Category Archives: Theory

ICT4Uganda spin-off selected for EU blogging competition TH!NK3

www.ICT4Accountability.wordpress.com, one of the blogs started by a former New Media student of the UvA, is officially selected to compete in the internationally renowned blogging competition’ TH!NK3’. This blogging competition, set up by the European Journalism Centre, will bring together some 100 bloggers, journalists, issue experts and students from the 27 EU member states, as well as neighborhood countries and beyond, to exchange ideas and debate sustainable development and global cooperation topics. Winners of the competition will be awarded with opportunities to travel and report from Asia and Africa. The big prize is a trip to the UN headquarters in New York in September 2010, at the time of the Millennium Development Goals summit.

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Gulu Visit II: SOVCO and questioning ICT4D

SOVCO team in Ongaku

SOVCO team in Ongaku

22 years of internal strife by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people living in the northern part of Uganda. In 2007 a total of 31 IDP camps (which now are called Community Centers) with all together 214,908 people have been administrated to which food aid was being distributed. Now that the situation is stabilizing, many inhabitants are leaving the camps to return to the land that was once their home. But in doing so they encounter a new array of problems and difficult challenges to overcome. I visited two different IDP camps along with 2 different organizations that were active and carrying out projects to sustain the community and improve the lively hoods of the people i.e. BOSCO Uganda and SOVCO Uganda.

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Development Cooperation 2.0 with the 1%CLUB

Exciting new challenges and opportunities are emerging fast for organizations within the development cooperation sector. A paradigm shift is taking place in which web 2.0 concepts and technologies prove to play a vibrant and fruitful role in providing capacities for people in developing countries with which they can realize what’s meaningful for themselves. New structures for development cooperation are thus being formed through the utilization of these new technologies; structures which are centered around the concepts of social networking, massive collaboration, crowd sourcing, collective intelligence, transparency, and equally important, individual responsibility. Welcome the emergence of Development Cooperation 2.0. Continue reading

There is a snake in my computer!

By: Guido van Diepen in Kampala, Uganda

snakesandcomputers

On friday april 17 I met with John, who had set up a few cybercafé’s and telecentres both in Uganda and Tanzania. He has a university degree in mechanical engineering, but as soon as he graduated he started focusing on computers. At this moment he forgot all about mechanics, but in the meanwhile he developed serious computer skills. Continue reading

Ethnographic Research Approach

I think now is a good time to explain a little more about my research in Uganda and my ethnographic approach to this process. In short, ethnography of (ICTs) can look in detail at the ways in which the technology is experienced in use.

Pay Phone Operator in Kampala

Pay Phone Operator in Kampala

Christine Hine explains, “At the most basic level, (ICTs) are used as a way of transmitting bits of information from one computer (or mobile) to another. The architecture of (ICTs) provides ways for addressing the information that is sent, so that it can be split up into packets, sent out across the network and recombined by the recipient. All kinds of information are in theory equal: bits are transmitted in the same way whether they represent text, audio, images or video. The meaning of the bits comes from the patterns which they make, from the software which is used to interpret them, and of course from the users who send and receive them.”

Ethnography of (ICTs) can look in detail at the ways in which the technology is experienced in use.

For my research I plan to spend 2.5 months here in Kampala. Its not a great deal of time, but I do hope it gives me enough space to appreciate some of developments taking place here on the ground. I will use this time to deconstruct the relationships, activities and understandings of the different actors here in the country. I will also spend considerable time updating my blogs with small observations. As described by Christine Hine, ‘the aim is to make explicit the taken-for-granted and often tacit ways in which people make sense of their lives.’

Needless to say, it is important I get close enough to the culture here that I can really understand how it works. At the same time, I need to keep a certain distance if I am going to be able to objectively report on it. In this way, ethnography is used to develop an enriched sense of the meanings of the technology and the cultures that enable it and are enabled by it.

Ethnographic Methodology

Thomas Molony, in his case study Trading Places in Tanzania, describes ethnographic research as extensive ‘Hanging Out.’ I like this description. Spend time with people and learn from them. To observe and document impressions as they emerge and to explore their meaning in depth. The ethnographic research approach stems from the social sciences. Otherwise the sociology of science, technology and media.

It is suggested that we can usefully think of technologies and media as having interpretive flexibility: ideas of their sensible user are developed in context. Local contexts of interpretation and use therefore form the ethnographic field. Christine Hine

My research approach will consist of direct, first-hand observation of daily behavior. The research will focus on the ‘end user’ experience and will make use of the following research methodologies.

• Conversation with different levels of formality – This can involve small talk and long interviews. Also seek out local government officials, managers of multinationals and other groups that can give addditional insight into the macro economic developments.

• Detailed work with key consultants about particular areas of community life – From previous UvA related research, its clear that experts and local consultants hold a wealth of knowledge as they deal with these issues professionally and on a day to day basis.

• In-depth interviewing – Conduct in-depth interviews with local actors and stakeholders who can give an overview and broader insight into the behavior of individual user groups i.e. the owner of a large internet cafe, the manager of a local radio station, the local governor and so on.

• Discovery of local beliefs and perceptions – Via extensive interviewing (chit-chat, short and long) uncover some of the local beliefs and perceptions. This is fundamental to better understanding different views and approaches to technology.

• Problem-oriented research – Recognize local problems specific to the location and how users work to overcome these hurdles. I.e. flooding, electricity outages, elections or other anomalies that are unique to the local environment.

• Team research – Compare the field research to see where there are commonalities and where there are differences.

• Case Studies – Projects or activities that fall into the research category. These examples can be used to support our observations.

Regards,
Ben and Team

Deconstructing ICT4D with Soenke Zehle

ICT4Uganda with Soenke Zehle

ICT4Uganda with Soenke Zehle

On Tuesday the 3rd of March we went to Stayokay in Amsterdam for a meeting with Soenke Zehle who, amongst others, founded the ‘incommunicado’ project along with our thesis advisor Geert Lovink. It proved to be a valuable meeting in which Soenke guided us in thinking critically about the term ICT4D and provided us with a theoretical approach on deconstructing the significance and use of the term ICT4D.

ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development) is a term being used increasingly in defining the interdisciplinary research field which is concerned, according to Wikipedia, with overcoming the barriers of the digital divide. “It is an emerging field within the discourse and agenda of organizations working to support development efforts as well as within the development agendas of developing countries and development-oriented organizations in developing countries” [Source]. But what does ICT4D actually imply? And how can we critically assess the use of it?

We started with writing down what we understood under ICT, what we understood under 4 and what under D in about 5 keywords. By doing this we could create a generalized concept of the term.

  • Under ICT we identified key terms as infrastructure, devices and networks.
  • Under 4 we identified the terms connectivity, usage, access, opportunities and empowerment.
  • And under D we understood conceptions of cultural and societal differences and a certain need for improvement, change and innovation.

While we setup this list of conceptions a discussion arose in which critical questions came up which helped us explore in broader detail what ICT4D implies in reality. We often think of ICTs as being purely physical devices and/or hardware we implement and use to support us in information and communication processes. Along with their means of use, like software, these devices extend human bodily capacities and supposedly improve the lives and daily processes of people. Therefore ICTs are often conceived as a grand vehicle for development because they provide technological means of empowerment and “life changing” opportunities through an increase in connectivity and access to digital information.

But what is often overseen and largely misunderstood by actors within the development scene, is that the implementation and use of ICT involves more that solely setting up the physical infrastructure and providing devices and means. Through implementing and using ICTs, immediate transformations of social and cultural structures take place. In this sense the “focus” in development issues shouldn’t solely lie within the domain of merely physical technology, but largely in the much broader domain of the socio-cultural transformations. Anticipating these socio-cultural transformations, provides the backbone for sustainable development.

The problem encountered then is that values and uses are embedded within the implemented infrastructures and devices used for development. From this the question arises: How do you implement an infrastructure and technology that doesn’t predefine its own use? Cultures and societies differ in needs, interpretations, standards, intrapersonal relations etc., so when assuming that the implementation of a functional technology for one country will have the same functionality and will provide the same solutions and opportunities in the other (to be developed) country means that no attention is given to social and cultural mechanisms that are actually of biggest importance to take into account.

This leads us to questioning the main actors in development processes. Who gets to speak and decide for the people in need? Who defines the development trajectory? And what actors take the actual decisions that eventually shape cultures and transform social structures? Within this perspective we identify local, national and international actors which all can have a say on the development means. So, when talking about ICT for Development, the term development is loaded with predefined conceptions, assumptions and stratifications of cultural and societal differences between states, the one lagging behind or rising above the other. We can separate the voices and actions of inhabitants, end users and recipients, of governments, collectives and opinion leaders, and of major development organizations and investing/donating states. But the ones defining the needs for development and the trajectory of the development process differ largely and puts great questions to the legitimacy of the contemporary forms and structures of development in which ICT is used as empowering agent.

Eventually, Soenke advises that, irrespective of these three categories of actors and stratifications of societies and cultures, it’s important to map entire regimes development initiatives will influence and reflect on the totality of transformations that can and will take place.