Random Musings on ICTD2010

Here are some miscellaneous Jester thoughts on ICTD2010…

Tim Unwin, Dorothea Kleine, and their team at Royal Holloway were terrific hosts. The Jester wishes them several weeks of good sleep.

Egham isn’t London, but it was nice to have everything on a quiet campus.

Research papers have come a long way since ICTD2006, but there’s still room for improvement.

More papers were open about failures of various kinds, and it’s good that the program committee is becoming comfortable accepting these papers. In addition to the lessons to be gained, it creates a healthier atmosphere for researchers.

Tim Berners-Lee’s keynote was predictable, but his response to a question about WikiLeaks was right on: Societies benefit from making information publicly avaiable, but there are also cases for keeping information private. There is no rule to decide these cases, so we need a reliable way to arbitrate between them when the issues collide.

Geoff Walsham’s keynote provided a nice (and jest-filled!) review of what might be considered ICTD consensus… that technology by itself doesn’t solve development problems; that the focus of ICT4D should be on “D”; that multidisciplinarity is important; and that there are some promising directions in ICT4D.

The paper that the Jester found most intriguing was one by Julian May. It’s main finding was that the poorest mobile phone owners in some parts of Africa see wealth gains and appear to do so at a higher rate than the slightly less poor. Methodological strengths outweighed weaknesses, and the analysis was convincing. The Jester expects the results to hold up under more scrutiny. May was also admirably careful in bounding his nuanced claims. The main finding pokes a hole in the Jester’s amplification theory (because the poorest mobile owners benefit more than those slightly less poor). It’s not a big hole, but broader findings along these lines could enlarge the hole enough to force the Jester to reformulate or even retract some of his theories. But, it would be a good thing for the world, if mobiles really delivered in that way. Alas, it seems unlikely. As even May quipped, “This doesn’t mean the poor can tweet themselves out of poverty.”

The Jester was impressed with the number of young participants from all over the world who were willing to speak up at the conference. No research community thrives without that energy, confidence, and willingness to question the status quo. Go, go, go!

It was a somersault-worthy experience to run into people familiar with the Jester’s blog!┬áThe Jester is very grateful. And, he is forced to accept the usefulness of technology for some people. (Dang!)

There was lots of positive energy, and on the whole, participants seemed to enjoy the conference. Of course, there was some grumbling, too. Those points will be addressed in the next post.

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