Thoughts on ICTD

ictd project ideas

Posted in Uncategorized by Karen Joy Nomorosa on the November 22nd, 2008

Here are some ideas I have for projects on ICTD…

On Youth Development

I volunteer for this nonprofit organization in the Philippines whose primary objective is to motivate the youth towards nation-building.  It does youth formation and training in different schools and regions in the Philippines.  Its headquarters is in the capital, Manila, but there are regional chapters in almost all the regions in the Philippines, each organizing and holding their own programs.   The primary challenge faced by the organization today, since it is mostly run by volunteers, is an effective way to communicate and coordinate these programs. Some projects I thought of related to this include:
1.  Development of a web-based Training Management Application that can help in the organization and coordination efforts of training programs.  The portal will allow the collaborative development of training materials by volunteers of the organization from all over the Philippines.  It can also include a repository of all training materials and training plans, contact management of school and NGO networks, volunteer management and other training details.

2.  A web-based platform where different youth organizations in the Philippines with different areas of concentration can network and collaborate on programs and activities for the youth.

3.  The department of education in the Philippines is working on the distribution of computers in public schools all over the Philippines (yes, sadly, not all our schools have computers).  It would be good to develop computer-based learning materials or games that will teach young children about culture and the values of peace and nation-building with specific examples set in our country.

On Social Entrepreneurship

1.  GoNegosyo is a nonprofit organization in the Philippines that believes that the way to address poverty is through entrepreneurship.  Through its training programs and seminars, books, forums/expos, other printed materials, it has helped develop entrepreneurship in the country by providing ideas, best practices and business models for people to start their own business as an alternative to unemployment or migration.  It would be great to establish a place where small- to medium-scale entrepreneurs can get or give feedback, share experiences and best practices, much like how the farmers in one of the projects presented during class gave theirs.  It can be through SMS or phone or a web-based portal.

On Indigenous Peoples

1.  Most indigenous cultures are oral in their way of communicating and passing on knowledge, as opposed to having it written down.  Therefore, the more effective way of capturing or documenting their traditions is through video, versus doing it in writing.  This project idea involves training indigenous people in the northern part of the Philippines to use video cameras and how to edit and store the videos in the computer.

2.  An extension of the above project would be to attach some useful metadata to the videos and create a database that would allow them to easily search through this database for the particular video.  If a network exists or could be established, a central repository containing videos from multiple tribes managed by a nonprofit organization would be ideal.  Some challenges that might be faced would be the absence of electricity in the more remote regions, language barriers, acceptance to using technology.

3.  Indigenous people create a lot of beautiful things from indigenous materials, such as the most beautiful jewelry, cloth weaves, baskets, and things like that.  However, they face a lot of issues that are causing the production of these things to slowly disappear, a big one of which is poverty.  It would be great to create a marketplace system where they can sell their goods and get the full benefit.  They could use mobile phones to take pictures and attach information (such as price, description, etc) and send it to a central database where interested people could browse and buy.  Of course, there are other logistical requirements that have to be designed, such as payment and delivery.

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on building towers

Posted in Uncategorized by Karen Joy Nomorosa on the November 18th, 2008

It was quite amusing to hear about the stories that the guest speaker had of his adventures in trying to build wi-fi towers for the Aravind eye clinics.  I guess my key takeaway from his talk is the importance of being flexible and open-minded.  Sometimes when we go into a project, we have pre-conceived notions of how things are supposed to be.  And sometimes, this keeps us from getting fresh ideas on how to adapat to certain situations, or from innovating.  Going into a developing country, especially if you come from and are used to a developed one, the limitations you have, the things that you have to work around of, and red tape you have to go through can be mind-boggling, and frankly quite discouraging.  So I think the ability to “go with the flow” and adapt to circumstances, and the ability to quickly adjust plans, is a real good quality to have.

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ictd for agriculture

Posted in Uncategorized by Karen Joy Nomorosa on the November 4th, 2008

After weeks of discussing the medical applications of ICTD, it was nice to learn about how technology could be applied to help out the farmers.  I found the radio program for the farmers particularly interesting.  When I think about farmers in the Philippines, they probably would benefit and appreciate a medium where they could be able to share techniques and thoughts and give feedback.  Because small farmers are normally not well-educated, the best means of communicating these kinds of information is probably through mobile applications and radio programs, so I think the project has a lot of promise in terms of delivering content to them.

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ictd by students part 2

Posted in Uncategorized by Karen Joy Nomorosa on the October 28th, 2008

The previous session was pretty much a continuation of the session before that, with fellow students showcasing the ICTD projects they have been working on or had worked on in the past.  It was pretty interesting to see the breadth of the projects that they have been involved in – some ranging in really computer-science oriented work (such as the CRM of a company in Ghana) to ones that are much more public health oriented (like the Bodas for Life project).

I could totally relate to the presentation on the CRM for a company in Ghana.  I remember one of the audience members making the point that even if she did the project in the US, she would probably have used the same approach and methodology in implementing the system as she did in Ghana.  This may be true, but for sure the dynamics would have been really different. I remember working on a project for the government of the Philippines, and we tried to apply the same methodologies (having a champion, a key user network, etc) as the speaker did in Ghana, but the real challenge really is getting over the mindset of the people who will be using the system.  Making them understand that the system is there to make their lives easier, and not to add work to their already hectic lives.  Explaining to them how they are able to communicate directly with their home office through the computer without the need of a fax machine or a telephone.  That is probably the challenge in “Urban Computing Application” development in developing countries.  The things that people take for granted here in developed countries – automatic everything, online everything –  are things that are unheard of in those parts of the world.   Making people understand the value of what you are trying to do for them, and actually having them assimilate this technology in their daily lives – that is the challenge.

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Posted in Uncategorized by Karen Joy Nomorosa on the October 21st, 2008

When I was back home in the Philippines, my friends and I were discussing the many new social enterprises that were cropping up.  I remember there was one that provided low-cost temporary housing for seamen – this is especially relevant because Seamen who come from the provinces normally sleep in the streets near the port in Manila while waiting for their ships to leave.  There is also the store in a prominent commercial area that sells products made by marginalized communities.

And then, there is the one about some Interior Design students putting up a consultancy that creates designs especially for impoverished communities, using materials that were local to their communities.  I thought, it must be nice to be able to come up with such innovative ideas to help others in an area that you specialize in.  Whenever I think of what I can do with my IT background, I find it difficult to think of anything without the pre-requisite investment of computers and networks, etc. I don’t know if it’s just the nature of the industry I am in (technology) or if I’m just not being creative enough.

So although it was great to hear the social enterprise ideas coming from the established foundations such as the Jhai Foundation, it was particularly refreshing for me to hear about stories from the students and how they used their CS backgrounds to help out.   It just exhibits how a little bit of determination and vision can take you far.  And it taught me that there are always people and organizations that have some need that has to be addressed – whether it be through technology or through the skills and knowledge that IT professionals possess.

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cellphone games

Posted in Uncategorized by Karen Joy Nomorosa on the October 14th, 2008

I found the study presented by Deepti during the last session to be quite interesting.  I think using the cellphone and the mobile network as a means to deliver content and services is something that should definitely be explored further, since the penetration of such in developing regions is way higher than traditional computers and such.  Of course, before delivering such services, it would be important to see how people actually use their cellphones, and if there is some effective way of integrating it into their daily lives.

I didn’t really get what they expected the end result of the study would be – if it was purely a behavioral study to see how children use the cellphone for any potential educational content to be put in there, or if they really intend to develop and improve the games they had initially put in the phones.  It was a bit worrying, though, that the children after just a couple of weeks, seemed to be more interested in exploring the other features of the phone (such as MP3, etc) than to actually play the educational games.  Does this mean that the cellphone is not an effective platform for education services?  Or are the games not engaging enough?  Or does the content get really old?

So I guess the question would be, how do you keep the kids interested?  If the level of the games are so easy that they get bored after awhile, is there a way to deliver new content? Maybe through the mobile network?  How do you integrate it into their daily lives?  I can see the potential of projects involving mobile networks in developing regions, may it be in education or social enterprise and such, and look forward to hearing more about it in the future.

on the course

Posted in Uncategorized by Karen Joy Nomorosa on the October 7th, 2008

I was part of a project team once that worked on a solution for the government of a third-world country.  While working ont the project, I had a lot of questions and internally disagreed with how the IT component was designed and how the project was being managed.  I couldn’t understand how an office who couldn’t afford to hire competent IT folks could manage and maintain all the latest routers, servers, operating systems, database management systems, and the like.  I have always wanted to know more about low-cost solutions and how to implement them, this is what primarily attracted me to this course.

What would be interesting for me to see in this course, if ever it were to be made into a full-blown one, would probably be coverage on the topic of design considerations.  Aside from creating functionality that can meet the needs of the community, what other things are there to think about?  Cost of maintenance, Support Considerations, Updates and Roll-out, Capital… and other things that needs to be considered when developing and designing the solution.  For sure, designing for a private corporation that has the resources to support and maintain its IT systems versus designing for rural communities that have virtually no money and no expertise are two very different things.

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Posted in Designing Rural Computing Applications by Karen Joy Nomorosa on the September 29th, 2008

Even if it hurts for me to say it, technology is not the cure-all of all our problems.  This was my key takeaway from the talk last week.

I am not sure if I got the complete picture of the product and its implementation, but there were, I think, a lot of vagueness regarding things such as the viability of the product, return on investment, if it can actually meet the intended goal of increasing family planning adoption, and the project’s other goals.

Although I applaud how brilliant people seem to know how to create innovative products that somehow address seemingly impossible issues, I realize that along with technology, there has to be proper implementation.  This entails a plan for proper evaluation and proper training and roll-out for the assimilation of the product.  I understand, though, that there are some things that you only discover once you have undergone the piloting or the beta stage.  I guess what is important here is to keep on refining and reevaluating your program so that you key success indicators are met.

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the jhai foundation

Posted in Designing Rural Computing Applications by Karen Joy Nomorosa on the September 23rd, 2008

Before leaving the Philippines to go to Grad School, I joined this mountain climbing expedition to the Mountain Province, with the aim of distributing school supplies to schools there that are hard-reached by vehicles.  When I heard Lee Thorn discuss his Jhai Foundation project in Laos, of course, I immediately thought of how it could be replicated in that area, which is probably the most rural area I have ever been to.

Just to give you a picture, it’s a place where houses are so far apart that children have to walk several kilometers, up and down the mountain, to get to school everyday.  The same goes with doctors, and stores to get supplies, etc.

In looking at the different programs that Lee had built into his model, I began to think of how it could apply to the people there.  Telemedicine would definitely be helpful as it would help diagnose problems with the more experienced doctors in nearby towns.  Education, especially for the kids, will be very beneficial.

However, I can think of many other applications that can also help them in the their daily lives.  Things that have to do with education in terms of agricultural practices, perhaps a marketplace where they can sell their goods, etc.

I think my key takeaway from Lee’s presentation is that there may be “models” to help us kinda get our feet on the ground, but really, there are no out-of-the-box solutions when it comes to dealing with rural applications.  Every location has its own peculiarities and its own needs.  And, as what was said in previous lectures, you really need to go there and experience life as they do to get the full picture.

One thing that I would like to add on to that is that solutions like this that aim to help the welfare of people in rural areas must also take into account and must likewise forward the causes and thrust of the community.  It is not just about putting in something technological, and putting in something that we *think* will be good for the community, but putting something that can actually contribute to the progress of that area.

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being the un-techie tech person

Posted in Designing Rural Computing Applications by Karen Joy Nomorosa on the September 10th, 2008

The topic under discussion was how to establish relationships with stakeholders in designing rural information systems.  I picked up a lot of fabulous insights, like showing that you are tough, and showing that you care, listening to the needs of the people, and other wonderful advice on how to do this.  I must admit I don’t really have much experience in designing rural application, as my background is mainly on designing for internal company use and for government.  But one thing I did learn during my work which I think is probably applicable here as well, and is somewhat related to the discussion, is how important it is to be un-techie at the appropriate moments and really listen to the people you are talking to.

Having a computer science background, I often find myself thinking in terms of system logic and process flows and such.  When presented with a business process, or a huge amount of information, I start thinking about how a system would be able to automate and implement it.  Not sure if this is just the nerdy side of me, or if normal people find themselves doing this as well.  The point is, coming into a discussion with end users or stakeholders, and being presented with their needs, I think most tech people’s brains start churning and coming up with ideas on how to implement said solutions to needs.  At least I know that this is a sickness of mine.

This might not inherently be bad, I mean, this is what we’re trained to do.  But then, I think tech guys have to put a lid on this sometimes to get to what the stakeholders REALLY need instead of what they THINK they need.  This means holding off on the excitement of getting a new requirement, and probing deeper into the discussion to get the full picture.  Sometimes, it is easier to stop at the user saying something like, “we need a system that will do this…” versus keeping the conversation going and getting into the “you know, we are having difficulty with this area of our operations right now because…” phase of the discussion.    I think this is where real value can be made in terms of the systems you will create, because it gives more room to innovate in order to fill a particular need.

There is also, I think, a balancing act needed in showing them that you are capable of building the system, at the same time letting the people see that you can relate to their current situation somehow.  Stop the tech-talk and start the people-talk.  There is a proper place to show them how much you know about technology and stuff, but if the people you are talking to cannot relate to you and to the technology you speak of, they might be put off by you and end up not exploring ideas with you.  But if you can somehow communicate with them using words and visuals that they are comfortable with, then perhaps you will find it easier to put the jigsaw puzzle pieces together to form the entire picture.

So I guess my key takeaway from the session is just to constantly remind myself to let go of my tech-person persona and put myself in the clients’ shoes so that I could better understand their needs, and therefore more effectively design their solution.  To, you know, be the un-techie tech person.

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