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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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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AfrikaCamp Graz November 2011

Just a small pointer to an interesting event in Graz, Austria on November 26:

AfrikaCamp Graz will bring together people interested in Africa and IT to talk about projects, ideas and generally to network. We’ll definitely be there and maybe present lessons learned from our Zanzicode project or our upcoming project in Ghana.

It’s the second AfrikaCamp in Austria, the first took place in Vienna in 2009 and we did some coverage here on our blog – AfrikaCamp Vienna Aftermath.

So, if you’re in Austria at that time, make sure to join the AfrikaCamp.

What: AfrikaCamp Graz 2011

When: 26. November 2011

Where: Graz, exact location will be announced at the AfrikaCamp page

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AfrikaCamp Graz November 2011
was published on 14.09.2011 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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Mobile Applications: Case Studies and Business Model Analysis

Our partner the eDevelopment Thematic Group of the World Bank is coming up with an event on Mobile Applications: Case Studies and Business Model Analysis.

From the event page:

This global event will connect specialists and practitioners from countries across four regions to share the latest World Bank study on the use of mobile applications for the health sector and the agriculture and rural development sector. A 90-minute session is scheduled for each sector.

Case studies from Haiti, India, Kenya, The Philippines and Sri Lanka will be presented.

The date for the event is Thursday, January 21 from 8:00 to 11:15 a.m. Washington time.

The event can be watched online via webcast. The Twitter hashtag is #wbmapps. Here the Facebook event page.

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Mobile Applications: Case Studies and Business Model Analysis
was published on 19.01.2011 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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ICTD2010 – resume

ICTD2010 is over now and we’re happy we were there, joined the organizers and got a very special view from behind the curtains on the conference. We are still publishing interviews and are planning for an extensive wrap up of the whole four days, but as the impressions are still fresh it’s time for me to write a very personal resume on what I’ve seen and heard there, and what I think is relevant for the ICT4D field as a whole.

Interdisciplinary research field vs. Mainstreaming ICT4D

What I really liked at ICTD2010 was that there were sessions and workshops covering many different topics. Different sector-specific viewpoints on ICT4D were all invited to the conference. There were tracks on health, microfinance, environment, gender, open source and many more.

The conference organisers identified this openness to other disciplines as the main reason why there were so many people wanting to participate. They event had to close their online registration early as a result of this big demand. Approximately 580 people registered it to the conference in the end.

Naturally, this diversity led to interesting discussions and fruitful exchange (as far as I can judge). To me it seemed to be a consensus at ICTD2010 to view ICT4D as an interdisciplinary research field on its own.

This of course opposes the view of several donor organisations who want to mainstream ICT4D in their general development efforts (here Richard Heek’s case against mainstreaming ICTs in development). In the Donor Voices session at the conference this tendency was underlined once more, especially by representatives of the Swiss, Canadian and German development cooperation.

It remains to be seen how this will develop.

Practitioners vs. Researchers

A topic which was addressed at several sessions at ICTD2010 was the gap between ICT4D practitioners and researchers.

At the conference, therefore people with both backgrounds were invited and already in the opening panel of the first day, Tim Unwin challenged five renowned practitioners to share their views and to “tell us (the researchers) what they think we should be doing”. Responses called for “focus more on people’s needs”, “more critical thinking”, “make sure community ownership” , “not focus too much on technology and tools”, “a directory of organizations working and researching in the field”, “justification to be able to work in ICT4D” or “research on the regional contextual differences”. See a wrap up of the Opening Panel: Practitioners Perspectives here.

Generally at the conference many people stated that practitioners and researchers should find an appropriate language to share their expertise, so they can simplify life for each other. Furthermore the need for better documented projects as well as more engagement of researchers in the field was raised.

Sharing failure

An improvement which Anriette Esterhuysen identified in an interview we held with her was that “people are more willing now to talk about their failed projects”. Also, as is stated in the WWW foundation blog:

there were quite a few papers presenting failed initiatives. Failure can be as instructive as success. But as academic disciplines grow up, they become competitive for promotion and funding, and failure becomes shame.

This also fits with other recent initiatives to motivate people in ICT4D projects to publish their failure as well as their success (for example Mobileactive.org’s Failfare intitiative), as it’s people’s lives ICT4D projects are dealing with and repeating mistakes can have severe impacts.

Technology-driven vs. looking at the individual people’s needs

A very interesting sentence relating to this dilemma came from ICTD2010 programme chair Kentaro Toyama. Having swapped his position at Microsoft Research to the University of Berkeley recently, I asked him which differences between the two he noted in the approach to ICT4D. What he said was, that actually these different approaches to ICT4D drove him in the first place to take the position in Berkeley. At Microsoft Research he said, he was too much constrained to technology, which he considered not to be helpful in many cases (the complete interview with Kentaro Toyama here).

Many other voices also repeated the claim that “technology is not a silver bullet” and the need to look at the individual people’s needs. Kiss Abraham states in an interview we led with him that the focus on technology is de-humanizing the whole ICT4D debate and that much more research on the individual people’s needs and the changes technology brings to them is required. Ineke Buskens states in the same interview that researchers should keep in mind that real people with a purpose are behind all the research (complete interview with Ineke Buskens and Kiss Abraham here).

With our poster about “Stories from the Field: Mobile Phone Usage and its Impact on People’s Lives in East Africa” we were also addressed by a lot of interested people who said they were waiting for more research on such an individual level.

North and South

At ICTD2010 great focus was laid on bringing together researchers from “North” and “South”, to get away from the often-criticized approach to research FOR the target group, but not WITH them.

Furthermore, a very critical approach towards development was expressed. One very catchy quote on this topic was Geoff Walsham saying that development is not a final state, but we all are developing and that there is no need to consider countries of the “North” more developed than countries of the “South” (full length interview to be uploaded).

A novelty at ICTD2010 was the introduction of a Spanish track on the first day which was well attended. Dorothea Kleine said in our interview (full length interview to be uploaded) that conversations about ICT4D should be carried forward by different groups of people in different languages and that she hopes for more participation in languages other than English for future conferences.

Also Ineke Buskens tried to include French and Arabic speaking people in the ICTD2010 pre-confernce platform by translating several sent in texts to these languages.

Related to this, as was quoted by Whiteafrican and Afronline, the lack of ICT4D research by Africans was addressed. One paper (“ICTD Research by Africans: Origins, Interests, and Impact“) even specifically topicized the contributions of African researchers to the ICT4D debate. You can watch our interview with one of the authors – Paul Plantinga – at the ICT4D.at Youtube channel.

The decision to host the next ICTD conference in the Global North (Georgia Tech) was therefore heavily disputed and by some people regarded as a missed opportunity to bring ICT4D research back to the local, affected people. It must be stated though, that Georgia Tech obviously was the only university with a formal bid for ICTD2012, so the decision cannot be regarded as politically motivated.

Most of this is not new

An interesting and maybe worrying fact about the topics above, which I identified as substantial at the conference is that most of them are not new or just recently found out about.

We’ve all heard of that before, at conferences and events, in papers or news articles. As Tim Unwin states in our interview (part 2): “One of the things that probably sadden me most about the field is how little it has changed. We’re hearing much the same things we’ve heard for 3, 4, 5 years.”

Maybe the ICT4D field is still immature as is stated on the WWW foundation blog, maybe it is picking up slowly, or maybe the real decision makers – which are primarily the donors I would guess – don’t agree to the majority’s solution to the above mentioned topics as of yet. The “Voices of the donors” session at ICTD2010 suggests otherwise, but I’m curious if these “old” challenges will be resolved and new challenges will be identified until the next ICTD conference 2012, or if we’ll still be stuck with the current ones.

Comments on my musings are most welcome, for more and detailed information on ICTD2010 check the official conference page, Ismaels notes and the ICT4D.at Youtube channel.

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ICTD2010 – resume
was published on 23.12.2010 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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ICTD2010 – videos 2

Some more videos from ICTD2010 we’ve uploaded to Youtube in the mean time.

First day – opening panel:

First day – pre-conference platform session:

Third day – wrap-up:

Interviews are constantly being uploaded, so check the ICT4D.at Youtube channel or watch them here:

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ICTD2010 – videos 2
was published on 17.12.2010 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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ICTD2010 – videos 1

Here at ICTD2010 we are busy shooting videos, doing interviews, capturing, logging, rendering and uploading. It’s more work than we imagined, but here are the results of what we have so far produced:

First day – opening:

Second day – wrap up:

Interview with Charlotte Masiello-Riome (e-Agriculture):

Inteerview with Jenny Perry (Surveybe):

But what is still to come? We have taken a lot of interviews, here a short selection of material we have and which still needs to be post-produced and uploaded.

  • Interview with Dorothea Kleine
  • Interview with Ugo Vallauri
  • Interview with Tim Unwin
  • Interview with Patricia Mechael
  • Interview with Ineke Buskens and Kiss Abraham
  • Interview with Geoff Walsham and Kiss Abraham
  • Various other informative interviews with interesting people
  • Wrap up of sessions and presentations day 1, 3 and 4
  • Keynote speech of Sir Tim Berners-Lee
  • Various other sessions and presentations

Furthermore it’s just day three and we’re intending to gather material tomorrow as well.

So make sure to check out the ICT4D.at Youtube channel frequently or become a friend or follower to get notifications on the updates automatically.

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ICTD2010 – videos 1
was published on 15.12.2010 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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News on ICTD2010

As we are right now logging our extensive video material, here two links to blogs which already have written about the first day of ICTD2010 – and will probably continue to do so:

The hashtag for the whole event in #ICTD2010, so check http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23ictd2010 for frequent updates.

On these Youtube channels you find videos of the conference:

Our video with flashlights of the first day is soon to come – we’ll announce it here when we’re finished.

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News on ICTD2010
was published on 13.12.2010 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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