Technology as a Tool not a Solution

One of my largest insights learned from this ICT4D course was the idea that technology does not necessarily provide a complete solution to a development problem. One of the most important aspects of this that I learned was that the more successful ICT4D initiatives tend to rely on existing technology that people are comfortable with already, instead of the use of completely new platforms. An example of this idea was seen in the One Laptop Per Child projects that are still active in the realm of ICT4D project initiatives. This program has suffered mixed results, many of which stem from cost, context of the OLPC laptop technology compared to traditional computing technology, and a failure to truly adapt the program for the multitude of regions the initiative targeted. I much preferred and saw more robust success in programs that refurbished old laptops from more developed countries and send them to schools and public buildings in developing countries. This type of program, versus OLPC, used existing technology that was compatible with the traditional computers of the rest of the world, which allowed participants in the program to gain real transferable skills in the use of ICT tools.

Another important take-away I learned from this course was the necessity to evaluate and comprehend the cultural context of a community and how this will influence the implementation of a specific ICT4D initiative within that community. This is a point that has been stressed in every year of my International Development education, and is one of the most important components to remember in my opinion when beginning the process of planning a project. One of the most interesting questions I was asked in the course was related to what you would have prepared before you got on a plane to go to the country you were about to start a project in. To me that ideal of truly taking into account the differences in cultural attitudes towards different technologies, which local institutions and leaders you should team up with in order to promote your new program, and different boundaries that exist to that specific populations that may hinder or deter your work and how to best overcome these obstacles is the most important pre-implementation step in order to enact a successful ICT4D program. I saw this in action through my studies of the implementation of ICT4D programs by the Chilean government. For example, in their first attempt to create an e-government by digitizing many government social services and record-keeping programs, Chile only saw moderate success in the use of the new programs because the government failed to address the issue of the rural/urban digital divide and access to ICT’s in order to utilize the new initiatives they had put forth. In following years Chile began its most recent Digital Agenda and sought to correct the main issues of access they had learned about from their first initiative. However, if the government had taken into account and seriously considered these issues in the first place, the first push for e-government adoption may have been much more successful.

Overall, I found this course to be extremely informative and practical should I ever go into program implementation and design in the IDEV community. The combination of learning about how different technologies are being used and adapted to enhance the ability of communities to link into the interconnected ICT web that is forming around the world with traditional development theory relating to ICT4D provided an excellent context to truly understand how successful, and unsuccessful, ICT4D projects are being conducted around the world. I now truly understand how the provision of ICT tools without consideration of cultural context and other factors such as access to services and connectivity is unproductive and generally results in failure. The background and context is really in the foreground of all successful ICT4D initiatives, with the actual technology or software merely serving as a tool that must be adapted in order to successfully accomplish a programs goals. I feel that in the future the continuance of looking at real-world ICT4D initiatives and the reasons for their failure/success provides the most useful means of conveying true understanding of the components of successful ICT4D programs.

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