World Librarians Project Brings Educational Resources to Students in Malawi

Professor Charlie Schweik of the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy and the Department of Environmental Conservation and two students traveled to Paris last month to present their World Librarians project at a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conference, Mobile Learning Week 2018: Skills for a Connected World.

World Librarians aims to breach the “digital divide”—the gulf between the 53 percent of the world’s population that lacks access to the internet and those who have it—by bringing educational resources to teachers and students in Malawi. The UMass team, which includes students and staff from across campus, works in partnership with ShiftIT, an education organization in Malawi, and the California-based nonprofit World Possible, which developed the technology used by World Librarians. Schweik is one of a team of scholars at the School of Public Policy whose work includes a focus on policy related to science and technology.

Without the internet, “people don’t have access to the information they want to make their lives better,” Schweik explained at the recent UMass Information & Communication Technology Summit, where the team demonstrated the project. World Librarians addresses that problem through its work with nine rural, offline schools and libraries in Malawi. Each site is provided with a RACHEL, a portable server and Wi-Fi hotspot device developed by World Possible that’s loaded with open-access educational resources—such as Wikipedia and Khan Academy materials—that can be accessed by students and teachers in solar-powered computer labs.

In addition, teachers and librarians can request specific information by sending a message to World Librarians via Twitter. That’s possible, Schweik said, because cell phones are fairly common in developing countries and the small data demands of sending or receiving short Twitter messages is less costly to a user’s data plan than surfing the internet. When World Librarians receive a request—which might be anything from instructions on drying tomatoes, to guides to teaching Shakespeare, to materials to get girls interested in physics—the team’s two student “searchers” get to work.

“What makes this project unique is that we’re searching for what they ask for,” as opposed to presuming to know what they need, said project manager Pammy Eisner, a senior political science major who’s in the School of Public Policy’s accelerated master of public policy program. Too often, she said, the western world imposes on people in developing nations its assumptions about what’s best for them. World Librarians uses a peer-to-peer communication model and seeks feedback from the Malawi educators to ensure that the resources it sends meet their needs.

Finding those resources is not always easy. To avoid copyright infringement issues, World Librarians shares only open-license or Creative Commons material, which can be hard to find, noted Jeremy Smith, a UMass librarian involved with the project. The searchers also need to keep in mind the ages and English skills of the students who will use the materials; videos are best, Eisner said, because they’re typically more accessible than written material.

Once the right resources are found, the UMass team puts it on a Google drive, then someone at ShiftIT loads it to a flash drive and physically delivers it to the requesting school or library. Students and teachers can access the material in their solar-powered computer labs, with machines provided by UMass, and can save it on inexpensive flash drives provided by the project.

World Librarians is growing, adding a rural health center to its list of sites in Malawi and exploring an expansion in Cameroon. The goal, Schweik said, is to scale up the project, bringing it to more countries, offering resources in more languages, and finding other universities to join the effort.

The group’s trip to the UNESCO conference was supported by the School of Public Policy, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the UMass Libraries, the School of Earth and Sustainability, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Commonwealth Honors College.

About the School of Public Policy: Established in 2016, the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy is a hub for research and teaching, preparing students for leadership in public service. The program’s focuses include social change and public policy related to science and technology.

— Maureen Turner, communications manager, School of Public Policy

— Photo of Charlie Schweik and Pammy Eisner

Caroline O’Connor, photographer

Information Technology Program, CICS, UMass Amherst – ©2018

Fountain delivers keynote at ICEGOV2017 in New Delhi, India

Jane Fountain, Director of NCDG, and Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, delivered a keynote address on March 8, 2017 at ICEGOV2017, one of the world’s foremost international research conferences on digital government and knowledge societies. This year’s conference took place in Delhi, India.

Fountain’s keynote was titled “Political Priorities and Administrative Performance: Building Cross-Agency Capacity.”

Fountain’s keynote address was based in part on her recent research, including:

Building an Enterprise Government: Creating an ecosystem for cross-agency collaboration

Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010: Examining Constraints to, and Developing Tools for, Cross-Agency Collaboration

Implementing Cross-Agency Collaboration: A Guide for Federal Managers

The ICEGOV2017 conference theme was “Building Knowledge Societies: From Digital Government to Digital Empowerment.” At the conference, Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad launched Open Forge – the Government of India’s platform for open collaborative software development of e-Governance applications based on open data and open standards — and introduced the Digital India Global Roadmap, an action plan connecting the goals of Digital India with the United Nations Development Program sustainable development goals.

Fountain attended the conference, and associated planning meetings for the Digital India program, as a guest of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India. The conference was organized by the Ministry through its Digital India Program and by the United Nations University. The conference presented peer-reviewed papers from 60 countries.

Recommendations to Build Cross-Agency Collaboration for the Next Administration

Fountain March 2016 cover

Today’s political and policy challenges – like veteran homelessness, sustainable communities, federal permitting and review, cybersecurity – demand greater cross-boundary capacity, that is, the ability of government to use cross-agency collaboration, partnerships and a range of enterprise approaches to solve problems. And new technologies make information sharing and streamlining possible. Yet governments remain too fragmented with agencies working “silos” without sufficient communication and knowledge sharing.

NCDG Director Professor Fountain’s new white paper, Building an Enterprise Government: Creating an Ecosystem for Cross-Agency Collaboration in the Next Administration, makes recommendations for building enterprise approaches in government. It was published on Monday, March 14, 2016 jointly by the Partnership for Public Service and IBM Center for the Business of Government.

Fountain’s report recommends that transition teams and the next administration should determine the presidential priorities and goals that are likely to require multiple agencies to work together. The White House should include executive talent in the form of a chief operating officer to focus on those cross-agency priorities when other matters threaten to divert attention. Over the past 25 years an emerging ecosystem of institutional actors has grown up to support cross-agency and enterprise teams. This institutional network is vital to enterprise and cross-agency approaches. It’s potential as a source of knowledge, strong practice and communication should be leveraged by government executives.

A group of current and former government officials gathered in Washington, D.C. in September, convened by the Partnership for Public Service and the IBM Center for the Business of Government to examine how to develop such approaches and to make recommendations for the next presidential administration. Professor Fountain captured the central themes of this roundtable discussion and built on her own research during more than two decades to recommend concrete steps the transition teams and next administration should take to develop the ability to work across agency boundaries.

The report is part of a series of five white papers to develop a Management Roadmap for the next administration and is included in the Partnership’s Center for Presidential Transition Ready to Government initiative.


World Economic Forum Summit on the Global Agenda 2014 Visions Awards



Jane Fountain WEF press conference
Jane Fountain, NCDG Director, speaking at the press conference for Global Agenda Council Award.


The World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government was honored with a Visions Award at 2014 Summit on the Global Agenda held in Dubai on November 9-11, 2014. The awards were announced during the opening plenary, Shaping the Transformations of the World.


United Arab Emirates Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum with Visions awardees and World Economic Forum leaders. From left: Espen Barth Eide, Managing Director, WEF; Achankeng Leke, Director, McKinsey & Company, South Africa; Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, WEF; Prof. Subramanian Rangan, INSEAD; Jamie McAuliffe, President & CEO, Education for Employment; His Highness Sheik Mohammad; Kathleen Matthews, Exec. VP, Marriott International; Dist. Prof. Jane Fountain; and David Kappos, Partner, Cravath, Swaine & Moore
United Arab Emirates Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum with Visions awardees and World Economic Forum leaders. From left: Espen Barth Eide, Managing Director, WEF; Achankeng Leke, Director, McKinsey & Company, South Africa; Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, WEF; Prof. Subramanian Rangan, INSEAD; Jamie McAuliffe, President & CEO, Education for Employment; His Highness Sheik Mohammad; Kathleen Matthews, Exec. VP, Marriott International; Dist. Prof. Jane Fountain; and David Kappos, Partner, Cravath, Swaine & Moore


Jane Fountain received the Visions Award on behalf of the Council on the Future of Government and spoke on the work of the Council at the press conference on the Global Agenda Council Award. She was chair of the Future of Government Council in 2010-11, vice chair in 2011-12, and has been a council member since its inception in 2008. She wrote the Smart Toolbox chapter on Political Representation, highlighting the importance of decision makers to use ICT to increase representation, decrease citizen apathy, and to interpret civic engagement in light of the subgroups and individuals actually represented online.

The Future of Government SmFuture of Government Smart Toolboxart Toolbox offers a practical, state of the art guide for government leaders and those interested in government innovation. The Smart Toolbox was developed under the leadership of Joe Nye, former Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, who chaired the Council, and Diana Farrell, President and CEO of the JPMC Institute, who served as vice chair, during 2013 and 2014. The toolbox focuses on eight key areas for government improvement: anti-corruption, political representation, service delivery, modernization of bureaucracy, increasing trust, leadership, innovation and security. Thirty two case studies drawn from every region of the globe illustrate and make concrete best practices.

Photos: Flickr

Jane Fountain speaking at the press conference on the Global Agenda Council Awards. Dubai, 2014.
Jane Fountain speaking at the press conference on the Global Agenda Council Awards. Dubai, 2014.

NCDG Fellow Contributes to “State Smart” Initiative



November 7, 2014

Christoph Demers, Fellow at the National Center for Digital Government, contributed to the National Priorities Project’s “State Smart” initiative, from June – August, 2014. Released October 2014, State Smart examines how federal dollars flow to states. State Smart aims to recreate the Census Bureau’s Consolidated Federal Funds Report (CFFR), which had been a vital tool to economists and researchers for decades, before it was cancelled in 2011 due to budget cuts. Other attempts by the federal government to make government spending data more accessible, such as the website, have thus far failed to provide researchers with a reliable and consistent data source. Most recently, a Government Accountability Office report found that for 2012, was missing $619 billion in federal government spending.

With State Smart, as with the CFFR before it, researchers can download a wide range of (clean!) data sets detailing state and federal level funding flows, including data on federal grants to states, federal contracts, DOD contracts, business and individual, and federal compensation. As the Washington Post noted, the CFFR was “crucial to the work of a small set of researchers, academics and journalists, offering a broad view of how federal money is transferred to states.” But State Smart isn’t meant to be a resource just for researchers and journalists.

State Smart goes beyond the Census’ Consolidated Federal Funds Reports, as it is housed in a user-friendly website with comparative and within-state analyses. The accessible nature of the site allows any interested member of the public to quickly gain an overview of how federal dollars play a role in their own as well as other states. For example, here we see State Smart’s graphic representation of per-person federal aid to individuals by state, with Massachusetts highlighted in green:


Or this 10 year view of the California’s revenue by source:



Importantly, State Smart will be updated as new data from various government sources flows in, ensuring that CFFR-type data will continue to be available to researchers, journalists, and active citizens.

Demers, a research intern at the National Priorities Project, assisted National Priorities Project staff in combining and then analyzing the assorted data sets that make up State Smart, including those from the Census, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the IRS, and, among others. “Christoph played a critical role in the launch of State Smart. He quickly learned the nuances of troubleshooting and cleaning disparate data sources, and the final product is a testament to his detailed-oriented approach,” said Becky Sweger, Director of Data and Technology at the National Priorities Project.


The National Priorities Project is a national non-profit, non-partisan research organization dedicated to making complex federal budget information transparent and accessible.


Fountain Authors Section of New World Economic Forum Guide for Government Technology Use



June 17, 2014

Future of Government Smart Toolbox, a new guide to help governments use technology to build better trust and deliver more efficient public services, includes a section on political representation authored by Jane Fountain, Distinguished Professor in political science and public policy. The guide was launched June 10 by the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government, in cooperation and with the support of the government of the United Arab Emirates.

Political representation is one of the core issues for technology and governance globally. Fountain has been a member of the Future of Government Global Agenda Council since its inception seven years ago. She is past chair of the council and led the writing of its first major report, “The Future of Government: Lessons Learned from around the World,” which led to the initial sessions at Davos for government and non-governmental organizations leaders on this topic.

“Future of Government Smart Toolbox,” provides an analysis of how technology can and is impacting the demands placed on government to deliver more with less, as well as affecting government’s ability to meet expectations. The toolbox focuses on eight key areas for improving government performance: anti-corruption, political representation, bureaucracy, delivery of services, trust, leadership, security and innovation.

As part of the toolbox, the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government has developed three forward-looking scenarios to examine how the world of governance could evolve by 2050. The scenarios, developed with the Forum’s Strategic Foresight team, are:

  • City State: A world in which authority is decentralized to the city level and pragmatism trumps idealism in addressing collective issues.
  • e1984: A world in which the promise of Big Data is realized; economic, geopolitical and cyber threats are omnipresent, and collective solidarity is a core societal value.
  • Gated Community: A world in which world political power rests with individuals and private sector organizations; individual responsibility and choice prevail in society, with the private sector being the main provider of collective services.

“The UAE government has embraced innovation and set high benchmarks in government efficiency and trust,” said Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi, minister of cabinet affairs and chairman of the organizing committee for the Government Summit, Federal Government of the United Arab Emirates. “We are happy that the UAE Government Summit partnership with the forum has led to a tangible and positive outcome as the Smart Toolbox, which takes trust in government as a unifying theme. It also highlights the role of UAE Government Summit as an international platform to enhance the future of the government administration around the world.”

“Leadership of informed societies requires leaders to take a progressive approach to building trust through better, more efficient and responsive governance,” added Espen Barth Eide, managing director and member of the managing board, World Economic Forum. “The World Economic Forum has partnered with the Government Summit, United Arab Emirates as part of our longstanding and strong partnership in order to showcase good governance practices from around the world attesting to the vision and the making of truly smart, technologically enabled governments.”

“ICT has a great role to play in helping governments create trust and provide leadership,” noted Joseph S. Nye Jr., chair of the Council on the Future of Government and University Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “But to use it effectively, leaders need to be aware of how technology is changing society and how these changes in turn will place new demands on governance.”

The Smart Toolbox also includes governance best practices from a number of countries, as well as case studies written by council members, including Abdulla Al Basti, director-general, the executive office-government of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Jimmy Wales, founder and chair emeritus, board of trustees, Wikimedia Foundation.

Excerpt from Professor Jane Fountain’s contribution to the “Future of Government Smart Toolbox”

New report: Building Cross-Agency Collaboration

Last week, Jane Fountain presented the results of a broad study of cross-agency collaboration at the annual plenary meeting of the Administrative Conference of the United States, an independent federal agency. The final report, The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010: Examining Constraints To, and Providing Tools For, Cross-Agency Collaboration brings together guidance and recommendations for public managers, examines the early implementation of some of the provisions of the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act of 2010, and highlights four case studies of successful, important cross-agency collaboration. I’m immensely grateful to current and former government officials and other experts who gave generously of their time and knowledge to teach me more of the inner workings of cross-agency collaboration.

The case studies in the report are meant to illustrate concretely the complexity of cross-agency collaboration and, in most cases, the long period of development required for public managers and others to build shared goals, language, methods and processes. The case studies demonstrate innovative and impressive cross-agency projects.

The National Export Initiative, one of the administration’s first set of cross-agency priority, or CAP, goals is meant to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014. The effort brings together about 20 different departments and agencies responsible for trade policy, negotiations, funding and other resources, and export promotion. The initiative builds on the Trade Policy Coordinating Committee, established by Congress in 1992, and strengthens its strategic focus and coherence.

Reducing veteran homelessness focuses on the “virtual agency” created by policy entrepreneurs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, and the Veterans Administration, the VA, working with a constellation of state and local government agencies, NGOs and other partners. The HUD-VA Supportive Housing rental voucher program, an interagency program that actually began in 1991, is one of the core cross-agency vehicles to move veterans with a variety of physical and mental health needs out of chronic homelessness. Nineteen federal agencies comprise the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). But local level collaboration is critical for implementation. The case describes the linkages from Washington to local level, community decision makers.

The Partnership for Sustainable Communities is a collaboration among three federal agencies designed to reconceptualize policies and practices by coordinating those who work on affordable housing with those who focus on affordable transportation to produce solutions for communities that will help people live in proximity to jobs with the ability to choose affordable transportation. The U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency have worked together to build this cross-agency capacity. Here’s a brief video from the mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut on the importance of the collaboration.

An expert at DOT said of this initiative:

One of the biggest [cross-agency projects] in the Obama Administration has been the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. This is clearly worth doing. We do a profound amount of transportation, housing, economic development, environmental planning and investment that is completely disconnected. We fail to capitalize on synergies and we spend way more money than we should and we don’t get the outcomes. That’s an area where the challenges [of cross-agency collaboration] are worth it.

Expedited Permitting and Review of Federal Infrastructure Projects is a case study that offers guidance to public managers and others on the cross-agency use of dashboards, rapid response teams, and interventions at the regional and local levels to push collaboration throughout agencies. Quoting from a presidential memorandum of August 2011, the project is meant to more fully leverage strategies such as “integrating planning and environmental reviews; coordinating multi-agency or multi-governmental reviews and approvals to run concurrently; setting clear schedules for completing steps in the environmental review and permitting process; and utilizing information technologies to inform the public about the progress of environmental reviews as well as the progress of Federal permitting and review processes.”

The background and recommendations in the report build on and expand previous research, including a more concise report titled Implementing Cross-Agency Collaboration: A Guide for Federal Managers, published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

The ACUS annual plenary discussion concerning the study were surprising, in a positive way, because agency general counsel and attorneys discussed how important it is to them to understand the components of cross-agency collaboration. Most public management researchers know little about the perspectives and role of agency general counsel and attorneys with respect to interagency collaboration. We need to know more. Some attorneys described how agency attorneys are thrown into complex negotiations across agencies, and multiple parties, having had no training or experience in these matters. The video of the plenary session discussion is useful for its recording of this discussion. ACUS also makes publicly available on its website the meetings, minutes and various reviews of the study and recommendations as these were carried out by the ACUS Committee on Administration and Management.

Jane Fountain at the 2013 Urban Forum: Connecting Technologies to Citizenship


JF_Photo high res

Jane Fountain wrote an invited white paper, “Connecting Technologies to Citizenship,” and participated in the panel “Tuning in: How can technology help unite the government with it’s people?” at the 2013 Urban Forum: Technology and the Resilience of Metropolitan Regions held in Chicago on December 5, 2013. Twitter: #UIC_UrbanForum

A pre-publication copy of the white paper  “Connecting Technologies to Citizenship” .

Videos of the panels are available here:

Photos of the Urban Forum panelists and talks here:

Brazil’s “Constitution for the Internet” — invitation to an open discussion


Today and tomorrow the Brazilian House of Representatives and the Senate are expected to vote the so-called “Marco Civil” (Civil Framework), a federal legislation that would guarantee civil rights in the use of the Internet and has been called a “Constitution for the Internet.” Amidst the news on NSA espionage on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff last summer, debates about the law were given “constitutional urgency,” and many expect the regulation to pass this week.

Professor Martha Fuentes-Bautista’s seminar on “Internet Governance & Information Policy” will skype tomorrow with our NCDG fellow Diego Canabarro who (as featured by Aljazeera) works on these issues in Brazil, to discuss the implications of the new regulation for the country, the region and the world. I know many of you know and appreciate Diego’s work, so I’d like to invite you to join us tomorrow in 304 Gordon at 2:45 pm. for an open discussion on cybersecurity, surveillance and emerging digital rights in Brazil.

Brazil is the first country trying to create a “civil rights” framework to guide policy and regulation of online services. The law would declare the provision of “multimedia communication services” (broadband services) as a “collective interest,” and sanction key principles such as neutrality of network carriage, and privacy of communications. However, a very controversial aspect of the project is the creation of “data storage nodes” to manage Internet traffic in and out of the country. The idea is interpreted by many as a step towards the balkanization of internet worldwide.

In this context, some see Marco Civil as Brazil’s push to govern the Internet, while a number of international digital rights advocacy organizations like Reporters Without Borders, Wikileaks and Article19 have called for the swift adoption of an “uncompromising Marco Civil” in Brazil. Here in the U.S., many digital rights advocates are following the Brazilian case as thousands mobilized in D.C. last weekend calling to stop massive e-surveillance, and increase protections to civil rights online. In the meantime, countries like India have expressed support for Rousseff’s proposal to advance a global ‘bill of rights’ for the governance and use of the Internet, according to five basic principles:

“Freedom of expression, privacy of the individual, and respect for human rights; Open, multilateral and democratic governance; Universality that ensures the social and human development and the construction of inclusive and non-discriminatory societies; Cultural diversity, without the imposition of beliefs, customs and values; and neutrality of the network, guided only by technical and ethical criteria, rendering it inadmissible to restrict it for political, commercial, or religious purposes.”