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Information and Communications Technology for Development: Current Trajectories

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In my work, I have worked on a number of projects using information and communications technologies to address problems of socio-economic development. I’ve learned that while technologies and the problems they are endeavoring to solve can be very straightforward, the problem of actually implementing the solutions can be quite complex. The widespread availability of mobiles has opened up numerous opportunities for creative application of technology for development. At the same time, there are many opportunities for basic research around systems and networking – particularly in developing protocols robust to the infrastructural realities in places like India and Ghana, and also in the development of systems that can scale reliably at lower cost. In this talk, I will talk about what has worked and what hasn’t in our efforts to use information technologies for development, and to create a research agenda around these questions.

Bio:Melissa Densmore is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Technology for Emerging Markets Group (TEM) at Microsoft Research India. TEM is a multidisciplinary group engaged in a range of technical and social-science research. By combining a variety of backgrounds and training, we are able to engage deeply with some of the complex problems associated with poverty and scarce resources. Our goal is to study, design, build, and evaluate technologies and systems that are useful for people living in underserved rural and urban communities. Densmore’s research examines the ways in people choose and use information technologies, especially new information technologies. Her dissertation was based on a 3 year ethnographic study of the use of Internet and mobile technologies by health practitioners and NGO staff in a health financing program in Uganda. Prior work includes a delay-tolerant tele-consultation system for doctors in Ghana and contributions to infrastructure enabling village health centers to consult with doctors at the Aravind Eye Hospitals. Recipient of the 2008 Yamashita Foundations for Change Prize, she has been doing ethnographic fieldwork, systems design, and deployments in Ghana, India, Mexico, Rwanda, and Uganda since 2004. Melissa completed her PhD at University of California, Berkeley in Information Management and Systems, where she was supervised by Eric Brewer (EECS), John Chuang (iSchool), and Dean AnnaLee Saxenian (iSchool). She has an MSc in Data Communications, Networks and Distributed Systems from University College London, and holds a BA in Computer Science from Cornell University.

This talk is part of the Computer Laboratory Systems Research Group Seminar series.

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