Saturday, February 27, 2010

My Web re Design- Process, Tips and Resources

Since I have been engaged in the redesign of my site over the last month, I thought that I will share some current principles and tips on good web/blog design. These were based on actual questions I was asking myself during my own process, as well as the resources I used. Although I've managed numerous ICT projects for NGOs, clients or governments, I've left most of the design work to the vendors (which as project manager, I should, anyway). But it is really when I am knee deep with my own site that I learn the most about design, and I'm constantly amaze at how many principles remain constant, how many others evolve or get created, and how some remain hotly debated.
Below, I share my web design process- from planning, choosing a platform, designing the site, and migrating older information and blog posts. (For a higher level, more comprehensive discussion on websites, you might want to first refer to my post "How much should a website cost" )

First, a distintion to define the parameters of this post. While they are sometimes used interchangeably, they mean different things:
  • Web Design is about the layout, ecstatics and usability of the site - it is about the 'look' of a site and its pages (this is what this post is about)
  • Web Development is used to describe the programming to build the site, the 'back end' that supports the 'look' (I hope to write more about this soon)
The analogy might be that of decorating a house with furniture (where do I place what), as opposed to the actual construction and engineering of the house. You can read more at BitwiseLogic's post. 

This is the idea phase, pen and paper (or in my case, I used MS Notes)
  • What I didn't like about the existing site
  • What users would want and do on my site, what I want, and then prioritize into purpose and goals of website (both in terms of design and content) 
  • I also had to reexamine my overarching web strategy 
    • Do I seperate personal/professional web identity? What do I need for the longer term? When I researched online, there are many differing opinions, but the bottom line is: what do I need for now and later? Check out the differing opinions on this DailyBlogTips post on using personal vs website names. (By the way DailyBlogTips is also a great resource for bloggers)
    • What emails do I use? What usernames for each? How to remember passwords? etc
  • I also looked at standard sites in my industry, to get a feel of the design (Web 2.0 or not? serious or not?) 
  • Then I also looked around for sites which design I love, as well as the best and most popular Blogger or Wordpress templates. (easy enough to Google) They help me streamline my own design, adopting ideas I like, and throwing out those I don't. 
  • For me, speed was crucial because many audience will be from developing countries, and also, I'm a believer of simple design (which is also fitting for a professional site), so graphics and flash are banned unless they add to the content. 
Choosing a Platform
This part belows partially to the web development bit, but I will say that in 2010, choosing a popular, well supported CMS, and one you can edit through a browser as well, is the way to go, as opposed to designing something from scratch and uploading via, say, Dreamweaver. I also wanted that was open and met web standards. I will leave the details to a later post on web development. 

Design Principles
  • Smashing magazine has some good general design princples in several posts, such as the one here and this one on usability here
  • To drill down on my own web design, I looked to Blog Design Blog's Guide, a comprehensive and detailed guide on issues and examples on each important element of a blog, such as:
  • When I wanted more details on any one of these elements (or others that might not be here, like designing to be mobile-friendly), I Googled for more resources. I also should have looked at other factors like accessibility but didn't. 
  • Then I used a templating site like Blogger or Wordpress to design my site. This worked for me because my design was simple. For more complicated design you can use Dreamweaver or another web authoring software. 
  • It took me about a week of experimenting and HTML coding before I settled on an (almost) final design
  • By far, this was the hardest of the process. 
  • First, I had to consolidate my older resume pages, and lost much of the formatting when transferring the data (cut and paste)
  • Secondly, importing blog posts were another headache. For blogs that I could export, I lost many of the comments, formatting, and I also wasn't able to search the imported blog posts. 
  • Thirdly, some blogs were not able to be imported because they were based on proprietary technology that did not allow me to export into a different technology
  • I was spending too much time on this issue, so sadly, I looked for an interim solution (so that I can have a live site that I can also update with new content) while this migration phase is worked out. So I resorted to using Google Sites and Blogger (both not open source software, nor is independent hosting allowed) in the interim. I don't know how long this will last, or if I have the stamina to tackle the migration issues without external help. So that is where I am now! 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Conference: Legal Empowerment by Lund University, Mar 3-5, Lund Sweden

The Lund University Initiative on Legal Empowerment of the Poor is organizing a conference 3-4 March 2010, which will explore the legal dimension of the initiative. The Conference is organized by  LUCSUS – LEP in collaboration with University of Oslo, SUM -ANLEP.

Acronyms mean:
LEP- Legal Empowerment of the Poor
LUCSUS - Lund University Center for Sustainabilty Studies
SUM- Centre for Development and Environment, of University of Oslo
ANLEP- Academic Network on Legal Empowerment of the Poor

Official Announcement from Lund:
Legal Empowerment of the Poor: Exploring the Legal Dimension
The Lund University Initiative on Legal Empowerment of the Poor is organizing a conference on legal empowerment of the Poor 3-4 March 2010, which will focus on exploring the legal dimension of the initiative. The Conference is organized by LUCSUS – LEP ( in collaboration with University of Oslo (SUM) – ANLEP (
Created in December 2008, LEP is a strategic initiative for cross-faculty collaboration on Legal Empowerment of the Poor (LEP). The initiative aims at contributing to the establishment of a solid and broad foundation for research across these involved faculties at Lund University on the issue of legal empowerment of the poor.
In June, 2008 the Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor (CLEP) issued its final report entitled "Making the Law Work for Everyone". The Commission developed a comprehensive framework for legal empowerment, focusing on indigenous peoples, women and vulnerable groups, with four mutually reinforcing pillars: access to justice and the rule of law, property rights, labour rights and business rights. The Lund initiative also seeks to expand the scope of legal empowerment and will therefore advocate an inter-disciplinary approach to Human rights. This is chiefly done by integrating two additional dimensions into the pillars: the relationship between the national and the international; and the relationship between society and the environment.
Defined as a process which increases poor peoples’ ability to use the law, the legal system and legal services in order to protect their rights and interests as citizens, ‘legal empowerment’ is increasingly being considered as an important tool in ‘anti-poverty’ research and efforts around the world. However, there has been some critique directed towards the framing of the legal dimension in relation to LEP. Using this critique as a foundation, the purpose of this LEP conference is to discuss and elaborate the legal dimension of the legal empowerment initiative.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

10 Myths of Development & Technology

Kentaro Toyama, a colleague at the iSchool at UC Berkeley and previously of Microsoft Research India, lays out his observation of 10 myths of ICT4D, which are what I see as examples of technology determinism.  These are myths that typifies technology determinism, which according to Wikipedia, presumes that "a society's technology drives the development of its social structure and cultural values". (note that Wikipedia also rightly claims that there is a spectrum of believers from 'Hard' to 'Soft', which I think appears in all sets of beliefs or theories.) I will be linking some previous writing to this post in the near future about current theories of ICT4D, but for now, I would like to share Kentaro's findings:

Note:  I've taken the liberty to adapt his findings from his Powerpoint file and my comments are in italics. 

Kentaro's 10 Myths of Technology and Development:
  • Technology X will save the world. Yup, typical reaction to any new technology, from the invention of the alphabet to the printing press to steam engines to....
  • Poor people have no alternatives I appreciate this human dignity approach, although, it does depends on what the issue is, or how deep in poverty the particular people are. His example is in semi urban Bangalore, but I have witnessed certain poor communities in villages or hilltribes that have little alternatives to inexpensive and reliable information. However, a GENERAL assumption that poor people have no alternatives is wrong
  • Needs are more pressing than desires His point is that most needs of poor people are not technologically related, but that actually they are willing to spend more proportionally than the urban rich on technology. I do agree, although it does depend on what poverty level they might be in. 
  • Needs translate to business models. there are certainly many more factors than needs that are in play here. Just reflect on ourselves who have individual needs, but we certainly don't start a successful business per se in response. 
  • If you build it, they will come. This is the classic India 'Hole in the Wall' example. They might not come for a variety of reasons: lack of knowledge, lack of local content, lack of resources, political or social reasons, etc. Worse, sometimes, if we build it, it might stifle local entrepreneurship. 
  • ICT undoes “rich getting richer." ICT itself does not. At best, it merely amplifies the social and economic problems that the poor are already facing. 
  • Technology permits socio-economic leapfrogging. Only if the right social economic and politcal conditions are in place and technology is applied appropriately. 
  • Hardware and software are a one-time cost. If only- in fact in most of my previous programs, best practice has shown that tech itself (hardware/software) is only about 20% of TOC (total cost of ownership). We usually budget an extra 80% for training, technical support and overcoming the challenges of social/economic/political factors for adoption.   
  • Automated is cheaper and better. Another technology determinism track. 
  • Information is the bottleneck.International Development is like a chess game that is being placed in 4 dimensions. It is very hard to identify a 'bottleneck' correctly. There is usually not a 'bottleneck' per se anyway, most problems are dynamic and interrelated. 

Why then do we have this attitude? 

  • Desire for an easy solution
  • Desire for a one-time, catalytic investment
  • Desire to see ingenuity triumph
  • Seductive power of technology in the developed world
  • Not enough insight into actual poor communities
  • Misleading explanations of successful ICT projects ("this project worked BECAUSE of the technology")

Key Lessons:

  • Technology amplifies human intent and capability.
  • Technology requires support from well-intentioned, competent people or organizations.
  • For successful ICT4D, partner with competent, organizations or be prepared to build your own.


I think that this Powerpoint is pretty spot on, and those are usually the attitude adopted by people coming from a technological or even economic discipline (vs. a social one). However, after a short time in the field, these myths will soon start to dissipate. I hope to catch Kentaro Toyama at the iSchool for a deeper chat soon.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Who writes about ICT4D online?

I think this article from Global Voices has a great intention behind it, and is a good first attempt at creating some kind of organization of ICT blogs and sites. It observes that there are 3 catagories of people who write about ICT4D:
  1. People who both understand grassroots development needs and are proficient in ICT.
  2. Academics who are interested in the field. 
  3. Everyone else either comes from the ICT community, and open to designing tools for development/ social projects, or people working in the  development sector who need ICT solutions but have relatively low/ no knowledge of ICT. These two sets of people do not usually speak the same language
However, I think that there might be some oversimplification for the sake of straightforwardness. Moreover, the article might create some controversy, because it seems to imply that the first category (#1) of writers carry the most credit. Great article still, because I don't believe that anyone has taken the effort to survey the web space even as ICT4D as a field has matured.

Excerpt from Global Voices :
After several months of dedicated analysis and writing about how ICT for development is covered on the web, here are some thoughts about the online availability of information about ICT4D – from academic articles, to conversation, commentary, and citizen media reflections on what works, what’s difficult and what is worth sharing.
It is...relatively difficult to find blogs and citizen media content from unaffiliated individuals, and from those who experience the benefits, and sometimes challenges of internet technologies in developing-world contexts. While there are scattered discussions and commentaries, sustained, community-driven dialogue is not easy to find. This is perhaps not surprising, given the often complex and technical nature of the field.
Phone charging station in Uganda in 2008, by Ken Banks -
Phone charging station in Uganda, 2008, by Ken Banks -
There has been tremendous improvements in internet access and  explosive growth of cell phones in developing world, as Matthew Smith outlines in his essay for IDRC/Harvard’s latest conference,Communication and Human Development: The Freedom Connection? in September 2009.
However, GV’s research (led by Aparna Ray and John Liebhardt) has found ambiguous evidence of online discussion of these themes that advances beyond well-worn anecdotes of fishermen with mobile phones. Those discussions surely exist, if not online; a look at the Manthan Awards in South Asia, for example, gives us a window into communities of practitioners in this field, and the focus of their work.
In general, we observed that there are several categories of people writing online about ICT4D:
  1. People who both understand grassroots development needs and are proficient in ICT. A very small percentage of online writers fall in this category. These people have the skills to develop tools/ techniques, speak the language of ICT4D, and are able to get exposure for their projects.
  2. Academics who are interested in the field. They are able to develop concepts in ICT4D, and mostly run small research projects to prove/ disprove their hypotheses, build concepts, and make predictions. There is a lot of energy here - perhaps why we saw so many research papers in our web searches. These people explore and predict trends, but are not often in contact with grassroots folks, and rarely implement projects.
  3. Everyone else either comes from the ICT community, and open to designing tools for development/ social projects, or people working in the  development sector who need ICT solutions but have relatively low/ no knowledge of ICT. These two sets of people do not usually speak the same language.
Broadly speaking, many development experts seem hesitant to learn technical skills and languages. They may want a ICT solutions, but there are numerous obstacles to engagement, including expertise, time, resources, and organizational culture. Hence ICT experts sense that development practitioners are rarely clear about helpful solutions.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Materials available for Second IDRC-Harvard ICT4D Forum 9/23/09

The materials for the 2nd IDRC-Harvard forum on 9/23 (which I announced last year on this blog here) are uploaded onto the Berkman Center's site here:
On the one hand, I was disappointed that many similar issues remain as 6 years before at the first conference (which I actually announced on this very blog here, yes, that long ago!), but am also amazed at so many changes that have taken place, some of which are: 

  • explosion of mobile phone use in the developing world – the ending of isolation;
  • new social network technologies – social/political mobilization and participation;
  • penetration of open and collaborative content development and delivery models;
  • focus on the largest but poorest socio-economic group (the "Bottom of the Pyramid") and the new business and non-profit models that target and serve this group;
  • increasing pressure and need for collective global action on climate change; and
  • realization from crisis and recession that poverty strikes everywhere, and the economic management and risk mitigation capabilities of most countries need serious strengthening.

Communication and knowledge offered by emerging technologies enable or enhance a wide range of benefits and opportunities for the poor, and for everyone, including:

  • family and social interaction, a source of individual happiness;
  • economic services, market information, banking and micro credit, insurance;
  • employment opportunities and means of increasing convenience and earnings;
  • public and social services, distance education, telehealth, social protection;
  • access to knowledge, innovation support services and open, collaborative undertakings;
  • ICT sector growth, jobs and incomes, connection to the market and non-profit economies.

There are also emerging risks in the expanded prevalence of new technologies, including:
  • political and technical control and repression, commercial and social manipulation;
  • social mobilization for destructive purposes, e.g. the use of mobiles in instigating conflicts;
  • privacy invasion – increased ability/opportunity for governments and the private sector;
  • cyber-crime and national vulnerabilities to cyber-warfare, and the list goes on.

Regarding the role of communication and ICTs in human development, growth and poverty reduction, what has changed, been learned, not been learned, needs to be learned, needs to be done most urgently? Hot topics were
  • Communications and the technologies that enable them, like education, comprise a basic building block of human development at all levels of poverty/prosperity and freedoms.
  • The "connectedness revolution" is a major dimension of globalization, with the expansions and contractions of prosperity and freedoms that globalization causes for different peoples.
  • Communications, enabled by ICTs, are increasing informed public dialogue and debate in many countries and societies.
  • Informed public debate at national and international levels will be essential in achieving solutions to global warming, and better management of the global economy.
  • Crisis prevention and management – financial, economic, pandemic, natural disaster – are being improved by ICT-enabled communication and information delivery.
  • Openness is always better than protection in principal; how far can it reach in practice? 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

TISCO's focus is on justice needs in civil law. Key to our research are the individuals and corporations who use, are involved with, or are influenced by the law and the civil justice system. Taking a bottom-up approach, TISCO members develop, integrate, and apply insights from negotiation theory, conflict research, dispute system design, (comparative) legal research, network theory, behavioural law, and law and economics in their research in order to connect and extend the body of knowledge on building, maintaining and (constructively) ending horizontal relationships in which people and businesses are involved.

Core Competences
TISCO's core competences are in the fields of access to justice, ADR, and conflict system design; complex relational networks and (inter)dependency (e.g. contractual relationships, family law, bankruptcy, and tort); and behavioural private law. Some TISCO members are specialised in facilitating large and complex multiparty processes (consensus building processes and negotiated rulemaking).
Our approach is interdisciplinary and increasingly empirical-based. There is a strong focus on innovation, product development, and collaboration. TISCO is the only academic workplace in the world developing user-focused theories on, and applications for collaborative, interest-based, low-cost services and dispute system design. Salient examples of such projects are the Measuring Access to Justice Project (, the Microjustice Initiative ( and Rechtwijzer ("Signpost to Justice",
Some of our research takes a more dogmatic route by researching new social phenomena, such as the increasing complexity of relationships and networks. We aim to provide the basics of a relational network theory of civil law, for instance by exploring the means to prevent coordinating problems in large building and construction projects and by developing new contract and governance models.
We do not do our work in isolation. TISCO members work closely together with legal scholars and researchers from other scientific disciplines within and outside Tilburg University, and with stakeholders from societal organisations, NGO's, and governments. We actively participate in national and international networks, and build new collaborative partnerships, such as the Measuring Access to Justice Network.
TISCO has its origins in the Department of Private Law of Tilburg University and in the Center for Liability Law.
Organization Chart:Professors:
Prof. J.M. (Maurits) Barendrecht(publications)
Prof. M.A.M.C. (Matton) van den Berg(publications)
Prof. W.A. (Willem) Hoyng(publications)
Prof.dr. A.C. (Bert) van Schaick(publications)
Prof. T.F.E. (Eric) Tjong Tjin Tai LL.M.(publications)
Prof. I.N. (Ianika) Tzankova(publications)
Prof.dr. A.L.P.G. (Alain) Verbeke(publications)
Prof. P. (Paul) Vlaardingerbroek(publications)
Prof. J.B.M. (Jan) Vranken(publications)
Prof. R.D. (Reinout) Vriesendorp(publications)
Prof. R.M. (Reinout) Wibier(publications)

M.W.F. (Thijs) Bosters LL.M.(publications)
R. (Rachid) Chetouani LL.M.
J. (Jael) Diamant LL.M.
Dr. G. (Gijs) van Dijck LL.M.(publications)
R.J. (Robert) Dijkstra LL.M. M.Sc.(publications)
C.J.M. (Karlijn) van Doorn LL.M.(publications)
Dr. M. (Martin) Gramatikov LL.M.(publications)
K. (Kathelijne) van Gulick LL.M.(publications)
Dr. S. (St├ęphanie) van Gulijk LL.M.(publications)
Dr. M.W. (Machteld) de Hoon LL.M.(publications)
R. (Romy) de Jong LL.M.
Dr. L. (Laura) Klaming M.Sc.(publications)
C.C.H.A. (Christel) van der Kop LL.M.(publications)
N. (Noortje) Lavrijssen LL.M.(publications)
J. (Jessey) Liauw-A-Joe LL.B.
J. (Janneke) van der Linden LL.M. M.Sc.(publications)
Dr. V. (Vanessa) Mak LLM(publications)
J. (Jobien) Monster LL.M.
J.M.H.P. (Anne-Marie) van Neer- van den Broek LL.M.(publications)
R.B. (Robert) Porter M.Sc.(publications)
O. (Omar) Salah LL.M.(publications)
P. (Paul) Sluijter LL.M.(publications)
C.H.M.A. (Cecile) Smid - de Munnik LL.M.(publications)
V.M. (Veronica) Smits LL.M.(publications)
W.J. (Wouter) van 't Spijker(publications)
N.E. (Nadine) Tijssens LL.M.
F.A. (Floortje) van Tilburg LL.M.(publications)
J. (Jelle) van Veenen(publications)
J.H. (Jin Ho) Verdonschot LL.M.(publications)
J.A.A.M. (Jiri) Verschure LL.M.(publications)
C.M.C. (Corry) van Zeeland LL.M.(publications)
C.B.M.C. (Charlotte) Zegveld LL.M.(publications)

Research Fellows:
Dr. Paolo Balboni LL.M.(publications)
Dr. Nicole van den Heuvel LL.M.
- Margot Kokke LL.M.

Research Assistants:
J.J.A. (Jurgen) Braspenning
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