Interview with Siddhartha Raja, ICT Policy Specialist, on the new strategies and approaches toward managing radio spectrum frequencies.
Information and Communication Technologies
One could easily think that in Tunisia the "International Right to Know" day would be a celebration. As a result of the January 2011 uprising, the country hosts one of the most progressive access to information laws in the region, its press is active, and civil society has flourished. But what I experienced last Friday was hardly a celebration – it was work.
Pervasive unemployment is arguably one of the most pressing policy challenges in many countries across the Middle East and North Africa region. Youth, women, and higher education graduates seem to be the hardest hit. With reference to the latter group, some say the youth bulge combined with better access to higher education has produced more graduates, but these then entered relatively stagnant economies with rigid labor regulations.
Among many tools that enable gathering of project beneficiaries’ concerns and solving them are Grievance Redress Mechanisms (GRMs). Although the mechanisms themselves are not new, World Bank teams are increasingly encouraged to systematically include GRMs in their projects to increase beneficiaries’ participation, solve project-related disputes and ensure that projects achieve their intended results. As such, GRMs have been a topic of debate among World Bank staff. GRMs are also called dispute resolution and conflict management/resolution mechanisms and they are considered to be one of several social accountability mechanisms. The topic is, therefore, not only timely at the World Bank but should also be of interest to development practitioners generally.
Looking at communities across our planet, there is a brutal lack of resilience in our modern lives. Cities have expanded without careful planning into flood- and storm-prone areas, destroying natural storm barriers and often leaving the poor to find shelter in the most vulnerable spots. Droughts, made more frequent by climate change, have taken a toll on crops, creating food shortages.
In the past 30 years, disasters have killed over 2.3 million people, about the population of Houston or all of Namibia.
- The World Region
- South Asia
- Middle East and North Africa
- Latin America & Caribbean
- Europe and Central Asia
- East Asia and Pacific
- Urban Development
- Science and Technology Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- Private Sector Development
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Culture and Development
- Communities and Human Settlements
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- Inclusive Green Growth
- green growth
- disaster risk management
- Climate Change
Last week I attended a seminar in Bangkok on ‘active citizenship’ in Asia, part of an ‘Asia Development Dialogue’ organized by Oxfam, Chulalongkorn University and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. It brought together a diverse group of local mayors, human rights activists and academics, and discussed a series of case studies. Two in particular caught my eye.
In India, Samadhan, an internet-based platform for citizens to directly demand and track their service entitlements under national and state government schemes, is being piloted in two districts in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. The pilot is supported by the UN Millennium Campaign and implemented by the VSO India Trust. Here’s the blurb from the case study:
|More information on the World Bank-AusAID partnership in worldbank.org/unlockingpotentialreport|
Making a difference for people, he
ICT-related procurements in the education sector, especially large scale ones, are not easy. A recent World Bank Internal Evaluation Group report noted that "ICT procurement has been highlighted as a major implementation constraint in several country and regional portfolio reviews and is a critical dimension of design." Rapid changes in technology mean that many ministries of education have a hard time keeping up with what's current in the market, let alone what might be coming next.
Even in places where anti-corruption measures are well considered and implemented, government auditors and external watchdog groups may be challenged to identify dodgy practices in some ICT-related areas. (Have you ever read the fine print on large scale bandwidth contracts for schools? Such things are often not for the feint of heart.) It is not unknown to hear whisperings about vendors -- or consultants close to them -- providing 'assistance' of various sorts in writing a request for proposals (or certain technical specs that appear in such RFPS), and of course vendors often hope that their showcase pilot projects may inspire ministries of education to think in certain ways about what is possible, and even desirable. For many ministries of education, the line between 'influence' and 'undue influence' in such cases can be very clear in some circumstances, but rather hazy in others.
As part of a very interesting Q&A period after a presentation at the World Bank a few years ago, mention was made about some of the challenges faced in a state in southern India which was exploring whether so-called thin client solutions might be worth considering in its schools. Essentially, the issue was this: Traditional practice when procuring computers for schools had focused on ensuring that each computer met a defined set of minimum technical specifications. In an alternative, 'thin client' set-up, it was possible to use workstations that had less robust specifications, provided they were connected to a powerful server whose processing power substitutes for that of the client computer. To oversimplify:
[-] 'traditional' approach: lots of pretty powerful computers
[-] 'alternative' approach: lots of relatively underpowered computers, connected to one very powerful computer
The point here is not to imply that one type of arrangement is on its face better or worse. Rather, it is to highlight that, if you write an RFP in a certain way -- in our example here, requiring that *every* computer meet a certain relatively high technical specification (processing speed, hard drive size, etc.) -- you may exclude proposals that feature non-traditional or 'alternative' or new approaches.
One way around this is to put more emphasis on functional specifications, rather than technical specifications, in certain components of your RFP. Not sure what this means in practice? When discussing such issues with ministries of education, I often point to an RFP at the heart of a procurement process in the U.S. state of Maine as a way to highlight an approach to procurement that is, at least in terms of most of the places where the World Bank works helping to advise education leaders, rather rare. While I am certainly no procurement expert -- thankfully we have plenty of very good ones at the World Bank to whom I can refer people -- I offer the comments below based on many discussions with ministries of education about their challenges in this regard, in case doing so might be of any interest.
The World Bank is currently working with a few countries that are planning for the procurement of lots of digital learning materials. In some cases, these are billed as 'e-textbooks', replacing in part existing paper-based materials; in other cases, these are meant to complement existing curricular materials. In pretty much all cases, this is happening as a result of past, on-going or upcoming large scale procurements of lots of ICT equipment. Once you have your schools connected and lots of devices (PCs, laptops, tablets) in the hands of teachers and students, it can be rather useful to have educational content that runs on whatever gadgets you have introduced into to help aid and support teaching and learning. In this regard, we have been pleased to note fewer countries pursuing one of the prominent worst practices in ICT use in education that we identified a few years ago: "Think about educational content only after you have rolled out your hardware."
At least initially, many education authorities in middle- and low-income countries seem to approach the large-scale procurement of digital learning materials in much the same way that they viewed purchases of textbooks in the past. On its face, this is quite natural: If you have tried and tested systems in place to buy textbooks, why not use them to buy 'e-textbooks' as well? (We'll leave aside for a moment questions about whether such systems to procure textbooks actually worked well -- that's another discussion!) As with many things that have to do with technology in some way, things become a little more complicated the more experience you have wrestling with them.
For youth entrepreneurs, the challenges are especially great because of their lack of business experience. We spoke with Jianxiong Peng, a youth entrepreneur from Beijing and the cofounder and Chief Executive Officer of KOE Technology Investment Co, Ltd. Peng's company aims to transfer top environmental technologies from developed countries – such as Japan – which can solve Chinese environmental problems and then incubate companies for each transferred technology. The company now has 45 employees, 85% of which are younger than the age of 33.