How Can Digital Innovations Improve the Economy of Bangladesh?

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In December 2008, the Government of Bangladesh introduced the vision ‘Digital Bangladesh by 2021’ to leverage the Internet to improve the delivery of its services, particularly among the poor people. A quiet revolution in digitizing its health sector is already under way to strengthen the Health Information System (HIS), which enables real-time monitoring of population health.

The Internet could provide solutions to a number of structural problems besetting Bangladesh’s health sector. For example, the use of ICT to provide remote diagnosis, advice, treatment, and health education could address a major part of the health issues of patients in rural clinics, which are typically the most poorly staffed. Online tools and mobile innovations can improve the operational efficiency and productivity of (rural) health system by enabling more effective service delivery.

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The use of ICT in education has a similar potential to deliver rapid gains in access to education, teacher training, and learning outcomes. As pointed above, web-based school management systems that can support standardization and monitoring of school performance could enable the government to achieve more with their education budgets and providing millions of students with the foundation for a better future.

It is clear that the digital age and its associated variables are continuously getting integrated into our economy and society. Due to the limitations of data, only a snapshot of the impact on education and healthcare of Bangladesh is shown in The Economy of Tomorrow Digital Innovations and Their Implications for the Economy of Bangladesh.

All of the available sources show that to make a dramatic shift in these two sectors, incorporation of digitized materials is one of the most important factors of current time. However, there are many questions regarding the impact of the digital age in the socioeconomic conditions of Bangladesh that still remained unsolved.

For example:

  • How do we quantify the impact that the internet and internet driven business have on a country’s GDP?
  • How does a digitized registration process reduce corruption?
  • What will the legal system of the country look like when digitization will take place there? Is the internet creating a divergence among the different groups of people?
  • How much of labor hours are people wasting doing unproductive works on the internet?
  • For every new digital adoption, someone may be getting a new job, whereas someone, somewhere may be losing his/her job. So what if the rate of losing jobs is far greater than the rate of creating employment opportunities?

The answer to these questions require further research, including reviewing the experiences of other countries where these questions have already been addressed. However, one thing is clear that these topics will dominate the research agendas in the upcoming years and their findings will help Bangladesh to transform into a more balanced, robust and sustainable economic growth.

Fixing Government Data Duplication at DataKind Bangalore

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Voters worldwide seldom interact with their chosen leaders- except around 5-yearly elections. However, the advent of advanced Information and Community Technologies (ICT) might shrink this interval considerably. They may even turn back the clock towards the seminal Athenian model of democratic decision-making: directly by the people rather than their representatives. With some political discretion, today’s online forums can allow for similarly incorporating crowdsourced public opinion into policy design. This could contribute to nationally important initiatives (such as preparing Morocco’s 2011 Draft Constitution or debates on Spain’s Plaza Podemos, Brazil’s E-democracia portal and India’s own mygov.in). Nonetheless, we will concern ourselves with far more universal and local problem-solving at the municipal level.

But just who has access to such platforms? While internet penetration in rural India is rising dramatically, the lion’s share (67%) still resides with urban denizens. Moreover, as highlighted by the Wall Street Journal, India boasted of a quarter of the world’s fastest growing urban zones and 8 qualifying ‘MegaCities’ as per India’s 2011 Census definition. The demands on municipal governments are likely to be considerable, and even more likely to be mediated by internet platforms.

Regardless of this explosion of population and the associated challenges, the structure of municipal bodies has remained unchanged since Lord Ripon’s 1882 Resolution on self-government. Furthermore, as Ramesh Ramnathan of Janaagraha points out, the responsibility for action is de facto scattered across acronyms of acrimonious accusing agencies. For example, Bangalore’s (deep breath advised) BDA, BMRDA, BWWSB, BMTC, KSB, BESCOM together juggle the city’s water, transport, electricity, traffic police and development needs. Many authorities, little authority. Increasingly internet-savvy and increasingly increasing residents. Where can they all turn for help?

Enter DataKind Bangalore Partners.

15-year old Janaagraha has endeavoured to improve the quality of urban life- in terms of infrastructure, services and civic engagement- by coordinating government and citizen-led efforts. Of their various initiatives, the IChangeMyCity portal also earned Discover ISIF Asia’s award under the Rights and People’s Choice categories.

Next up, eGovernments Foundation, brainchild of Nandan Nilekani & Srikanth Nadhamuni (Silicon Valley technologist) has since 2003 sought to transform urban governance across 275 Municipalities with the use of scalable and replicable technology solutions (for Financial Accounting, Property & Professional Taxes, Public Works, etc.) Their Public Grievance and Redressal system for the Municipal Corporation of Chennai- recipient of the 2010 Skoch Award -has fielded over 0.22 million complaints over 6 years.

Though these organizations joined hands with DataKind in two distinct ‘Sprints’, the similarities are remarkable. Both their platforms allow citizens to primarily flag problems (garbage, city lighting, potholes) at the neighbourhood level for resolution by government agencies.

Then again, the differences are noteworthy too. As an advocacy-oriented organization, Janaagraha aimed to understand the factors that led to certain complaints being closed promptly by a third party. eGovernments on the other hand, being within the system, to keep officials and engineers adequately prepared for the business-as-usual and also immediately alert them on anomalies. So both sought predictions around complaints- one on their creation, another on their likelihood of closure.

Clearly, quite a campaign lay ahead. If we forget Ancient Greek democracy and hitch a caravan to China, then Sun Tzu’s wisdom from the Art of War pops in: knowing oneself is the key to victory. Always open to relevant philosophy, the DataKinders looked into their own ranks to assess their strengths. The team assigned for E-Governments coincidentally included Ambassadors (Chapter Leader, Vinod Chandrashekhar) and Data Experts (Samarth Bhargav, Sahil Maheshwari) from the Janaagraha project. The teams were also at different junctures joined by the latter’s Vice President (Manu Srivastava) and two of his interns, plus a multidisciplinary mob of volunteers from backgrounds in business consulting, UX Design, data warehousing, development economics and digital ethnography. Let’s see how they waged war.

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Progress to Date

Back in March 2015, IChangeMyCity’s presented a set of 18,533 complaints carrying rich meta-data on Category, Complainant Details, Comments, etc. You’d assume this level of detail opens doors to appetizing analyses. Perhaps. Unfortunately, the information dwelt in a database of 10 different tables. Sahil Maheshwari- then working as a Product Specialist- busied himself with the onerous task of unraveling the relationships between them, drawing up an ER Diagram and ‘flattening’ records into one combined table. The team then accordingly fished out missing or anomalous values.

Conversely, E-Governments users either report their problems online, through SMS, paper forms or by calling into the special ‘1913’ helpline where operators transcribe complainants’ inputs. With digital data being entered through drop-down menus rather than free text (either directly by users or call centre employees), no major missing data was to be found. Except of course, unresolved cases-a mere 8% of the 0.18 million complaints. Some entries, amounting to 0.8% were exactly identical- clearly a technical glitch. Moreover, all data resided in one table. So in November 2015’s DataJam, this structure allowed the team to plunge immediately to exploratory analysis.

Across the 200 wards of Chennai, 93 kinds of complaints (grouped further into 9 categories) could be assigned to departments at either the City or Zone level. Although the numbers initially seemed staggering, Samartha Bhargav ran basic visualizations in the R Programming language. The result? Another instance of Pareto’s rule: 15 of these complaint types were contributing to 82% of grievances. Several DataKind first-timers like Aditya Garg & Venkat Reddy ran similar analyses for the 10 most given-to-grumbling wards, and found trouble emanating from roughly the same top 5 sources. Apparently, malfunctioning street lights blow everyone’s fuse. These common bugbears intriguingly became less bearable (and more numerous) in the second half of the year, while others related to taxes seemed more even across the year.

Even so, how could there be 10 broken lights in an area with only one on record? So had ten people all indicated the same light? Like with data analysis, learning from Chinese classics (literally) involves reading the fine print. Sun Tzu’s actual words: ‘If you know the enemy AND know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.’ Clearly, this enemy was a lot more complicated than the decoy flanks that DataKinders had speared. Tzu and George Lucas may well have hung out over green tea.

Attack of the Clones .

In usual data science settings, duplicates are often easy to identify and provide little intrinsic value. However, the game changes in the world of crowdsourced data. Especiallydata highlighting the criticality of an issue. So to achieve victory, the team would have to understand and strike at its core- dynamic social feedback. We could assess its importance at four levels.

The first involves messages from the platform itself to indicate that a complaint has been registered and no further inputs are necessary. In its absence, citizens could well create duplicates by hitting the Submit button either accidentally (not knowing if their complaint was logged) or deliberately (hoping that repeating the complaint may lead to quicker action). This is more of a concern for web platforms rather than call centres. By matching against columns involving email, phone and postal contact details and date, time and type of the complaint, DataKind had already been able to quickly hurl out these obvious clones.

The second level of feedback is where the Force truly awakens- from other citizens. The ability to see that other fellow residents have experienced the same concern may prevent its repetition. But this rests on two assumptions. First, that they can view already posted complaints, as exists with IChangeMyCity. They may rally behind this shared cause by ‘upvoting’- an indicator to authorities of its increased importance.

Even if this feature does not exist- as with eGovernments- then all is not lost. High priority might still be inferred by large absolute numbers of complaints. But these would provide an idea of the severity of the problem across the ward (45 pot holes in Adyar) rather than one specific instance of it (that life-threatening one before the flyover). Secondly, if peeved citizens do not put in the effort of checking the roster of existing complaints- as inevitably occurred even with IChangeMyCity- then the Upvotes option alone cannot guarantee being Clone-free.

The third and most obvious feedback comes from authorities via the digital platform- to indicate closure. This is provided by both partners, with IChangeMyCity also appending contact details of which official has been assigned the task.

The fourth and final level- is where a citizen can verify that a complaint marked as ‘closed’ has truly been resolved. After all, accountability forms part of the foundation of democracy. In this manner, the same poorly tended-to complaint could be reopened, rather than filing another one out. This feature currently exists only with IChangeMyCity, which not only allows municipal authorities to mark a complaint as ‘closed’ (as exists with eGoverments), but also allows users to reopen them if unsatisfied.

IChangeMyCity’s resolution rates lie close to 50%- a figure probably reached after allowing for this reopening scenario. eGovernments on the other hand closed a commendable 97%, with up to 13% shut on the same day to an outlier of 1043 (almost 3 years), with the majority (56%) in under 3 days. Mr Srivastava emphasized that these efficiency statistics had improved dramatically in the last 2 years. But as we just explored, perhaps a confounding factor is that multiple duplicate complaints are being closed by engineers who have identified their Clone nature.

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How to Fix It?

Thus, it was the second category- unintended duplication- which bled into the fourth. How could the DataKind team exploit the enemies’ own weakness? They decided to unsheathe their two logical light sabers: text and location. Either one in isolation didn’t necessarily pinpoint a duplicate. But in combination, they could quickly incinerate a Clone’s trooper suit.

Saber A: WHERE was the complaint registered? For IChangeMyCity, one can log in, peer through a map of Bangalore and plant a pin on the spot where you’d like to divert the authority’s attention. Using that pin, analysts can procure exact latitude and longitude coordinates. It’s still entirely possible that different people place the pins some distance apart even when referring to the same issue. But it would seem like a safe bet that two closely located complaints might just be Clones.

EGovernments currently doesn’t use maps, but asks users a fairly detailed, 6-level description of addresses (City, Regions, Zones, Wards, Area, Locality, Street). Such text might help direct an engineer gallivanting outdoors, but not for a computer that speaks code. Attempting to translate the text addresses into associated geocodes, the team split the data into 10 parts and ran Google Maps API with an R Script on each one. Despite their best efforts, accuracy could not be guaranteed. Though eGovernments will soon be introducing such coordinates in future work, geocoding seemed like a closed line of attack.

Saber 2: HOW was the complaint registered. The way people express themselves on a particular local issue may vary, but could feature some words in common. However with E-Governments system, pre-loaded tags from the website were automatically attached to complaints. Result? Nearly 40,000 entries demanding ‘NECESSARY ACTION’ (in capitals, no less) with only minor differences. Others exist, but simply restate the category of complaints. (‘Removal of Garbage’). With so little variability and no hidden clues, this strategy failed too.

However, for IChangeMyCity, citizens are free to fill complaint titles and descriptions as they please. So the DataKind Team broke the text of both the complaint’s title and description into sentences and then into words. Then they ran an unsupervised learning algorithm, which helped generate the Jaccard Index- a measure of how ‘close’ two complaints were in terms of statistical similarity.

But to check this ‘distance’ for N complaints against each other would require N*N operations. Far too long for a dataset of this size. To assist with this more abstract sense of ‘distance’, the team decided to turn to the more intuitive geographical meaning of the term. The clearly listed geocode saber we mentioned above.

The team decided that any two complaints within 250m of each other on a map could be considered as potential duplicates, while the rest could be ignored. Plugging these codes into the MongoDB geospatial index, Samarth ingeniously reduced the computation time for this process from 2 hours to 10 minutes. He also later developed a REST API that could be queried to detect the 10 nearest complaints. Going forward, the team hopes to set a threshold of such ‘similarity’ beyond which a new entry could automatically be flagged as a duplicate, much like answered programming queries on Stack Overflow.

 Onward to De-Duplication Success

At first glance, it may seem like the Attack of the Clones had stamped defeat over the eGovernments project, while IChangeMyCity had dodged the bullet. But let’s not jump to conclusions. The importance of this first battle is relative. Since Janaagraha is focused on closure of a single complaint, it makes sense not to muddy waters by repeating the same theory. EGovernments on the other hand is interested in the total number of complaints likely to arise, not the problems. Also, as we’ll soon see in the next installment, the larger numbers of complaints (including duplicates) would prove crucial in helping generate valid forecasts for the Chennai Municipal Corporation.

So at the end of this first DataJam session, what had the team discovered? On a flight that carried along Sun Tzu, 2 mayors, George Lucas and random Athenians in Business Class, we learnt the philosophical complexities of the idea of ‘duplication’, especially in the contexts of crowdsourcing and democratic processes in strained local governments.

Abhishek Pandit is a Strategy Consultant at ChaseFuture

Google is Bringing Project Loon to Indonesia

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The challenge of providing adequate Internet service in countries with vast populations that are spread out over large geographical areas is a difficult one. Rich and poor countries alike are dealing with this difficult problem. The task of providing access to the Internet infrastructure is compounded in developing countries. Not only do these countries face the burden of delivering broadband services to a large population that is spread over numerous remote islands and is isolated by mountainous terrain, but also even if the geographic conditions were ideal, the Internet infrastructure is typically under developed and insufficient to meet the growing population’s needs.

Satellite Connectivity

In many cases satellites have been utilized to enable developing countries to leapfrog in their Internet infrastructure development. Many developing countries tend to lack much of the traditional terrestrial infrastructure such as cable, fiber and other critical equipment, facilities and resources that have been invested and deployed in the broadband Infrastructure of developed countries over several decades. Satellites provide developing countries with the potential to by pass the expense and resources involved with more typical terrestrial Internet infrastructure development.

However satellite technologies present many disadvantages as well. For example there are line of sight limitations, which makes broadband service over satellites unsuitable for mountainous areas where the rugged terrain gets in the way of the signal. Alternatively the distances that the signal has to travel on satellite systems make them less than ideal for today’s high speed Internet networks.

Project Loon

Google Asia Pacific recently announced a technological solution to the intractable problem of providing Internet access in countries without sufficient existing broadband infrastructure. This technology entitled Project Loon is designed to provide Internet services via high-altitude balloons that act like floating mobile towers in Indonesia. While the planning for Project Loon began over two years ago, it was recently able to announce that Indonesia’s three largest mobile operators – Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata – will begin testing balloon-powered internet services.

Indonesia has the geographic and demographic traits that make it an ideal fit for Google’s Project Loon. For example, it has a population of over 250 million that is spread out over 740,000 square miles and more than 17,000 islands. Moreover its mountainous terrain and large swaths of land covered by jungle create the types of limitations to the provision of sufficient broadband access that Project Loon’s technology is specifically engineered to address.

The introduction of this project should pose numerous benefits for Indonesia. In terms of Internet connectivity Indonesia lags behind many developing nations in Asia and around the world. In a recent study conducted by the Internet Society Indonesia ranks 135th in the world with 15.8 percent internet user penetration. This project should help to improve this ranking. Another benefit is that the project would not be dependent on the time consuming and expensive process of allocating spectrum just for Project Loon. The three participating mobile operators – Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata – agreed to contribute their own stockpiles of spectrum for this project.

By Siddhartha Menon, a Research Developer and Social Media Strategist

Overcoming Connectivity Challenges in Rural Schools with Content Servers

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Many schools in Asia Pacific have deployed computer labs to increase ICT literacy. However, it is challenging for schools to move beyond teaching basic computer skills such as typing, and office productivity tools without good internet access. There are incredible rich educational resources available in the cloud including Wikipedia, Khan Academy, and PhET. However, remote schools either lack adequate access to the internet or cannot afford it due to the high cost of broadband connectivity.

So, how can schools, particular remote and rural schools move beyond teaching basic ICT literacy and integrate ICT into core subjects such as English, Math and Science? The answer is a content server.

Content Server Options

While the concept of a content server is not new, it has evolved in recent years with more affordable hardware and relevant content. There are two key features that define a content server. First, it has to be simple to use. Second, it has to be robust and require zero or little maintenance.

Students and teachers access the content server using a standard web browser on a device that is available to them whether it be a desktop, laptop, tablet or even a smart phone. Content on the server must not require access to the internet but yet provide an experience that mirrors applications on the net.

Nowadays, more and more such content is available. For example, Kiwix started by making Wikipedia available in an offline mode but now has moved to offer additional resources such as wikitionary and TED® talks. KA-LITE from Learning Equality has developed a version of Khan Academy that is easily deployed on a local content server and provides a similar learning experience to the cloud version Khan Academy. PHeT has a server version that provides their rich simulation apps to be accessed in the browser. World Possible has curated content and made it available through Rachel, their off-line educational content portal.

These are just some examples of popular cloud education resources that are now available in versions suitable for a content server. Often it only take some minor tweaks to migrate country specific educational content into a format suitable to be placed on a content server.

A content server must be robust and require little or no maintenance. Schools do not have the IT support to maintain a traditionally server. Thus, ideally a content server only has an on/off button with no keyboard and monitor. This prevents “misuse”, which can introduce viruses or unintended configuration changes. For example, I have seen “servers” used as an additional desktop only to have configurations changed inadvertently rendering the server unusable.

A content server is a not a traditional server requiring large “server” hardware. Rather it can be implemented on different hardware including small form factor desktops, a network attached storage, or even a Raspberry Pi. One interesting implementation is an integrated unit called Intel Education Content Access point which combines a server with a Wi-Fi Access point, a 3/4G connection and a battery which makes it ideal for schools with unreliable power. Most implementations are running a version of Linux operating system due to its stability and small footprint.

Content Server Deployment

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So, how does a content server look like in practice and what impact does it have? Marilog Elementary School is a primary school in Mindanao, Philippines. While not remote, the school has no internet access, and cell phone coverage is poor. The school had a small computer lab for several years. Two years ago, the school received a content server along with several tablets.

In this implementation the content server was a C3 unit from Critical Links. A small form factor desktop measuring only 12cm X 12 cm X 5cm integrates a server with a Wi-Fi access point. Thus students can access it directly without the need of WLAN. However, the major advantage of the C3 is that content can be updated remotely. That is, once in a while the content server is connected to the internet at an office, and the content can get updated.

Students access the content using tablets. The off-line version of Wikipedia has proven to be one of the most popular application with both students and teachers. Students use it as a traditional encyclopedia, while teachers particular like the photos within Wikipedia to supplement their teaching materials. More recently, teachers started augmenting the content server by posting their own educational documents allowing for an easy and efficient way to distribute information to their students.

The concept of a content server is not new, but technology has evolved so that a content server can now run on very affordable hardware and requires minimum maintenance so that schools without access to the internet and without IT resources can now provide some of the educational applications of the 21st century.

Bernd Nordhausen advises organizations and governments on how to effectively utilize technology to bridge the digital divide.

DataKind Bangalore: Using Data to Improve Development

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On the eve of the birthday of MK Gandhi- India’s founding father- two very different groups of technologists are buckled up onboard flights to the United States. One surrounds a man who has risen from poverty to the position of the country’s Prime Minister. Soon, their plane begins its descent into the sun-drenched hillsides around Silicon Valley. The second comprises a trio of young middle-class professionals who’ve applied for extended leave from their day jobs to visit New York.

Peering out at the towering skyline from their windows, they dwell on the upcoming Second Annual Summit of the movement that they helped launched globally a year ago. Despite these surface differences, the two groups find their eyes glazing over the same dreams: harnessing the power of technology and internet connectivity to build a better, brighter India.

Who are they? The first-as you must have guessed- is the retinue of Narendra Modi, spearheading his ambition for a Digital India. Less obvious, and the subject of this three-part series- is DataKind Bangalore, and their diverse initiatives for the improved governance and accountability.

DataKind Banga-what? Mouthful alert. So let’s review that- one word at a time.

DataKind is a global nonprofit that unites pro-bono data scientists with social sector organizations to address critical humanitarian problems within a project-based framework. Since its launch in New York City in 2011, DataKind’s volunteers have undertaken a range of exciting initiatives– from scraping website data on Indonesian agricultural prices and Mozambique’s microfinance, to exploring poverty levels through satellite imagery of electric lighting in Bangladesh and roof materials in Uganda, to identifying trends in the needs of the distressed by mining their SMS text in India, the US and the UK.

This breadth of impact and depth of expertise has only been possible through a vibrant worldwide community represented at DataKind’s Chapters in Dublin, San Francisco, Singapore, the UK and Washington DC, and of course, Bangalore.

Yes, Bangalore. The city Indians would like to call the Silicon Valley of the East. And what Silicon Valley itself would like to dislike as the Outsourcing Capital of the world. Except now, Bangalore is ‘insourcing’. DataKind’s local Chapter, founded in 2014 has been harnessing the country’s top tech talent to take on its own greatest challenges.

Within just a year of operations, their tally of volunteers hit a staggering 700. So could India’s bemoaned Brain-Drain be quietly rebounding into a Brain Gain? Perhaps part of the pro-bono participants’ passion pertains to how Bangalore’s is the only Chapter situated in a developing country.

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Of course, all members of DataKind’s international network confront the ‘wicked’ problems that bedevil poverty alleviation. But when you experience this wickedness first-hand, when it’s cackling in your face on a daily basis, you’re far more inclined to land an algorithmic slap on its cheek.

One of the most stinging issues- possibly one that brought Modi into power- was a lack of transparency and accountability and an almost resigned acceptance of corruption and inefficiency.  And as the trio in New York soon realized at DataKind HQ, governance had unintentionally become a Chapter theme of sorts. 4 of all their 6 nonprofit partners thus far had resolved to support public bodies with data-driven decision making, or at least to build societal consensus on the need thereof.

As another interesting insight at the Global Summit, the Bangalore trio noted that even in developed nations like the UK, the supply of well-trained data scientists still fell short of demands from the private and public sectors. What did this portend for India?

In parallel and on the opposite coast, Modi had been pitching to several CEOs to invest in his country’s IT infrastructure. This tied in with the 17-point Digital India vision he announced 3 months ago, which concludes with ‘I dream of an India where every Netizen is an Empowered Citizen’. But as former Microsoft researcher, Kentaro Toyama elaborates in his book ‘The Geek Heresy’– mere provision of internet and mobile technologies, without investing first in human capacity to handle them (and the resulting information deluge) would ring hollow. An empty promise.

Volunteers at DataKind Bangalore have been fortunate to belong to the narrow segment of digital elite equipped with the industry knowledge and cognitive capabilities to leverage these tools. And it turns out that 6 of the 17 points in Modi’s mandate could be linked to issues of Good Governance. So if there is any measure of evaluating just how truly efficacious the ICT4D mandate could prove for India, and particularly in transparency and accountability, DataKind Bangalore and its projects with local NGOs provide an exciting testing ground.

Likewise, this current Chapter theme of Governance will form the focus of this series, though future extensions may explore outstanding DataKind Bangalore projects in other areas such as education, agriculture and microfinance. The remainder of this entry outlines the workings of DataKind’s typical project cycle, and sets the stage for more detailed explorations that will follow in the coming weeks.

Given this backdrop of the non-profit and technologist landscape, how does possessing data lead to any sustainable change? The answer: it doesn’t. Not per se, at least. Then again, DataKind Bangalore isn’t a group of number crunchers alone. Think of it rather, as an innovation and strategy hub. Likewise, its leaders follow a system.

First, a rigorous scoping and outreach process helps determine which organizations hold sufficient management capacity and clearly defined data science problems for the collaboration to prove worthwhile.

Secondly, doors are opened to volunteers from not only the IT industry but a variety of fields including economics, design, journalism, anthropology, and business development. This diversity enriches the ideation process, while also providing many participants with their first on-the-job taste of programming and statistics.

Thirdly, through a defined sequence of community events, the nonprofit’s challenge is hacked and hewed much like Michelangelo sculpting David out of a block of marble. Project Accelerator Nights (evening brainstorming sessions that lead to problem formulation) and DataJams (sessions of data cleaning and exploratory analysis) then culminate in DataDives (weekend hackathons on clearly defined challenges).

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If partners believe that the resulting proposition would boost social impact, a specially selected DataCorps project then fully integrates it into the host organization over a six-month period.

For every David, there’s a Goliath lurking out there somewhere. And the world we inhabit today teems not only with Big, but Giant Data. This isn’t just the statistics computed to furnish in a Non-Profit’s annual reports or the World Bank’s tables, or even decade-end census figures. Neither is it the information gleaned from large-scale randomized controlled trials on policy effectiveness.

Sure, all of that is pretty and polished. But to (grossly) twist a John Legend classic, quantitative analysts today have to learn to love data with it ‘all its curves and edges, all its perfect imperfections’. And this could either pop up mercilessly in real time (through the spread of social media, mobile devices and sensor devices) or turn musty over years in impregnable government PDFs.

So no matter what fancy statistical technique DataKind may have planned, the first step of problem solving remains the same. All available data- whether from partners or scraped off the net- must be tamed and standardized into a format suitable for computers to perform their magic on. Once this foundation is laid, applications of data science to governance could be classified broadly into two use cases. We will explore each with a pair of Datakind Bangalore partners.

The first centres on the executive wing of public administration- specifically interface with citizens at the municipal ward level. Hell hath no fury like a Smartphone owner scorned. Naturally, public officials often feel overwhelmed and understaffed to deal with the volume and variety of their complaints. As a first remedy, duplicates must be cleared, i.e. if many citizens are lodging new entries for the same issue. These must then be allocated to the appropriate authority for resolution.

For example, ISIF 2015 award winner (and coincidentally one of DataKind Bangalore’s inaugural partners), Janaagraha has leveraged its ‘I Change My City’ online platform and mobile app to empower over 2 million Bangalore citizens to lodge over 36,000 complaints on daily hassles such as potholes, garbage left in the open, streetlights, etc (see below).

With some practice on previous years’ data, a computer can soon begin to predict where and when they are likely to emerge, and calculate the probability that they will be resolved. Machine Learning, Mamma Mia! The next entry in this series will explore the mechanics of such an analysis both for the established Janaagraha initiative as well as the newly commenced e-Governments Foundation project in the neighbouring metropolis of Chennai.

The second approach turns to the judiciary and public finances by visualizing data over time or in specific areas. This allows for identifying trends to take action (for public officials themselves) or demand good governance (for citizens and activists). For example, a brief mapping exercise with the Bangalore Police helped them deduce the location of organized gangs (mostly around open public spaces) and then snatch up and enchain some unassuming chain-snatchers. But more importantly, such visualization converts endless and inscrutable reams of data into a clear and visually engaging narrative.  The final installments of this series will compare applications of data cleaning and visualization to two freshly minted DataKind Bangalore partnerships.

First, DAKSH and its Rule of Law project aim to throw light on another category of the overwhelmed government employee- judges at the District, State and National levels. By mapping and quantifying India’s notoriously high case pendency across courts, DAKSH aims to foster informed public debate and develop sustainable solutions.

Second, Centre for Budget and Government Accountability from New Delhi is striving to develop a detailed data Portal on Union and State budgets in India since 2005 and expose any discrepancies between funded allocated and those actually spent. With both partners, DataKind will help discipline and visualize unruly giant data for a simplified user experience that provides not only intelligible insights but impetus for informed action.

So there we have it- common citizens in the world’s largest democracy harnessing internet technologies for improved transparency and accountability.  The world has changed dramatically since back when Gandhi overthrew a colonial regime through the power of a clear national message and transforming the culture of community movements. It remains to be seen whether embedding technology and data-driven decision-making within organizations can help create a similar impact on the dramatically different challenges of the present day.

Two groups who believe in this potential- Prime Minister Modi and DataKind Bangalore- may have now caught the flight back to India to achieve their mission. But now it’s time for you to fasten your seatbelts. Stay tuned as we embark on new adventures with two fascinating methodologies applied to pioneering and passionate partners in the Silicon Valley of the East. No matter how long the seed needs to take root, and whether this experiment fails or succeeds- it’s definitely a journey you don’t want to miss.

Abhishek Pandit is a Strategy Consultant at ChaseFuture

Why Leadership Is Important for ICT Initiatives

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Information and Communication Technology (ICT) based projects are being implemented on a large scale in developing countries. It is believed that ICT opens doors to various opportunities, which can be used by people for their development. In this article, I focus on the implementation and monitoring aspect of ICT enabled initiative and the role of leadership in the project’s successful roll-out.

The content of this article is based on my research study on eSeva, an ICT initiative, implemented in the ‘Eluru’ district of Andhra Pradesh state of India. The objective of eSeva project is to provide vital information to citizens in rural areas at a click of a button. The project considers ‘information’ a crucial entity towards bringing a change in people’s life. The project was initiated by Mr Sanjay Jaju, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) official.

It was during his tenure as District Collector, the number of services provided through the telecentres was greatest i.e. around twenty services. ‘Grievance redressal’ was the most sought service by the rural citizens. Citizens used this service for accountability of government officials.

There was resistance towards adoption of eSeva services by the government employees, especially towards grievance redressal service. However, all the services of the initiative were personally monitored by Mr. Jaju, and he used to make sure that all the registered grievances were addressed on time. There were mechanisms in place for government officials who were insensitive towards complaints registered by people. Due to a greater number of services, the project was financially sustainable during the early days.

Heydays of the project came to halt when Mr. Jaju was transferred to some other district. The District Collectors, who joined later, did not take much interest in the project due to their varied priorities. ‘Grievance redressal’ was the first service which got hammered. Grievances were registered at the centres, but no action was taken on them by the government authorities.

Consequently, citizens stopped using the service. Mr Jaju introduced services like issuance of ration card, voter ID, etc., but a change in the administration lead to removal of most services. At present there are only 3-4 active services in the centres, which include utility bill payments, issuance of caste certificates and information services. Therefore, changes in leadership created havoc for the initiative.

Not only most services stopped due to changes in leadership, but also some decisions of the authorities indirectly affected the financial sustainability of the project. For example, Joint Collector (JC) of the ‘Eluru’ district passed an order which made it mandatory for the Village Revenue Officer and Revenue Inspector to distribute caste and income certificates in villagers personally. Through this order, the role of telecentres in the issuance of certificates was eliminated.

‘Caste/Income Certificate’ service is one of the main revenue generation services for the centres. eSeva centres act as the front end to receive applications for caste or income certificates, and also deliver the certificates to people once ready. The entrepreneurs are wary of the consequences of such orders, as it would directly affect their business. However, district administration maintains that the order was passed in the good will of the district administration.

Hence, from the above discussion, it is apparent that interest of district authorities and government officials proved to be the one of the major reasons for a reduction in the number of services in eSeva centres. Gradually, sustainability of the telecentres is at stake and entrepreneurs are struggling to keep their centres running profitably. Leadership can bring a positive change, however, it is also necessary that the change is sustained. A new idea or an innovation from a leader is highly welcome. However, future considerations on the sustainability of that idea or innovation should be made, should there be a leadership change.

Gaurav Mishra is an Assistant Professor at Development Management Institute (DMI) – Patna

Solo Kota Kita: Empowering Citizen-led Service Delivery Improvements in Indonesia

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Indonesia has an annual participatory budgeting process (musrenbang) where residents can openly engage with local governments to highlight the community’s priorities for short-term improvements. Traditionally, musrenbang has been an exclusive process — only the older, elite individuals with access to limited public information partook in the discussions. This, however, is slowly changing due to one organization’s effort to advance civic engagement using SMS surveys and data visualization.

Kota Kita (an Indonesian NGO) emerged in 2009 out of John Taylor and his friends’ initiative, Solo Kota Kita. They were interested in improving the budgetary process in the city of Solo, but discovered that citizens lacked information about their city’s local service delivery. What was more, even the local government lacked fine-grained information on the services they offered. “We saw a need to change the status quo of the budgetary process, and create a culture where anyone can engage in musrenbang by having data about their communities to improve urban planning,” Taylor remarked.

Addressing this challenge required collecting data on key social and economic issues and visualizing the results. Taylor and his teammates received buy-in from then mayor of the area Joko Widodo (who is now the President of Indonesia), neighborhood elected leaders, and resident volunteers to gather information on sanitations, water, education, poverty and health care in 51 neighborhood districts within Solo.

During the pilot phase, Taylor and his teammates collected results using paper and pencil surveys. But this took five months just for gathering data, so in 2012 the team decided to use SMS gateway to collect data to make the process faster, cheaper, and more efficient. With SMS survey, the Kota Kita Solo team gathered data from all 51 districts in just two month.

“Digitizing the survey made the analysis process easier,” Taylor commented. “We were able to quickly map out the results because the data was organized better. We created posters or ‘mini-atlases’ that showed patterns of problems and opportunities, like which areas were not getting electricity, how many children were attending schools in certain districts, how much water citizens were getting, etc.” The Kota Kita Solo team posted the maps throughout the city where people come together (at kiosks and community centers) and also on solokotakita.org. These mini-atlases aided citizens visualize and understand what services needed the most attention.

As a result from distributing critical socio-economic information, more citizens- not just the older elites – can partake in the urban planning process. And now, increasingly more citiznes are attending musrenban in Solo to advocate for what they think are urgent areas to receive funding in their neighborhoods.

musrenbang

Having proven that this model works, the Kota Kita team has been replicating this survey-mapping approach to improve urban planning in other Indonesian cities as well. More recently, they applied the method to help the Municipality of Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia identify service needs of the rapidly growing population living in portable yurts in outskirts of the capitol.

The team used the same approach as Kota Kita Solo by surveying the socio-economic situations of yurt migrants, mapping out the survey results, and then using the data for the 2014 budgetary discussions for the city. The survey and mapping process was an eye-opening experience because it was the first the former Soviet Union country openly engaged in a dialogue between the citizens and the government.

So what makes the Kota Kita model so successful? Taylor noted that to implement an impactful, citizen-oriented urban planning program, three things must be kept in mind.

  • First, it should take a bottom-up approach that involves the community so that civic concerns are incorporated.
  • Second, having the community actively involved (by involving neighborhood leaders, for example) is imperative to make sure the results are accurate.
  • Lastly, endorsement and demand from top government level officials for the program is important. In the case of program in Solo, the then-mayor Joko Widodo’s buy-in and excitement for the civic mapping was critical for the success of the program.

Taylor remarked that advancement of ICT tools has definitely helped his organization do more work in transparency and civic engagement space. “Kota Kita hopes to continue creating opportunities for open dialogues between the government and the citizens, especially for young people. We’re now creating a budget implementation tracker using Facebook so that more youth can comment and participate in their community decision-making process.”

The tracker is still in its early phase, but it’ll be exciting to see how Kota Kita will continue using visual data tools to empower more citizens to democratically engage with their governments in Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia.

Maiko Nakagaki is a Program Officer at Center for International Private Enterprise

Which Are Better: Computers or Mobile Tablets for Education in Rural India?

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Rural India has a challenging context with respect to quality education. In India, rural areas lack basic infrastructure facilities, and universalization of schooling in India is one of the most urgent development issues in the world today. The major challenges of quality education in rural areas include

  • Absence of students in schools
  • Absence of teachers in schools
  • Insufficient good teachers
  • Absence of schools.

The listed issues cannot be solved easily as there are 600,000 villages in India. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have raised some hopes to tackle these challenges to some extent.

ICTs offer greater access to quality learning resources. The Internet is a forerunner in the technology front with respect to get access to educational resources. Rural areas are still not able to exploit the benefits of the Internet due to the absence of technological infrastructure.

In rural areas, two major ICTs seem to have the greatest potential to deliver quality education, namely, computers and mobile tablets. These technologies can be easily taken to rural areas.

The i-Saksham Project

Understanding the potential of ICTs, a group of entrepreneurs in ‘Jamui’ and ‘Munger’ districts of Bihar, India have implemented i-Saksham project in the remote rural areas. The project aims to give access to quality education using mobile tablets. Mobile tablets contain relevant educational content with respect to primary education.

A local educated youth is selected and trained to use a mobile tablet to deliver primary education to village children. In return, tutors charge fees from the child’s parent. The tutors, in turn, give a fixed amount to the project implementers.

Tablets vs. Computers

The main reasons for using mobile tablets, in comparison to computers, as a platform for the initiative are:

  1. Computers need more maintenance compared to mobile tablets. Computers can’t be moved from one place to the other comfortably. However, tablets are highly portable. If there is a hardware issue, tablets can be taken easily to the project main center. It will be difficult in the case of computers.
  2. In rural areas, there is a lack of electricity and therefore, it will be difficult to run computers. However, mobile tablets once charged can be used any time in the day/night
  3. Computer with an accessory like UPS, increases the cost of investment. This has an effect on the overall sustainability of the project. As the number of tutors rise, investments will also rise if computers are used.
  4. Mobile tablets used in the project are not very expensive. They cost around Rs. 4000-5000 (1$= Rs. 65.00 as on 22/10/2015) with basic features.
  5. With a single computer, all students in a class can’t active part in learning. However, with mobile tablets, students are able to work in groups, play educational games. With increased number of tablets, students’ interaction with the technology and content will be higher.

Computers as a delivery medium has many advantages over the mobile tablet. For example, good video and audio quality, larger memory to store content and better performance. Computers also give opportunity for tutors to enhance their computer skills.

However, in the context of rural areas, mobile tablets because of their portability, lesser cost and maintenance, provides sustainable technological solution to the issue of quality education in rural areas. The mobile tablets complement books during a teaching session. Availability of educational apps enhances the overall ability of the tablet as a medium for education.

Nevertheless, content is a major challenge for the project officials. There is a need for localized content so that students learn faster and better.

Gaurav Mishra is an Assistant Professor at Development Management Institute (DMI) – Patna

National Portal Delivers eServices for Bangladesh Citizens

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The Government of Bangladesh has made substantial strides towards achieving its long-term Perspective Plan (2010-2021) by introducing the National Portal, or NP, which is primarily intended to serve as an information dissemination mechanism for the population, especially the underserved.

The National Portal’s journey started in 2007 when the government introduced a central portal by way of a preliminary endeavour. In 2010, a countrywide initiative was undertaken to introduce portals for all of the country’s 64 districts. Based on the lessons learned from these experiences, the ‘Guidelines on Content Preparation’ and ‘Training Guidelines’ on the same subject were prepared to widen the portals’ scope and reach.

Subsequently, some 22,000 government officials were trained on developing and maintaining the Portal, which created an enabling environment to further advance the effort. Finally, in 2013 and 2014, some 25,000+ websites, adhering to a common architecture, design, and structure in terms of their contents, were integrated within the National Portal and introduced in all tiers of public offices (Union Parishad, the lowest tier of local government, Upazila or Sub-district, district, division, directorate and ministries).

In the new National Portal, citizens are finding a convenient channel for obtaining information from public offices at lower cost and with less hassle. The Portal is also mobile-friendly, thereby ensuring greater access to information since the country enjoys over 70 per cent mobile penetration, with over 80 per cent of Internet access happening over mobile phones. Citizens who are unable to access the websites directly can go to the nearest digital centre, of which there are some 5000+ countrywide.

It is worth noting here that there are complementary initiatives in progress to upgrade the Portal further so that it can host all electronic versions of government services. Mobile applications are also being developed to make it easily accessible to persons with disabilities.

At present, some 100+ services (selected on the basis of importance and public demand), including online passport applications and electricity bill payments, have already been incorporated, and more services will soon be fully automated and provided via the Portal further to a mandatory government directive that will shortly be coming into effect.

Complied from WSIS Stocktaking: Success Stories 2015

FightVAW is helping reduce violence against women in Nepal

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According to the World Bank 2014 regional report, Violence Against Women and Girls: Lessons from South Asia, gender-based violence is an acute problem in Nepal, with women being subjected to different forms of violence, namely, physical intimate partner violence, sexual exploitation, rape and forced labor. At the same time, the Nepal Telecommunication Authority reported over 80% mobile usage.

The prevalence of violence against women and the impressive penetration of technology in Nepal prompted a one-day Hackathon on Violence Against Women (VAWHack) intended to generate applications that could address the issue of gender-based violence in Nepal. The VAWHack, the first such event in Nepal, was organized jointly by the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, YoungInnovations and the Computer Association of Nepal. It brought together private sector representatives, gender experts and young techies to create ICT tools able to help survivors of violence against women and civil society organizations working to reduce its effect on society.

The hackathon produced FightVAW, an ICT-based initiative that provides survivors of violence against women with an alternative means of reporting their cases, via phone call, SMS and online. It enhances coordination among civil society organizations that provide care and services. With an organized case-management system that records complaints and forwards cases to different institutions providing related rehabilitation and legal services, FightVAW uses technology to address a social issue.

FightVAW is the first project of its kind to use ICTs in providing end-to-end solutions to problems involving violence against women in Nepal. It has the additional benefit of reducing survivors’ trauma by sparing them the need to repeat their negative experiences in every organization they reach out to. It also serves as a one-stop site for information on organizations working to prevent violence against women. FightVAW provides a platform for sharing the inspirational stories of women who have moved on in life after such unfortunate incidents.

Through government involvement and the inclusion of private and public organizations working in this field, FightVAW aims to work competitively towards successfully putting an end to violence against women in Nepal.

Complied from WSIS Stocktaking: Success Stories 2015