Tag Archives: ICT

Sexual harassment at international ICT events: a call for action


I have become increasingly saddened and dismayed in recent years at the level of sexual harassment, and what I see as inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour by a surprising number of men at the ICT conferences and exhibitions convened by some international organisations.  This ranges from generally loutish actions by some groups of young men, to what can only be called predatory behaviour by some older and more senior figures in the sector.  Until the last couple of years, I had thought that such behaviour had largely disappeared, but from what I have witnessed myself, from what I have heard from women in the sector, and from what I have read, it is clear that action needs to be taken urgently by all those in the sector, and particularly those who are organising conferences and events.

ITU maleThe ICT industry has for far too long been dominated by men, much to its disadvantage, and it is good that an increasing amount of publicity is being shed on the sexism that has come to dominate the sector more widely.  In 2014, the Guardian newspaper ran an interesting series of reports on the subject, one of which was entitled “Women ‘belittled, underappreciated and underpaid’ in tech industry“, and in 2015, the BBC also featured a report on “Sexism in Silicon Valley and beyond: tech wake-up call” following the case brought by Reddit boss Ellen Pao against her former employer, venture capitalist Kleiner Perkins.  However, this is the tip of the iceberg.

UN Women Watch has defined sexual harassment as “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”, and has provided an excellent detailed document describing this in more detail and giving example of verbal, non-verbal and physical sexual harassment.  Such behaviour can certainly be by both men and women, but the vast majority of perpetrators are men, and it is high time that concerted action is taken to stop it.

ZTE.jpgAs a first step, I am issuing this call for all international organisations in the field of ICTs to issues guidelines on expected behaviour at their events.  I prefer guidelines to codes, because codes generally require policing, and the imposition of penalties or sanctions should anyone be found guilty.  In practice, this is extremely difficult to implement and enforce.  Guidelines, instead, reflect expected norms, and should be acted upon by everyone participating in an event.  If someone witnesses inappropriate behaviour, it should be their responsibility to take action to ensure that the perpetrator stops.  In far too many cases, though, people at present do not take enough action, especially when the harassment is by someone senior in the sector.  This has to change.  We must all take collective responsibility for bringing an end to such behaviour, so that everyone can participate equally at international ICT events without fear of being harassed because of their gender or sexuality.

DohaTo be sure, there are very complex cultural issues to be considered in any such discussion, but the fundamental aspect of harassment is that it is any behaviour that someone else considers to be unacceptable.  Hence, we must all consider the other person’s cultural context in our actions and behaviours, rather than our own cultural norms.  Just because something might be acceptable in our own culture, does not mean that it is acceptable in another person’s culture.  Despite such complexities, some international organisations have indeed produced documents that can provide the basis for good practices in this area.  Some of the most useful are:

  • The UN’s Standards of Conduct for the International Civil Service, which has a useful paragraph (21) on harassment: “Harassment in any shape or form is an affront to human dignity and international civil servants must not engage in any form of harassment. International civil servants have the right to a workplace environment free of harassment or abuse. All organizations must prohibit any kind of harassment. Organizations have a duty to establish rules and provide guidance on what constitutes harassment and abuse of authority and how unacceptable behaviour will be addressed”
  • The Internet Governance Forum, has a short and straightforward code of conduct, which begins by stating that participants must “Treat all members of the IGF community equally, irrespective of nationality, gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or beliefs, disability, age, or sexual orientation; all stakeholders of the IGF community should treat each other with civility, both face to face and online”.  This could be more explicit with respect to harassment, but it is at least a start.
  • One of the clearest and most detailed documents is the conference anti-harassment policy template, developed by the Geek Feminism Wiki.  This has useful suggested texts of different lengths, with the  shortest being “$CONFERENCE is dedicated to a harassment-free conference experience for everyone. Our anti-harassment policy can be found at: [URL for full anti-harassment policy]”.  It goes on to give medium and full length policy templates, as well as suggestions for actions that participants and staff should take.

I look forward to the day when all international ICT conferences do indeed have such guidelines on sexual harassment, and hope that this will begin to create a better, safer and happier environment where we can all work together more effectively to reach appropriate decisions about these important technologies and their use.

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Reflections on government-led infrastucture development in the ICT sector in the Caribbean


CTUI had the privilege of being invited to moderate the session on government-led infrastucture development at the Caribbean Telecommunications Union‘s 25th anniversary event held in Port of Spain, Trinidad, this week.  It provided an excellent opportunity to discuss in quite some detail the balance between private sector and state investment in the ICT sector, and ways through which infrastructure could be made available to some of the poorest and most marginal communities.  As a moderator, I always see my role primarily as being to facilitate some lively, and hopefully provocative, discussion, and so I tried to say very little myself during the session. Reflecting afterwards, though, particularly in the wider context of the Commonwealth as a whole, the following broad observations seem appropriate:

  1. There is very great diversity within the Caribbean, but nevertheless I did sense that there was much greater appetite here for the state to play a significant role in infrastructure development than is encountered in many other parts of the world.  It was very refreshing, for example, to hear the term “public utilities” spoken about almost with reverence.  The all-too-often accepted “development mantra” that privatisation of public utilities will ensure that they are much more efficient and thus deliver on the needs of poor people and communities, was not one that seemed to be widely accepted.  The belief that states have a clear duty to serve the interests of all of their people, and that this cannot be achieved through privatisation, was healthy and very different from the views that I all too often encounter.
  2. It was, though, clear that old business models are already failing to deliver sufficient profits for many of those involved in the sector, and that new models are required.  I find this particularly exciting, because I firmly believe that there are many exciting ways through which both public services and private benefit can be achieved, through a closer working relationship between companies and governments.
  3. The role of regulators is particularly important at this interface.  In particular, and recalling a session at the ITU’s Telecom World in Doha that I chaired last December, there is a need for regulators to think of themselves much more as “facilitators” than as “controllers”.  This applies not only in terms of providing the context through which the private sector can generate profits across all sectors of the economy, and thus enable governments to generate greater taxation revenues, but also through facilitating public awareness and understanding.  I was thus impressed by the way in which TATT (the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago) provides a considerable amount of information directly to consumers on such matters as “Cyberspace Dangers”, level of services expectations, and complaints procedures.
  4. Nevertheless, throughout the conference, I gained the impression that all too often conversations across the Caribbean have tended to happen in silos, and this was certainly the case  in the session on government-led infrastructure!  I was impressed that most panel sessions had speakers drawn from government, the private sector and civil society, but I got the feeling that the positions of each “sector” were often rather far apart.  There needs to be much more effective dialogue between the different sectors across the region (and indeed elsewhere in the world as well) if innovative solutions are to be developed to enable everyone to benefit from Internet connectivity.  To do this, there needs to be a cadre of well qualified and effective brokers who can facilitate such discussions.  This is one of the key roles that I believe the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation can play.
  5. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) face very problematic challenges, not least because of their small market size.  This reinforces the impression that I have previously gained from discussions at the UN’s SIDS conference in Samoa last year as well as work that I have done in the Pacific islands and elsewhere in the Caribbean.  In particular, I am convinced that traditional arguments about competition bringing the price of delivery down for consumers simply don’t apply in many such circumstances.   It really does not make sense to expect two or three operators to compete to deliver services in tiny islands.  Again, the precise business models need to be thought through very carefully, but where there is a social and political appetite for public utilities still to be delivered by governments, I see no logical reason why state-owned entities cannot provide value for money efficient ICT services in small island states.
  6. One of the most interesting discussions during the session was the ways through which existing government infrastructure can be used to reduce costs of rolling out ICT infrastructure, notably fibre.  In particular, the Puerta Rican El Zum initiative sounds especially interesting, in that it intends to deliver fibre connectivity through the sewers that link to most houses in the country.  Whilst this is not a solution that would suit every country, the idea of using the vast network of existing public infrastructure as a means through which to bring connectivity to the home is indeed appealing.  Likewise, I am more than ever convinced about the value of shared infrastructure solutions, and I see this as being one of the most significant things that governments can insist on in trying to reduce costs, especially in rural low-density contexts.
  7. This still, though, leaves the challenge of reaching the most remote, sparsely settled areas of any country, and few clear solutions or recommendations were received on how this could best be done. The debate over whether or not Universal Service/Access funds are effective continues apace, and I think that this increasingly reflects political dogma rather than actual practical reality! The reality is indeed often that money in such funds is either not used effectively, or sometimes not used at all, but the notion that taxation of some kind should be used to benefit the poor and marginalised is still a powerful one (the GSMA reports on such funds provide much helpful evidence).  The size of many Caribbean, and indeed Pacific, islands is nevertheless also one advantage for them, in that being small means that the distances required for roll out of fibre, or in provision of mobile broadband services, are not particularly large, and are thus relatively cheaper than those of large land-locked states.
  8. Finally, we had an interesting debate on the potential of mobile app development in the Caribbean and small island states more generally.  On balance, there seemed to be some agreement that the potential for app development to bring large numbers of people into the productive economy is very much less than some might advocate; thus 1.6% of app developers make more money than the remaining 98.4% combined (Financial Times).  (Incidentally, Mobile Vision has some useful statistics and data on the app sector).  There were, though, suggestions that there could be some potential in the Caribbean for local app developers to work on locally relevant e-government applications.

Overall, it was a fascinating discussion that raised many interesting ideas.

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ICTs and ecosystems


david_stoddartAs a young geographer, I had the privilege of learning from the extraordinary David Stoddart, and can never forget reading the numerous books and papers on small island ecosystems that he recommended to us in the mid-1970s – and being jealous that he was able to be doing research on beautiful far-away places such as Aldabra!  Likewise, Richard Chorley and Barbara Kennedy’s Physical Geography: a Systems Approach was required reading on several courses.  Although not quite as inspirational as David Stoddart’s physical presence,  I recall being enthused by this book to go back and read some of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s work on General Systems Theory, and struggling to balance this with my own increasing interest in structuralism and Marxist theory.

Hence, I have always adopted a principled and historical understanding of the origins and development of the systems approach in academic discourse.  This has made me ever more infuriated by the irritating, and quite simply inappropriate, usage of the word “ecosystem” by so many people, particularly in the business sector, who persist in using the word ecosystem to describe the system of digital technologies, ICTs and telecommunications.  Better argued than most is the use of the word “ecosystem”, for example, in Martin Fransman’s The New ICT Ecosystem (Cambridge University Press, 2010), but it remains fundamentally misguided, and little is gained by adding the “eco” to the “system”!  Despite my constant pleading that such usage is quite simply wrong, and corrupts the meaning of the word “ecosystem”, I have never made headway on this, and so want to try to capture here the basis for my critique.

There are two main reasons why I am so offended by the usage of the word “ecosystem” to refer to digital ICT systems:

  • Perfectly camouflaged dragonflyFirst, the word “ecosystem” is fundamentally a biological concept, and refers to the interaction between organisms and the physical environment in which they live.  The term originated in the early 1930s in the work of Arthur Roy Clapham and was made popular through the writings of the ecologist Arthur Tansley, who particularly emphasised the flows of materials between organisms and the environment.  As an ecological term, it is the “eco” that differentiates “ecosystems” from any other kind of system (the notion of “eco” being derived from the ancient Greek οἶκος meaning “house” or “dwelling”).  I absolutely agree that the context of ICTs is complex and that a systems approach can be of help in understanding and describing it, but I simply cannot see what value there is in adding the fundamentally “biological” attribute implied by the addition of “eco”.  Moreover, the physical, technical character of most ICTs is so fundamentally non-biological, that it seems even more inappropriate to keep using this term.  To be sure there is  exciting work going on at the interface between biological humans and non-biological machines, but this is rather different from the ways in which the word “ecosystem” is traditionally used in the ICT sector.
  • Starehe computer gravey#C4CSecond, and linked to the above, the advent of ICTs has itself actually had huge, and often very negative, implications for the environment, and thus for the very essence of  the “eco” that lies at the heart of the meaning of “ecosystem”. It is great that certain technology companies and organisations are now beginning to take a more environmentally responsible attitude to the environmental implications of their work.  The GSMA for example has placed great emphasis on trying to ensure that its annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is carbon neutral.  Likewise, since 2009 Apple has placed considerable emphasis on environmental agendas, including environmental footprint, renewable energy and product reports.  However, many of the reports on the benefits of ICTs and telecommunications in terms of reducing human impacts on the environment are only partial, and vastly overstate the beneficial aspects of ICT use for the environment.  Again, there are interesting initiatives in this area, as for example with Ericsson’s environmental programme, or the ITU’s environment and climate change work.  However, insufficient research of rigorous quality has yet been done in this area, and the impact of ICTs is such that it seems fundamentally inappropriate to use any word that seeks to impute some kind of positive biological linkage.

So, can people please stop using the word ecosystem to refer to the field of ICTs and telecommunications.  The word “system” alone seems just fine to describe the complex interrelationships and flows of energy between components in whatever integral whole those working in the ICT field want to talk about!

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DFID’s Digital Advisory Panel


The UK’s Department for International Development has recently created a Digital Advisory Panel to provide advice to the Department in line with its digital strategy announced in December 2012.  The role of the panel is to take an overview of DFID’s strategy for digital and technology matters in its organisation and programmes, and to provide advice and challenge to the organisation. The panel met for the first time on 22nd October, and started to discuss the scope and priorities for their work programme.

The Chair of the Panel is Tim Robinson, CEO of LGC, and he joined DFID’s board as a non-executive director in May 2013.  Other members of the Panel (in alphabetical order, and as described by DFID blogger Julia Chandler) are:

  • Ken Banks is the founder of kiwanja.net and creator of FrontlineSMS, a mobile messaging application aimed at the grassroots non-profit community.
  • Rebecca Enonchong is founder and CEO of AppsTech, and sits on the board of VC4Africa, the largest online community dedicated to entrepreneurs and investors building companies in Africa.
  • Mark Graham director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute.
  • Nick Hughes formerly head of Global Payments at Vodafone Group, where he started M-PESA, is now founder and strategy director of m-kopa.
  • Stephen King is a partner in Omidyar Network UK and was formerly chief executive of BBC Media Action.
  • Rick Robinson is an Executive Architect at IBM responsible for the development and delivery of Smarter City solutions and a member of the Academy of Urbanism.
  • Kathy Settle is deputy director for networks at the Government Digital Service, where she coordinates development of government’s overarching digital strategy, working alongside “digital leaders” to create complementary departmental strategies.
  • Tim Unwin has many roles, including Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK, Emeritus Professor of Geography and UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at Royal Holloway, University of London.
  • Amy Semple Ward is CEO of NTEN, the nonprofit technology network, based in Oregon, US.

I am delighted to have been invited to serve on this panel, and look forward to some lively discussion as we seek to guide DFID in its digital and technological practices.

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Monitoring and Evaluation of ICT in Education initiatives: reflections from WISE


The second WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education) summit provided an opportunity for colleagues from Education Impact to host a lively and highly participatory workshop designed to contribute to more effective monitoring and evaluation of ICT in education activities, focusing particularly on developing countries.

It was premised on two assumptions:

  • that there is too little monitoring and evaluation of ICT for education initiatives, and much of what is undertaken is of poor quality; and
  • that it is important to differentiate between monitoring (the process of continuing self-reflection within organisations and individuals aimed at improving their performance) and evaluation (the review of outcomes against targets, often undertaken by external agencies)

The workshop began by identifying the reasons why there is so little effective monitoring

and then why there is so little good and effective evaluation

This was then followed by a discussion of how we can ensure better monitoring

and the things that need to be put in place to ensure better evaluation.

Clicking on the above mind-maps enables them to be viewed at full size!

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UNESCO publishes report on ICTS for people with disabilities


UNESCO has recently published a short report by a group of experts on “ICT for persons with disabilities“.

This presented the following recommendations to UNESCO for consideration:

“Making UNESCO ICT-accessible
The group of experts recommended that UNESCO should ensure overall accessibility of persons with disabilities. To achieve this goal the Organization should improve its online presence and the accessibility of its website. It should also create accessible physical environment, develop appropriate procurement and recruitment policies, and ensure training and retaining of the employees.

Mainstreaming ICT in inclusive education
UNESCO is encouraged to foster effective use of ICT that are accessible, adaptive and affordable for person with disabilities. Specific guidelines and tools are needed to teach persons with disabilities and to ensure that corresponding ICT competencies are embedded in initial teacher training.

Mobilizing resources and international cooperation
The experts stressed the importance of identifying arguments for shifts in policy practices and determining funding opportunities where UNESCO could get involved. It is important to cooperate with organizations of persons with disabilities in order to get the best possible input and to have credible action lines and projects for funding.

Creating an information and knowledge access ecosystem
This recommendation focuses on “touch points”, such as WorldWide Web, broadcasting, publishing, languages, etc., in the system in which people and humans interact with information and services. It also includes e-governance, which could be used to promote e-voting and e-democracy initiatives for citizen participation in an accessible way, as well increase participation in cultural activities.”

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