Tag Archives: Richard Heeks

A Second Look at the Views of Richard Heeks

In our last class we dedicated a good majority of the time talking about Richard Heeks’s article ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track? We discussed whether the conclusions he made in this article are fair, and which parts we agree and disagree with. We definitely came to a consensus that Heeks has some good points, but also that not all of the conclusions he came to are problems that we see with the MDGs. I decided to dig a little deeper to find more of his comments on the MDGs and I stumbled upon his blog. In his most recent blog post Analyzing the Post-2015 Development Agenda he looks at three different articles that outline a lot of the development goals post the 2015 MDG deadline. He analyzed the documents in two different ways. One was simpler, a tag cloud, which is defined by Google as “a visual depiction of the word content… to represent the prominence or frequency of the words or tags depicted.” In the tag cloud on this blog post the largest word was “development.” The next largest words were “sustainable,” “global” and “countries.” Of course it makes sense that these four words are the most frequent words seen in the reports considering that they are talking about sustainable  development of countries all around the world. The other way that Heeks analyzed the data was using a chart and he calculated the frequency of the term seen every 10,000 words. The term “sustanib” was seen 94.6 times every 10,000 which was more than twice frequency of any other word in the report. The next three most frequent words were system, partnership and environment, all with the frequency of 33-38 times every 10,000 words.

When analyzing this data Heeks came up with 10 main points within the documents. One of the points addresses that sustainable development seems to be the consensus as the core model that needs to be achieved when making strides after the MDGs. Another point that he made was that the two most important items on the agenda for development are addressing poverty and the environment. The next point that he made was that there are three main categories of development; social, economic and environmental, which do have some overlap. Heeks also noted that the majority of the ideas seen in the new development plan relate to the main ideas that are in the MDGs. He remarks that the main ones that are focused on are the first six goals; poverty, women (women’s rights and health), access to food or hunger, and education just to name a few.

Within the post Heeks never expresses what his opinions are on the documents. While in class and discussing whether or not the MDGs have a purpose and are promoting development, or actually inhibiting it. I agree that the MDGs aren’t perfect and that there are ways that they could be seen as deterring development, however, when I look at the MDGs I see them for what they are: Goals. Goals are something you strive for and may not fully reach, however, they give the community something to work for and push towards. For me, these new documents talking about development after the MDGs supports this ideology. Clearly not everything is yet solved in our world, but since so many of the improvements that need to be made are the same as the MDGs it means that the MDGs were on the right path. They may not have been reached by the goal of 2015, but now that the international community knows what needs to be worked on to improve conditions and development we can keep working towards this goal. The MDGs have shown us different tools that work, and different tools that don’t work. It is now time for the international community to keep working at them until there is no longer a need .


Kudumbashree Initiative

In Richard Heeks’ article ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track, Heeks praises Kerala’s Kudumbashree initiative. He likes the initiative for the “real and direct benefits” it provides for poor communities. Heeks says that the initiative brought women who lived below the poverty line opportunities to become involved in ICTs “through hardware and services enterprises”. The women then have tangible benefits, including an income and gender empowerment. This method of ICT development has been found far more effective than other large broad reaching and over arching projects.

This initiative is also double edged sword in that it provides ICT capabilities to the region while also empowering women and increasing their income. Heeks, in his article, hopes that more agencies and governments will begin to look at ICT development this way.

Heeks describes the initiative slightly, but he didn’t go into detail about the organization. So, I got interested in what exactly and specifically the organization’s goals and mission were. I found that the ICT project was just on of Kudumbashree’s initiatives. The organization is one of the largest women empowerment organizations in the country, serving over 50% of the households in Kerala. One of the most interesting things I found on their website was a segment of their mission statement which read that they aimed to, “combine self-help with demand-led convergence of available services and resources to tackle the multiple dimensions and manifestations of poverty, holistically.”

This segment of their mission statement describes exactly the approach taken with the ICT Initiative. The organization found a demand in the community for ICT and used women who needed empowerment to meet the demand. I think Heeks is spot on with his hopes for other development agencies.


ICT4D and the Creative Industries

In Richard Heeks’ ICT4D Manifesto, he discusses how ICTs are widely viewed as tools to provide information and services to the world’s poor, but not as tools the poor can use to create new incomes and jobs for themselves.  I find the latter view to be very interesting when looking through the lens of ICT4D moving into the “2.0” era, as developing nations become more familiar with and more comfortable using technologies creatively to produce jobs and innovation for themselves.  It is understood within the development community that in order for a project to be sustainable and have long-term effects, it must provide the citizens of that community with a sense of agency, and the skills to sustain the project from the inside out, as opposed to the outside in.  Simply planting an internet café with two PC’s in a rural village in India will not provide for change, as seen in the failures of ICT4D 1.0 projects.

Taking a productive view towards information technologies, with the poor using the technologies themselves to create specific solutions for the problems in their communities will serve to both empower the people and result in ICT functioning at an optimally efficient level.  As a Digital Media Production major, the concept of “creative economy”, which spans from traditional arts and crafts to technology-imbued fields like film and radio is very interesting and accessible in terms of economic development for those who are creatively inclined in impoverished countries.  Developing countries provide a low-cost base for new creative industries to spring up with the help of technological access, growing jobs from an already rich base of creative resources. Access to websites such as “Etsy” and “eBay”, could provide a forum for craftsmen in developing nations to sell artwork and other products to interested parties abroad, while other programs such as “Soundcloud” provide a forum for musicians to upload and market their skills- access to the markets of developed nations could result in higher sales and greater productivity for those in developing nations through the internet.  Outsourcing of digital technology related jobs such as gaming to developing nations is another way in which the “creative economy” provides access for citizens of developing nations to take creative productivity that pre-exists ICT4D and market it to the global economy.  I feel that encouraging the growth of “creative economies”, which draw on the specific cultural artistic heritage and creativity of the people of developing nations, would be a symbiotically productive use of ICT4D in the 2.0 era, promoting innovation and self-agency within developing communities.


After the Millennium Development Goals: partnering with business to increase access to technology.

This week we read about the Millennium Development Goals. We have done a better job of meeting some goals than others, but with the end of the Millennium Development Goals now just one year away, the question becomes what’s next?

Richard Heeks alludes to some problems with ICT4D within the MDGs:

Boss: “OK chaps, we need to apply ICTs in development. Where shall we put the computers?”

Underling no.1: “Well, sir, how about in some high-tech firms in the city that could use them to create jobs and improve exports?”

Boss: “You idiot, that’s not what poverty alleviation and social development are all about. Get out of my sight.”

Underling no.2: “I know, sir, how about putting them in a small village where there’s no electricity, most people are illiterate, and everyone is really poor.”

Boss: “Brilliant suggestion; here’s $100,000; go and do it.”

Though his example may be a bit exaggerated, it’s not too far from the truth of what has happened in some areas. Technology has developed rapidly and no longer fits into the mold of the MDGs. When was ask ourselves ‘what’s next,’ the answer has to include a more sensible technological development strategy that keeps in mind the ever-changing nature of technology.

The Guardian ran an article last week asking the very question about what will come next after the MDGs. It argued that business will have to have an important role in future development.

“The expansion of mobile and internet networks into new territories, for example, could not have taken place so quickly without the private sector,” it argued.

The article is correct. Business is a crucial player in getting affordable technology access to those who need it. It must continue to do that.  The development field must also recognize that market-based solutions are some of the most successful solutions to developmental problems and it must work with businesses and the ventures of social entrepreneurs. Heeks’ example is an important one as well. Sometimes it is more beneficial to provide resources to businesses who, on the surface, don’t seem like they need help so that they can continue to innovate and create jobs for those who need help the most.


ICT4D Professional Profile: Richard Heeks

Richard Heeks is a Professor of Development Informatics in the Institute for Development Policy and Management, at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. He is currently the Director of the Centre for Development Informatics located at the University of Manchester. He attended the University of Cambridge where he studied the natural sciences. He fulfilled his MPhil at the University of Leicester and later completed his PhD at the Open University. His experience in the ICT4d field began with him working as both a volunteer science teacher and software developer in Nigeria. He would later take up research positions at first the University of Leicester followed by the University of Manchester.

His contributions to the ICT4d field are long and varied. He is one of the pioneers of the Software Export Success Model, which came about through his research and study of the Indian software industry. This model is used to evaluate the software sectors in developing countries. He also created a widely used model called the Design-Reality Gap model. This model is used to evaluate ICT4D initiatives.

Links to his:

–       U Manchester Profile: Here

–       Twitter Account: Here

–       Linkedin Account: Here


Q&A Best Practices

We were asked to write a short 2 or 3-paragraph post about one of the following questions. But of course, I didn’t follow the directions carefully and wrote a paragraph for each question. I learned more about my future involvement with ICT4D, and you got more information than you asked for. Sorry I’m not sorry.

a) What do you think are the most salient lessons to be learned in ICT4D?

The several important lessons to be learned in ICT4D are 1) Seek out what medium of information dissemination already exists in that region or sector. Only use ICTs selectively to improve the efficiency of, or expand the current information path that has already been carved out. I saw this worked with the success of Telemedicine, where the path from doctor to specialist was already forged, but technology was needed to improve diagnostic time. 2) Richard Heeks’ strategy of think back-office not the front office: improve a country or sector’s ICT capacity from the inside out. Do not introduce or update a technology if it isn’t needed. Usually it is, but you must first assess the current status of information exchange and research the appropriate technology to sustainably grow a sector. I discovered the Ministry of Health in Turkey failed to research the appropriate technology to implement a nation-wide electronic health records system in 2003, making the system more inefficient and inaccessible to nurses and doctors than before. 3) You can’t always trust an open source platform. Corruption and transparency, inaccurate or incomplete information, and the expectation of results can cause problems in achieving a truly open source online platform. I learned this in the Harassmap case study and the 9 Ethical Considerations in Participatory Digital Mapping with Communities.

b) Reflections on something specific that you have personally learned this semester that you think would/will help you as a development professional.

What I have personally learned this semester is the beneficiaries need to be involved in every step of the ICT project design. From start to finish, the information has to better their lives, as does the skill of learning a new technology. With my interest in Gender Studies, I am learning how to improve social conditions without replicating existing frameworks of patriarchal power. One information medium I have seen that is empowering for women in marginalized spaces is storytelling and preserving indigenous knowledge. If the process or stories are relevant to them, giving a voice to underrepresented information through mediums like participatory video, amateur radio, or Usnet forums, gives empowerment  to people’s life experiences. Through people taking their lives or livelihoods into their own hands, such as in Farm Radio in Africa, we have seen concrete improvements in their life conditions. Furthermore, using ICTs in empowerment processes builds confidence in using technology in general, and increases the chance of learning how to use a new technology medium in the future. Technology skill building is key for sustainable growth of ICT4D. Many ICT projects have failed because they required too much external facilitation and support, such as in Facilitated Video Instruction in Low Resources Schools. Incorporating the beneficiaries and their opinions at every stage would prevent this from happening.

c) The most useful theoretical concept or framework we’ve discussed that can be used to think about and implement ICT4D.

The most useful theoretical frameworks we have discussed to implement ICT4D are to the barriers to access and supply-driven versus demand-driven paradigm. Examples of barriers to access to seriously consider when introducing an ICT solution  are the country’s previous technological investment and/or capacity to develop the infrastructure necessary to support this new technology. Inter-generational illiteracy, cultural stigmas preventing trust of the information or technology delivering it, and the lack of ownership issues are the most challenging barriers to accessing technology for development. I have learned in other development classes that if a beneficiary does not invest something of her own other than her time, she has no incentive to keep it. Therefore, promoting ownership is especially important for ICT solutions because technology is expensive and information needs to be driven by demand, not supply. That is why the second most important framework is the top-down/supply-driven vs. bottom-up/empowerment focused framework. In Connecting the First Mile, Talyarkhan researched existing knowledge systems and created appropriate materials based on thee relevant issues and information needs for the target group. The way I see it, researching the barriers to access for participatory development could take you years, but the impact and longevity of your idea/project could last lifetimes.

I want to take this impersonal online moment to say thank you to my highly intelligent and hilarious classmates this semester. It wouldn’t have been this much fun learning about technology without you. And never last, the coolest nerd in school, and our trusted leader Jessica Ports. Best of luck on your dissertation, and thank you for all the laughs and memories. The Red Cross will be lucky to have you!

P.S. D for D!


Richard Heeks and the Design-Reality Gap Model

In his article “ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track?” Richard Heeks questions the Millennium Development Goals and criticizes their Western-biased “do as I say, not as I do” approach. One of Heeks’ suggestions for how to use ICTs in an effective way for development is ICT consumption. Specifically, Heeks references “the use of technology in applications like e-commerce and e-government.” According to Heeks, these are areas where ICTs are being used in a positive way to make real effective change in development. In order to understand his perspective, I think that it is important to take a look at who Richard Heeks is and the work he has done. Heeks, a native Englishman, is the current Professor of Development Informatics in the Institute for Development and Policy and Management at the University of Manchester. When he was younger, Heeks worked as a volunteer science teacher in Nigeria, an experience that could influence his critiques of development policies created by the global North for the global South. Heeks is considered one of the founders of the ICT4D field. One of his most important contributions of the study of ICT4D is the Design-Reality Gap Model, a monitoring and evaluation tool used to measure the success of ICT4D projects, especially e-government projects.

The basis of Heeks’ model is the idea that there are two points in any e-government project: the reality, that is ‘where we are now,’ and the goal of the project, that is ‘where the e-government project wants to get us.’ It’s really quite simple. The larger the gap between these two points, the more difficult it is to successfully complete the project. The small the gap, the higher the chance of success. Heeks’ claims that there are 7 dimensions that determine this gap. These 7 dimensions are: information, technology, processes, objectives and values, staffing and skills, management systems and structures, and other resources: time and money. These 7 aspects of e-government analysis can be helpfully summed up in the acronym ITPOSMO.

The Design-Reality Gap Model created by Heeks is an important contribution to the field of ICT4D because it provides a systematic and uniform way to monitor e-government projects and assess their success. I think that Heeks’ emphasis on e-government and e-commerce, while not the most exciting of all development projects, is what is really making a difference on the ground. It is essential to focus on projects that are effective and sustainable, even if they are more ‘behind-the-scenes’ than a typical ICT4D project. Richard Heeks is an important figure in the ICT4D world because of his contributions such as the Design-Reality Gap Model. It might sound dull, but efforts such as these are what make real improvements in the developing world.