Overall, this course has opened my eyes to the challenges of a very specific tool that has growing prevalance in the field of development: ICTs. The introduction of ICTs into development has had many positive effects, but has also created some new problems, as well as exacerbating or growing off of some traditional problems. For instance, gaps between genders, ages, or economic stratas are not unique in the development field. However, ICTs have taken on their own form of this problem through the digital divide, as traditional gaps have been applied to ICTs and are a specific challenge in ICT4D. Another example of a problem that has always been seen in development, but has taken on its own form int he ICT4D field is the fight between the top-down and bottom-up approach. Often in ICT4D, such as in the case of OLPC and other projects, the implementation of technologies from large organizations or projects have not been applicable or useful on the ground level. Often, when a new field in development has growing prevalance, it can seem like a “magical fix” to all possible problems. Therefore, one of the most important lessons learned in the course was to be aware of the challenges faced by ICT4D, so that they can be dealt with and addressed in the future, instead of believe that ICT4D is a fool-proof method for success in development.
I believe that something I have personally learned this semester that will help me as a development professional is the importance of infrastructure. Overall, often people can think they have a great project idea, and then get on the ground and realize that it is not possible due to a lack of infrastucture. I think that in the future, this course will make me more aware, and will remind me to fully evaluate the conditions in the country I am trying to serve, and not assume that infrastructure (such as roads, electricity, potable water, etc.) that I take for granted living in the United States will be readily available where I am going, and to always look into those issues first to see the feasability of my project. I also think that one of the most important lessons I have learned is to not be afraid of admitting failure. With programs such as FailFaire, it is increasingly acceptable to learn from your mistakes in development, and not repeat the same problems just to attract more investors. This mindset of accepting your mistakes and learning from them will allow you to grow more as a development professional, rather than pouring money into projects that are flawed because you are too afraid to admit a problem.
One of the most useful frameworks we have learned about in class, in my opinion, is the capabilities approach to development. In this framework, the focus is on increasing freedoms and promoting equality in order to better advance development. I have always been a strong proponent of equality in gender, and its ability to contribute greatly to development. Therefore, this particular approach really reached me, and I think it is particularly useful. I also think that its potential in the ICT4D field is extremely useful, as gender equality will not only lead to greater ICT penetration in communities as a whole (since women will be using it too) but greater ICT use can also have a great effect on equality by disseminating information and progressive ideas on equality, democracy, etc. Therefore, as many tools in development, these two tools can help build eachother.
I think useful information to be added to future classes is more information about ICT4D in areas where we live, such as the United States and especially New Orleans. I think that New Orleans has been well served, and can continued to be served, by many topics we have discussed in class. Although we have heard a some of these projects from our guest speakers, it would be interesting to learn and see more, as well as some of the history of ICT implementation in New Orleans, so that we can have a more direct interaction with a number of topics we have been discussing.