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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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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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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Introduction to ICT4D at TU Wien

Tomorrow I will give a shot introduction to ICT4D at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien). I got invited by the Department of Geodesy and Geoinformation to contribute to a round of guest lectures of TU researches who implemented in the past related “Projects in Development Aid”. I will talk about our ICT4DMZ project, a current project in India and as well as give an overall introduction to ICT4D.

I will also not be alone, since I invited Christoph Derndorfer to take over the part about OLPC. He is the editor of OLPC News and will share with us his lessons learnt from over a decade of OLPC. You shouldn’t miss that!

Venue: Freihausgebäude (Wiedner Hauptstr. 8) – grüner Bereich, 2. OG, Raumnummer: DA02F16
Date & Time: 17.12 2019, 18:00

Everyone is invited to join the discussion.

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Introduction to ICT4D at TU Wien
was published on 16.12.2019 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under Europe
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2019 Vision Meeting

Two weeks ago we had our 2019 Vision Meeting and General Assembly in Linz. We sat down for two days to re-shift the direction of our NGO and reflect on the past year. Many new challenges arose in the past and new opportunities are ahead. After 10 years, we decided to revamp our legal framework, since we would like to update it to our changed needs and visions. We will do so in an internal and open discussion to all members. We are very happy to welcome Sanja as our newest member. Current and past project were put on the agenda and we used the time to work on some pressuring tasks. Sometimes working physically in the same room has some benefits overall. It was an intensive work-weekend, besides all the fun, discussions, drinks and, lets just call it “team building”.

We also covered the legal requirements for an Austrian NGO and I presented the 2019 budget, which was accepted by all the attending members. Furthermore, Georg was re-elected as the vice-chairman and myself was re-elected as the chairman of ICT4D.at (6 in favour, 0 against, 2 abstain). We both would like to express our gratitude for the trust they put in us and we hope that we will be able to live up to their expectations. Bella and Florian were accepted by all attending members as the new internal financial accountants/auditors.

We are planning new projects and are looking forward to continue working together. If you would like to be part of our small group of engaged people, then please do not hesitate to reach out to us. We are open to anyone with any skills and you can simple tune-in to one of our calls.

Members of ICT4D.at at the Vision Meeting
Left to right: Álvaro, Florian, Bella, Georg, Sanja, Paul & Chloé

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2019 Vision Meeting
was published on 15.10.2019 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under Europe
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The Whitsun Dialogues: Digital Europe. No borders, no limits?

Source: http://www.pfingstdialog-steiermark.at/en/

In the beginning of June at the picturesque Seggau Castle in Austria over 400 experts, academics and professionals attended the “Geist & Gegenwart” Whitsun Dialogue to talk about digital Europe. Our partner organization “European Youth Award” was also invited within the scholarship programme.

The various presentations, panel discussions and workshops dealt with a broad range of topics and tried to address the most pressing questions of our times – how to deal with ethical, philosophical, democratic, economic, social… achievements in times of digitalization. Does the idea of a boundless society threaten our humanistic ideal? Can Europe compete with the American monopolistic private companies and how to loosen our dependency on them? Will we be able to use the countless opportunities digitalization and artificial intelligence offer us in a responsible way?

The prestigious event started on the first day, 5th of June, with interactive workshops for the scholars. As you can imagine a broad range of interdisciplinary and international exchange of experience and knowledge happened. My personal highlight was a presentation by the digital pioneer Tim Cole, who compared the big four (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) and their market dominating, seemingly endless power to the four horsemen of the apocalypse. His call for action included everybody, because “if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem“.

The second day began with forums about Europe’s competitiveness and artificial intelligence, followed by workshops about current and future developments:

  • Mobility of the future
  • Digitalisation in healthcare
  • Security in a digital Europe
  • Information and manipulation in the democratic discourse
  • Culture and media – digital and analogue worlds
  • Transformation of job profiles and the economy
  • Digitalisation in production – killing jobs or safeguarding employment locations?
  • Trust in technology

Charlotte Stix, an expert on artificial intelligence, emphasised the necessity for ethical principles and a global perspective since AI and digitalisation know no national borders.

“The concept of Europe entails addressing and preserving fundamental rights and values. These should also influence the digitalisation of our world and the development of artificial intelligence (AI). If that happens, Europe can develop into a leading force: AI with people at the centre.”

Source: http://www.pfingstdialog-steiermark.at/en/charlotte-stix-01-2/

The evening was crowned by a interview of Peter Sloterdijk, who basically stated that we live in the “best of all times” and that people tend to confuse potential risks with real dangers. He gave valuable insights, but ended on a slightly controversial note at the end where he stated that the rising of anti-semitism was due to alarmism. In protest several people left the room. You could argue that his claim for the need of discussion and nowadays “non-willingness” to debate were proven to be right, but I also recommend to read the reaction by the Jewish newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine.

The last day was finished with keynote speeches about the ethics of the digital discourse (and by a last jump in to the pool at the hotel).

Overall my impression is mixed. While a „high-caliber interdisciplinary and international sharing of experience“ with „new insights and perspectives, knowledge“ was promised, I would have welcomed more diversity on the stage – especially with that topic in mind. The event was driven by a kind of technic and future pessimistic view, bearing a lot of fears and possible threats. Only a minority of the speakers shared an inspiring atmosphere when they focused on the chances, hopes and necessities.

You could see there was a big “digital divide” between the old and the young – or to be more accurate the “old worldviews” vs. the “new worldviews”. That is probably the reason why I enjoyed the first day the most where the students and young academics debated in interactive workshops.

Also the topic of ethics in digital era is crucial, the catholic church representing those values not so much. Again – a more diverse approach would have been much appreciated.

The event turned out to be a great networking opportunity though. We even got to meet the Regional Governor of Styria Hermann Schützenhofer:

The prestigious biennially event is hosted by the Styrian Government in cooperation with the Diocese Graz-Seckau and the Club Alpbach Styria.

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The Whitsun Dialogues: Digital Europe. No borders, no limits?
was published on 23.07.2019 by Sanja Cancar. It files under Europe
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ICT4D Guest Lecture at TU Wien

I am a member of the research group INSO at the TU Wien (Vienna University of Technologies). The research group for Industrial Software (INSO) deals with the study of development and maintenance of software systems in practice. I got invited as a guest lecturer next week as part of their Beyond the Desktop lecture. I will give an introduction to ICT4D, discuss projects and past research with the students and I will give them an overview of our activities and projects at ICT4D.at. We are currently looking for students who are interested in participating in our projects or start writing a thesis in the field of ICT4D at the TU Wien. Everyone is welcome to pass by and join in:

Thursday, 13th June 2019, 16:00 – 18:00 at GM 4 Knoller Hörsaal (1060 Wien, Getreidemarkt 9, Hoftrakt, Stiege IV, 2. Obergeschoß).

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ICT4D Guest Lecture at TU Wien
was published on 07.06.2019 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under Europe
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