Samoa Week One: There’s tech and there’s practicality

I’m wrapping up my first week on the job with the Samoan Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, where I’m working as part of my Fulbright-Clinton Fellowship.  I’m working in the Policy Formulation Office of the Ministry, and over the course of the year, I’ll be working on ICT for disaster response policy, cyber security, and helping finalize multilateral support for infrastructure projects.  As someone who has bounced around the ‘tech4good’ community in D.C. for a few years now, I’m really enjoying getting out into the field again.  To make the most of my field time, I’ll post bi-weekly ‘lessons learned’ updates, starting with this post.  Hopefully my observations from a Pacific island can be helpful to others working the tech and development spaces!

1) Check the laws.  I was given a stack of communications and technology regulations to review this week.  Much of what I read was pretty pro forma, but there were some interesting things in the laws about responsibility to protect data.  If data gets stolen, the collector can be on the hook for any crimes committed with that data.  It was a good reminder that before doing data collection, check the laws regarding privacy in the host country.  Usually they’re publicly available, but it might mean a call ahead to the Attorney General’s office or the Ministry of Communications.

2) If your goal is local ownership, go meet the locals.  I got to go out of the capital this past weekend, and it’s always a good thing to do if grassroots technology is your thing.  The most common technologies outside the capital are 2g mobile phones and radio.  This means that crowdsourcing is going to be something managed from the capital, and there likely needs to be a public campaign to make sure people know what’s happening.  I’m excited to see that the Alerts Samoa Crowdmap is getting traction, and it’ll be something I get to work on during my time here.

3) AM radio is the king.  I’ll be working on projects with the national radio station, which transmits on AM.  They keep the station operating since AM works during storms, can reach over mountains and into valleys, and has a surprisingly long range (to me at least…I’m not an expert on radio transmission) .  The disaster management strategy relies a lot on AM radio, so finding ways to tie other technologies, such as SMS and social media into that will be something I work on during my ten months here.

These are pretty broad observations, but I’ll be writing in more detail about them as I continue working during the year.  The main thing I hope everyone gets out of these little updates is a chance to see some of the local details of technology and development, and that these observations can be useful to others in their work!

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4 thoughts on “Samoa Week One: There’s tech and there’s practicality

  1. AM works well, especially at night, due to ionospheric skip or Skywave. “Back in the day” WOWO 1190 out of Ft. Wayne, Indiana transmitted 50,000 watts on three directional antennas effectively blanketing most of the continental US.

    1. That’s pretty amazing – I think the farthest the AM broadcaster in Samoa has managed to be picked up during a power test was in Iceland. Pretty amazing, after all these years of expanding digital broadcast, a 100+ year old technology is still the most reliable.

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