Needed: A Paradigm Shift in ICT4D

In the world of ICTD, failure is widespread and results are controversial. One of the reasons behind this widespread failure is the need for the organizations to always look good, dubbed the “Oscar Night Syndrome.” Because of this, there doesn’t exist a solid (arguably any) Monitoring and Evaluation culture in ICTD. It’s been proposed that targeting the Oscar Night Syndrome requires revamping the M/E culture. While this is an important aspect, I think what we really need here is a complete paradigm shift in the way we approach ICTD.

One of the reasons driving this need to always look good is the need to impress donors to receive project funding. But what if instead of expecting clean, cookie-cutter results, donors wanted the real picture? What if they were more impressed with honesty and detailed results from intensive monitoring and evaluation techniques than with masked lies and feigned success? Furthermore, the nature of these grants are often on the short-term, meaning there is little time to let the entire project play out and positive results to come through. If grants were extended, a project that seems to be faltering at the beginning would have time to use effective m/e techniques to tweak and improve the project as it goes.

To come to this place of non-judgement and openmindedness in terms of failure, there must be an open discussion between all involved in the projects: the donors, project coordinators, recipients. If projects are failing simply by a superficial desire to not let anyone down, we have a very easy solution at hand: not demand that no project ever fails. If a concerted effort was made to hold workshops and seminars at the ICTD conferences worldwide, we could begin to open the discussion and expectations to one of honesty. Once everyone is one the same page-that it is better to admit a project’s flaws and learn from them than to cover it up-the widespread failure of ICT projects wont be so widespread.


3 responses to “Needed: A Paradigm Shift in ICT4D

  • chesneyhardin

    I completely agree with what you are saying. We need to focus less on whether a project is failing, but why the project is not successful. If we focus on improving the weaknesses of a project rather than stamp an overarching “FAIL” on a project, we can make some real progress.

  • Sydney Licht

    You raise some interesting points about the field of philanthropy. I think a new trend that some donors are beginning adopt is this model of impact investing. People investing in these projects want to see an ROI. Donors have the opportunity to manage the funds they donate as they would an investment portfolio. They can withdraw money from programs performing badly, and invest it into areas that they believe will increase their ROI.

  • rgoode2

    I agree with you too, that things need to change, but I think its very complicated and changing the whole way with think about ICT projects is far easier said than done. From the perspective of the donors, it makes perfect sense that they want to donate to successful projects and want to withdraw their funding if the projects are failing, who wouldn’t? No one wants their name attached to something that looks like its going to crash and burn. This is part of the great machine of capitalism, and isn’t going to change any time soon. I think that expecting all involved parties to admit weakness and failure and be “honest” is a Utopian dream, unfortunately. True, it would make everything a lot easier, but it probably won’t happen. So instead we need to come up with a realistic goal that makes ICT programs function better with their donors, like maybe encouraging donors and project executives to sit down and outline specific qualifications for “success” and “failure” and have both parties sign that they will abide by those and only those qualifications when evaluating the project for re-disbursement of funds. You’re on the right track though, and you’re certainly right, something has to change.

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