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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Insights and Impressions of the IFIP 9.4 Conference 2022

You know, I could have been in Lima (Peru). Slurping my fruit smoothie while relaxing on a sun bed. But due to the pandemic, travelling was and is still restricted. Therefore the IFIP 9.4 Conference was first postponed from 2021 until this year with the hopes of a face to face meeting. Different variants of the virus and uncertain developments led to it being held online and I managed to still slurp on my fruit smoothie in my own beach chair but in my not air-conditioned flat in Vienna while enjoying the keynotes, contributions, speeches and presentations of this year’s virtual conference.

The International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) has several technical committees. The working group 9.4 on the implications of information and digital technologies for development is dedicated to research and action on the social issues of sustainable development. This year’s conference topic was “Freedom and Social Inclusion in a Connected World”. 

Introduction and keynote speech

Professor Tim Unwin, with whom we at ICT4D.at had the pleasure to collaborate on various projects such as TEQtogether and DESC, gave the keynote speech. While warning the attendees that he might stir up some thought-provoking discussions, he intended to encourage us to think about the big issues and especially how we understand freedom, rights and responsibilities. His central argument was that we are all in danger of becoming enslaved by the digital barons and their knights. Our responsibility is to work to create ways through which people can break free from the “digital shackles with which they are bound.” Various forms of digital enslavement involve:

– Leasure time being exploited through the extension of the duration of labour

– addiction to the internet and especially social media

– gathering and analytics of user data

– governments enforcing the use of digital systems for government services, disregarding the population that is not connected and/or able to use digital media

– opportunities for mass-surveillance

Digital tech is now used primarily for economic growth. Those in power always used technology to their advantage to maintain their positions of power – why should now be different? Tim Unwin claims that digital barons maximise the exploitation of users of digital media and that freedom in the digital world is an illusion. You can find his insights here and the slides here

Global, local and everything in between

The programme of the conference contained various tracks – from digital platforms to government corruption, artificial intelligence, feminist and queer approaches, entrepreneurship for development etc. Besides the vast topic areas, the event was truly global, with participants from New Zealand, Nigeria, China, USA, Norway, Peru all continents were covered. 

The discourse focussing on inequalities and complexities of the digital world was already given by the circumstances of the conference itself. You were only able to participate if you had a working internet connection, which failed in several cases. Some of the presentations had to be postponed or held by other members of the team that were connected from a different place and device. My impression was also that the common finding of the research was that there are several approaches, but you have to be careful not to impose inputs from eurocentric contexts and to align with the life of those living in developing countries and/or communities. 37% of the world population never used the internet, while 96% of those reside in a so-called developing world. Data are never just a set of facts, but always very political. Governments and institutions make decisions and raise restrictions on what and how should something be done based on them. The technical aspects and the conceptualising are subject to the political and social environment, depending on factors such as morality, the point of power, interconnectivity, dependence… 

Personal impression

A very interesting topic for me personally was Katherine Wyers’ proposal to introduce a queer, trans-feminist, intersectional perspective in ICT4D research and practice. The phrase “to queer up the research” is forever embedded in my mind from now on. The ways how the binary system of software engineering can be disrupted are various.

The idea of “leaving no one behind” contains also the idea of economic inclusion. Hereby the focus of digital entrepreneurship moved away from just profit and shifted more to other values like the desire to promote local knowledge, the wish to become independent from external sources and strengthen local communities. There are different approaches to inclusion and some tensions arise when negotiations are necessary to balance the expectations of the funders (often international organisations with Eurocentric views) and the local ambitions, needs and preferences. To quote Andrea Jimenez and Christopher Fosters’ contribution loosely – inclusion needs a holistic way as a digital turn represents a continuation of some power and privilege structures, mirroring colonial histories and unbalanced representation in decision making.

Besides the interesting presentations, there was enough room to socialise due to round tables dedicated to certain topics and to speed networking, where you were connected to other people for a few minutes and then got switched to a new dialogue partner. All in all, it was a very informative conference for anyone interested in the topic of ICT4D.

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Insights and Impressions of the IFIP 9.4 Conference 2022
was published on 10.06.2022 by Sanja Cancar. It files under 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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One month teaching in India

A south Indian thali.
My first south Indian thali


The Idea: From Vienna to Andhra Pradesh

I study business informatics at the TU Wien (Vienna University of Technology). For my bachelor thesis with the working title “Enhancing the Resilience of Software Engineering Courses by Implementing Continuous Education using Smartphones exemplified by rural India” I created and taught a course for software engineering at a rural college in Andhra Pradesh, India in 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the safety measures – like college closures – the whole setting for the course was entirely remote.

So I was sitting at home in Vienna while the students joined from their homes in (mostly) Andhra Pradesh. The main challenge was to include all students as only half of them own a personal device like a laptop or desktop computer. Out of those, half had to share their devices with family members or friends. The rest of the students had only a smartphone available for learning, practising, and joining classes.

The goal to include everyone required the software engineering course to be created in a way that also the participants with only a smartphone can join in all activities like learning, practising, attending classes, and reviewing submissions.

Course overview: Modules and used Tools

The software engineering course currently consists of four modules for each year: We designed module 1 for students of the first year, the second for students of the second year and so on. They begin with learning how to use the keyboard properly using TypingClub and about concepts of computer programming using Scratch.

In the second module students start with basic concepts of Java programming using practical assignments, where they for example also have to solve tasks of the Java course on Sololearn. During the third module, they will learn concepts about object-oriented programming in Java and create their first bigger Java application during three iterations one a month each.

Additionally, they will get to know the basics of HTML, CSS and JavaScript by applying them to practical assignments and courses from Khan Academy. In the fourth module, students gain an understanding of the basics of software architecture and how to use a SQL database to store and retrieve data in Java. During this module, they have to work together in a two to three person team and use git together with GitHub to share their code.

Conducting the course: Adapting to connectivity issues and various devices

In order to make the teaching material available and to enable students to enter submissions, we used the learning platform Moodle. Moodle is responsive and adapts to the screen size of the students’ devices. For the Java assignments students used the Android application Java N-IDE. For the HTML, CSS and JavaScript tasks they used the Android application Spck Code Editor. Since internet connectivity is also an obstacle, both applications work entirely without any active internet connection.

After completing the exercises, students submitted the Java files to Moodle. For the HTML, CSS and JavaScript assignments, they used the web application trinket.io. An alternative to trinket.io was Spck Code Editor. Since Spck Code Editor did not require any active internet connection, students preferred Spck Code EditorZoom was used to conduct online classes and also for submission reviews with the students, which were about their submitted Java, HTML, CSS and Javascript code.

Sometimes technical issues like powercuts, bad or no internet connection at all, or other unrelated personal issues, prevented the students from attending online classes. Therefore the classes were recorded and uploaded to YouTube. Also most mobile internet data subscriptions of the students are limited to about 2GB per day, and they have to participate in online classes nearly all day long. Additional videos in which concepts of Java programming was explained were also recorded using OBS and uploaded to YouTube.

Currently: First experiences, challenges and festivities

I arrived at the Bengaluru International Airport in India on the 23rd of March 2022. The first experiences in India were a three hours long journey through the outskirts of Andhra Pradesh in the middle of the night to the place of the college and a really nice and heartly welcoming ceremony where I had the chance to meet and talk to the students for the first time, which I only met during remote sessions last year.

Candle lightning at the welcoming ceremony.
Candle lightning (this time with shoes) during the welcoming ceremony.

After a long time struggling to adjust to the new environment, especially wearing formal clothes during the hot Indian summer and being so far away from home for the first time, finally the classes started. Right now, I am teaching two classes of students, who are currently doing their BTech in Computer Science and Engineering at a college in rural Andhra Pradesh in their third and fourth year. During my first week teaching, Paul visited and helped me to prepare everything, to introduce me to everybody, and to kickstart the new semester.

Students of the third and fourth year.
Students of the 3rd and 4th year

Since there was a break for new students to join the software engineering course due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we planned to continue the course with students of the first year. During Pauls visit, we also conducted the entry assignment for the first year students of the college. Out of 66 students, we will start the first module of the software engineering course with 16 students.

Conducting the entry assignment for students of the first year
Conducting the entry assignment for students of the 1st year.

Besides that, currently classes for module 3 and module 4 are conducted once a week with three hours each. Due to the multicultural nature of India students often miss classes because they are involved in helping to organise and prepare various festivities that are currently going on. Sometimes students also have to leave to participate in interviews with companies for internships. Luckily for now there are no school closures and we can use the computer lab during the classes.

As mentioned above, another challenge is internet connectivity. Most of the time it is available, but sometimes there the connection is very, very, very… slow or there is no internet connection at all. Powercuts happen as well, but are very rare at the moment. The locals told me during the rainy season it will get worse, but I hope for the best. Another big hurdle for students without a personal laptop or desktop computer is that the internet in the computer lab is only available during the classes. When there are no classes, the internet for the computer lab is being turned off.

A possible solution could be to show students how to use USB tethering to access the internet on the computer, but then again they have to use data of their own mobile data subscription. Nevertheless, the classes are going on and I as well as the students are really motivated to continue teaching and learning with or without those challenges. I will keep you up to date in the next blog post in about a month.

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One month teaching in India
was published on 19.05.2022 by Raimund Rittnauer. It files under south asia
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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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YES WE CARE 2 – numbers & achievements

I remember a phone call in October 2018. Birgit, now member of our NGO, asked me if ICT4D.at wants to be part of an Erasmus+ funded project involving several countries on the African and European continents. The premise: Supporting and mentoring young social entrepreneurs and leaders from Namibia, Romania, Zimbabwe, North Macedonia, Mozambique and Austria and empowering them to solve societal challenges of their communities and to work for a better world.

Of course I felt immediately intrigued and so were the other members. After some calls with the partner organisations and internal meetings we decided to become part of this journey. We tried to plan ahead as profoundly as possible. We prepared for our trips and gathered ideas for workshops. And we were looking forward to meeting young social entrepreneurs and the teams of Mladiinfo and Young Africa in person. What we didn’t have in mind during our preparation phase though was a global pandemic.

Time to celebrate resilience

Three and a half years later YES We Care 2 recently reached the finish line. The project got quite a beating by COVID and all it’s strings attached. That means we had to cancel our plans in 2020 after the project was already up and running for a few months. It was possible to move workshops and meetings to online spaces of course. But the overall outcome of the project became uncertain and we weren’t able to organise real life meetings. Our goals seemed fall apart almost entirely. The organising teams therefore had to reset and come up with a new timeframe for the rest of the project. And they did a good job.

Despite the major setback and thanks to the commitments and organising work of the involved teams it is great to see that YES We Care 2 turned out to be a resilient undertaking in the end. We can now sum up certain milestones and show numbers and achievments reached within the last years:

  • 3 contact making seminars took place in Africa
  • 40 young people were skilled up on SE topics within the online events
  • 2 online trainings were held for educating young entrepreneurs on Sustainability and Communications
  • 24 social business and ideas were mapped in 6 countries
  • 11 videos of young social entrepreneurs and experts were created
  • The YWC2 website reached more than 6.300 users and gathered 14.000 page views (Feb 2019-Oct 2020)
  • And the YWC2 Instagram and Facebook pages gained a lot of traffic and interactions (Instagram: 390 followers, 71 posts; Facebook: more than 1600 fans and followers, 170+ posts which reached more than 50.000 people)

To celebrate the achievements I had the pleasure to create info graphics and illustrations that visualise the milestones and numbers of YES We Care 2. 🙂

Feel free to use and distribute the graphics considering the CC terms below.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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YES WE CARE 2 – numbers & achievements
was published on 04.03.2022 by Georg Steinfelder. It files under global
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ICT4D.at becomes first partner of the Digital-Environment System Coalition

Recently, we got contacted by Tim Unwin, current chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D and with which we had the pleasure to work with earlier. He had launched a new networking initative to collate knowledge about the entanglements and limitations where the digital and physical worlds encounter. This initiative is called the “Digital-Environment System Coalition” (DESC) and it is currently searching for supporters.

preliminary DESC logo

Why we need this coalition

Not only since the COVID-19 pandemic have we seen that digital technologies being touted as the solution for almost everything. But can they really ever be? Of course, given our human condition that is social by nature, physical meetings can never be fully replaced by virtual ones – but besides that there are also physical limitations to digitalisation, and the DESC initative tries to shed lights on the blind spots we have here. There has been extensive research on many aspects of the environmental impact of digital technologies, but much of this has been discipline specific. There remains no overarching holistic model or understanding of these impacts.

This initiative is fundamentally multi-disciplinary, cross-sectoral, international and policy oriented. It tries to engage academics, companies, civil society organisations, international organisations and governments. By doing that, we hope to have the scope to address the big issues necessary for crafting an appropriate holistic system model. The aim is to develop policy reports and publications with recommendations that help ensuring digital technologies in the long-term interests of citizens and planet earth.

ICT4D.at aboard!

As the first organisation we took the invitation to join the coalition with hopefully many to follow. We are looking forward to working together with researchers and practitioners from all different disciplines and backgrounds on enhancing our holistic understanding of the inter-relationships between digital technologies and the physical environment. Currently, the coalition is designing the framework we will work under, consolidates a steering group and starts with shaping working groups.

If you are interested in joining the Digital-Environment System Coalition as well, short expressions of interest can be submitted through the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s contact page.

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ICT4D.at becomes first partner of the Digital-Environment System Coalition
was published on 11.08.2021 by Isabella Wagner. It files under 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.


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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