The old maxim “if you can’t measure it then you can’t manage it” is as true today as ever… however increasingly as many people reach information overload one could argue it should read “if you can’t present information you can’t get others to act on it”.
A classic challenge is presented by internet connectivity. We are all aware that many of the Southern countries where we have worked have terrible connectivity how is this linked to the economy, production, trade, education levels, health services?
This map from the Internet Mapping Project Map Gallery shows the major ISPs indicating volume of traffic (colour density) and extent (distance). A variety of maps indicate other internet measures including distance from host, network address, top level domains or ISPs/ cities and many more. Including more detailed maps and raw data!
This second image from Infosthetics March ’06
“is an extremely detailed map of the North American Internet backbone including 134,855 routers. the colors represent who each router is registered to: red is Verizon, blue AT&T, yellow Qwest, green is major backbone players like Level 3 & Sprint Nextel, black is the entire cable industry put together, & gray is everyone else, from small telecommunications companies to large international players who only have a small presence in the U.S. This map demonstrates that although AT&T & Verizon own a lot of Internet pipes, they currently do not dominate the Internet infrastructure (yet).”
I love this third image again lifted from Infosthetics Dec. ’06, whilst it presents IP address space as a map it provides a clear impression of ‘internet face’ dedicated to continents, clearly if this were broken out in more detail, particularly with breakdown for “Asia” it would become ever more useful. See original source xkcd and comments from the artist.
a chart of the IP address space “on a plane”, using fractal mapping which preserves grouping (any string of IPs will translate to a single compact region on the map). each of the 256 numbered blocks represents one 8th subnet (containing all IPs that start with that number).
When preparing my dissertation on the privatisation of telecoms in Brazil in 1999 a communications star “map” clearly illustrated how minimal traffic was making the hops to and from Africa or Latin America. Different presentation tools using different internet usage “measures” consistently confirm this picture. Though we may not be able to lift detailed quantified facts from such maps they clearly provide tools to reflect trends and bias.
Have online tools for uploading video content finally come of age? Rather are they relevant to Humanitarian and Development work as opposed to teens in San Francisco? Or how far do they need to go before they can really start being used to support field work?
Of course bandwidth is as ever a problem, but these days there is content delivery technology that can solve that problem, enabling the uploading of files to be automated to specific times, only upload when prioritised usage (emails, voice) is curtailed, it can even be managed so that the same computer can upload or download digital information over different connections automatically as it is unplugged and replugged, such as moving from office to home or hotel at short notice.
Film from a video camera, normal digital camera or web cam is becoming the media of choice, new generations are reacting to this media the way some of us got excited over digital photo’s and MP3… no lets be honest emails! Google’s purchase of YouTube placed their number of unique visitors at 120 million in September, sure their communities of interest sit largely in the US, but the shift to view all content text, audio, photo, film as interchangeable, shareable content will quickly become standard.
Metacafe has developed an interesting approach where they use it to help talent thrive. Unlike YouTube they reject duplicate films and use 100,000 volunteers to peer review content, then like Wikipedia have them write and vet articles. Finally of course they use algorithms to analyse, sort and rank video’s and over time develop the highly valuable database linking customers to content. Individuals can use this as an effective medium to show their talents in film-making or acting, by licensing video’s to Metacafe indiviuals have successfully used this to become noticed, and make revenue from their work.
The development community has long depended on peer review and participation to ensure that ‘best practice’ rises to the top and can be shared easily, however we have been poor at introducing the use of technology. Of course I am being slightly unfair, IRC (Water and Sanitation Centre) for example is one of many that has been using the internet for many years to share content with specialist research, training and advisory centres around the world for many years, seeking to build capacity through joint projects. To a certain extent its distributed organisational structure depends on the internet and members are investigating possibilities to work with participatory new media approaches. Similarly The Provention Consortium depends on a thiving networked organisational approach, in this case encouraging institutions to support each other in furthering disaster risk reduction.
However we have to recognise that new tools require new approaches, there is increased attention in the western world on humanitarian and development issues. Not least because technology entrepreneurs have turned multi-millionaire Philanthropists.
I for one believe that we should find means to garner the talent, ideas and community experience of these entrepreneurs and the young to engage them in development and humanitarian work beyond merely interest, concern and fund raising.
Whether this means more formal approaches such as linking schools and organising for raw footage from developing countries to be made available for editing as they choose into documentary footage by youngsters in the west. Supporting artists and small businesses getting their skills and wares to western audiences or highly informal approaches that simply enable families to make their own camera footage, and tell their stories so that they may be uploaded to commercial sites in country and shared online.
Alternatively video and audio diaries or weblogs and podcasts could form part of the remit of professional staff as they undergo operations as a monitoring, assessment or evaluation tool humanitarian.info comments on such an approach by Christian Aid in Tajikistan. Heck for the sake of transparency why not put this in the public domain, uploading as possible. Have you ever thrown you heart and sole into a monitoring report, only to discover that the important recommendations were passed over?
There is alot we can learn from the increased openness in sharing information publically, I trust the entrepreneurs and enthusiasts riding this wave, look to broader horizons. Their experience and skills are needed lets see how we can open their eyes to another exciting, challenging and rewarding world in humanitarian and development work.
Mobile phones replace cash, debit cards, credit cards, ATMs and even banks! The Economist reveals all!
Many of us have heard rumours of upcoming payment and credit card services by phone, indeed they are common in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, however it seems that such servsices can truly benefit developing countries far more. For proof look to South Africa The Good News. (Oh no not again!)
Running a hair salon, grocery store or supplying goods? All payment transactions out, paid in, cash transferred, utility bills and of course paying mobile bills can be handled by Wizzit. Think of the advantages if you do not live near a bank branch, an ATM, or cannot get credit. Of course removing branches radically reduces both financial risk and operating costs, Wizzit claims services are a third cheaper, thus they can afford to serve individuals making multiple small transactions.
South Africa was one of the first to introduce mobile ATM’s in 2004 or Mzansi to taking banking to the populace. Banking by phone is chasing the 16m South African adults (more than half the adult population) who still have no bank accounts… but 30% do have mobile phones.
Already over 0.5 million use Wizzit as their bank, 8 in 10 customers had no bank account, this was achieved using an old developmental participatory approach or modern marketing tool… ‘peer to peer’ networking, in this case using 2000 unemployed people or ‘Wizzkids’ as mobilisers.
In many middle income and developing countries from Brazil to Kenya mobile coverage has overtaken fixed telephone lines quickly due to high pricing and the difficulty of getting a phones. Initially crediting prepaid time became a mechanism to transfer money… now we are seeing the development of integrated mobile banking platforms in a surprising array of countries as communities and countries skip physical banks and move straight from cash to mobile. Including M-Pesa micro-credit in Kenya and Celpay in Zambia and Congo. Keep on top of developments with Mobile Africa.
Imagine the possibilities in countries transitioning from post conflict to a more stable scenario. Mobile phones are common, banks if they exist provide appalling service, many people are not ‘credit worthy’ in the traditional sense, professionals need to get cash to families widely scattered, migrant workers return funds to family at significant cost, suppliers cannot provide significant credit. In short mobile phoning bank could slash transaction costs, free up liquidity, and enable micro credit schemes to flourish will reducing risk. No doubt the Hawallah’s will be the first to see the potential.
Next time I leave the beaten track perhaps I can leave the greenbacks at home with my credit card!