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Labbing and Learning: Scaling Innovation at the World Bank Group

Aleem Walji's picture

Aleem Walji, director of the World Bank’s Innovation Labs, recently gave an interview to Forbes and the Skoll World Forum on all things innovation and development. This blog post highlights some of the key points from that interview.

When I joined the World Bank at the end of 2009, I was asked how we could more systematically support innovation. We started by building on the Bank’s own “access to information” policy, which was foundational for our Open Data initiative. When we made our data available to the world in a machine-readable format, searchable, and reusable, back in April 2010, people came in droves. Within months, we had more traffic to our data catalogue than the World Bank homepage.

Another powerful insight we had was to link maps through “Mapping for Results” with poverty data and project results to show the relationship between where we lend, where poor people live, and the results of our work. While it may sound simple or obvious, even today development partners struggle to map the relationship between projects they fund and poverty indicators in a given country. We quickly realized the value of “mapping aid” and making aid data transparent and comparable. The Open Aid Partnership grew out of that impulse.

Why You Should Become a Development Blogger. And Some Thoughts on How to Enjoy It.

Duncan Green's picture

I think it’s time for some new development bloggers. Lots of new voices to oxygenate a sphere that is starting to feel a little stale. Let’s see if I can persuade you to sign up (NGO types tend not to jump at the chance). First the benefits:

A blog is like a cumulative, realtime download of your brain – everything that you’ve read, said, or talked about for years. All in one place. There’s even a search engine – a blessing if your memory’s as bad as mine. When someone asks you for something, you can dig up the link in no time. If you’re writing longer papers you can start with a cut and paste of the relevant posts and take it from there.

It gives you a bit of soft power (let’s not exaggerate this, but check out slide 15 of this research presentation for some evidence). Blogs are now an established part of the chattersphere/public conversation, so you get a chance to put your favourite ideas out there, and spin those of others. People in your organization may well read your blogs and tweets even if they don’t read your emails.

Media (R)evolutions: World Map of Social Networks

Kalliope Kokolis'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.

This week's Media (R)evolutions: World Map of Social Networks

Facebook is now the dominant social network in 127 out of 137 countries.


















 

Media (R)evolutions: Global Mobile Phone Penetration

Kalliope Kokolis'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.

This week's Media (R)evolutions: Global Mobile Phone Penetration


 

When Robots Attack!

Tanya Gupta's picture

Robots have been a part of our mythology for thousands of years, the emphasis alternating between their positive transformative power over human society and acting as agents of great destruction.  Our image of robots has been shaped to a large extent by Hollywood and literature.  Celluloid robots in Star Wars, 2001 Space Odyssey, Robocop, Star Trek and many of Isaac Asimov’s novels have become a part of the human story.  Off-celluloid, robots have been helping our society in concrete ways (for example police work (bomb disposal), infrastructure projects etc.).  However when Watson won Jeopardy it brought artificial intelligence and robotics a new kind of attention.  People started to wonder if robots could replace humans.  When we think of robots we think of self driven cars, household robots or even warrior robots.  However, in our view, the influence of robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is more subtle and their presence more ubiquitous than one would think. One such impacted sector is the agriculture sector (in the US) which is on the cusp of a massive transformation, as it moves from mechanization to automation. When rolled out and commercialized (soon) this massive scale of automation will have a significant impact on US farming and on immigration for sure.  But does this also impact the development landscape? If so how?

Agricultural robotic systems have been implemented in fruit and vegetable harvesting, greenhouses and nurseries. Harvest Automation, for example, has developed the the HV-100, a 90-pound robot for commercial nurseries that can pick up and rearrange potted plants. There are quite a few silicon valley startups that are contributing to this revolution in the region known as “America’s Salad Bowl”, around Salinas Valley. California, where Salinas Valley is located, produced $1.6 billion dollars worth of lettuce in 2010 and 70%+ of all lettuce grown in America. Lettuce Bot, a new robot developed by Stanford engineers Jorge Peraud and Lee Redden, both from farming families from Peru and Nebraska, can “produce more lettuce plants than doing it any other way” (Yahoo Finance).  Lettuce Bot’s innovation is that while attached to a tractor, it takes pictures of passing plants and compares these to a database. When the weed or a lettuce head that is too close to another one is identified, a concentrated dose of fertiliser is sprayed. A close shot of fertilizer kills the errant weed or lettuce head but actually feeds the further off crops at the same time.

Learning from Data-Driven Delivery

Aleem Walji's picture

Given confusion around the phrase “science of delivery,” it’s important to state that delivery science is not a “one-size-fits-all” prescription based on the premise that what works somewhere can work anywhere. And it does not profess that research and evidence ensure a certain outcome.
 
A few weeks ago, the World Bank and the Korea Development Institute convened a global conference on the science of delivery. Several development institutions assembled including the Gates Foundation, the Grameen Foundation, UNICEF, the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science, and the mHealth Alliance. We discussed development opportunities and challenges when focusing on the extremely poor, including experiments in health care, how technology is reducing costs and increasing effectiveness, and the difficulty of moving from successful pilots to delivery at scale.
 
The consensus in Seoul was that a science of delivery underscores the importance of a data-driven and rigorous process to understand what works, under what conditions, why, and how. Too often in international development, we jump to conclusions without understanding counterfactuals and assume we can replicate success without understanding its constituent elements.

Media (R)evolutions: In Five Years, Most Africans Will Have Smartphones

Kalliope Kokolis'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.

This week's Media (R)evolutions: In Five Years, Most Africans Will Have Smartphones

Moneyballing Development: A Challenge to our Collective Wisdom of Project Funding

Tanya Gupta's picture
The biggest promise of technology in development is, perhaps, that it can provide us access to consistent, actionable and reliable data on investments and results.  However, somewhat shockingly, we in development have not fully capitalized on this promise as compared to the private sector.  Would you invest your precious pension hoping you will get something back but without having any reliable data on the rate of return or how risky your investment is?  If you have two job applicants, one who is a methamphetamine addict and the other is one who has a solid work history and great references, would you give equal preference to both?  If your answer to either is no, then take a look at the field of international development and consider the following:
  • Surprising lack of consistent, reliable data on development effectiveness: Among the various sectoral interventions, we have no uniformly reliable data on the effectiveness of every dollar spent.  For example of every dollar spent in infrastructure programs in sub-Saharan Africa, how many cents are effective? Based on the same assumptions, do we have a comparable number for South East Asia? In other words why don’t we have more data on possible development investments and the associated costs, benefits/returns and risks?
  • Failure to look at development effectiveness evidence at the planning stage: Very few development programs look at the effectiveness evidence before the selection of a particular intervention.  Say, a sectoral intervention A in a particular region has a history of positive outcomes (due to attributable factors such as well performing implementation agencies) as opposed to another intervention B where chances of improved outcomes are foggy.  Given the same needs (roughly) why shouldn’t we route funds to A instead of B in the planning stage? Why should we give equal preference to both based purely on need?

Privacy is so 20th Century

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Modern life is life on the grid: credit cards, smart phones, internet connections, social media presence and so on. And here is the truth: Life on the grid is life in a fishbowl erected on stilts in a bazaar. As a result, something that we once thought was important to us as citizens is not simply lost, it is irretrievably lost: it is the idea of privacy.

The concept of privacy itself is notoriously difficult to define. In reading around the subject, I found this description of it by Larry Peterman in a 1993 essay in The Review of Politics titled ‘Privacy’s Background’:

We look upon the private as that part of our lives insulated against the communal or public broadly constructed, protected from unwarranted intrusion by others, including political authorities, and the place where, in the last resort, we can clothe ourselves in anonymity.


I think that is exactly right. It is what Grant Mindle, in an earlier essay, calls ‘concealment and seclusion’ that protected place where we can have parts of our lives that will not leak into the public arena.


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