This semester’s course on information communication technology for development has been an important tool to understand how ICTs can help or hurt a nation’s progress towards achieving development goals.
a) The most salient lesson that can be learned in ICT4D would be to understand the limitations to the one-size-fits all approach in implementing ICTs in a nation. This is a concept that must always be thought about with the introduction of any ICT into a new country and is extremely important to the success or failure of an ICT. Since the majority of ICTs are first invented in developed countries, they often work to aid development in this nation. Success in one nation does not indicate success in another nation. This means that the culture and environment of one place must be fully understand before any ICTs are introduced into the market.
b) Something that I have learned that may help me as a development professional one day is the importance of good data collection. As a development professional it is imperative that the right data is collected and understood for any development goals to be accurately met. Each nation’s development is specific to the personal needs of that nation and it is extremely important that before any ICT or development measures are taken, the correct information and data is collected before and after the fact so that success can be measured accurately. This also goes in part with the one-size-fits-all approach so that a nation’s specific needs are addressed. As a development professional, I think that much of the work I could contribute would be more analytical, so accurate data collection is important for my progress in the field.
c) As stated in both a) and b), the most useful theoretical concept that has been discussed regarding implementing ICT4D would be the one-size-fits all approach. This is a concept that must always be understood when any ICTs topic is discussed because specific development needs will never be fully achieved with a unilateral approach to implementation. Many perspectives and views must be understood so that progress can actually be made.
After a semester of studying various ICT4D initiatives, including specific case studies and theory, it is clear that a multi-stakeholder approach must become the basis for any successful undertaking. One of the conclusions drawn from the World Summit on the Information Society that met in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis in 2005 is that an information society cannot be built without collaboration, partnerships and solidarity among all stakeholders based on values of transparency, accountability and respect. My research on the ICT status of the Democratic Republic of Congo supports this supposition. The DRC does not have an established national ICT policy even though the private sector has been working on programs that would make up the components of such a policy. The public sector (the government) has failed to support these programs (financially or otherwise) arguably because of a lack of understanding of the importance of ICTs for economic and social development. They are skeptical that investing in technology will reap any benefits. I have learned that this government opposition is a widespread issue from reading blog posts on other countries. First and foremost, all the stakeholders in an ICT implementation must be well understood. The private and public sectors, non profit organizations and the targeted population need to not only tolerate each other’s practices but also be supportive of them. Creating an atmosphere in which these programs can sustainably thrive is essential. Sustainability is inherent to successful development initiatives and this is especially true with ICTs since technology is constantly evolving. The government needs to go online and thereby become more transparent to its citizens to instate the trust and respect critical to a symbiotic partnership. The targeted population needs to be well-trained in the new technology, preferably by a fellow citizen and not a foreign development worker. On that note, effective methods for training targeted populations should be an additional topic for exploration. I would be interested to find out if there is a program or organization that recruits a few willing citizens of a particular developing nation, trains them to a professional level on a particular piece of technology, and then sends them back with the equipment to train the rest of the community.
The most salient lesson in ICT is to program for sustainability. In all areas of development, it is important that projects are designed to be sustainable, but this value is even more crucial in the field of ICT4D. The technological landscape is always evolving, and program implementers need to have a handle of recent developments in this arena so that their projects can be effective over time. To ensure the sustainability of ICT projects, quality training and monitoring and evaluation procedures must be put in place.
An important lesson that I learned throughout this course was the importance of considering culture in ICT related projects. Effective ICT4D programs take the culture of the communities they are trying to serve into account. There is no one size fits all approach to these projects, and different communities have different structures in place that could either help or hinder the implementation of ICT4D programs. This concept is crucial for development professionals to understand as they generate new initiatives. For example, I wrote a previous blog post this semester about a program called Maji Matone, a text based system where people could report damages to the water pumps in order to spark action by local government. This project inevitably failed because women and young girls were the ones who were getting the water for their family, and in this community primarily men had mobile phones. Understanding cultural differences and researching the culture of the communities could prevent program failure.
This being said, I believe that the bottom up approach is the most useful concept to consider when thinking about and implementing ICT4D programs. The bottom up approach Garnering the support of the local community, government and institutions and harnessing their support in development practices is essential. Exploring case studies of effective and unsuccessful ICT projects can help development professionals and students understand the factors that contribute to the favorable or unfavorable outcomes of the programs.
One of the key problems with most International Development programs is the lack of government involvement. In our class we studied several case studies that failed due to this oversight. Though in most cases this may be the most frustrating and difficult channels to get through, the government is essential when it comes to necessary policy changes. This is most clear in cases of gender rights for females in IDEV, who often are restricted by laws to have the same or equal rights to men. Without the government it is often hard to truly see lasting results. As development continues to exhibit innovative ways to get past these barriers, no matter how small, the government will eventually get involved, and this is crucial to secure any lasting positive results. Additionally, governments can be great sources of funding for projects that they support.
In our last class we discussed best practices in ICT and it was enlightening to see that we came up with more best practices than worse. As a class we illustrated that it is much more crucial to focus on what must be done and the right way to accomplish it instead of focusing on all of the things to avoid (which can really diminish the goals of the project) Most times a project fails is when it is a top-down approach, that doesn’t truly consider the intended audience. Bottom up approaches whereby the language, culture, religion and everything henceforth is considered creates a project capable of having the power to create significant positive changes. Bottom up approaches include many of the best practices we highlighted including, as stated above, government involvement, transparency, online AND offline access and monitoring and evaluating.
In class today we discussed the various ICT applications in all sectors worldwide such as Health, Energy and Environment, Disaster and Humanitarian Aid, Agriculture and Business. It is definitely clear from the presentations that a common challenge each sector faces when implementing ICT’s is proper education and training programs for management and regulation. Education must come from both sides from the outside in, and the inside out. People who are coming into a country must understand that the “One Size Fits All” method has a high failure rate and overall does not work due to the uniqueness of each developing country. On the other hand, the people within these countries must be properly educated about the changes and new systems created for their benefits. Without proper education about new types of technology (computers, e-Health), new systems (Green spaces, GIS, early warning systems), the sustainability of the projects are at a high risk. Specifically in health education, as discussed by fellow classmates, is one of the more important topics because of the high birth rates that are overcrowding communities and making poverty and hunger more prevalent. By simply spreading necessary health information about pregnancy and up to date information about maternal care, this can be alleviated with just the spread of vital information and filling education gaps in this sector.
In addition, training programs in these sectors help ensure initial successes and positive outcomes (both short term and long term), ensure sustainability for the future and even create jobs for technicians or experts in for a given sector. This would also help create a bottom-up approach to implementation strategies. For the Humanitarian aid especially this is vital because it comes at a high (yet necessary) cost, so efficiency is necessary.
Though money will always be an issue for many of the implementations of new programs or systems for development through ICT, without training and education the sustainability of each and every one is at a high risk. Unless long-term protocols are set in place, the successes of the short term are qualitatively less valuable.