Shannon Information Theory on Noise and Coherence in International Development

Claude Shannon (famous for developing Shannon Information Theory at bell labs) provides this model to explain noise-filtering in telephone lines:

In the general sense, all information has noise. But in the case of international development, where institutions with money try to fund projects that improve the world, communities on the ground provide very weak (if any) signals to funders on what they want. But if we could find a way to automatically test for coherence between community signals and NGO actions, these signals would be amplified:


Djotjog: Where community needs and funding priorities align. People say the same things. Strong signal that more money should be spent this way. (djotjog is an Indonesian or javanese word to describe a community conversation that leads to consensus not by saying the same thing, but by everyone offering their own version of the same idea that coheres with the others but stands independently)

Dissonance: Community wants one thing and funders fund another. Funding should decrease for this over time and go towards what community wants more.

So the crux of fixing international aid is finding out how to do “coherence testing” for every idea, NGO, location on the cheap. I think it can be done, and I’m working on an algorithm that can do that test – between organization project proposals and community need stories. Stay tuned.



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