ICT4D has such potential, yet often fails due to poor planning and implementation. The most important lessons I have taken away from this course are as follows:
1. You must focus on a bottom-up, collaborative approach. ICT4D projects will fail if outsiders simply hand in technology and expect communities to be receptive. The time and effort it takes to properly utilize an ICT is going to deter users unless they can immediately see the benefits. Successful projects thoroughly account for the local context and emphasize participatory interaction.
2. Proper monitoring and evaluation measures must be implemented at the start of the project to ensure sustainability. For example, in handing out laptops, what is going to happen when one breaks and there is nobody with the skills to fix it?
3. Partnerships provide networks of resources that can be combined to more effectively implement ICT4D projects. However, these partnerships must be built on trust, honesty, openness, mutual understanding and respect or they serve no purpose.
4. You must learn from past failures. Many projects implement previously failed strategies thinking that for some reason their organization can get it right. FailFaire is a groundbreaking resource that can help us understand the whys of project failure and the hows of changing failure to success.
Over the course of the semester, we studied many ICT4D projects– most were failures. This was discouraging to me for a while until I conducted my own studies on Burkina Faso, a little known country in West Africa. Here in Burkina, where 80% of the population relies on subsistence farming, opportunities are scarce. I saw a project, built at the grassroots level, that enabled these same farmers to triple their selling prices by taping into technology required for an online marketplace. Globalization like this is going to be key to the future of struggling countries. We all have resources that others can benefit from– the challenge is creating accessibility, which can be done through the right combination of ICTs.
I see the capabilities approach as the most useful framework for ICT4D projects. As the old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink.” (or more applicable for us, you can lead a person to a laptop but you can’t force him to Facebook) ICT4D needs to be by the people and for the people, with some help from outsiders guiding the way.