In the field of international development, we like to think in the mindset of “doing good”, creating positive change and making the world a better place. This makes it very difficult to acknowledge that often this isn’t actually the case. This conflict is especially relevant when it comes to ICT4D. I knew there was not a very high success rate, but I was surprised to learn that 70% of ICT4D projects fail. In this video, Dr. Clint Rogers shares insight from professionals across Africa about why ICT4D doesn’t work. The 7 reasons they come up with are:
#1 Idea/result not directly tied to improving economic condition for end user
#2 Not relevant to local context/strengths/needs
#3 Not understanding infrastructure capability
#4 Underestimate maintenance costs and issues
#5 Projects supported only by short term grants
#6 Not looking at the whole system
#7 Project built on condescending assumptions
There are a lot of smaller issues within these 7 that make ICT4D projects challenging and unsuccessful. The problem that I believe umbrellas all 7 reasons is this: ICT4D is the newest and therefore least practiced method of development. Consider an international development project in a more practiced field, such as public health. People have been working in this field for many years. Doctors are now aware that there are many barriers to implementing public health projects in developing regions of the world. There are now decades of research and data on public health projects around the world that guide new global health projects around the world. In implementing new ICT4D projects, there is much less to go off of. Because ICT4D is so knew, problems like the 7 listed above are just now being recognized.
This list is pretty discouraging in thinking about moving forward in ICT4D. However, seriously considering this list is exactly what will allow ICT4D to move forward. Too often, projects do not want to share their failures at the risk of harming the reputation of their organization. Beyond images, projects often can’t share their failures because if they do they will lose their funding. I think ICT4D needs to take a new stance on failure. We need to be able to acknowledge failures, share them between different projects, and discuss what can be done to address them. Though there are clearly a lot of problems with ICT4D, modern technologies also hold great potential for positive change in the developing world. In this video, Dr. Rogers and a group of students at Maseo University in Kenya talk about the 5 greatest dangers of ICT4D, but also address the 5 greatest opportunities. The 5 greatest opportunities they list are:
#1 More Educational Resources & eLearning
#2 eHealth Services Improvements
#3 International Access and Connection
#4 eCommerce Opportunities
#5 Info Access, Sharing and Multitasking
Clearly, there is a lot of opportunity within the field of ICT4D. We just need to figure out how take advantage of that opportunity in a more effective way. If we are not willing to talk about problems, problems cannot be addressed and ICT4D will continue to fail. But if we put time and energy into dealing with the challenges of ICT4D, it has the potential to change the world.