Showing posts with label ICTD. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ICTD. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New Release: My UN Commissioned Report on Innovation in the ICT's in Education sector

In February of 2016, I was approached by UNESCO to come up with a report to advise the UN Education Commission on the role of prizes in shaping innovation in the education sector. After months of research, and evaluation, I was thrilled to learn that the report made its way into the policy pathway. This paper was prepared for the International Commission on Financing Global Education.

Basically, here is the executive summary for the report. If interested, click here to get access to the final report.

The use of prizes to stimulate innovation in education has dramatically increased in recent
years, but, to date, no organization has attempted to critically examine the impact these
prizes have had on education. This report attempts to fill this gap by conducting a landscape
review of education prizes with a focus on technology innovation in developing countries.
This report critically analyses the diversity of education prizes to gauge the extent to which
these new funding mechanisms lead to innovative solutions in this sector. This is
supplemented with interviews with sponsors and prize participants to gain the muchneeded
practitioner’s perspective. We address important questions that pervade as prizes
are being implemented in this sector: What seems to be working and why? How do prizes
compare to other funding mechanisms to stimulate technology innovations? How is
sustainability achieved? What can be learned that can inform the design of future prizes?

We structure our recommendations along the Doblin framework, which entails analyzing
the design of prizes along the criteria of Resources (sponsorships & partnerships), Structure (types of prizes, eligibility criteria, scope, types of ICT projects, phases, & intellectual property rights), Motivators (monetary & non-monetary Incentives, Communications (marketing), and, Evaluation (measuring impact and long-term sustainability). 

Through this process, a number of important assumptions are re-examined, namely, that technology innovation is central to educational reform, prizes stimulate innovation, scalability is a proxy for sustainability, and prizes are the most efficient funding mechanism to stimulate innovation. We re-calibrate expectations of technology innovation prizes in the educational field against empirical evidence. We reveal key trends through the deploying of prizes in this field and offer case studies as good practices for sponsors to consider when designing future prizes. The report makes recommendations along each of the given criteria to enhance the impact of prizes, drawing from interdisciplinary sources. The intent of this report is to enable sponsors to distinguish the hype surrounding these prizes and proceed to design prizes that can best serve the education sector.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Big data and the Politics of Participation: Plenary Talk at the Technology, Knowledge & Society Conference, Berkeley

It was a wonderful experience to serve as a Plenary Speaker for the Technology, Knowledge & Society Conference held this time at the University of Berkeley, California. The theme was 'Big Data and the Politics of Participation in a Digital Age.' Since the other plenary speaker Deirdre K. Mulligan from Berkeley's School of Information was talking primarily on the legality of big data and how diverse corporations interpret compliance in the United States and Europe, it was nice to contrast this with perspectives from the global South. After all, most of the conversation around big data seems to be hijacked by Western concerns, issues and contexts.

My talk, 'Bottom of the Data Pyramid: Big data perspectives from the global South' played with the much hyped Development idea on the bop as a new consumer base, inverting decades of viewing the poor in the global South as passive beneficiaries to now active co-creators of their own data.What do we know after all of the impact of big data on most of the world's population, about 60% of them being below the poverty line and residing primarily in emerging economies?

With India's newly launched and much celebrated scheme to create biometric identities for its 1.2 billion people, Brazil's problematic partnership with Phorm, a British spyware company that uses big data to track all navigation activities of Brazilian users to Africa's social entrepreneurial sites such as Ushahidi, designed to turn data from different channels into real-time crisis maps that can assist humanitarian relief efforts, there was much to discuss! Going into such cases was the building blocks of my talk, pushing what constitutes as data identities, data democracies and whether the global South is experiencing such a thing as a data commons?

 Look out for my article on this soon. will keep you posted!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

New partnership with Microsoft India Researcher bears fruit

Nimmi Rangaswamy from Microsoft Research Labs India and I have been working on creating momentum in shifting the focus of ICTs for International Development (ICT4D) research towards a broader and less utilitarian perspective. Over the years, it has been interesting to see how Nimmi and I through our independent anthropological fieldwork were coming to a similar conclusion on the need to pay attention to "leisure" behavior of Internet users in emerging markets if we are to genuinely understand the multiple dimensions of new media practice in the global South. For instance, her research with Kentaro Toyama on cyberkiosks revealed the following:

From field ethnography, we find that urban youth slang and speech styles do not lag behind in villages. Neither do communication styles and channels. Instant messaging is immediately embraced by younger kiosk operators. Fan clubs of matinee idols bring in youth fashion and trends along with film music. Most popular films and film music are released within a month in hub-towns. Cassettes, pulp-film magazines, and even VCDs are snapped up quickly by rural consumers. We found in one case, that women from a village in Tamil Nadu flocked to a rural kiosk where an online celebrity chat was organized with the director of a contemporary soap opera. (Rangaswamy and Toyoma 2006: 5)

Around the same time, my book "Dot Com Mantra: Social computing in Central Himalayas" (Ashgate Pub) amassed evidence of a range of primarily leisure practices that users engaged in at cybercafes in rural Himalayas challenging notions of how rural people would be driven to use these new tools for mainly socio-economic mobility.

So naturally, when Nimmi and I connected at the ICTD conference in London 2010, we schemed up ways in which we could work together. Since then, she has served as a guest lecturer for my course on ICTs and International Development over the last 2 years. Also, we recently submitted a panel for ICA, a commentary piece for review at the ITID journal and are currently working on a book proposal on this very topic. It is indeed exciting when one finds a collaborator who one can seamlessly work with!

So its good to know that all this effort is starting to pay off with the recent acceptance of our article for publication "Digital leisure for development: Reframing new media practice in the global south" by the Media Culture & Society journal.

Below is the Abstract of this paper and as you can see, this is really a call for a shift in research. We hope its useful to those in this field !
Photoshopping of newlyweds, downloading the latest movies, teens flirting on social network sites and virtual gaming may seem like typical behavior in the West; yet in the context of a village in Mali or a slum in Mumbai, it is seen as unusual and perhaps an anomaly in their new media practice. In recent years, some studies (Ganesh, 2010; Mitra, 2005; Author removed, 2010; 2012; 2nd Author removed 2012; Kavoori, Chadha & Arceneaux, 2006) have documented these leisure-oriented behaviors in the global south and argued for the need to emphasize and reposition these user practices within larger and contemporary discourses on new media consumption. Yet, for the most part, studies in the field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) have duly relegated such enactments as anecdotal. This is partly due to the fact that much of this research is driven by development agendas with a strong historical bias towards the socio-economic focus (Burrell & Anderson, 2009). Data that is not directly addressing project-based outcomes is sidelined. However, as emerging economies globalize and urbanize exponentially, and their users become more critical consumers and creative contributors of digital content or ‘prosumers’ (Bruns, 2008) and arguably free laborers (Scholz, 2012) instead of classic development beneficiaries, a paradigm shift is needed in approaching this new media audience with a more open-ended, explorative and pluralistic perspective.Thereby, this commentary piece serves as a call to rethink new media practices in the global south by looking at the implications and impacts of ICTs as leisure (entertainment/pleasure/ play) artifacts in the context of developing economies and emerging markets. We believe this line of inquiry is timely and enables a strategic bridging of the new media studies and development communication domain. Despite studies yielding insightful commentaries on ICTs in this arena, we believe resource constrained environments generating rich usages that are not overtly utilitarian have remained hitherto unexplored. A critical movement is needed among scholars focusing on emerging economies to re-conceptualize the mobilization and serviceability of ICTs to extend beyond a conservative understanding of developmental value. This will help in focusing on the heterogeneous and life enhancing aspects of technological use encompassing both experiential and purposive elements of ICT adoption: their interplay with systematic/systemic ecological constraints to provide an analytical and descriptive study of the technology spectrum and use in these contexts.
To illustrate our argument, we offer some critical points of contention that need addressing and new avenues for research if we are to rethink, reframe and refresh our thinking on Web 2.0 enactments in the global south. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

New Paper out "Leisure Divide: Can the poor come out to play?" by The Information Development Journal

My paper on "The Leisure Divide: Can the poor come out to play?" has just got published by the Information Development Journal Here's the Abstract: As billions of dollars are invested in mitigating the digital divide, stakes are raised to gain validity for these cost-intensive endeavors, focusing more on online activities that have clear socio-economic outcomes. Hence, farmers in rural India are watched closely to see how they access crop prices online, while their Orkuting gets sidelined as anecdotal. This paper argues that this is a fundamental problem as it treats users in emerging markets as somehow inherently different from those in the West. After all, it is now commonly accepted that much of what users do online in developed nations is leisure-oriented. This perspective does not crossover as easily into the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) world, where the utilitarian angle reigns. This paper argues that much insight can be gained in bridging worlds of ICT4D and New Media studies. By negating online leisure in ‘Third World’ settings, our understandings on this new user market can be critically flawed.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review of My book "Dot Com Mantra" in The British Journal of Educational Technology

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Arora, Payal (2010) Dot com mantra Ashgate (Farnham, Surrey & Burlington VT) ISBN 978-1-4094-0107-0 190 pp £55 gb&pagecount=1&title_id=9768&edition_id=12842

This book presents an ethnographic study on the use of computers, carried out in a marginalised town in the central Himalayas—hence among a group of remote, new computer users—with the aim to allow new perspectives to emerge and old views to be revisited. The study does not investigate if computers are good or bad, but spots the range of constraints and opportunities entailed by their use. It highlights relations between old and new technologies together with people’s beliefs, perceptions and modes of use, and reflects on the nature and implications of the learning induced. In order to reveal a perspective that is not biased by formal institutional difficulties, the study is concerned with computer use in public contexts outside school settings (cybercafés, NGOs and cyber kiosks), where it is possible to observe how people actually interact with computers for a variety of purposes. Emphasis is put on social learning—seen as a dialectic process enacting human ingenuity—which shapes the use of technology and is shaped by it. The author concentrates on understanding the place and space of technology, its boundaries, frame of reference, interpretation, functionalities and optimisation. The focus in not much on tools, but rather on human imagination, which is the root of people’s activity with the tools. The attention to everyday popular uses helps to de-romanticise and demystify the promise of computers as pathways to change.

The book starts by describing the nature and character of local people and their relationship with a variety of old and new technologies. Then it examines the links with policies related to education and development. Finally, it explores the range of activities that local people car ry out within cybercafés; these seem to be mostly not utilitarian but centred on social and entertainment purposes. What also emerges from the study is that computers are not neutral tools but a social phenomenon, a means of persuasion, seduction and remembrance. What people learn while interacting with them can widely differ from what we may expect them to learn. Multiple literacies entailed by computer use are not a set of universal skills but depend on the context of that use and on the power relations within it. There is an intricate relationship between leisure, labour and learning. Leisure, which is a demand and a necessity for all, can be deeply educative and provide long term accomplishments and deep-rooted skills through gratification. This implies that computers should be re-conceptualised so that they better fuse labour and leisure.

The book alternates descriptive parts, which are easy to read and entertaining, with dense reflections, which are thought-provoking but rather laborious. As you can guess from the above description, this is not the usual study on learning with computers. Traditional readers will likely fail to appreciate the ethnographic aspects of this study. The book, however, makes a pleasant and stimulating read for whoever wishes to reflect on educational technologies from a different perspective.

Giuliana Dettori (received February 2011)
Researcher at the Institute for Educational Technology of CNR, Genoa, Italy

Review of my book "Dot Com Mantra" in The Journal of Education, Community & Values

Dot Com Mantra. Social Computing in the Central Himalayas
Berglund Authority Level 4
Review by Jeffrey Barlow

Dot Com Mantra is an excellent work by Payal Arora, a much-published [1] Indian anthropologist who writes frequently on social computing, that is, the connection between society and the use of computers. This study is an ethnography (a branch of anthropology dealing with the scientific description of individual cultures [2]) done in the town complex of Almora, in a fairly isolated area of Uttrakhand, India, formerly Uttar Pradesh.Dr. Arora is well qualified to write this particular work. She has studied at Cambridge (Certificate in Teaching ESL), at Harvard (M.A. in International Policy, Education) and at Columbia (Doctorate in Language, Literacy & Technology). This work is derived from her Ph.D. Dissertation, Social Computing in the Central Himalayas.

Dot Com Mantra focuses largely on the social, economic, and political aspect of development considered within a global framework. Dr. Arora speaks the language of the area and fully immersed herself in its day-to-day life, moving among farmers’ organization, development groups (non-governmental organizations-NGOs), teachers and students, and even volunteering her time working in an Internet café, from all of which she derived deep understandings. In many cases, Arora’s conclusions are counter-intuitive and the book sparkles with frequent flashes of insight. We learn also that many of the approaches of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and of the Government of India are ineffective in the area, because they have ignored the social aspects of technology.It is not that the area is under-computerized; many groups have distributed machines in a variety of settings, but these attempts fall afoul of existing social conditions. For example, schools are given computers, but one-quarter of the teachers never show up to teach. Of those who do, fully half do not teach even when present [3]. Most of them are held personally responsible for the books and machines sent them and will have to pay if they are damaged, so they lock them safely away. Aware of these issues, NGOs and the Government of India previously sponsored a variety of access points—via the Hole-in-the-Wall/HiWel program among many others [4]—to encourage children to teach themselves [5]. These meet with initial success, but in order to be safe from vandalism or theft, the centers have to be placed on school-grounds where the same conditions which vitiate the educational process also impact the use of the “free” computing facilities.

Arora’s insights are deeply rooted in a close knowledge of both practical and theoretical pedagogy and anyone interested in education could benefit from understanding this aspect of her research. Part of her progress here might be said to be “unlearning,” as she finds that many of her assumptions are simply irrelevant in the social context of village India. For example, after working in the Internet café, she comes to understand the limitations of Western attitudes toward plagiarism. Arora has focused closely on gender issues in her previous research. In her ethnographic research in Almora, she also derives a new understanding of gender issues. This comes about when she watches female students, usually treated in the critical literature as deliberately marginalized in the world of technology, ably manipulate not the machines so much as those who work in the cafes (including the author), on the model of traditional Indian mistress-servant relationships. She concludes that choosing not to work directly with technology is also a means of using technology, and a valid choice in many situations. The author also begins to understand the complexity of globalization when she assists two local girls prepare school papers on “Western” art by selecting a variety of graphics, including cowboy-style horse paintings done by a contemporary Chinese artist, side by side with the Mona Lisa and the works of a noted Indian painter [6].

The weakness of NGO and governmental assumptions about the link between development and I.T. development are treated directly in a section on farming. Farmers are given access to computers by the government in the belief that, with better information about markets and prices, they can avoid exploitation by traditional middlemen.However, the author learns, the middlemen are also a critical element in farming practices, advising farmers of how to develop new crops, for example. And even with perfect knowledge of the market, the farmers are still producing on such a small scale that they cannot take any better advantage of the information.Dot Com Mantra really comes alive and makes a significant contribution when Arora begins to reconceptualize the Internet cafes and their most frequent use as places not of learning so much as of recreation. Here she undermines one of the major assumptions of developmental economics: that the poor are so desperate that given the opportunity they will always choose to look first after basic needs and that idling away time is the province only of the wealthy. Arora concludes: “There is an assumption that the poor will somehow behave differently from their wealthier counterparts. Herein lies a deep bind of contemporary ICT development thinking [7].”

As with the issue of plagiarism, however, when the author situates the recreations of the Internet cafes in the local social context, she comes to see the play as also a valid social choice for the use of computing. We learn, for example, that due to widespread broadband access in Almora, local children and teens are now fully conversant in many elements of Indian urban culture, their rural dialects are now inflected by urban usages, and they are also fairly aware of international pop culture. These may seem to a developmental economist to be an inadequate result for billions of dollars of investment in I.T., but in fact, as Arora points out, in their own way, these consequences represent considerable progress. The work betrays its origins in that it is extremely dense and steeped in academic jargon. However, it should be of interest to a variety of audiences, including most especially those concerned with development, with I.T. investment, with teaching and pedagogy (in any context—many of the weaknesses she spots in constructivist practices in education are as relevant in London or New York as in village India—and generally interested, as are we, in the impact of the Internet). But given its cost ($99.95) most readers should probably seek it out in an academic library, where it properly belongs.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

IAMCR Conference 2011 in Istanbul: Theme: Cities, Creativity, Connectivity

Istanbul, here we come! The International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) will be starting next week from the 12th to 18th of July with papers surrounding the theme of Cities, Creativity, Connectivity.

I'll be Chairing a Program session on the "Second Wave of the Digital Divide" as well as presenting a paper on the following topic:

The leisure divide: Can the Third World come out to play?

In this Web 2.0 era, evidence is mounting on human ingenuity and creativity with and within online spheres. Much has been documented on how users innovate in a myriad of ways, opening possible economic and techno-social opportunities through play. From initially being viewed as “wasteful” and “idle,” cyberleisure is slowly but steadily being recognized as potentially productive, labor intensive and commercially fruitful. In fact, online leisure has stimulated a virtual economy where “dragon sabers,” a cyberweapon of the Legend of Mir III sells on ebay and “Farmville,” an online farming application on Facebook propels users to speed up their virtual harvest with real currency. In this global and information society, such innovation has become fundamental to getting ahead as the rat race moves online. That said, when we look at the world of ICT and international development, a different story seems to emerge. Much focus is placed on how the Net is being used for a range of utilitarian means such as healthcare, education, to employment. An army of commercial ethnographers from Microsoft, Intel, Google and Hewlett Packard as well as the usual INGO suspects, have been unleashed to capture the newly empowered in action. As billions of dollars are being invested to bridge the digital divide in developing countries, much is at stake on amassing evidence that the poor are, in fact, leapfrogging chronic socio-economic barriers through ICT. Hence, visions of the farmer accessing crop prices online, ridding himself of the tyranny of the middlemen infuse policymakers and practitioner discourses, streamlining research agendas even more so on measuring how ICT is being used for utilitarian ends. However, the underlying assumption here is that somehow users in Third World countries are inherently and intrinsically different somehow from the Western world. While there is no pretense on the fact that what most users do online in the West are primarily “purposeless” – social networking, porn, idle browsing and media consumption and production, there seems to be a belief that users in the emerging markets will have a more conventional work ethic online; they will virtuously reach out for ways to get information for healthcare diagnostics and treatment, online education to agricultural best practices. While undoubtedly this happens, this paper argues that there is a possibility that much of what users do even in Third World countries is, in fact, heavily leisure oriented.To build this case, this paper first examines the relationship between labor and leisure, a) historically and b) comparatively, online and offline. After which, we investigate how new information and communication technology usage has been perceived over time in the Third world nations - intentions versus actual practices. Lastly, this paper traces out the commonalities between supposed First and Third world nation’s practices of new media usage, making the argument that we need to stop exoticizing users in ‘emerging markets’ as more utilitarian driven and work conscious. Instead, this paper calls for a conscious inclusion of cyberleisure in the larger analysis of new media usage in supposed Third World countries.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

After inventing the WWW, where do you go next?

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is the keynote speaker at this ICTD conference happening here in London. The Michael Jackson in the computing world, Sir. Tim Berners-Lee has been credited for inventing the World Wide Web, launching the first basic communication via the Internet in 1989. So...he appears lost on stage, as if he walked into the wrong conference. A tech-geek at heart, it seems he is compelled to connect his general fabulous geekiness to starving children in Uganda. And sadly he tries. He brings up in some circular way this farmer in rural India who makes decisions on drilling the land and sowing the seeds and something about rainfall and if he just had a crash course on farming ..farming for Dummies 1.0. And just when you wonder where its heading, he miraculously ties this to accessing the Internet for empowerment, a point already beaten to death not just at this conference but for the last decade in the ICTD field.

Okay, so while he may not be the development guru (nor does he claim to be which is the redeeming aspect here), he becomes more engaging when he actually starts to talk about his toys, his nerdy state of being and more. He talks about the creative process, particularly on how scientists inhabit the fuzzy world of stories and inspiration: "I spend a lot of my time in an anecdotal world." While nothing new per se, it is nice to be reminded that data often does not inspire, it often's the after and not before of the creative process.

When asked (surprise surprise) as to what is the future of the www, a member of his www consortium reveals that voice technologies is where the www should be heading to. Seems so intuitively obvious given the high illiteracy rates around the world yet it is amazing how voice-based technologies has not taken off at an unprecedented scale; wish they talked more about this as to why this hasn't yet happened. Instead, questions concerning wikileaks seems to infuse the auditorium space, tying this to security, walled gardens, regulation and open vs proprietry software. Nothing too revealing in these discussions and predictive in terms of its place in this interdisciplinary conference.

So, post-keynote talk, I land up chatting with some Microsoft guys who are researching on search techniques. They tell me that they've heard Berners-Lee talk every year as a keynote speaker at the WWW consortium and apparently, he uses the same speech year after year after..year! Hard to beat the www idea huh? So just a tip here- if you're going to do something epic in life, just hope this happens later rather than earlier in your career. Of course, we often don't know a moment is epic until after the fact. This explains why often the initiation of epicness is marked by the mundane such as the testing of the telephone call by Bell saying "Mr. Watson come here, I want to see you" to Berners-Lee's first web address "" explaining the WWW project. So next time, you may be better prepared when you confront your own 5 minutes of fame...

Monday, December 13, 2010

The ICTD conference kicks off with marital discord between practitioners and academics

The ICTD conference for 2010 goes all Harry Potter on us, hosted by Royal Holloway, University of London. This university, started in 1886 and financially backboned substantively by Thomas Holloway who made his millions from patent medicine, is a fascinating site to hold the conference in. While we're immersed delightfully within the history of this educational space, we're confronted with the future of this relatively newly created ICTD conference space. Its a response to the persistent frustrations of the disconnect between academia and practice. It's about making "relevant" academia, to network these seemingly disparate groups in a fruitful manner and create sustainable thinking through interdisciplinary means.

So it is of little surprise that the conference launches with a panel of practitioners and moderated by Tim Unwin from Royal Holloway, University of London. In true academic self-flagellation, Tim remarks that only practitioners can truly "guide the next decade of academic research." Invited on the panel is Erik Hersman, co-founder and director of operations of Ushahidi, Anriette Esterhuysen, executive-director of the Association for Progressive Communications, Tony Salvador Senior Principal engineer, and Director of Research, Emerging Markets Platform Group, Intel Corporation, Anita Gurumurthy, IT for Change, Ken Banks, founder of and creator of FrontlineSMS, and Indrajit Banerjee, Director of the Information Society Division, UNESCO. They were invited to speak their mind on what they think should be researched on in the near future, look deeply into certain issues and question certain dominant assumptions in the field. Of course, as predicted, the debate starts of with the usual practitioner-academic debate, with an underlying bias of making the "practitioner" very current, reflexive, insightful and "close" to the beneficiaries. Academics however, need a new PR agent apparently as they're viewed as parasitical creatures, feeding off on the "brain food" of practitioners as Anriette states. Banerjee, an ex-academic fuels this further with his comment that "“academics are talking to themselves while development is out there." Of course, there is some noise on who is this "practitioner" anyway? Aren't all academics, if genuinely effective, are practitioners too ? - as such, all "good theory is good practice too," as Anita states. So is that really true?

While this ritual perhaps is essential, given the role of rituals in general as markers that indicate that we're all part of this community that shares common tensions that at once divide and unite at the same time, there were more interesting points that were brought up by this panel, namely from Erik, a technologist who astutely asks why do we pigeonhole technologies as tools for development? Its like saying Mozilla Firefox is for development just because it's being used by emerging market demographics! So why do we naturalize certain tools as “empowerment tools” and does this really have a particular advantage for the ICTD field or does it long term do more damage as we exoticise typical tools and thereby create barriers on intergrating "exotic" populations into the typical user-interfacing group?

fodder for thought for sure...