A Voice of the Web

Steph's personal blog on professional matters


This is the blog of Stephane Boyera...Yet another blog about mobile, ICT and Social & Economic Development in the South.

internetLong time no post! I need a good opportunity to dedicate the time and the energy. I got interviewed last week by the New Scientist about Google‘s Loon project, and I thought it would be a great topic to talk about. First of all, I’m not an expert in this technology, I don’t know if balloons can be more efficient than satellite, mobile tower or sea cable. However, I’m sure that Google has made extensive investigations before announcing anything, and I’m also sure that they are able to mobilize all the required expertise. So all in one, even if I don’t know anything about the technology, I’m sure this is technically perfectly ok. My point is somewhere else, and is related to impact of Internet connectivity on development.
The fact is that today two third of the World population is not connected to the Web. I believe that there is now a general agreement, at least there are evidences, that some specific ICT services in some specific places (e.g. mPesa in Kenya, the usual example!!) can improves people’s lives in underprivileged communities. The big question is to understand how to make more relevant services available to people to have a global effect, and increase social and economic opportunities for those at the base of the pyramid. Read the rest of this entry »

A short blog post for once and not many months after the previous one! I spent most of the last weekend translating in French the World Bank OGD Readiness Assessment Tool. This is a great document, and I recommend its reading to anybody interested in the topic. It is very well structured and covers all major points. I’ve worked on a similar methodology a couple of years ago with my colleagues (see e.g. OGD feasibility study in Ghana), and this document is surely far more developed and covers more dimensions.

But as usual, a good blog post needs to be a bit controversial! Therefore, I wanted to make a few comments on this document, developing a bit further what I wrote in a previous post related to OGD in Developing Countries. The essence of my view is that the types of barriers that can exist in developing countries are slightly different than the ones in Western countries. The differences are centered on 2 aspects:

• The role of an OGD initiative
• The demand side, and in particular the concept of “empowering citizens”, and the role and type of ICT.
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Farmer in indiaLong time since I wanted to make a blog post about voice technologies! Here comes the time thanks to the opening talk I gave at the recent Voices workshop in Pretoria at CSIR (South Africa). Those who have been following my work since 2006 know how passionate I’m about IVR and related technologies, and I’ve spent the last 4 to 5 years developing expertise, and experimenting different types of services in different countries from India to Mali to Ghana etc. I will try to explain why IVR sounds so exciting to me, what are the major opportunities and but also major challenges, what is the state of the art, and what is, IMHO, the future.

For me, voice technologies (aka IVR Interactive Voice Response) are close to a magic bullet in the ICTD/M4D domain. There is no competing technology today that has the following characteristics:

  1. It can work on absolutely all phones
  2. It can work on all mobile networks
  3. It uses a very well-known functionality of the phone (dialing a number)
  4. It can be used in all languages of the world
  5. It is accessible to people who cannot read and write

SMS or USSD present some of the features, particularly related to the first 2 points, and a bit of the third (but only a bit, see for instance the World Bank Report Maximizing Mobile that mentions SMS usage rate in some countries), but can hardly cope with the last two. I’m not going to write here a detailed analysis of pro and cons of each mobile technology, I should write a dedicated blog post for that, but there is clearly no competing technology today in particular when it comes to providing direct services to illiterate populations in rural areas.

On the other end, obviously, if IVR was a full magic bullet, then there will be no debate. There are also a few challenges that are quite hard to tackle. I believe we can sort these challenges in 3 categories: User Interface design, Speech technologies, and Hosting/Deployment.

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Mobile ICT & small-scale farmers?

December 28th, 2012

A farm in Burkina FasoLong time no blog post! 2 months and half since my last one on Open Government Data in Developing countries! I hoped to write one article per month. This sounds a small commitment but hard to keep. The problem is not really lack of content or ideas but time!

Anyway, I want to write today on one of my preferred topic: ICT and Agriculture. I’m definitely a technologist, but, despite an only background on technology, I’m, since very long time, more interested in understanding people and social and economic development. Agriculture and Education have been two areas of interest since more than 15 years and since I travel all around the world, for personal interest, and witness how people are living, and learn how they are addressing their challenges in their daily activities. It happens that recently, well since 7 years or so, I could merge these two elements in my professional career. I was very lucky to make a personal interest fitting with my professional background, and I’ve been enjoying this work in a way I couldn’t imagine a job could appeal to me. Read the rest of this entry »

open your data
Time to change a bit the focus of my posts, moving from mobile technologies for development to Open Government Data in low and middle income countries, aka OGD in developing countries aka, for me, OGD for Development.

Open Data (OD), and Open Government Data are very hot topics since a couple of year, and particularly on the international agenda with the launch of the OGP (Open Government Partnership). This is great to see this wave rising, now expanding to developing countries, and I’m very happy to see a huge number of NGO/private org-led initiatives blossoming everywhere in the World, and in particular in developing countries. See e.g. the Uganda open data platform. What is particularly exciting is to see also more and more individuals writing about OGD and best approaches, OD principles etc. The recent OK Fest in Helsinki (I didn’t participate myself by followed as much as possible) was impressive in that regards.
This is all positive, but a good blog post has to be a bit controversial :) .
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China Great Wall: quite scalable!
After my post on sustainability last week, I wanted to go for the next buzzword: scalability. This is yet another word that is in all RFP and in all proposals, but usually not very well addressed. So at least I can write down my thoughts, and see if I can get interesting comments.
Scalability is about increasing impact of a given intervention by expanding it, most of the time geographically, or at least in terms of number of people affected by the intervention. From my perspective, there are two quite different strategies that one can adopt to scale-up a project:

  • Expanding footprint
  • Replicating

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Le savoir est une are - Knowledge is a WeaponI just reviewed and commented the UNESCO draft mLearning Guidelines that my friend Steve Vosloo released a few weeks ago. Below are the comments i just posted on the related UNESCO Forum (do the same if you are interested !!).
The introduction is great, and the policy guidelines are well written. That said, it is not clear, in the introduction, if it concerns low and middle income countries only or not. When i read the policy guidelines, I tend to think that it is the case. Should it be clearly stated?

On another front, I feel it is very difficult to talk about a mLearning policy completely outside the country ICT framework, and mobile ICT framework (policy, regulation, etc.). For me, a mlearning policy is a kind of subset of or dependent on ICT and mobile ICT policy environment. Recommending the development and use of mobile in education is good as far as it is authorized. It might be worth mentioning it somewhere?

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Greek building sustainability: 3000+ years
When starting a new blog, it is critical to attract a little bit of attention. That’s why I start my first real blog post with a buzzword. Sustainability is indeed one of the few words that you find in absolutely all requests for proposal, all grants, all NGO mission and vision, all project descriptions, and even in the domain name now, as we are all involved in “Sustainable Development”. The problem with buzzwords is that everybody are using them, everybody know their meaning, but most of the time, we are not sharing the same meaning. The aim of this post is to describe my own personal view of what sustainability in mobile or ICTD is in general.

First of all, I believe that sustainability is a multidimensional concept. Very roughly it means “a system that will last over time”. There are definitely many factors that can break a system, and only one state, when all factors are ok, that makes it running. So Let’s explore here in details the majors factors that I presented briefly last year during a keynote I gave at UNESCO 1st Mobile learning Week.

For me, there are at least three major dimensions:

  • The financial sustainability
  • The technology sustainability
  • The human sustainability

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A new blog is born !

August 20th, 2012

a new baby is bornThis is a first post of my newly created blog! I’ve been blogging since quite long time, particularly at the Web Foundation. I don’t like to write a lot, but I like to write longer posts about my opinions or views on specific topics where I have a field experience. If I found the time, I will transfer here a few blog posts I wrote at the Web Foundation because I invested some time there to present in depth my vision on e.g. the role of mobile operators in value added services, or on mobile entrepreneurship or on ICT and Agriculture.

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