The internet has certainly changed the process of how information and news is filtered and by whom. A process that was carried out by traditional media for decades is today largely managed by a few internet companies through algorithms. In this new role, they are not only filtering information but also helping us navigate a widely scattered information landscape through their products and services. In a new report by the Center of International Media Assistance, Bill Ristow discusses the role of these new information gatekeepers and the implications they face in protecting policies and practices across borders, such as openness of information and freedom of expression. Setting universally accepted norms on what is good behavior on the internet and what is not, is a major challenge. The question is who should be making these kinds of decisions? How are the new information gatekeepers held accountable?
Information and Communication Technologies
"The Web is quickly coming to the point that everything you say or do online can be used against you in the court of public opinion. Some say we could be looking at the end of forgetting, where the past can be accessed with the click of a mouse...We deserve something better: a Web that forgets."
-- Chris R. Albon. A political scientist and writer on the global politics of science and technology. He's also a Project Director at FrontlineSMS
Will Maletsatsi take the necessary steps to get out of debt and successfully manage her finances in the future? This is the central question posed in Scandal, a South African soap opera that is the subject of a new World Bank Policy Research Working Paper. Maletsatsi, the main character in this show, is in a real bind. After borrowing an excessive amount of money and gambling away her fortunes, she is forced to confess the extent of her debt to family and friends. In one scene, her daughter convinces her to negotiate lower monthly payments with a local furniture store. The store eventually agrees to extend the loan period, but her interest rate goes up and she starts to ignore other bills, leaving them unopened and unpaid. A well-intentioned woman, you can’t help but sympathize with Maletsatsi, who was only trying to create a beautiful home for her husband and family. It is through this emotional connection that television viewers are not only able to relate to the main character’s dilemma, but are also able to share Maletsatsi’s joy as she learns the rules of sound financial management and takes control of her debt.
With shiny apps hogging the mobile spotlight these days, one could be forgiven for forgetting about SMS (“Short Message Service” or text messaging). But although apps often disguise themselves as universally useful, their data and hardware requirements preclude their widespread use in poor countries. Amongst the world’s poor, SMS is still king. Given the World Bank’s mandate to serve the exactly that population, and in response to demand from staff, I recently attended a 2-day Frontline SMS training here in DC.
The training took place on the 2nd floor of the OAS building, otherwise known as the “OpenGovHub.” The hub hosts many organizations working at the intersection of data, governance and development, including Ushahidi, Accountability Lab and Tech4Dem. Though only one block from the World Bank, it definitely has a Silicon Valley vibe - open offices, young CEOs, bumperstickered laptops and standing desks abound. Thankfully, this open and informal environment carried right into the training, giving participants the chance to experiment with the software and engage in candid discussions with Frontline’s leaders. Two days of training, only one Powerpoint presentation. I know, right!?
On the second day, I was particularly struck by a question posed by Frontline CEO Laura Hudson. In explaining the design tenets of using FrontlineSMS, she asked us: “What decisions can you make that exclude the fewest voices?” That’s a question the Dispute Resolution & Prevention team wants all staff designing grievance redress mechanisms for their projects to ponder as well.
For the last twelve years, the World Economic Forum and INSEAD have been publishing The Global Information Technology Report (GITR), which features a Network Readiness Index (NRI) that measures the ability of countries to leverage information communication technologies (ICTs) for growth and well-being. This year’s GITR, which focuses on jobs and growth, covers 144 countries. The assessments are based on a broad range of indicators that include Internet access, adult literacy, and mobile phone subscriptions. As noted in the report, the growing availability of technology has empowered citizens of both developed and developing countries with good access to the digital world. However, this year’s GITR has some sobering news about the state of ICTs in many parts of the developing world. Despite some positive trends, the report shows a sharp digital divide between impoverished nations and richer economies.
- leapfrog technologies
- Network Readiness Index
- Rwanda Metamorphosis to a Knowledge-Based Society
- The Global Information Technology Report
- World Economic Forum
- Information and Communication Technologies
- The World Region
- Digital Divide
- Colombia’s Digital Agenda
- and E-Government in Latin America
Can the internet help make elections fair and efficient in developing countries?
A presentation “eParticipation: Citizen Consultation ePlatform –Mexico City Case Study” was given by Edgardo Torres-Caballero, the General Manager for Latin America for Scytl who talked about how ePlatform developed by the company helped Mexico City successfully conduct an electronic consultation through which the city residents cast their votes on-line to select public projects.
Agriculture in India still remains the main source of livelihood for the majority of the rural population and more importantly the small holding farmers. With an average annual growth rate of 3.3%, the major challenges facing this sector include a shrinking land base, dwindling water resources, the adverse impact of climate change, shortage of farm labour, increasing costs and uncertainties associated with the volatility of international markets.
A pertinent factor that continues to impinge upon these challenges is the lack of timely information about market prices, crop varieties, production techniques, seasonal risk and disease control strategies. The critical question thus is — how can we effectively apply information and communication technologies (ICTs) in agriculture to mitigate the factors that lead to the physical isolation of the rural smallholder during the ensuing 12th Five Year Plan period.
The accelerated changes in communication flows are posing both opportunities and challenges in the global system. A recently published book entitled ‘Diplomacy, Development and Security in the Information Age,’ edited by Shanthi Kalathil (a former colleague and contributor to this blog), seeks to better understand the changing face of international relations in a new era, by examining two emerging themes: heightened transparency and increased volatility. Leading up to the publication, practitioners grappled with these themes, and how they are affecting international affairs. Craig Hayde, one of the authors, notes that transparency and volatility are increasingly inextricable concepts. He says “transparency does more than simply put information out there – it inculcates a shared value that information should be available”, but that it is also “facilitated by the same technologies that promote instability, risk, and uncertainty in the business of international relations.”
The collection of essays provides fresh thinking in an area that has mainly focused on the use and impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs). While several essays discuss ICTs, Kalathil points out that “the premise for the series is not to minutely examine new forms of technology and their impact. Rather, the premise for the series is that ubiquitous global communication flows have, over time, created an encompassing information environment that nurtures transparency and volatility in pervasive conditions and/or guiding norms.”
For some time now, I have been fascinated with the concept of social remittances, a term coined by sociologist Peggy Levitt, who argued that, in addition to economic contributions, migrants export ideas, behaviors, identities, and social capital back to their home communities. These exchanges occur in a number of ways: through the interpersonal communication, letters, videos, blogs, phone calls, television and other forms of communication. This concept has not received as much attention as economic remittances, as pointed out in an interesting piece published by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) entitled, “It’s Not Just About the Economy, Stupid: Social Remittances Revisited.” The paper provides some compelling examples of how social remittances have contributed to development, including influencing ideas around good governance. In this blog post, I will examine the impact that social remittances can have on diaspora communities that are using communication technologies to develop their home countries, especially those engaged with social media and other online forums.
Can factivism push us closer to the edge of ending extreme poverty? This was the subject of Bono’s latest TED Talk on ending poverty. Simply put, according to Bono, technology can help us end extreme poverty in a variety of ways, from creating new drugs for AIDS to empowering people via openness and transparency. And numbers from the World Bank’s Research Group show this shift: 22% of the developing world’s population – or 1.29 billion people – lived on $1.25 or less a day in 2008, down from 43% in 1990 and 523% in 1981.
So how do we accelerate this progress? One answer may be in moving the focus to empowering people to develop their own solutions using new technologies and using data to make better decisions. We’re hoping that the Data Dives for our “Big Data Exploration” this weekend—being done jointly with UNDP, Global Pulse, and Qatar Computing Research Institute – will help us get a little bit closer to solving larger development questions. This pilot will explore whether the Bank and other development organizations can use big data to deliver better operational results and increase development effectiveness.