New Articles

Against Transparency: The perils of openness in government

The Revolution Will Be Twittered

It's too easy to call the weekend's activities the first revolution that was Twittered, but when histories of the Iranian election are written, Twitter will doubtless be cast as a protagonal technology that enabled the powerless to survive a brutal crackdown and information blackout by the ruling authorities.

Social Networking and Governance for Sustainable Development
Communications technology has enabled new approaches to governance in which stakeholders across sectors and jurisdictions are engaged in consensus building and implementation processes. This paper explores some mechanisms through which online social networking may impact on governance for sustainable development. Are social networking sites driving the transformation of the governance landscape, or are they merely diverting vast amounts of time from addressing the difficult sustainable development challenges at hand? And if they are useful tools for sustainable development, how can we ensure that they live up to their potential?

Users in the developing world are typically forced to access the Internet at a fraction of the speed achievable by a standard v.90 modem. In this article, we present an architecture to enable offline access to the Internet at the maximum possible speed achievable by a standard modem. Our proposed architecture provides a mechanism for multiplexing the scarce and expensive international Internet bandwidth over higher bandwidth P2P (peer-to-peer) dialup connections within a developing country. Our system combines a number of architectural components, such as incentive-driven P2P data transfer, intelligent connection interleaving, and content-prefetching. This article presents a detailed design, implementation, and evaluation of our dialup P2P data transfer architecture inspired by BitTorrent.

Warana Unwired: Replacing PCs with Mobile Phones in a Rural Sugarcane Cooperative
An existing PC-based system—one that had a goal of “bridging the digital divide” for an agricultural district—with a mobile phone-based system in which a small, but relevant amount of data is transferred to farmers via SMS (short message service) text messaging. Rural PC projects meant to serve socio-economic development are plentiful, but, in many cases, the PCs are overkill and cost too much to maintain. Warana Unwired sought to replace just such a PC-based system for managing information in a sugarcane cooperative in rural Maharashtra with an SMS-based mobile phone system. In an eight-month trial involving seven villages, Warana Unwired successfully replicated all of the PC-based functionality and was found to be less expensive, more convenient, and more popular with farmers than the previous PC-based system. This article discusses the early investigations of the Warana Wired Village Project that led to the conception and implementation of the Warana Unwired project. The new system is described in detail, and results, both quantitative and qualitative, are analyzed.

The quest for the low-cost computer has been one of the most significant pursuits of ICTD since the 1990s. This article examines the experiences of low-cost computing projects in developing regions and looks at some of the common entrepreneurial and technical problems faced by past and current initiatives. Focusing specifically on the domain of education, we look at the quest for low-cost devices and consider their economic and socio-cultural appropriateness to the typical classroom in the developing world. Using field studies and interviews conducted in rural Indian classrooms, we show that shared rather than single-user devices constitute a more realistic and sustainable approach for low-cost computing projects targeting children’s education.

Digital Green is a research project that seeks to disseminate targeted agricultural information to small and marginal farmers in India using digital video. The unique components of Digital Green are: (1) a participatory process for content production; (2) a locally generated digital video database; (3) a human-mediated instruction model for dissemination and training; and (4) regimented sequencing to initiate new communities. Unlike some systems that expect information or communication technology alone to deliver useful knowledge to marginal farmers, Digital Green works with existing, people-based extension systems and aims to amplify their effectiveness. While video provides a point of focus, it is people and social dynamics that ultimately make Digital Green work. Local social networks are tapped to connect farmers with experts, the thrill of appearing “on TV” motivates farmers, and homophily is exploited to minimize the distance between teacher and learner. In a 13-month trial involving 16 villages (eight control and eight experimental villages balanced for parameters such as size and mix of crops) and a total of 1,470 households, Digital Green increased the adoption of certain agriculture practices seven-fold over a classic Training and Visit-based (T&V) extension approach. On a cost-per-adoption basis, Digital Green was shown to be 10 times more effective per dollar spent than a classical extension system. Investments included performance-based honoraria for local facilitators, a shared TV and DVD player in each village, and one digital camcorder and PC shared across the project area. The results are preliminary, but promising.

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