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June 2016

Digital Development into Practice: Co-Designing a Citizen Feedback Tool that Makes Sense

Samhir Vasdev's picture
In April the World Bank endorsed the Principles for Digital Development, signaling its intent to support the use of technologies in projects through human-centered, contextually appropriate, collaborative, safe, and sustainable design.
But what does this look like in practice? On the surface, projects that adopt the Digital Principles may not look so different from more conventional ICT4D efforts. Consider, for instance, a new participatory monitoring program in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. MOPA invites citizens to report problems in the waste management services through a digital platform, relaying these problems via an open-source map for the city council to enlist microenterprises to collect the waste. 
Within a six-month pilot across four districts, over 900 problems were identified by trained monitors
This is far from the first community engagement and participatory monitoring program to use technologies aimed at reducing barriers for citizens to more directly inform anything, from budget allocation to policy options to service delivery. And like many other participatory engagement programs, MOPA faced a slew of familiar challenges that have caused other similar projects to stutter, including:

Blockchain technology: Redefining trust for a global, digital economy

Mariana Dahan's picture

a longer version of this blog post is available on the
MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative platform

With Google Trends data showing that searches for the word “blockchain” have exponentially increased, we may be entering the peak of the hype cycle for blockchain and distributed ledger technology.

But here’s the thing: the blockchain is a major breakthrough. That’s because its decentralized approach to verifying changes in important information addresses the centuries-old problem of trust, a social resource that is all too often in short supply, especially amid the current era’s rampant concerns over the security of valuable data. It turns out that fixing that can be a boon for financial inclusion and other basic services delivery, helping to achieve the global objectives laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sorting out hype from reality may depend on how well we identify where institutions that have until now played a role in mediating trust between people are falling short, especially in the key area of money. Deploying the blockchain in those settings to generate secure, decentralized trust could achieve great strides in inclusion and innovation.

What do we mean by decentralized trust? The concept is unfamiliar in part because its converse -- centralized trust – is something that we often take for granted, at least while it’s working. But if we look at the history of transactions since the early barter systems to modern-day digital money exchanges, we can see how different trust protocols for keeping track of our exchanges of value have evolved and how, in each case, centralizing trust within particular institutions has periodically caused problems.

As strategies for dealing with this challenge evolved and as the complexity and frequency of transactions grew, different trust bearers emerged. We went from relying on the memory and discretion of tribal leaders, to central governments issuing currencies in the form of precious metals, to commercial banks acting as trusted intermediaries and issuing their own bank notes, to central banks managing a hybrid system in which sovereign fiat banknotes circulate alongside a debt/credit form of money managed by regulated banks and internal ledgers.

Replacing a Three Day Walk with the Push of a Button

Charles Hurpy's picture
Madagascar is big—it’s the fourth largest island in the world, more than twice as big as the United Kingdom. Madagascar’s size, its tropical climate, dense forests and steep hills, combined with a lack of money for infrastructure deployment and maintenance, means there are isolated pockets of people all over the country without easy access to cities, to information, to the world.
Until recently, mobile and communications services were confined to a few, mostly urban, areas. That left people living in rural areas cut off. When we were in Madagascar, working on this project, we saw many rural communities in dire need of essential infrastructure and services. People in some villages live far from any road, or rely on dirt tracks that turn to impassable mud ways in the rainy season, without access to electricity, hospitals, or banks.
So, in this environment, access to mobile communications cannot be considered a luxury anymore—it’s a vital service that overcomes physical barriers and infrastructure gaps. With mobile service, people can contact family members in case of an emergency, call for medical help, and transfer money via their cell phones.  Farmers—a large majority of the country population works in agriculture, and especially the poorest—can use the internet to check market prices for their produce, or get information on fertilizers.  Schools with connectivity can reach the world, giving students access to information ranging from Victor Hugo’s novels to Fermat’s last theorem. Phones can be vital tools for health and well-being.