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Our final assignment for DRCA was to either propose an ICTD idea or list potential ideas or areas we would be interested in pursuing.  I have found it difficult to come up with specific problems to solve because my interests and skills lie more in working within a problem/solution set to define and tweak that solution to best fit the users.  All of that – the needs and usability assessment, user testing, ui design, etc – hasn’t really been a focus of this class  – in fact, it was typically glossed over if mentioned at all.   It would seem like when we are trying to affect such baseline, core needs that the froufrou ui design and all of that work is less of a concern.  I would argue that it is even more important in this situation since the needs are so drastically different from what can be assumed, and adoption, and the needs that come with it like illiteracy, dialects, is so vital for the success of the project.

I have a lot of background in Education and that is one area that is particularly interesting to me…


The One Laptop Per Child project epitomizes my interest area.  (well, it did before the bueracracy and politics took over).  But someone (Nicholas Negroponte) had the idea to develop a inexpensive, low power, easily connectable computer that could then be ideally given to every child in the developing world.  So a team set out to develop this laptop, including the UI which had to be non-culture specific and appropriate across languages, age groups, etc.  I would have LOVED to be on that team working to crack a fairly big, in some ways, insurmountable problem, for a good cause.  I am definitely on the look-out for these kinds of opportunities


Also in the Education sphere, one interesting idea, feeding somewhat still off of Nicolas Negroponte is the concept of tele-education.  Outfitting schools or groups of schools with a hub with a computer, projector and internet connection to have featured lessons from around the world.  I know there is some of this going on online already in some capacity (with “sister classrooms”), but I am not sure how much access schools in developing world have.  My guess would be not much. I think coordinating those lectures or lessons would be a big part of the undertaking too.

Additionally, sticking with the telemedicine metaphor, teachers could have cell phones or mobile devices that led them through lessons or sent news and lecture topics.

Other than that, again, I am interested in opportunities where I am part of a solutions team that plans and executes the solution together.  I would specifically be interested in the user needs assessment, user experience and interaction design, etc.  I have seen a need for this will some of the existing telemedicine projects, among others.

DRCA – 110408

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Today was our last guest speaker – the much exalted Sonesh. 🙂  He gave a great talk – very inviting and enthusiastic.  He pulls you in with him.  One of the core takeaways I got from his talk was to be mindful of how you plan to implement and the core necessities to do so, BUT, be ready for anything.  He found himself thinking, “I am just a PhD student!” as he was solely responsible for erecting the wireless towers and ensuring that they were secure and stable.   Additionally, he had to weather crazy power inconsistencies – outages, spikes, low drops and frequent fluctuations destroyed a lot of equipment and set them back a bit but they still managed to make it work because they adapted quickly and stayed focused.

As I mentioned, I really enjoyed hearing about Sonesh’s work.  So far (at the time of the talk) they have restored vision for 16K people – that is truly amazing.

DRCA – 102808

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Neal Patel spoke in class today.  The first talk discussed a radio project that brought community and best practices to rural farmers through a radio program.  It created a “spoken web” for them.  I really like this concept of making the most out of the existing infrastructure/technological capability of the people/place.  In our world, the communication/information utility of radio has been flooded under consumerism and entertainment. But in the developing world, radio is still the main way many people get news, alerts, etc.  And the great thing about it is that the infrastructure is already there.  So finding ways to use that seems really effective.  Sometimes new technology might not be the answer.

DRCA – 102108

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Today we had more students discussing their ictd work:

  • Brian DeRenzi – one of Tap’s previous students from UWashington, talking more about the CommCare project that he worked on with Tap
  • Charlene Chen – BusyInternet, a CRM project she did over the summer.  They used an open source system and she set up the system, customized it and created queries and reports.
  • Roxanne Miller and Allison Bloch – Haas business students who implemented Bodas for Life, a moped system in Ghana for transportation to and from clinics and hospitals.

The latter two were less technically-inclined than the other examples we have heard of.  Granted Carol’s was about implementing technology, but not writing one from scratch. Instead she worked with them to find a good existing solution to meet their needs and helped them customize it.  This is very similar to some of the stuff I did at my previous job.  I could do this!

And then the Bodas for Life was essentially technology-free!  Not that I am a technophobe at all, in fact, just the opposite, which is why I am here. But again, because I come from a social science background, getting to that “from scratch” mindset/capability is going to take some time so it was nice to see some other examples.

DRCA – 101408

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Today we had 3 guest speakers, all students at Berkeley, sharing their experiences and current ICTD projects.  It was a nice variety – one iSchooler, one from CS and one from Public Health.  So it was a jam packed session with tons of great insight and information.  Instead of trying to go back through it all, I wanted to touch upon two things that this session got me thinking about.

The first was the concept of data interoperability and integration in an ICTD sense.  We have been studying a lot about information interoperability in 202 and I have found myself really drawn to it on some levels.  Until now, I had only really thought about it in the context of the B2B here in the US.  But it became very clear that this problem is especially pertinent in developing countries as systems are put into place to connect people and processes that until then had been completely insular and ad hoc.  And the idea of open source data integration and grassroots business intelligence efforts definitely piqued my interest as well…

But then the other thing I wanted to touch on is this sort of sense that all of this stuff is much easier if you already have the technical background.  I am coming more from the social science/people side of the equation and it seems like a lot of these projects are led by people who can not only conceive of the solution, but also build it themselves.  I don’t really feel like I am there yet.  I can certainly be involved in the interaction/needs side of the the considerations, but it doesn’t seem like that is typically where the process starts or is really driven from (unless it’s from the pure Public Health sector)…

DRCA – 100708

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Today’ class was a guest speaker, Deepti, speaking about her experiences through a continuing project in India to teach village children English via mobile phone games. The main take aways from that experience were:

  • Importance of the location – need to keep it neutral. They had chosen to set up shop in a village that was considered “upper class” and therefore had some difficulty connecting with the people from the “lower class” villages.
  • Role of father’s name in defining child’s identity.  Although the fathers were rarely around, they defined the child’s identity in the larger community space.
  • Necessity for mothers to be emotionally invested in the vision.  The mothers were very close to their daughters and could “push it through” if they believed in the effort.
  • Sensitivity to social forces based on caste.  This one really was interesting and eye-opening to me.  They found that across the board, girls could not play as much with the phones as the boys, with the higher caste boys having the most freedom and parental approval to play with the phones.

I was aware that boys get preferential treatment in India, but I wasn’t aware of how explicitly that could play out.  She had pictures of a 6 year old girl, almost the same size as her 3 year old brother because he was fed better.  All the little girls in the pictures were too thin and there was definitely a stark difference between the girls and the boys.  I find it compelling that the mothers, being so close to the girls (as previously mentioned), and in many cases paving the way for the girls to participate, would be in a situation where they have to deprive their daughters in order to provide more for their sons.  I feel for them, and their daughters.

I hope Deepti continues her work and brings more joy and education to these little girls to hopefully help them get out of that situation someday.

DRCA – 100208

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I loved this lecture.  Due to a cancellation from one of the speakers, we walked through Tap’s foundation/background in ICTD.  I must say, for future instances of this seminar or any related course, I would recommend starting with this presentation.  Stories like this are so inspiring to me because I can relate.  I can relate to working within computer science and business and being uninspired and wanting to do more with what I know (and what I can learn)…that’s why I am at the iSchool.  And then to see the steps he took to get to where he is today helps paint the picture more concretely.

Tap’s slides were broken down into steps:

  • Step 1: Learn 2002-03
  • Step 2: Build 2004-05
  • Step 3: Evaluate 2006-08

Within each section, there were detailed slides (and great pictures) that showed exactly the steps he went through, the thought processes, the obstacles, the findings, etc.  I have said this many times on this blog but getting a sense of the systematic approach really jives with me.  I don’t think I realized how procedurally-oriented I was (am) until this course.  I just think because ICTD is such a broad – abstract in some ways – concept/effort, focusing in on a specific problem and systematically walking through the process employed to solve it really makes ICTD in general more approachable and palpable and is exactly what I was looking for from this class. And of course, interjecting anecdotal, human-interest stories sort of rounds out the whole picture for me and makes it that much more approachable. (By the way, I have probably used “approachable” a hundred times in my blog entries but I think that really captures what this course is accomplishing for me)

Before Tap launched into his presentation, the class offered suggestions for a full ICTD course, perhaps even including a summer doing fieldwork.  I just might have to figure out how to stick around to take that course.  (The first 4 year MIMS student? :))

Thanks Tap, keep it coming…


DRCA – 092308

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Terry Lo gave a great presentation on Tuesday, delving deeper into the specifics of some of the telemedic entreprenuerialship (whoa, that’s a word and a half) efforts that are going on in India.  He worked for World Health Organization and had a very in-the-trenches point of view.  I really enjoyed the level of detail – it really spelled out all the considerations and planning that went into it, as well as all the problems and “wrenches” they encountered, thus really demonstrating the complexity.  Again, I am seeing this give/take between chaos and control that seems to be a common thread among our speakers.   It seems the approach is – plan and be as systematic as possible but be ready for anything and everything (that you didn’t plan for).

Terry actually worked with Lee Thorn on some projects – although Terry had a different perspective since he was with the World Health Organization.  Whereas Lee and his Jhai Foundation have funding from many billionaires and leaders, the World Health Organization is working on a smaller budget.  So instead of going in and just setting up the system for someone, they are actually asking local families to make an investment and those families then become the entrepreneurs.  And it’s no small investment – $3K per family!  That number definitely shocked me…Terry had just finished saying that 75% of the people were without electricity, and yet they had $3K to spare.  Now, of course, it could have been and most likely was the other 25% that contributed but still…

The Jhai Foundation and the WHO also differed in the main goal behind the effort.  Whereas Lee’s team is working to promote economic growth and progress, and the telemedic units are the vehicle to make that happen, the WHO’s main goal is to get Family Planning services to the women in the villages.  So they agreed to supply the technology and materials, as long as the clinics agreed to include Family Planning services in with every visit.

The effort is still very much in progress. They are working to bring testing to the facilities to make them more efficient and effective for the villagers (currently over 75% are just being referred to another place for testing so the point of the units is sort of moot, they still have to travel and pay more money).  Additionally, they are still trying to find ways to make it lucrative, or at least profitable for the investing families.  Currently they are not making their $3K back very quickly at all.

I think it has been really helpful to have multiple speakers in a row discussing a common project-type/implementation (telemedic units).  It has really helped me start to put a bigger picture together.  We have a few more telemedic-focused speakers coming in the next few weeks so looking forward to more perspectives to add to my picture. 🙂

DRCA – 091608

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We had Lee Thorn in this week for a guest lecture.  What an interesting guy! His story is amazing – he is a Vietnam vet that was involved in bombing in Laos and basically swore he would never go back.  When his friend was later pressuring him to go back, he said he would only go if he could get medical supplies flown in.  So they flew medical supplies in. And he never looked back…thus began his very successful career (#2? #3?) in ictd with the Jhai Foundation.

Lee had a unique perspective because, building off of my last blog post about “trade, not aid”, he is not going in there to drop off technology and hope that the locals see the need and use. Instead, he is working to identify entreprenuers that he can empower with this technology.  It is a brilliant strategy because not only do you get someone that is part of the culture as the evangelist to sell and promote the technology, but that person also can have a lucrative career that s/he can then put back into the community or use to enable more progress for others.  I am really loving this concept.  And apparently so are others – he has many of the world’s richest buying in on the idea. Now I understand this approach can’t work for every situation/type of technology/etc but when it works, it seems like a really solid strategy.

One big piece of advice Lee had was that (paraphrasing) “whatever you think about technology or how people do things, forget it. You are wasting your time.”  I swear he was looking straight at me when he said it (he must have read my last blog!). As of last week I was feeling like I could start to grasp how to handle these types of projects and he was essentially like, “Cha! Good luck with that!!”   Now I think there is some medium in there, which is sort of what I was saying last week (although I might have been a little too overconfident) but I think there can be guidelines that you apply to every situtation, recognizing that there is a lot of wiggle room within each, and that you have to be ready to adapt to the situation at hand.

We have a few more guest speakers in the coming weeks so I am anxious to get more feedback on strategies/guidelines/etc.

DRCA – 090908

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In last week’s DRCA class, Professor Parikh (Tap :)) shared his experiences with working in the field and best practice suggestions he learned from that experience.  I think there was a lot to learn from this paper/discussion, not just in the explicit advice, but in the anecdotes and informal stories.  I, like many others, have lofty aspirations of using technology to “do good”.  While noble, it’s incredibly intimidating at this point because there is so much good to be done, how does one even begin?

Last Tuesday’s discussion started to make the problem seem more approachable through 2 concepts or themes I came out of it with:
1) You can’t solve everything at once. Think specific.  “Doing good” is a boundless goal – the key to actually get started and get some traction seems to be to hone in on a very specific need, like micro-financing or coffee farming management.  Don’t aim to fix Africa, focus in on a certain village or co-op with a specific need. Something that could help them take a step towards sustainable progress.

I think that is a key point too.  The whole “trade, not aid” approach can really be a powerful mantra in these efforts.  Don’t get me wrong, if you have the opportunity or idea to bring fresh water or a cure for AIDS, aid away, please.  But in terms of designing and/or implementing specific technologies, if they can help them do better business, get education, or prosper in a way that facilitates sustainable progress, I think that is really powerful.

Additionally, I would think that once you overcome the hurdles (power, network access, travel, local relations, etc.) shouldn’t it then be easier to deploy further technologies moving foward?  So if you start small and focused, couldn’t you clear the way (or make the way easier) for additional solutions to other needs?

2) It’s just another design challenge/project.  I have a lot of experience with working with clients, identifying needs, working through the problem in a systematic way, maintaining productive working relationships, being as transparent as possible, iterative design cycles, etc. And there are models and methods for all of that, but the truth of the matter is that in the real world, you have to adapt. You have to recognize that no two problems are ever exactly the same and be flexible enough to work within the current context/contraints/etc.  So after hearing Tap talk about his experiences in India and Guatemala, I realized that it didn’t seem so different at all.  Granted yes, I get that we are talking a whole new level of adaptation and flexibility, but a lot of the suggestions/best practices he presented are very relevant in every business relationship on some level.

So I am starting to see ictd as much more approachable and graspable than I did coming into this. Even the anecdotal stories Tap offered, like the locals making fun of him because he is vegetarian, helped remind me that we aren’t talking about some abstract concepts and ideals anymore – these are real people, with real problems and we can help.

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