Can Information and Communication Technology (ICT) effectively promote the implementation of Human Rights? This was the topic of a thought-provoking presentation organized by the World Bank Institute (WBI) together with the Nordic Trust Fund in OPCS, which explores how a Human Rights lens could help inform Bank projects. The presentation on July 17, 2012 was based on a draft report developed as part of ICT4HR project under ICT4Gov program at WBI. Through various case studies, the draft report looks at both the opportunities and the challenges of effectively using ICT to implement human rights.
Information and Communication Technologies
Why is this generation experiencing a “tsunami” in higher education? (as coined by President of Stanford, John L. Hennessy and then popularized by writer David Brooks) We think it may be because (thanks to technology) there has been an elemental shift in power from the education providers to the beneficiaries. An empowered user has the ability to demand how education is delivered and even change the traditional model of education. Students are far more empowered now as there is an excess of information available, faculty are no longer indispensable founts of knowledge. Students are looking for an outcome-oriented education (e.g. that result in skills or a job). Education can be delivered to thousands using broadband networks and home computing technology. As the economy weakens, non-traditional students are demanding education that is flexible in terms of timing, payment, knowledge and skills. Tech savvy students want technology intensive education delivered in bits and not necessarily a semester long course. This has created a situation where an empowered beneficiary (of education) is setting the terms, demanding flexibility and along with education start-ups/newcomers are helping create new modes of education delivery and educational content.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
"This paper was part of International IDEA’s work on “Democracy and Development” in 2011. It was selected as a contribution to stimulate debate on and increase knowledge about the impact of democratic accountability on services. A summary of the papers selected and an analysis on some general trends are provided in “Democratic Accountability in Service Delivery: A Synthesis of Case Studies”
The study analyses a semi-governmental mechanism for accountability called social control councils. Through this mechanism beneficiaries are supposed to provide feedback on health and education services. However as beneficiaries have been heavily underrepresented in these councils and membership tends to be skewed towards the local government, they have not been able to function as intended." READ MORE
“Social media has been often touted for the role it played in the popular uprisings that have spread across the Arab world since December 2010. Despite the buzz, you may be surprised that only 0.26% of the Egyptian population, 0.1% of the Tunisian population and 0.04% of the Syrian population are active on Twitter.
Of all the countries in North Africa and the Middle East, Twitter is most popular in Kuwait, where 8.6% of the population is active users, defined as those who tweet at least once per month. Facebook’s more popular throughout the region. In its most popular country, the U.A.E., some 36.18% of the population is on Facebook.” READ MORE
The tragedy of our times is that access to quality education is limited. Whether in the US, internationally, education remains a privilege that only select few are entitled to, whereas a majority of this without financial resources are forced to compromise on the quality of education or go without. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty and illiteracy which condemns the poor to stay poor. In the past few years technology has emerged as the single biggest game changer in the field of education. As computing has become cheaper and more powerful, access to technology has increased proportionately. Another trend has been led by those who question traditional education methods and structure. For example many feel that teachers unions lead to a shift in focus away from the child to the pecuniary interests of the teachers. Others argue that the traditional classroom lecture where teachers talk and students listen is no longer effective. These trends have led to some interesting developments. Of these one is the focus of nonprofit organizations on supplying cheap tablets for free in the developing world. Another is the interesting possibility of eliminating school systems and teachers via innovative use of technology.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
"Nations in Transit is Freedom House’s comprehensive, comparative study of democratic development in 29 countries from Central Europe to Eurasia.
Findings in Nations in Transit 2012 suggest that the countries that have achieved the greatest democratic success since the Cold War’s end are now displaying serious vulnerabilities in their young democratic systems. Over the past five years, stagnation and backsliding is evident in key governance indicators across the new EU member states and countries of the Balkans. Hungary, a powerful example of this trend, continued on a negative trajectory that was propelled by the current government’s drive to concentrate power. Ukraine’s scores similarly continued to worsen, with declines in five of the seven Nations in Transit categories, as authorities undertook a broad assault on institutional accountability and transparency. Difficult economic conditions and harsh austerity measures posed challenges to democratic development in the region. In the Balkans, critical reforms stalled in nearly all countries in 2011." READ MORE
"The current state of media freedom in Latin America was driven home in early May, when three journalists were murdered in Mexico within a week of World Press Freedom Day. This dramatic example underscores a larger trend identified by Freedom House in the recently released Freedom of the Press 2012 report, which noted that a range of negative developments over the past decade have left media freedom on the defensive in much of Central and South America." READ MORE
The recent storm about the Facebook IPO and whether big investors got access to better analysis than individual investors made me think about the open agenda again: Whose access are we guaranteeing? If we say that data is open, do we have the moral obligation to help people navigate that information?
An article by Peter Whoriskey and David Hilzenrath in The Washington Post, Scrutiny Focused on Pre-IPO Hype, says of Facebook’s disclosure: "It was just the kind of information that could make you a million. But you couldn’t find it..." They went on to note, "A raft of complex regulations attempt to ensure that the information public companies give out to investors is not only true but is distributed in a way that does not favor big institutional investors over so-called retail investors…"
Development organizations operate at the global level, partnering both with countries to implement country strategies, and within sectors to tackle sectoral challenges. NGOs on the other hand, operate at the grassroots level, working with individuals towards the betterment of communities. Development organizations have the advantage of resources, many years of experience and knowledge but are generally several degrees removed from the individual. NGOs are in touch with the needs of citizens and are able to respond quickly to challenges but unable to scale up. The two have worked together, but so much more can be done. Over the last several years the dynamic has undergone a fundamental change. Cue to technology, which is fast emerging as a game changer in the world of development. Technology enables linkages based on mutual agreement (e.g. development institutions-NGOs) as well as linkages that evolve organically (e.g. a grassroots human rights group in Kenya that builds a relationship with a Swedish development institution focused on social inclusion).
I recently gave a talk about ICT and Development at the annual Re:Campaign conference in Berlin, organized by Oxfam Germany. Anyone who knows me will realize that this is a bit odd – despite being a blogaholic, I am actually Rubbish At Technology. In front of 300 trendy, young (sigh) i-thingy wielding activists, I felt like a Neanderthal at a cocktail party. Still, at least the fear of being shamed up finally got me tweeting two weeks before the conference.
I decided to make a virtue of necessity and set out some core processes in development, and then reflected on what ICT does/doesn’t contribute. Why take this approach (apart from being a techno-caveman, that is)? Because there’s too much magic bulletism in development –microfinance, GM crops and now ‘cyber utopianism’. What all of these have in common is that they are too often presented as ‘get out of jail free’ cards, delivering development without all the messy business of politics and struggle. At best, new technologies shift power balances, sometimes favourably, sometimes not, but they don’t replace the process of struggle in development.
There has been a lot of buzz lately around open development, and new initiatives seem to be popping up everywhere. My colleague Maya talks about what open development means exactly in her blog and Soren Gigler discusses openness for whom and what. Soren points out that “openness and improved accountability for better results are key concepts of the Openness agenda.” However, he cautions that openness is not a one-way street. For positive impact, citizen engagement is crucial and it’s important to “close the feedback-loop” through the facilitation of information flows between citizens, governments, and donors.
In light of this, a prime example of a successful initiative with an innovative citizen-feedback mechanism is “Check My School” (CMS) in the Philippines. Launched by the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP) just a little over a year ago, it has managed to get real results on the ground. The results and lessons learned were shared at an event held last week at the World Bank. The speaker was Dondon Parafina, ANSA-EAP’s Network Coordinator.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to harnessing technology for economic development is addressing the digital divide. How can we do so? This is a big question and to answer it comprehensively by looking at all the work on this area is beyond the scope of this blog. However let’s look at a few obvious ways of overcoming the digital divide:
(1) Development projects that focus on, and are relevant to the poor. The Monitoring of Integrated Farm Household Analysis Project (IFHAP) was conducted every five years from 1996 to 2007 in the thirty-three (33) major rice- producing provinces in the Philippines. The study noted the potential of mobile phones as key tool for information dissemination in agriculture as they are widely owned. In 2007, 90% of the farm households surveyed owned at least one mobile phone. I agree with the authors of this study that while policy, infrastructure, and digital divide do indeed aid in assessing readiness; a social dimension is also present, which we ignore at our own peril.