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.
In development, nothing is clear-cut. Theories and concepts attempt to explain ideal development techniques, but when it comes to implementing a project every decision is situational. With ICT in particular, projects must be tailored for the community where the project will be implemented, but there are lessons to be learned from recurring problems faced by ICT projects. Two of the most notable lessons to be learned in ICT are the choice of appropriate technology and the incorporation of physical community.
Choosing appropriate technology for a project deserves a considerable amount of research and deliberation. The choice will be a significant determinant for whether a project will be successful or not. Often projects will create flashy apps or devices to attract donors, but the practicality of the technology is lacking. We learned that radio is one of the most widely used technologies. However, radio isn’t incorporated in ICT projects as often as newer ICTs. Introducing new technology requires training and funding to provide the new devices. If a community is already familiar with an ICT, then it is best to adapt your project to incorporate that ICT.
Secondly, incorporating physical community is vital. ICT provides an efficient way to share information, but physical community is needed to ensure that the information is used. Support groups should be encouraged so communities can share their experiences with each other and learn together. ICTs should not encourage isolation of individuals, but provide information that communities can use to work and learn together.
Overall, there are many lessons to be learned from previous case studies and these lessons should help make, but not dictate, decisions for future projects.
When we sat down and took career aptitude tests in high school, nowhere on the chart was the choice of ‘International Developer’, in part because I made up the term. However, the fact remains that there is no pre-existing career path for those who want to pursue international development. Wayan Vota was incredibly helpful in giving a sort of how-to guide as far as pursuing a career in International Development. One thing he brought up that truly changed the way I was planning my future was not to attend grad school unless it’s paid for, and what truly matters is experience not achievements on a resume.That was huge. I love that International Development is based on getting your hands dirty not wasting years in institutions learning that the best way to make change is to go out and get your hands dirty! Honestly hearing Wayan Vota really inspired me to take the leap and go head first into the unknown. All in all, I think this is the main lesson I have taken away from International Development- the best way to help it is first to immerse yourself in it. Programs like One Laptop Per Child failed mostly because of lack of information on ICT, cultural and social infrastructure. Also, based on the disaster response work we did, it seems that we truly learn the best ways to help once we are in the situations ourselves. So, if I had to sum up ICT4D what would I say? ICT has unlimited development potential. The fishing Industry in India, voting in Jordan and radio in rural Africa are testaments to the amazing potential that ICT has to affect development. However, first things first, the infrastructure of the country must be known and research must be done. Knowing development on paper is crucial, but knowing development first hand is invaluable.
I feel that the most salient lessons to be learned in ICT4D is that failure can be a learning curve and that not every society is ready or able to use ICTs in conjunction with a program’s goal. For example when implementing an app for farmers to find where to get the best market prices we, in the US, would think that’s a great idea but when its take not the field it doesn’t work. That is because those farmers have cell phones but not smart phones so they have no way to access the app. Failure is a great way to learn how to do things better the next time and I think that the unit we did on assessing the success of a project was very helpful in making the failure of a project a way to help others attempting to introduce ICT4D project. I also found the research that I did for my sector project to be very salient.
In terms of specific things that I have learned I have found the importance of research and the role of security are two things that I will specifically take away. First, on the topic of research, I learned that there are often large upfront costs related to implementing ICT4D projects. Because of these costs we spoke a lot about the importance of implementing in depth research in order to assess a community’s needs. The research aspect is also incredibly important in terms of providing the correct technologies. For example when looking to start a text message campaign in order to educate new and expecting mothers it is important to assess the literacy levels and then address how to reach those women who are illiterate. The second thing that I specifically learned was the importance security. From my research on the business and industry sector I learned about the importance of cyber security and that it’s essential to attracting foreign investment as well as facilitate international networks and transactions.
This class was very informative and I think that the lessons I spoke of above as well as the theoretical concepts of capacity building and the idea of the first mile are specific ideas that I will be able to implement ICT4D. I will be able to use these and assess other countries’ needs and look at how their national policies about ICTs can be better implemented or changed to better meet the needs of the country.
Core lessons in ICT4D
I think that the most important lesson we learned this semester throughout this course was best practices. I feel that all of the case studies we looked at were diverse in: problems the projects addressed, geographical regions, and ways it incorporated ICTs in the program. However, one key similarity between all of these case studies was that they demonstrated the best [either through example or through mistakes] ways to incorporate ICTs in development projects. It illustrates the fact that, no matter what type of development work you do, certain concepts are universal, such as: incorporating the population in decision making, gathering research and data on the population, and coming up with a good monitoring and evaluation system to have check points.
Personal Lessons Learned
I think on the personal level, alongside learning about best practices, I learned the most through the short papers that we wrote this semester. We had to focus on one country and both analyze ICTs and their national capacity, along with come up with our own solutions to problems we saw. I focused on the health sector and Egypt. I think that it was a challenging assignment because I learned how data collection works, and the issues that can arise through data collection. Having to come up with our own solutions made us think critically of real life issues that are happening right now in the developing world and ways to incorporate ICTs to solve them. These are two skills that I hopefully will continue to take with me as I further my education and pursue a career in development. The most useful theoretical framework that will help me accomplish this is the IDEO Human Centered Design Toolkit. This work basically gives you the framework you need to design your own project that focuses on incorporating the ideas of the target population. It is definitely a kit that I plan to use for any project I wish to create.
After taking ICT4D for a semester, doing all of the readings, and looking at all of the case studies, I think that I can safely sum up the salient lessons in ICT4D in two key points: Local knowledge and infrastructure. While these two things may seem, well, lets say, not all encompassing. I think they target the main problems that ICT projects encounter.
First, lets talk local knowledge. This knowledge may include but it not limited to, local customs, business deals, market influence, everyday technology practices, literacy levels, demographics and much more. These are all things that must be known before an ICT4D intervention can be successful. Without this knowledge. You may not know that technology wont be used for the purposes that you thought it would be, or that the community as a whole doesn’t need or want that particular kind of technology because it isn’t relevant to their lives.
Secondly, infrastructure. I’ll say this again, infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. Without this ICT4D is doomed to fail. Infrastructure needs to be built prior to and/or alongside ICT4D in order for technology to be and stay useful and relevant.
Before this class, ICT4D was just an acronym that I really did not understand. Little did I know that I would come to be involved in many aspects of the ICT4D field, using Twitter, blogs, mapping, and other technologies to broaden our class knowledge base and get engaged. I would have never known how big the ICT4D field really is, not to mention how easy it is to be involved in it as well. With these connections via various modes of communicative technology, as well as multiple visits from speakers within the ICT4D field, our class gained many different perspectives and a wealth of knowledge.
The truth is, most ICT projects do not work. One of the most important lessons that I have learned in the classroom this semester is that the latest and greatest technology is not always best. Upon entering the classroom, I never thought about the challenges or complications of inserting technology into a country. In order to even try to initiate a successful project with ICTs, these things must be considered. What I will take away from this class is not only why ICT initiatives fail, but also how we can work to make those ICT initiatives better.
Keeping technology simple and relevant is the best option. The technology that will be implemented has to be fitting for the targeted area. Development professionals must always be thinking about design, connectivity, monitoring and evaluation, stakeholders, and so many other concepts crucial to the creation of a successful project. We have seen countless examples where ICTs are brought into an area that do not have proper supportive infrastructure for this kind of technology. Mobile phones, OLPC, and m-learning projects in so many countries are prime examples of this. Our class did not simply focus on the failures though. I distinctly remember discussing spending an entire class period discussing the success of ICT during Hurricane Sandy and how that success could be applied in developing countries.
I truly appreciated the relevance of this class to my everyday life. Unfortunately there are classes that I take here at Tulane that do not give me real life applications or skills that I can use for my future career plans. ICT4D proved to be relevant in so many aspects, showing real life examples of how the field was making changes as they were happening. This class used hands-on approaches to learning that made me really feel like I was learning and contributing to something. This class has given me knowledge and tools that I will take with me in my future with development. I hope to further my knowledge of ICT4D, learning more about mapping technology, inequality, and security.