Internet Geographer


Posts tagged big data and development
Work with me at the Oxford Internet Institute: we’re hiring a Data Scientist / Data Hacker

Data Scientist/Data Hacker

Oxford Internet Institute, 1 St Giles, Oxford

Grade 7: £31,076 – £38,183 p.a.

The Oxford Internet Institute is a leading centre for research into individual, collective and institutional behaviour on the Internet. We seek a full-time Data Scientist to work with Professor Mark Graham on two projects: (1) the University of Oxford funded incubator on ‘big data and human development’, which seeks to understand how we can address key issues in development with computational approaches; (2) the European Research Council funded Geonet project which seeks to map and measure the geographies of the internet.

In this exciting role, the researcher will work with small teams from around the university on short development-related projects. They will be in charge of collecting data via APIs, web scraping, and collaborations with platform owners, apply standard statistical analyses as well as bespoke computational analyses to address questions of economic, social, and policy relevance, and produce eye-catching visualisations of the results. They will also contribute to the dissemination of the findings through academic publications, reports, presentations, and social media.

The position is suited to candidates who have recently completed a postgraduate degree in computer science, GIS, economics, quantitative geography or sociology or other relevant discipline. Good programming skills and an interest in economic development are required.

Based at the Oxford Internet Institute, this position is available immediately for 12 months, in the first instance, with the possibility of renewal thereafter, funding permitting.

To apply for this role and for further details, including a job description, please click on the link below.

Only applications received before 12.00 midday on Monday 12 December 2016 can be considered. Interviews for those short-listed are currently planned to take place on week commencing 16 January 2017.

Cross-posted from Geonet: Investigating the Changing Connectivities and Potentials of Sub-Saharan Africa's Knowledge Economy

Symposium on Big Data and Human Development - closing remarks

It has been an extremely rewarding two days at the Symposium on Big Data and Human Development that Eduardo Lopez and I organised. We had a full room of people from academia, government, and the development sector - all speaking about how we might better use big data in the contexts of development. 

There are many threads that we’ll try to tie up over the next few weeks (an edited book, some workshop reports, perhaps another conference next year, etc.). But in the meantime, it might be useful if I reproduce the notes that I used to sum up the event here. Those of you who attended, please do comment if you see that I omitted anything. Those of you who didn’t, please feel free to use this as a prompt to get involved. 


This has been a much-needed conversation at a moment in which we’re awash with hype about ‘big data’. 

We’ve learnt a lot about some of the potentials of big data: We’ve got new sorts of early warning signals. And – as we move from data to information to knowledge - we seem to be getting better at figuring out what to look for when it comes to disease tracking, or predicting things like student failure rates or corruption.

The fact that so much data comes from mobile phones has also created a specific opportunity to look at human mobility. And the relative democratisation of connectivity has important implications for deliberation and public participation at scales that have never before been possible.

But, with all that in mind, I want to pick up with areas that I think we still need to find ways to resolve as we all move forwards at this intersection of topics:

First, one theme that keeps coming up is that of data presences and absences really mattering. We have great data about some places, processes, people. But there are still big gaps - and, going forwards, we’ll really to address this head-on.  If we’re using data to deploy scarce resources or deliver essential services, but there are blank spots on our map - then what strategies should we be employing to deal not just with our known unknowns, but also our unknown unknowns? Some of this might entail really getting good about asking questions about outliers in our models: Where are they, who are they, when are they?

Second, another important theme is not just data presences and absences - but even within the presences, there is the question of open versus closed data. So, for instance –  many of us - me included - tend to use Twitter data to ask and answer a range of questions. And we do this because it is easily available and free and relatively straightforward to use.

But we should be careful that we don’t get into the sort of situation in which the tail wags the dog rather than the dog wags the tail - as my colleague Ralph Schroeder puts it. What sorts of questions are we prevented from asking because of a lack of open, available data sources? What sorts of questions or topics are we perhaps focusing too much energy on? And what sorts of questions do our data lend or not lend themselves to?

Third, and relatedly, we’re faced with some tension between issues of privacy, ownership, and control. How do we balance the desire to have more open data with best practices that prevent data leakage and still afford citizens with some control over their own data shadows?

There was an interesting discussion in the session that I organised with Richard Heeks at the DSA conference earlier this week about what we might learn from the literature on resource management – if we treat data as a resource.

And more broadly, are we happy with the current political-economy of development data? What current rights of access, control, and use should be rethought and challenged?

Fourth, how do we ourselves operate with maximum transparency - especially when we’re not just dealing with descriptive analytics, but predictive analytics, and even prescriptive analytics? If our research, and the data we use, impacts on real people in real ways - are we happy with the current scientific models of dissemination that we use - or do we need any sort of alternate strategies that better engage with the communities that are the users - or subjects - of development?

Fifth, what can, or should, we learn across contexts? Or specifically, what should we rethink and relearn in different places or contexts? What sorts of things aren’t transferrable? This is maybe where the repeated call throughout this conference for all of us to be thinking and collaborating in a multidisciplinary way comes in useful.  

Power, politics and digital development (our DSA 2016 sessions)

We’ve pulled together a fantastic group of papers for the upcoming DSA meeting in Oxford:


  • Richard Heeks (University of Manchester) email
  • Mark Graham (University of Oxford) email
  • Ben Ramalingam (Institute of Development Studies) email

Short Abstract

Covers the broad intersection of power, politics and digital development including both directionalities - the impact of power and politics on design, diffusion, implementation and outcomes of ICT application; and the impact of ICT application on power and politics - and their mutual interaction.

Long Abstract

Digital Dividends" - the 2016 World Development Report - finds the benefits of digital development to be unevenly distributed, and identifies emergent “digital ills”. The cause in both cases is inequalities of power in economic and political arenas including vested interests, digital monopolies, lack of citizen voice vis-a-vis the state, and other factors.

This panel invites papers at the broad intersection of power, politics and digital development including both directionalities - the impact of power and politics on design, diffusion, implementation and outcomes of ICT application; and the impact of ICT application on power and politics - and their mutual interaction.

We welcome work anywhere along the spectrum from the micro-exercise of power within individual ICT4D initiatives through the politics of national ICT-using organisations and institutions to global Internet governance. Other topics for papers might include but are not limited to:

- The organisational politics of ICT4D

- Digital resources as foundations of power in development

- Reproduction and transformation of power and inequality through digital development

- Digital development discourse as a source and reflection of power

- The institutional logics that conflict and contest to shape digital development

- How national and international ICT policies address and express issues of power


U.S. Foreign Policy and the Internet: Chronicling the Shift from Circumvention to Connectivity

Author: Deniz Duru Aydin (University of Oxford)  

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the evolution of Internet-related U.S. foreign policy and development agenda from Internet freedom to today’s Global Connect Initiative. The reasons for this policy shift are analyzed within the broader global context such as Snowden revelations and the recently adopted SDGs.

Configuring the users adapting the system: participation and ICT4D in Afghanistan

Author: Melanie Stilz (Technical University Berlin)  

Short Abstract

Participation is still almost exclusively defined from a donor perspective. How can those offering their help and resources enable participation by those receiving the support? In this paper I examine how “participation” is interpreted and executed in ICT project in the Afghan education sector.

Critical Agency in Digital Development

Author: Tony Roberts (United Nations University) 

Short Abstract

This paper uses critical theory to extend Sen’s capability approach and to argue that key to digital development should be enhancing people’s critical-agency i.e. their ability to critique and act upon any power and political constraints on their development.

Digital Politics, Institutional Logics and Development

Author: Richard Heeks (University of Manchester) 

Short Abstract

This paper illustrates, explains and draws conclusions from the six patterns that emerge from growth of digital politics in the global South; patterns of Copy, Spread, Curve, Boost, Shift and Hybrid between dominant competitive and subordinate cooperative institutional logics.

Digital technologies, power, and intermediaries in Myanmar and India

Authors: Elisa Oreglia (SOAS University of London)  
Janaki Srinivasan  

Short Abstract

Digital technologies that can disintermediate markets are now common in Myanmar and India and yet intermediaries and traditional practices still dominate rural markets. We explore the resilience of intermediaries and how digital technologies reinforce, and more rarely challenge, existing power hierarchies.

From Open Data to Empowerment: Lessons from Indonesia and the Philippines

Author: Michael Canares (World Wide Web Foundation)  

Short Abstract

Using case studies in the Philippines and Indonesia, this paper explains how and why open data can affect the spaces, places, and forms of power and how it provides avenues for citizens to exert efforts to reclaim its space in decision-making, agenda-setting, and meaning-making.

Identity, transparency and other visibilties: A liquid surveillance perspective of biometric technologies

Author: Shyam Krishna (Royal Holloway, University of London) 

Short Abstract

This paper studies ‘Aadhar’ – India’s national biometric digital identity program under a ‘liquid surveillance’ lens exploring surveillant power and associated politics of the project which seeks a seeming trade-off between citizen privacy and its modernist and developmentalist purpose.

Institutional isomorphism and organized hypocrisy in aid information management systems (AIMS): Case of Indonesia

Author: Kyung Ryul Park (LSE )  

Short Abstract

The study highlights the complexity of aid information management systems (AIMS), and explains its implementation and shutdown. By doing an in-depth qualitative study in Indonesia, it shows that AIMS is not mainly driven by a search for managerialistic gain, but motivated by external pressures.

Points-of-presence: Cloud giants in the datacenter-periphery

Authors: Rupert Brown (Prodiga Research)   

Short Abstract

We show the incursion of the big three cloud providers into African networks and illustrate flows and caches between regional peers. An investigation of Bandwidth-delivery and Security-ownership shows shadow technology, with services and instances, sidestepping local and national control.

Political Power and Digital Payments in a Government Social Social Cash Programme

Author: Atika Kemal (Anglia Ruskin University UK)   

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the effects of political power on the design and implementation of digital payments in a government social cash programme in Pakistan. It adopts an interpretive case study methodology to collect primary data through qualitative methods.

The Dialectics of Open Development

Authors: Yingqin Zheng   
Becky Faith (Institute of Development Studies)   

Short Abstract

This paper aims to provide a critical literature review on open development, explore the ideological assumptions, political foundations and economic forces behind open development, examine the challenges and unintended consequences, and consider the dialectics of boundaries in openness.

The Digital Politics of Development and Anonymous Online Power

Author: Brett Matulis (University of Leicester) 

Short Abstract

Development is an inherently political act that is both promoted and disputed through online media. With the rise of the “darknet” and anonymous digital activism, we are witnessing an important shift in power relations and a new phase in digital political resistance to development projects.

The Networkers of Outrage: a Demographic Survey of Indonesian Twitter Activists

Author: Lukas Schlogl (King’s College London) 

Short Abstract

This paper explores Twitter protest during a nationwide political controversy about Indonesia’s local direct elections. Drawing on novel survey data, it analyzes geo-demographic and socioeconomic determinants of political Twitter use and evaluates Twitter’s impact on Indonesia’s democracy.

The Struggle for Digital Inclusion: Phones, Healthcare, and Sharp Elbows in India

Author: Marco Haenssgen (Nuffield Department of Medicine) 

Short Abstract

I use an India-wide household panel to explore healthcare marginalisation among digitally excluded and included groups in rural areas. I find that phone diffusion creates a struggle that sharpens the elbows of those who are able to use the devices—provided the health system permits such use.

Unique Identification Number To A Billion Indians: Politics Around Identity, Data Sharing And Analytics

Authors: Ranjini Raghavendra 
Shirin Madon (LSE) 

Short Abstract

The paper focusses on issues of Identity, Data Sharing and Analytics within the world’s largest social identity programme namely Aadhar, in India.

What is Free about Free Basics?

Author: Jenna Keenan-Alspector (University of Colorado - Boulder) 

Short Abstract

Investigating how industry giants leverage power and increase inequalities, further straining the resources of the poor; a new ‘digital ill’ has risen: the emergence of the drug dealer of mobile broadband, Free Basics.

The 'Big Data and Human Development' incubator

I’m happy to announce the launch of an exciting and important new initiative that I am co-directing with my colleagues Iginio Gagliardone and Proochista Ariana: the Big Data and Human Development incubator.

We aim to investigate the potential uses of ‘big data’ for advancing human development and addressing equity gaps. We are establishing a cross-disciplinary and global network to map what data sources and techniques exist for harnessing new digital data and address persistent concerns regarding human development, inequity, exclusion, and participation.
The ultimate goal of this Incubator will be to stimulate policy-oriented research that seeks to understand:
  • what presences and absences of data tell us about issues of participation and exclusion;
  • what data tell us about gaps in human development: facilitating better decision-making and accountability in previously data-sparse environments;
  • what tools have emerged globally that can maximise citizen ownership of big data.
Initially, the Incubator will build a digital observatory to assess the potentials of different data sources for informing human development, linking to relevant data and metadata. Through the use of detailed case studies, and in collaboration with end-users in some of the countries that most need to access big data, the Incubator will aim to empirically illustrate some of the promises and perils of using big data to inform human development. Finally, the Incubator will bring together research and policy from both Global North and South to ensure that methodological knowledge about big data is appropriately mapped on to the interests of stakeholders, to achieve key development outcomes.

We hope for this to be a very inclusive initiative. Already, we have had important help in setting it up from David Peter Simon, Marco Haenssgen, and Cristina Golomoz; we are building a network of interested scholars based at the University of Oxford; and our next step will be to include practitioners, scholars, and interested parties from around the world. We want to make sure that the resources we put together, and the workshops we organise are shaped by the people that they will matter most to.
Please head over and take a look at our new website: - and do get in touch if you would like to be involved!