Success Stems from the Simple Six

Failure, simply defined as the lack of success, is a popular result in the ICT4D world. Today’s class exposed a critical part of integrating ICT within development: technology is not always the simplest and most effective route to a successful project. A recent World Bank report found that 70% of its ICT4D projects are considered failures. With this information in mind, I think it is important to ask why. Sure, the easy answer is to say that most ICT projects, even in developed countries fail, and that it is just part of the creative business. However, when we are dealing with marginal and vulnerable populations, is such high failure a cost that the development arena can endure? More so, can failure within the ICT4D realm point to a bigger issue stemming from power dynamics and hegemonic technology? Could ICT4D projects be mostly unsuccessful because they are tailored to a Western vision of development, rather than the needs, desires, and culture of the people?

After reflecting on the severity of failure in ICT4D, I decided to investigate what successful ICT4D looks like. What I found was an article by ICT Works, titled 6 Simple Guidelines for ICT4D Project Success. The guidelines are as follows:

  1. “Invest some time to understand the problem and hear it directly from the concerned parties or communities.
  2. Ask yourself: Is technology really needed here? Or is there a solution lying elsewhere?
  3. Study what technologies are already lying around or have been used by “concerned parties” or communities and how they are currently using it.
  4. Can your solution be built using existing technology that the people(“concerned parties” or community) already use? If not, try to spend a decent amount of time to find the answer to this question again. Chances are, it’s possible.
  5. Keep in mind that your solution should require minimal (or no training) i.e. The focus should be on a lower barrier to entry & a decreased learning curve. [If answer to 4 is still no]
  6. Build your solution in a way that you wouldn’t be needed at all after the implementation.” (Kumar 2014).

What strikes me as obvious within the context of development is that all guidelines ask ICT projects to tailor the technological scale and innovation to the population being served. This idea, echoed in the theoretical landscape of social constructivists, is imperative if success rates of ICT4D projects are going to increase.  I appreciate these guidelines because they lessen the dominating power dynamics between experts, project designers, and the population being served. Instead of trying to make a group of people match the capacity of the technology, ICT4D projects should use technologies that match the current needs and capacity of the people. Also, I see similarities between these guidelines and Unwin’s conception of incorporating traditional knowledge and systems into ICT4D projects because both take the time to consider the people being served, and design projects that will facilitate better lives and livelihoods within the existing society, rather than trying to make radically change in a Western direction. My ending thought, how can we as agents for development reconceptualize the actual function and use of technologies in order to reduce failure rates in ICT4D projects themselves while simultaneously benefiting and empowering the population being served?

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