When I first began studying international development at Tulane, I started to accrue a small pool of unspecific knowledge. We learned that educating women can be the key to stabilizing population growth and creating healthy families. We learned that education can open a pathway to economic opportunities. We learned that development goes beyond economic growth and encompasses quality of life as well. While all of these concepts are, in fact, key to the practice of international development, they are not, on their own, sufficient to begin to address the ills of the world and serve as a more theoretical background to the more specific practices of the field of development. Through analyzing the use and importance of ICTs for development, more focused lessons learned have emerged. In nearly every case study in nearly every country, the success of an ICT4D project hinges on two components: the appropriateness of the technology employed and the desirability of/demand for the technology and the solution it offers from the community it aims to serve.
Appropriateness of technology is a paramount consideration which developers must assess during the planning phase of any ICT4D project. This can be seen through the example of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). The OLPC program seeks to ensure that every child in the world has a functioning laptop and access to the internet in order to greatly expand their educational opportunities. While this is a very worthwhile venture and such access surely would offer a new and effective mode of learning, the program seems to overlook a few very large obstacles. At the most basic level, there is an issue of electricity. In order to use the laptops, students must first charge them. In order to charge the laptops, students must first have access to electricity. In rural villages, electricity is not always present or continuous. Also, it is doubtful that even at the schools there will be a sufficient number of plugs to accommodate all of the laptops that need to be charged. Looking beyond electricity, there is also an issue of maintenance. While the program claims that an 8-year-old child should be able to fix the laptop, there is a marked lack of replacement parts, and language barriers could prohibit a child from understanding how to fix the technology. Moving beyond the question of appropriate technologies, developers must also consider the desirability of a project. If the community does not see the need for the project, it is unlikely that they will offer their buy-in and support. This was the case with an e-Education initiative, Enlaces, which was developed by the government in Chile. Instead of consulting teachers in the implementation of adding computers to schools, the government adopted a largely top-down approach. Now, while nearly every school in the country has computer access for the students, fewer than 50 percent of teachers actually use the costly technologies. Had the teachers been consulted further, they could have helped develop a plan that would truly benefit the students.
In examining both OLPC and Enlaces, the key lessons of appropriateness and desirability clearly emerge. First, developers must be absolutely certain that the target recipients truly want and need the technology in question. Once user demand is firmly established, developers must then ensure that the most appropriate technology is employed for the task. Although donors and even recipients often desire the most up to date and complex technology, sometimes simpler is better. In the case of OLPC, laptops may not be the most viable medium for offering expanded educational opportunities to the world’s children. When developers consider both demand and appropriateness of technology, however, it is much more likely that they will ultimately come up with a project that addresses the needs of a population, thereby improving their quality of life.