3 women leading the charge in ICT4D research

 
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It’s no secret that the technology sector is riddled with major gender disparities. In the United States, discrepancies in employment and pay are so widespread that tech firms and the government alike regularly commission reports to evaluate why women comprise less than a quarter of the tech workforce and how this stifles growth. Couple the gender imbalances in the tech sphere with those in the research world and it’s not hard to conceive of the challenges faced by women conducting research in the information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) field. As the 10th conference on ICT4D in Lusaka, Zambia, approaches in May, I’d like to take a moment to highlight the work of several incredibly talented women powering the evidence base for ICT4D.

Through an FHI 360-funded learning agenda project, Annette Brown and I recently created an evidence map that identifies and categorizes impact evaluations across the broad and multi-sectoral beast we term ICT4D. We used a systematic review approach to identify and code 254 impact evaluations across 11 ICT4D intervention types, such as digital identity and technology-assisted learning, that provide evidence in nine sectors. Researchers in the field have been busy – in the last five years the total number of publications providing rigorous evidence in ICT4D increased 311 percent. Below, I take a look at three pieces of evidence from the map and the women behind the work.

Addressing bias in our systematic review of STEM research

 
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Research is a conversation. Researchers attempt to answer a study question, and then other groups of researchers support, contest or expand on those findings. Over the years, this process produces a body of evidence representing the scientific community’s conversation on a given topic. But what did those research teams have to say? What did they determine is the answer to the question? How did they arrive at that answer?

That is where a systematic review enters the conversation. We know, for example, that a significant amount of research exists exploring gender differences in mathematics achievement, but it is unclear how girls’ math identity contributes to or ameliorates this disparity. In response, we are conducting a systematic review to understand how improving girls’ math identity supports their participation, engagement and achievement in math. This review will assist us in moving from a more subjective understanding of the issue to a rigorous and unbiased assessment of the current evidence to date.

Developing a systematic review protocol requires thoughtful decision-making about how to reduce various forms of bias at each stage of the process. Below we discuss some of the decisions made to reduce bias in our systematic review exploring girls’ math identity, in the hopes that it will inform others undertaking similar efforts.

Investigating STEM and the importance of girls’ math identity

 
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Despite significant progress in closing the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (also known as STEM), inequities in girls’ and women’s participation and persistence in math and across STEM education and careers remain. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce but just 26 percent of STEM workers, as of 2011. Within STEM, the largest number of new jobs are in the computer science and math fields; however, the gender gap in these careers has increased rather than decreased, with female representation decreasing since 2000.

While much of the current STEM research has focused heavily on the barriers and reasons why there aren’t more girls or women in STEM-related fields, here we argue that future research must focus on how to design and develop effective approaches, practices, situations, tools, and materials to foster girls’ interest and engagement.

Faster, cheaper and safer: Do UAVs live up to the hype?

 
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Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – commonly called drones – have captured the imagination of all who know the challenges of last-mile delivery. Proponents argue that they’ll make delivery faster, cheaper and safer. Being able to transport critical supplies to remote areas faster and for less cost without sacrificing quality is the Holy Grail of many development programs. Yet, there is very little evidence demonstrating whether UAVs live up to the hype of faster, cheaper and safer. Moreover, can they do it without sacrificing quality?

Many UAV flights have been conducted, but very few have shared details about how these projects were implemented, what they cost, how they would integrate with the health system, what impact they are having on outcomes, or what lessons have been learned. Without this information, how will decision makers know if they’re likely to be useful or not? Below I describe some of the delivery UAV research already available that I think is useful for decision makers right now.

Mobile-based surveys: Can you hear me now?

 
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The technologies and processes we now have at our disposal to locate individuals and populations, push information to them, and gather information from or about them are being developed and refined at break-neck speed. Tools utilizing mobile technologies alone – voice services, SMS, Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR), Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), location-based services, data-based survey apps, chatbots – have introduced new opportunities to reduce the time, cost, uncertainty and risk in gathering data and feedback. As mobile coverage and access have expanded globally, governments, marketing firms, research organizations and international development actors alike have been iterating on approaches for using mobile-based surveys in their initiatives and programs. This post presents key takeaway lessons regarding the methodology, feasibility and suitability of using mobile surveys based on experience from our Mobile Solutions, Technical Assistance and Research project (mSTAR) in Mozambique.

How many scientific facts are there about science, technology, and innovation for development?

 
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There is a lot of excitement these days about science, technology, and innovation and the potential for these activities to contribute to economic and social development globally. The flurry of activity begs the question, how much of this excitement is supported by scientific facts? To help answer this question, the U.S. Global Development Lab at USAID commissioned a project to create and populate a map of the evidence base for science, technology, innovation, and partnerships (STIP). As part of the project, scoping research was conducted to identify not just where there are evidence clusters and gaps, but also where the demand for new evidence by stakeholders is the greatest. In the recently published scoping paper, I and my co-authors analyze the data in the map together with the information from the stakeholders to recommend priorities for investment in new research on STIP. While there is good evidence out there, new research is necessary for strategies and programming to fully benefit from scientific facts. In this post, I briefly describe the research we conducted, summarize a few of the many findings, and list some of our recommendations.