Michael Best

Associate Professor - ON LEAVE

Member Of:
  • School of International Affairs
  • Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy
  • Development Studies Program
  • Technology Policy and Assessment Center
Email Address:
mikeb@cc.gatech.edu
Office Phone:
404-894-0298
Related Links:
Overview

Dr. Michael L. Best is associate professor, on leave, at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology where he directs the Technologies and International Development Lab. Best directs the United Nations University Institute on Computing and Society (UNU-CS) in Macau SAR, China. Professor Best is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the widely read journal, Information Technologies and International Development. He holds a Ph.D. from MIT and has served as director of Media Lab Asia in India and head of the eDevelopment group at the MIT Media Lab.           

Areas of
Expertise:
  • Information And Communication Technologies And Development
Interests
Geographic
Focuses:
  • Africa (Sub-Saharan)
  • Asia (East)
  • Asia (South)
  • Latin America and Caribbean
Issues:
  • Inequality and Social Justice
  • International Development
Courses
  • INTA-2040: Sci,Tech & Int'l Affairs
  • INTA-8010: IAST Ph.D. Proseminar
All Publications

Books

Journal Articles

  • Facebook Democracy: The Architecture of Disclosure and the Threat to Public Life
       In: PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICS

    December 2014

  • Thinking Outside the Continent
       In: COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM [Peer Reviewed]

    April 2014

  • Study on the Framework of e-Government Services Capability: An Empirical Investigation
       In: Social Science Computer Review [Peer Reviewed]

    2014

    Enhancement of the effectiveness and efficiency of e-government services (EGS) is critical to better meeting the increasing public demands for services. One of the better solutions to meet such demands is improving the government's EGS capability (EGSC). However, few studies discuss the issues. The purpose of this study was to employ capability management perspectives to develop theoretical linkages and path relationships among the components of EGSC. Comprehensive validation was further conducted through path analysis (PA) using structural equation modeling methods based on the data collected from 102 cities of the 26 provinces in Mainland China. The study unveiled the structure of EGSC, and PA results provided government policy makers or information technology managers insight into enhancing EGSC through the improvement of the components' performance. © The Author(s) 2013.
  • The internet that facebook built
       In: Communications of the ACM [Peer Reviewed]

    2014

  • Peacebuilding in a networked world: Harnessing computing and communication technologies in fragile, conflict-stressed nations
       In: Communications of the ACM [Peer Reviewed]

    April 2013

    Peacebuilding is the collective processes to end or mitigate conflict, rebuild and reconcile post-conflict and foster conditions that avoid conflict in the first place. Indeed, mobile phones seem not to only persist in conflict-stressed environments but to flourish. Even the world's most conflict-affected countries have robust mobile phone networks. Somalia, often topping the global list of failed states, has five mobile phone operators. Print illiteracy is pervasive in many conflict-stressed environments and nowhere is this truer than in Afghanistan. Therefore, one of the important technical enhancements of the M-Paisa service was the development of an interactive voice response (IVR) system supporting Dari, Pashto, and English. M-Paisa is responding to some of the core realities of this conflict-stressed environment: high levels of insecurity and low levels of literacy.
  • Is the One Laptop Per Child Enough? Viewpoints from Classroom Teachers in Rwanda
       In: Information Technologies and International Development [Peer Reviewed]

    2013

    This study examines the implementation of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program in Rwanda from the viewpoint of primary school teachers involved with the program. It seeks to understand how these teachers feel about the program, how they incorporate the low-cost laptops into their classrooms, and their impressions of the laptops’ impacts on their students. Results of the study reveal that the teachers like the initiative, but recognize many challenges in adapting the program to their realities. The teachers think of the initiative primarily as a computer literacy and rote learning project, and they report outcomes along these lines. Beyond learning computer skills, the teachers note that the program has had both positive and negative impacts on several students—some have become more empowered as learners, and some have become rude and disruptive in class. Most significantly, the teachers often view themselves, and not their students, as the primary users of the laptops, and they have found ways to employ the laptops for both personal and school-related work.
  • Editorial from Michael L. Best
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2012

  • Rich digital media as a tool in post-conflict truth and reconciliation
       In: Media, War and Conflict [Peer Reviewed]

    December 2011

    Modern rich digital media (such as interactive systems with audio and video as well as text) have not been robustly deployed as a tool in the processes of peace-building, healing and reconciliation in nations emerging from civil conflict. This article studies the use of rich digital media in Liberia, a country that has only recently emerged from a protracted and intense civil war. The authors demonstrate that, when rich digital media are used to target processes of truth and reconciliation, they enhance Liberians' feeling of self-efficacy-their self-assessed sense of personal competence to deal effectively with stressful situations. This increased self-efficacy was not present in a control group. The authors argue that self-efficacy is a critical component for forgiveness and truth-telling which, in turn, is a fundamental process in reconciliation and healing. These results are based on a survey of over 100 Liberians in Monrovia, the capital city. Participants interacted with a rich digital media system, took pre- and post-interaction self-efficacy inventories, and responded to additional questions. The findings suggest that rich digital media focused on truth and reconciliation can contribute to post-conflict healing. © SAGE Publications 2011.
  • Exploring Facets of Community
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2011

  • From the Editors

    2011

  • Building on Seven Years of Collaborative Effort
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2010

  • Credit the Call
       In: Public Service Review: International Development

    2010

  • Forward
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2010

  • Understanding Our Knowledge Gaps: Or, Do We Have an ICT4D Field? And Do We Want One?
       In: Information Technologies & International Development [Peer Reviewed]

    2010

  • Uses of Mobile Phones in Post-Conflict Liberia
       In: Information Technologies and International Development [Peer Reviewed]

    2010

    Liberia is a country emerging from years of protracted and devastating civil conflict. Left without any fixed-line telephone infrastructure, it relies solely on the mobile phone for telephony. This study investigates the usage of mobile phones in this immediate post-conflict setting. In particular, we adopt the uses and gratifications approach to media research, giving focus to both instrumental and intrinsic motivations for use. We surveyed 85 mobile phone users in both the capital city of Monrovia and various rural areas, as well as interviewing experts from two major service providers and the industry regulator. Users were interviewed using the Q methodology, which identified distinct perspectives within these urban and rural groups. These identified perspectives included sets of users who saw their phones as productivity enhancers, means of connectivity to family and friends, essential business tools, technological curiosities, and sources of personal security. The idea of a phone as a stylish object was markedly rejected, especially in rural areas. Expert interviews confirmed and supplemented these findings. We contrast these results from Liberia with previous work from Kigali, Rwanda, finding differences especially as related to security.
  • The Internet and Democracy: Global Catalyst or Democratic Dud?
       In: Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society [Peer Reviewed]

    August 2009

  • The telecommunications policy process in post-conflict developing countries: The case of Liberia
       In: Info [Peer Reviewed]

    March 2009

    Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to develop an understanding of the telecommunications policy process in immediate post-conflict countries and how that process differs from traditional settings. Design/methodology/approach - The authors consider the case of Liberia, a country that recently emerged from a protracted civil war. The authors focus on the Liberian Telecommunications Act of 2007 and the processes through which this act came about by applying a modified research framework. This framework identifies several factors in the literature that are posited to influence the policymaking process in developing countries. The authors also include other factors based on previous studies in post-conflict countries. The aim is to test the usefulness of this framework using the 2007 act. The authors apply it through the use of interviews with key actors in the government, industry, and international agencies. This was supplemented by secondary data from published reports and other sources. Findings - From the framework the authors identify the main factors influencing the telecoms policy making process in Liberia such as a weak and nascent institutional environment, intra-governmental competition, limited human and technical resources, the supportive (especially initially) role of the international actors such as the World Bank, and the dominance of elite groups in decision-making. The authors then make suggestions on overcoming some of existing challenges to the sector. Originality/value - This paper looks at the intersection of research in telecommunications policy, policy processes and post-conflict countries, an area in which there is currently very little work. The results indicate that several dimensions of the framework are germane to the post-conflict case and that some of these observations are also relevant to the future development of telecommunications in these countries. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
  • Crossing the Disciplines
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2009

  • Announcing ITID 2.0
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2008

  • Sustainability Failures of Rural Telecenters: Challenges from the Sustainable Access in Rural India (SARI) Project
       In: Information Technologies and International Development [Peer Reviewed]

    2008

    We have examined longitudinally an ICT for a development project in rural India, closely watching activities and surveying users at as many as 100 Internet facilities in more than 50 different villages. The Sustainable Access in Rural India (SARI) project in Tamil Nadu, India, enjoyed many successes, including palpable—albeit localized—social and economic development impacts as well as the incubation of an—albeit inconsistently—celebrated ICT for a development start-up company (n-Logue Communications Pvt. Ltd.). Ultimately, however, the SARI project did not sustain itself. In the particular outcomes reported here, we follow the prospects of 36 private telecenters which were opened at various times between November 2001 and February 2004. By May 2005, 32 of these 36 telecenters had closed. However, in the same time period, most of 42 telecenters in the same area that were opened and run by a local NGO continued to function. We provide a comparative analysis between these two groups of facilities. We find that the best explanation for variation in a kiosk lifespan was their level of satisfaction with n-Logue Communications. Moreover, those sites that did express satisfaction with their institutional and technical support were in service for, on average, an additional year compared with dissatisfied sites. In addition to technical and operational support issues, we find that the lack of long-term financial viability was a major reason for the closure of the private telecenters. Financial sustainability was not realized by many centers; indeed, 85% of the operators interviewed cited finances as a major cause for their closure. Finally, telecenters that were owned by individuals with prior training in computers, or that had a separate trained operator, remained operational for a longer period
  • User Centered Design Considered Harmful
       In: Information Technologies & International Development [Peer Reviewed]

    2008

  • Democratic and anti-democratic regulators of the internet: A framework
       In: Information Society [Peer Reviewed]

    October 2007

    We employ Lessig's framework of regulation to conceptualize the relationship between the Internet and democracy. Lessig defines four classes of regulators, forces that control and define systems such as the Internet. They are markets, architectures, norms, and laws. We propose that a "democratic regulator" is a force that serves to enhance civil or political liberties. And we argue by example that there are democratic (and, indeed, anti-democratic) regulators that control aspects of cyberspace. Expressing the democratic effects of the Internet in this manner may prove useful for future comparisons across existing Internet and democracy theories, especially in the realm of quantitative analyses.
  • Gender, culture and ICT use in rural South India
       In: Gender, Technology and Development [Peer Reviewed]

    May 2007

    In this article we explore how women use and perceive information technology in five villages in rural Tamil Nadu, India. We analyse the outcomes from structured in-depth interviews with 17 women Internet kiosk users and 22 women who have never used the Internet (non-users). Our intention was to systematically document the information and communication needs of women in rural South India as articulated by the women themselves. We identify several critical issues that must be taken into account in the design of information and communication technology (ICT) projects. Our findings suggest four main conclusions: (1) rural women in this study find ICTs useful; (2) there are gender-specific usage patterns and perceptions of ICTs; (3) obstacles to ICT use are generally structural (time, location, illiteracy) and not personal (for example, a prohibition from a relative); and (4) manifestations of gender awareness correlate with perceptions of obstacles to ICT use. Information and communication technologies hold great promise in the drive for development and poverty reduction in the global South, yet in order to ensure that the entire population reaps the benefits of these technologies, a clear understanding of the specific needs of women and other disadvantaged groups is imperative.
  • $10 Million for Your Thoughts?
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2007

  • ITID 2.0
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2007

  • Post-conflict communications: the case of Liberia.
       In: Commun. ACM [Peer Reviewed]

    2007

  • Real Synthetic Scholarship
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2007

  • Social Impact and Diffusion of Telecenter Use: A Study from the Sustainable Access in Rural India Project
       In: Educomm Asia [Peer Reviewed]

    2007

  • The Velocity of Rebirth
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2007

  • Adaptive value within natural language discourse
       In: Interaction Studies [Peer Reviewed]

    2006

  • Impact and sustainability of E-government services in developing countries: Lessons learned from Tamil Nadu, India
       In: Information Society [Peer Reviewed]

    2006

    We find that the presence of village Internet facilities, offering government to citizen services, is positively associated with the rate at which the villagers obtain some of these services. In a study of a rural Internet project in India, we identify a positive correlation for two such Internet services: obtaining birth certificates for children and applications for old age pensions. Both these government services are of considerable social and economic value to the citizens. Villagers report that the Internet based services saved them time, money, and effort compared with obtaining the services directly from the government office. We also find that these services can reduce corruption in the delivery of these services. After over one year of successful operation, however, the e-government program was not able to maintain the necessary level of local political and administrative support to remain institutionally viable. As government officers shifted from the region, or grew to find the program a threat, the e-government services faltered. We argue that this failure was due to a variety of Critical Failure Factors. We end with a simple sustainability failure model. In summary, we propose that the e-government program failed to be politically and institutionally sustainable due to people, management, cultural, and structural factors.
  • In Celebration of the Gray Zone
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2006

  • Information Will Be Free
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2006

  • Kali, Creator and Destroyer: A Personal Recollection on Media Lab Asia
       In: Information for Development [Peer Reviewed]

    2006

  • Social Impact and Diffusion of Telecenter Use: A Study from the Sustainable Access in Rural India Project.
       In: J. Community Informatics [Peer Reviewed]

    2006

  • Global e-readiness—for what ? Readiness for e-banking
       In: Information Technology for Development [Peer Reviewed]

    October 2005

  • A Personal Recollection on Media Lab Asia
       In: Journal of Development Communication [Peer Reviewed]

    2005

  • License-Exempt Wireless Policy: Results of an African Survey
       In: Information Technologies and International Development [Peer Reviewed]

    2005

    New radio technologies and public policies have, in many countries, allowed transmission on specific frequencies by individuals without a license. These license-exempt, or "unlicensed," bands (including 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz in the United States and much of Europe) are increasingly used for data and voice communications through technologies such as Wi-Fi. We surveyed all African countries on the regulation and use of these bands to assess the implications of unlicensed wireless for telecommunications and Internet development in Africa. Responses from differing country informants, though mostly from regulators, were received from nearly every country on the continent. Responses showed significant policy diversity across countries, with wide variation observed in licensing and equipment certification requirements, enforcement, and restrictions on power output, range, and service offerings. We argue that this regulatory diversity across the continent inhibits economies of scale and may discourage large entrants. Furthermore, lack of clarity and enforcement discourages innovation and small entrepreneurs. (c) 2005 Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Moving Beyond “The Real Digital Divide”
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2005

  • Open Access Publishing and the Creative Community
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2005

  • Can IT Starts-Ups Slay Telecommunication Incumbents? Stories of David Versus Goliath
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2004

  • Can the Internet be a Human Right?
       In: Human Rights & Human Welfare [Peer Reviewed]

    2004

  • Creating Necessary Knowledge
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2004

  • Looking Back, Moving Forward
       In: Information Technologies & International Development [Peer Reviewed]

    2004

  • The World Summit in Reflection: A Deliberative Dialogue on the WSIS
       In: Information Technologies & International Development [Peer Reviewed]

    2004

  • China Versus India: Contrasting Strategies, What Consequences?
       In: Information Technologies and International Development

    October 2003

  • Convivo communicator: An interface‐adaptive VoIP system for poor quality networks
       In: Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society [Peer Reviewed]

    August 2003

  • What Can We Expect from the World Summit?
       In: Information Technologies & International Development

    2003

  • Editorial: Towards computational memetics
       In: Journal of Memetics

    December 2000

  • How culture can guide evolution: An inquiry into gene/meme enhancement and opposition
       In: Adaptive Behavior [Peer Reviewed]

    December 1999

    We study the relationship between genetic evolution, learning, and culture. We start with the simulation environment of Hinton and Nowlan in which individual learning was shown to guide genetic evolution towards a difficult adaptive goal. We then consider, in lieu of individual learning, culture in the form of social learning by imitation. Our results demonstrate that when genes and culture cooperate, or enhance one another, culture too is able to guide genetic evolution towards an adaptive goal. Further, we show that social learning is superior to individual learning insofar as it with genetic evolution converges more quickly to the goal. However, the social learning algorithm results in slower genetic assimilation of adaptive alleles than with individual learning. It is as if, we argue, the adaptive values are stored in the culture rather than in the genes. Finally, we consider what happens when culture and genes pursue diametrically opposed goals. Here we show that culture, in the form of social learning, is no real match when opposed to genetic evolution with individual learning. In fact, only the most herculean of social learning algorithms is able to keep a neutralizing toe-hold against the slow plodding force of genetic evolution. Finally, our results suggest that in both cases, opposition and enhancement, transmission forces such as the ratio of teacher to learner are central to the success of social learning. Copyright 1999 International Society for Adaptive Behaviour.
  • Memes on memes - A critique of memetic models
       In: Journal of Memetics

    December 1998

  • Cultural evolution and units of selection in replicating text
       In: Journal of Theoretical Biology [Peer Reviewed]

    September 1997

    The use of biological models and metaphors in studies of culture has a long and checkered history. While there are many superficial similarities between biological and cultural evolution, attempts to pin down such analogies have not been wholly successful. One limiting factor may be a lack of empirical evidence that the basic assumptions of the evolutionary model are met within a cultural system. We argue that a focus on the detection and description of the units of selection is an essential first step in constructing any evolutionary model. In this paper we outline the necessary connection between units of selection and evolution, describe the properties of a unit of selection, and introduce an empirical method for the detection of putative units of selection in a model cultural system: discourse within NetNews, a discussion system on the Internet.
  • An ecology of text: using text retrieval to study alife on the net.
       In: Artif Life [Peer Reviewed]

    1997

    I introduce a new alife model, an ecology based on a corpus of text, and apply it to the analysis of posts to USENET News. In this corporal ecology posts are organisms, the newsgroups of NetNews define an environment, and human posters situated in their wider context make up a scarce resource. I apply latent semantic indexing (LSI), a text retrieval method based on principal component analysis, to distill from the corpus those replicating units of text. LSI arrives at suitable replicators because it discovers word co-occurrences that segregate and recombine with appreciable frequency. I argue that natural selection is necessarily in operation because sufficient conditions for its occurrence are met: replication, mutagenicity, and trait/fitness covariance. I describe a set of experiments performed on a static corpus of over 10,000 posts. In these experiments I study average population fitness, a fundamental element of population ecology. My study of fitness arrives at the unhappy discovery that a flame-war, centered around an overly prolific poster, is the king of the jungle.
  • File-Access Characteristics of Parallel Scientific Workloads.
       In: IEEE Trans. Parallel Distrib. Syst. [Peer Reviewed]

    1996

  • Assessing the Impact of Public Access to ICTs
       In: Information Technologies and International Development [Peer Reviewed]
  • Sustainability Failures of Rural Telecenters: Challenges from the Sustainable Access in Rural India (SARI) Project
       In: Information Technologies and International Development
    We have examined longitudinally an ICT for a development project in rural India, closely watching activities and surveying users at as many as 100 Internet facilities in more than 50 different villages. The Sustainable Access in Rural India (SARI) project in Tamil Nadu, India, enjoyed many successes, including palpable-albeit localized-social and economic development impacts as well as the incubation of an-albeit inconsistently-celebrated ICT for a development start-up company (n-Logue Communications Pvt. Ltd.). Ultimately, however, the SARI project did not sustain itself. In the particular outcomes reported here, we follow the prospects of 36 private telecenters which were opened at various times between November 2001 and February 2004. By May 2005, 32 of these 36 telecenters had closed. However, in the same time period, most of 42 telecenters in the same area that were opened and run by a local NGO continued to function. We provide a comparative analysis between these two groups of facilities. We find that the best explanation for variation in a kiosk lifespan was their level of satisfaction with n-Logue Communications. Moreover, those sites that did express satisfaction with their institutional and technical support were in service for, on average, an additional year compared with dissatisfied sites. In addition to technical and operational support issues, we find that the lack of long-term financial viability was a major reason for the closure of the private telecenters. Financial sustainability was not realized by many centers; indeed, 85% of the operators interviewed cited finances as a major cause for their closure. Finally, telecenters that were owned by individuals with prior training in computers, or that had a separate trained operator, remained operational for a longer period. (c) 2008 by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Chapters

Conferences

Working Papers

  • Understanding & Rethinking Shared Access: How People Collaborate & Share Knowledge & Technologies in Ghanaian Cybercafés

    2013

    In many low - income countries, where computer ownership and home and business internet access is rare, public access venues, especially in the form of business - operated cybercafés, are how most people access computers and the internet. This form of public access is often viewed as having been born of economic necessity and considered to be a second - best alternative when compared to private, individualized access. In this study, we interrogate this assumption, finding that public access can support forms of collaboration and knowledge sharing that enhance learning and productivity and offer rich opportunities for interaction and co - work. In this way, public shared access is not necessarily second - best to private, individualized connection, but may, in some contexts, be a preferred access method. In order to better understand the forms of collaborative co - present sharing in cybercafés, as well as the advantages and disadvantages associated with this sharing, we conducted a survey of users in two cybercafés in Accra, Ghana. Survey results reveal that public access enables forms of sharing and collaboration among patrons that range from the most simplistic (such as asking a café employee a quick question), to the more formalized (such as meeting business partners and working together around a single computer), to the fleeting and voyeuristic (such as glancing at a stranger’s computer screen and noticing an interesting website). Contrary to the belief that resource constraints drive public shared access, the participants surveyed who do share computers highlighted the learning benefits of working together much more frequently than the economic grounds for sharing. Following these surveys, we designed a system to promote opportunities for co - located sharing and collaboration between users at an internet café.

Other Publications