An interesting round table discussion from the e-STAS: Symposium on Technologies for Social Action held in Málaga, Spain, on March 26-27th, 2009, posted on the blog of Ismael Peña-López. Read the whole post here to see the Q&A
Round Table, Conducted By Ismael Peña-López, Open University Of Catalonia
John LeSieur, People CD
It’s out of question that technology connects people in very powerful ways. The question is how we make sure that the end user provides a good delivery for them.
The Asperger syndrome is part of autism and implies poor or none interaction with the other. An autistic child — LeSieur’s grandson — was introduced to technology, but refused to use it after minor browsing. Order was a must for autistic people. Communication must be picture-like. Browsers just do not work this way. This was the birth of the ZAC browser, a browser specifically designed for autistic people, that allows browsing through icons and minimum clicks.
The ZAC browser was not part of a business plan, or project management plan, but a personal commitment, done on an trial-and-error basis. It was after a first success, that it was decided to share it for others.
There is 1 out of 150 autistic children worldwide. So it made sense to share it worldwide.
Some parents have reported notable improvements in the lives of their children — and their families’ — after having used the ZAC browser. The ZAC browser is used by 750,000 people worldwide.
Now People CD is focusing in technologies widely used, but that are not really designed for a broad range of end users, i.e. paralyzed people. And this software comes out free to be used.
Vivek Vaidyanathan, ICT4D Consultant
He formerly worked at IT for Change to help organizations work in their own domain without bothering about technology. IT for Change promoted the use of ICT applications in development projects. He is now working in “poverty mapping”, using Geographic Information Systems to show impact of projects in developing countries.
In India the debate is not about FaceBook or Twitter, but about issues of connectivity or content in local language. And even if there is a growing ICT Sector, it is not aimed towards the local user, or local development, at least not directly.
The government is now planning to provide universal connectivity though an ambitious telecenter plan. But, nevertheless, it is again a plan to develop more an ICT Sector or Industry rather than providing more and better services to the citizens in a most efficient way. Nevertheless, some interesting e-Government issues started to happen and, hopefully, they will pull other clever uses of ICTs, specially because it’s public information and in your local language.
There is a problem with the sustainability of these telecenters and their services: they all began as a citizen service, which was free, and now trying to turn the citizen into a customer has made of financial sustainability a big challenge. You cannot ask them to pay for what was free.
Besides financial sustainability, social sustainability has also to be taken into account. Many people are left out of the ICT revolution because serving them is just not profitable, entering a vicious circle of exclusion.
Last, technology people should not lead the change, but people that do know the real needs of the end user… but of course work with technologists to know what tools to apply.
Raul Zambrano, UNDP
Freedom as development: development deals with people having the options to do with their lives whatever they want (Armartya Sen).
In 1992 the UNDP decided to begin distributing information (part of the Agenda 21 agreed in Rio de Janeiro in 1991) by e-mail, instead of fax or postal mail. This cut down costs dramatically… provided the receiver had e-mail too.
People do not need technology, but have basic needs: water, food, a roof… How can we connect these basic needs with ICTs? There’s a big divide in the application of ICT4D: there’s people that would “rather buy rice and not computers” and other people that would install computers before knowing the real needs of the population. How to merge these two approaches in a middle ground?
“I don’t want this or that technology. I want education. With quality, low cost”. If we can bring this education through ICTs, then that’s good ICT4D. Why don’t we benchmark or do market studies to supply public services? “Would you be using this or that public service? Supplied to you this ir that way?”
Empowerment is also about sharing or distributing power. Public administrations have to share their power with the citizenry. ICT’s enable networking and clustering people around common problems. ICTs enable exchange, communication. ICTs should not replace human networks, but to empower them.
Democracy is that the civil society and governments work together. Thinking of them as opposite powers is either sick or sad (depending on how true it is).
By the way, there’s more technology that ICTs.