Friday, May 29, 2009

IDRC - MENA Workshop & ICTD Conference

– Doha Qatar April 16-21, 2009

I had drafted up this trip report a while ago but have been so busy with another conference paper, that I pushed it aside. I also found that several comments had already chatted a bit about the ICTD conference, however, I didn't see much written on the Young Researchers Workshop nor a pre-conference event hosted by IDRC for Middle East and North African researchers. So here it goes!

The IDRC team arrived in full force to learn about the Middle East and experience the extraordinary enthusiasm of Middle East and North Africa (MENA) researchers while at the same time update themselves on the latest upcoming research that the world has to offer in ICTD.

Day One was a pre-conference workshop titled, "MENA Research Capacity Building Workshop." The objective of the workshop was to strengthen ICT4D research capacities in North Africa and the Middle East.

The Doha Seef Hotel venue was a large room that was divided off to make the room not feel massive, but unfortunately the room size did not make for ideal acoustics especially when attempting to work with a large multi-lingual group.

Delegates were invited from all parts of the region including Morocco, Algeria, and Oman. After introductions and review of the expectations, the delegation broke out in to a World Café style of facilitation.

In small groups that rotated during the session, the crucial questions of “What is ICT4D, how do you interpret the ‘D’ and what makes a successful ICT4D project” were asked. In the discussions, the delegates who had not really explored this area became engaged and did creative critical thinking about how their areas of study could attempt to transform the area of ICT4D. One response to the meaning of ICT4D: “when it contributes to a more humane and sustainable world for more people.” Within the discussions, I found the delegates emphasize the meaning ICT4D as transformative change in the lives of ordinary people.

The researchers from "Strengthening ICT Research Capacity in Asia (SIRCA)" presented their ongoing work including some of the projects that they are going to be funding within their grant competition.

(Photo: Dalia sells her proposal at the ‘Souk’)

In the afternoon, the MENA participants engaged in the “Proposal Souk” where they posted up their proposal and the rest of the audience would come by and listen to their proposal’s “sales pitch”. This great engaging activity got people on their feet after a long day of workshop. The end of Day 1 was left with high energy and prepared the delegates with open ears and eyes for the conference.

(Photos: ICTD conference – lunch hour ‘pow-wow’)

During the ICTD conference, the facilitators for the workshop planned debriefing sessions at lunch hour to discuss and analyzed the different papers being presented. This lunch time gathering brought the workshop participants together like a team and helped to build that trust and discussion which would follow for the next days after the conference and into the workshop conclusion.

ICTD2009 Proceedings Online: (warning 35mb)

The first conference was hosted in UC Berkeley and then it was followed with Bangalore.
The event boasted in presenting the best scholarly work on the use of ICTs for development, both in technical and social science areas. There were over 250 submissions to the conference and all papers underwent a double-blind peer-review process. One of the paper reviewers indicated uncertainty of the transparency of the review process. Also, the reviewer was unsure as to who decides the criteria for the review process. Some of the delegates felt that the conference had a bias towards American chosen presentations. There were 19 oral presentations, and 27 others for poster presentation to a more than 300 person audience. Several IDRC partners were presenting such as a demonstration booth hosted by e-Fez (Asmae and Driss).

Pam Zahonogo, RIA! Researcher from Burkina Faso, presented the RIA! poster and paper, Mobile Telephony Access and Usage in Africa, which has received some conference coverage from Eric Hersman’s popular website, White African. Beyond the conference, a quick search has found RIA! Recent household survey work being utilized and reference by numerous authors.

Young Researchers Workshop

One of the first workshops was the Young Researchers Workshop. The workshop drew in an exciting atmosphere of young up-and-coming PhD researchers working in all parts of the world. In their call for papers, the committee selected 12 papers (I posted them online here) to be presented at the workshop. Senior researchers were then part of a committee that gave feedback to the presentation. As it was one of the first workshops of the conference and the other workshop was postponed to a later time, the room was packed with audience members of over 70 persons. Each delegate had approximately five minutes to talk about the challenges of young researchers in the field of ICTD.

The presenters had backgrounds ranging from computer science, geography, social science and development. It was clear however, that some presenters did not necessarily feel these disciplines quite fit into the research work that they were engaged in. A majority of the discussion included cross-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary definitions of ICTD. Those under the discipline of Computer science were trying to re-align their actual discipline objectives – how to get the discipline to evaluate not just the computer programming aspect but also to evaluate the other external and internal factors of a research project in order for that computer program application within development to succeed! Some of the delegates included those from the University of Washington, who were working on with OpenMRS and D-Tree international, and Commcare, to the Royal Holloway University of London who were working on participatory model tools to conduct field research. Among the papers, 10 out of the 12 presentations were about work conducted in Africa. (The other two were in China and Albania.) Another disturbing reflection comes from Tim Unwin’s (one of the Senior Researcher Judges) blog reflection on the workshop: “the much academic discourse plays to the tunes of conductors who are not necessarily particularly interested in the needs of the poorest and most marginalized"

I feel that part of the reflection may have come from my paper (as well as others) to how we cannot remain in the status quo of the current engagement of women (and other marginalized groups) in ICT4D work. For a little taste of the Young Researchers Workshop, watch Paulo Brunello’s work.

In the afternoon, the remaining individuals (most of the audience disappeared to the other three sessions taking place) split up into groups and discussed some of our stories in ICTD. My favourite activity was ‘speed-dating’ where those who identified with the social science stayed in one line and then the computer scientist were in another line. Then we had 60 seconds to figure out how the social science could work with the computer science in a project together. All of the delegates wished there was more time to do this activity because only then was there creative brainstorming on how one could overcome those difficulties of a multi-disciplinary field.

That's all I really wanted to highlight from the conference, but here is Prof Heeks' comment on Bill Gates and ICTD, a short piece by Jonathan Donner and a little travel report by Stephane Boyera.

Of course, I made sure to sneak out to check out the Museum of Islamic Art (very amazing) and the souk waqif - must sees when in Doha (photos in kdiga's Flickr).

1 comment:

Owino Fredrick said...

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