In the development world (as in every profession), most practitioners take technology at face value. ICT is construed as a tool to enhance proficiency and effectiveness on a broad scale, and because of its nature it may not even be considered for the more complex, and less blatantly obvious effects it can have on those beneficiaries who come in contact with it. I’d read previously about how development has the tendency to privilege technology and Western knowledge systems over indigenous knowledge systems, but I did not see a tangible example of this until I took this course. ICT applications are not immune from failure. In fact, as stressed by writers like Unwin and Heeks, they must be carefully incorporated into the culture in question so that they can have any success at building a connected knowledge society at all. From a theoretical standpoint, I now understand how critical knowledge societies are for growing an educated populace and a capable government, and part of creating such an environment is mediating between indigenous knowledge systems and modern, technology based paradigms. This is a responsibility every ICT project must take into account, or jeopardize not only its integrity, but also its effectiveness.
By extension, an interesting lesson this course has taught me is the importance of tapping into existing communications infrastructure when implementing a project. It seems obvious that this is necessary, but we in the West are many times led to believe that all new technological applications are progressive. This course has made it clear that utilizing a smart phone app to reach rural citizens who are mostly accustomed to the radio will not be successful. Furthermore, blanket applications of technology within a society that don’t realize the capacity for upkeep will inevitably be unsuccessful. Richard Heeks describes how this was a large issue in the ICT4 1.0 stage in the 1990’s and 2000’s, which attempted to replicate telecenters that had found success in North America in the developing world. These ultimately failed, as without training or even an intrinsic desire to use these centers, they fell into disrepair. It is not enough to implement a new technology, but it must be relevant to those who are going to use it. This course has demonstrated how key user efficacy is within ICT4D applications, a very important point when ICT is employed for life- saving disaster resilience and response purposes.
Finally, this course has imparted upon me the importance of technology in connecting with others in the developing community. Not only is it important to put yourself out there on ICT platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, but also it is also critical as a budding development professional to have tangible technological skills. Whether it is GIS mapping or social media expertise, anyone entering development today must be able to say that they are well acquainted with at least one ICT platform. Projects are increasingly relying on ICT apps to reach beneficiaries, and without these skillsets you will truly be out of the loop. I am glad that I have learned this now before it was too late, and I thank ICT4D at Tulane for imparting upon me the full weight of technology in development.
In Richard Heeks’ article: ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track? (http://tinyurl.com/b4nswgp) he shines a critical light on how relevant, or rather not relevant, the Millennium Development Goals are in the application of ICTs, and vis-versa. In this piece, Heeks uses colorful metaphors and analogies to incite a re-evaluation of ICT development agendas, specifically speculating on how they are currently being “pressed through the MGD filter,” and how this is causing a misprioritization of the domains in which ICTs should be implemented.
In his discussion, Heeks brings up a very interesting point about how many developing countries are denied “the very paths to development that the industrialized countries used.” For example, the urging of developing countries to rely on the market rather than the state is in direct conflict with how central of a role the government played in the development of these very industrialized nations. This brings me to my next point, which is that Heeks may be correct in his exhortation of taking alternative, non-MGD type strides when investing in and implementing ICTs for development. Evidence of how this divergence is capable of yielding progress can be found in our text. Unwin provides readers with a tangible example of how a contradictory approach to ICT4D, namely charging the head of state and government with the task of driving strategies forward, rather than private-sector market forces, can be very successful. The example he discusses is that of Latin America, the region I am focusing on in this class. Untwin explains how effective ICT strategies and policies in Latin American can be distinguished by certain features of them such as their “embracing of the entire government of a country…importance of a single overarching national authority..[and] the head of state playing a prominent role in driving them forward.” These qualities, which challenge the values of the MGDs, have proven to be responsible for the success of said strategies in Latin America. Had Heeks read the report cited by Untwin that describes the positive evolution of ICT strategies in the region, I think he’d say “I told you so!”
The importance of sustainability in ICT4D projects is of the most salient lessons to be learned in the field. Just as any other development project, ICT initiatives are not one-shot deals, they are continuous and complex. Many factors must be considered in ICT projects from infrastructure needs, to education of local populations, to the complexity of ICT devices, to continued funding in future years. Many ICT4D projects have failed to adequately consider such factors, leaving the field with an exponentially high failure rate. For example, the One Child Per Laptop project failed for many of these reasons. Internet access was limited in many of the communities, teachers were not adequately trained on how to use the devices, and the computers ended up being more expensive than promised.
Richard Heeks discusses the field’s past failures and lays out a formula for the future of ICT4D in The ICT4d 2.0 Manifesto: Where Next for ICTs and International Development? Heeks believes ICT4D is moving into a new phase (ICT4D 2.0), which will be more sustainable than the “quick, off-the-shelf solutions” of the past. ICT4D 2.0 will do so by emphasizing existing technologies, allowing organizations to focus on the actual application of ICTs. As Heeks discusses the most effective ICTs are also the simplest — radio and mobile phones. More complex and expensive technologies like computers and telecenters are much less successful in development initiatives. Looking past flashy technologies to the most practical ICTs is essential to the future sustainability of the field.
Including local stakeholders in the ICT4D project development is also essential to the sustainability of projects. As discussed in class, there must be demand from a local community for an initiative to be successful. The community should identify a preexisting need before it is detected by an organization. The local community must also hold a sense of investment in the ICT endeavor; they should be financially and intellectually linked to the project. Locals should be trained in the ICT to ensure sustainability and should understand what the technology has to offer, how it can better their community. Though I think the field of ICT4D is a full of promise, its future is threatened by projects that ignore these basic principles.
Heeks’ views on the MDGs goals are very similar to my views. Development projects aiming to accomplish MDGs should be guided by the head more than the heart. Sometimes the heart has good intentions, but success is not found. The industrialized gets richer by implementing projects that will advance their economy. China’s work in Africa is a prime example. China claims to be helping with development in Africa by providing more work and improving its economy with more resources, but this isn’t true. Many Africans aren’t being hire by these Chinese companies, but these companies are bringing in their own people for labor. It is as if they are only using Africa for its resources and land. Philanthropy and social development aspects are only after-effects of these projects not the driving force behind them. As stated by Heeks, we should shift away from the hype of telecenters and e-government in remote regions where they will not be useful there. There isn’t proper infrastructure for these technologies in such rural places. The future of ICTs & the MDGs will rely on
- Breaking the hegemony by leaving the one size fits all view
- Back office implementation rather than front office implementation
- Following the cowpaths by using things that already exists rather than develop new ideas
Three good ways to merge ICTs into development that can accomplish the MDGs is to use ICTs directly, indirectly, and strategically. We must provide access to these new technologies, but also improve the efficiency and connection between these technologies and the resources available in developing locations. In addition, we must strategically implement ICTs in a way to support development perhaps as a tool or resource hub. This I believe can be done through education.
- We must engage users in the process. This will allow the population in question a way to voice their ideas, opinions, and state what they truly want rather than a “stranger” telling them what they need.
- We must identify resources, tools, and trends that will help ensure better results. Background work will allow project leaders to understand and predict what methods will work and what methods won’t rather than just going in heads first.
- Provide easy to understand and quick information to the population we are working with. This will promote advocacy for our project and gain more supports from those we are working to help.
- Display transparency to ensure that countries are not implementing development projects with hidden agendas.
I think the idea of using grassroots methods to increase participation and success is needed for ICTs to work with the MDGs. This will build trust and cooperation among all those involved in a particular project, both those helping and those being helped.
After reading Richard Heeks “ICT4D Manifesto“, which discusses the potentials (and limitations) of information and communication technologies in past development and in today’s “ICT4D 2.0 age”, we watched Clay Shirky’s TED talk titled How Cognitive Surplus Will Change the World.
In his lecture, Shirky discusses how digital technology combined with human generosity have created a new collaborative and social idea know as “cognitive surplus”. The 21st century has given us not only more free time, but also the ability and tools to let the consumers become the creators, who often times create for free. These technological and social changes are creating whole new opportunities for ICT and this in turn relates to ICT4D. Shirky’s point is not only are we in an age where this abundant creation is possible through new knowledge and interconnectedness, but that it is being done for pleasure, for “intrinsic motivations”, and for our fellow people.
This is not the neoliberal, top down, design of the past in how ICT worked, but a grassroots and collaborative effort that falls more into capabilities approach and post developmentalism. Individuals around the world are creating new things for others’ benefit, whether it be a simple laugh at an LOLcat or crisis mapping using the Ushahidi model, both examples Shirky discussed. These consumer created tools can then be used in development, like the crisis mapping in Kenya, and even better is that they were free and open to the public. This is not knowledge kept away for profit, but freedom of information and tools to better others. This is ICT4D 2.0 at work; innovative, using existing technologies, and collaborating across the world.
As part of our readings and discussion for the IDEV4100: ICT4D course, one of the thought leaders in the field that we come across a few times is Richard Heeks. This post is a short round-up with some background info on Heeks, his bio, some of his writings, and where you can find more information on him and his ideas.
Readings from Class:
Richard Heeks is Professor of Development Informatics in the Institute for Development Policy and Management, part of the School of Environment and Development at the University of Manchester, UK. Following a period of work as a programmer for ICL, Richard studied for a BA/MA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge, and then taught science in a rural school in Nigeria. He worked as a researcher at the Universities of Leicester and Loughborough, gaining an MPhil for his study of personal information systems. Richard then undertook an ESRC/SERC-sponsored PhD at the Open University on the Indian software industry. Following his doctorate, Richard joined the University of Manchester to teach, research and consult on “development informatics” – the relation between information and communication technologies (ICTs) and international development.
He has acted as an external degree examiner in the ICT4D field at universities in Europe, Africa and Asia; and as a research assessor for bodies such as the US National Science Foundation, ESRC, Nuffield and Leverhulme. Complementing this have been more than twenty advisory activities on ICT4D for bodies such as the UK Dept. for International Development, GTZ, IDRC and UNIDO. Richard is also ICT4D advisor for Zunia (Development Gateway) and for the British Council, and convenes the UK Development Studies Association’s specialist group on Information, Technology and Development.
Resources for More Information
Heeks ICT4D Bibliography (via ICTlogy)
Heeks author archive from the ICT4D blog. There is some really great stuff here, particularly on frameworks for conceptualizing ICT4D, the digital divide, and specific posts on eGov and ICTs for education. I highly recommend it!