As someone who is not very technology-savvy, this semester’s ICT4D course was eye-opening for me. I have learned that technology is being used in development projects in diverse sectors, from text messages sent to pregnant women as health reminders to post-crisis crowd mapping. Over the course of the semester, there have been two takeaway lessons for ICT4D that have really stuck with me.
The first important lesson for technology use in development is that technology should be used as a means, rather than as an end for development projects. I believe that new ICTs should be used to help achieve development goals such as higher literacy rates, lower maternal mortality, lower rates of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, etc. Often times in development, there is the temptation to implement a brand-new, fancy technology in a developing country and consider it a success. One Laptop Per Child is a good example of this type of project. It’s intentions were obviously well-meant, but it basically just dropped technology in places where people did not know how to use it and it was not sustainable. Brining shiny new gadgets to a developing area might look good on advertisements or to donors, but it rarely meets the needs of the community. Using technology as a means to achieve basic health, education, or disaster relief goals, however, can be very effective. This is why it is important to also implement “back-office” ICTs, which may not be as flashy as other technologies, but they can make a real difference in efficiency and sustainability.
Another significant lesson that I have learned from this semester’s ICT4D course is that it is always important to consider the needs of the community that will benefit from the development project. This lesson is true of all sectors of development, but I think that it is especially salient in ICT4D. For example, the Farm Radio program in Africa that we learned about was very successful because it used a simple technology that reached many people, and it also involved the beneficiaries (the farmers) in every stage of the planning and implementation process. This way, the people who would benefit from the program had a say in its development and became active participants. I believe that this type of strategy greatly increases the effectiveness and sustainability of a project. In ICT4D, it is important to make sure that the local people know how to use the technology and repair it if there is an issue. That way, the technology does not cease to be used after the development agency leaves the area, as we saw with some computer labs in African schools. Overall, I think that taking the community’s needs and wishes into account, as well as ensuring that technology is a means rather than an end to a development project, give ICT4D initiatives a great chance of success and the potential to make a real difference in the developing world.