Access to pertinent public data is crucial to inform and mobilize citizens in demanding better governance. Experience shows, however, that the process involved in garnering public data is arduous and often confronted with strong resistance. To begin with, the planning and execution of government programs and budget are seldom performed in a transparent manner and even when the information is made available, the technical use of the language and the procedures involved in the execution make it very difficult for a lay person to decipher and analyze them. Problems are also encountered with incomplete or badly maintained records of public expenditures and service delivery. In addition, the officials who are in charge of managing the programs are cautious in releasing the records for fear of consequences from the disclosed information. In spite of these constraints, methods have been developed to promote transparency in the planning and implementation of public programs and budget through what has been a long process of information gathering and advocacy campaigns.
Information and Communication Technologies
When discussing plans for various uses of ICTs in education, one of the questions that we are regularly asked at the World Bank by Ministries of Education is (for better or for worse),
"What are the new low-cost educational technologies?"
Some observers argue that this emphasis on the retail prices of individual educational technology products diverts our attention from more important and fundamental issues. Let's acknowledge such concerns ... but put them aside for the moment in an attempt to help respond to such a popular question.
Much lip service is paid in various quarters to the potential use of mobile phones in education in developing countries. That said, concrete examples of such use -- especially projects that have gone beyond small initial pilot stages -- remain few and far between. This is beginning to change. One interesting project can be found in Bangladesh, where the BBC World Service Trust and BBC Learning English are implementing the Janala project, an initiative that is providing English language lessons to citizens via their mobile phones as part of the wider English in Action program in Bangladesh, funded by the UK's Department for International Development (UKaid).
Some of people involved with the Janala project recently shared some information about what they have been doing -- and learning -- as part of a discussion series at USAID around 'mobile education' topics (the other project presented in the latest session was the MILLEE project, which has been profiled on this blog before). I was fortunate enough to be be able to sit in on the presentation, at the kind invitation of USAID educational technology team, and thought I'd share some brief highlights:
Recently featured in the news was a 35 USD version of Apple’s iPad that the Indian government hopes to mass produce by 2011. India also hopes to bring the unit price down to around 10 USD. If successful, this initiative could bring an affordable, mobile, multiple application device within reach of lower income families in poor countries. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria expressed the opinion that a fully-functioning 10 USD computer “could change the world” similar to the way in which satellite dishes and mobile phones have in the past. I think implicit in Zakaria’s point is the belief that information and communication revolutions have the potential to increase productivity and enhance human development. But this potential rarely leads to an actual breakthrough. Due to a host of factors in addition to price (see, for instance, Michael Trucano's post), what might perhaps be called “socio-technological epidemics” tend to be few and far between, especially in poor countries. There is a difference, of course, between a predominantly commercial success and one that really contributes to development results.
I spent the day at Wolfram Data Summit 2010, where repository managers and experts from all over the world have convened in Washington to discuss the rewards -- and challenges -- of a new data frontier.
A series of speakers shared fascinating insights on the power of data, including examples of how data is at the forefront of new and exciting developments in the fields of medicine, health care, science, lexicography, media and more.
Much popular attention has been paid to the so-called "$100 laptop" initiative and other programs to provide "1-to-1 educational computing" to students in developing countries. Even at $100 dollars per device, however, such solutions are still much too expensive for most communities around the world. Indeed, the typical scenario for computer use in schools in developing countries, and especially in rural areas, is for multiple children to crowd around one computer while one child controls the mouse, leaving the other children as onlookers.
“Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance” by Atul Gawande seems an unlikely place to find governance reform ideas and development inspiration but I found both therein last week. The book was recommended by a dear colleague who knows of my interest in organizational change. An accomplished non-fiction writer "Atul Gawande, a 2006 MacArthur Fellow, is a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.” He tackles the “universal struggle to perform well” through the eyes of a surgeon. Along the way we are introduced to countless examples of organizational seizure, organizational change and the people at the center of these operations.
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Culture and Development
- Communities and Human Settlements
- Tufts University
- The New Yorker
- positive deviance
- organizational change
- MacArthur Fellow
- Institite of Development Studies
- Harvard School of Public Health
- Harvard Medical School
- Centre for the Future State
- Atul Gawande
- An upside down view of governance
Wikipedia defines “crowdsourcing” as the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor to a large group of people or community (a crowd).
Last week I provided a brief overview of "Connected", the popular book by Harvard Professor Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD and University of California, San Diego Professor James Fowler. Christakis and Fowler's master-work provides an overview of the historical discussions behind social networks, pre and post Facebook, and ample examples of how social networks impact our day-to-day lives in ways we realize and are blissfully unaware of. My blog this week will attempt to translate some of their more notable findings for reform minded audiences in the developing world.
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Communities and Human Settlements
- situational inequality
- positional ineqality
- Peter Marsden
- Nicholas Christakis
- network instatbility explanation
- James Fowler
- Harvard. University of California San Diego
- four degreees of separation
- evolutionary-purpose explanation
- core discussion network
More than 3 billion people in the world today don’t have access to savings accounts. Many of these 3 billion fall below the less-than-$2-per-day benchmark of the world’s poorest people. Why are banks not doing a better job to help them manage their financial lives?
The problem is largely one of cost. Providing financial services to the poor is prohibitively expensive for banks. Each time a client stands in front a of a teller’s window it costs most banks from $1 to $3. If poor clients make transactions of $1 or $2, or even less, banks won’t be able to support the costs.
It’s also too costly for the poor. Most poor people, especially those in rural areas, live far away from bank branches. Let me give one example of a woman in Kenya. The nearest branch may be 10 kilometers away, but it takes her almost an hour to get there by foot and bus because she doesn’t have her own wheels. With waiting times at the branch, that’s a round-trip of two hours – a quarter or so of her working day gone. While the bus fare is only 50 cents, that’s maybe one fifth of what she makes on an average day. So each banking transaction costs her the equivalent of almost half a day’s wages.