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Information and Communication Technologies

Ebola: How a people’s science helped end an epidemic

Duncan Green's picture

Guest book review from Anita Makri, an editor and writer going freelance after 5+ years with SciDev.Net. (@anita_makri)

I’m sure that to readers of this blog the Ebola epidemic that devastated West Africa a couple of years ago needs no introduction (just in case, here’s a nice summary by the Guardian’s health editor). So I’ll cut to the chase, and to a narrative that at the time was bubbling underneath more familiar debates about responding to health crises – you know, things like imperfect governance, fragile health systems, drug shortages.

All of them important, but this narrative was new. It was about fear, communication and cooperation – the human and social side of the crisis (explored in a SciDev.Net collection I commissioned at the time). There was also an unsettling undercurrent to it – one that conveyed ‘otherness’ and ignorance on the part of West Africans, fuelled by reports of violence against health workers and of communities resisting expert advice against risky funeral rites.

But if you listened closely, you could just about make out the voices of anthropologists trying to dispel notions that these reactions were about exotic or traditional cultures. Paul Richards was one of those voices, and luckily he’s put together a rare account of evidence, theory and experience in a book that should trigger real reflection on how we can do better in handling similar crises (hint: more listening).

Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic tells the story of the epidemic through the eyes of someone with intimate knowledge of the region and the rules that influence human interactions – very much an anthropologist’s perspective, not an epidemiologist’s. The book turns the mainstream discourse on its head, putting what Richards calls “people’s science” on an equal footing with the more orthodox science behind the international response. It captures how people and experts adapted to each other, falling into a process of knowledge co-production.

Media (R)evolutions: Making broadband policy universal for inclusive development

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

In order to ensure economic and social development is inclusive, all citizens, including the poor and those living in rural areas, must have access to information. Communication services, which includes mobile broadband, remains a crucial element in this goal. However, cost, competition, demand and affordability, and customer distribution (among others) all influence how telecommunication firms view the feasibility of providing specific technology services.

National broadband plans (NBPs) and universal access and service (UAS) policies that provide regulation, financing, and access goals are essential to ensuring that a country can provide broadband services. These policies, which can be tailored to ensure they will provide access to poor and rural communities, should not be viewed as an obligation but an opportunity for growth. The World Bank acknowledges this in the 2016 World Development Report: Digital Dividends:

Government policies and regulation of the internet help shape the digital economy. Particularly through their policies for the ICT sector, governments and regulatory agencies create an enabling environment for the private sector to build networks, develop services, and provide content and applications for users. Increasingly, governments seek to cooperate across borders on issues such as cybersecurity, privacy, and cross-border data flows. Internet-enabling policies have evolved over time, especially those for the ICT sector [...] Broadband internet, in particular, is seen as a general-purpose technology, essential for the competitiveness of nations, and governments have invested more than US$50 billion in broadband networks since 2009 as part of stimulus packages. Most also have national broadband plans.


With this in mind, the Broadband Commission tracks national progress towards a set of targets, the first of which is to make broadband policy universal. Advocacy target 1 states, “All countries should have a National Broadband Plan or strategy or include broadband in their UAS definitions.” According to its latest annual report, The State of Broadband: Broadband catalyzing sustainable development, growth in the number of countries with NBPs has progressed over the past eight-year period, but has stabilized in the past three. There are now 151 countries with a NBP, and 38 have not yet developed one. Azerbaijan is the most recent addition to the list of countries with an approved NBP, and another seven countries are planning to introduce one: Cape Verde, Cuba, Dominica, Iraq, Solomon Islands, Saint Lucia and Togo.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.


Middle-Class Heroes: The Best Guarantee of Good Governance
Center for Global Development

The two economic developments that have garnered the most attention in recent years are the concentration of massive wealth in the richest one percent of the world’s population and the tremendous, growth-driven decline in extreme poverty in the developing world, especially in China. But just as important has been the emergence of large middle classes in developing countries around the planet. This phenomenon—the result of more than two decades of nearly continuous fast-paced global economic growth—has been good not only for economies but also for governance. After all, history suggests that a large and secure middle class is a solid foundation on which to build and sustain an effective, democratic state. Middle classes not only have the wherewithal to finance vital services such as roads and public education through taxes; they also demand regulations, the fair enforcement of contracts, and the rule of law more generally—public goods that create a level social and economic playing field on which all can prosper.

The State of Broadband: Broadband catalyzing sustainable development
Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development/UNESCO

The report finds that global broadband connectivity shows strong growth, with 300 million more people connected in 2016 than in 2015, putting the number of people online by the end of 2016 to 3.5 billion. However, more than half the world’s population (some 3.9 billion people) remains offline. The report highlights that offline populations, who are now found in more remote, rural areas, consist disproportionately of poorer, minority, less educated, and often female, members of society. The report traces the progress made towards achieving the Broadband Commission’s targets for broadband. Progress has been mixed.

Media (R)evolutions: New Publications on Media Development around the World

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Twice a year, CAMECO, a consultancy specializing in media and communications, publishes a list of selected publications on media and communications in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. This rich resource includes 250 titles, covering recent media developments and project experiences in about 150 countries worldwide. Many of the titles can be downloaded directly.
 
The following topics are covered in the January – June 2016 edition:
 

> Audience Research & Media Use
> Children & Media, Youth & Media, Media Literacy
> Christian & Religious Communication
> Cinema & Media Entertainment
> Community Media & Citizen Journalism
> Conflicts, Media & Peacebuilding
> Democracy, Governance & Media, Political Communication
> Development Communication, Environmental Communication, Health Communication
> Disaster & Humanitarian Crisis Communication
> Economics & Management of Media
> Freedom of the Press, Media Policies, Media Legislation
> Gender & Media
> International Communication, Foreign News, Public Diplomacy
> Journalism & Journalism Training
> Media Assistance
> Media Landscapes, Media & Communication General, Media & Society

Want to empower women? Digital Financial Services are the way to go!

Duncan Green's picture

Sophie Romana (left) and Shelley Spencer (right) report back from the June 8 high level roundtable organized by NetHope and USAID, which brought together mobile banking and gender champions to reflect on how Digital Financial Services (DFS) can galvanize women’s empowerment.

Women’s empowerment is often measured by their access to resources and ability to make decisions over how they are used.  Recent evidence shows that DFS delivered through mobile phones deserves solid A's against each metric. This is not just hopeful musing by us as two empowered women with banking apps on our mobile phones, it is the consensus of a cross section of thought leaders with a seat at the table in Washington including USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Better than Cash Alliance and UNCDF, CGAP, and Women for Women International, as well as our own organizations, Oxfam and NetHope.  We recently spent a morning reflecting on rigorous academic and implementation research on DFS use by women — all to be published soon — and pathways to close the gender gap in DFS product use.

Oxfam has long known that women play a central role in financing family and community needs. What we are now finding is that DFS tools can enhance their role.  To study the impact of DFS on Saving for Change (SfC) savings groups in Senegal, Oxfam divided up 210 SfC groups (over 5,000 women) into 2 cohorts: one who participated in the project and the other as a comparison set.  Women who participated in the pilot saved and borrowed more than the comparison groups. The differences are not marginal.  There is a significant difference in savings.

 
Graphs: Saving for Change Mobile Banking, First Assessment & Learning Review, March 2016, Oxfam America

Media (R)evolutions: Citizens are eager to interact with their cities but need greater access to digital platforms

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Digital technologies have been lauded for their ability to set aside social and geographic boundaries, allowing people to communicate with others from different backgrounds in different parts of the world.  They are also known for their capacity to collect and track data on end users that can be used in the aggregate to inform decision-making. This level of engagement and data analysis led some to wonder if digital technologies would democratize communication and service delivery between governments and their citizens. Civic leaders, the argument followed, who embrace new technologies could benefit from deeper community engagement and increased stakeholder awareness on government initiatives and would be equipped with a steady flow of constituent feedback and a transparent track record.  Communities would be rewarded with insights into the functioning of new systems and the demand for city services as well as means to report inconsistencies or problems.
 
While the dream of proper two-way communication and digital feedback loops has not been realized by most cities, citizens would appreciate direct, real-time interaction with their local governments. While less than one-third of citizens (32%) are currently providing feedback to their local authorities, over one-half say they would like to do so. A large number of citizens (51%) want wider access to digital platforms to enable them to communicate with government or expansion of free wifi in public spaces (50%), perhaps signaling that basics, like access to the Internet and digital literacy skills, may have the greatest impact on citizens’ ability to interact. Many citizens— in both developed and developing countries— still lack broadband access at home and have limited data to use on smartphones. This means that as governments attempt to interact on digital platforms and share information online, they also need to be mindful of the digital divide within communities.
 

 

Interview with Cecilia Lerman on internet policy in Latin America

CGCS's picture

In this interview, Celia Lerman, professor and researcher of Intellectual Property at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella law school, discusses her path to internet governance work and her recent publication on internet policy in Latin America, “Multistakeholderism and Internet Governance".  Lerman reflects on the crucial role of multistakeholderism in the movement for open democracy and the broader issues facing the implementation of a successful model of internet governance. 

How did you first become interested in internet governance and multistakeholderism?

I became interested in internet governance early in my career when I was working as an intellectual property lawyer in Buenos Aires, working with international domain name disputes. The procedures for solving these disputes caught my attention: it seemed so strange to me that the domain name disputes I was working on had to be submitted to a panel based in Geneva and hold the procedure in English, even when both parties were based in Latin America and spoke Spanish as a first language. That sparked my interest in exploring better rules and solutions for Latin American internet users relating to their rights on the Internet.

Soon after I started working in academia in 2011, I participated in my first ICANN meeting as a fellow in Dakar, Senegal, and in the Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest organized by American University. Both meetings were incredible windows to internet governance and policy discussions for me.
 

What overlap is there between the fields of internet governance and your other expertise, such as intellectual property law?

The overlap between internet governance and intellectual property law is feared and loathed by many, especially when IP laws are used to restrict the sharing of content over the internet and jeopardize freedom of expression. But the intersection is not necessarily negative. Interestingly, IP laws are uniquely helpful to think through novel issues of internet policy and governance, and what the rules about intangible property should be like. This may be why many IP scholars are increasingly involved in the field of internet policy.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

More people in less space: rapid urbanisation threatens global health
The Guardian

The global population looks set to rise to 9.7 billion people by 2050, when it is expected that more than two-thirds of humanity will be living in urban areas. The global health community is bracing itself. Compared to a more traditional rural existence, the shift in lifestyle and inevitable increase in exposure to pollution will lead to significant long-term rises in non-communicable diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Worrying as this prospect may be, current population trends are already altering the global health landscape even faster than we realise, and that could pose far bigger and more immediate problems. When population growth is combined with other pressures, such as climate change and human migration, some parts of the world are likely to experience unprecedented levels of urban density.

How Being Stateless Makes You Poor
Foreign Policy
For the first 24 years of his life, third-generation Palestinian refugee Waseem Khrtabeel rarely noticed any difference between himself and his Syrian neighbors. Like his parents, Khrtabeel was born and raised in Damascus. He speaks with a distinct Syrian accent, just like that of his many Syrian friends. But Khrtabeel is not like other Syrians. He’s stateless.The first time Khrtabeel, 30, grasped the magnitude of that word was in early 2010, after graduating from Damascus University with a mechanical engineering degree. Khrtabeel was elated when he secured an interview with the Saudi Binladin Group, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent construction companies. On an unseasonably warm day in January, he arrived at the company’s recruiting office in southwestern Damascus promptly at 2 p.m., energized and confident. He was shown the door less than seven minutes later.

Conflict of interest: Digital privacy vs. national security

Roxanne Bauer's picture
It’s a dilemma only known in contemporary times: how to balance security and privacy.

Today, the internet is increasingly accessed through mobile devices, people are sharing more across multiple outlets, and bulk collection of data is growing. Private, personal information—Google searches, page clicks, GPS locations, and credit card swipes are all collected constantly and invisibly, often without the consumer's permission. Not only are businesses engaging in this tracking, but governments are also conducting surveillance on the basis of national security concerns. 

Governments have defended their actions by claiming that the information gathered helps fight threats to national security, both foreign and homegrown. People understand that governments need to give due weight to both privacy and national security; unfortunately, many do not receive even the most basic information regarding their country’s surveillance programs or whether their privacy is being violated.

According to Claire Connelly, “people’s right to privacy is being reduced by the day on the grounds of national security. And while it’s important to keep people safe from terror and other forms of national security threats, it’s arguable whether this should come at the cost of privacy."
 
Conflict of interest: Digital privacy vs. national security

Skiing in Afghanistan

BBC Media Action's picture

Afghanistan’s Bamyan province is best known for its ancient statues of Buddha, destroyed 15 years ago by the Taliban government. Today, its relative security and freezing winters are aiding the growth of a fledgling skiing industry. Mukhtar Yadgar explains how a radio station is helping local people discuss its potential for growth.

Ilyas Tahiri, a Radio Bamyan presenter, skiing.

A five minute drive from the site where the ancient Buddhas of Bamyan once stood, a radio mast sprouts from the ground. It belongs to Radio Bamyan, a local radio station in one of Afghanistan’s most mountainous regions. It’s summer now and wisps of brown dust rise up with the heat, yet in the winter months, Radio Bamyan’s roof is covered with snow.

Bamyan’s frosty winter weather, steep slopes and relative security have popularised skiing in the province. However, there are no ski-lifts, no chalets and certainly no après-ski. In the absence of sporting infrastructure, it was recently announced that two skiers from Bamyan will be representing Afghanistan at the 2018 Pyeongchang‎ Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Bamyan is also the venue for the annual Afghan Ski Challenge – which counts ‘no weapons allowed’ amongst its rules. Yet despite these successes suggesting a potential new ski-tourism destination, most of the local population, a relatively poor community, has had little opportunity to discuss what the growth of the skiing industry would mean for them.

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