Tag Archives: mobile phones

Information and communication technologies in the Anthropocene

UPDATED: Slides from the talks at the end of this blogpost

The use of social media for political mobilization during the political uprisings in Northern Africa and the Middle East during 2010 and 2011; digital coordination of climate skeptic networks during “Climategate” in 2010; and the repercussions of hackers in carbon markets the last years. These are all examples of intriguing phenomena that take place at the interface between rapid information technological change, and the emergence of globally spanning virtual networks.

Exactly how information and communication technologies affect the behavior of actors at multiple scales, is of course widely debated. The question is: how do we make sense of these changes, from a wider resilience perspective?

Some of these discussions took place at the 2011 Resilience conference in Arizona in a panel convened by us at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and with generous support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC, Canada). Ola Tjornbo from Social Innovation Generation (SIG) at the University of Waterloo, explored some of the opportunites, but also profound challenges, related in trying to design effective virtual deliberation processes. Ola noted that while several success stories related to crowd-sourcing (Wikipedia) and collective intelligence (e.g. Polymath) do exist, we have surprisingly little systematic knowledge of how to design digital decision-making processes that help overcome conflicts of interest related to issues of sustainability. Some if these issues are elaborated by SiG, and you can find videos from an interesting panel on “Open Source Democracy” here.

Richard Taylor from SEI-Oxford presented a rapidly evolving platform for integration and dissemination of knowledge on climate adaptation – weADAPT. This platform combines the strengths of a growing community of climate adaptation experts, a database of ongoing local climate adaptation projects, semantic web technologies, and a Google Earth interface. The visualizations are stunning, and provide and interesting example of how ICTs can be used for scientific communication.

Angelica Ospina from the Centre of Development Informatics at the University of Manchester, showcased some ongoing work on mobile technologies and climate adaptation resilience. As Ospina noted, ICTs can provide some very tangible support for various features of resilience, ranging from self-organization, to learning and flexibility. You can find a working paper  by Angelica here.

To summarize: three very different yet complementary perspectives on how ICTs could be harnessed in the Anthropocene: by building new types of virtually supported decision making and collective intelligence processes; linking expert communities and local natural resource management experimentation together; and by exploring the resilience building strengths of decentralized mobile technologies.

Slides from the talks

Victor Galaz (intro)

Ola Tjornbo

Richard Taylor

Information and Communication Technologies and Climate Change

Richard Heeks and Angelica Ospina at the University of Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics‘ run the blog Notes on ICTs, Climate Change and Development.  Recently Angelica Ospina wrote about ICTs within a Changing Climate:

According to the latest Information Economy Report prepared by UNCTAD [UN conference on trade and development] over the past few years “the penetration rate of mobile phones in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) has surged from 2 to 25 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants”, and is expected that by 2010 the total number of mobile subscriptions will reach 5 billion. …

But what about the role of these technologies towards climate change mitigation, monitoring and adaptation?

Evidence on these linkages is starting to emerge, suggesting that the role of ICTs towards poverty reduction and the strengthening of local livelihoods is closely connected to their potential in enabling developing country communities to better withstand, recover from, and adapt to the changing conditions posed by climate change –what can, overall, be termed ‘resilience’.

There is still much to learn about the role and potential of ICTs in the climate change field, including their effects in strengthening -or weakening- local responses and strategies to climate change-related effects. However, these technologies are integral to processes of experimentation, discovery and innovation, which are, in turn, essential components of learning and key to enable more effective mitigation measures, monitoring, and local adaptive capacities within vulnerable environments.

Mobile phones and global communication

The spread of mobile phones across the developing world has been extremely rapid in the past few years (e.g. 4X increase between 2001-2005 in Africa).


The BBC reports on the annual Information Economy report from the UN conference on trade and development:

It was now well-established, said the report, that greater use of technology in businesses, schools and at home could raise standards of living and help people prosper.

In many developing nations the mobile phone had become the standard bearer for these changes, it said.

“In Africa, where the increase in terms of the number of mobile phone subscribers and penetration has been greatest, this technology can improve the economic life of the population as a whole,” it said.

In rural communities in Uganda, and the small vendors in South Africa, Senegal and Kenya mobile phones were helping traders get better prices, ensure less went to waste and sell goods faster.

The take up of mobiles was allowing developing nations to “leapfrog” some generations of technology such as fixed line telephones and reap more immediate rewards, said the report.

Greater use of computers in small businesses in countries such as Thailand made staff boost productive, it said. A study of Thai manufacturing firms showed that a 10% increase in computer literate staff produced a 3.5% productivity gain.

The developing world was also catching up in terms of net availability. In 2002, said UNCTAD, net availability was ten times higher in developing nations. In 2006, net availability was only six times higher.