Call for Concept Notes – ICTD African Researchers Network

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Call for Concept Notes

ICTD African Researchers Network

@ICTD2012
Monday, March 12, 2012, ICTD2012, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

This is a call for short (1-2 pager) concept notes by Africa-based researchers for
ICTD2012!

As a follow up to the 2010 Panel on ICT and Development in Africa at ICTD2010 London, a group of Africa-based researchers gathered in the lunch hall of the Royal Holloway Hub and there began the first gathering of the ICTD Africa Researchers Network.  This is a group of African or Africa-based scholars determined to improve the academic ICTD research being produced in Africa.

(Photo:  first group gathering at ICTD2010 London)

The group focuses on the following goals: 1) amplifying individual voices and raising the visibility of African ICTD researchers; 2) creating a space for researchers to tell their own story; 3) shaping ICTD discourse on quality research and acceptable publication options; and 4) improving quality of research and publication output from Africa, ultimately with the goal of closing the participation gap in ICTD research.

This session will provide a space to collaborate practically on research ideas and quality with the goal of producing short papers for future publication.

If you wish to join us, please send your 1-2 pager to Kathleen (digakathleen(AT)gmail.com) or Bobby (bobby(AT)kancms.org).  We have limited spaces due to room size so be sure to secure you spot in the session with your concept note.

You are also welcome to join the ICTD African Researchers Network listserv by requesting an invitation to ictd-researchers-in-africa-network@googlegroups.com – you will need to introduce your self and why you wish to join the group.

This will be the first event within the ICTD conference to target Africa-based research collaboration. It creates space to showcase Africa-based work.  This session provides opportunities to exchange knowledge on how to polish research so that it meets the standards of international conferences. This session will allow for collective representation of research being done at African institutions. In improving the visibility of researchers based in Africa, we hope that work which has been previously missed will make ICTD more fulfilling in its goal of featuring research originating in the developing world.

Any ICTD Africa research you want to brainstorm or discuss, kindly send your brief 1-2 pager to us by 15 Feb 2012. 

We look forward to hearing from Africa!  Brought to you by the organizing team:

 

ICTD African Researchers Network,  Kathleen Diga, Paul Plantinga, Robert Kabutey Okine, Shikoh Gitau, Jessica Colaco, David Hutchful, Ilda Ladeira, Kweku O. Koranteng, Margaret Nyambura Ndung’u University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa; Monash University, Johannesburg, South Africa; Kwame  Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana;  Research @iHub , Nairobi, Kenya; Grameen Foundation, University of Ghana.

 

Vodafone’s “Making Broadband Accessible for All”

Yesterday was the South Africa launch of the latest Vodafone policy paper series report: “Making Broadband Accessible for All”. The LINK centre at University of the Witwatersrand hosted a fairly interesting panel to discuss some of the findings, including the CEO of Vodacom, Pieter Uys. It was mentioned a couple of times that Vodafone only set out broad themes for the research, and that these are the researchers’ independent opinions. But as much as I may respect the researchers and agree with their arguments, there will always be a credibility issue with sponsored research. Especially when it tends to support the sponsor’s position; e.g., there should be a bigger focus on wireless for developing country broadband, MTR regulations can have a negative “waterbed” effect on data prices, deregulation of spectrum allocation is more effective than planning, and larger operators make more efficient use of spectrum. Nonetheless, there were some interesting findings in the report and some good, open debate at the launch.

More specific personal observations can be accessed here if you’re interested in the policy discussion. Otherwise there are various other blogs (mostly by authors) reflecting on the report such as:

http://blog.enlightenmenteconomics.com/blog/_archives/2011/5/20/4820744.html

http://www.oafrica.com/mobile/vodafones-mobile-broadband-report/

http://whiteafrican.com/2011/05/22/mobile-web-content-in-east-africa-report/

If you haven’t seen them, the rest of the Vodafone policy paper series is here. One of the most popular ones has been “Africa: The Impact of Mobile Phones” published in 2005.

Notes from Phuket: Global Dialogue on ICT for Development

I was recently invited to Phuket, Thailand by Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) to attend their Strengthening ICT Research Capacity in Asia (SIRCA) final research conference. SIRCA is based out of the Singapore Internet Research Centre based in the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, and the SIRCA programme was set up to improve the research skills of bright, up-and-coming researchers from Asia in the ICT4D field.  This global dialogue was supposed to bring researchers from around the world to think broader as to how the new Asian ICT4D research has implications in the global context.

The SIRCA programme is unique because through its 2 year cycle, the emerging researchers are mentored throughout the time by a prominent senior academic / researcher who help their mentee reach publication status through guidance on thorough and valid research practices. As my first impressions, the 15 chosen mentees for the first round of funding were early career and starting to produce new research in ICT4D and at the end of the programme, they have been able to produce high quality work now found in journals like Media Asia.

The first day was dedicated to new research. 15 projects were presented and the diversity ranged from political blogging and its influence on the greater public in the Philippines, to participatory GIS mapping for planning for landslide protection in Vietnam. At the meta level, the research being produced under SIRCA is getting closer to the answer of how the use of ICTs are changing the behaviours of normal citizens and how such change have major implications for development.  The presentations can be found here.

For Africa, similar type of ICT4D behavioural research is being produced and we can probably see some similarities coming through. For example, SIRCA had research on mobile health, and agricultural informational services and ICTs which are activities and interventions also being measured for impact in Africa. In better knowing the research in our global world, only then can we start to make the linkages and possible synergies to start address the most pressing issues in our world.

On a side note, be sure to look at the new ITID edition for the future in ICT4D research and theory building.

Notes from Nairobi – CPRafrica 2011

I just spent a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days at CPRafrica 2011 in Nairobi, hosted by the University of Nairobi and ResearchICTAfrica! teams. There was a good mix of old-hands and several young scholars from across the continent. Although it was a a fairly academic group there was strong participation by organisations such as IDRC, OECD, LIRNE Asia, DIRSI, KICTAnet from Kenya, and ICASA, DoC, and Telkom from South Africa.

Since the focus is on ICT policy in Africa, there was an inherently developmental angle to many of the discussions. Most of the presentations on the first day looked at:

  1. Factors influencing provision (e.g., corruption, competition) and adoption (e.g., gender, income, marital status!) of ICTs in Africa.
  2. Variations in usage according to subgroups (e.g., less educated users tended to focus on social networking apps whilst more educated users had a more diverse range of activities)
  3. The effect of ICTs on socio-economic development (e.g., GDP, quality of life).

Later presentations looked at more specific institutional and policy issues such as the impact and measurement of competition (is HHI good enough?), the effects of mobile termination regulations, the convergence of regulatory functions, and participation in policy development.

Some personal thoughts from the conference:

  1. Broadband investment: There is an emerging bandwidth capacity crisis (particularly on international links) in many countries due to expected growth in mobile data. This raises questions for Africa around stimulating investment in this infrastructure, the re-emergence of the state as primary stakeholder in large broadband projects, benefits and risks around apparently altruistic partnerships with Chinese vendors, ownership and structure of cable investment coalitions, open access policies, peering arrangements and IXPs, location of content, amongst others. Also, the use of regulations (e.g., open access) around broadband infrastructure will need to be applied selectively (e.g., where there are bottlenecks).
  2. Decision-making tools: A second point was that whilst regulators need to make informed, evidence-based decisions (e.g., through regulatory impact assessments (RIAs)), they do need to be strategic in focusing on critical issues (and local loop unbundling (LLU) is probably not one of them in many African countries), and excercising forbearance on others. Conducting RIAs prior to policy implementation could have an unintended consequence of overcomplicating or delaying policy processes. As one alternative, benchmarking has been argued to be a more efficient decision-making approach (at CPRafrica 2010).
  3. Cooperation and independence: Some presenters suggested that there is a disconnect between regulators and operators, and there were calls for greater cooperation/ consultation, which seems reasonable. But to what extent does the arms-length relationship need to be maintained or protected to ensure independence not just from government but also from operators?
  4. Multistakeholderism: Related to the above point: there is a growing effort to support authentic multistakeholderism in ICT policy processes stemming largely from WSIS (the participation of KICTANet, a Kenyan civil society network, on the Communication Commission of Kenya board is a good example):
    1. But how is this really achieved – timing, structures, etc.? A rushed policy process is probably not going to enable much authentic participation.
    2. And how can ICT policy issues be presented in an easily understandable way to the wider public to encourage greater participation?
    3. Third, are there more technical issues that are not necessarily ‘public’, such as spectrum allocation decisions, and who decides?
    4. Finally, there are variable definitions and understandings of technologies and policy issues (e.g., ‘broadband’, privacy) in different contexts.
  5. Regional collaboration: So how do African countries and communities respond to defacto global standards around issues like privacy by global actors such as Google. Through greater regional cooperation and collective engagement with multi-national service providers? What else does regional harmonisation and cooperation around ICT governance bring? For example, it was suggested that the East African Community was able to resist the economic crisis fairly well because of strong intra-regional trade (in addition to the high price of commodities!).
  6. Research methods: A few methodological notes:
    1. Use a theoretical framework and then tie your research findings to it. This might have been in the papers but it wasn’t presented well.
    2. Case studies are important to better understand why accepted economic models/ techniques do not fully explain variation in outcomes.
    3. Whilst contextual case studies are potentially useful they should be more comparative by making explicit reference to similar case studies – and a theoretical framework.
    4. More in-depth institutional analysis is needed to explain why best practice policies or models don’t always work or have variable impacts. For example, why putting broadcasting and telecoms regulators in the same office doesn’t result in converged regulation, and why local hosting of content may be more efficient from a bandwidth perspective but carries greater political risk for those providing the content if local authorities don’t agree with the issues being discussed.
  7. Research quality and impact: Finally, there was some interesting research but it feels like quite a ‘young’ research community. There wasn’t anything particularly groundbreaking and it lacked the credibility and logical reasoning (to abuse Helani Galpaya’s reference to Aristotle) needed to really impact policy. Nonetheless, this is one of the most inspiring and productive gatherings I’ve been to so I look forward to looking back on it in 20 years time and thinking that this is where African ICT policy grew up.

Looking fwd to CPRafrica 2012!

Why African Higher Education Institutions (HEI) need a formal IT help desk

ICT4D Africa Researchers Network member, Robert “Bobby” K Okine will be attending the upcoming “6th International Conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training”, e-Learning Africa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (25-27 May 2011).   As you read through his conference presentation abstract, we take for granted the necessity of IT support services and staff particularly in certain resource-constrained environments.  Bobby will be sharing his Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology experiences at the upcoming conference.

What are your own experiences of Africa’s help desk services at your local HEI?

Here at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, we have an active help desk with an implemented help desk system which you can call or email.   They are able to log into your computer and locate the problems remotely.  While I sometimes think they take a long time, they do get the job done as effectively as they can and they do follow up on pending requests.  Is this a rare phenomenon given the circumstances at KNUST?

e-Learning Africa:  Conference Presentation Abstract
Every organization, either corporate or a higher educational institution (HEI), depends in part on its IT infrastructure to remain competitive and efficient. As this dependency grows, so does the need for providing effective systems to minimise downtime and improve efficiency of support provided [1].

 
HEIs in Europe and United States are familiar with the IT help desk but the same cannot be said about their counterparts in developing countries [1]. Higher educational institutions in developing countries like Africa also need the availability of their IT infrastructure support services to enable researchers and scholars to concentrate on their core objectives of teaching, learning and research.

 
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) is a public university in Ghana with a student population of 24,695 and staff of 3,319. KNUST has over 6,000 workstations and laptops used by the populace for their daily research activities on the university computer network infrastructure [3]. Support required for the stable use of hardware and the various applications that run on the workstations are enormous. Nevertheless, KNUST does not have a formal IT help desk likewise most of it sister universities in Africa. Rather, requests are handled informally between users and IT staff or technicians. These informal arrangements make it difficult for users to follow up on whether a request was not handled promptly or effectively.

 
Users sometimes engage the services of anyone perceived to be computer literate to help resolve their IT support problems. While this seems convenient for both parties, it is not conducive to generating a knowledge base of resolved problems. Personal relationships are able to compensate in part for the looseness of the current IT system, but as the pressure of increasing technological complexity and expanding computer application builds, such informal models can have strong tendencies to break down [4].
The goal of this presentation is to enlighten stakeholders on the importance of implementing an automated IT help desk system using available help desk software (in the free or open source market) that will meet the needs or functionalities of their university or institution as was the case of KNUST.

 
The proposed IT help desk system will seamlessly integrate enquiries created via email, phone and web-based forms into a simple easy-to-use multi-user web interface. It will manage, organise and archive all support requests and responses in one place while providing users with the accountability and responsiveness that they deserve.


References:

[1] Caruso, J B, & Sheehan, M. “Key Findings: Service on the Front Line: The IT Help Desk in Higher Education,” EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, Colorado, 2007. URL: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EKF/EKF0708.pdf
[2] Van Bon, J (ed). Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), Foundations of IT service Management – Based on ITIL V3. Zaltbommel: Van Haren Publishing, 2008.
[3] KNUST. Facts and Figures. Kumasi: University Printing Press, 2009.
[4] Reese, J. B. & Sutton, B, Help Desk Sourcing Options: One University’s Solution,” EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research Colorado Volume 2007, 24. 4 December 2007 URL: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERB0724.pdf

Welcome to the ICT4D Researchers in Africa Network blog

Welcome to the ICT4D African Researchers network blog!  This virtual space was created as one venue for young or emerging scholars and practitioners based in Africa to make their voice heard within the development interdisciplinary sphere.  Information and communication technologies for development have largely seen under-representation by researchers in Africa especially in the formal publication space.  Such a “participation gap” could have wide implications on global knowledge.  The ICT4D field itself could potentially miss a wealth of new ideas and talent coming from Africa if we continue our work as we have in the past.  In short, we cannot turn a blind eye to the uneven nature of academic research.


This blog originated from a group of researchers at the ICTD2010 London conference.  Shikoh, Paul and I presented a paper on the low number of ICT4D publications coming from Africa and in turn have protested for a change in the way we think and act about our research as an ICTD community and those of us based on the continent.  This blog is one among the many strategies which will contribute to the change of tide to the better inclusive world we all imagine in a knowledge society.  We look forward to reporting updates of the changing ICT4D space which favour participation and mentorship to the incredible innovation and ideas ready to burst out of Africa.

Weblinks!

ICTD2010 Conference paper “ICTD Research by Africans”

Presentation to the ICT2010 paper by Shikoh, Paul and Kathleen

Why R&iHub is vital to Kenya by Kentaro Toyama

Call for Peer Mentors for ICTD2012 Atlanta