6 out of 10 people worldwide use mobile phones – ICT Development Index compares 154 countries

March 29, 2009

The International Telecommunications Union released their annual survey of ICT usage worldwide this month.

The report (press release, full PDF), compares information and telecommunications technology (ICT) over 154 different countries, from 2002 to 2007.

The most advanced countries in terms of ICT were found mostly in Northern Europe, although South Korea came in second (above both the US and the UK).  Sweden topped the list. 

Poorer countries, notably this in Africa, were found to have lower ICT development scores, as would be expected.  Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China and Viet Nam, however, have made rapid growth over the last 5 years (due mostly to the combination of combined mobile phone users and Internet adoption).

Other notable statistics from the report include:

  • On average the world increased its ICT usage by over 30% in the past 5 years.  
  • 23 out of 100 of the world’s inhabitants use the Internet.
  • There are approximately 3x as many mobile phone users as fixed line users.
  • ICT costs are lowest in Singapore and the United States, accounting for less than 1% of monthly expenses.
  • ICT costs ranged between 40 and 72% in the bottom least developed countries, a clear indication of their unavailability for the general public.

IDP camp, internet cafe, or participatory panopticon?

March 25, 2009


Fulbright scholar Jon Marino, reports on the use of the web in the Coo Pe IDP Camp in Uganda.

Take a walk through Coo Pe IDP Camp (Coo Pe literally means “no men” in Acholi/Luo) in northern Uganda and you are liable to stumble across something that may surprise you.  Thanks to Project BOSCO, residents of Coo Pe have access to the internet, either via a wireless network, or by using a solar-powered PC stationed in the camp.

He writes that the project was, “initially conceived as an emergency-response system that would give camp residents the power to share the oppression they were experiencing at the hands of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government with the outside world. However, now that relative peace has returned to the region, the technology is helping people with the rebuilding process. Farmers are using the wiki to share ideas about re-introducing crops. Human rights monitors are using it to highlight corruption and abuse. Schools are using it to access online newspapers for free.”

The rise of the participatory panopticon

This is another excellent example, like the Kakuma News Reflector, of IT tools empowering people from the ground up.  Futurist Jamais Cacao suggests that, taken to its logical conclusion, this trend could soon result in something like world-wide, voluntary, mega-monitoring of all our daily activities.  And not by Big Brother, but by ourselves, for our own various ends.

In The Rise of the Participatory Panopticon, he writes,

Soon — probably within the next decade, certainly within the next two — we’ll be living in a world where what we see, what we hear, what we experience will be recorded wherever we go. There will be few statements or scenes that will go unnoticed, or unremembered. Our day to day lives will be archived and saved. What’s more, these archives will be available over the net for recollection, analysis, even sharing.And we will be doing it to ourselves.

This won’t simply be a world of a single, governmental Big Brother watching over your shoulder, nor will it be a world of a handful of corporate siblings training their ever-vigilant security cameras and tags on you. Such monitoring may well exist, probably will, in fact, but it will be overwhelmed by the millions of cameras and recorders in the hands of millions of Little Brothers and Little Sisters. We will carry with us the tools of our own transparency, and many, perhaps most, will do so willingly, even happily.

I call this world the Participatory Panopticon.

Implications for aid and development futures

This has both exciting and terrifying implications for development and aid provision.  At the recent HFP Stakeholder’s Forum, a participant raised the question, “what would happen if aid agencies and their insurers instituted mandatory drug testing of all field employees?  How many of us are on anti-depressants and stimulants and what impact would this have on staffing?”  

Another issue raised was the ever increasing efforts for HQ to control field workers through such technological means.  What if every action was being recorded and could later be used for investigation, inquiry, or even law suits?  

Although the prospect has many positive aspects, such as better monitoring of human rights abuses, exposure of corruption and graft, etc., the participatory panopticon is clearly a powerful and game-changing trend which could fundamentally alter the way aid is planned, delivered, and received.


Americans “overwhelmingly support” climate change action

March 25, 2009


In a significant change from past attitudes, a new poll by Yale and George Mason Universities found that most Americans “strongly support” action on global warming.

The survey, found in summary here and in full here asked 2,164 Americans about their “climate change beliefs, attitudes, policy preferences, and actions.” It found that:

  • 92 percent supported more funding for research on renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power;
  • 85 percent supported tax rebates for people buying energy efficient vehicles or solar panels;
  • 80 percent said the government should regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant;
  • 69 percent of Americans said the United States should sign an international treaty that requires the U.S. to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide 90% by the year 2050.

Surprisingly, the majority said that they would, “support policies that would personally cost them more,” specifically (emphasis in original):


  • 79 percent supported a 45 mpg fuel efficiency standard for cars, trucks, and SUVs, even if that meant a new vehicle cost up to $1,000 more to buy;
  • 72 percent supported a Renewable Portfolio Standard that required electric utilities to produce at least 20 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources, even if it cost the average household an extra $100 a year;
  • 72 percent supported a government subsidy to replace old water heaters, air conditioners, light bulbs, and insulation, even if it cost the average household $5 a month in higher taxes;
  • 63 percent supported establishment of a special fund to make buildings more energy efficient and teach Americans how to reduce their energy use, even if this cost the average household $2.50 a month in higher electric bills.

This is fantastic news for the planet!  And it is true despite the case that the US media is still largely ignoring the issue of climate change.

Met Office creates “Dangerous Climate Change” research programme

March 25, 2009

The Met Office has announced the beginning of AVOID, a research programme designed to build the evidence based around catastrophic climate change.

The press release, found here, states,

The initiative aims to further improve the Government’s evidence base on the science of climate change and to contribute to securing decisive global action that will reduce and respond to it. It will address key questions such as “how much climate change is too much?” and “What does the world need to do to avoid such levels of climate change?” The key objective of AVOID, in its first year, will be to provide supportive evidence to UK negotiators who aim to secure a robust international agreement in Copenhagen this December which will reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

The promise and peril of crowd sourcing crisis information

January 11, 2009

Several excellent example of how mobile phones are being linked to the web to create new crisis reporting (and response) systems, as well as several examples from recent conflicts of how such tools can be used as another weapon of war.  

In this video from Pop!Tech, Ken Banks explains how his software is being used by various humanitarian NGO’s for quicker reporting, monitoring, and mobilisation.  Ken is the founder of kiwanja.net, a site which helps local, national and international non-profits get their jobs done through mobile phone services.  

Kiwanja.net makes software called FrontlineSMS, which is being used by another piece of brilliant software application called Ushahidi (Ushahidi is also a finalist in the USAID Development 2.0 Challenge)  Ushahidi allows people to:

•    send and receive SMS alerts;
•    set up a local or international alert number at short notice;
•    work on different smartphones;
•    send MMS messages (images and video);
•    send GPS coordinates.

Forbes.com has an excellent article on how this is being used to cover emerging humanitarian crises. Al Jazeera is already using this to cover the crisis in Gaza, the software is in use in the DRC right now (also on the BBC website here), and for AIDS relief projects in Malawi.

These kinds of real-time disaster discovery and reporting technologies are likely to play a larger and larger role in the humanitarian sector over the coming decade. But there are dangers to these developments as well as opportunities. Jeremiah Owyang, a senior strategist in social computing at Forrester Research, reports on how Twitter is being used to report disasters. He observes several risks when relying on these technologies;

1) Sources may panic, and over or under state the situation.
2) Determining who is a credible source is a challenge,
3) Echos from the online network may over pump or mis state very important facts that could impact people’s safety.

He argues that lessons from a recent explosion in Toronto offer several key take away thoughts:

  • The new News Wire is now Twitter, the “Twire”?
  • News continues to break from first hand sources, in the past, the press would break the stories.
  • The jobs of the press are both easier and harder: They’ve improved access to sources in real time, but the level of noise has increased.
  • Press and Media must monitor Twitter: we’ve never seen information break as fast as this.
  • Press still have a very important role: vetting out what’s true and false to the best of their ability.
  • The community must be mindful of what’s real and what’s not, over hyping or spreading false information could impact lives.
  • Emergency response teams and local municipalities should monitor the online chatter, just as they do emergency short wave channels.

All of this is tremendously important for humanitarian researchers, field workers and strategists to consider when integrating these technologies into their work.  Crowdsourced news sources can cut both ways.  We already know how politically biased official reporting of disaster impacts can be; governments are prone to over- or under-report numbers as per their political preference.  If anyone can report anything now, and an eager news media is prone to catch the scoop and broadcast it loudly, how might local political vendettas play into the disaster response process?  One imagines that natural vetting sources, including reputation ranking, will likely arise to counter-balance what is otherwise a total free-for-all.  But we’re still very much in the Wild, Wild West when it comes to these frontiers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rules of behaviour for emergent experimentation

January 9, 2009

IDEO CEO Tim Brown discusses six lessons learned from decades of innovation that help foster collaboration, experimentation, and change

Brown’s six rules for emergent experimentation can be found here. Among the best are

  1. Assume the best ideas emerge from the organizational ecosystem, including all stake-holders not just employees.
  2. Set conditions so that those in the ecosystem who are most likely to be stimulated by changing external factors (technology, business factors, consumer needs, strategic threats or opportunities) are the ones who are best situated and motivated to have new ideas.
  3. Articulate an over-arching purpose so that the ecosystem has a context in which to innovate without top down control.

HFP consultants Sean Lowrie and Noah Raford have been having similar conversations about effective management strategy in turbulent environments (such as those faced by forward looking humanitarian entities in the coming decade).  When uncertainty and change are so great that long term planning is impossible, how can one plan for organizational commitment and change? One possibility is structured improvisation, with lessons taken from jazz, theatre, and the creative arts. Such rules include

  1. Observe what went before, find the pattern, and then match it.
  2. Vary the pattern incrementally and experimentally over time.
  3. See how others respond.
  4. Change everything now and then.
  5. Repeat.

Are there any parallels in planning for humanitarian change? What might this look like when collaborating with multiple and different stakeholders? What if only some, but not all, stakeholders agree to “play the game”? How can one create conditions of listening where these rules might succeed?

Referring back to Tim’s post, we love the idea of favouring ideas which create organizational resonance, which also articulate over-arching purpose for both the organization and its stakeholders and clients. The catch? These ideas don’t usually come from the top! In this case, the “consumer” of humanitarian services might be the one with the best ideas and strategies for adaptation in the face of change.

You can read the full post from Tim here. By way of background, IDEO has been a leader in innovation, collaboration and design for over a decade. They are recognized as one of the world’s leaders in innovation and collaboration and are increasingly turning their attention towards humanitarian and social issues. They recently published a toolkit for the Gates Foundation on providing Human Centered Design for humanitarian services and are also active in a variety of management and social change decision-making sectors.

Recent studies of field collaboration

January 8, 2009

A recent article from the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management examined collaborative behaviour in four emergency response organizations.

Researchers found that “collaboration was practiced to a relatively small degree, and that it primarily took place due to understaffing,” a sentiment echoed amongst HFP stakeholders in our recent Stakeholder’s Forum. The desire and awareness of collaborative need is present amongst many forward looking organizations, yet the reality is often far more challenging.

As the complexity and interconnectedness of our organizational responsibilities increase, our propensity to collaborate may decrease. How might this tendency be resisted? How might over-stressed humanitarian response workers use technology or other means to collaborate more effectively in high stress situations?

HFP’s on-going research with the International Council of Voluntary Agencies tackles many of these issues.

Humanitarian web mapping initiatives

December 24, 2008

There are some very interesting people doing excellent work bringing GIS, web 2.0, and web mapping tools to the humanitarian community.

We hope to profile some of them in the new year and make stronger links between HFP and their work. In the mean time, there are two groups in particular worth highlighting, with representative posts below.

Patrick Philippe Meier is a Doctoral Research Fellow at the Fletcher School’s Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. We’ve been following his blog iRevolution for quite a while. He has several excellent posts related to humanitarian and crisis mapping, with a special focus on crowdsourced mapping platforms, digital activism, etc. Some of our favourites are below:

HumaniNet has an excellent blog presenting lessons from their Maps 2.0 project.  Their goal is to “enable humanitarian organizations to post, access, share, modify, and use critical, geo-referenced information in emergency relief operations, post-emergency reconstruction, and continuing development projects.”  We here at HFP feel that these kinds of efforts are critical to help build skills for 21st century aid response, and HumaniNet is at the cutting edge of implementing these ideas.  Maps 2.0 has some fantastic reports from the field reflecting on what works and what doesn’t.  Some of our favourite posts from Maps 2.0 are below:



All of this relates very directly to the work of one HFP’s partners over at InSTEDD.  That, however, is a post for another time.


Boyd for the agile humanitarian organization?

December 23, 2008

We have been re-reading John Boyd’s seminal Patterns of Conflict (PDF found here) and were struck, once again, by the relevance of his thinking for the 21st Century humanitarian organization.

Boyd writes,

…in order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries… Why? Such activity will make us appear ambiguous (unpredictable) thereby generate confusion and disorder among our adversaries—since our adversaries will be unable to generate mental images or pictures that agree with the menacing… rhythm or patterns they are competing against.

Boyd was talking about aerial combat, with reference to other forms of warfare. In a recent post, we reflected on how others (such as John Robb) are pointing out that modern terrorists groups are successfully using this approach against established states and organizations.

Is it possible for humanitarian groups to use these same tactics to be more effective in their own work? If so, what might this look like? Boyd identifies the following attributes of a successful aircraft operating against such conditions. Below we map these principles to principles of planning and action for the humanitarian organization to see how well they fit (slightly edited from Boyd’s original list for ease of reference).

Boyd’s “Recipe for Generating confusion and disorder” Equivalent concepts for the 21st century humanitarian organization
Quick clear scanning sensors Risk assessment, early warning systems, and anticipatory planning processes
Quick shoot fire control systems and high speed weapons Rapid logistical deployment to crisis situations coupled with effective technological and social intervention
High speed, acceleration and deceleration Strategy: rapid policy making, decision-taking, and organizational responsiveness
High maneuverability Tactical: Able to change policy and practice rapidly to face changing circumstances

This mapping is clearly quite crude but nevertheless opens some interesting doors for comparison. For example, Boyd argues that in times of rapid change and uncertainty (i.e., when one is facing challenges of a faster tempo than one can make sense of), “it is advantageous to possess a variety of responses that can be applied rapidly” to achieve one’s goals.

This suggest having a diverse playbook for crisis response and wide range of skill sets and mental models ready at hand. To do so requires both top-down visionary leadership and emergent, bottom-up listening. He also argues that “cooperation and harmony of activities” are essential.

Finally he writes, “to shape and adapt to change one cannot be passive; instead one must take the initiative.” This highlights the essential component of agency in the face of uncertainty, which could be framed as being more proactive than reactive. This highlights one of the findings of the joint HFP / Tufts report on “Ambiguity and Change”, which was that to be successful, 21st century humanitarian organizations must achieve a paradigm shift and bridge the gap to sustainable development, not just “cleaning up” after the fact.

Put more simply and directly: the above comments leave one with the impression that variety/rapidity/harmony/initiative (and their interaction) seem to be key qualities that permit one to shape and adapt to an ever-changing environment.

Clearly this is of tremendous relevance to the HFP’s mission enhance the anticipatory and collaborative capacities of humanitarian organizations.

Complexity, collaboration, swarming, and the new politics of war

December 23, 2008

Inspired thinking on how 21st century guerilla groups are embracing principles of complexity, decentralization and collaboration to wage a new kind of warfare, with implications for humanitarian response strategy.

John Robb, author of Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization, provides some insightful insights into the dynamics of complexity and new collaboration techniques that are relevant to the humanitarian community.

In a recent post on emergent communities dedicated to war, he outlines how highly networked terrorist groups are taking advantage of complexity principles to achieve their aims. He notes that such groups are:

  • have little formal structure (are a nest of relationships)
  • have flexible membership (participants flow in and out based on their own personal goals and motivations)
  • are formed in relation to a shared, central purpose or belief.
  • What are the implications of this organisational style for humanitarian collaboration? There are obvious and important differences between networked terrorist organisations and humanitarian organisations, not lease of which is their purpose. Despite these differences, however, an understanding of the tactics, strengths, and weaknesses of this approach is desirable in order to more effectively operate in a sphere where such groups exist and wield power.

    Robb argues, for example, that these groups and their tactics are particularly effective against large, cumbersome systems such as centralised bureaucracies because they understand system dynamics and are able to leverage small actions against their weak points to great effect. 9/11, Mumbai, etc. are relevant examples. While it is unlikely that humanitarian agencies will adopt the organisational style of such groups, knowledge of how they think and operate may be essential to adapt and respond to their actions in the future. His post on on cascading systems failure, for example, identifies strategies and mechanisms for attacking critical infrastructure that any agency responsible for their protection must be aware of. Browse his site in more detail for an engaging read on the future of decentralised, networked collaboration.