While we certainly learned about a number of dos and don’ts in program- in particular ICT4D programs- implementation, I think that one of the most valuable lessons to be learned in ICT4D is the idea that one needs to be flexible. While many programs may have great ideas and plans, they are worthless if they cannot be amended or adapted when issues or unforeseen changes arise. One cannot plan every possible difficulty into a program design, but you can leave room and allow for adjustments when needed. And that can create much better results in the end.
Before this semester, I can’t say I really realized how much of a difference ICTs make, especially in development. It truly is something we take for granted in our daily lives and the ability to communicate with each other, access information at almost any time, and access other things like bank accounts among others have become such important parts of how our societies function. This course has helped me reevaluate the way I see ICTs- which I hope will not only help me be a better development professional in the future, but also a better person.
This semester I have learned an incredible amount about the pros and cons of ICT4D, and their importance in development. The main lesson that I have learned is that the best projects are those that are the most realistic and specific to the people they target. Throwing 100 laptops at a group of people struggling to survive a drought in Africa is helpful to no one and a waste of time. Thoroughly researching the location you are trying to provide with aid is a necessary step that is often skipped over in the process of providing “help” to those in need- what works for a village in Rwanda may not work for city-dwellers in Bangladesh. There is no one size fits all solution in ICT4D. What does work is educating those who live in the area being addressed on how to use the technologies provided, and making sure that this technology is suitable for the people to use- giving smart phones to a village with one DSL internet connection is nowhere near as effective as placing funding toward pre-existing structures to improve what is already existent in the community. The desire to create “flashy” projects that look good on paper should be superseded by the desire to fund projects that actually work.
Something specific I have personally learned this semester is that Twitter can be a valuable resource in the ICT4D community. While this may sound trite, I had never used Twitter before my week in this class, and had no idea how interactive it could be. I had previously viewed Twitter with disdain as a form of social media where people could shoot off short, random thoughts into the atmosphere with no real depth or meaning- I had no idea how connective the resource can be, or how useful it could be in disaster and development situations. The ability to get news out fast and provide different organizations to communicate with each other, with experts in the field, and with those in need is incredibly important.
The most useful theoretical framework I learned from this class regarded the top-down/supply different approach and how it differs from the bottom-up/empowerment focused approach. I believe that the people centered model, which advocates access to information for all groups in the population, is an extremely important message that should be perpetuated in all ICT4D endeavors. Information and communication technology needs to be used as a tool to build self-reliance and empowerment in developing nations- if they are reserved for the upper classes or those with access to wealth (perpetuating the digital divide) they cannot succeed. Something I would like to learn more about is how organizations are handling this issue- what factors are changing in new and impending projects to increase sustainability and self-agency?
Throughout this semester I have learned so much about the concepts, configurations, and frameworks of ICT4D. We have discussed general themes and ideas in addition to case studies in class, and I have been able to reflect on these class readings and discussions for my own country reports. From this, I have taken away that the most important thing to remember when dealing with ICT4D is not to over-design. As a society, we have this habit of always wanting what is shiny and new, thus causing us to throw out the old so we can get the new. But when dealing with ICT4D, we cannot have this same philosophy. We cannot crowd developing nations with complex hardware and software that, though they may have good intentions, are complex. These complexities in ICT have greater potential to fail, thus putting a society right back where they started, yet with lower self-worth, less hope, and piles of useless e-waste that is unable to be recycled in their environment.
In addition, during this course, I was able to reflect on what types of project I am personally drawn to, and how I can utilize my own personal set of knowledge and skills in the field. And, not to my surprise, this course has only reaffirmed my passion of bridging the rural to urban gap. Yet, because I did not know much about ICT4D before this course, my ideas to do this were much different. With the tools and opportunities that ICT provides for development, I feel that this is a great asset for bridging this gap in many countries. The one thing that is important to remember, though obvious, is that models vary based on time, place, and overall relevance. As IDEV students, we are told that the “one size fits all” approach is garbage and to always take into account local conditions, but this is often easier said than done. If a project is attractive and successful in a certain instance, it is so easy to say that the same thing should be done elsewhere without really thinking about the nature of the model and potential implementation site. I know that I am only reiterating what IDEV students hear over and over, but I still feel that it is the most important concept in the development field.
Development practitioners and policymakers must realize that ICT is a tool, not an goal in and of itself. Access to the most up to date technology and the latest communication innovation does not necessarily translate into tangible development if it is not distributed in an appropriate manner. This class’s focus on synchronizing the needs of the target population with the appropriate technology is one of its strongest features. People’s conception of how technology is/can be used in their daily lives varies significantly. Age, gender, geographic location, peer group, work environment, etc are among the many factors that allow one to conceive a use for technology. The fact that this class was able to address so many different “types” of tech users was very useful. Additionally, the fact that so many sectors were mentioned and studied was greatly beneficial. It was inspiring to see how technology is used in different fields- from security to farming to disaster relief. A snapshot of each sector broadened my outlook regarding post-undergraduate possibilities and options. I can foresee using the what I’ve learned about GIS and open source mapping in the future- before our sessions on disaster relief and humanitarian aid I had not considered the extreme usefulness of crowdsourcing.
Taking into account that IDEV 4100 is part of the core requirements for the international development coordinate major, it is understandable that the curriculum focuses solely on developing countries. That being said, I think it would be interesting to investigate the ICT policies and programs of wealthier countries, (such as the United States, Portugal, Sweden, Germany…) especially those that focus on low-income socioeconomic groups. I think technology is a tool that can be used (and already has been used) to reduce inequality, or the digital divide if you will, in developed countries.
If you take anything from our ICT4D class, take away the common problems in ICT4D, and how to turn them to your advantage. One that stood out to me, most likely because it was in a Zimbabwe case study, was the solution to the “first mile”– to find alternative channels to reach your target population. Another salient lesson for those working in ICT4D, is to harness the local knowledge and make sure there is a shared ownership in whatever program you are implementing. And thirdly, make sure that if you upset the status quo, then consult with the community so they can create their own solutions.
Personally, I’ve learned a lot about top-down, one-size-fits-all development projects: what they look like, how to spot them, and when to switch to a better fit for my own program implementation. The ability to crowd source and build on existing technology are also helpful resources for a development professional. I cannot chose one most useful theoretical concept, but I’ve narrowed it down to two. One, the concept of leapfroggings is key to any ICT program being created for a developing country. Its simple and should be obvious, but sometimes it takes development professional to see it. Two, the concept of individual versus communal, for example a cell phone v pay phone or personal internet browser v FM radio. These concepts interrelate in that they both deal with how technology is used, whether it be influenced individually, communally, or competitively. In conclusion, an additional topic that could be explored in future semesters is: ICT4$ — the new movement, a push for private business models and entrepreneurship, instead of ICT4D non-profits.
Now, in reflecting on this entire course I see that most of the same principles that apply to the development projects we know and love also apply to information and communication specific development projects. In one of our last Info Tech classes as I sat and listened to everyone’s opinion on what works and what doesn’t within ICT4D, I noted that a large majority of each list would apply to any development project. There were only a few that would only apply to something related to technology. For example, the weakness of not taking the problem of charging into account. So, even though this lesson could apply for many types of development projects, the most useful concept I will take away for implementation of ICT4D is working with the existing strengths of the country. The way this is most specifically important for ICT4D, opposed to just a good lesson overall, is that one of the biggest issues with technology is that it is so new (and not necessarily a necessity, like say, water) that the implementation of it requires trust. Working within the resources of the country helps to reduce that lack of trust.
The leading lessons to be learned in ICT4D are involving girls, focusing on the development goal first and then the technology tool, and educating the population on how to use the tool along with repair. The first point “involving girls” was made clear to me when we heard from a woman actually in the field, Keshet Bachan. She connected what I already knew about the power of girls in education with the efficacy of inserting technology into that equation. Focusing on the goal before the tool has a lot to do with what I find most useful from this course. Many case studies showed that it is irrelevant to implement a technology tool if there is no clear reason for which it is going to help. Finally, education the population is important in all things, but especially the repair aspect for technology because there are such specific instructions. Aside from all of this, one of the most interesting things I have learned personally is the importance of developing tools in the language where you desire to implement them. This seems like an obvious thing but after learning about several projects I saw that it is often disregarded. Not only is it disrespectful to the culture but also clearly it renders the project ineffective in many ways. Overall there are many aspects to consider for an ICT4D project but they are not too far off from the considerations for all development projects.
I really enjoyed learning about ICT4D this semester. Before our class, I had no idea what ICT even stood for. As a graduating senior, it was a pleasant surprise to be learning some completely new concepts. After college, I hope to go to graduate school for a Masters of Public Policy, and eventually work in policy making and analysis. Reflecting back on this semester, I think many of the things we learned will be useful for a career in public policy.
I have a lot of areas of passion when it comes to public policy, including education reform, foreign policy, national security policy, and even social policy. I think that this class will be useful to me in many of these areas, since most of them involve ICT in some way or another. My ideal job right now would be to work in intelligence, a field where knowledge of ICT is a necessary skill. I hope that I can take more classes to further study computer science and ICT to use in a professional setting. I really enjoyed the two guest speaker days where several ICT4D professionals came and spoke about their work with technology. They showed me how many different types of jobs there are in IDEV that involve a high level of technological knowledge. I hope that after graduate school I can find a job that plays to my skills in IDEV and passion for ICT development.