Today, Wayan Vota, a big name in the ICT4D world skyped in with us to answer some of our class’s questions about ICT4D. A common theme was whether ICT4D really works.
- Can ICTs stand alone as development tools or should they accompany specific development initiatives? (You should be able to figure this one out on your own if you know anything about One Laptop Per Child.)
- What were the best and worst ICT4D projects? (OLPC seems to have surprisingly blown everything else out of the water for both…)
- What’s more difficult: getting infrastructure to support ICT4D or community buy-in for an ICT4D project? (Most of our class got this one wrong – getting $$ for infrastructure is actually less challenging than having communities accept something that’s being forced upon them. Participatory development is much more effective than development practitioners coming into a community with a “plan for development” that they came up with without the help of any community members.)
But let me get to what I really wanted to talk about in this blogpost. I just saw this great article from The Guardian that gives 15 opinions of “open data evangelists” and “information services professionals” on how to develop countries using “information.”
Surprisingly, the most frequently mentioned information-development-tool is something we touched on once in class – the LIBRARY! Indeed, David Banisar (senior legal counsel of Article 19 in London), Lawrence Gudza (coordinator of Practical Answers/Action in Zimbabwe and South Africa), and Jelena Rajic (librarian in Jagodina, Serbia) tout the important role libraries can play in development because of their ability to provide information to whole communities in a way that promotes equality and fairness. So DO support the libraries and hook them up with information and communication technology!
On to the don’t list.
Tony Roberts (co-founder of Web Gathering in London) says don’t ignore the political system – it can distribute information and institutionalize it much more quickly than a small, individual-by-individual effort can – and don’t make inequalities worse than they already are - avoid this by having a plan for sustainability to enable the most disadvantaged to be able to fully get out of the hole.
Samuel Lee (open data specialist at the World Bank in D.C.) provides a puzzling don’t. He says “don’t build new communities if you can leverage existing ones“. I’m not really sure what he means by “communities” – I’m assuming something like technologies or projects that facilitate development because he mentions how “leveraging communities that already exist… will also help communities cross the digital divide.” In any case, what I got out of this is don’t pay for something new and flashy when you can upgrade what you already have, dull as it may seem.
You can read the article for more advice these experts have on ICT4D, and I’m sure there are plenty of other articles on the subject. I just thought this was an intriguing article because not all of the experts come from the ICT4D world, or even regular development.
And just for funsies, here’s the most awesome library I’ve ever been to – the Bibliotheek in Amsterdam! It’s got a fancy cafeteria on the top floor and an awesome children’s area (complete with the real-life model of what’s seen in Het Muizenhuis)!