Wednesday, December 31, 2003


The e-Development Group at the World Bank uses e-Transition as a metaphor, one that I think it quite helpful. It suggests a process by which institutions and societies are transformed from their current ICT infrastructure and use to some future, preferred ICT infrastructure and usage. It is a good alternative to the “project” metaphor.

“Information system projects appear to have an alarmingly high failure rate, even in
developed countries — half of large implementations fail, half suffer disputes” according to the World Bank ICT Task Manager’s Handbook. How can it be that half of projects fail, while it is obvious that ICT dissemination not only continues unabated, but increases in speed and intensity?

I suggest one answer may be that there are externalities to ICT projects that are not counted in measuring project achievements. Thus people learn about the technology during projects, and apply the knowledge and skills in new circumstances; organizations reengineer processes and structures during ICT projects, and are then better able to deal with new ICT efforts and better perform their functions after projects are finished. Other institutions, such as markets and sectors, are restructured during projects, and function better and are more amenable to future improvements as a result.

Another explanation, is that the project metaphor may often fail, or at least be less successful than the transition metaphor. The transition metaphor directs attention to progress made in the transition – toward the ICT capacity that has been developed and the stage reached in the transition process.

The transition metaphor suggests that projects be considered as steps in a larger transition. A project’s success is then to be measured not only against the specific technical goals of the project, but against the contribution that the project has made to the overall transition.

The transition metaphor also suggests criteria for project selection. Projects should be selected not only according to their costs, nominal benefits to the firm or institution if successful, and likelihood of success, but also according to the stage reached in the transition, and their likelihood of success in terms of that stage and their likely contribution to the transition process.

Thus, at the beginning of an e-transition, projects might be chosen as “low-hanging fruit”, with high probability of success; initial failures are bad for the process and project failure can better be accommodated when the process is well established. Similarly, early projects might be visible solutions of widely felt needs, so that their successes generate broad support for the transition process.

Similarly, projects should be seen as interrelated steps in the transition process. This some ICT projects will not be feasible or effective without prior success in others. Thus governments will be unlikely to develop online land registration processes without first computerizing the land registry; businesses will be unlikely to develop B2B e-commerce without first developing many underlying ICT applications to allow rapid response to online business opportunities.

In short, the e-transition metaphor is at least a valuable complement to the project metaphor, and perhaps is a higher level metaphor that helps rationalize project planning and evaluation.

Thursday, December 25, 2003


Tuesday, December 23, 2003


Robert J. Gordon recently wrote “Five Puzzles in the Behavior of Productivity, Investment, and Innovation� (September, 2003). The paper examines the role of ICT in enhancing productivity growth in developed countries, especially total factor productivity (TFP). (Gordon thinks that there has been an ICT based increase in the rate of TFP growth in the United States, and wonders why the same effect has not been as evident in Europe.)

I wonder why Gordon focuses so heavily on increasing TFP growth rates. Is it not enough that ICT investments maintain TFP growth at previously established levels? It is rather well established that technological engines of TFP growth eventually run out of steam. Steam engines may have fueled the industrial revolution, but no one is investing in steam engines for their factories or locomotives any more. To keep productivity growth going, new technologies with further growth potential have to be found to substitute for those which no longer fuel growth adequately. ICT may be a key ingredient to fuel productivity growth in developed countries at this moment; the importance of ICT may be to sustain the rate of increasing TFP, not to increase that rate. The Information Revolution may be important in sustaining the technology fueled TFP growth by new means as the most recent previous technological engines run out of steam.

Lets look at the micro-level. A firm is making a decision on whether to invest or not to invest. There are generally various options, and generally each option has its technological implications. In developing countries, rates of return for investment are already high. Firms have often not made the transition to the 20th century, much less the 21st. They still can make high-yielding investments in cars and trucks, electrical machinery, and telephones, not to mention human, organizational, and social capital. Many such investments will have high rates of return, since the society is not yet saturated with these technologies.

Add to the opportunities from pre-existing technologies, new opportunities to invest in PCs and Internet connectivity. Of course the new technologies will provide opportunities that in some cases substitute for those provided by older technologies. One will probably not buy a typewriter when one has bought a PC and printer. But in general the new technologies will simply expand the range of investment opportunities.

There will still be a lot of investments in cars and trucks, electrical machinery and telephones, but there will also be firms that choose to invest in PCs. In some cases the firms will make the wrong investment decision – they will buy a PC when it would have been more profitable to use the money to buy a car. But in general, we assume that they will make the right decision, investing in more (rather than less) profitable technologies. Generally, the highest available return on investment adding ICT to the pre-existing technology mix should be no lower than that from the un-supplemented, pre-existing technologies alone, and may be higher.

But the gains in general may be expected to be marginal. If one can expect a 15 percent rate of return on investment in non-ICT technologies, how much will adding ICT to the mix increase the average rate of return? Probably not a lot. Some funds that would have been invested in lower-yielding technologies will be shifted to higher yielding ICT, but most investments will not change. Firms would have bought cars and electrical machinery had there not been ICT available, and will still buy those things with ICT available. Only a part of investment will be in ICT, and that part will have only somewhat higher rates of return on average than would their non-ICT best alternatives.

Of course, with higher returns on investment available, one can expect some resources that otherwise would have gone for consumption now going into investment, and this shift can result in an improvement in labor productivity, and ultimately in more rapid increase in per capita GDP. But this effect too is likely to be at the margin.

With millions upon millions of investors making such decisions, there may be very large numbers of decisions to invest in ICT rather than in a more traditional technology, and very large number of decisions to invest a little more in the firm. These decision for ICT innovation are thrown together with the larger numbers of decisions to invest in traditional technologies into the complex processes of the economy. What emerges, among other things, are probably higher rates of labor productivity and TFP growth – i.e. more rapid economic development. But only marginally more rapid rates of development!

And as I have argued in the past, the potential benefits from ICT will only be realized where other conditions are propitious. Adding ICT to the technology mix will not add to investment where the investors are facing social, political or other conditions that make them unlikely to invest in any technology.

The donor community seeks evidence that ICT will enhance development. Measuring the impact of a technology on economic development is very difficult. (Measuring the impact on social, political, or cultural development may be a whole lot harder!) Complexity theory has illuninated the unintuitive nature of emergent properties of small changes in the way decisions are made in complex systems. Thus complexity theory helps explain why it is hard to establish the causal linkage between the introduction of new technological opportunities and the rate of economic growth. It is perhaps even more difficult, recognizing poverty as a multidimensional problem, to demonstrate the impact of ICT on poverty reduction. The difficulties of its demonstration should not be taken as arguing against the reality of the effect.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003


This February 2003 report by Paula Johnson, on the website of the Global Philanthropy Partnership, seems very useful in that it describes many of the larger and of the more interesting foundations supporting development programs.

Monday, December 15, 2003


Americans for UNESCO is a national, non-governmental organization for Americans interested in UNESCO. It is relatively new, having succeeded “Americans for the Universality of UNESCO” with the reentry of the United States into the decentralized organization within the United Nations family. It’s new website should become an increasingly useful source of information about UNESCO, and about US participation in the organization.

The U.S. sent a very high level delegation to attend the General Conference of UNESCO in October. The reception was apparently very warm. UNESCO’s five main priorities are: basic education for all; freshwater resources and ecosystems; the ethics of science and technology; promoting cultural diversity and international dialogue; and universal access to information especially information in the public domain. Its General Conference adopted a program and budget for UNESCO of US$ 610 million for the 2004-2005 biennium. The session also adopted several standard-setting instruments: the International Convention on the Preservation of the Intangible Cultural Heritage; a Declaration Concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage; the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data; Recommendation on the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace; and the Charter on the Preservation of the Digital Heritage.

A report of the October Conference of UNESCO is available on the Americans for UNESCO website.

UNESCO is in many ways the leading agency in the United Nations for issues related to Knowledge for Development. It is the lead agency for Education in the system, and in many ways is the lead agency in terms of information and communications technology for development. It clearly has taken the lead in basic scientific information within the UN system, although of course other agencies focus on science relevant to their own charters (e.g. WHO and the health sciences, FAO and the agricultural sciences). Thus it is great that the U.S. has rejoined.

WSIS recedes from the front lines of attention until 2005 in Tunis. It appears that the difficult issues were postponed by the well used tactic of assigning them to study groups during the interval between the two Summits. The major results of WSIS are linked below.

WSIS: Declaration of Principles

WSIS: Plan of Action

Wednesday, December 10, 2003



More than 70 per cent of the rural households in India own transistor radios, bicycles, and wrist watches; more than 60 per cent own or consume plastic shoes, tooth powder, and cooking oils; over 50 per cent consume electric fans, sewing machines, motorbikes, kerosene stoves, ghee, leather shoes, and tea; over 40 percent own quartz watches, black and white television sets, and cassette players; over 30 per cent have invested in pressure cookers, electric stoves, tooth paste, bulbs, and aerated beverages; and over 20 per cent have color television sets, refrigerators, and gas stoves.
Tariq Banuri, “ICT, PRSPs, and MDGs

My recent contribution to the World Summit on the Information Society via the Development Gateway (“Information and Communications Technology
Applied to the Millennium Development Goals
”) depends fundamentally on my notion of how technology spreads across the developing world.

Tariq Banuri’s comment above illustrates the nature of the diffusion that interests me. More than 70 percent of Indian rural households have radios; more than 40 percent have black and white televisions; more than 20 percent have color television sets. How did this come about? Were there projects illustrating the use of transistor radios and black and white televisions? Were the successful ones replicated and scaled up? I doubt it.

I think that Everett Rogers' “Diffusion of Innovations” approach is a more likely explanation. He focuses on the individual decisions of people, and the processes by which most people learn from the experiences of the early acceptors of technological innovations in their local, following the examples of those who are successful.

Why is it then that so many people in donor agencies focus so heavily on pilot projects, and replication and scale up? One reason is that replication and scale up are often within the power of the donor agencies and their client governments, and they focus on what they can do.

Another reason is that it is so difficult to understand the complex processes out of which emerge the larger dissemination of technologies, and even more difficult to understand how to modify and improve those processes. How does one spread better information to improve decision making over huge numbers of people? How does one identify, much less modify the incentives (and disincentives) faced by those people in their ICT decision making? Especially how does one target the decision makers making key decisions for the alleviation of poverty with information and incentives enabling them to do the right thing.

Further, as I have often pointed out, we are dealing with technology systems. The Internet changes the value of computers and telephones. Content availability affects those values. And indeed, ICT changes the values of the electrical infrastructure. What then is the proper sequence in which to build capacity, infrastructure, applications, content, and all the rest.

As Voltaire said, “The ideal is enemy of the good.” We man not have all the answers, but it seems likely that we can target people making important ICT decisions that ultimately affect the poor, and we can provide many of them with useful information through affordable processes, and we can make some changes in the incentives they face that will encourage more pro-poor decisions. And we can do so now.

By the way, let me recommend Kerry McNamara’s “Information and Communication Technologies, Poverty and Development: Learning from Experience.” I think it presents a useful view based on a wide-ranging assessment of experience to date.

Sunday, December 07, 2003


This New York Times article describes the US$ 2 billion increase in U.S. foreign development assistance, bringing the total to US$ 8.6 billion. This is the first tangible step implementing the President’s promise to increase America's foreign aid budget by 15 percent a year — or $5 billion over three years, the first real expansion in more than a decade.

The new budget would double aid to Africa, and begin ramping up the AIDS program. Much of the increase will sidestep the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and, instead, go to a newly created program called the Millennium Challenge Account.

Check out the Development Gateway’s Cross-Topic special on the World Summit on the Information Society. Sixteen topic pages have produced highlights in support of the Summit.

Saturday, December 06, 2003


I have just posted a highlight on the ICT for Development topic page of the Development Gateway on Information and Communications Technology and the Millennium Development Goals. It was written to support the World Summit on the Information Society.

My main contribution to that highlight was a set of essays titled “Information and Communications Technology Applied to the Millennium Development Goals.”

Friday, December 05, 2003


One of the winners in this week’s Development Marketplace was a project that is to train the giant African pouched rat (Cricetomys gambianus) to screen sputum samples for signs of tuberculosis.

The project is being developed by APOPO, a Belgian research organization working on demining. I suppose that everyone knows that left-over land mines are a big problem in many developing countries, and the development of a new, cost effective tool for sniffing out the mines would be very important to millions of people. The APOPO people have some 300 rats in a colony that is now on its fifth generation (nine generations are expected to be needed to breed docile animals that can do this work.) They have developed conditioned response methods for training the animals to sniff out specific substances, and find the rats can do so cheaply and with great accuracy. The approach is to be tried in a real life situation in Mozambique soon.

I actually was the project officer for a project funding Cricetomys research many years ago. It seems that these animals in the wild are primarily vegetarians, and are in fact a desired bush meat in West Africa. Our project was to try to develop them into a form of micro-livestock. Small animals, like rabbits and guinea pigs, can be a very good form of livestock in poor communities. The rabbit-sized Cricetomys might do quite well if enough development went into developing a breed with the right characteristics.

If you want to know about these guys as pets, try this article from Rat and Mouse Gazette.

We sometimes get inflated ideas about the applications of science to development. The development of the potential of this species is an example in which very simple research could eventually have great benefits for poor people. The facilities needed are modest, but smart, well trained scientists can do a lot with an innovative approach!

Screening sputum for TB is a relatively slow and costly process now, requiring microscopic examination of the specimens. If as expected, a small colony of rats, cheap to maintain, could screen 2,000 samples a day, the technology could be very widely applied. Tuberculosis kills around 2 million people a year.

Using animals to search for buried landmines, if they can do so in a safe and cost-effective manner, would perhaps not be as globally important as finding a better way to diagnose TB, but it would be important. That this possibility has been developed by a small team working at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania is impressive.

Way to go, APOPO!

Sunday, November 30, 2003


These two papers should be widely known:

Strategic Approaches To Science And Technology In Development
By Robert Watson, Michael Crawford and Sara Farley, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3026, April 2003. (PDF, 62 pages)

From Knowledge To Wealth: Transforming Russian Science And Technology For A Modern Knowledge Economy
By Alfred Watkins, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 2974, February 2003. (PDF, 59 pages.)

I read two articles about biotechnology in Africa this weekend.

One was in Nature magazine’s November 20th edition (which is not available online without a subscription). The other was in the Washington Post.

The articles point out the debate going on. The world area dedicated to genetically modified crops is growing rapidly, albeit from a small base. On the other hand, most of those crops are grown in the United States and Argentina.

There is a fierce debate going on as to whether countries should grow such crops, especially the food crops, and as to whether the food from such crops is safe to eat.

I think that is OK, and I am a strong supporter of careful review and testing of recombinant organisms before releasing them to farmers or adding them to the diet. Some things are not OK. One is the level of superstitious argument that is encouraged. In my experience, there are people – especially in civil society – who have very little knowledge of the field but who feel capable of participating fully in the debate and even of advising countries on policy. Another thing that is not OK is arguing falsely, taking positions which are probably not true in order to advance one’s economic interests.

The articles seemed surprised to find that not enough money is being spent on biotech based research that would benefit the poor in developing nations. First, of course, development assistance is underfunded. Secondly, science is underfunded within the development assistance program. Then, one must recognize that poor people are not going to be as good a market for the products of this research as are the rich. Add to that the resistance to ever growing recombinant crops, even if they are successfully developed and demonstrated safe – why would people do the research?

I am surprised that people have not made the connection between:
· Zambia’s willingness to let people go hungry rather than allow the distribution of food from the United States, even though U.S. consumers were eating the stuff without any problems; and
· South Africa’s willingness to let people suffer and die from AIDS rather than use drugs that were available, and even arguing that AIDS was not caused by HIV.
Governments willing to let their citizens suffer and even die, arguing anti-scientific grounds for their actions – seems to me there is a common thread.

On the other hand, I also detect excessive optimism about biotech. It is 20 years since I was the project officer for a major study of the role of biotechnology for developing nations, and at that time I too was overly optimistic. But it takes a long time to move from a research idea to a socially or economically important set of applications. The dwarf varieties of rice that eventually were the basis of the green revolution were known in the 19th century, but the green revolution occurred in the late 20th century. Expecting results on the farm or in the market basket from biotechnology research after a decade is simply naïve.

We funded the first biotechnology projects in developing nations from USAID some 20 years ago. It was important to do so. The programs got scientific leaders thinking about regulation of biotechnology, and allowed a few leaders to continue working at the frontier of the field and maintaining their professional knowledge of the nature of biotechnology and the safety of its products. We hoped that they would be the gatekeepers for their societies. Too bad that less informed people have often taken that role.

The Post quotes Hans R. Herren, head of ICIPE, as saying: “I think it is wrong to sort of say that we need genetically modified crops to feed Africa. We need many other things first. You would need better agronomy, you need better fertilizer, you need better crop management. You have to make sure there are markets, there's storage, there are roads, there are trucks. Maybe in 15 or 20 years when we have solved all these other things, biotechnology will have something to contribute.” Of course Africa’s agricultural problems are not merely technological, and technological innovation is not going to be a priority in many countries until political, economic and other conditions improve.

But if we wait until these problems are solved until we start building biotechnology and biotech policy and regulatory capacity, agricultural technology will be still further behind.

At least people seem to accept the application of biotechnology within biomedical research and development!

Saturday, November 29, 2003


This network is supported by a number of donors, and since 2002 has been publishing a number of interesting policy studies. Here are some relating to ICT for Development.

Blueprint for Developing National ICT Policy in Africa
This paper begins with an overview, including discussion of The Digital Divide and its Socio-Economic Development Implications and a review of ‘ICT for Development’ Efforts on the World Scene. It then focuses on developing the African Information Society and Economy, mentioningtThe AISI and the DOI. The paper provides Guidelines to Facilitate the Process of Developing Integrated for Developing the Framework to Guide the Policy and Plan Development Process. I provides suggestions as to Identifying the Critical Success Factors. By Clement Dzidonu, ATPS Special Paper Series No. 5, 2002. (PDF, 36 pages.)
This is also available in French:

African Response to the Information Communication Technology Revolution (Case Study of the ICT Development in Nigeria)
This study reviews some of the ICT for Development initiatives in Africa, and discusses the Nigerian experience. By G. Olalere Ajayi, ATPS Special Paper Series No.8, March 2002. (PDF, 25 pages.)

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs): Poverty Alleviation and Universal Access Policies (A Review of the Current Status and Issues)
Abstract: “This paper provides a basic conceptual and practical foundation for discussing the role of information and communication technologies in the uplifting of poor communities. We commence by stating what we know to be true from several years of working in the telecommunications and information technology field in emerging markets and developing countries. We offer a structural way of addressing the issues related to an increasingly "digital divide", which we represent as two gaps to be bridged by different kinds of policies – both make up a Country’s Universal Access Strategy. We attempt to show what the minimum response of policy makers should be to the challenges they face, through some cases or illustrations from recent experience and analysis. We also report on rural telecommunications developments in Uganda, which promise an encouraging outcome as a potential model for other countries in Africa to consider.” By Andrew Dymond and Sonja Oestmann, ATPS Special Paper Series No.9, March 2002. (PDF, 20 pages.)

ICT Human Resource Development in Africa: Challenges, Strategies and Options
This paper briefly describes some of the experience in other countries, and then suggests criteria for ICT human resources development in Africa. By T.M. Waema, ATPS Special Paper Series No. 10, 2002. (PDF, 17 pages.)

Application of ICTs in Africa: Development of Knowledge workers in Centers of Learning
From the Abstract: “For any economy, organization or individual to be competitive, the application of information communication and technology (ICT) is critical. Recent debates on the digital divide and its impact on emerging markets appreciate that the growth and application of technology in all facets of life is inevitable. In Kenya today, gainful societies must embrace the information age to survive. The UNDP Human Development Report (2001) strongly supports technology as an essential ingredient in any development effort, and it proposes that subsequent interventions include technology of some kind. Employment in the private and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) requires an appropriate level of understanding of ICT, because of the growing use of the skill in conducting business. In the government, through the World Bank sponsored restructuring programme of the Department of Personnel Management, there is a move to outsource non-core support activities and employ better qualified individuals, empowered with essential skills. Development, as an individual or corporate, entrepreneur or employee, private or public body is becoming more dependent on the knowledge base of its units. The “knowledge worker” is rapidly replacing the labourer as basic activities are automated and consolidated by economies of scale because of globalization. Any economy, organization or government that misses this paradigm shift in human resource development will find it difficult to sustain growth and remain competitive. By John M. Waibochi, ATPS Special Paper Series No. 11, 2002. (PDF, 16 pages.)

Strengthening National Information and Communication Technology Policy in Africa: Governance, Equity and Institutional Issues
From the Introduction: “This paper provides a framework for a research agenda on governance of information communication technologies (ICTs) in Africa. It addresses the background, importance and developments in ICTs in general and the governance in particular. The paper also reviews events in Africa and elsewhere, highlighting the importance of governance of ICTs for growth and development in the continent.” By Melvin Ayogu, ATPS Special Paper Series No. 13, 2002. (PDF, 31 pages.)

I came across two papers prepared to inform the deliberations of the World Summit on the Information Society that seem to me to be important reading. I hope that WSIS helps develop support for building science and technology capacity in developing nations, and maintaining such capacity in transition nations. If so, these documents may be influential as to how such capacity building is to be accomplished.

Promoting The Application Of Science And Technology To Meet The Development Goals Contained In The Millennium Declaration
Four themes are covered: 1) Improving the policy environment for the application of science and technology to development; 2) Strengthening basic and applied research in developing countries and international scientific networking; 3) Strengthening technology support institutions and science advisory mechanisms; building human capacity; identifying new technologies and applications; and encouraging international collaboration to support research in neglected fields; and Promoting universal Internet access at affordable costs and building strategic partnerships in the field of science and technology for development and capacity building for competitiveness." Concept paper prepared by the CSTD Secretariat for the Panel on "Promoting the application of science and technology to meet the Millennium Development Goals," Tunis, Tunisia, 29-31 October 2003. (PDF, 22 pages.)

Background Paper of the Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation of the Millennium Project
The Millennium Project was launched by the United Nations and the United Nations Development Program to recommend the best strategies for achieving the Millennium Development Goals set forth in the Millennium Assembly of the United Nations. Ten Task Forces were created under the project, including Task Force 10 on Science, Technology and Innovation. That Task Force, composed of well known leaders from many countries working in this field, produced this report dated April 18, 2003. (PDF, 57 pages.)

Monday, November 24, 2003


I seem to be in disagreement with some of my colleagues about the importance of standards, taxonomy and measurement as underlying requirements for the application of “Knowledge for Development”. Take for example the following organization:

The InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards
INCITS is, according to its website, "the primary U.S. focus of standardization in the field of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), encompassing storage, processing, transfer, display, management, organization, and retrieval of information. As such, INCITS also serves as ANSI's (American National Standards Institute's) Technical Advisory Group for ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1. JTC 1 is responsible for International standardization in the field of Information Technology." The website provides many resources relevant to ICT standards.

I assume that everyone interested in the topic of Knowledge for Development knows that the Internet is made possible by widely used standards that allow computers to connect to networks, and networks to interchange data. Without these standards and others of concern to INCITIS, we would not be seeing a World Summit on the Information Society, or even having a blog on Knowledge for Development.

Look at some of the other institutions involved in standards that are important resources for building knowledge economies in developing nations:

The American National Standards Institute

The Office of International Affairs of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology

The International Standards Organization

In may days as a health planner, I discovered that large numbers of people seeing a doctor on an outpatient basis never had their disease fully diagnosed. A lot of health problems clear up without medical help, and a lot are treated in a generic basis with requiring a detailed diagnosis. Moreover, different doctors may give different diagnoses for the same patient with the same presenting conditions. One of the most common diagnoses where I worked was GADEJO, or (cleaned up), “the desire to take off work”.

The situation was improving all those many years ago, and an important function of the World Health Organization was developing, maintaining and publishing the international classification of diseases, and harmonizing disease reporting systems among nations.

Now with the desire to create large scale health data bases, and to exchange medical records more consistently, a number of organizations are confronting the need for better classification systems. See for example:

The Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium
CDISC is an open, multidisciplinary, non-profit organization committed to the development of industry standards to support the electronic acquisition, exchange, submission and archiving of clinical trials data and metadata for medical and biopharmaceutical product development. The mission of CDISC is to lead the development of global, vendor-neutral, platform independent standards to improve data quality and accelerate product development in our industry.

This is the webpage of the Eudra Vigilance website that deals with MedDRA. MedDRA is the Medicinal Dictionary for Regulatory Activities. It has been developed as a clinically validated international medical terminology for regulatory authorities. MedDRA is also used in the regulated pharmaceutical industry for data entry, retrieval, evaluation and presentation during all phases of the regulatory process, from pre- to post- marketing phases. These processes include clinical studies, reports of spontaneous adverse reactions, events, regulatory submissions and regulated product information.

SNOMED Clinical Terms
SNOMED Clinical Terms® (SNOMED CT®) is a comprehensive and precise clinical reference terminology that health care providers, health care information technology suppliers, providers, payers, purchasers and institutional researchers can use to improve the comparability of data. It provides a common language that makes health care information accessible and usable, whenever and wherever it is needed, to improve health care across primary and specialty medicine settings internationally. Government entities and healthcare organizations in over 30 countries have adopted SNOMED CT since its release in January 2002.

Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes (LOINC®)
The purpose of the LOINC database is to facilitate the exchange and pooling of results, such as blood hemoglobin, serum potassium, or vital signs, for clinical care, outcomes management, and research. Currently, most laboratories and other diagnostic services use HL7 to send their results electronically from their reporting systems to their care systems. However, most laboratories and other diagnostic care services identify tests in these messages by means of their internal and idiosyncratic code values. Thus, the care system cannot fully "understand" and properly file the results they receive unless they either adopt the producer's laboratory codes (which is impossible if they receive results from multiple sources), or invest in the work to map each result producer's code system to their internal code system. LOINC codes are universal identifiers for laboratory and other clinical observations that solve this problem.

Health Level Seven
Health Level Seven is one of several American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs) operating in the healthcare arena. Most SDOs produce standards (sometimes called specifications or protocols) for a particular healthcare domain such as pharmacy, medical devices, imaging or insurance (claims processing) transactions. Health Level Seven’s domain is clinical and administrative data. Its mission is: "To provide standards for the exchange, management and integration of data that support clinical patient care and the management, delivery and evaluation of healthcare services. Specifically, to create flexible, cost effective approaches, standards, guidelines, methodologies, and related services for interoperability between healthcare information systems."

Thus in the health field, there is a major effort under way to standardize definitions of terms, and to find ways to assure the quality of information produced using these terms. These efforts will make epidemiological statistics a lot more meaningful – as health systems increasingly report their information according to defined standards, with increasingly carefully planned categories of reporting.

I would be willing to bet that similar efforts are under way in many fields. And in many fields as a result statistics will become much better sources of knowledge that can be applied for social and economic development and for the reduction of poverty.

I would also note that it is not always easy to evaluate whether or not a thing observed is an instance of a given category of things. Perhaps a table is easy to identify as a table, but to identify a contaminated food item as an instance of a particular kind of contamination, or to identify a polluted piece of soil as an example of a specific kind of pollution event may not be so easy. One important resource that could be used to help developing countries carry out such determinations is:

AOAC International
“As the ‘Association of Analytical Communities,’ AOAC INTERNATIONAL is committed to be a proactive, worldwide provider and facilitator in the development, use, and harmonization of validated analytical methods and laboratory quality assurance programs and services. AOAC also serves as the primary resource for timely knowledge exchange, networking, and high-quality laboratory information for its members.”

The point is that it is important to have good, widely accepted taxonomies. It is important to have clear means of classifying items according to these taxonomies. And it is important to have the scientific and technological capacity to use these means well. Without such infrastructure, “knowledge for development” approaches will be crippled. And consequently, it is important that the resources available to develop this infrastructure be recognized by people in developing nations, and their importance appreciated.

Thursday, November 20, 2003


From a recent e-mail from the NSF:

“According to the National Science Foundation's (NSF) figures
derived from the 1990 Census estimates of foreign-born workers in
1999 holding bachelor's degrees represented 11 percent of the
total population in S&E-classified occupations. Foreign-born
individuals with master's degrees held 19 percent of the S&E
occupations held by master's recipients overall. Foreign-born
Ph.D.s represented 29 percent of those positions.

“The 2000 Census figures, however, allowed for the first time a
sampling that takes into account foreign workers holding degrees
obtained in countries outside the United States. When factored
in, the estimated proportions of foreign-born workers in S&E
occupations in 1999 rose between six and 10 percent per category.
Foreign-born workers with bachelor's degrees actually represented
17 percent of the total in S&E positions held by people with
bachelor's degrees. The foreign-born proportion went up to 29
percent among those with master's degrees, and 38 percent among
doctorate holders. NSF analysts point out that during the 1990s,
there was a large influx of foreign-born scientists and engineers
across most fields.”

“NSB members also reported that from 2001 to 2002, H-1B visas for
foreign workers in science, engineering and technology-related
fields declined sharply from about 166,000 to around 74,000.”

The World Summit on the Information Society is to have its first meeting in Geneva, December 10-12, 2003. (The second meeting will be in Tunis in 2005.)

There have been national meetings and regional meetings in preparation for this event, as well as a seemingly endless series of “PrepComs”. Thousands of people are expected to descend on Geneva, and something like 110 parallel events are planned during WSIS I.

I am told that while there has not been much press coverage of WSIS in the North, there is a lot in the South. This may reflect the high hopes for the outcomes of WSIS in the South, and the concern for limiting the damage in the North.

WSIS was conceived as providing for an open dialog among governments, businesses, and civil society organizations. Perhaps as a result of better understanding among these organizations, it is rumored that many NGO leaders feel disillusioned because of their lack of success in influencing the draft Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action. International business firms are in all likelihood avoiding public controversy, and focusing on influencing the policies of the OECD governments.

Governments are discovering how great are the differences among them in areas such as:
· openness of cyberspace, the importance of human rights,
· the control and amount of donor assistance in the field of ICT,
· the relative importance of intellectual property versus public domain,
· the importance of the commons in cyberspace,
· global governance of the Internet.

Donor agencies are staffed by human beings who seek job security and increased responsibility, and are no doubt vying among themselves for control of this field of development, while seeking to survive in their intra-governmental power struggles, and seeking to satisfice their domestic constituencies in civil society, the business community, the political arena, and the academic sphere.

From my distant viewpoint, I think there has been a huge amount of work done in preparation for WSIS. Many websites have been developed, papers written, meetings planned, and travel arrangements made.

Conflict is to be expected, but it would be a shame if the conflict became the story. WSIS does recognize that new tools for international development and the reduction of poverty have become available. It signals an opportunity for people to rethink policies and to change the emphasis on capacity building in development. It provides an opportunity for people to exchange views, and come to better mutual understanding. I hope those opportunities are fully utilized!

Saturday, November 15, 2003


According to this article, “the number of American students of college age or older studying abroad has more than doubled, from 71,154 in the 1991-92 school year to 154,168 in 2000-01. That is only a small percentage of the 9 million full-time undergraduates in America, but it is an important trend.”

My calculator says those studying abroad are equal to 1.7 percent of the number of U.S. undergraduate college students. If one assumed that “junior year abroad” was the standard, then one might expect one-quarter of all undergraduate students to be studying abroad.

However, the number studying abroad should include graduate students as well. I would certainly hope that a large portion of doctoral students study abroad, and masters students in many fields would also benefit.

It seems to be that 154 thousand students abroad is so low a number as to be almost a crisis level. The world’s greatest economic and political power certainly needs international experience. Part of that experience is obtained by immigration. On the other hand, the frequency of international study in the past was even lower than today, and we should be playing catch-up.

Moreover, most knowledge creation is occurring outside the borders of the United States. Gone are the post World War II days in which two-thirds or more of scientific activity worldwide occurred in the United States. While modern communications have improved our ability to obtain knowledge from abroad, much knowledge is tacit, best obtained in face-to-face interaction (or shoulder-to-shoulder interaction in the lab). Graduate education abroad is again an important source of scientific, technological, and academic knowledge for the U.S.

Friday, November 14, 2003


I have been building a website with resources for monitoring and evaluation. It was designed to support the programs of the Development Gateway, but I think many others might find it useful. It emphasizes monitoring and evaluation of ICT projects in a development context. Give it a try.

Thursday, November 13, 2003


The Partnership for Public Service provides a site on “The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government”.

The U.S. Agency for International Development ranks 22 out of 28 agencies rated. The study included survey responses from more than 100,000 feds on their satisfaction with their jobs. Four related questions ascertained that the USAID folk are not too happy with their organization as a place to work!

The Foundation Center has published a new report on international grantmaking by U.S. foundations.

Some of the findings are:
· International giving grew faster than overall giving through 2001;
· International funding accounted for 15 percent of overall foundation grant dollars in 2001;
· Health programs received the largest share of international grant dollars in the 2001 sample;
· U.S.-based programs garnered a larger share of all international giving;
· Estimated international giving in 2002 by all U.S. foundations declined faster than estimated overall foundation giving.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003


Check out the new edition of Developments. It focuses on science in development, with an article on “Digital Development”.

While you are at it, you might check out an article in the New York Times that deals with the complex role of science in an information society.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003


My colleague Shashank Ohja and I were chatting about a recent project in which an Asian country had contracted for the implementation of an ICT project from a nearby country. I casually repeated a comment standard in the “development community” for several decades that I would prefer a project that built capacity in the country with the project. Shashank rightly said that that the country should find the best deal it could, getting the best benefit to cost return on its investment.

Of course he was right. The whole theory of international commerce is built on this approach. All countries should do better specializing in the goods and services in which they have comparative advantage, trading them for other goods and services produced in countries according to their own comparative advantages. Why should ICT goods and services be any different? Surely developing countries should often trade the things they produce obeying their own comparative advantage for ICT goods and services produced abroad.

No one would suggest that the Sahelian countries should seek to compete with Intel in the production of silicon chips, nor with Microsoft in the production of software. Since ICT services, including software development and consulting, are increasingly tradable, why should not countries with a comparative advantage in these services also specialize and export? Why should not developing countries with comparative advantages in other products trade those products for chips, Microsoft software, and other services?

Still, I feel there is a set of core ICT competencies that should exist in a country, and that it would be bad policy to seek to import those competencies from others. All countries need gatekeeping competencies, to identify ICT needs and select appropriate products from domestic or international sources. Some services are still not tradable, and the capacity is needed at home to provide those services. Countries would be expected to have a comparative advantage in adapting technology produced to international standards in order for it to meet the needs of their own institutions; the capacity to do so should be built and maintained.

This seems to me to be a tricky area, needing more work to define the specific areas in which capacity should be built, and those in which countries should trade for needed ICT goods and services.

The number of mobile phones in the world has apparently surpassed the number of fixed line phones. I think the rapid growth of mobile connectivity has generally been seen as reducing the digital divide. I wonder the degree to which this is so.

Surely there are many people (in developing countries) who have obtained telephone service for the first time using a cell phone. Indeed there are clearly people using wireless in rural areas that have not yet been wired.

Yet I see many people adding a cell phone to their collection of communication devices that already includes one or more fixed line phones in their offices, fixed lines to their homes, and cable and DSL connections. Indeed I would guess that far more mobile phones are acquired by those who are already connected, than by the disconnected.

Thus it seems quite possible that the major effect of the introduction of mobile phones has been to add to the connectivity of the already connected – complementing home and office phone services with personal phone services. The effect of connecting the unwired, important as it undoubtedly is, may well be less extensive than the effect of adding to the connectivity of the wired.

And thus, the mobile may be more adding to the digital divide than bridging it.

The Development Gateway, in collaboration with two German donors has announced a €100,000 prize for leadership in the field of ICT for Development. The first prize will be awarded next year (May?), nominations are open, and information is available on the Development Gateway website.

I hope this prize will be different than some of the others I have seen, not naming names. I have seen prizes go for what I can only consider the cuteness of the project, or the likelihood that the project will attract media attention and attention from the general public.

As I see it, the key element of the Petersberg Prize will be to acknowledge a major success in the reduction of poverty through ICT. In India, for example, the four billion dollar e-government program that I mentioned in a previous posting is likely to benefit millions of people. The ten billion dollar a year that the Indian ICT industry has injected into the countries economy will have endless repercussions, similarly benefiting millions.

There are likely to be key elements contributing to such successes. Thus changes in national government policy and the example of successful e-government efforts in Andra Pradesh and other sites – now being scaled up nationwide – contributed to the e-government interest and support. The liberalization of business policies seem clearly to have contributed to the rapid growth of ICT and knowledge businesses (and I was told that the liberalization often started with ICT and then moved to other sectors.

In turn, leadership by an organization or individual was often critical to getting these key elements in place.

I hope that by recognizing such leadership, attention can be directed to the key elements that lead to major successes, and that as a result similar successes will occur in many countries.

I spent last week on a flying trip to Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. I had never before been to Bangalore nor Mumbai.

I can affirm that there are lots of ICT and knowledge based businesses in these cities. The facilities I saw were beautiful. Not only were there impressive building facades and gardens surrounding the facilities, but the interiors were luxurious, clean and functional. Computers were working, conference rooms fully equipped. (Indeed I saw a conference room in the Ministry of Information Technology equipped with GIS and communication technology that I hadn’t realized existed anywhere.) No wonder Indian-American ICT executives are returning to India in significant numbers, providing leadership to build its ICT industrial capacity.

I was told that the GDP of Bangalore was increasing at 30 percent a year, and while I recognize the problems of measuring this rate of increase, I certainly believe the place is booming. The city is extending up into the air and out into the surrounding countryside, driven by the growth of its ICT and knowledge industries.

I had a chance to see a university program, a government R&D lab program, and to visit a software company. People and progress in each were quite impressive. These folks appear to be able to hold their own professionally against competition from anywhere in the world, and to work at salaries only a fraction of those in the U.S. and Europe.

The industry has grown in size by an order of magnitude in the last decade, and seems in full course to continue rapid growth.

I was also impressed by the apparent resolve of the Indian government to develop e-government solutions. I was told that expenses this year on e-government will be equivalent to one billion U.S. dollars, and that a three billion dollar investment is planned for the next three years.

In a week no one becomes an expert on a country and its ICT industry, but this was a great visit.

I thank all the people who made it possible, and the folk who met me with such hospitality.

Thursday, October 30, 2003


I have been reading Homer-Dixon’s Ingenuity Gapagain. The author makes the point that we are surrounded by systems that no one understands in their entirety.

I am on the way to India tomorrow (and will not be posting on the blog for a week). Now no one fully understands a modern jet airliner. The guys who understand the engines, if anyone has a grasp on so complicated a piece of machinery, don’t understand the detailed working of the automatic pilot. The pilots don’t understand either the engines or the electronics very thoroughly, but I am glad that they are flying rather than the engineers who designed the plane.

I am going on business of the World Bank, and have been reminded again as I tried to navigate their travel procedures, that no one fully understands that bureaucracy (that serves thousands of employees and consultants to the Bank). If no one fully understands the bureaucratic systems, full understanding of the program of the Bank is even further off. There are experts in mining, and medicine, and farming who work with lawyers, and engineers, and economists.

The larger society is more complex still, and growing more and more so every day. Think about how many experts in how many fields are involved to assure that the food we eat gets to our table every day.

As the recent electrical network failures in the United States and Europe have demonstrated, complex systems sometimes fail.

Working in international development, one of the imponderables is the speed with which development takes place. Communism failed more than a decade ago, and the rebuilding of different societies in Central and Eastern Europe has taken longer than many expected, and has differed in speed from country to country. The rebuilding of political and economic systems in Europe and Japan after World War II proved to be much faster than the development of such systems in the former colonies after decolonization.

American political leaders have not learned in the aftermath of a century’s experience in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Central America, and many other regions that “nation building” is a long term affair. They seem to be surprised that it is going to take a long time in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I think that complexity theory (see Mitch Waldrop’s book) holds some insights. Even while no one understands fully the workings of a modern society, communally the people of a society have huge amounts of knowledge and understanding. Millions of people working simultaneously, each on his or her local piece of the puzzle, can put together new institutions and rebuild a society.

The ants building large nests are perhaps the greatest example. Certainly no individual ant can be said to understand how to build a nest. So how do large numbers of insects, each perhaps 5 mm in length, build a nest that is a meter or more in diameter? The answer is that each does a piece of the work, using what it knows, and local information, and the complex structure develops without central planning.

So too, social institutions evolve out of the efforts of many more than they are planned. The work of evolutionary economists (cf. “Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change” by Nelson and Winters) suggests a way to understand such evolution. Of course we have to take into account both the macro-planning of leaders (and the knowledge and understanding that they apply to such planning), and the general factors that influence the institution building efforts of millions of people, each working with his or her own local problems and limited understanding of the whole.

A part of the explanation of the different rates of nation building in Europe after WWII and Africa after decolonization is cultural. The knowledge with which people attacked their local rebuilding in Europe was different than that with which people attacked the building of African nations. The cultural heritage of Europeans included a lot of understanding of “modern” institutions, while that of Africans included a lot of understanding of Africa’s traditional institutions, but less understanding of capitalism, national political institutions, rule of law, professionalism, etc.

Homer-Dixon also worries about the relatively few people who have broad understanding of society in general, and of specific institutions. He cites the case of the stock market and financial systems, in which young, computer-literate traders are more and more influential, while older, more experienced people who focused on large scale economic issues is decreasing. But he is concerned with the gap between the complexity of the social, economic, technological and environmental problems we face, and the ingenuity we can collectively bring to bear to solve them. His concern is importantly whether we have the social institutions to bring our best ingenuity to bear on the most critical problems.

This concern echoes that of Edward Said, whose book “Orientalism” also figured in a recent posting. Said is concerned (my words, not his) with the dominant position of people in American foreign policy with dangerously oversimplified and self-serving views of other societies, and the lack of influence of those with more scholarly, intimate, detailed and synoptic views of those societies.

Jeffrey Sachs on Sunday wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post, decrying the loss of expertise in USAID, and the loss of influence in U.S. international development policy of those with expertise in the complex societies of developing nations.

Right on, guys!

Wednesday, October 29, 2003


In any economy there are a number of services that can be classified as “knowledge services”. These might include education, medical diagnostic and prescriptive services, consulting services, programming, management services, etc.

Generally these have been seen as “non-tradable”. If you think of the model of the school as a log, with the teacher at one end and the student at the other, the teachers services were limited by the length of the log. Clearly developed nations have been selling educational services to developing nations since hundreds of thousands of developing nation students are in universities in Europe and the United States. But generally international sale of these services required international travel of the teacher or of the students. So too for many of the other knowledge service sectors.

The revolution in information and communications technology and the massive investments in ICT infrastructure have outmoded this limitation. Distance education allows student and teacher to be in different countries. Indeed, surgery has been conducted with the patient in Europe and the surgeon in the United States. Thus many formerly “non-tradable” knowledge services are now “tradable”.

The argument for international trade is based on the idea of “comparative advantage” (as distinct from “competitive advantage”). Essentially it benefits two countries to exchange services, where each is providing the service in which it has comparative advantage. Opening trade in formerly untraded “knowledge services”.

Thus one might find one Central American country trading graduate courses in civil engineering for graduate courses in electrical engineering, both delivered via computer conferencing. Or one might offer medical consultation in oncology in return for consultation in neurology, both done over the Internet. One might offer consulting services in management in exchange for consulting services in industrial engineering, all via electronic media.

This will not happen without a lot of work by a lot of people. The barriers to trade in knowledge services seem likely to be formidable. Still, the fundamental economics suggest that there would be large gains in the development of such trade. And the more important aspects of the trade might well be trade between and among developing nations themselves – South to South trade.

Resources are required to run a telecenter, and those resources have to come from somewhere. So how does one finance a telecenter? I was just chatting with a colleague from the World Bank, who suggested that all of us who think about telecenters tend to view this question from the perspective provided by our own background. The following comes from my background, which is rather confused.

My guess is that mixed financing is appropriate for most telecenters in rural areas and poor urban areas in developing countries. That is, telecenters should probably usually be financed from several sources reflecting their varied client needs and social functions. Here are some sources of financing that might be considered:

· Integration of the telecenter with another, perhaps preexisting facility. There are many such models, including schools that offer access to ICT when not being used by students, teachers and administrators, to post offices that offer email services in addition to traditional postal services, to retail stores that add ICT services to their mix (as McDonalds is doing by putting computers in all their stores in Brazil), to agricultural cooperatives that offer ICT services to the local community using facilities acquired to serve their members, to community radio stations that offer public access to the Internet in addition to broadcasting.
· Fee for services:
1. Fees for use of the telecenter per se;
2. Fees for ancillary services, such as training or search activities.
· In kind contributions, e.g.;
1. Community construction of telecenter facilities,
2. Donated services to operate the telecenter;
3. Donated equipment.
· Cooperative mechanisms, as with a consumer cooperative;
· Cross-subsidies, as when telecommunications regulation make universal service requirements resulting in cross subsidies from highly profitable services, to marginally profitable services to the poor, or the E-rates used to finance school Internet access in the U.S.
· Public funding, justified by public goods aspects of telecenter services. Thus where the telecenter is serving public health, education, and other public goods needs, government financing may be appropriate, via:
1. direct government funding;
2. tax financing (as Internet e-commerce has been exempted from sales taxes in the United States, or the exemption from taxes of services to native American populations);
3. Governmental in-kind contributions would be a mixed form, as when a health center makes a room available without charge for a local telecenter.
· Special loan facilities, insurance, etc. for telecenter operators;
· Special funds, such as lotteries run for the initiation of telecenters, or the donations of part of consumer purchases to schools for the purchase of ICT equipment.

I would point out that there are a lot of different things out there that could be considered a telecenter. They range from Grameenphone’s ladies offering fee for call services from a cell phone; to public fixed-line telephones; to cybercafes; to fully ICT equipped business centers; to multifunction telecenters offering telephone, fax, copying, computer rental, desktop publishing, Internet, community radio, and ancillary services. Compounding these services with the variety of mixes of financing results in a multitude of business models.

This is a topic that merits some research on options and best practices.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003


My friend Julianne Gilmore made me aware of two search engines that not only search the World Wide Web and return content relevant to one’s query, but organize the returns into clusters of related links. Since taxonomy is the beginning of knowledge, it occurred to me that any readers out there interested in K4D might be interested in the search engines.

Vivisimo is an established search engine that provides links to folders of query responses on the left side of the response page. One of Vivisimo’s demonstrations sends a query to PubMed@NIH, and then organizes the results into folders. Here is PC Magazine’s take on Vivisimo.

Mooter is in Beta testing now, the product of an Australian born in Zambia and educated in South Africa. Here is an article about it from ZDNet.


“There is a difference between knowledge of other people and other times that is the result of understanding, compassion, careful study and analysis for their own sakes, and on the other hand knowledge – if that is what it is – that is part of an overall campaign of self-affirmation, belligerency, and outright war.
Edward Said, Orientalism, page xix.

Some thoughts occasioned by starting Said’s book:

A book, or any work of creativity, it seems to me should be able to stand alone. That is, it should reward the reader, or client, from its direct study. The logic should be strong, the exposition clear and forceful. The author seeking to publish should have put considerable thought and experience into the work created.

Still, any book must be understood within its historical, social, economic, political, and cultural context.

One may also consider that author of a work – who he is, what was he trying to achieve, what aspects of his background influenced the production of the work, and thus affect its appreciation.

What about the disciplinary paradigm that the author works from? The matrix of interlocking disciplinary paradigms that help define the discipline in which the author works.

One may also consider how the work has come to its current status. Thus it is art galaries and museums, in my opinion, that determine what we believe to be great art. Certainly there are many examples of artists lionized in one time, and relegated to the scrap-heap of history at another. Indeed, sometimes artists increase in stature (as recognized by various communities), and sometimes they decrease in stature.

Said points out (as I interpret him) that the various disciplinary paradigms of orientalism do not compete only, or even primarily, on the even playing field of descriptive, analytic and predictive power. Where the invader had superior firepower and achieved political and economic domination by conquest, the invaders view of the oriental country and its society gained a compelling advantage. Things were run as if the invader was right, and often people conformed to expectations of the well armed dominators so that the invader became right.

This question of knowledge becomes less obvious the more one thinks about it.

Monday, October 27, 2003


Amazon has inaugurated a new search engine that enables book shoppers to search within books. Currently 120,000 books are indexed and available online, totaling 33 million pages of searchable text. When you search for a book using the standard search engine, those books returned that are already indexed include in the returned information an excerpt from a page that includes the search term. You can ask to see excerpts for all pages that include the search term. You can also pull up the page itself. Thus Amazon has provided a Google-like search engine for books. With 33 million pages indexed, the engine should already by quite useful! What makes it much more useful is that you can page forward and back in the book, and thus read the book online!

Sunday, October 26, 2003


Arab Human Development Report 2003: Building a Knowledge Society
From the Summary: "The Report affirms that knowledge can help the region to expand the scope of human freedoms, enhance the capacity to guarantee those freedoms through good governance and achieve the higher moral human goals of justice and human dignity. It also underlines the importance of knowledge to Arab countries as a powerful driver of economic growth through higher productivity. Its closing section puts forward a strategic vision for creating knowledge societies in the Arab world based on five pillars: Guaranteeing key freedoms; Disseminating quality education; Embedding science; Shifting towards knowledge based production; and Developing an enlightened Arab knowledge model. AHDR 2003 makes it clear that, in the Arab civilization, the pursuit of knowledge is prompted by religion, culture, history and the human will to achieve success. Obstructions to this quest are the defective structures created by human beings- social, economic and above all political. Arabs must remove or reform these structures in order to take the place they deserve in the world of knowledge at the beginning of the knowledge millennium." United Nations Development Program 2003. The report is available in Arabic as well as English. It can be downloaded in one PDF document or by chapters.

Bolivia: Jeff Sachs writes a blistering opinion piece, occasioned by the fall of President Sanchez de Lozada last week, critical of U.S. foreign assistance policy (or lack thereof). I was especially taken by his statement about the U.S. Agency for International Development. Sachs says USAID has been turned “into a service-delivery agency that undertakes specific projects in poor countries…. rather than a strategic agency that analyzes complex development challenges and helps lead a suitable U.S. foreign policy response.” I have not had enough contact with USAID since I left seven years ago to judge whether he is right about that, but the statement has some face validity. USAID has focused a large part of its budget on programs, such as those in Israel and Egypt, that are essentially entitlements to the governments of those countries based on geo-political concerns, and only secondarily development programs. The very small programs it runs in many other countries are unlikely to provide much policy leverage, or to affect overall national conditions. The initiatives of this administration, such as its US$15 billion AIDS effort and the Millennium Challenge Account, are apparently to be administered via other bureaucratic channels. Turning USAID into a cabinet agency, as Sachs proposes, would appear unlikely to accomplish much if the Agency’s missions and budgets are unchanged.

Iraq: In a front page story, the Post says that no evidence has been uncovered of a reconstituted nuclear weapons program, and strongly implies no such evidence will be forthcoming, and indeed that the administration has not prosecuted the search for nuclear weapons very vigorously. (The story does not imply that no evidence will be found of stockpiles or programs to produce chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction.) Lack of a post-1991 nuclear weapons program would seem to challenge statements made by the Administration in the build up to the war. The Post seems likely to have investigated this story forcefully prior to making so strong a charge.


Chile: I heard Peter Kornbluh on a CSPAN book show this morning talking about a recently published book that he edited: “The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability”. His apparently well informed perception is that the U.S. Administration in the early and mid 1970’s was telling the public one story, the U.S. Congress another, and the right wing dictator of Chile still another story. The serious human rights abuses of the Pinochet government were apparently quite acceptable to the U.S. Administration of the time, if the alternative was a public opinion debacle of a freely elected Marxist government functioning in the Americas. This willingness to ignore human rights and democratic processes was in spite of the recognition by Henry Kissinger that “Chile was a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica,” posing no economic nor military danger to the United States.

All three of these stories can be seen from a Knowledge for Development standpoint. Sachs, a frequent and powerful spokesman on international development issues, suggests that the U.S. government has lost capacity to develop and utilize the detailed, substantive knowledge to make good development policy. I have heard suggested that in the buildup for the Iraq war, the U.S. government made organizational changes that severely limited its ability to analyze and understand information on Iraq, and that the resulting lack of knowledge lead to bad decisions and continuing problems. The Chilean and Iraqi examples suggest that Administrations have limited the knowledge available to the legislative body and the public by the choice of the information it shares publicly. Needless to say, none of these possibilities is comforting!

While it seems to be widely agreed that ICTs have contributed to increase the rate of economic growth in the United States in the last decade, there has been some doubt that the effect was felt (as strongly) in Europe and Japan. Professor Dale Jorgenson's recent work, based on a reconsideration of economic statistics in the different nations, suggests that Europe and Japan also saw an quickening of economic growth in the late 1990's as a result of investments in ICTs. Note especially his paper "Information Technology and the G7 Economies" and the related article from the Economist magazine: "Computing the gains". The website also includes articles from Japan, and consideration of the role of higher education in economic growth.

Friday, October 24, 2003


Magic: “the use of means (as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces,”
Miracle: “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Some years ago I compared the faith some people have in the power of ICT to promote development to that of the Cargo Cults of the Pacific, in which people believed that it they built landing fields on Pacific islands, huge metal birds would come from sky and deliver them wonderful gifts (as the cargo planes did for the U.S. troops in the Second World War). The faith in the magical power of computers, or the miraculous effects of the Internet seems still to be with us.

My last posting focused on the complexity of many of the social, economic, political and environmental systems that surround us. Most people don’t understand these systems, but have a touching faith, sustained by the unflagging efforts of political leaders and the media, that someone up there does. I suspect even the scientists, who generally understand the limitations of their own understanding of the specific systems with which they work, assume that others better understand the complex systems on which we all depend.

Perhaps it is not too surprising, therefore, that people believe that ICT will surely contribute to social and economic development and to the eradication of poverty, although the mechanisms by which such contributions will occur are not clear to them.

What is surprising is that this faith seems to persist in the face of so much evidence to the contrary. There are so many poor countries with failed governments, endemic and epidemic corruption, catastrophic public health conditions, engulfed by war, buffeted by famines and natural disasters, shackled by the ignorance of their peoples, and facing disastrous environmental problems -- countries where government officials can’t create adequate policies, and institutions are too weak for such policies to succeed even were they to be in place -- for us to believe that the information revolution will sweep the world and solve all our problems! These countries have failed to take full advantage of a wealth of technological opportunities in the past, and I see little reason to believe that they will fully benefit from computers or the Internet.

Rich countries are investing hundreds of times as much per person in information and communications technology than are the poorest countries. They are doing so in part because the rich have more resources to do so, but in part because they are better able to benefit from the ICTs that they buy. Some developing countries are able to get their policies and institutions in line in order to achieve rapid economic and social development, and these countries too tend to spend a lot on ICT, and to reap benefits commensurate with their investments. But many poor countries are still not developing, and telephones and computers are unlikely to prove a miraculous cure for their ills.

“Climate is an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks.”
Wally Broecker (quoted inThomas Homer-Dixon’s “The Ingenuity Gap”).

Broekner is a scientist who has raised the question of the stability of the water cycle in the Atlantic Ocean. There is a huge northward flow of surface water in the Atlantic from the tropics toward the Arctic. As the water flows north, surface evaporation increases its salinity. As the cold air of the northern winter blows over the ocean, the temperature of the water drops. The cold, salty water in the vicinity of Iceland and Greenland is dense, and flows downward, creating a counter-flow toward the south. The deep ocean flow to the south eventually results in an upflow in the tropics, and thus there is a north south circulation in the Atlantic.

The heat and moisture dumped into the atmosphere by the north-flowing surface waters dramatically affect the climate of Europe. My ancestors from Devon and Cornwall in England and the west of Ireland were blessed with a relatively warm and rainy climate as a result of this current. But it affects all of Europe. Moreover, the downflow of water in the north Atlantic carries huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the deep ocean, sequestering it from the atmosphere. Since carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas, the effect is to reduce the rate of global warming.

In recent decades, relatively warm weather has resulted in melting of glaciers, and increased flows of fresh water into the northern Atlantic. If global warming continues as predicted, the effect will be increased. Moreover, as there is more heat energy in the atmosphere, more water should evaporate from the sea and rainfall should increase. The fresh water dilutes the sea water, reducing its density. Broekner suggests that eventually the density of the northern surface water might no longer be sufficient to drive it into the depth of the ocean, and the circulation of the ocean might stop. It appears that this has happened in the past. The result would be catastrophic climate change in Europe, and probably over most of the globe. (Or not, the theory is still controversial.)

The key issue that concerns Homer-Dixon is that the effect would be to switch from one quasi-stable state to a different one. We all know that the weather is variable. In the last generation scientists have learned that the El Niño/La Niña phenomenon and a few others affect climates. Weather is significantly different in El Niño years than in La Niña years over many areas of the globe. We are used to these short term fluctuations. But were the Atlantic ocean circulation to be cut off, there would be a much larger, more permanent change. That is an “angry beast” we are poking with the global warming “stick”.

Homer-Dixon is writing about this and a number of similar situations. There are lots of systems that fluctuate in known ranges, but that have the potential for sudden, larger fluctuations into unknown territory. We deal with known health problems, and then a pandemic arrives such as AIDS. We see stock market fluctuations from day to day, and then there comes a drop such as triggered the depression of the 1930’s or the more than 20% drop on one day in 1987. Economic development occurs, but then there is a financial crisis such as have occurred in Argentina, Mexico, and Asia in recent years. Relations between superpowers fluctuate, but then there comes a “Cuban Missile Crisis” that reaches the brink of thermo-nuclear war. The Soviet Union political and economic systems fluctuate within fairly limited grounds until communism falls abruptly.

We have evolved procedures to control and limit change within such systems, and we generally assume that those procedures work adequately. The sudden shift from one quasi-stable state to another invariably illuminates the limitations of such control procedures. Homer-Dixon points out that all the systems involved are very complex, and that while we may understand their operation adequately to affect behavior within a quasi-stable state, we seldom understand well enough to do much in the transition between such quasi-stable states.

I was especially struck by Homer-Dixon’s comment on watching the news on October 19, 1987 – the day of precipitous decline in the Wall Street and other stock markets. The façade cracked. The newscasters expressions showed that they did not understand what was happening, nor where it would lead. Indeed, it appeared that their confidence that someone, somewhere understood and could step in to stop the crisis was shaken; perhaps the economy was beyond our understanding and control.

It made me think about the difference between politicians and media pundits on the one hand, and scientists on the other. The former always seem to present a façade of perfect knowledge. There is always someone on the news to explain exactly why the Dow Jones average moved a fraction of a percent one way or the other yesterday. On the other hand, scientists, who have spent lifetimes studying specific phenomena, generally are quite modest about the understanding they have achieved, and their ability to predict. No wonder the public tends to have a comforting, and largely erroneous belief that someone in control really understands, since the pronouncements that reach the public are usually those of the media and the politician, not the scientist.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003


I have been thinking about whether the Digital Divide is opening or closing. Some of my friends focusing on access to radios and televisions feel that it is closing. I look at orders of magnitude more spending on ICT in rich counties as compared with poor countries, and feel it must be opening. I suppose “where you stand depends on where you sit.”

Mass Media

In terms of mass media, let me suggest that a figure of merit might be useful. One element would be the portion of the waking day that one has access to the media. In the United States, people listen to the radio in their cars and while walking or jogging. They sometimes have access to TVs in their cars and offices as well as in their homes. In developing countries, people may only have access to a fixed radio (shared with other people). And indeed, that access may be reduced by power outages, or by broadcasts that are only available for limited periods of the day.

The figure of merit should also take into account the quality of the medium access. More credit should be given for access to visual media (TV, video cassette, DVD) than to just audio (radio, audio cassette, CD). Perhaps marginally more credit should be given for color than for black and white TV. For the deaf, credit would be given for access to captioned video.

It seems likely that there would be decreasing returns to scale. The increment in value of going from 15 to 16 hours a day would be less than that going from no access to one hour per day, of from a half hour to one and a half hours per day.

Credit would be given only for access to content in a language the user understands.

A second facet of the figure of merit would be the range of choice available in programming. Cable TV, and 100 channels would be valued more highly than broadcast TV, with five or ten channels. Satellite digital radio, with 100 stations would be valued more highly that broadcast AM radio with only a few stations. It seems likely that here too there would be diminishing returns to scale. The benefit of going from one to two radio stations would presumably be greater on the average than that of going from 100 to 101 stations.

Ideally, a figure of merit would also take into account the quality, diversity and relevance of programming available. If all that is available is a government propaganda station, having a radio won’t do much good. If all the stations focus on music for the urban audience, they will have less development relevance than having also stations oriented to a farming audience providing programming targeted to the needs of that audience.

Telephone Service

A figure of merit for telephone services might also be constructed, and indeed, the ITU has gone a long way in this direction with the indicators it collects worldwide now. Still, as telephone services expand with the convergence of technologies, more complex telephone indices might be developed.

The first element of such a figure of merit seems obviously to be connectivity – how many fixed line and mobile telephone connections are there. One might modify the indicator to take into account line failures and bandwidth. Where mobile phones don’t support Internet service and fixed-line telephones support DSL, there is obviously a difference in the service.

One might also seek to differentiate between personal telephones, fixed telephones serving a family or office, and community phones serving a village or neighborhood.

In the case of telephones, there are well known network economies. For each added person to the network, the people who benefit are the n existing members of the network. The benefits from extension of the network will tend to increase with increasing size of the network. In poor countries, with sparse telephone networks, per phone benefits for new lines may well be less than in rich, fully connected networks. One the other hand, the benefits to a rich family of having one more phone added to the several it already has may be much less than the benefits to a village of providing its first public telephone.

One could, and I may go on to think about personal computers and more complex and expensive ICTs, but this is enough for now!

Tuesday, October 21, 2003


The Economist of October 11, 2003 includes a “Survey of Telecoms”. Here are some snippets of information gathered from the issue.

From 1998 to 2002 the amount of fibre in the ground increased fivefold and the transmission capacity of each strand of fibre increased 100-fold, so total transmission capacity increased 500-fold. Over the same period demand for transmission capacity quadrupled.

Household spending on communications in OECD countries increased by 50% in the 1990’s, while household spending on food and clothing actually went down.

“The most visible growth area is the continuing rise of mobile phones, which have overtaken fixed-line phones to become the most widespread communications devices on earth. Their number is expected to rise from 1.3 billion today to 2 billion by 2007, and they are being increasingly used to do much more than make phone calls, providing new opportunities for wireless operators and equipment makers.”

Some 450million new handsets are bought every year.

Broadband is the second growth area, and telecom operators with fixed line networks are moving to increase broadband service (and income) to make up for losses in traditional voice service.

The best performing of the stocks of large Telecom firms is selling at less than half the price at the beginning of 2000.

“According to Telecompetition, a market-research firm, China and India will account for 60% of new mobile subscribers between now and 2010.”

"Whereas 3G has so far proved an expensive mistake, text-messaging has been a spectacular success.”

A survey of 5,600 mobile users in 15 countries “found that 43% of users now have an internet or WAP-enabled phone, and 34% have accessed internet content on their phones, up from 27% in June 2002.”

Vonage VoIP telephone service illustrates a potentially disruptive technology, allowing great convenience and low costs for the international set.

“The true significance of Wi-Fi is that it provides a glimpse of the potential of wide-area wireless-broadband technologies.”

Perhaps the best illustration of this convergence of telecoms and IT is the growing practice of carrying voice calls over corporate data networks, using voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) technology.”

“Customers are more likely to give a telecoms operator the lead role in a network-specific task (such as network management), but favor a systems integrator in a computing-specific task (such as setting up a customer-service website). Call centers are right on the boundary, because they involve both networking and computing components.”

Operators are now concentrating their spending mainly on three areas: equipment to provide services, such as high-speed internet connections, that can provide new sources of revenue; ways of simplifying their tangled networks and reducing running costs; and software and other operating support systems that allow them to implement new services more quickly and efficiently.”

“Operators' capital expenditure as a percentage of their revenues will stay in the low teens, he predicts, far short of the 30-50% of the boom years.”

How best to promote competition over the local loop is by far the most controversial topic in telecoms regulation. Ideally, competitors would put an end to the incumbents' local-loop monopoly by building their own networks. But building a competing network with the same reach is hugely expensive and time-consuming. Cable networks generally provide coverage only in some areas, and mobile-phone networks cannot yet offer broadband internet access. So, over the past few years, most of the developed world has been asking incumbents to share their networks with rivals—technically known as “local loop unbundling” (LLU). This means treating the incumbents as a special case and regulating them in an “asymmetric” way, at least until competing networks have been constructed. By allowing competitors to lease or resell lines, regulators have been able to foster competition in both telephony and broadband access.”

“At the heart of the telecoms industry, internet technology continues to sweep all before it.”

I recommend that you read the Survey!