sometimes by having someone else pay for the service (e.g Google with AdWords, or even Aravind Eye Hospital). It goes to say that “free” does not always mean free. Sometimes we pay with our time/attention, our screen real estate (remember when we all got free Internet from
juno.com), or even just a counter increment on a web site. I think freerice.com just wants to build awareness about hunger and poverty while making us learn SAT vocabulary. Well, plus whatever other ulterior motives they may have. On top of that there’s all sorts of issues about what it means to give people something for nothing. I once went to a Taiwanese youth camp that was originally fully subsidized by the Taiwanese government, but later started imposing a nominal fee because parents thought the experience couldn’t be valuable if they didn’t have to pay for it. Likewise, some of the Mallapuram residents expressed that they didn’t want to go to the Akshaya kiosks because they were perceived as social enterprises for poor people. I think it is some of these issues that make it so difficult to work in Africa. The years of development aid have created 1) an expectation that if they wait long enough someone will come and offer what they need for free (or for a world bank loan, which is not strictly free but often perceived as such) or 2) cynicism on the part of residents because so many offered “free” projects have quickly evaporated after considerably time and effort on their parts. For me this manifests itself in the general trend that a lot of my work (e.g. getting things through customs) has simply failed to progress unless I was physically present. Eventually you can achieve momentum, especially if by continuing to come back you dismantle some of the cynicism by building some level of trust. But it goes to say that our projects have a better chance of being sustainable if we acknowledge up front the investment we expect from them (time, money, etc) in return for what we are supposedly giving them for “free”.