Dr. Nana Baah Gyan and the Web for Rural Development

Freshly minted dr. Nana flanked by his two paranimphs receives the laudation from supervisor prof. Akkermans.

Freshly minted dr. Nana flanked by his two paranimphs receives the laudation from supervisor prof. Akkermans.

On 5 april 2016, Nana Baah Gyan successfully defended his PhD thesis “The Web, Speech Technologies and Rural Development in West Africa, An ICT4D Approach” in front of the reading committee at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Dr. Nana worked as a PhD researcher mostly in the context of the FP-7 VOICES project and was supervised by prof. Hans Akkermans and dr. Victor de Boer.

Nana investigated the history of speech systems in developing countries. He discussed and developed strategies for requirements harvesting for an instance of an ICT4D project under rural conditions, the results of which led to an actual implementation of voice-based ICT tools for rural farmers in Mali.

frontpage Nana

Nana’s thesis is available online.

His thesis furthermore deals with evaluating the impact of the project on the lives of stakeholders involved as well as the potential such tools and systems hold for future research. The thesis also discusses what ICT4D generally means for education in West Africa and beyond.

You can read more about Nana’s research in his thesis [PDF] or on the http://w4ra.org site.

 

A look back at the 3rd VU ICT4D symposium

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VU Rector Prof. Subramaniam opens the symposium

On 6 April 2016, the Third International Symposium “Perspectives on ICT for Development (ICT4D)” was hosted by the VU Network Institute, the Netherlands Research School for Information and Knowledge Systems SIKS, the Computer Science Department and VU International Office. This year’s theme was “Community Service & Education”. A great team of invited speakers from India, Ghana, South-Africa and the Netherlands discussed the merits, challenges and research agendas for ICTs for Development, presenting case studies from various contexts: rural development, health, and education.

2016-04-06 10.39.25The symposium showed different technical solutions, including mobile technologies and small and cheap hardware to cope with local contexts in developing countries. Different speakers also discussed bottom-up methodologies designed for the local context to discover and co-develop interesting ICT solutions and services.

You can watch the entire event through the recorded livestream as presented below. Speakers presented in blocks of 2 around a single topic or location and engaged in discussion after the second speaker. We here present a list of speakers, their timestamp in the recording (including a direct link) as well as PDF slides for their presentations (all rights remain with the original authors).

 

0.00 Welcome by Symposium Chairs Victor de Boer and Anna Bon (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) [Slides: Victor Introduction]

0.00.40 Opening address by the VU Rector Prof. Dr. Vinod Subramaniam

0.06.40 VU-Informatics/ICT4D: Gossa Lô & Romy Blankendaal (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)  [Slides: Gossa Lo Romy Blankendaal]
0.24.39 VU-Informatics/ICT4D: Dr. Stefan Schlobach (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)  [Slides: Stefan Schlobach]

1.18.52 Ghana: Prof. Dr. Saa Dittoh (University for Development Studies, Tamale, Ghana)  [Slides: Saa_Dittoh]
1.39.46 Ghana: Dr. Nana Baah Gyan (Accra, Ghana)  [Slides: Nana_Baah_Gyan]

2.05.59 India: Prof. Dr. Maneesha Ramesh (Amrita University, India)  [No slides available]
2.32.16 India: Prof. Dr. Jacqueline Broerse (Director Athena Institute VU)  [Slides: Jacqueline_Broerse]

3.49.48 Water and Data: Frank Annor (TU Delft / TAHMO)  [No slides available]
4.10.42 Water and Data: Annabelle Poelert (AKVO, Amsterdam)  [Slides: Annabelle Poelert]

4.51.40 South-Africa: Prof. Dr. Mmantsae Moche Diale (University of Pretoria, South-Africa)  [Slides: Mmantsae Diale]
5.18.10 South-Africa: Prof. Dr. André Ran (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)  [Slides: Andre_Ran]

5.48.30 Wrap up by Symposium Chairs 

 

 

 

Mouriba logos

RadioMarcheMannetjeFrom 2010 on, I have been making logos for W4RA-related projects, for example for RadioMarche. I have had some request from people to reuse (parts of) the logo before and I have now decided to publish all the logos and the source files under an open license (CC-zero). This basically means I waive any rights I have.

I think this makes sense as I developed these while subsidised with public (EU) money as a side-project. So feel free to reuse them as you wish. If you do, it is nice (but no legal requirement) to..

  1. not use any of the existing logos directly without adaptation for your project/product/company, but adapt it to avoid confusion
  2. let me know if you are using them, or credit me using something like “Adapted from logos designed by Victor de Boer (http://victordeboer.com)

The PNGs and the source files (in SVG, XCF and AI formats) ara available at https://github.com/biktorrr/MouribaLogos

 

Inspiring TMT Workshop in Bamako

From 9-13 October, the W4RA team visited Bamako in Mali for the Nuffic-funded Tailor Made Training (TMT) workshop at the offices of AOPP (Association des organisations professionnelles paysannes). This association brings together agricultural innovators in the country. The attendees are very interested in using ICTs to improve communication and knowledge sharing among their members.

Kasadaka in Bamako

Kasadaka in Bamako. This version has a built-in touch screen.

Digivet demonstration

Digivet demonstration. Alou Dolo from local IT club Yeleman is helping us.


During the four-day workshop, we demonstrated a number of applications developed in the context of our W4RA research, including the VOICES demonstrators, Mr Jiri and the Kasadaka voice platform which was based on a Raspberry Pi. We also showed the DigiVet application developed by Gossa Lo. In a number of breakout sessiosn, the AOPP members then developed a number of new use cases. These included an information system for seed information. In various locations in Mali, farmers develop and enrich seeds (sesame, sorghum, etc.) and sell these to other farmers. These seeds are adapted to fit the local soil and climate. To improve the effectiveness of this seed information, better sharing of this information is required. Other ideas included a veterinarian service and a marketplace application.

Field trip: visiting the champs ecole

Field trip: visiting the champs ecole. We are standing inbetween sesame plants.

To deepen our understanding of the use cases and the local context, we visited a “Champs Ecole” (testing field) where new types of sesame and sorghum plants and new planting strategies were monitored. We also visited an organisation “Femmes en action” who organize trainings for local women on how to fabricate products out of raw plant materials, such as Baobab-bonbons and the always-delicious Bissap (Hibiscus lemonade). The head of the group, Fatim, was a very inspiring lady and she also showed us tubs full of fish that could be farmed in town residencies. We even got to take home some of the produced dried fish flakes.

Discussing the use casesa

Discussing the use cases


The final day we demonstrated a number of applications. Specifically, we showed a very early prototype of a voice-accessible seed market, as was explored in the workshop. For this, we used Kasadaka as the rapid-prototyping platform. It fulfilled its purpose quite well as the farmers were triggered by this demonstration ad provided valuable feedback and questions to further specify the use case and requirements. Of course, we are still running into some issues, specifically with regestering key presses (DTMF) on the Malian network. We also showed Senepedia.org, a wiki for agriculture (sene, in the Bambara language). In the next months, the AOPP staff will experiment with this wiki to register and share information that concerns their members.

All in all, this was a very successful and inspiring meetup and we are looking forward to going back to Mali in the beginning of next year with new prototypes and demonstrations.

Gossa and Myrthe in Ghana – part 2

[Crosspost from w4ra.org]

Gossa and Myrthe, students from VU University Amsterdam are currently in Northern Ghana,  doing fieldwork for the  interdisciplinary ICT4D research project “Knowledge Sharing for the Rural Poor. This is the second part of their trip report, read the first part here

Myrthes last blog before leaving Ghana, March 23 2015

“Last week I kept myself occupied with conducting two one on one interviews and two group discussions. On Saturday 14th of March I made an appointment for a focus group discussions for which I developed a specific topic guide aiming to discover if there could be more nuance added to the data I’ve collected thus far from the one on one interviews.

Gossa and Myrthe in Ghana

Anthony Dittoh (the father of my translator Docras and brother of professor Saa Dittoh) helped me to organize the meeting. At least 20 people would gather underneath the large mango tree across the main road. The meeting would start at 09:00 and Docras en I left the house on that time. Because, this is Africa and here they have the time instead of the clock…. A little bit nervous we went on our way to the market. Unfortunately there were only two farmers present. The rest had to go to a funeral, to the market, had to feed their livestock and so on. Disappointed we went on our way home again.

Monday 09:00 was the second attempt to get the first focus group discussion of the ground. We went on our way to the market again. This time we needed to wait again before we headed towards the mango tree. We waited in the small shop of Docras’ second mother (first wife of Anthony Dittoh). When the clock reached 10:00 we decided to go and have a look what was going on. Only seven people were sitting under the tree and I started to feel quite frustrated. We decided to stay and hoped for more to come. Eventually at 11:15 there were 25 people present and we had a fruitful discussion together.

Tuesday I was supposed to have my second group discussions at the house of an important farmer called Fuzeni. However, Saa Dittoh called and asked me if I wanted to join on a fieldtrip with the team of the Water Land and Eco System project. Docras told me I should go and she would send her uncle to Fuzeni’s house in order to reschedule the meeting for thursday. So, at 08:30 I needed to be ready at the junction. A 40 minute walk from our house and Saa would pick me up there. Eventually they picked me up at 09:10 and went on our way. This trip would mainly be used for short stops in the target areas of their project. I didn’t get the chance to gather data for my own research, but it was interesting to see some other part of the Upper East besides Bolgatanga or Zanlerigu village.

Wednesday I had an interview with two women from the market. However, one cancelled because her money had just been stolen and she was quite upset. I did one interview and could not get a replacement for the cancelled interview.

Thursday Docras and I went to the farm of Fuzeni. It was a 45 minute walk from our house. Sometimes I really miss having the freedom to use any transport I want, but on the other hand I also consider it as some good early morning exercise. At 09:10 we arrived and already 30 persons were sitting under the large Mango tree. Many more were still to come and at the end we were with over a hundred people. It was a lively and lovely gathering. Noticable were the convincing majority of women. An explanation was that women take meetings more serious, another said that it was because men can marry more women and a final explanation was that men died sooner than women. Well, I still have my doubts. Maybe it is a combination of all, but that should be part of another type of research.

Friday I interviewed a farmer who was into livestock rearing and selling. He struggled most with up-scaling hisbusiness. He didn’t had enough knowledge on how to farm pigs on a large scale and didn’t have the tools or capital in order to manage a large scale farm. He blamed the government mostly for this. They were the ones who supposed to help farmers who wanted to get into serieos agricultural businesses. Disappointed he added that most of the government officials only wear titles, but execute nothing.

The weekend I spent on doing domestic obligations, relaxing, homework and playing and hanging out with the Dittoh family. Sunday I went with them to their local church. This was way more fun than the church in Bolgatanga city I went to last time. I even had the chance to be a witness of some real life exorcism practices. The people here believe that a lot of problems, and that includes also health problems, are caused by being possessed by evil spirits or demons and can be solved by accepting Jesus Christ as your one and only Savior and pray a lot in addition.

For the upcoming week I will keep myself mainly occupied with preparing my departure back to Holland, travelling, getting back home and continue with data analysis. I will get in touch with my dear colleague Awa Gossa Lô and will see her as soon as possible in order to work further on our ICT4D hardware tool.

This week a learned that time is not of the essence here in Africa. I knew this beforehand, but it is always different if you experience it yourself in real life. On the one hand it could give you a lot of relaxation and freedom, but if you are a control freak like me who loves time and most important being on time it could also cause a lot of stress. This week I learned to let go the essence of time once in a while.

Well this will be my last report from Ghana. Next time you will hear from Awa and me again, but this time we will be in our lovely, cold, beautiful and well organized Holland again. Ghana and especially Zanlerigu village: It was a joy and a valuable life lesson for me being there. Thank you very much for all the information you were willing to share and the lessons you have taught me.”

Linked Data for International Aid Transparency Initiative

In August 2013, VU Msc. student Kasper Brandt finished his thesis on developing, implementing and testing a Linked Data model for the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Now, more than a year later, that work was accepted for publication in the Journal on Data Semantics. We are very happy with this excellent result.

Model fragment

Model fragment

IATI is a multi-stakeholder initiative that seeks to improve the transparecy of development aid and to that end developed an open standard for the publication of aid information. Hundreds of NGOs and governments have registered to the IATI registry by publishing their aid activities in this XML standard. Taking the IATI model as an input, we have created a Linked Data model based on requirements elicitated from qualitative interviews using an iterative requirements engineering methodology. We have converted the IATI open data from a central registry to Linked Data and linked it to various other datasets such as World Bank indicators and DBPedia information. This dataset is made available for re-use at http://semanticweb.cs.vu.nl/iati .

burundi country page

Screenshot of an application bringing together information from multiple datasets

To demonstrate the added value of this Linked Data approach, we have created several applications which combine the information from the IATI dataset and the datasets it was linked to.  As a result, we have shown that creating Linked Data for the IATI dataset and linking it to other datasets give new valuable insights in aid transparency. Based on actual information needs of IATI users, we were able to show that linking IATI data adds significant value to the data and is able to fulfill the needs of IATI users.

A draft of the paper can be found here.

Master project Rianne Nieland: Talking to Linked Data

[This post was written by Rianne Nieland. It describes her MSc. project supervised  by myself]

People in developing countries cannot access information on the Web, because they have no Internet access and are often low literate. A solution could be to provide voice-based access to data on the Web by using the GSM network.

afbeeldingIn my master project I have investigated how to make general-purpose data sets efficiently available using voice interfaces for GSM. To achieve this, I have developed two voice interfaces, one for Wikipedia and one for DBpedia. I have made two voice interfaces with two different kinds of input data sources, namely normal web data and Linked Data, to be able to compare them.

To develop the two voice interfaces, I first did requirements elicitation from literature and developed a user interface and conversion algorithms for Wikipedia and DBpedia concepts. With user tests the users evaluated the two voice interfaces, to be able to compare them on speed, error rate and usability.

[Rianne’s thesis presentation slides can be found on slideshare and is embedded below. Her thesis is attached here: Eindversie-Paper-Rianne-Nieland-2057069]

 

Successful VU symposium puts ICT4D in perspective

On 16 May 2014, the symposium “Perspectives on ICT for Development” (ICT4D) was held at VU University Amsterdam. The event featured international speakers from different backgrounds, who were asked to present their perspective on the principles, practice and scientific background of ICTs for Developing countries.

Tim Unwin discusses ICT4D

Tim Unwin discusses ICT4D

The symposium was a great success, with over 100 participants that came from all over the world, bringing their expertise to the discussion floor. During breaks, these participants were asked to share their background and thoughts on a number of ICT4D issues by sticking colored markers on three poster boards. The results are shown in the three pictures below. During the lively discussions the different perspectives were highlighted. Discussions were kickstarted by asking audience members from different disciplines to comment on a speaker’s viewpoint. Students were asking practitioners, regreening experts discussed knowledge sharing with computer scientists etcetera. This resulted in many multidisciplinary discussions throughout the day.

The board shows the location of origin of the participants. There are five color post-its indicating the background (orange = computer scientist, pink = social scientists, blue =ict4d practitioners, green=development practitioners and purple = other). The results show a wide geographical spread of participants.

The board shows the location of origin of the participants. There are five color post-its indicating the background (orange = computer scientist, pink = social scientists, blue =ict4d practitioners, green=development practitioners and purple = other). The results show a wide geographical spread of participants.

Board 2: "Succesful ICT4D needs more more/better …Money, Technology, Research, Evaluation, User involvement, Other". Here it seems that Computer Scientists think more User Involvement is needed, whereas practitioners see the value of more technology.

Board 2: “Succesful ICT4D needs more more/better …Money, Technology, Research, Evaluation, User involvement, Other”. Here it seems that Computer Scientists think more User Involvement is needed, whereas practitioners see the value of more technology.

Board 3: Finally, participants were asked to mark their agreement with the statement "Every ICT4D project needs a computer scientist".  Surprisingly (or not) it seemed that most agreed, although some practitioners (and computer scientists) disagree.

Board 3: Finally, participants were asked to mark their agreement with the statement “Every ICT4D project needs a computer scientist”. Surprisingly (or not) it seemed that most agreed, although some practitioners (and computer scientists) disagree.

The entire event was broadcast live on the Web, with viewers from as far away as Liberia and Nigeria. The entire symposium is archived online on youtube.

The first speaker was Stefan Schlobach, [watch on youtube], assistant professor of Artificial Intelligence at VU Amsterdam, and coordinator of the Master Course on ICT4D at VU’s Computer Science Department. He highlighted the Computer Science perspective of ICT4D, identifying a number of interesting research challenges from CS subdisciplines such as Human-Computer Interaction, Knowledge Representation and Information Retrieval.

Next up was Mirjam de Bruijn [watch on youtube] , professor of contemporary history and anthropology of West and Central Africa, at the African Studies Centre, Faculty of Arts, Leiden University. Her talk “Mobile Africa Revisited” presented a number of of how the introduction of ICTs (specifically mobile phones) changes the lives of people in developing countries. Her research shows the need to consider the profound transformative effects that ICTs can have but also its limitations.

Professor Saa Dittoh from the University for Development Studies in Tamale, Ghana and Wendelien Tuyp from the VU next talked about the role of communication and knowledge sharing for regreening efforts in Africa [watch on youtube]. They provided insight in grand-scale agricultural issues and how local innovative farmers are making a difference.

After the lunch, mr. Amadou Tangara from Sahel Eco (Mali) and Stéphane Boyera of SBC4D consultancy held a duo-presentation on Mobile and Voice Technologies For Social And Economic Development [watch on youtube]. Their talk highlighted the potential of mobile and voice technologies for information sharing and Mr. Tangara presented a number of the voice systems resulting from the VOICES project.

The penultimate speaker was Tim Unwin [watch on youtube]. He is professor of geography at Royal Holloway, University of London and UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is also the editor of the book “ICT4D” (Cambridge University Press, 2009) which was used in the ICT4D VU course. Prof. Unwin presented a very inspiring, high-level and highly skeptical look on the merits of ICT for development, focusing on the question whether the practice of ICT4D is actually helping the most marginalised communities rather than widening the gap. He cautioned for careless optimism that often surrounds technological advances and urged the audience to rethink their focus and approach.

The closing speech was given by VU University’s own prof. Hans Akkermans[watch on youtube] who also discussed the scientific backbone of ICT4D practice. In his talk he discussed the role of the (computer) scientific method and computer scientists themselves in ICT4D asking “what the sheep can do for the goats” and vice-versa. He posited that ICT4D presents “extreme” research challenges for computer scientists, referring back to the first speaker’s talk as well.

The wonderful symposium was sponsored by VU Computer Science, the Network Institute and VU international Office.