Richard Heeks and the Design-Reality Gap Model

In his article “ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track?” Richard Heeks questions the Millennium Development Goals and criticizes their Western-biased “do as I say, not as I do” approach. One of Heeks’ suggestions for how to use ICTs in an effective way for development is ICT consumption. Specifically, Heeks references “the use of technology in applications like e-commerce and e-government.” According to Heeks, these are areas where ICTs are being used in a positive way to make real effective change in development. In order to understand his perspective, I think that it is important to take a look at who Richard Heeks is and the work he has done. Heeks, a native Englishman, is the current Professor of Development Informatics in the Institute for Development and Policy and Management at the University of Manchester. When he was younger, Heeks worked as a volunteer science teacher in Nigeria, an experience that could influence his critiques of development policies created by the global North for the global South. Heeks is considered one of the founders of the ICT4D field. One of his most important contributions of the study of ICT4D is the Design-Reality Gap Model, a monitoring and evaluation tool used to measure the success of ICT4D projects, especially e-government projects.

The basis of Heeks’ model is the idea that there are two points in any e-government project: the reality, that is ‘where we are now,’ and the goal of the project, that is ‘where the e-government project wants to get us.’ It’s really quite simple. The larger the gap between these two points, the more difficult it is to successfully complete the project. The small the gap, the higher the chance of success. Heeks’ claims that there are 7 dimensions that determine this gap. These 7 dimensions are: information, technology, processes, objectives and values, staffing and skills, management systems and structures, and other resources: time and money. These 7 aspects of e-government analysis can be helpfully summed up in the acronym ITPOSMO.

The Design-Reality Gap Model created by Heeks is an important contribution to the field of ICT4D because it provides a systematic and uniform way to monitor e-government projects and assess their success. I think that Heeks’ emphasis on e-government and e-commerce, while not the most exciting of all development projects, is what is really making a difference on the ground. It is essential to focus on projects that are effective and sustainable, even if they are more ‘behind-the-scenes’ than a typical ICT4D project. Richard Heeks is an important figure in the ICT4D world because of his contributions such as the Design-Reality Gap Model. It might sound dull, but efforts such as these are what make real improvements in the developing world.

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