Tag Archives: lessons in ICT4D

Lessons in ICT4D

Before taking this class, I didn’t think much about the role of technology in development. Of course I recognized the significance of the spread of the Internet and knew how certain technologies could enhance a development project’s overall goal, but I hadn’t considered that information and communication technologies could be the central focus of a project. ICTs are useful tools that can bring us closer to development goals if used creatively. Learning about the uses of ICTs in development was helpful based on the lessons that both the successes and failures of ICT4D projects can teach.

One of the lessons that kept recurring throughout the class was the idea that project plans should be driven by the people they aim to help. In the case of many projects donors take control and manipulate the goals to either fit their idea of what will be helpful or fit their idea of what will look good from the outside. We looked at case studies where organizations with good intentions failed because they did not communicate with their target population. Without understanding a community’s needs an outside organization cannot successfully provide development aid. We saw this in the case of One Laptop Per Child. The recipients and teachers were not consulted with to assess their needs or the possible constraints that could get in the way of the project’s success. As a result, the project has had little effect on education indicators in its target populations.

One Laptop Per Child also teaches us about the danger of focusing on a project’s image. Their video showing children in under-developed areas carrying laptops appealed to the audience’s emotions and tried to portray the idealism of the project. This is an example of Oscar Night Syndrome, or the tendency to choose projects or methods based on their outward appearance and “shininess”. We studied many projects that failed based on a disconnect with reality stemming from a desire to provide immediate impressive results rather than sustainable long term improvements. This is even more of a concern with ICT4D projects than development projects in general based on their tendency to rely on technology to produce results. Technological determinism is dangerous in ICT4D because it fails to take important factors into account.

I learned the most about ICT4D from real world case studies. Many of these lessons came from their failures, showing us what not to do. But during our video conference with Wayan Vota, he compared the percentage of business failures in Silicone Valley to the percentage of failures in development projects. While it is estimated that approximately 70% of development projects fail, the 30% success rate is substantially higher than the 10% success rate of business start-ups in Silicone Valley. Putting things in this perspective helps to affirm that all is not lost in the world of international development. While rates of failure are high, we can learn from our mistakes to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of future projects.

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Important Lessons in ICT4D

As someone who is not very technology-savvy, this semester’s ICT4D course was eye-opening for me. I have learned that technology is being used in development projects in diverse sectors, from text messages sent to pregnant women as health reminders to post-crisis crowd mapping. Over the course of the semester, there have been two takeaway lessons for ICT4D that have really stuck with me.

The first important lesson for technology use in development is that technology should be used as a means, rather than as an end for development projects. I believe that new ICTs should be used to help achieve development goals such as higher literacy rates, lower maternal mortality, lower rates of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, etc. Often times in development, there is the temptation to implement a brand-new, fancy technology in a developing country and consider it a success. One Laptop Per Child is a good example of this type of project. It’s intentions were obviously well-meant, but it basically just dropped technology in places where people did not know how to use it and it was not sustainable. Brining shiny new gadgets to a developing area might look good on advertisements or to donors, but it rarely meets the needs of the community. Using technology as a means to achieve basic health, education, or disaster relief goals, however, can be very effective. This is why it is important to also implement “back-office” ICTs, which may not be as flashy as other technologies, but they can make a real difference in efficiency and sustainability.

Another significant lesson that I have learned from this semester’s ICT4D course is that it is always important to consider the needs of the community that will benefit from the development project. This lesson is true of all sectors of development, but I think that it is especially salient in ICT4D. For example, the Farm Radio program in Africa that we learned about was very successful because it used a simple technology that reached many people, and it also involved the beneficiaries (the farmers) in every stage of the planning and implementation process. This way, the people who would benefit from the program had a say in its development and became active participants. I believe that this type of strategy greatly increases the effectiveness and sustainability of a project. In ICT4D, it is important to make sure that the local people know how to use the technology and repair it if there is an issue. That way, the technology does not cease to be used after the development agency leaves the area, as we saw with some computer labs in African schools. Overall, I think that taking the community’s needs and wishes into account, as well as ensuring that technology is a means rather than an end to a development project, give ICT4D initiatives a great chance of success and the potential to make a real difference in the developing world.