Uncategorized

ICTD Researchers – Where is the Natural Environment?

Soumyo Das (Emlyon Business School) reflects on the global injustice of the climate crisis, whose effects are disproportionately hitting the Global South. What relationships exist between ICTs, socio-economic development goals, and the natural environment?

The 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report tells a tale, while anticipated, finally painted, and marked as ‘with high confidence’. Human-induced environmental change has led to widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people and has disproportionately affected those in the Global South (ibid.). The observed effects are particularly visible across tracts of South & South-East Asia, Africa, and Latin America, with significant impact on food chains, public health, human- & animal-migration and displacement patterns, and damages to key economic sectors (ibid.).

While such human-induced environmental changes are driven by a plethora of processes, ICTs, through different means across its life cycle, play a significant contributing factor. The negative effect in the production phase is driven by the process of, and materials used, in the development of such technologies. Furthermore, since most ICTs are produced within a concentrated geographic region, its distribution involves non-renewable energy-consuming global supply chains. The aspect of energy consumption is further exacerbated in its use. As a minute observation in relation to the UN’s vision of the use of ICTs for achieving SDGs, the collection and processing of human data for purposes of monitoring SDG achievement has been vocalised for several cases, for example, public health. While the ethical, legal, and social implications for the same are immense, from a purely technical perspective, it involves the storage and analysis of data within technical infrastructures which are well documented to be energy inefficient and with significant environmental impact. It is also well reported that ICTs carry short product life cycles, which ultimately contribute to non-biodegradable and potentially toxic e-waste.

Irrespective of such forecasts and readily available statistics, Governments across the world are increasingly investing in the use of ICTs to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in line with UN’s vision of using ICTs as enablers to accelerate the achievement of the 17 SDGs. While the impact of ICTs used for the purpose of achieving socio-economic growth is perhaps miniscule in comparison to the global use of ICTs for individual consumption and to drive economic processes, it still leaves behind a considerable environmental footprint. The issue is furthermore critical for ICTD researchers, as the environmental implications of production, use, and disposal of ICTs are much higher in the Global South; furthermore, the use of ICTs for SDGs are concentrated in the Global South, which implies that the environmental implications of the same would be concentrated within the same geographic boundaries.

Irrespective, research has rarely captured the triangular relationship between ICTs, socio-economic development goals, and the natural environment. The implications of the relationship, however, is quite broad, and I take the case of public health (UN-SDG#3: Good Health & Well-Being), and of e-waste to substantiate my argument. On one hand, governments across the Global South are increasingly using ICTs to achieve positive public health outcomes, and on the other, it has well documented that the state of the natural environment has a strong bearing on human and veterinary health. However, studies show that the end-of-life-cycle outcome of most ICTs, i.e., e-waste, is a major contributor to environmental degradation, in the form of non-biodegradable toxic waste, with public health implications.

The environmental implications reflect social forces at play. From a Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) perspective, it reflects social choices in the use of certain physical and chemical materials in the design and development of the ICTs (non-biodegradable & chemically toxic in nature). Furthermore, the short-life cycles – the reason why most ICTs ends up being non-usable after a point of time, is discarded, and ends up being e-waste – is a material reflection of the planned obsolescence ideology of ICT ideation and design stakeholders. It could also reflect changes in policy approaches, in changing the kind of ICTs used to achieve a particular socio-economic goals purpose – as is reflected in continual changes in the type of e-POS machines used for delivering public welfare services in India over a 10-year period.

Irrespective of the social force at play, e-waste contributes to significant environmental damages and it is well documented that it is associated with negative birth outcomes, changes in lung & respiratory functions, damages to DNA, hormonal disorders, and carcinogenic outcomes. And yet, every year, there is a significant rise in the volume of e-waste generated – rising annually by 21% in between 2014 and 2019, with the vast majority being dumped in in low- or middle-income countries.

It therefore becomes a recursive ailment, if the very same ICTs used to achieve good health ends up being a contributing factor to negative health outcomes. As such, the environmental implications of the ICTs used to achieve socio-economic goals recursively impacts the very same* Social Development Goals which the ICTs tries to address in the first place.

For those policymakers, while governments and international organizations need to rethink about prescribing ICTs as the elixir for any-and-every socio-economic ailment in the first place, it needs to be more cognizant about the role played by the natural environment on the state of society and the economy, and the impact of ICTs on it. For researchers, the article is an attempt to re-hash and re-highlight the fact that ICTD research has focussed largely on socio-economic goals, and there exists a lack of studies which has a focus on the natural environment. Environmental goals too are important for sustainable futures, and this article is a call for ICTD researchers, policymakers, and designers to add the natural environment in the equation of the study of ICTs and socio-economic development.

*Maybe not the same SDG cluster, perhaps a different one, but in essence, to the larger SDG goals.

About the Author: Soumyo Das is a Researcher at Emlyon Business School. His research focusses on sustainable management & innovation, and was formerly associated with the Centre for IT & Public Policy at IIIT Bangalore as an ICTD scholar. He can be reached at das (at) em-lyon.com, or on Twitter at @soumyoin.

Uncategorized

Rethinking ICT4D Research Through the Pillars of Context, Resilience, and Sustainability

By: Muluneh Atinaf, IT-Doctoral Program, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,                   mulunehatinaf@yahoo.com

ICT4D research has addressed critical individual, organizational, and societal issues progressively. The nature of problems is also being changing from time to time challenging the suitability of the solutions and the field to address current and emergent problems with older assumptions. Hence, the field enquires to rethink and reframe research in ICT4D to be framed and reflect justice, apply multi-theoretical approaches, and give attention to the indigenous understanding of ICTs. This piece focuses on one of the multi-theoretical approaches in ICT4D research. Among the multi-theoretical approaches to consider is looking at the multiple concepts that have gained attention and become a trend for ICT4D research. Context, resilience, and sustainability are among the concepts gaining attention and becoming the building blocks of ICT4D research.

It is better to look into each of the concepts before discussing how the triple concepts relate and how they can be investigated together in an ICT4D research. Context refers to the processes and conditions other than the constituent causal sociomaterial interactions of information systems (IS) phenomena that affect their formation and are affected by them. Resilience is the ability of a system to perform its objectives to continue to thrive in the face of challenges. However, context-based research rarely goes beyond understanding the lived experiences of stakeholders and existing IS artifacts to inform resilience and sustainability of interventions. The development practice is challenged by multiple and overlapping treats. Moreover, the local communities have differences in their capabilities such as access to infrastructure including computing devices, digital literacy, and cognitive gaps to apply the information received. Therefore, ignoring context within such local development realities and stakeholders’ conditions while designing resilient IS will not lead to sustainability of the interventions. ICT4D research should try to look into the three pillars of ICT4D research from the socio-technical perspective. However, common agreement is lacking on what constitutes resilience for development projects. Sustainability in this piece refers to enduring those interventions, specifically the ICT4D interventions in the development arena, and keeping target users to continue using the interventions. From the above definitions one can understand that resilience maintains the functions and operations of a system (both information system and the contexts of the local development practices) during stress through unlocking potential from the technology or human potential. In fact, context is a methodological challenge in ICT4D research and mainstream IS research. Relatively, context and sustainability are well-researched both in the ICT4D and mainstream IS research. Given the above conceptualizations, ICT4D research is still criticized as a-contextual, inadequately considering the value-adding context-based potentials of stakeholders, techno-centric study (Chigona et al, 2009) that leads to ICT4D failures, and limiting theorizing in ICT4D.

Therefore, research applying ICT for development goals needs to deeply investigate the historical processes of the context with their social practices and processes for the success of the interventions and the contexts that enable such success. ICT itself is part of the context encompassing the conditions and processes in the environment. The question is then how do the triple concepts of context, resilience, and sustainability relate to each other? How does one inform the other or is informed by the other?

Addressing this inquiry needs to develop understanding on each of the concepts and how individual concepts or a group of concepts can enable/inform the other. It is known from previous research that ICT4D interventions are embedded in a system, a network, a project, or a social structure where the resources that define the local contexts and enable resilient communities are distributed within these systems and structures. Resilience and sustainability are sometimes treated as synonyms looking at the points of learning taking place between the two concepts however there is a clear difference between the two concepts. In practice they are different in that resilience focuses on the regeneration of resources and sustainability focuses on supplying the resources. Therefore, resilience becomes the core issue that can contribute both to sustaining the interventions and the local practices of the communities. Hence, resources can be regenerated not only from the IS infrastructure but also from the practices of the local development communities. The community’s local development practices involve their daily development practices and the IS applied to support their development practices.

This informs the socio-technical nature of both the development practices and the regeneration of resources. This is an implication that resilience is socio-technical. The socio-technical nature of an information system was also accepted long ago. Therefore, both context and resilience are socio-technical. Hence, the analysis of these two concepts that are gaining attention by the ICT4D research should be approached from the socio-technical perspective. The socio-technical dimension involves people, tasks/processes, structure, technology, and data. The fact that resources are distributed in a system, networks, projects, or social structures, and development is refers to the beneficiaries imply both context and resilience are socio-technical and hence sustainability is socio-technical too. Therefore, resilience should be informed from the socio-technical context which in turn helps maintaining the functions and operations of the local development practices to meet the requirements of the local beneficiaries in a way that the two can lead to sustainable ICT4D interventions. Further information on the conceptual relationships established from the three conceptual pillars can be explored in the paper at the IFIP WG 9.4 2022 Conference Proceeding and the empirical evidence to this can be accessed in the forthcoming paper.

Uncategorized

CALL FOR PANELS: IFIP 9.4 CONFERENCE, 25-27 MAY 2022

We are inviting proposals for panel presentations on topics relevant to the IFIP 9.4 community and broadly in keeping with the conference theme:  Freedom and Social Inclusion in a Connected World.

A panel should aim to present a variety of views on a topical issue in the ICT4D field, to generate debate amongst the panellists and to engage the audience in that debate.  Thus, there should be potential for different positions to be put forward for the chosen topic and the proposal should make it clear how the panel will present these different positions.  Good candidates for panel topics would be those arising from controversies, academic debates, new research agendas, global/geopolitical challenges, innovations and transformational technological advances and so forth.

The panel proposals will be reviewed by the Programme Chairs taking into account: a panel topic that will attract an audience, a panel composition that offers a variety of voices, and a panel format that will encourage audience participation.

Panel proposals should conform to the following guidelines:

  • Maximum of three A4 pages in length, consisting of:
    • An introduction to the panel topic demonstrating its importance to the field
    • An exposition of the varying positions held on the topic and how these engender debate
    • A section with short biographies (max. 100 words) of each panellist
    • A references section
  • Each panel should comprise a moderator and a maximum of 4 panellists
  • The panel format should aim to complete all panellists’ debate and audience engagement in 90 minutes, with at least 30 minutes for audience engagement

Should the panel proposal be accepted, it would be expected that all panellists should commit to attending the conference.

Panel proposals should be submitted no later than 14th March 2022 to the programme chairs, using our email addresses below.  Acceptance decisions of panel proposals will take place on 15th April 2022.

Programme Chairs

Pamela Abbott (p.y.abbott@sheffield.ac.uk), Jose-Antonio Robles (jrobles@esan.edu.pe), Yingqin Zheng (Yingqin.Zheng@rhul.ac.uk

Uncategorized

A year of resilience: IFIP 9.4 in 2021

The continuation of the global COVID-19 pandemic has marked our year at IFIP 9.4. With the shift to an online format for our events, as well as transformations affecting the conduct of fieldwork and our members’ teaching and learning activities, the year has marked even more deeply the changes started in 2020. Caring responsibilities, health concerns and the new challenges brought by these have led many of us to a rediscussion of the essential aspects of our academic roles.

Accommodating the change has meant many actions. One was readaptation of the core event – the IFIP 9.4 conference – that constitutes the lifeblood of our work as community. On 26-28 May 2021, the First IFIP 9.4 Virtual Conference has taken place, in the same dates originally planned for our physical convening in Lima. Programmatically titled “Resilient ICT4D”, the conference has sought to leverage the online format to recreate the atmosphere of vibrant and fruitful interaction that characterised our physical convenings since IFIP 9.4 was established. It has, at the same time, sought to move resilience from a conference theme to a feature of organisation of the event itself. This has meant using the online format to pursue objectives of inclusion and open communication that characterise the spirit of IFIP 9.4.

The event began with a PhD day where, by choice, we adopted a non-capped approach to participation. This creates an alternative to the model of doctoral consortia in our parent field: in Information Systems, such consortia are characterised by a capped number of participants, subjected or not to a fee for participation. Beyond the no-fee model, we also decided not to cap participation: using the virtual means, it has been possible to match 74 participants, based in 27 countries, with 24 mentors who volunteered their time and expertise to mentor such a big group of early-career researchers. Through rotation across Zoom tables, fruitful mentoring conversations have demonstrated the power of an inclusive PhD day, where the absence of caps and fees has left room to enriching and insightful discussions.

Doctoral consortia also usually involve faculty panels, discussing themes including strategies for publishing and progressing in the career. Even to this model, the IFIP 9.4 PhD day has proposed a constructive alternative. The event has featured two panels: in the first one, titled “Lessons from the PhD Journey”, five colleagues close to completion of their PhD (or who just finished) shared with the group what they saw as the most useful learnings through the doctoral journey. In the second, titled “Academic Careers… With a Human Face”, four colleagues shared (not the best strategies to publish more and more, but) their views of how to live the academic journey in a human way, friendly to mental and physical health and mindful of the ethical aspects of the job. Out of many topics that emerged, remarks on intersecting form of bias in key aspects of the academic profession have triggered a collective reflection on how such biases can be recognised and tackled.

The IFIP 9.4 Virtual Conference has followed the PhD day. With the choice of not having a physical host, the conference has proposed a collective governance model: decision-making was conducted by 32 track chairs, based across 14 countries and representing 27 different universities. The collective has taken all decisions – conference format; keynote invitations; panel organisation; social event – in the making of the conference, showing the value of collective decision-making in mirroring the spirit of IFIP 9.4. In addition, the conference chose a no-fee format and published open-access proceedings, leaving to the authors the choice on how to evolve the 82 papers presented in the event.

Importantly, the 13 tracks in the IFIP 9.4 Virtual Conference have reflect not only the continued relevance of core themes (resilience building; digital platforms; ICTs for public health, and more) for the community, but also the emergence of new themes: for the first time the conference featured a track on data justice, one on the role of ICTs in social justice, and one on feminist and queer approaches to ICT4D, which has inspired a Special Issue Call for Papers in Information Technology for Development. A track has underscored the continued interest of IFIP 9.4 towards indigenous theory, and new track ideas (e.g. a track on “digital authoritarianism and fundamentalism: problems and solutions”) have also emerged. Four panels have also brought new themes to our community: open data governance in the Global South, digital labour in the Global South, deconstructing notions of resilience, and feminist approaches to ICT4D have fostered important discussions. Three extremely insightful keynotes by Shirin Madon, Sajda Qureshi and Anita Gurumurthy have brought important themes to the attention of a wide audience of 486 registered participants.

As we look back to the activities conducted in 2021, it is important to note how these inspire the very substantial work that is yet to come. Tracks from IFIP 9.4 conferences continue to inspire Special Issues in the journals of the field: the recent Information Systems Journal Special Issue 31(6) is a combined Special Issue on Indigenous Theory and Digital Platforms for Development, both of which were tracks at the IFIP 9.4 2019 Conference in Dar el Salaam. Papers in such Special Issues – and beyond them, as IFIP 9.4 papers are further developed into journal publications – continue to inform the debates of the discipline, such as the turn of digital platforms literature towards issues of development discussed in the related Special Issue launch. New Special Issue Calls, such as the ISJ Call for Papers on Digital Transformation in Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities and the ITD Call for Papers on Understanding Local Social Processes in ICT4D Research, have been presented in our Conference, generating fruitful debate between editors and potential authors. In addition, our Conference has hosted the launch of a MIS Quarterly Special Issue on Social Justice, a launch in which the Editors have remarked the strong synergies between the journal and our activities at IFIP 9.4.

Looking forward means, first and foremost, looking at future events and ways to keep the lifeblood of IFIP 9.4 alive and active despite the challenges of the continued global pandemic. Our next IFIP 9.4 Conference, which will take place on 25-27 May 2022, will keep a virtual format. The Conference adopts a multilingual format – with tracks in English, Spanish and Portuguese – and despite our inability to be physically in Lima as originally planned, will constitute a large convening where important discussions of ICT4D will be continued. The event, as well as the activities yet to come and be planned for 2022, will mirror the resilient spirit of the IFIP 9.4 community: a spirit of openness, interactivity, and willingness to advance together the ICT4D debate.

To all our members and readers, the happiest of holidays, and best wishes for a happy 2022!

Silvia Masiero

Secretary, IFIP WG 9.4

Uncategorized

Feminist and Queer Approaches to ICT4D: From a Conference Track to a Community Conversation

The First IFIP 9.4 Virtual Conference, held on 26-28 May, featured, for the first time, a track on Feminist and Queer Approaches to Information Systems in Developing Countries. Our stance as Track Chairs is that, in a pluriversal community of ICT4D researchers like IFIP 9.4, the track was highly needed for several reasons. One of the mandates of IFIP 9.4, as per the Aims and Scope of the Working Group, is “to establish international collaboration networks of researchers and practitioners interested in the use of information and digital technology for addressing the complex and pressing problems of development in society”. It is, in our view as Track Chairs, not possible to view such a mandate in isolation from the systemic issues that feminist and queer approaches capture, and this needs to be put into explicit relation with the themes and topics of ICT4D.

In addition, such issues are characterised by cross-contextual continuities of gender bias, disempowerment, and activist responses, that the papers presented in the track have illustrated under different perspectives and across global contexts. While presenting a strong common matrix, the issues in question reveal contextual specificities that found a space for voicing and discussion in the conference track, bringing up important themes of feminist and queer research. This gave attendees the opportunity to become aware of issues ranging from gender violence in Peru to male guardianship in Saudi Arabia, the risks of digital contact tracing for LGBTQIA+ communities, frameworks for critical analysis of ICT4D for women, gender data for development and the inequities of participation in Bangladesh, and gender bias in citations in information systems research. Such a pluriversal conversation afforded the chance to explicitly connect feminist and queer research to IFIP 9.4, marking the beginning of a conversation that, already ongoing in fields from HCI to design science, is very strongly needed in the IFIP 9.4 community.

In Women’s Solidarity and Social Media: Sisterhood Concept in #LasRespondonas, a Facebook group in Peru, Juan Fernando Bossio and Illari Diez note that in the fight against gender violence and exclusion, several feminist groups have emerged on social media to share information, debate, denounce, organise, and provide help. The authors saw women’s solidarity as one of the main ingredients of that process. The paper analyses the meaning of female solidarity, sisterhood or sororidad, as a feminist political concept among members of one feminist Facebook group in Peru. As in offline spaces, sisterhood is conceived in two ways: support and solidarity relationships; and as a political aspect of feminism. Its amplitude reflects the diversity of feminist movements in Latin America. Related to technology, the case shows how communities appropriate technologies for their own interests, provides an understanding of the characteristics of online/virtual communities, and shows an increase in the use of digital platforms as a political terrain for activism. Finally, as patriarchy is a focal point of feminist theory, sisterhood was found to be central to feminist practice.

In The Ethical Implications of Digital Contact Tracing for LGBTQIA+ Communities, Izak van Zyl and Nyx McLean argue that the technological containment strategies around the COVID-19 pandemic create serious implications for vulnerable populations in the LGBTQIA+ community. They state that digital contact tracing, driven by Big Tech as “self-proclaimed” health policymakers, leaves untenable room for exploitation and harm. This is especially the case for LGBTQIA+ persons, who may be in physical danger should their whereabouts, identities, or personal views be exposed. As the authors continue to argue, the widespread trade-off between individual privacy (or freedom) and public health is unjust in the broader context of marginalisation, and further disenfranchises those at the peripheries of society. A critical intersectional feminist approach can mitigate some of these concerns by proposing solutions that are more equal, inclusive, and socially just. Such an approach, informed by a feminist ethics of care, is transparent, user-centric, and sensitive to volatile political and cultural dynamics. As academics in this space, the authors encourage future research that seeks to operationalise a critical intersectional feminism in the context of public health.

In M-Government, Wilaya, and Women’s Empowerment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,  Norah Alotaibi, Salihu Dasuki and Efpraxia Zamani employ the key concepts of Sen’s Capability Approach (CA) to understand how m-government services in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have provided opportunities for women to become empowered. Findings indicate that m-government contributes towards women’s empowerment by providing opportunities to participate in social and economic activities. However, there are also key social and cultural factors that impede the use of m-government services for empowerment, and the authors found these to include religious beliefs, Saudi traditions and customs, and husbands’ jealousy. The study makes some important contributions to theory and practice by being the first study to focus on the use that Saudi women make of the opportunities now available to them to access government services through m-government applications and to address the cultural barriers which may function to prevent their access.

In For Better or For Worse? A Critical Framework of ICT4D for Women, Abhipsa Pal and Rahul De’ note that a critical analysis reveals that as ICT diffusion widens, there is a persistent threat of widening the gender-based digital divide which exposes women to online sexual abuse, predominantly in developing countries characterised by the gendered nature of the social structure. Instead of accepting ICT as a facilitator of women empowerment, the authors develop a critical research framework for a gender-focused examination of ICT4D studies. Using the critical research framework developed, they investigate past ICT4D initiatives and artefacts from the literature and draw critical conclusions of its benefits and issues. The study encourages future ICT4D research to investigate areas of gender discrimination and understand the role of ICTs in a critical light.

In Gender Data 4 Girls?: A Postcolonial Feminist Participatory Study in Bangladesh, Isobel Talks observes that critical empirical and theoretical investigations into gender data for development policy and practice are lacking. Postcolonial feminist theory has long provided a critical lens through which to analyse international development projects that target women in the majority world, however postcolonial feminism remains underutilised for critically investigating data for development projects. Her paper addresses these gaps through presenting the findings from a participatory action research project with young women involved in a gender data for development project in Bangladesh. Echoing postcolonial feminist concerns with development, the ‘DataGirls’ had some concerns that data was being extracted from their communities, representing the priorities of external NGOs to a greater extent than their own. However, through collaborating to develop and deliver community events on child marriage with the ‘DataGirls’, the research demonstrates that participatory approaches can address some postcolonial feminist criticisms of (data for) development, by ensuring that gender data is enacted by and for majority world women rather than Western development institutions.

Finally, in Assessing Gender Bias in the Information Systems Field: An Analysis of the Impact on Citations, Silvia Masiero and Aleksi Aaltonen note the lack of studies of gender bias in the academic field of Information Systems, which is surprising especially in the light of the proliferation of such studies in the Science, Technology, Mathematics and Technology (STEM) disciplines. To assess potential gender bias in the field, this paper outlines a study to estimate the impact of scholarly citations that female Information Systems academics accumulate vis-à-vis their male colleagues. Drawing on a scientometric study of the 7,260 papers published in the most prestigious IS journals (known as the AIS Basket of Eight), this research in progress work aims to unveil potential bias in the accumulation of citations between genders in the field. The authors plan to use panel regression to estimate the gendered citations accumulation in the field, proposing to contribute knowledge on a core dimension of gender bias in academia.

As noted above, the track on Feminist and Queer Approaches to Information Systems in Developing Countries in the IFIP 9.4 Conference constitutes, rather than a point of arrival, the beginning of a conversation that we are looking forward to continuing in and beyond the IFIP 9.4 community. In voicing, with this blog post, the research presented in the track, we call for the open engagement of the IFIP 9.4 community with feminist and queer research, sustaining that, in the spirit of addressing complex societal challenges proper of our Working Group, such a mandate in unachievable in isolation with the struggles and activist responses that feminist and queer research are capable to illuminate.

The Track Chairs Sara Vannini, Ayushi Tandon, Charmaine Wellington, Kristin Braa, Silvia Masiero

Uncategorized

IFIP 9.4 Virtual Conference – Registration Open!

The Organising Committee of the First IFIP 9.4 Virtual Conference, which will take place online on 26-28 May 2021 with a theme of “Resilient ICT4D”, is pleased to announce that registration for the Conference is now open!

To attend the virtual event, it is mandatory to register at the IFIP 9.4 Virtual Conference registration page. There is no attendance fee, but registration is needed to be enrolled in the platform where links to the sessions will be shared.

The Conference programme, featuring paper presentations as well as three keynote speeches, four panel sessions, two Special Issue sessions and a paper development workshop, will soon be made available on the IFIP 9.4 website.

We look forward to a great Conference! All the best,

The IFIP 9.4 Virtual Conference Co-Chairs

Uncategorized

PAPER DEVELOPMENT WORKSHOP – SPECIAL ISSUE ON Digital Transformation in Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities

The First Virtual IFIP 9.4 Conference, taking place on 26-28 May 2021, will host a Paper Development Workshop for papers aimed at the Special Issue on Digital Transformation in Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities, coming up for the Information Systems Journal and the Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries. The Workshop will host the Special Issue Senior Editors, with whom it will be possible for potential authors to discuss planned submissions to the Special Issue.

Authors interested in participating should send an extended abstract to the Senior Editors, using the template provided. Extended abstracts should be submitted to Prof Alexandre Graeml (alexandre.graeml@gmail.com) by 5 May 2021.

We look forward to a great workshop!

Uncategorized

Predatory digital lending: How it affects economically disadvantaged borrowers in India

Kawaljit Kaur & P. Vigneswara Ilavarasan (Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi) discuss the darker side of digital lending, focusing on the phenomenon of predatory lending and its effects on economically disadvantaged people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past few years, the finance industry in India has undergone digital transformation. Digital lending services providing easy credit options and hassle-free experience are becoming popular sources of credit. These services provide easy access to short-term loans through websites or mobile applications without much paperwork. Although digital lending platforms have enabled credit services for the untapped market, the lack of digital lending regulations has resulted in unfair practices from service providers.

The dark side of digital lending became more prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of what is sometimes referred to as “digital loan sharks”. Such a term indicates creditors with predatory intent who charge unusually high-interest rates, also known as usury. Digital loan sharks are new-age moneylenders in mobile apps or websites providing short-term loans at exorbitant interest rates. They use digital technology to provide services and do not require tangible assets like security like traditional moneylenders.  They target individuals or small business not having access to credit and follow unfair practices to charge high-interest rate disguised as a processing fee or other service charges.

Direct lending apps act as an intermediary for direct money transfer between lender and borrower. In indirect lending, agents provide loans to borrowers through lending apps on behalf of shadow banks. Due to the absence of proper regulations to control digital lenders, they operate under an unregulated umbrella and exploit consumer vulnerability.

Threats to customer protection & financial integrity

Although there are regulations to ensure fair practices in lending services, digital lenders are not brought under regulatory boundaries clearly, which leads to unlawful practices in the digital lending space. Information technology has enabled easy access to information and customer targeting, encouraging customer exploitation by these predators. Predatory digital lending apps offer short-term loans at high-interest rates without any documentation. Borrowers unintentionally provide access to their personal information by allowing permissions in the lending apps. Digital lenders store the personal information of borrowers. In case borrowers fail to pay back the loan, they use personal data to threaten them by name shaming or harassing.

Digital loan sharks threaten the financial integrity of the digital lending ecosystem by luring target customers in need of money and charging high-interest rates unfairly. Attractive loan offers are made to potential borrowers without full disclosure to lure them into borrowing loans. Loan terms and conditions are designed so that the borrower ends up paying much more than the borrowed amount. Most of the times, borrowers fail to arrange money for paying back the loan and end up taking another loan.

How digital loan sharks prey?

Digital loan sharks look for potential borrowers and attract them through targeted social media advertising, email or SMS marketing. They look out for people in need of instant credit and lure them with attractive loan offers by showing repeated ads over social media platforms or sending a message over SMS or email. They usually target people with no access to other credit options which require documentation or tangible assets as security. The identified target in need of money is offered an instant loan with exorbitant interest rates. Interest rates vary from 50 to 100 per cent for one or two-week loan in most cases.  There are hidden charges involved disguised as a transaction fee or processing fee most of the times. Loans are designed to make borrower fall into the trap of borrowing another loan to pay the first loan.

Digital loan apps require little or no documentation for loan processing; neither ask for any tangible asset as security. Instead, these mobile apps ask for permissions to access photos, contacts, location etc., as the requirement for loan processing. In case of default, the social reputation of the defaulter is attacked. The harsh methods used by these loan sharks to recover money include abusive phone calls and messages, shaming or intimidation by informing family and friends or downgrading their credit score.[1] Cyberbullying gets more intense day by day. Recent cases of harassment and name shaming by loan sharks have been associated to several suicides in India.

Identifying regulatory gaps and blind spots

Digital transformation has accelerated in the last year worldwide, and India witnessed the massive development in digital technology adoption. However, regulatory guidelines and practices are lagging rapidly growing digital technology. Existing regulations and guidelines in India, focusing on fair practices in the lending market and customer protection, do not adequately cover the digital lenders.

Digital lending service providers do not fall under the direct regulating authorities of India. They either operate illegally or lend money on behalf of regulated banks and NBFC (Non-Banking Financial companies). Therefore, the existing regulations fail to keep a check on unfair practices in the digital lending space. Reserve Bank of India issued six commandants as advisory for banks in December 2020 to check on registered digital lending agents. However, the lack of strict regulations makes it challenging to prevent unfair practices by digital lenders.

Even at the customer end, existing regulations in India fail to ensure customer protection by digital lenders. Digital lending apps get the user’s consent to access their data on mobile phones and exploit that information to harass defaulters. Although Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill proposed in 2019 covers the gaps in India’s data protection laws by governing data collection and processing by public and private entities, it is still not implemented.

Regulatory & supervisory environment for digital lenders 

To keep digital lenders in check, the regulatory framework must cover both ‘Financial’ & ‘Digital’ regulations. Thus, we submit that a detailed approach to define rules and guidance would work better than a high-level regulatory approach.[2] The detailed point-to-point rulebook for fair digital credit market conduct should cover gaps and blind spots in current regulations:

  • For a well-regulated digital lending market, licensing requirements should be strict enough to allow only approved lenders to offer loan services but flexible enough to encourage financial inclusion.
  • Product disclosure rules are required to ensure transparency in offered loans, interest rate, processing fee, terms & conditions and all other details.
  • The regulatory framework must cap interest rates, pricing & other processing charges so that digital lenders do not charge high rates for offered loans.
  • Data privacy and management regulations to safeguard customer security and privacy. User’s data must not be captured and used without consent.
  • The regulatory framework must include rules and guidelines for accessible and efficient consumer grievance handling.
  • Flexible and evolving regulatory framework to balance innovating digital technologies in FinTech and changing regulatory needs.
  • Supervisory authorities to keep a check on digital lenders and report any misconduct.
  • Strengthen cybersecurity for risk assessment and information security.
  • Strict cyberbullying laws for consumer protection.

Digital technologies in the lending space are continuously developing and creating needs for new regulations. To keep up with the pace of innovation, RegTech is emerging as a solution to deliver regulatory requirements more effectively and fast. It is a subset of FinTech and can provide high tech systems for regulating the dynamic digital world.


Uncategorized

Mobile data collection in complex emergencies: lessons from GOAL in South Sudan

Stanford Senzere (GOAL Global) reflects on lessons learnt by GOAL in South Sudan, highlighting that even in complex emergencies challenges related to mobile data collection are not insurmountable, and the instrumental impact of their use outweighs the risks.

The term “mobile data collection” is used to describe the data collected through various mobile devices including mobile phones, tablet computers and laptop computers.

GOAL is an international humanitarian and development organization working in 14 countries to relieve the suffering of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. In South Sudan, GOAL has been implementing digital data collection since 2016, conducting routine surveys, post-distribution monitoring and rapid assessments, taking advantage of the efficiencies brought by mobile data collection notwithstanding the challenges presented by the operating environment.

According to GSMA, South Sudan has one of the lowest mobile connectivity index in the world. This means in most places where humanitarian programmes are implemented there is limited, or no mobile network coverage let alone internet connection. Despite this, GOAL has been able to embrace mobile technology, including in emergency assessments.

GOAL staff conducting flood response rapid assessment using a tablet in Agok, South Sudan in 2019

At the core of emergency response is quick access to accurate and updated information about the disaster. Data is of fundamental importance for the emergency response to enable prioritization and timely distribution of the right resources to the right places. This therefore demands that the turnaround time between data collection decision making is reduced to a minimum. In the context of South Sudan mobile data collection is thus a necessity despite the challenges.

Over the years, GOAL in South Sudan has learnt valuable lessons using mobile technology for data collection, including:

  • Allocating sufficient time to designing, testing, and implementing mobile data collection is key to success. Applications need to be piloted, bugs identified and fixed. In South Sudan given the poor connectivity bugs may be difficult to fix once the application is deployed, so it must be deployed when it has been thoroughly tested.
  • Mobile data collection should be considered a long-term investment, that requires organizational support at both strategic and operational level. This support is essential in sustaining the efforts and making the right technological choices.
  • It is the human element and interactions that bring out the best in technology solutions, therefore it is necessary to build staff capacity at all levels of the organization. Field teams need to be confident that support is available whenever problems arise. Skills transfer from experienced staff to less experienced ones (especially in field locations) will also consolidate the demand and use of mobile data collection.
  • Closely related to capacity is the need to identify and empower a champion within the field teams to support mobile data collection and troubleshooting. Strong commitment from the teams at all levels will ensure sustained efforts even amid serious challenges. Empowered and committed field teams, will make it happen even when they face seemingly insurmountable challenges. This is also made possible by a clear understanding of the benefits of mobile data collection as well as ownership of the whole process. Adopting mobile data collection should not be perceived as an imposed head office process at whatever level in the organizational hierarchy. Ownership is crucial.  
  • In situations where capacity of data collectors is limited, and supervision may be limited due to access challenges, there is a need for a data collection system that is user friendly, with in-built controls and consistency checks to ensure data quality. Above all feedback on data quality ought to be provided to the field teams.
  • Consider and prioritize data security and privacy. Personal data will need to be protected. This should therefore be considered when selecting the type of technology. In GOAL we evaluated about 12 applications, before eventually settling for 2, that were piloted over a 6-month period. Data privacy and protection was a key consideration in the final selection.
  • Technology is bound to fail, be prepared both mentally and resource-wise for a change in course. Analyze pre-test data to identify and rectify gaps and errors in the data collection before the final deployment. tool can be identified and rectified before the actual data collection begins. Faster and efficient analysis is also achievable if prior analysis of pre-test data has been done. It is also possible to automate preliminary analysis by linking the data to tools like PowerBI.

Above all, experience is the best teacher. Capitalize on past experiences including failures to improve the whole approach to mobile data collection. Where possible these experiences can be documented so that teams do not fall in the same pitfalls.  

Uncategorized

Problematising The Concept of Transparency in Digital Finance: An ICT4D Perspective

Drawing on fieldwork on digital technology use in a retail bank in Calcutta, India, Soumyo Das (Emlyon Business School) problematises the concept of “transparency” of digital finance and the benefits associated to it, observing unintended effects of “transparency” on the saving practices of women from disadvantaged backgrounds.

 Image Source: AKDN / Jean-Luc Ray

“Transparency” has peaked as a commonplace conversational term in academic, industrial, and policy circles now-a-days. Which is not so surprising, because with increasing data-driven processes taking place at levels from a policy-making macro to organisational-decision-making meso to a personal-data-use micro, the need to engage with it has gained significant importance in the era of The Data & The Digital. The concept of transparency however, is not so straightforward, and varies significantly across academic disciplines. Ball’s (2009) review spotlights some of the intricate nuances associated with the concept, and highlights three strands of metaphors associated with the term in existing conceptualisations. The first strand understands transparency as a public value embraced by society to counter corruption, the second synonymies it with open decision-making by states & governments, and the third conceptualisation treats it as a tool of good governance in programs, policies, organisations, and nations (ibid.). The concept in itself, furthermore, is tagged alongside other concepts like fairness, accountability, efficiency, effectiveness, and other such, giving rise to fairly complex relations between them. Between the lines, lie the notion that transparency is good, and opacity is bad.

My research, focussed on studying organisational use of digital technologies, however, brought forward a strand of findings which question this very underlying notion. To provide a background, I did an ethnographic study of digital technology use by employees and customers [1] in a retail bank in Calcutta, India, in the September to December 2019 period. For this commentary, I draw from a certain strand of findings in my interview data, coded in my notes as Women’s Practices of Savings. The respondents in this category of interviews are women who come from backgrounds with low/limited social endowments; most of them either work full-time in their individual households, or are simultaneously employed in the informal economy (mostly as household helps). Their partners are mostly informal workers, involved in trades like agriculture, construction, fisheries, or small retail businesses (‘betel-leaf shops’, ‘shoe-repair shops’ etc).

I categorise my findings of practices of savings by women as possible responses to three questions. Note that these are not the questions asked, but are merely a structure I use to classify and present my findings.

Firstly, to the question of ‘What gets saved?’, respondents inform that savings come from two sources – one, from money saved while making household purchases [2], and two, from gifts from relatives.

Secondly, for ‘What do you save for?’, respondents argue that saving money is critical for the benefit of their families in itself. For example, they say having savings are most important as their husbands are informal labourers – and saving for a rainy day is critical for when their husband might not be able to go out and work. Once in a while, they also use the money from the savings to splurge on their children’s wants (‘a candy’, ‘a toy during Poush Mela’ [3]), and occasionally to buy jewellery or a piece of clothing for themselves. 

Thirdly, on ‘How do you save?’, respondents inform that money is saved in the form of cash – the argument being, cash is liquid. It can be easily stored and accessed as and when needed, and simultaneously, can be stored ‘away’ from the ‘husbands’ and prying ‘in-laws’. Being reflective about the context of these interviews (respondents’ backgrounds of limited social endowments, influence of strong patriarchal ethos on household practices etc.), I interpret my observations to argue that savings in the form of cash provide the respondents with a form of independence regarding the use of the saved money, reducing their reliance on their partners for financial requirements (and even allows bypassing of processes of seeking money – ‘haath jor kore chaite hoye na’ – ‘…I don’t have to put together my hands and beg.’).

Now why are these findings important? Digital finance has long been advocated as being ‘transparent’ – and the uptake of digital finance argued to bring transparency to financial transactions. It has been well established that there are multiple problems associated with digital finance, and especially in the Global South. However, there exist significant volumes of arguments in favour of increasing the uptake of digital finance for the sake of reducing corruption (by relying on ‘transparency’ in such systems). Such arguments in favour of pushing for digital finance due to its characteristic of ‘transparency’, however, fails to take into account the context-specific nuanced patterns and practices of finance and use of money, like the one I discuss here.

Firstly, the very physical nature of cash allows women from limited social endowment backgrounds to afford their practices of savings based on their circumstances – for example, of storage (: ‘away’ from their husbands), and of access (of independence in finance) and of use (independence in patterns and practices of spending). Secondly, research in ICT4D has shown that women’s ownership of bank accounts and technological infrastructure required to access digital finance is still limited – implying that, in case of greater policy-driven emphasis on the uptake of digital finance in consideration of transparency, women would be more likely to make use of their husbands’ accounts and digital infrastructure, or not be able to at all. Irrespective, greater emphasis on digital finance leads to higher chances of the respondents’ financial patterns being monitored by their husbands, and greater chances of not being able to save (and accordingly access and use). One can argue that husbands’ knowledge of financial transactions (afforded by ‘transparency’ in digital finance) can result in disruption of practices of savings of the respondents. The very opacity of transactions, which is afforded by the physical forms of money – the ability to store it safely, the ability to access it independently, the ability to use it without being questioned – is what is still important for practices of saving for women with limited social endowments.

I throw this question then, how bad really is opacity? And should we, as ICT4D research, seek future research along the lines of ‘Problematizing Transparency (& Fairness, & Accountability)’ in scholarly avenues?

Endnotes

1. My fieldwork took place in the city of Calcutta, India, where a significant proportion of customers in the retail bank I situated myself in, were from backgrounds with low/limited social endowments.

2. For example, having 100 INR to purchase household products & groceries with, completing purchase for 90 INR, and saving the remaining INR 10.

3. Poush mela is a festival (and fair) in West Bengal.