One member of the above-capacity audience at the Jaffna Managers’ Forum event on “Online freelancing as a gateway to the service sector” wanted to know why we were not providing detailed, how-to instructions on the use of Fiverr and similar platforms. He appeared to have trouble with the concept of a think tank that was simply raising awareness based on research findings, which had nothing to sell. Suthaharan Perampalam, who did the heavy lifting on this first initiative of the dissemination of the findings of our inclusive information society project, responded along with the Leader of the Opposition of the Northern Province legislature, Mr Thavarajah, and the questioner was satisfied. The starting point of our dissemination effort in Jaffna was the low level of awareness of online freelancing in the Jaffna District (19%) versus 26 percent awareness for the entire country and over 40 percent in the Wayamba Province. Jaffna has always been known for its emphasis on learning.
The two-day workshop (Oct 17 & 18, 2016) in Moratuwa, invited Sarvodaya members from Batticaloa, Colombo, Gampaha, and Kegalle Districts. These participants have first-hand experience responding to the 2016 Western floods & landslide and the 2015 Northeast floods, in Sri Lanka. The objective was to share their tacit knowledge on taking a holistic and practical approach to responding to crises. Then give them the tools to analyze the experience to develop the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) themselves. To that end, we applied community engagement social practices methods for analyzing the knowledge to realize the design parameters for developing the Sarvodaya Disaster Response SOP.
I was invited to speak to the staff of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Seville last Tuesday (11th October 2016). Their colleagues from Ispra, Italy joined in via video conference as well. I talked about LIRNEasia’s experiences and lessons in leveraging big data for public purposes. The slides that I used are available HERE.
We have been engaging with local universities from the start of our big data work, not just to source researchers and collaborators, but also to broaden the horizons of students. That big data can be leveraged for public purposes is not something that they had previously thought of till we arrived on the scene. This week (18th October 2016) we continued those efforts, conducting a lecture for students at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura on our ongoing big data for development research. The slides are available HERE.
LIRNEasia in partnership with the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) convened a two-day workshop to discuss a ‘research and policy agenda on big data for sustainable development in the Global South.’ The workshop held in Madrid on the 8th and 9th of October 2016, was a side event of the International Open Data Conference 2016.  The objective of the workshop was to brainstorm ways of establishing Southern-led network to tackle some of the emerging opportunities and challenges in the use of big data in developing countries. The workshop explored a variety of issues around leveraging big data to tackle sustainable development. These include issues around representativity and marginalization, researching harms (competition, privacy, surveillance), researching solutions (legislation, regulation, ethics), and addressing challenges in relation to developing research capacity, accessing data and influencing policy.
It appears that Govt of India is excited about the digital India, specially the use of social media. Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Col Rajvardhan Rathore who released the book entitled, ‘India Connected’. In his short speech he highlighted the importance of social media and how its impacting the governance and other related industries. Looks like the minister is a nice and warm person and would be interested in listening to researchers. The edited book covers all possible areas of ICTs in India and makes an interesting read for beginners.
LIRNEasia has worked with Sarvodaya, one of Sri Lanka’s well-established community-based organizations, since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. As part of our HazInfo project, they established a disaster response unit and embedded resilience as part of their work plans and training. They had come to think that the government would take the lead in providing immediate assistance in the aftermath of a disaster because a Ministry focused on disaster management had been established and the various entities under it active. The urban flood disaster that hit the lower reaches of the Kelani river made them rethink their stance. The government response was seen as slow and ineffective.
Ideally, we would have had findings. But we are in the middle of research, so what we can present is work in progress: problems that have been faced; those that have been solved; those we’re still working on; etc. Hopefully, once we get our hands on the needed epidemiological data we will present findings in a few months. We are grateful to the incoming President of the Commonwealth Medical Association, Professor Vajira Dissanayake, for creating this opportunity for us. The presentation was made at a session chaired by Dr Hasitha Tissera, the Head of the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health.
Yesterday, while I was moderating a panel on ICT policy and regulation, SDGs and inclusion at IIC 2016 in Bangkok, I was surprised to hear from a speaker representing the Alliance for Affordable Internet that “six billion people were without access to broadband.” I wrote it down. In subsequent comments I said the six billion number was “arguable.” The Facebook supported “State of Connectivity 2015” Report (prepared with the participation of A4AI as well as the ITU) states that 3.2 billion people (43 percent) were Internet users.
I and many others have been critical about the performance of universal service funds. One of the main criticisms has been their inability to efficiently disburse the collected funds. Having USD billions stagnating in these funds does not make any sense. In previous comments I have simply referred to the massive accumulations in the Indian and Brazilian funds, but I always thought it would be a good idea to develop an index. The data are not always easy to get a hold of, but we are proposing an index, or actually two.
I hope to write more about the insightful discussions at the workshop convened by LIRNEasia and CIS. For now, here are the slides I used to frame the discussion on Harms from Surveillance, (In)security, and impacts upon Privacy and Competition. Image source.
The longer it takes to get rolling, the more questions are likely to be asked about its prospects. Coming into a saturated market requires an edge. It appears that the secret sauce is the Military affiliated co-owner who has infrastructure in place, enabling a fast rollout. U Soe Naing, director of the ministry’s Posts and Telecommunications Department, told The Myanmar Times that the fourth telco’s licence application would be “done in two months if everything goes smoothly”. The new telco will face stiff competition from state-owned incumbent MPT, and established foreign firms Telenor and Ooredoo.
IIC is an organization that provides a platform for discussion of ICT policy and regulation with a specialized focus. They are spending a week in our neck of the woods, Bangkok. The main conference will be on October 12-13. Here are the two sessions I am participating in on Day 1. SESSION 2: LINKING ICT POLICY AND REGULATION WITH SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS AND INCLUSIVE GROWTH – WHAT MUST BE DONE DIFFERENTLY TO ALLEVIATE OBSTACLES TO UNIVERSAL CONNECTIVITY AND ACCESSIBILITY?
The first session of the big data research workshop focused on what has been done with big data in a development context. To me, one of the most striking points was made by Josh Blumenstock of Berkeley. He showed the time since the last census in a number of countries in Africa (I think the highest was 35 years) and asked how development could be done without this basic knowledge base. Of the countries that we are engaged with, he included only Afghanistan, which has not had a census for decades for understandable reasons. I checked when Pakistan had last conducted a census.
Unlike an earlier media report in a government newspaper that I could not make head or tail of, this report zooms in on the controversial. No mention whatsoever of the subject of the keynote, but a fair summary of what I said in response to a question from the floor on government getting back into the provision of telecom infrastructure services. Journalism still lives in Sri Lanka. Government should focus on creating fiscally responsible policy certainty, rather than providing telecommunication services wholesale or retail by itself, an expert opined recently. Founding Chair of LIRNEasia and former telecoms regulator Professor Rohan Samarajiva pointed out that the Government needs to prioritise its investments in the areas of healthcare, children and education rather than putting money into areas where there is available private investment.
With support from the International Development Research Centre of Canada, LIRNEasia and the Center for Internet and Society are today convening a meeting of researchers working on aspects of big data for development in the Global South. The hope is that we will be able to contribute to shaping a research and policy agenda and map out a path for productive collaboration. A document was prepared as the basis for discussion. Here is an excerpt: However, it is important that those engaged in policy analysis make the effort to understand what data is available, in what formats and what is being done with it. For example, the mobile networks in developing countries are different from those in developed economies.