ICT4D.at at The World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2022 discussing DESC and acting as a HLTF

The final week of the World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2022 (WSIS) from the 30 May to 3 June 2022 was held at the ITU Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The WSIS Forum 2022 represents the world’s largest annual gathering of the ICT for development community. I had the pleasure to attend four days, participate in a panel about our work with DESC and act as a High Level Track Facilitator.

The WSIS Forum hashtag with a heart
Source: The World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2022 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

DESC at the WSIS Forum 2022

Together with Tim Unwin, Knud Erik Skouby, Suay Melisa Ozkula/Oezkula and Carlos Álvarez Pereira I had the pleasure to discuss our current DESC initiative which we joined some time ago and is led by the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D. We had 45 minutes to discuss with the audience what Digital-Environment System Coalition stands for and what we aspire to work on over the next couple of years. We started to answer the question “why do we need to have a new way of conceptualising the interactions between digital and the environment?” and then invited the audience to discuss with us “what are the big questions that you would like DESC to address?”. A broad discussion started about:

  • Why the current IT industry is not sustainable at the core by the definition of their business models and how planned obsolescence is still deeply rooted in the industry.
  • The lack of regulation and consistent measurements in the digital world to ensure the longevity of devices and software as well as the right to repair.
  • Why we need a holistic approach to tackle the climate crisis and not excessive focus on carbon imprint alone as ITs are everywhere and touch all aspects of our planet. While being a big part of the problem, they could also be a part of the solution.
  • How many aspects of environmental impacts of the digital world are not even broadly discussed yet, such as outer space pollution.
  • How can we develop new standards, policies and regulations which have sustainability a the core, offer choice and ensure minimum environmental harm and maximum benefit.
  • How can we take back control from big software companies currently running and exploiting the internet and what decentralization and democratizing the internet again could mean for the environmental impact of the internet

If you are as well interested in these questions and can see yourself contributing to our coalition, then please send us a message to team up. As of today, we only have 7,5 years left to ensure our survival and we are running out of time.

High-Level Track Facilitator

I had the honour to act as a High-Level Track Facilitator (HLTF) and was nominated to moderate the High-Level Policy Session 11 titled “Cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content/Ethical Dimensions of Information and Knowledge Societies/Media/ICTs and Gender Mainstreaming”. The High-Level Policy sessions gather high-ranking officials of the WSIS stakeholder community, representing the government, private sector, civil society, academia and international organizations.

After several briefing sessions and preparations I welcomed on the third day several ministers, general directors, activists, CEOs and presidents with a broad spectrum of backgrounds and opinions, you can find the full list here. I must admit that at the beginning I was quite nervous as the panel consisted of renowned experts and/or panellists from the highest ranks of governments. After the first adrenaline rush, I started to very much enjoy moderating the session and it was delightful to hear all their opinions. Taking notes, summarizing their 5 minutes statements and ending the session on time was quite a captivating challenge.

After the session I only had a couple of hours to write a summary. The summary had to be submitted as soon as possible following the conclusion of my session to enable the secretariat to brief the chairman on the outcomes and finalize the WSIS Forum 2022 policy session outcome document. Afterwards I orally summarized session 11 and presented the results to the board of the chairman and I took the opportunity to take a stand for all the key statements underlined during my session. Furthermore, I had the pleasure to summarize the results of Session 11 in an interview you can watch here:

WSIS FORUM 2022 INTERVIEWS: Multi interview High Level Track Facilitators

Written Summary

Find here my written summary for the WSIS Forum 2022 policy session outcome document:

The high level policy session 11 entitled “cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content/Ethical Dimensions of Information and Knowledge Societies/Media/ICTs and Gender Mainstreaming” welcomed a diverse panel of experts mirroring the wide range of topics. The discussion and statements covered WSIS Action Lines C8, C9, C10 and C11 while contributing to SDGs 5, 9, 16 and 17.

Participants of session 11 actively promoted further tightening the collaboration of all member states of the United Nations. The discussed issues concerning the internet, online media, global ethical ICT standards and gender equality are a global phenomenon and can only be solved with close collaboration. Especially a focus on small and middle-sized countries should be encouraged, and their participation should be actively promoted, to allow them to participate on an equal level.

There was a broad consensus that current ICTs and the internet as such are not welcoming and not actively supporting culturally diverse content. It was stated that the world is getting more and more socially divided by culture and languages, especially on the internet. The main challenges for governments are the lack of investment for translations and the limited research conducted on local cultures and languages. Local content creators were several times stated as a way forward, which would grant more people access to local and relevant content. This would especially include the elder and younger generations who are currently widely excluded from accessing content online due to cultural and language barriers. Digital literacy, focused research on local cultures and further educational programs to promote local content creators are of the essence. Tools to work for all languages need to be developed and promoted.

Several panellists raised their concerns about the current state of freedom of speech, equal access to the internet, active censorship, internet shut-downs, freedom of expression and the quality of information online and in modern media. Quality content versus misinformation has become a serious challenge and people lack the essential digital literacy skills to distinguish between them. Only intensive trainings and awareness campaigns can counter the decrease of online quality content and how it is perceived.
Journalists are currently heavily under attack and are facing threats on- and offline, especially women and girls. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press must be ensured. The fragmentation of the internet, the so called Splinternet, is a growing concern and endangers a global internet where people can freely exchange information and connect. A shared belief that the internet must be open for everyone was underlined several times.

The gender digital divide was firmly discussed as the current COVID-19 pandemic exponentially increased online harassment. There is still a lack of data, but first evidence surfaced that ID theft, hate campaigns, sexual harassment, deep fake pornographies and other forms of harassment against women still heavily persist in the online world. It is of the essence to define all types of violence against women to make predators accountable for their crimes. Women and girls need a safe space online to freely express their thoughts, participate online and access quality content. Unfortunately many women are still not aware of their digital rights or are not able to execute them. Further awareness programs are needed to strengthen women’s rights online. Actions conducted by the panellists were local studies all over the world, developing policy guidelines, further promotion of women in ICTs and to create a coalition for safe internet access.

Concerns about ethical aspects of upcoming and current technologies were raised during most of the statements. The erosion of privacy and the lack of data ownership is an increased threat to free societies. Only a few companies are in control of future technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics or the metaverse and will dictate their rules upon their users. Online security, mass surveillance and the impact on businesses pose an additional challenge to the freedom of the internet. Decentralization of the internet to break the power of the big players and promote diversity must be on top of the agenda for the upcoming years.

Case Examples

– World Press Freedom Day Global Conference, Punta del Este, Uruguay organized by the UNESCO
– WSIS Forum 2022 Hackathon — ICTs for Indigenous Languages. ICTs for Preservation, Revitalization and Promotion of Indigenous Languages: Leaving no one behind, no one outside
– UN Women’s actions such as the International Girls in ICT Day 2022: Access and Safety or the Handbook on gender-responsive police services for women and girls subject to violence
– Infopoverty World Conference, The Digital Citizen: Duties and Rights to Build a Fairer Future Society
– EWA-Belt Project, Linking East and West African farming systems experiences into a BELT of sustainable intensification

It was truly an honour and a blast to act as a HLTF. I had a wonderful time with my HLTF colleagues and I would like to once more congratulate and thank the organizers of the WSIS forum for their outstanding work.

I wish that I could report more about all the other sessions at the WSIS Forum, but I was way too occupied with my HLTF duties and could not enjoy many other sessions. One of the few I listened to and I would like to highlight was Session 475: WSIS Gender Trendsetters. As part of WSIS’ work on gender mainstreaming, WSIS Gender Trendsetters have been appointed to act as trailblazers and take action in strengthening gender equality. I very much enjoyed their discussions and hope to hear from them in the future. See you in 2023!

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ICT4D.at at The World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2022 discussing DESC and acting as a HLTF
was published on 19.06.2022 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under Europe, global
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WSIS Forum 2022 & ICT4D.at

The annual World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2022 (WSIS) is reaching its final week from the 30th to the 3rd of June. The WSIS Forum represents the world’s largest annual gathering of the ICT for development community. In April I was delighted to be a panellist in the session “ICT’s opportunities and challenges in developing countries – an academic perspective” and you can rewatch it here.

In the upcoming final week I will not only participate in another panel on site in Geneva but was also nominated to be a High-Level Track Facilitator. I will moderate High-Level Policy Session 11: “Cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content/Ethical Dimensions of Information and Knowledge Societies/Media/ICTs and Gender Mainstreaming”. High-Level Policy sessions gather High-ranking officials of the WSIS Stakeholder community, representing the Government, Private Sector, Civil Society, Academia and International Organizations. On the 2nd of June ICT4D.at will team up with our partner organization the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D and host a WSIS TalkX Open Space Sessions about our current initiative DESC. We would be delighted to welcome you so please do not forget to register, here’s in short:

  1. Wednesday, 1 June 2022 11:00–12:00 (UTC+02:00) High-Level Policy Session 11: “Cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content/Ethical Dimensions of Information and Knowledge Societies/Media/ICTs and Gender Mainstreaming” – Register here
  2. Thursday, 2 June 2022 12:00–12:45 (UTC+02:00) WSIS TalkX Open Space SessionDESC at Exhibition Space, ITU Tower Building

I hope to see many you attending off- or online!

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WSIS Forum 2022 & ICT4D.at
was published on 26.05.2022 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under Europe, global
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Introduction to ICT4D – Online Guest Lecture at the TU Wien 2022

As a member of the research group INSO at the TU Wien (Vienna University of Technologies) I am once a year invited to give an introduction to ICT4D. The research group for Industrial Software (INSO) deals with the study of development and maintenance of software systems in practice. The presentation will be a part of their Beyond the Desktop lecture.
I will introduce participants to ICT4D, discuss projects & past research and I will give an overview of our activities at ICT4D.at. We are currently looking for students who are interested in participating in our projects or to start writing a thesis in the field of ICT4D.

For the third time due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the lecture will be online. Everyone is welcome to tune in:

Thursday, 24th March 2022, 17:05 – 19:00 (CET Vienna time zone)
Join via Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88911941592

The lecture will be in English language. See you there!

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Introduction to ICT4D – Online Guest Lecture at the TU Wien 2022
was published on 22.03.2022 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under Europe, global
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Introduction to ICT4D – Online Guest Lecture at the TU Wien 2021

As a member of the research group INSO at the TU Wien (Vienna University of Technologies) I am once a year invited to give an introduction to ICT4D. The research group for Industrial Software (INSO) deals with the study of development and maintenance of software systems in practice. The presentation will be a part of their Beyond the Desktop lecture.
I will introduce participants to ICT4D, discuss projects & past research and I will give an overview of our activities at ICT4D.at. We are currently looking for students who are interested in participating in our projects or to start writing a thesis in the field of ICT4D.

For the second time due to the Covid-19 outbreak will the lecture be available via an online conference. Everyone is welcome to tune in:

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 17:05 – 19:00 (CET Vienna time zone)
Join via Zoom by clicking here: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85874819852

The lecture will be in English language. See you there!

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Introduction to ICT4D – Online Guest Lecture at the TU Wien 2021
was published on 22.03.2021 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under global
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Building a SMS Based and Server-less Volunteer Conversation App for Civil Societies in Uganda

Many civil societies in Uganda have volunteers across the country. The volunteers are integrated into local communities and, among other activities, act as disaster reporters. Disasters include floods, landslides, disease outbreaks, hailstorms, accidents, and others. The current solution for disaster reports includes a web formula and a lot of communication between different levels of management hierarchy.

In many cases, existing web formulas cannot be used by the volunteers directly because of missing access to smartphones and/or the internet. Days can pass until information travels from volunteers to their regional manager and gets passed on to the head-quarter’s management. Even worse, communication is not only slow but information is sometimes lost. Therefore, faster and more direct communication would enable headquarters to act faster and more precisely on disasters.

Approach

My colleague Marlon Alagoda and myself Philipp Moser kicked-off the project in March 2020 together with Paul Spiesberger and Christoph Wimmer from the INSO, TU Vienna who established the connection to one of the local civil societies. This collaboration is a direct result of ICT4D.at’s engagement with the Austrian Red Cross and their engagement within the Skybird Programme. Our goal was to enable our new partner to act faster and more precisely on disasters.

To achieve this, we built an Android app that acts as a chatbot with an SMS interface. Volunteers are able to file disaster reports via SMS and managers can aggregate, filter, and view disaster reports. Furthermore, volunteers do not need an internet connection. Only the smartphone that hosts the app, must be connected to the internet. If a volunteer wants to start a conversation with the Volunteer Conversation App in order to file a report, he or she just sends an SMS to the smartphone. The content of the message could be: “Hi, my name is John and I want to report a flood.” Afterwards follow-up questions are sent to the volunteer until the report is fully collected.

All volunteers have the phone number of the smartphone that hosts the application. They can file a report by sending an SMS to that one phone. The smartphone transfers the input from the SMS to Dialogflow and gets the follow up questions from the same service, which are then sent back to the volunteer. All data is stored locally on the smartphone and can be exported to Google Drive. Everyone who has access to the Google Drive folder can access the data. Branch managers could also have access to the data and use their own tools to process it.  However, “live” alerts can only be seen on the smartphone itself.

Left: Phone of volunteer reporting; Right: the report in the application.

This idea is not new and many other SMS/text based services such as U-Report are already out there. Nevertheless, for us the biggest advantage of our solution is that there are no custom servers required to run our text based chat bot in comparison with other solutions (e.g. U-Report). Our goal is that anyone who wants to run a text based SMS chat bot to collect data from a group of people will just have to download our application to start the service and we are currently working on this vision.

Please feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions, if you are working in the same direction, see an opportunity for collaboration or/and know similar projects we could team up with. The application is not yet publicly available, but we develop our application as an open source project. We encourage you to check out the code base, file bugs/requests and contribute to the project.

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Building a SMS Based and Server-less Volunteer Conversation App for Civil Societies in Uganda
was published on 11.02.2021 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under east africa, Europe
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Technology and Education for the most Marginalised Post-COVID-19

A girl is taking a selfy while another girl is watching a video on a computer.
Image by the EdTech Hub

2020 has been a rough year. Everyone was impacted by the current global pandemic, many lost their beloved ones and an end to the crisis is still not yet in sight. As always, the ones who got most impacted by the crisis are the most marginalised in our communities. Millions lost their jobs with often no social safety net and the pandemic has disproportionately affected women workers [1]. Children and young adults were also profoundly impacted by the pandemic. The Wold Bank estimates that school closures due to COVID-19 have left over a billion students out of school. This results in a loss of 0.6 years of schooling adjusted for quality, bringing down the effective years of basic schooling that children achieve during their schooling life from 7.9 years to 7.3 years [2].

ICTs were prised as the solution and home schooling became the norm. This surfaced once more the darker sides of ICTs and how they amplify inequalities rather then reduce them. Students from privileged backgrounds could continue their education from home while having access to high-speed internet and their own devices, but many others were not so lucky. It is estimated that the pandemic threatens to push 72 million more children into learning poverty – meaning that they are unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10 [3]. Many teachers, parents and students were not prepared for this shift into the online world. Teachers and parents (mostly women) are truly, under many others, the heroes of this crisis. All of this also impacted my life and work:

  1. My humble try to learn the French language was interrupted and my language course was moved online. My professor simply said that she does not know on how to teach online and ended the course. I was lucky to find another group I could join. In the end this was not a problem, since I have a computer and internet at home, but it illustrated the unpreparedness of the education system.
  2. My Indian students were not so lucky. I was teaching computer science at an university in South-India. The course is a mix of online and offline hands-on programming – so there should not have been a problem, since I was already teaching online. But since the university was closed and all students went home, more than half of them lost their access to a computer. Fig. 1 illustrates the responses to questions I conducted at the beginning of the lock-down to find out if I can continue the course. 17 out of 25 responded and half of them have no computer at home. Back then I decided that I will pause the course, because I thought that the university will again open soon. This was a tough call, I did not want to exclude the students with no computers, but therefore I also had to end the training for those who could have continued.
Diagram of how many of my Indian students have a computer at home. Less than 50 have one at home.
Fig. 1 – Do you have a computer at home?

Guidance for governments on the use of digital technologies in education

Back then I discussed with Tim Unwin the global developments in education due to COVID-19 and he told me that he is currently in progress of starting a new report. He was so kind to accept my request to join his team, since I was eager to work on the topic: Technology and Education for the most marginalised Post-COVID-19. We started working and I joined the core team:

  • Alicja Pawluczuk (UNU Institute in Macau)
  • Azra Naseem (Aga Khan University, Pakistan)
  • Christopher Yoo (Univeristy of Pennsylvania, USA)
  • Mohamed Shareef (Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology, Maldives)
  • Paul Spiesberger (Chair of ICT4D.at, Co-Head of BRIC at INSOTU Wien, Austria)
  • Paul West (Creative Commons Chapter, South Africa)
  • Tim Unwin (UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, UK)

We also had a distinguished panel of advisors and support from the EdTech Hub. The report was funded by DFID (now FCDO) and the World Bank through their EdTech Hub. The aim was to create a report for governments to advise them on how to use technologies in their education systems. Not in short terms, but rather post COVID-19 to prepare for the next catastrophe and make our education systems more resilient in the long run. Back then we saw many ICT education implementations done in haste and not thought through. For us the most important was a clear focus on the most marginalized to counter inequalities and an easy read for higher government officials in the form of two pager guidance notes.

Our work began in June 2020 and drew largely on an extensive consultation process to identify the main priorities on which our report should concentrate. We worked with groups from Civil Society and International Organisations, the Private Sector, Governments, UN Agencies and Academics, as well as regional consultations from Africa, Asia/Pacific/Middle East and the Americas to help shape our recommended priorities [4].

Tim orchestrated in 9 thematic online session discussions and the creation of mindmaps. We tried to support him as best as possible. In total, 43 women and 44 men from 34 countries contributed to our thoughts in crafting the report and guidance notes. You can find all mindmaps here licenced under the Creative Commons CC BY Licence.

Example of a mindmap from one of the online sessions.
Example of a mindmap from one of the online sessions.

These mind-maps can be summarised in the word map below prepared by myself, which represents the frequency of words included in all of these mind-maps.

Out of the consultations, we found that there are five things that a government must do once a holistic vision has been crafted that is committed to using digital technologies to create a resilient education system that provides education and learning for all [5]:

  1. Create a whole society approach that delivers equity in education.
  2. Enable access for all to digital technologies by providing resilient funded infrastructures for learning, funded by Central Government rather than Ministries of Education.
  3. Be context-specific at all times, especially in terms of the technologies used in education and the content crafted for learners.
  4. Ensure that appropriate pedagogies are used in the practices of teaching and learning.
  5. Use digital technologies wisely and safely.

The report consists of 3 acts [5]:

  1. Act One is intended primarily for the most senior government officials and contains a summary of the report’s approach and main recommendations. 
  2. Act Two provides the detailed exposition, arguments and evidence upon which these recommendations are based, and is intended primarily for those in government who are charged with implementing them. 
  3. Act Three contains 14 Guidance Notes which provide succinct advice on delivering important distinct aspects of the overall report.

I had the honour to contribute to Guidance Note 3: Digital technologies and girls’ education. Georg Steinfelder and I then also worked on creating an audio track of the guideline, you can listen to it here.

The report launched on the December 18, 2020 and I am proud that I could contribute to its creation. I encourage you to read and discuss our results. You find the the report here at its official website and you can read more about the creation here.

It is somewhat a contradiction that I spent half of 2020 in my apartment and still did not find the time to write about this report earlier. I wish for 2021 that this reports gets into the hands of many decision makers around the globe, that we together defeat this virus once and for all and that I will find more time to share work that is as inspiring as this report. I am grateful to Tim and my team colleagues for giving me this opportunity and wish all of you a Happy New 2021!

[1] UN News, “Hard times forecast for global job recovery in 2020, warns UN labour agency chief”, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/06/1067432
[2] World Bank Group on Education, “Simulating the Potential Impacts of the COVID-19 School Closures on Schooling and Learning Outcomes: A set of Global Estimates”, June 2020
[3] World Bank Press Release, “Pandemic Threatens to Push 72 Million More Children into Learning Poverty—World Bank outlines a New Vision to ensure that every child learns, everywhere”, December 2, 2020 https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/12/02/pandemic-threatens-to-push-72-million-more-children-into-learning-poverty-world-bank-outlines-new-vision-to-ensure-that-every-child-learns-everywhere
[4] UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, “Technology and Education for the most marginalised Post-COVID-19”, https://ict4d.org.uk/technology-and-education-post-covid-19/
[5] EdTech Hub, “Education for the most marginalised post‑COVID-19, Guidance for governments on the use of digital technologies in education”, https://edtechhub.org/education-for-the-most-marginalised-post-covid-19/

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Technology and Education for the most Marginalised Post-COVID-19
was published on 03.01.2021 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under global
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RISE, INSO & ICT4D.at – A Strategic Partnership

Over the last years we implemented several projects and initiatives with the Vienna University of Technology and the Research Industry Software Engineering GmbH (RISE). Our biggest and longest collaboration was within the ICT4DMZ project where INSO, the research group for Industrial Software was our scientific partner. I work with RISE as a mobile software developer and am the co-head of BRIC, a research group at INSO where I regularly teach and conduct my research in the context of ICT4D. Other members also have connections to INSO or RISE and back in 2008 two out of three founding members were part of INSO.

Our shared story goes way back to our roots and recently we once more started a new project. This time RISE, as a software company, takes over the part of developing software within this collaboration. We as ICT4D.at do develop and maintain small open source software projects, but we do not have the resources to implement large scale software project. Most of our members contribute to our cause in their spare time and everyone who already developed software knows that it takes serious efforts to go live and have happy users. Furthermore, ICT4D.at also does not want to professionally develop software. We see our engagement within the ICT4D movement, we have insights, we connect, we plan & support others, we teach & reflect on the wise use of technologies for the most marginalized. We do not develop software, we develop the ideas behind the technology in respect of its context and foremost implications.

In the last couple of months we as RISE, INSO and ICT4D.at decided to take the next step and formalize our partnership. We signed a strategic partnership where RISE & INSO will support our engagement. We continue with having INSO as our designated scientific partner and RISE as our preferred software development associate. Our triangle of research, software development and ICT4D simply got stronger while we still maintain our freedom and openness to collaborate with others. We deeply thank RISE & INSO and are grateful for their support. These are exciting times for us, we are growing, expanding and new opportunities are ahead! Reach out to us if you would like to know more or are interested in joining ICT4D.at.

Logos of RISE, INSO and ICT4D.at

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RISE, INSO & ICT4D.at – A Strategic Partnership
was published on 24.10.2020 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under global
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AnitaB.org and TEQtogether online workshop: Changing men’s attitudes and behaviours towards women and technology

May 26, 2020 · 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm BST register here.

AnitaB.org and TEQtogether present an online workshop that aims to help men rethink what more they can do to help empower women in and through digital technologies. In the past ICT4D.at partnered up with TEQtogether to work together to change men’s attitudes about women and technology.

Join Professor Tim Unwin,  Dr Elizabeth Quaglia. Dr Chux Daniels and Paul Spiesberger on May 26, 2020 · 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm BST for an online workshop about Changing men’s attitudes and behaviours towards women and technology.

Find further information here and do not to forget to register in advance since spaces are limited.

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AnitaB.org and TEQtogether online workshop: Changing men’s attitudes and behaviours towards women and technology
was published on 13.05.2020 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under Europe, global
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ICT4D Online Guest Lecture at the TU Wien

As a member of the research group INSO at the TU Wien (Vienna University of Technologies) I am once a year invited to give an introduction to ICT4D. The research group for Industrial Software (INSO) deals with the study of development and maintenance of software systems in practice. The presentation will be a part of their Beyond the Desktop lecture.
I will give an introduction to ICT4D, discuss projects & past research with the students and I will give them an overview of our activities & projects at ICT4D.at. We are currently looking for students who are interested in participating in our projects or to start writing a thesis in the field of ICT4D.

For the first time due to the Covid-19 outbreak will the lecture be available via an online stream. Everyone is welcome to tune in:

Thursday, 23th April 2020, 17:00 – 19:00 (Vienna time zone)
Join via Zoom by clicking here: https://zoom.us/j/541201875

The lecture will be in English language.

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ICT4D Online Guest Lecture at the TU Wien
was published on 21.04.2020 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under Europe
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The Skybird Programme: Innovation and partnerships in WASH for improved living conditions in East Africa

Over the last year we established a partnership with the Austrian Red Cross to team up in one of their current projects called Skybird funded by the Austrian Development Agency. The Austrian Red Cross together with its partners embarked on a 5-years regional WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) capacity strengthening programme in East Africa. It is the overall aim of The Skybird Programme to contribute to improved living conditions – including health, environment and livelihood – in East Africa through increased innovation, strengthened capacities and partnerships of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (RCRC) movement in WASH and related fields to enable more gender sensitive and effective WASH service delivery.

The Skybird Logo

Geographic program priorities: The Skybird Programme targets the East African region, with specific focus on Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Somalia and Uganda:

Map of the geographic programme priorities

Technical WASH knowledge was provided by representatives of the national WASH teams as well as through Austrian Red Cross WASH advisor Magdalena Bäuerl. Another key activity in the project is the implementation of micro-projects awarded to WASH priority branches of Ethiopia and Uganda Red Cross Society as well as other selected Red Cross National Societies in East Africa to foster innovation and collaboration. Although primarily WASH focused, the micro-projects will also explore the following related topics:

  1. Gender, diversity and inclusion
  2. Food security, nutrition and livelihood
  3. Digitalisation
  4. Cash Transfer Programs (CTP) and marked-based interventions
  5. Urban WASH
  6. Climate change and green energy
  7. Community engagement and accountability

Two workshops in Uganda and Ethiopia were implemented between the 11th and 20th February 2020. They invited national and international specialists for each of the related topics. We, ICT4D.at, represented by myself (Paul) were covering the digitalisation part. The specialists had the task to bring in new aspects and ideas into the Red Cross to break their patterns and think a bit outside of the box. The two workshops were split into two phases and Red Cross members from all over the country gathered in their respective capital city to participate in the workshop.

Workshop in Ethiopia (by @chriskloyber)

Phase 1

Phase 1 was focusing on defining problems in the regions where the Red Cross is active. It was quite interesting to hear Red Cross workers describe first hand problems people in Uganda and Ethiopia face, since they work on the front lines every day. The problems range from

  • Food shortage & nutrition
  • Lack of income, inefficient agricultural techniques & tools
  • Unreliable weather conditions, floods & climate crises
  • School dropouts – especially young women caused by a lack of sanitary pads
  • HIV/Aids infections
  • Deforestation
  • Illiteracy
  • Teenage pregnancy
  • Lack of toilets/latrines
  • Minor citizen rights
  • Gender inequality
  • High crime rates & rape
  • Soil infertility
  • Lack of fresh drinking water
  • Single mothers with no support
  • Alcohol & drug abuse
  • Informal settlements with no legal validity
  • Domestic violence on a daily basis.

Christian Kloyber then guided the participants through a Process of Design Thinking. Each local Red Cross branch chose one of their most pressing problems and started to generate ideas on how to tackle them. Tools as negative thinking or brain-writing pool were introduced to the participates and many ideas were generated. This was also the moment where the specialists stepped in. We were moving from table to table to bring in our expertise. I tried to spice up the ideas with ICT4D approaches and proposed technologies to support their cause and ideas. This was quite challenging, since many of them rarely thought of using ICTs as a tool in their daily work. Some already got in touch with application such as Kobo or mobile money, but never thought of going beyond. I talked with them about data can empower communities and how for instance Ushahidi is visualizing citizen activism, how iWalkFreely is fighting against woman harassment, weather forecasts via SMS can change the way farmers work and how Farmerline is supporting them via mobile technologies. How health workers use decision trees on mobile phones to pre-diagnose diseases, how voice based mobile phone games can educate the illiterate and how mobile saving groups / micro financing apps can empower women to be more independent. Over the first 2 days we developed first ideas on how to tackle their problems.

The working groups from the different regions in Uganda focused on the following aspects:

  • IGANGA: improve hygiene and sanitation through mobilizing communities through sensitization and setting-up sanitation facilities.
  • MOROTO: manage waste through community engagement in green energy and setting-up waste management centre.
  • KAMPALA SOUTH: Capacity building for entrepreneurs through waste management through collecting waste for recycling and reselling as well as starting gulper businesses and using a phone app to sell products.
  • LIRA: communal farming and family farming through mechanization of agriculture, collectively purchasing modern tools, involving the entire household to increase production and promoting digitalization to ease access for market information as well as promoting family incentives to motivate them and encourage trading in farming unions.
  • NTUNGAMO: equipping single mothers with the right knowledge to be assertive through sensitization campaigns about dangers of female pregnancy and the importance of keeping girls in schools as well as empowering single mother.
Red Cross participants in Kampala with their trainers

Working groups from Ethiopia ended the first 2 days with the following set of ideas:

  • SOUTH OMO: introduce alternative source of energy, easily accessible, avoid deforestation (forest is source of energy and income); provide alternative forms of energy including solar and stoves or Wonderbags; ecotourism; diversifying income generating activities e.g. bee keeping, poultry.
  • ADDIS: focus area are non-official settlements of refugees. Different type of payment system for post or pre-paid using mobile system to afford water, engage the private sector to be attracted to the area and provide information on the location of the service provider; use of mobile money; pipeline extension.
  • BENISHANGUL: feedback mechanism and information for the public regarding (water) services. The community needs to be able to access information and file complaints; Show why something is still broken – show where the spare part currently is e.g. DHL tracking and causal change; advocacy for the water user committee so that they start working.
  • BAHIR DAR: market area with a lack of hygiene facilities – combine a latrine with some source of income e.g. coffee shop so that the latrine can afford income; use of biogas; also add shower services; linked to next level of disposal treatment;
  • WEST ARSI: introduce and promote energy saving stoves and biogas, promote gender equity. Provide agricultural inputs, establish and maintain water infrastructure.
Red Cross participants, specialists and their trainers in Addis Abeba

Phase 2

The last two days were headed by Michaela Pichler. Since more than 12 years Michaela is developing, writing and implementing international project with the Austrian Red Cross. She shared her profound knowledge and experience with the participants over a 2 days workshop in a very joyful and fun manner. She took the results/ideas from the first 2 days and guided the participant to order them in a structured way.

We started to frame our overall goal and went back to the problem statements. What is the thing we are working on and what is the overall goal each group has? After our overall goal was set, we moved on to define our specific objective(s) – so how are we contributing with our idea to the overall goal? We described our expected results and which activities are necessary to achieve these results to contribute to a specific objective and the overall goal. This structured path gave the participants good tools to plan, describe, evaluate and reflect on their ideas. On the last day we discussed logframes and how indicators help to determine what progress has been made towards achieving the objectives in the logframe.

All the training on creative thinking and on the development of a proper project application had a deeper purpose than just an improved future project application writing. The actual goal was to prepare the participants for Phase3 in the Skypbird project where they will have to apply the tools they learned in Phase 1 & 2.

Phase 3

We are currently in March 2020 and therefore in the middle of Phase 3. Red Cross members in East Africa are now starting to compete against each other in a competition for the best micro-project ideas. They will have to find problems in their area of action, find creative solutions and then write them down in form of a project application. Phase 1 & 2 prepared them with the tools they need to do so. The competition will happen within the Red Cross only. Over the next couple of weeks the Skybird organizers in collaboration with their specialists will review the project proposals and choose the best applications. The winners will get a budget to pilot their ideas and implement their project. I am very exited about the ideas coming in and we are looking forward to review and continue working with the Austrian Red Cross in Eastern Africa.

Icons, logos and picture credits: Austrian Red Cross

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The Skybird Programme: Innovation and partnerships in WASH for improved living conditions in East Africa
was published on 12.03.2020 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under east africa
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