Reflecting on ICT4D

To start, ICT4D has the potential to have great outcomes. It can help reduce poverty, empower women and other marginalized groups, create more transparency in business and governance, improve health care systems, create a more sustainable future relating to the environment, and improve the risk in disasters and emergencies. There is no doubt that technology can help in these areas when applied correctly. Therefore, I think the first greatest lesson is to better monitor and evaluate existing ICT4D programs. There are several different frameworks that exist and ideas that different organizations use when creating their plans or programs, and tons of different ICT4D projects and initiatives. The problem is that there has been little monitoring and evaluation after those programs have been implemented. Without looking at the true successes and failures of these existing projects, we can’t know what’s the best way to use technology in a sustainable way in the developing world.

I was particularly intrigued by “Oscar Night Syndrome” – the idea that in the development field, there is always a need to look good and highlight the successful parts of the given project. No organization wants to publish bad results, so there is much less emphasis on the negative aspects of a given project. Therefore, it’s extremely important to analyze ICT4D failures. As discussed in class, the website FAILFARE reports on the failures of ICT4D projects, and looks at why certain things don’t work in development. The hope is to then have a better understanding and more information to create better and more sustainable development projects in the future. I think it’s crucial for sites or organizations like FAILFARE to expand and continue to publish information on ICT4D failures.

I also think the idea of “local knowledge” is essential in ICT4D. There is no “one-size fits all” approach. As we’ve seen in class, every city, region, country, and continent has a different set  of rules and frameworks that must be abided by. Some areas may have low literacy rates rates, others may have a government unwilling to adapt to new technologies, and others may have next to no electricity. These are all very different problems that inhibit the use of ICTs. Therefore, while many projects are able to abide by a theoretical framework, no two projects can be exactly the same. This is where local knowledge comes in. All of the theoretical frameworks and successful projects we have looked at have touched upon the importance of local knowledge in their projects – local knowledge of the government and laws, of the viability of various technologies, an understanding of culture etc. Without expanding upon knowledge, development projects will not be able to use their full potential in achieving their best results. I think the Human Centered Design framework we learned about in class most closely adheres to this idea, and is the most useful framework moving forward with development projects. It allows for local knowledge, a true understanding of the population and what technologies they need, want, and can use, and allows for a unique project according to those ideas.

Naturally, taking this course has really opened my eyes to the importance of technology, both in the developed and the developing world. The topics we discussed at the end of the course – like the use of social media – were of particular interest to me. I’ve always been a pretty avid Twitter user / Instagram-er etc. but it was especially interesting to see what I saw as “social” or “fun” technologies being used for more important purposes. As we read and discussed, Twitter was vital to the Arab Spring, and helped spread ideas about democracy and human rights across the globe. Monitoring social media after the Boston Massacre and various school shootings  was also of great interest to me – and I learned a lot about the benefits and pitfalls of social media. Similarly, Ralph Russo’s guest lecture on cyber-security was of particular interest to me, and is obviously a very important topic to study given the current threat of cyber-security. As a political science major (in addition to international development), I think it’s really important to understand the importance of technology and social media in the world, and the role of governance in these phenomenons. Technological innovation is clearly of growing prominence and is changing our daily and social lives, as well as our political lives, so I’m grateful to have had the exposure to the topics discussed in our class for that reason. I am now much more comfortable with Twitter and WordPress, and understand more so the full potential of Twitter, other social media sites, and more generally to blogs. I think moving forward this comfort and knowledge of technology will greatly benefit my skill-set and make me more marketable to future employers.

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