When we sat down and took career aptitude tests in high school, nowhere on the chart was the choice of ‘International Developer’, in part because I made up the term. However, the fact remains that there is no pre-existing career path for those who want to pursue international development. Wayan Vota was incredibly helpful in giving a sort of how-to guide as far as pursuing a career in International Development. One thing he brought up that truly changed the way I was planning my future was not to attend grad school unless it’s paid for, and what truly matters is experience not achievements on a resume.That was huge. I love that International Development is based on getting your hands dirty not wasting years in institutions learning that the best way to make change is to go out and get your hands dirty! Honestly hearing Wayan Vota really inspired me to take the leap and go head first into the unknown. All in all, I think this is the main lesson I have taken away from International Development- the best way to help it is first to immerse yourself in it. Programs like One Laptop Per Child failed mostly because of lack of information on ICT, cultural and social infrastructure. Also, based on the disaster response work we did, it seems that we truly learn the best ways to help once we are in the situations ourselves. So, if I had to sum up ICT4D what would I say? ICT has unlimited development potential. The fishing Industry in India, voting in Jordan and radio in rural Africa are testaments to the amazing potential that ICT has to affect development. However, first things first, the infrastructure of the country must be known and research must be done. Knowing development on paper is crucial, but knowing development first hand is invaluable.
This week our class spoke with Wayan Vota, the senior manager at Development Gateway and professional in the field of ICT4D. Our discussion offered us the opportunity to reexamine the themes of our course with the benefit of Mr. Vota’s experience and expertise. As we are a class of juniors and seniors, it is perhaps unsurprising that the conversation shifted towards questions about future career possibilities. How do I market myself in the ICT4D field? What jobs are out there? Is ICT4D for me?
One of Mr. Vota’s comments stood out to me, not simply as a valuable insight but also because it identified one of the most important lessons in the field of ICT4D, and International Development more generally. Network, network, network. Any college senior is well aware of the importance meeting professionals in their desired field in hopes of making a positive impression and embarking on a career path. The value of networking, however, is much greater than shaking hands and growing one’s contacts list. It’s an exchange of information or services between people sharing common interests or goals. When networking is used to develop effective partnerships among stakeholders, it becomes extraordinarily important in the field of ICT4D.
It’s no secret that lots of development projects fail, and fail fantastically. Although different sectors of development present specific challenges, many of the reasons for failure remain constant across sectors. Check out this list of the top ten worst practices in ICT for education, all of which apply in other areas. However, successful practices and methods can also translate into positive results for different sectors, even when picking up a proven project in its entirety and moving it somewhere else is often disasterous. One aspect that is common to successful ICT4D projects is an integrated approach that not only takes into account the articulated needs of a community but builds these into every stage of project development. Networking between stakeholders ensures that project designers and implementers not only know who their target audience is but that they also deeply understand how certain technologies will be useful (or not) within these communities.
The networked ICT4D approach gives rise to a demand driven development style which reinforces the necessity of viewing ICTs as tools, not as a means to an end. We’ve seen on countless occasions the pitfalls of technological determinancy and assuming that flashy ICTs will address development challenges simply when introduced in a community–many of OLPC demonstrate this clearly. Effective ICT4D projects are demand driven in that they address stated needs. It is not sufficient to give people mobile phones and tell them how they should use them, rather development workers should ask what sort of task a community wants to accomplish and then find the best tool (that people will actually use) for the job.
The field of ICT4D is far from perfect, and there are lots of misnomers out there about what ICT4D can or should do. I expected this semester to introduce me to the power of technology to facilitate development and combat human deficiencies. Perhaps more importantly, however, I acknowledged the power of people who harness and transform technology to work for them in meaningful ways. Technology makes people more powerful, but people make technology work. Viewed in this way, I can confidently say that ICT4D is for me.
And another semester bites-the-dust. I know I’m not alone when I say this was the most fun IDEV class I’ve taken here at Tulane–can’t wait for Ds for D.
One of the most salient lessons I’ll take away from this class is that data can be very deceiving–not necessarily an epiphany, but nonetheless an important and reacurring theme for the semester and the field. My semester’s research was focused on Rwanda, a country acclaimed for its rapid development in the last decade, which, in-part, ICT initiatives are responsible for. Reading through the various reports regarding Rwanda’s ICT accomplishments, and even walking through the impeccably clean streets of the capital city of Kigali, one cannot help but join in on the praise. But the reality is that the overwhelming majority of the Rwanda’s “meteoric development” has only occurred in two cities: Kigali and Butare. The rest of Rwanda, rural Rwanda, well-outside the scope of these regarded ICT initiatives and home to more than 80 percent of the population, remains largely unchanged since 2000. Electricity is scarce, to say nothing of Visa’s mobile banking initiatives, city-wide-wifi, and the other impressive ICT projects we’ve read about. So, data that reflects rapid development in a few areas doesn’t mean things on the ground are as impressive. It’s like the barrier to entry and content relevancy; if a country has 98 percent internet and moblie reach, but only 50 percent of the content is relevant, and only 15 percent of the population can actually afford access to it, what’s so impressive about the first figure?
Something that will help me as a development professional, is also what I think to be the most important theoretical framework, which is that projects should be demand driven. We talked a lot about the “if you build it, they will come” complex built into a lot of failed ICT initiatives; such supply driven initiatives, like Mr. Vota so eloquently explained to us on Tuesday, don’t really inspire the change and development they wish to achieve. Thus, extensive market/stake-holder research is critical to a projects success. Anything less is blind-ambition, or worse, laziness.
As usual, the fall semester comes to a close, even though it seems as though only a few weeks ago the year was just beginning. As an international development major, I have taken many courses concerning issues like food security, community and capacity building, economic development, and the politics of international aid and democracy assistance. While all of these sectors rely heavily upon information technologies, it has been very interesting to study ICTs in and of themselves. As an International Relations major, my personal interest lies within government policy, international aid, as well as grassroots organizing for human and child rights. It seems to me that when evaluating regions, countries, governments, or even individual communities and population centers, the concept of the ‘digital divide’ and the enormous resource and infrastructure disparities that persist is the most significant ICT concept to understand.
When we explored the many countries that we each respectively chose, I believe we started out with many perceived notions or connotations of what the present condition of ICTs and development ‘on the ground’ was. Maybe we each began with one dynamic fact or story that we had discovered pertaining to our countries, but the exploration has required a large research of information and reports from many sectors. My country of exploration was India, and I became not so much surprised by what I discovered as much as I became frustrated at the state of affairs within the Indian bureaucracy. The enormous (over 1 billion) population in India serves as both a source of strength for the Indian economy, but also an enormous capacity building and education problem. The fact that so many young Indians are unable to access an education and adequate health avenues in a state with such dramatic wealth and prosperity demonstrates the intrastate demonstration of the digital divide.
The more important demonstrations of the digital divide however pertains to the specific users of digital technology around the world, as even though the most developed states of Western Europe, East Asia, and the Americas use roughly half of the internet content, they represent only 15% of the world’s population. As more regional hegemonic powers around the world like China, Brazil, Russia, India, and Argentina grow their service industries and educate their populations, the digital divide will become the method by which we analyze the readiness of these places. It will be important to remember the efficacy and evenness with which we implement ICT strategies in order to better spread technologies throughout the world, as we must not allow only certain ethnic groups or populations to persist to control the rapidly evolving digital tools which will play more and more important roles in our lives.
We were asked to write a short 2 or 3-paragraph post about one of the following questions. But of course, I didn’t follow the directions carefully and wrote a paragraph for each question. I learned more about my future involvement with ICT4D, and you got more information than you asked for. Sorry I’m not sorry.
a) What do you think are the most salient lessons to be learned in ICT4D?
The several important lessons to be learned in ICT4D are 1) Seek out what medium of information dissemination already exists in that region or sector. Only use ICTs selectively to improve the efficiency of, or expand the current information path that has already been carved out. I saw this worked with the success of Telemedicine, where the path from doctor to specialist was already forged, but technology was needed to improve diagnostic time. 2) Richard Heeks’ strategy of think back-office not the front office: improve a country or sector’s ICT capacity from the inside out. Do not introduce or update a technology if it isn’t needed. Usually it is, but you must first assess the current status of information exchange and research the appropriate technology to sustainably grow a sector. I discovered the Ministry of Health in Turkey failed to research the appropriate technology to implement a nation-wide electronic health records system in 2003, making the system more inefficient and inaccessible to nurses and doctors than before. 3) You can’t always trust an open source platform. Corruption and transparency, inaccurate or incomplete information, and the expectation of results can cause problems in achieving a truly open source online platform. I learned this in the Harassmap case study and the 9 Ethical Considerations in Participatory Digital Mapping with Communities.
b) Reflections on something specific that you have personally learned this semester that you think would/will help you as a development professional.
What I have personally learned this semester is the beneficiaries need to be involved in every step of the ICT project design. From start to finish, the information has to better their lives, as does the skill of learning a new technology. With my interest in Gender Studies, I am learning how to improve social conditions without replicating existing frameworks of patriarchal power. One information medium I have seen that is empowering for women in marginalized spaces is storytelling and preserving indigenous knowledge. If the process or stories are relevant to them, giving a voice to underrepresented information through mediums like participatory video, amateur radio, or Usnet forums, gives empowerment to people’s life experiences. Through people taking their lives or livelihoods into their own hands, such as in Farm Radio in Africa, we have seen concrete improvements in their life conditions. Furthermore, using ICTs in empowerment processes builds confidence in using technology in general, and increases the chance of learning how to use a new technology medium in the future. Technology skill building is key for sustainable growth of ICT4D. Many ICT projects have failed because they required too much external facilitation and support, such as in Facilitated Video Instruction in Low Resources Schools. Incorporating the beneficiaries and their opinions at every stage would prevent this from happening.
c) The most useful theoretical concept or framework we’ve discussed that can be used to think about and implement ICT4D.
The most useful theoretical frameworks we have discussed to implement ICT4D are to the barriers to access and supply-driven versus demand-driven paradigm. Examples of barriers to access to seriously consider when introducing an ICT solution are the country’s previous technological investment and/or capacity to develop the infrastructure necessary to support this new technology. Inter-generational illiteracy, cultural stigmas preventing trust of the information or technology delivering it, and the lack of ownership issues are the most challenging barriers to accessing technology for development. I have learned in other development classes that if a beneficiary does not invest something of her own other than her time, she has no incentive to keep it. Therefore, promoting ownership is especially important for ICT solutions because technology is expensive and information needs to be driven by demand, not supply. That is why the second most important framework is the top-down/supply-driven vs. bottom-up/empowerment focused framework. In Connecting the First Mile, Talyarkhan researched existing knowledge systems and created appropriate materials based on thee relevant issues and information needs for the target group. The way I see it, researching the barriers to access for participatory development could take you years, but the impact and longevity of your idea/project could last lifetimes.
I want to take this impersonal online moment to say thank you to my highly intelligent and hilarious classmates this semester. It wouldn’t have been this much fun learning about technology without you. And never last, the coolest nerd in school, and our trusted leader Jessica Ports. Best of luck on your dissertation, and thank you for all the laughs and memories. The Red Cross will be lucky to have you!
P.S. D for D!
For this final blog post I will be reflecting upon the concept of the “DIgital Divide.” Personally, I see this is as one of the most crucial takeaways from this class. I find this concept most important because I believe every potential ICT4D initiative/program needs to be created with this idea in mind. Each of the modules following our learning about this concept, bring in the idea of the Digital Divide at some point or another.
Module 2 of our studies focused around our Sector project; ICT’s in business/industry in my case. The use and ability of ICT’s to be implemented into the business sector to help boost economic output critically hinges upon the Digital Divide. For example, companies cannot hope to increase their market/number of consumers through online advertising, if the country their target consumers don’t have the know how or capabilities to utilize the web. Similarly, businesses cannot effectively implement ICT’s into their production processes and/or day to day business operations if their workers aren’t properly trained or at least familiar with the technologies involved. Along the same lines, people are inclined to stick with what they know, and react adversley towards change especially if it is something that they don’t understand– technology. One of the leading causes for SME’s not using internet to supplement their business is because they don’t believe that it suits their type of business. This could be because they don’t understand how it could be beneficial, or because the necessary internet market infrastructure just isn’t there (could be poor internet capabilities/use in the country, lack of web security and regulations that are necessary for online financial transactions, etc.). EIther way, the digital divide strikes again. The other sectors include Health, Education, and Governance. Once again, all of the potential ICT’s and programmes that could be utilized in these sectors to push development forward need to be formulated with a lot of concern given to the Digital Divide. Programs just wont work if the necessary technological infrastructure and know-how is in place in the target area of a potential initiative.
Module 3 of our course centered around our hands on Open Street Mapping project. The potential for these systems to be used in many areas of the IDEV and ICT4D is outstanding and to me is very important moving forward. For us, living on the positive side of this theoretical Divide, we were a valuable resource for filling out these maps. However, any time that data is supposed to be collected/self reported from the ground, these people need to know how to use the necessary technology involved. One of the major uses of this ICT is disaster preparedness and alleviation. For example, if OSM technology is used to put in place an amazingly intricate and complete early warning system and disaster relief plan, it would be completely useless if the target population/are is not equipped with the necessary technology or knowledge (radios, internet, cell phones). Even if part of the population is equipped, the other portion of people need to be taken into consideration for this to be effective.
Overall, the digital divide is a monumental issue in the study and practice of ICT4D, and is an issue that needs to be addressed/considered in pretty much all conversations surrounding pushing on the development of this field and the target countries/peoples themselves. Personally, the study of this issue has reinforced in my mind the importance of infrastructure both at the technological level (power lines, internet access, telephone lines, etc.) and the human level (human apacity/capital). Initiatives that can bridge the divide of actual hardware and/or human know-how will be the most successful in instilling sustainable long-lasting development outcomes. I would like to explore in the future which development programs have been the most effective in helping to bridge this divide, and these programs can be applied to the rest of the developing world.
Before taking this class, I didn’t think much about the role of technology in development. Of course I recognized the significance of the spread of the Internet and knew how certain technologies could enhance a development project’s overall goal, but I hadn’t considered that information and communication technologies could be the central focus of a project. ICTs are useful tools that can bring us closer to development goals if used creatively. Learning about the uses of ICTs in development was helpful based on the lessons that both the successes and failures of ICT4D projects can teach.
One of the lessons that kept recurring throughout the class was the idea that project plans should be driven by the people they aim to help. In the case of many projects donors take control and manipulate the goals to either fit their idea of what will be helpful or fit their idea of what will look good from the outside. We looked at case studies where organizations with good intentions failed because they did not communicate with their target population. Without understanding a community’s needs an outside organization cannot successfully provide development aid. We saw this in the case of One Laptop Per Child. The recipients and teachers were not consulted with to assess their needs or the possible constraints that could get in the way of the project’s success. As a result, the project has had little effect on education indicators in its target populations.
One Laptop Per Child also teaches us about the danger of focusing on a project’s image. Their video showing children in under-developed areas carrying laptops appealed to the audience’s emotions and tried to portray the idealism of the project. This is an example of Oscar Night Syndrome, or the tendency to choose projects or methods based on their outward appearance and “shininess”. We studied many projects that failed based on a disconnect with reality stemming from a desire to provide immediate impressive results rather than sustainable long term improvements. This is even more of a concern with ICT4D projects than development projects in general based on their tendency to rely on technology to produce results. Technological determinism is dangerous in ICT4D because it fails to take important factors into account.
I learned the most about ICT4D from real world case studies. Many of these lessons came from their failures, showing us what not to do. But during our video conference with Wayan Vota, he compared the percentage of business failures in Silicone Valley to the percentage of failures in development projects. While it is estimated that approximately 70% of development projects fail, the 30% success rate is substantially higher than the 10% success rate of business start-ups in Silicone Valley. Putting things in this perspective helps to affirm that all is not lost in the world of international development. While rates of failure are high, we can learn from our mistakes to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of future projects.