Browsing Posts published by Richard

Hey everybody!  So I wanted to try to make at least one blog post a week before we leave Nauru on the 31st.  I can’t believe it but we only have 13 days left on the island.  Needless to say we have a looooot to do.

Hans and I got to Skype with Professors Mertz, Hills, and Weinberg on Tuesday, which worked surprisingly well, and we decided that we definitely needed a timeline to figure out what we were going to do with our last few weeks of the project.  After discussions, we came up with the following timeline:

  • Week 9: July 20 – 24
    • July 20: Formulate and report on Information Management Policy
    • July 21: Finalize report on Information Management Policy.  Meet with Marcus
    • July 22: Prepare Cabinet Secretary’s workstation based on Information Management Policy.
    • July 23: Document Information Management NPF work process.  Outline NPF server hierarchy and access.  Show NPF how to e-email attachments.  Create documentation template. Begin formulating department recommendations
    • July 24: Formulate and report department recommendations (Continue in weekend if necessary).
  • Week 10: July 27 – 30
    • July 27: Meet with departments
    • July 28: Meet with departments
    • July 29:  Meet departments.  Hold ICT system demonstration.  Finalize Final Report
    • July 30: Meet with departments finalize Final Report

So to give you a background on what all that means our project will be finalized with five main areas.  This part is also from our timeline:

(1)   National ID:  In order to facilitate cross-departmental communication and increase accuracy of citizen personal information, the student consultants propose to create a National ID Number for all Nauruan citizens.

(2)   Documentation of work practices: in order to increase accuracy and reliability of government work practices, the student consultants plan to create the foundations of documenting employee work practices.

(3)   Information Management: finalizing an Information Management Policy to be used throughout the Nauruan government will serve as the focal point of our Final Report.  Research has been done and discussions have taken place to create the foundations of this project.

(4)   Department recommendations: the final part of the Information Management Report will be to outline our observations with Departments, note areas that could use improvement, and make recommendations to specific departments on how they should manage their information in the future.

(5)   Workshops: the student consultants will utilize the ICT Department’s training room to hold workshops for the following subjects

Each of these areas involve a lot of smaller steps, and as you can see from our timeline, we are packed from now until we leave.  Hopefully everything will go to plan (which I doubt it will), and we overestimated some of our time to formulate things so that we have enough time to finish everything.

Looking back, I wish we hadn’t spent so much time during the middle of our project on our Excel fuel ration and timesheet systems.  Although the projects will help standardize and automate processes for the Chief Secretary office, I think we lost track of our main goal of the Information Management Policy.  After talking with some coworkers, I wish we would have worked with them more on establishing a network environment on the Nauruan servers.

For now, it seems like a lot of our work will be typing reports and meeting with the Head of Departments.  Our main focus for our reports will be to (1) outline the department and our observations (2) describe the problem and why they cannot continue allowing it to be a problem (3) make our recommendation (4) plan a timeline on how they can achieve the recommendation.  The 4th part is crucial because Nauru has received reports from consultants on ICT before, but they all have been recommendation without any plan on how to initiate them, making it hard for the government to do anything.  We will also do some case studies to show the Heads the benefits of some of our ideas.

Part of our recommendations will also be a lot of plans for transitioning, looking for ways to improve current practices until they can initiate formal solutions in the future.  For example, Nauru currently has about 5 servers, but only one of them (the Hospital’s) has an actual server environment (usernames, access rights, etc) set up, which was done by an Australian group.  The other servers are used to store documents, but anyone can access the server and edit or delete documents on it.  While setting up a server environment throughout the government would be ideal, given the current state of the ICT department – ie using almost their whole day answering calls and going out and doing maintenance – there isn’t a lot of time to set up the servers, even though some employees would be capable of doing it.  Therefore, in the meantime, we will be recommending government-wide file management policies such as naming conventions, folder hierarchy and access, and security measures.  I never realized how much of an issue file naming can be for an organization, but after doing a lot of research, many businesses these days are going having issues locating the thousands of electronic documents stored on their company’s and employees’ computers.  There’s also a vast amount of software that could help, Document Management Software and Desktop Searches, but unfortunately we will not have time to implement this software and therefore we will have to put less emphasis on them.

Anyways, so much to do in so little time! I’m sure that all the TCinGC projects are feeling the same way.  How much longer does everyone have in their respective countries by the way??

Hello again to all in TCinGC!  I wanted to apologize to Joe and all my adoring fans that this post is coming so late.  This is now our 6th week in Nauru, I can’t believe that we will be leaving at the end of this month!

Since my last post, our project has continued to be interesting, but very busy, work.  We have continued interviewing and observing government employees who include the Secretary of Home Affairs (who has told us a vast amount of interesting information about Nauru’s history, employees in Public Health, teachers and administrators at Nauru College which teaches 7th to 9th graders, and the Police Commissioner (whose duty ended a week after we met with him!) just to name a few.  Our interview and observation period took a little more than 4 weeks and really made me wish I had invested in a tablet PC, I have gone through one and a half yellow legal pads using both front and back (!) plus I have been trying to type up all my notes for future projects in Nauru.  During our down time, Hans and I also began writing our massive Context Analysis report, which ended up being about 25 pages!  Though, it will hopefully be cut down with some help from Joe.  The past couple of weeks we have been working on an automated time sheet generator and fuel rationing system.  Since the government employees are most comfortable with Excel, we designed both systems using spreadsheets and macros, which has also meant knowing much more about Visual Basic than I ever really wanted to know.  The systems are pretty slick, and we are working with pertinent employees to ensure the sustainability of our systems.  This has also included writing documentation (user-guides), which have been taking a while to write; however, we found it necessary after learning that very few government processes are documented, which lead to a lot of loss information and time whenever government employees go on leave or switch positions (which happens quite frequently).  Documentation is one of the key goals that we have developed and will recommend in our final report.

We only have 18 work days left in Nauru!  During this time we will be finishing our systems.  After reading my last blog post (thanks to Google), Marcus also thought it would be a good idea for us to implement some of our ideas for Information Management policy on the Police Department, using their four departments as a case study for government wide initiatives.  We also have a lot of documents to write, which include a proposal for a National ID system and of course our final report which will include suggestions on Information Policy management and future technology planning.  We will definitely be busy until the end of our project!

As I promised in my first post, I will finally take some time to describe what we do outside of work here in Nauru.  To start, Hans and I listed 5 goals to accomplish while we are in Nauru:

  1. Eat at all the restaurants on the island
  2. Walk around the island
  3. Watch a cock fight
  4. Go deep sea fishing
  5. Go Naughty Birding

The first two goals were created because we thought it would be pretty cool to say that you “ate at all the restaurants in a country” and “walked around a country at one time”.

About the first goal… We were told that Nauru had about 30 restaurants on the island.  Within the first three weeks, we were doing pretty good, we had eaten at about 20 restaurants thanks to persistence and boredom.  However, perhaps the greatest catastrophe in our time here occurred when our government vehicle broke down.  We were told that a part of the engine had broken but that they had a spare part in a another car; however, we have yet to get our car back for about 4 weeks now, and the Land Transport Office also decided to sell the car that they were going to get the part from.  Now, you may be wondering why we would need a car on such a small island such as Nauru.  Well, given that (1) the Menen Hotel is in what they call the “country” in Nauru, meaning that it is almost opposite of all the things to do in Nauru (2) the blazing sun from 12-5 and (3) stray dogs that will chase you (and even bite your fingers off, from what we hear), it’s pretty hard to walk around the island.  Anyways, we have only 3 more restaurants left, which is pretty exciting except for the fact that nearly all the food in Nauru is basically the same, very basic Chinese food, beef, fish, chicken, and pork always served with rice, and maybe noodles (which they call “wire”) if you’re lucky.  It’s pretty tough to eat the same thing every day here, especially when you don’t have the option to cook your own food and eat any fresh produce (they have to fly everything to Nauru).  I’m pretty sure I will be eating everything in sight when I get back home.  One good or maybe bad thing about the restaurants here is that they all serve massive quantities for food for a very low price.  Each dish is piled with rice (about 4 – 5 bowls worth) and costs less than $5 Australian Dollars (about $4 US).  Given this ridiculous amount of rice and the fact that most of the food is pretty oily, it’s very easy to gain weight here, which might explain why Nauru is apparently one of the most obese nations in the world.

To combat gaining massive amounts of lbs, I decided that I needed to do some physical activity every day after work.  At first I tried to play basketball, but couldn’t find any older people to play with in the afternoon.  So instead I decided to train with the Nauruan Boxing Federation.  I have never boxed before, so it may have not been the best decision, but I have definitely done a lot more running and lifting here than I have done in the US for a long time.  The picture below if of a boxing tournament they had a couple of weekends ago.  The guys I am training with said that I was going to fight that day, luckily they were joking, but I also sparred for the first time the day before the tournament, and got beat up pretty bad by a 16 year old.

Naruru Boxing Federation Tournament
Naruru Boxing Federation Tournament

The rest of our goals have been pretty hard to obtain, mostly because we don’t have transportation, and because we have not met a lot of locals.  Naughty birding is much more tame then the name suggests, it involved playing bird sounds and then catching local “Naughty” birds in nets, it sounds pretty fun.  This past Sunday, we finally officially finished one of our goals, walking around the island.  It took us over 5 hours to walk, with dinner included, which was much more than the 3 hours we were originally told.  We met quite an interesting character on the last part of the walk, but that experience isn’t very appropriate for this blog… The picture below is of Hans laying down on the airstrip during the last part of our walk.

Taking a nap on the airstrip
Taking a nap on the airstrip

Some other highlights of our time in Nauru include going caving, which can be seen in the pictures below.  The first is a view from the cave’s entrance, which was surrounded by the roots of a tree.  The second shows Hans entering the small cave entrance.  The third is a view from the bottom of the cave.  It was quite a cool experience, and very unexpected on a Saturday afternoon.

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At the end of June, I participated in the Coca-Cola walk, which was a 5km walk starting at 8am.  It was pretty tough to wake up, but it was nice to see all the Nauruan kids coming out and being active, and seeing a lot of government officials I met through work.  The next two pictures are from the walk.  The first is of the finish line, just to prove that I made it.  The second is of the Nauruan president, Marcus Stephen.  So far the picture is the closest I have gotten to the President, although I hope to meet him and become best friends before we leave the island.

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The Nauruan President, Marcus Tanner, giving out trophies for the Coca-Cola walk

The Nauruan President, Marcus Stephen, giving out trophies for the Coca-Cola walk

 

We have also had the opportunity to drink Kava with a co-worker from the ICT Department and Fijians who are doing work in Nauru.  You should Wikipedia Kava, but basically it’s a popular Pacific drink, made to drink in a large group of people, which also makes you very tired, yet according to Wikipedia also makes you very aware (I’m not sure if I agree with the Wikipedia article).  Kava makes you very lazy and tired.  The second time we drank Kava, we got back to the hotel at 2am, and I didn’t get up until 3pm the next day!

I think that’s about it for now.  Hopefully this post makes up for my long absence.  Hans and I have a lot more work and things to do in Nauru, and hopefully we can achieve everything before we leave on July 31st!  I’m glad to see all the other TCinGC projects seem to be achieving a lot and still having some great experiences, and it’s good to finally hear from the team in Palau!

Hey to everyone in TCinGC and to all reading the blog.  So this is my first official post to the blog and it’s mine and Hans’s second week in the Republic of Nauru (RON).

I guess I’ll start with the work related updates.  We came to Nauru our project being described as completing an analysis of current information management and exchange practices within Government departments, which would lead to recommendations as to how these practices could be improved.” Our other expected outcomes were described as:

1.      A formal report addressing:

a.  Identification of data / information that is common across government departments

b.      Current information management and exchange practices, both within and between departments

c.       The standardization of data collection / storage / presentation across all Government departments

d.      Recommendations for improvements in inter-departmental information exchange

2.      With negotiation, implementation of selected recommendations

3.      A draft Information Management Policy for consideration by Heads of Departments

4.      Formal criteria for assessing the level of skill in information management and exchange of Government employees, and recommendations for areas that need to be addressed by the Information Literacy Program

5.      Recommendations for the structure / organisation of information on the Government website

If that sounds a little confusing and open ended, that’s because it was, I had almost no idea what we would be doing in Nauru.  We are working directly under the ICT (Information Communication Technology) department.  Our local partner is Marcus Tanner, an Australian who originally came to Nauru to teach ICT for two years, but was put in the position of ICT Director after his first year and decided to stay until the end of this year (which will be his 3rd).

We spent the first 3 days reading various reports about Nauru’s history and assessments of the technology environment in the country.  The reports (like much of the material on the internet about Nauru) weren’t too optimistic.  Nauru has had a fascinating history for the smallest republic in the world.  At one point the country wad the highest GDP per capita in the world thanks to it’s phosphate deposits (ie fossilized bird droppings).  Nauru actually has a fascinating parallel to Qatar, which Hans can describe better than myself.  The country and its citizens lived a privileged and comfortable life until the ’90′s when phosphate production began dropping.  A combination of the loss of phosphate along with questionable investments (the country lost basically all of its foreign investments thanks to a bad loan from GE) threw the country into a pretty chaotic state in 2004 when the country almost lost its independence. Thankfully, the government has now stabilized although Nauru still lacks a viable source of income beyond foreign aid.  The technological state of the island also had some hits and misses (the had a very innovative but ultimately failed project attempting to set up WiFi across the island powered by wind and solar power), but thanks to the tireless work of Marcus (seriously the man seems to work 24/7 here) along with numerous foreign donations helped Nauru have an abundance of technical assets and create a fairly stable infrastructure for the government, although the internet is limited by the high price of running cables to the island, the government is currently using 256 mps for 1,200 workers!

Anyways, after the initial days of reading and taking notes we started going out to the government offices in the Yaren district.  Luckily, the majority of offices are located next to the parliament and president office buildings (the blue and pink buildings in my pictures).  In the first week we made initial contact with the head of departments of Health, Justice, Secretariat, Education, and Finance.  We then spent all of Friday (5/29) following the Finance department.  Seeing the amount of work and bureaucracy that the Finance Department has to do – even for such a small country that doesn’t even have a banking system (!) – makes you appreciate all the work that the US government does.  In the second week we continued our work, observing the work done at the HR, salaries, statistics, media and land transportation departments along with observing a day at the RON Hospital.  Needless to say work has been pretty busy.  Luckily all of the government employees have been open and helpful, I think they all realize that the government needs help in fully utilizing technology.

While it has been interesting to meet and observe the various departments and their employees and seeing the overlap in their frustrations, the scope of this project seems to get larger by the day.  The sheer number of departments that we should visit and observe makes me worry about completing our reports and deliverables on time.  Though all of the observing is time consuming, it is necessary for Hans and me to get a complete picture of the government so that our recommendations can help all departments.  I think Marcus put it best when he said that our 10 weeks in Nauru could easily turn into a year of work for us!

While I appreciate that Marcus has a pretty realistic view on what can be done in our 10 weeks (he wants us to mainly focus on automating and digitizing government processes such as standardizing file sharing and saving throughout the departments), there a numerous barriers that I fear will hinder the success of our project.  The foremost factor that we have to keep in mind in any of our recommendations is the sustainability of our project.  Nauru’s government is going through numerous transitions that could greatly affect the outcome of our project.  Whether it’s a change in software, such as moving from Excel spreadsheets to MYOB (mind your own business) software led by the Secretariat department, or personnel changes, Marcus along with Eroni (one of the other 4 ICT employees) are leaving at the end of the year and many of the expats stay in Nauru for less than a year, Nauru is in a constant state of flux as it tries to build the foundations of a better country and society.  Furthermore the ICT knowledge base, and education in general, in Nauru is very limited.  In government the majority of secretaries are expats and the majority Nauruan employees only have basic knowledge of MS Word and Excel.  While Hans and I can help create as many databases, Excel spreadsheets, or digital forms as the government needs, if we don’t work with the employees to create these files, and if the employees themselves don’t have the motivation to learn these technologies themselves, Nauru will have to continually rely on foreigners to aid their government.  In regards to this last point, there are a couple of things that make me somewhat optimistic on the state of Nauru’s sustainability.  First, the Nauruan government, with the help of AusAID, is investing a lot of money (maybe too much) to fund education for motivated employees in order to study in foreign countries.  Secondly, OLPC has provided 200 XO laptops to the 2nd grade students in Nauru which seems to be fairly successful so far.  (I’ll be contacting you guys in Niue soon with some questions about the OLPC program there!)  I hope that these two factors along with an improving education system and the newly finished ICT training room will increase the technological capabilities throughout Nauru.

Another thing that worries me about the project is that Marcus seems to only expect Hans and I to observe the departments, report our findings, and give recommendations.  While these objectives are important for the long run, and I have no doubt that we will spend most of our time on these activities, I also hope to complete some more tangible outcomes during our 10 weeks.  One thing that Joe mentioned during his stay in Nauru was that we could complete some “low hanging fruit” (is there a more professional term for this??) for the various departments.  During the past week we were already assigned by the Secretary of Administration to find a way to track fuel consumption for the hundreds of government owned vehicles which have their gas rationed through government funds.  During our time observing the various departments there was potential for many projects such as databases for the Hospital and Education department and updating the RON website (www.naurugov.nr).  The question is how well we can implement these projects while still completing our formal goal and recommendations.

Wow this post is getting way too long… I guess I’ll end with saying that while I hope that our project will lead to a productive relationship between Nauru and TCinGC in the future, I also want to do as much as possible as well as possible in our 10 weeks we’re here, while still having a good time and meeting as many people as possible (I’ll save the social updates for another post)!

That’s all for now.  I hope to hear more from everyone else in all the TCinGC projects.  For all those that are reading this post (whether you’re in TCinGC or not), feel free to comment!

honiara airport

random stop in a Honiara, Solomon Islands

these are the flyers they put out in the Honiara... they gave me nightmares

these are the flyers they put out in the Honiara... they gave me nightmares

first circle: Honiara second circle: you see that little speck of little speck of light, yea that's Nauru...

First circle: Honiara. Second circle: that's Nauru

Nauru airport!

Nauruan airport!

Airport painting

These are the women they promised at the airport...lies

Airport painting

My hotel room, pretty nice

View from the Menen hotel

View from my room right next to the ocean... just like everything else in Nauru

Menen hotel

Back of the hotel

Menen hotel

My room again, the weather is like this everyday of the year in Nauru

Menen hotel

the Menen Hotel

Ballerrrr

Our balling vehicle, handles like a dream except for the 4 flat tires in the span of 6 days

Nauru Parliament

Nauruan Parliament building

Nauru President Office

Nauruan President office.

Menen hotel

Office of the president. Goal #1 while in Nauru: be best friends with the president

After Hash

Amazing view after has run. Note to self: when people say they are running/walking around Nauru, they mean rock climbing and running through the woods

honiara airport

taiwanese and nauruan flags, what a great partnership

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hey everyone, this is Richard posting from Nauru after my first day of work.  This post is just a test to see if the connection in Nauru is strong enough to post on the blog (we’re only getting 256mps for the whole government here!), I’ll be sure to post up more content later in the week…