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 The desire to create “flashy” projects that look good on paper should be superseded by the desire to fund projects that actually work.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?