Notes from the 2015 ICT4D Conference in Singapore

We were excited to be a part of the program at The Seventh International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD2015) in Singapore. Jonathan Donner, Charlotte Smart, and David Taverner from Caribou Digital participated in four days of sessions, demos, papers, notes, and ideas exchange, as well as some wonderful gatherings and cultural events. Congratulations and thanks to Professor Chib and the Nanyang Technical University organizers.

Caribou Digital ran an open session on “Is the Hotspot the New Telecentre”; our debrief on that session is here. In the meantime, here are a few of our impressions from the rest of the conference.

The 22 plenary papers were a testament to the multidisciplinarity of the ICTD community, covering everything from mobile banking and m-agriculture to disability and citizen engagement. Though most are behind the ACM “paywall”, we find that it is worth searching online if one catches your eye – many authors post preliminary versions of the work on their own websites.

The notes were lively and diverse, offering, for example:

  • An overview of Guifi.net, a collection of over 28,000 community Wi-Fi nodes in Spain and around the world
  • The introduction of Graspeo.org a social media platform that provides offline content for NGOs through mesh networks
  • The results of a small study of phones active on Endaga’s community cellular network in rural Indonesia. Although the region is very remote, the authors found smartphone adoption rates similar to that seen in the rest of Indonesia, highlighting an eagerness among some residents to adopt smartphones, even if just as media players.

As always, the open sessions were relaxed and in-depth opportunities for discussion. We stuck with the themes of rural and shared access. David attended a session on building community cellular networks, led by Kurtis Heimerl of Endaga. Charlotte attended a session focusing on the impact of shared-access telecentres; discussion there focused on how public access venues can enable female entrepreneurship, enhance digital literacy, and provide valuable spaces for socially excluded groups, even as adoption of mobile devices continues to rise.

Across both the sessions, and during our own, we were reminded again how local actors, from telecentre operators to community mesh network champions, will play an important role in extending access and enabling effective internet use beyond what could be accomplished with top-down, one-size-fits-all models of connectivity. It is an exciting time in ICTD, with a variety of local access models under active exploration.