Information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the data they generate, transfer and manage, present remarkable potential to foster social and economic development (if managed properly) and my research is designed to enhance that potential. Through empirical investigations of ICT and data systems use in international organizations and marginalized communities, I develop theories and recommendations to benefit humanitarian relief and international development.

United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland


My most recent projects involve understanding data aggregation processes in digital platforms used in refugee crisis response in Latin America and Uganda (through a Fulbright Global Scholar grant), measuring relief and development coherence in refugee crisis response (together with the U.S. State Department),  and work on IoT and related data systems in Rwanda (through an NSF IRES grant). The first two projects fall under the ‘ICTs & Refugees’ umbrella below and on a separate page, while the third is further described in a separate page:  IoTs in Rwanda.

ICTs & Refugees

Za’atari Camp, Jordan L to R: Paul, me, Karen, Danny, Ying and Brian

Refugees are among the world’s most vulnerable people. However, for some, the adversity results in an amazingly resourceful and innovative spirit, open to change. Our research examines how ICTs can improve the lives of refugees as well as the operations of their service providers. Important questions include: How does refugee use of IT change across the refugee life cycle? Can IT-based service provider systems be used to promote both efficient operations and improve refugee lives? How can systems of humanitarian and development organizations be brought into closer alignment to enhance efficiency? What harms might these technologies cause? How does refugee gender influence benefits and harms? What new, innovative technologies can be developed for use by camp-based and urban refugees? How can data, information and communication better support community development among refugees?

See my ICTs & Refugees page for more information. This work has been supported by NSF, UNHCR, and the U.S. State Department.

Indigenous Technology and TribalNet

Native American and other indigenous communities remain the least connected segment of American society and other national contexts. Yet, continued build-out of networks and adoption of a variety of applications are extending the reach of ICTs into tribal lives. In this research area, we examine how indigenous perspectives influence technology deployment and use as well as how established systems of IT design and development impact indigenous perspectives on ICTs.

See our TribalNet page for more information. This research is funded by the National Science Foundation.

ICT Incubators as engines for economic growth in developing countries

This project is the dissertation research of doctoral student Eric Obeysekare. Through a Fulbright Fellowship Eric was able to spend 9 moths conducting intensive field work in Rwanda. His research combines Boundary Object and Institutional theory to examine the role incubators play in the larger context of ICT entrepreneurship. While many studies of incubators seek to identify success factors, Eric’s research takes a more critical stance, allowing for the possibility that incubators do not in fact produce high growth start-ups. Instead, he is exploring whether they have less obvious yet still positive effects. Along the way, he is also developing a novel ‘boundary institution’ theory that views incubators as dynamic centers of institutional formation able to adjust to the fast pace of ICT innovation.

Big Data and Ebola

The Ebola crisis made headlines across the globe and many news stories proclaimed Big Data analyses could help predict the outbreak and thereby reduce the spread of the disease. Claims were also made that contact tracing on the ground, powered by Big Data analyses, could play a significant role in eliminating the disease.

In this research project, initially we seek to debunk the hype or better define the potential of Big Data for the Ebola response. More importantly, our aim is to generate knowledge about the specific domains in which Big Data analyses can be used effectively, provide guidance on how Big Data scientists can best communicate analytic results with humanitarian response personnel, and bridge the gap between these communities. We will investigate the ways in which multi-level governance, that is the authority structures, policies and practices within and across hierarchies of international organizations, help or hinder these connections. This research is funded by the National Science Foundation.

MOOCs in STEM Education: The intentions and motivations of developing country students

In the discourse surrounding massive open online courses (MOOCs) some herald them as a solution for problems in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education in the U.S. and abroad, while others see them as a passing fad. This debate rises to another level as it pertains to the role of MOOCs in educational systems in developing countries.

Our research on STEM MOOC students from developing countries began as an investigation of their motivations and experiences in one of Penn State’s first MOOCs – Maps and the Geospatial Revolution. The pilot study informed STEM MOOC course design and implementation and shed light on the diversity of developing country STEM MOOC students in terms of their educational levels (from secondary school to PhDs), current or intended profession (non-governmental, governmental, private industry, etc.), and motivations for taking a STEM MOOC (career advancement, self-fulfillment). This research is made possible by a seed grant from Penn State’s Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL).

Following the pilot study, we turned our attention to the State Department’s MOOC Camp program. Based on our findings, in October 2014, I gave a talk at the U.S. State Department’s Collaboratory on the use of MOOCs to foster development of cultural capital by international students. In May 2015 I presented the results of our work, particularly implications for cultural and social capital formation, at the ACM ICTD2015 conference in Singapore.

 Geographic Information Systems (GIS) use in international development organizations

GIS use – especially mapping – is rapidly increasing in international development organizations. However, little is known about why some organizations make greater use of these technologies than others. Also, organizations may want to promote the use of more complex geospatial analyses but need to understand the factors necessary to enable such use. In particular, we are interested in the role of multi-level governance, that is the organizational relationships across hierarchies within organizations (i.e. between headquarters and local offices, for example) and between organizations (i.e. between donors, implementation partners, and sub-contractors).                                                                                    UN Building, Ramallah, Palestine

A preliminary investigation of GIS use by USAID implementation partners and UN organizations working in the West Bank is currently under way with results expect in Fall 2013. This work is being supported by a seed grant from Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI).

I presented the results of this work in an invited talk at the Copenhagen Business School in March 2015.


Coordination of information management and technology use in international humanitarian relief and development

This research examines the importance of coordination as it pertains to organizations  involved in humanitarian relief. In particular, we focus on coordination of information management and information technology. In this research stream I have worked with colleagues from Penn State (Andrea Tapia, John Yen, Louis-Marie Ngamassi Tchouakeu, and Kang Zhou, among others) and Benita Beamon of University of Washington. In one project the team investigated how NGOs/IGOs involved in disaster relief coordinate on deployments of information and communication technologies (ICTs) as well as how ICTs are used in their coordination efforts. In a second project the team took a broader perspective and studied humanitarian   organizations’ information gathering and management efforts during disaster relief.

Inter-organizational relations in global supply chains

In this research program, I collaborated with Dr. Irene Petrick (also of Penn State College of IST) and Nicolai Pogrebnyakov, investigating the intersection of information management, technology risk management, and innovation. In a project funded by IBM, we were joined by supply chain colleagues from Michigan State University, University College Dublin, and National University of Singapore.

This effort built on previous research on the effectiveness of inter-organizational networks.  In that project, carried out between 2006 and 2008, we found inter-organizational coordination does contribute to firm-level network effectiveness, which is also influenced by lock-out and network structure.

Regionalization in national wireless telecommunications policy making

While nation states continue to play a fundamental role in wireless policy making, extra-national actors such as regional bodies (European Union, Southern African Development Community, Mercusor) play a role as well. This research identifies the ways in which regional policy making and regulatory bodies influence the national level as well as their implications for market entry by mobile carriers. Working together with Annemijn van Gorp and Nicolai Pogrebnyakov, this research also calls into question the assumption that policy harmonization should be the primary outcome of regional cooperation.