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!

The fundamental theme of this blog is that government, the private sector, and civil society work better when they obtain and utilize knowledge in order to select the right course of action. I am one of those who believes that knowledge should be the result of analysis and distillation of information. I also believe that in many important instances, knowledge is socially constructed – the joint construct of a number of people rather than something held solely inside the head of an individual.

In this New Yorker piece, “The Stovepipe,” Seymour Hersh looks at the Congressional investigation of U.S. intelligence agency reports over the last decade. He notes that over half a century or more, the U.S. government had evolved complex procedures in which professionals assessed and evaluated information gathered from the field, providing the results to the politicians holding top elected offices. He suggests that under the Bush Administration, “stovepipes” were created to funnel raw intelligence, especially that supporting Administration positions, directly to very small numbers of ideologically homogenous elected and appointed officials in the State and Defense Departments and the White House. Fully vetted reports from the professional intelligence community eventually reaching the top levels of government were then challenged with conclusions drawn from the far less credible stovepiped information.

The result was, perhaps, that the Administration went to the American public with a rationale for the war in Iraq which they believed, but which was not sufficiently credible to justify so dramatic an effort. The Administration now seems to be reacting politically to charges that it misread intelligence – a response that is natural enough, but perhaps not likely to help unravel what actually happened.

I don’t know if Hersh is right. I would point out, however, that the social construction of knowledge from foreign intelligence information is likely to be quite different within political circles than within professional intelligence agencies. The U.S. has a history of political leaders distrusting career government personnel and governmental bureaucratic processes. It is quite believable that on obtaining power, newly elected and appointed officials might develop a second system to bypass the professional intelligence agencies and their procedures, in order to play a more active role in the interpretation of intelligence.

Having worked in the U.S. governmental bureaucracy for many years, I know bureaucracies can be wrong. I also know that bureaucratic systems should include stovepipes that get critical information on time sensitive decisions to the top level officials very quickly. Hersh seems to suggest that the Bush Administration has installed jury rigged stovepipes that are used more generally, and undermine the processes that have evolved over two generations, creating a crisis of morale in the intelligence community in the process. I hope Hersh is wrong, or that I am interpreting him wrongly. It seems better to work to improve the analysis and evaluation of the professionals, rather than bypassing the professional process and putting the unevaluated information directly in the hands of the politicos. If in fact there has been a deterioration in the process by which the U.S. government construes information and turns it into knowledge, that is a problem for the whole world.

Monday, October 13, 2003


A new paper I have written by that title is now highlighting the ICT for Development page of the Development Gateway.


Governments often seek information that will never be converted into knowledge or understanding, and in doing so, cost their constituents a lot of resources.

This study provides suggestions on measuring costs and benefits to constituents of use of e-government portals. The paper's examples are taken from U.S. experience, but the approach and methods should be generally applicable.

Citizen Advantage : Enhancing Economic Competitiveness Through e-Government
Abstract: “E-government isn't usually the first thing that comes to politician's minds when they're debating what government can do to enhance constituent value, make compliance with government rules and regulations easier, or create a favorable business climate. However, by minimizing the amount of time and effort it takes to comply with government red tape and complete government transactions, e-government can have a positive impact on both business productivity and people's quality of life. This study introduces a new model of Return on Investment (ROI), which we call Citizen Advantage. By measuring the benefits to businesses and citizens – as well as those to government – it provides decision makers with a fuller picture of the costs and benefits associated with IT investments.” By WILLIAM D. EGGERS, Deloitte Research Public Sector Study, 2003.

Consultant News provides an article based on the Deloitte approach:

Note also:

BusinessLaw.Gov is an online resource guide designed to provide legal and regulatory information to America's small businesses. It has more than 20,000 links to federal, state, local and legal organizations throughout the United States and was put together in a combined public and academic effort. It is described in this article by Jason Miller in Government Computer News. The site was cited in the Consultant News article above as saving "US businesses about $526 million a year by helping them find, understand and comply with regulations."


This is a nice little paper from an author in Singapore (Thanks to Julianne Gilmore for telling me about it.

“Knowledge and Tragedy: or why we shouldn’t share knowledge”
“First, it’s not enough to simply deliver the knowledge, important though that is. The key is whether knowledge is, or can be, acted upon……Second, we don’t have to have perfect knowledge management, nor would we particularly enjoy it. In a competitive world, we simply have to be better at managing knowledge asymmetries than our current competitors are……Finally, we need to recognise that the corporate plot occupies only a part of most people’s lives. Knowledge sharing and knowledge secrecy also operate in our personal trajectories through life. By Patrick Lambe,, 2003.

I think it relates to a posting a few days ago about the red tape involved in registering businesses in poor countries. Governments in these countries ask for more information than they can use, than the need, and than is healthy for their economies.

There is a dictum in medical screening: “don’t ask for information that you can’t use.” One could add other dicta:
· Don’t ask questions to which you don’t want to hear the answers;
· Don’t ask for information you can’t afford to use;
· Don’t ask for information your respondent can’t afford to supply;
· Don’t ask for information that is more expensive to generate and use, than it is beneficial to use.

Shattered Lives: The Case for International Arms Control
“An average of US$22bn a year is spent on arms by countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America – a sum that would otherwise enable those same countries to be on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals of achieving universal primary education (estimated at $10bn a year) as well as targets for reducing infant and maternal mortality (estimated at $12bn a year).” Control Arms website, 2003. Control Arms is a campaign jointly run by Amnesty International, IANSA and Oxfam. The entire document is 3.2MB in PDF, but it can be downloaded by sections.


“Digital Projection of Films Is Coming. Now, Who Pays?”
While the United States has some 35,000 projection booths in movie theaters, only 80 cinemas use digital projectors; throughout the world, fewer than 200 cinemas in some two dozen countries are using digital projectors. It is reported that viewers prefer the digital projections as compared to traditional films. The movie distributors prefer the digital technology for a couple of reasons. Sending films digitally would save making film copies that can cost $1,200 each. It would also allow encryption that would cut down on pirating of films. In theory theaters would benefit, since the digital projection would not require projectionists, and timing and sequence of programs could be automated and made more accurate. However, digital projectors cost US$150,000 compared with US$30,000 for traditional theater quality projectors. Moreover, there are competing technologies, and universal standards apparently have not yet emerged.
By ERIC TAUB, New York Times, October 13, 2003. (HTML, 2 pages.)

Sunday, October 12, 2003


It turns out that in poor countries it is almost impossibly difficult to get through the red tape required to start a formal business.

Doing Business in 2004: Understanding Regulation
This is the first in a series of annual reports presenting new quantitative indicators on the performance of business regulations which can be compared across more than 130 countries, and over time. The indicators are used to analyze economic outcomes and identify what reforms have worked, where, and why. The overview of the report and its table of contents are available online, while the whole report is available in hard copy for a fee. The report was prepared by a team led by Simeon Djankov, the World Bank, 2003. (PDF, 20 pages)

An article, “Poverty's chains,” based on the World Bank report is in the current Economist magazine.

eLearnSpace is a website intended for users, managers, developers, and facilitators of elearning. Acccording to its homepage, "many resources exist for elearning, yet a model of how the pieces fit together is often missing. elearnspace has been organized to present a whole picture view of elearning." The site navigation is based on a graphic displayed on its homepage. The site is maintained by George Siemens, an instructor at Red River College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

One page on the site links to a large number of weblogs dealing with learning and technology.

Siemens blog (elearnspace blog) is found here.

Skype has released a preliminary version of software that allows voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) telephony via a peer-to-peer network. The company was created by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, two of the creators of KaZaA (the most used music file sharing software at the moment). Zennstrom is quoted as saying this is "a real opportunity to do something that is disruptive in a very positive way." The company reports on its website today, "1,258,967 downloads and counting". The software in now available in Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, French, German, Portuguese and Swedish. An article on the innovation is published in the New York Times By NICHOLAS THOMPSON, October 12, 2003.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003


This is from a recent report by the Asian Technology Information Program:

The Outsourcing Institute estimates that the world outsourcing spending in IT is set to increase from US$56 billion in the year 2000 to US$100 billion in the year 2005. Another area that has received attention in recent years is the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). The world BPO market in the year 2002 was worth US$110 billion, according to Gartner Inc. The Aberdeen Group predicts that it will reach US$248 billion in the year 2005.”

While these figures do not represent outsourcing to firms in developing nations, they suggest a large business opportunity for such firms.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003


This entry in this blog is for my colleague, Akin Adubifa. It addresses his question, of what funding mechanisms can be found to increase funding for science and technology in Africa.

The first question is whether S&T funding should be increased, and if so whose funding for what kind of science and technology.

There is a saying about “throwing good money after bad”. Where S&T funding is not being used well, and where the results of S&T efforts do get applied to achieve the purposes for which the funds were given, adding funds does not make sense. This is true for governments, the private sector and donors. In a lot of African contexts, adding funding for S&T would be throwing good money after bad. Thus one good way to increase funding for S&T in Africa would be to improve the efficiency with which such funds are used, and to improve the utilization of results of the S&T activities for social and economic development. Situations like that in South Africa, in which a government will not move forward with anti-retroviral therapies against AIDS certainly do not encourage the private sector to invest in the development of such therapies for the African market.

There are basically three sources of funding for S&T activities:
· Government
· Philanthropy
· Business
In theory government and philanthropic funding are appropriate to and required for public goods, while business funds S&T as part of its profit making activities.

I would note other, or mixed forms of financing. Of course there can be direct partnerships, as when government and industry jointly fund S&T efforts. Tax financing is said to take place when the government grants exemptions from taxes in return for S&T activities by the private sector. Governments can also use their purchase power, for example subsidizing the sales of medicines so that the firm that did the R&D to develop the medicine can recoup its investment via increased sales of its product.

I think the possibility of donors agreeing to build markets in Africa for successful innovations helping to alleviate poverty is very interesting. If governments and donors would agree to support large scale public health programs where new technologies become available to fight those diseases, companies might well find it much more attractive to fund the development of new pharmaceuticals.

Similarly, developed nations could stimulate their firms to do more R&D to benefit Africa by introducing policies such as simplified reviews such as are used for orphan drugs, or by tax financing – giving tax breaks for R&D with strong humanitarian applications. In some sense such funding is easier to support politically than is direct foreign aid.

Almost all funding of R&D in and for Africa is in the public sector. In part this is because of the nature of African economies, that are heavy on agriculture and services. The desired products of S&T are those to improved agricultural and public health technologies; these are public goods and generally can not be sustainably supported by the private sector.

To the degree that people in government, civil society and business do not recognize the value of S&T, public education is an important vehicle for increasing such funding. Similarly, to the degree that institutions are inefficient, institution building is important. Thus building venture capital institutions in the United States has been important in increasing funding for innovative technological development.

There may be ways to increase private spending on S&T. I note that there is now a lot of R&D funding in the private sector going into India and China. The Internet makes it possible, even desirable for multinationals to outsource this work. But India and China have gotten this funding because they built the human and institutional resources first. It may be possible for Africa to attract such interest, especially South Africa with its more advanced S&T capacity.

Are there ways to encourage more government spending on R&D other than simple persuasion? Policy dialog or challenge grants from international donors might work.

I think more has to be done regionally, as opposed to within specific countries. Thus the European Union is now considering creation of a European institution to support fundamental research somewhat similar in concept to the U.S. National Science Foundation but serving the continental science community. The CGIAR is a pioneer of such regional institutions, but many donors are afraid of following its example in creating a long term obligation to support scientific institutions in developing nations. Many other examples of regional scientific organizations, such as those serving the nations of Central America and Panama have had great difficulty retaining the financial support of the countries served. Moreover, the big donors have not developed policies that promote regional scientific and technological efforts. Perhaps NEPAD could break through this policy barrier, and create at least a few new regional centers in Africa.

I don't know how much has been done with the private sector as a donor. Firms emphasize in kind donations. But in kind donations of staff time, equipment, equipment use, etc. might make cash donations by funders of core activities look much better.

And I think perhaps more could be done with new arrangements for the foundation community. One of the key problems has been transaction costs. Foundations in the past have had to spend a lot of money to run a project in Africa, in terms of development, monitoring, and troubleshooting. While large foundations could afford these costs, or could achieve some economies of scale, small foundations simply found it inefficient to fund African work. To some degree the advances in communications technology may help resolve these problems. So too, partnerships among foundations, simple processes to enable small foundations to work internationally, more involvement of corporate foundations, and partnerships among bilateral and multilateral donors and foundations may help more foundations work in Africa.

One might also think about IPR. Inventions made in Africa are generally not exploited. In the past, inventions made in the U.S. academic sector were similarly not exploited, but after changes in US law, universities have made IPR a good source of funding. Similarly, changes in law and policy have helped increase the rate of exploitation of inventions made in U.S. federally funded research labs. Perhaps some help to African institutions in obtaining and managing intellectual property rights might result in more support for S&T through revenues from intellectual property.

Monday, October 06, 2003


Here is a list of blogs of subscribers to the listserve of the Association of Internet Researchers. It was just posted by by Thomas N. Burg.

Sunday, October 05, 2003


The Economist this week has an article on information technology spending. It describes a theory of technological waves in the industry which it attributes to Steven Milunovich. (Of course technological waves have been around for quite a while.) The idea is that the computer field went through waves: mainframes, minicomputers, PCs, workstations, and the Internet, and is now due for another wave. IT spending has increased over the long run, but it tends to increase faster as a new wave gathers force, and plateau between waves. Thus:

“IT spending (in the 1970s to 1980s) soared from less than 2% of GDP (in the United States) to about 3%. It then stayed at that level for almost a decade, as firms worked out how to get the most out of their machines. In the 1990s, they started investing again, this time in the new technology of client-server systems. By 2000, tech spending was almost 5% of GDP. Since then, it has fallen back to about 4% of GDP.”

The periods of rapid IT spending growth are called “hot tech”, and those of reduced growth or fall-back are called “cold tech.” In the hot tech periods, firms invest in the new hot technology. In the cold tech periods, they invest in systems to make the most of the hot tech they have acquired. Today the interest in Linux systems is illustrative of the cold tech emphasis on value for money.

It also has an article on the electricity infrastructure, and its recent blackouts. It ascribes the fragility of the grids to “half-baked reforms” in deregulation of the industry, that resulted in underinvestment in the grid. Reliability comes from redundancy, and there has to be excess capacity distributed in the system to handle critical conditions. Excessive cost control, or excessive emphasis on paring costs to a minimum result in systems that can’t handle emergency loads, and go into blackout. I suspect the same kinds of problems will confront regulators for the convergent internet based information infrastructure.

Surprisingly, since I never considered myself an evaluation expert, I have become the editor of the Monitoring and Evaluation topic page of the Development Gateway. The page was originally conceived of as serving the community of Country Gateways being formed around the Development Gateway Foundation.

The Country Gateways are, of course, efforts to utilize Internet technology to provide resources and forums for the economic and social development communities working in and for specific developing nations. Many of the resources we have posted on the M&E topic page therefore deal with the evaluation of portals, and of country gateways.

The DG Foundation not only supports the Country Gateways, but also a network of Research and Training Centers (in India and Korea so far, but with Centers soon to open in China and Rwanda), the Development Gateway Forum, and a grants program working on e-government. These other programs have a common theme of ICT for development. We have therefore been expanding the M&E topic page to provide resources to the participants in those other projects. Thus we have been adding a few resources on evaluation of educational and research programs.

The collection now has passed 150 resources, and seems quite likely to be of interest to a number of people in the Knowledge for Development community. I invite you all to participate. Join as members of the topic page community and receive alerts when new content is added. I would especially invite you to submit useful resources on evaluation and monitoring of ICT for Development projects and programs. There is a lot out there, and I could use support in finding and evaluating resources.