China is not a country that has explicitly laid out its plans for information and communications technologies development, but they have published a few documents that outline some of the ways they plan to improve these areas of development. The closest document they have to a ICT4D policy is called, “China’s Informatization Strategy and its Impact on Trade in ICT Goods and ICT services”, was published by the General Office of the CPC Central Committee and General Office of the State Council of China in 2006. China’s 5 year plans published by the National People’s Congress, most recently published in 2010, also contain some information related to ICTs.
Remember that the Chinese government is not keen on publishing documents that are clear in their intentions or expectations. So, market trends, data indicators, and other sources of information are the best way to understand China’s relationship with ICT4D’s.
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 The desire to create “flashy” projects that look good on paper should be superseded by the desire to fund projects that actually work.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?
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 think the most important lessons to be learned in ICT have to do with monitoring and evaluation, and the willingness to admit failure and be flexible in project planning.
Personally, I have learned the value of listening to the community, and using relevant participants instead of ideas form the funders or implementers of the project. It’s so much more important to listen to what the community wants and needs than to just go in and implement your own idea of how to fix a problem. Community involvement and constant research and needs assessments are so important to evaluating the success of projects and being able to modify them to become successful. Also, redefining what success means within ICTs is important- it should be more about the value of the qualitative results than just the numbers and figures on paper.
The most useful concept we’ve looked at in my opinion has to be crowdsourcing, and the idea of using everyone’s knowledge combined together to create a solution to a problem. If people looked more at all the available resources out there to work with ICT4D instead of just what’s trending or popular, there could be much more effectively combined efforts to solve problems and implement projects. I think an additional topic that would be great to learn about more in this course would be how to create successful and effective monitoring and evaluation systems using the technologies we’ve discussed, and how they can be integrated in technology projects.
This semester, we talked a lot about what organizations and governments should not do in developing ICT policies and strategies or where these organizations/governments failed in implementing these strategies. And in our last class, we discussed a lot of the reasons for this failure, some included the “top-down” approach, the “one size fits all” method and lack of transparency. But the most salient lesson I learned, or the most all-inclusive lesson, was about communication and I learned it from Laura Walker Hudson’s TechChange video.
Hudson discussed her history in development work and why there are so many failures and challenges to implementing ICT4D. From the video, I started to understand why some people in developing countries are reluctant to use new technology or incorporate new ideas in development, whether that be with simple SMS messages to alert farmers about crop sizes or weather updates or a crazy, new technology that promises to fix every problem. These people need to be interacted with and communicated with properly in order to implement ICT policies that will actually better their lives and improve development. Too often, organizations or social entrepreneurs go into a new environment, guns blazing, and expect to be able to institute change without consulting enough of the local community. Or they simply just do not have an idea of what the people actually need and just provide them with a technology or idea that was successful in another country and another culture. Hudson really impressed upon the important of face-to-face interaction in implementing new information and communication technologies and in our world of smartphones and instant messaging, personal communication is often lost.
1) Finding a comprehensive source for Ethiopia’s national ICT policy and strategies can be difficult. This link is to the government’s policy, as published by Ministry of Communication and Technology (MCIT):
There is a pdf attachment for the policy, but the link does not work. On the top right corner, one may access the website in English, Amharic, or Afaan Oromo.
Here is another government report:
2) Here is a link to the MCIT website. It is fairly comprehensive, a lists all of Ethiopia’s sector development strategies. It also links to specific resources for businesses, government, and citizens to facilitate partnerships.
3) This is a link to a pdf of a case study of Ethiopia’s SchoolNet project. As a student dissertation it is fairly comprehensive. I have also attached an infodev report on ICT in Education in Ethiopia.
4) Finally, here are some relevant links that review national ICT. The EFOSSNET report is especially useful and does well to describe Ethiopia’s successes and shortcomings in regards to a wide range of ICT strategies.
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.
This class has not only helped to understand how to implement ICTs and ICT related projects in developing countries, but it also built on a framework that we have discussed in previous International Development classes. One important lesson from this course which many of my classmates have touched on is the importance of having a flexible implementation model. Projects should be adapted based on the culture and location of the project, and it is of up most importance to have information available that fits the needs of the local community.This is an important lesson for all development projects, but it is especially important in ICT4D. All communities are in different stages of their relationship with ICTs, and these must be considered.
In addition, another important theme is the continual monitoring of projects and the updating of technologies. As seen in the past several decades, technology changes rapidly. Projects must be kept up to date but not changed at such a rapid speed that it becomes impossible to keep up. Local stakeholders must be trained to use the technologies rather than just supplying the technologies but not giving the necessary tools to use them. After the training and implementation, monitoring must continually occur.
Like many of my classmates, I feel that I came into this class with completely different expectations. It was interesting to see downsides of ICTs, and investigating projects that failed was eye-opening. The lessons I learned will most certainly translate to later endeavors.
I think one of the most salient lessons I learned from ICT4D is that information and communication technology can be used as a tool to expedite process from developing nation to developed, when implemented properly. It is also important to remember that ICT is not necessarily complex, expensive software and programs but can be as basic as a mobile phone. ICTs that provide access to the internet hold vast knowledge and information that, when available to developing nations, holds the potential to educate those that lacks alternative, feasible access to education. ICTs can not only provide knowledge and information, but can be used as a tool for harnessing the knowledge of individuals through crowdsourcing.
Because of this, I think the most useful theoretical framework in ICT4D is the people-centered approach. I’ve discussed this approach in several blog posts and don’t think its importance can be stressed enough. In development, we deal with these complex, vast issues that face such large numbers of people. It is easy to get wrapped up in the statistics and logistics and forget that it is the people we are trying to serve. ICTs can be used to empower individuals and increase their capacity for economic and personal growth. While it is nice to consider the large-scale effects of programs, it important to remember that one empowered individual will create a positive rippling effect throughout the community.
For me, this class reinforced the importance of addressing the needs of a community and their cultural context in IDEV initiatives. The instillation of thousands of laptops to a community is meaningless if the people do not have the knowledge to utilize them or if there exists a cultural blockade that would hinder use. This applies to all development programs. Access, supplies, tools, and money are not enough on their own. At the beginning of the semester, I was a bit scared to take an ICT4D class when I’m technologically stunted. Being forced to use new platforms such as WordPress and Twitter empowered me, in a sense, to begin becoming familiar and utilizing other available platforms.
ICT4D is a very interesting topic and class to take as an international development major because it really drives some concepts and common mistakes home. The lesson that I think is the most powerful and useful thing we learned is the rule of implementation, this means the success of an initiative is based primarily on its implementation. At first this might seem obvious, but as development majors we too often forget this; that no matter how incredible the technology or idea is, implementation is key. And we saw time and time again that the technology in some instances does not have to be incredible, Farm radio is a great example, but with good implementation and a culturally specific plan it has been very successful.
Crowd sourcing development tasks is the thing that i thought was most interesting we learned this semester. And it comes in many shapes and sizes from GIS to social media in disasters. In many instances this crowd sourcing can take stakeholder participation to a whole new level. This allows seeming insurmountable tasks to be accomplished as well as getting even more instantaneous feedback and thus better response times.
Finally the most important concept is the empowerment that ICT’s can bring, having a stable income is certainly empowering and necessary but this doesn’t translate necessarily into increased political or social power. But ICT’s can do just that their power lies in being connected to everything, similar to economics but the difference in many cases is as simple as viable access. Increased health, political power and greater social security can all result from all access to an ICT. But as we have also reviewed in class Governments have been slow to adopt and similar to wealth disparity the technology gap is widening and in many ways the third world is falling behind. This whole paragraph right here has been the main point of the class and is so important for development professionals to recognize and appreciate the power of ICT’s