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.
Throughout this semester as we have learned about and discussed ICT4D project a few reoccurring themes stuck out to me. First, that pre-planning is crucial for any successful project. This type of planning is often overlooked when top-down projects are implemented. You need to fully understand the area in which you plan to work and the resources, both human and physical, that it has. A project won’t succeed if the people they are aimed at helping do not have the resources to charge devices you give them, to access the Internet, or do not possess the skills of how to use the ICT. This idea goes hand in hand with avoiding one-size fits all solutions. Each project needs to be tailored to the community and account for the unique culture and structural needs.
Second, it is important to ensure that whatever ICT project you develop is sustainable. You need to ensure that you plan for what happens when devices break or technological changes occur. Sustainability is important for all projects but especially in ICT4D because of the high cost of equipment. When planning for a project you need to account for which technologies are effective today and will remain the most relevant in the future. It is not sustainable to develop a project that uses technologies that will not stay relevant.
Most importantly, whenever possible it is important to partner with both the local government and community organizations. This gives your project the best resources possible. It ensures that you have community support and that your project is relevant to the community at large while simultaneously working with the government to help accomplish larger development goals.
After a semester of studying various ICT4D initiatives, including specific case studies and theory, it is clear that a multi-stakeholder approach must become the basis for any successful undertaking. One of the conclusions drawn from the World Summit on the Information Society that met in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis in 2005 is that an information society cannot be built without collaboration, partnerships and solidarity among all stakeholders based on values of transparency, accountability and respect. My research on the ICT status of the Democratic Republic of Congo supports this supposition. The DRC does not have an established national ICT policy even though the private sector has been working on programs that would make up the components of such a policy. The public sector (the government) has failed to support these programs (financially or otherwise) arguably because of a lack of understanding of the importance of ICTs for economic and social development. They are skeptical that investing in technology will reap any benefits. I have learned that this government opposition is a widespread issue from reading blog posts on other countries. First and foremost, all the stakeholders in an ICT implementation must be well understood. The private and public sectors, non profit organizations and the targeted population need to not only tolerate each other’s practices but also be supportive of them. Creating an atmosphere in which these programs can sustainably thrive is essential. Sustainability is inherent to successful development initiatives and this is especially true with ICTs since technology is constantly evolving. The government needs to go online and thereby become more transparent to its citizens to instate the trust and respect critical to a symbiotic partnership. The targeted population needs to be well-trained in the new technology, preferably by a fellow citizen and not a foreign development worker. On that note, effective methods for training targeted populations should be an additional topic for exploration. I would be interested to find out if there is a program or organization that recruits a few willing citizens of a particular developing nation, trains them to a professional level on a particular piece of technology, and then sends them back with the equipment to train the rest of the community.
In the report, “The ICT4D 2.0 Manifesto: Where Next for ICTs and International Development?” Richard Heeks projects the future of ICT4D based upon analysis of the history of IT for development. Heeks argues that there are three phases to ICT4D, which he labels ICT4D 0.0, ICT4D 1.0 and ICT4D 2.0. Classifying ICT4D into phases is helpful because it shows us where we have been and where we are trying to go. ICT4D 0.0 began in the 1980s when technology was used for economic development in the private sector. However, the availability of the Internet and the creation of the MDGs led to the second phase in the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s – ICT4D 1.0, which used information technology in order to help underdeveloped countries. However, this approach resulted in failure, as it used an “invention-down approach” introducing new technologies to development contexts. It did not consider sustainability, scalability or evaluation. ICT4D 1.0 initiatives focused on tangible evidence for achievement; therefore, buildings with internet-connected PCs would pop up in rural areas. However, people did not have the skills or the knowledge to use these; therefore, over time these projects were virtually useless. While Heeks portrays ICT4D1.0 as a complete failure, I think that it was far from failure because it taught us how to improve ICT4D in several ways.
According to Heeks, we are transitioning into a third phase of development, using the knowledge gained from ICT4D 1.0 to improve upon development. ICT4D 2.0 is shifting balance focusing on what technology is actually being used and improving business model application rather than on introducing new technologies. ICT has been seen as a way of providing information to the poor, instead of as a tool to provide new incomes and opportunities. ICT4D 2.0 projects will not have a techno-centric approach (similar to that of ICT4D1.0) but instead have a broader view considering all three intellectual domains –computer science, information systems and development studies. Additionally, ICT4D2.0 tries to encompass all sectors creating a more interactive approach nationally and internationally, unlike ICT4D 1.0 which targeted NGOs and Donors.
While Heeks provides a promising outlook for ICT4D 2.0 I am not fully convinced that ICT4D 2.0 will be significantly better than version 1.0. On paper, ICT4D2.0 has a demand-driven focus, but how will we apply paper to reality? Heeks mentions “collaborative” para-poor innovation and grassroots per-poor innovation, but this is all theory. It is a lot more difficult to apply theory to practice; therefore, I think ICT4D2.0 will fail in reality. How will the poor become producers of digital content? How will we distribute new hardware to rural areas? How will new jobs and opportunities be created through ICT? All these questions are yet to be answered by ICT4D2.0.
<p>In my opinion, there are many important lessons in ICT4D. Technology is becoming increasingly important not only for the globalizing world, but also for developing countries. It is important to note that because we are increasingly connected, countries in the early stages of development need to work with technology to develop in a way that allows them to compete in the globalizing world. One important lesson that seems to be often times overlooked in ICT4D is the importance of sustainability. Thousands of projects that include telecenters and old/not durable technology have failed because they do not take into account the environment and the needs of the people. Programs need to be able to be measurable and compatible with the environment to be sustainable and help the area develop in the long run. There must be a way to measure success to know if these type of projects will help millions of other people.</p><p>This brings me to another point, the needs-based approach lesson of ICT4D. Projects like One Laptop Per Child are not sustainable or helpful because they are not compatible with the skills, resources and technological understanding of the people the project was aimed to help. ICT4D projects need to focus on the capabilities of the people and how to best meet their needs with projects, whether it is the technology used or catering the training sessions/applications to the people who will be using the tools. I think that this important lesson I learned will be extremely helpful in my future. Although I am not planning to focus on ICT4D, the needs-based approach is vital in all aspects of development. Projects and tools need to be catered to the specific population being targeted. Even if I just focus on one successful method of social entrepreneurship, that method needs to be compatible with the people and the environment in which it will be used.</p><p>In the future, it would be really interesting to study more case studies. Specifically, how technology has freely come into areas without ICT4D projects being implemented. Similar to the case study about the fishermen using cell phones in India to increase their income. I think it is really important to study these topics to learn about how technology can benefit certain populations and how to create ICT4D projects from these occurrences.</p>
This week in our ICT4D class, we have been focusing on past theories for developmental approach, and current theories that are being discussed. One of the main barriers to the use of ICTs in development is the capability issue that Erwin Alampay outlines as a factor into how individuals use technology. However, before you can focus on how an individual uses technology, they have to have the technology, which leads us to ICT4D projects.
Recently, the Information Society Innovation Fund [ISIF Asia] received approximately $350,000 [in US dollars] for ICT projects. The funds are a record-breaking amount of money for ISIF Asia, and they will allow them to grow and expand many projects that they are working on. ISIF Asia will be taking this money and distributing it as seed grants to 11 projects that have applied to receive the grants. What is most interesting about these projects is that they mirror what Heeks describes as “ICT4D 2.0” and focus on different types of access to the developing world. For example, one program in India is called Smart Phones for the Deaf Blind, Bidirectional Access Promotion Society. This program fits Heeks definition of ICT4D 2.0 because it is focusing the spread of mobile phones in a program that can actually have a long-term impact in Indian society. Other programs will be focusing on different perspectives of ICTs, like rights in regard to the internet. Whether or not these projects are moving in a direction that will establish best development practices for ICTs is still to be determined, but the only way to find out is to implement the programs.
The importance of sustainability in ICT4D projects is of the most salient lessons to be learned in the field. Just as any other development project, ICT initiatives are not one-shot deals, they are continuous and complex. Many factors must be considered in ICT projects from infrastructure needs, to education of local populations, to the complexity of ICT devices, to continued funding in future years. Many ICT4D projects have failed to adequately consider such factors, leaving the field with an exponentially high failure rate. For example, the One Child Per Laptop project failed for many of these reasons. Internet access was limited in many of the communities, teachers were not adequately trained on how to use the devices, and the computers ended up being more expensive than promised.
Richard Heeks discusses the field’s past failures and lays out a formula for the future of ICT4D in The ICT4d 2.0 Manifesto: Where Next for ICTs and International Development? Heeks believes ICT4D is moving into a new phase (ICT4D 2.0), which will be more sustainable than the “quick, off-the-shelf solutions” of the past. ICT4D 2.0 will do so by emphasizing existing technologies, allowing organizations to focus on the actual application of ICTs. As Heeks discusses the most effective ICTs are also the simplest — radio and mobile phones. More complex and expensive technologies like computers and telecenters are much less successful in development initiatives. Looking past flashy technologies to the most practical ICTs is essential to the future sustainability of the field.
Including local stakeholders in the ICT4D project development is also essential to the sustainability of projects. As discussed in class, there must be demand from a local community for an initiative to be successful. The community should identify a preexisting need before it is detected by an organization. The local community must also hold a sense of investment in the ICT endeavor; they should be financially and intellectually linked to the project. Locals should be trained in the ICT to ensure sustainability and should understand what the technology has to offer, how it can better their community. Though I think the field of ICT4D is a full of promise, its future is threatened by projects that ignore these basic principles.