Reflections on Microsoft Research Summer School

Microsoft Research Summer School on Computing for Socio-Economic Development

Time and place:
13 June, 2010 – 27 June, 2010 (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India)

The selection of candidates was based on short listing of the applications. Applications procedure was composed of essay writing, supervisor’s recommendation, and CV. After selection, we were supposed to read the following 10 papers and one book,
We discussed 10 research papers in two weeks. In my opinion, the selection of papers was excellent. The papers were composed of ICT4D concepts, economic behaviour of poor, research methodologies used in ICT4D research, and fundamentals of development. It provides the overall idea of multifaceted perspective of ICT4D.

Sessions I found particularly useful:
All the sessions were useful in terms of revisiting some of the ICT4D concepts and understanding the multifaceted meaning of development. Activities such as field trip to slums, field activity in small groups, and research methodologies were excellent. The objective of slum tour was to experience the portrait of everyday life in an urban slum. During the field trip to slums, we visited one telecenter project run by the slum community. We did observation and interviews with different stakeholders and community people to understand the role of ICT in their socio-economic development.

Field activity in small groups of three students was an exercise to conduct quantitative survey and qualitative interviews in the Bangalore street. The streets were assigned by the session leader. The purpose of the field activity was to understand the mobile phone usage pattern and income spending behaviour of poor people earning less than RS 10,000 (approx. 250 dollar per month). Subsequently, all the group data had been collected and analysed. Numerical data were analysed using quantitative techniques, such as t-test, correlation, and p-value. And, qualitative data has been analysed using grounded coding techniques. This session also discussed the pros and cons of both the techniques using collected empirical data. Finally, based on our field survey and qualitative interview, we made poster presentation. Furthermore, we wrote a research proposal, and presented to the panel.

Lectures by Tapan Parikh, Joyojeet Pal, and Indrani Medhi on design challenges in working with low-literate and disable people were new learning for me. The objectives of these lectures were to understand the need of low-literate and physically challenged people before designing information systems. Presentations showed that low-literate and disable people normally use intermediary to deploy any ICT artefacts, therefore, the system should be designed after understanding the perspective of both the users, and the intermediaries.

The paper discussion session was also good. We discussed 10 research papers in two weeks. In this session, all the participants were assigned with two papers (same) to read. And, these papers were discussed based on the list of questions prepared by the session leader. This model was effective in terms of paper discussion and learning. I would like to suggest this model in our course curriculum as well.

The lecture by Michael Best (editor-in-chief of ITID journal) was also helpful to understand the elements of writing good journal papers. Likewise, Jonathan Donner presentation on mobile phone usage pattern, such as the different meaning of beeping was very interesting.

Feedback and questions I received:
During the two weeks period I made a number of questions with different participants. My questions were mainly focused on understanding the link between ICT and development, how to measure the impact, and sustainability of ICT4D projects. I discussed my own research project and initial findings in Nepal. Most of the participants from India were from computer science background, so it was a bit hard time for me to explain them about the concept of social capital. However, they found it novel and useful as Nepal has been discussed a little in ICT4D literatures.

Networking experiences:
Microsoft Research India (MSRI) is running number of ICT4D projects in India. They have a group of team called TEM (Technology for Emerging Market). As per my discussion with the co-chairs,
Ed Cutrell
Kentaro Toyama
University of California, Berkeley
We have an opportunity to visit their projects and conduct our research; in case of availability, they can provide us with office location in Bangalore, India. Similarly, I had an opportunity to discuss with the editor-in-chief of ITID journal,
Michael Best
Georgia Tech
And, renowned researcher in m4D (mobile for development):
Jonathan Donner

Overall experience:
I enjoyed the field study and slum tour. There, I got an opportunity to understand the portrait of slum poor of India. It gives me a comparative advantage to understand the role of ICT in the context of slum poor of India and mountain poor of Nepal. The only thing I disliked was no internet connection in the hotel. The main learning outcome from participating in this summer school is to understand the multi-perspective views and roles of ICT4D. The summer school was composed of people from different background, such as computer science, economics, social science, and information systems. Sometime we found complete disagreement in our understandings. For example, some computer science students were thinking that they will learn programming and software development. However, at the end, this summer school somehow succeed to convince majority of the participant that understanding socio-economic development context is very important to design ICT4D project.

I will highly recommend the researchers, practitioners, and students concerned with ICT4D to participate in this summer school. The lectures in this summer school were balanced mixture of theory, practice, and empirical case studies. Likewise, in this summer school, we can experience real time field activities, and learn data analysis techniques. Overall, it is helpful to understand the multifaceted concept of information and communication technology for development (ICT4D).

1 comment:

  1. A good recollection of the Summer School. Indeed i hope the participants of the summer school have indeed learnt a lot of valuable lessons in the domain of socio-economic computing/social capital etc.

    Being a Comp. Sc. graduate masters myself, I totally agree with you that we need to wake up to the realities of the Digital divide and understand the social contexts better within which we are working. Summer Schools of such sort are a welcome lesson for all technologists.