Learnings from the ICT4D Conference

IPID 4th Annual Conference (ICT4D symposium), 11th-12th September 2009, Queen’s Building, Royal Holloway, University of London

This conference was organized by the collectives of postgradute students, PhD fellows, ICT4D researchers, and practioners working in ICT4D projects. I am now a part of this collective and we share our research ideas and informations in a regular basis. I attended almost all sessions except some parallel sessions such as ICT4D research process (QLT), and communication. Likewise, I did not attend the paper session 2 and 3 because I was having a meeting with Harindranath to discuss my research proposal, particularly Sein & Harindranath’s ICT effect framework. Regarding conference, I found all the sessions useful because the conference was completely focused on ICT4D research issues.

Three interesting papers were as follows:
1) Matti Tedre, Associate Professor, Tumaini University, Tanzania, presented his work A new educational program in Tanzania: A rough road to success , developing countries based computer integrated currimulum in Tanzania. He explained how different factors such as political, social, and cultural issues should be tackled in the local context.

2) Ken Banks, founder of kiwanja.net, devotes himself to the application of mobile technology for positive social and environmental change in the developing world, and has spent the last 15 years working on projects in Africa. Recently, his research resulted in the development of FrontlineSMS, a field communication system designed to empower grassroots non-profit organisations.

3) Hatakka Mathias and Annika Andersson: presented a paper titled open educational resources for development - let's be realistic about its potential . This paper was based on a educational project and they were trying to measure the impact using Sein’s three phase ICT impact framework. As I am also using this framework in my work, therefore, I learned the practical difficulties in measuring primary, secondary, and tertiary effects of ICT on developing communities. Likewise, other research papers such as impact of mobile phone on distance learning, and reducing corruption in Egypt through eGovernance were also appealing.

In addition, the themed discussion two with Tim Unwin was useful to understand the practical implications of theories. In which, I actively participated and debated in the favor of using theories in research. However, Tim suggested that sometime we can be objective, go to the field and ask questions and find theory out of the practice.

About my research proposal, I received many positive feedback, specially audience liked the idea of conducting research in mountainous region of Nepal. There were 4-5 researchers who knew about the Nepal Wireless Project, where I am supposed to collect my data, because they provided some technical assistance to the project. Likewise, I received some critical comments on using actor-network theories. However, my explanation of using ANT for analyzing the interaction process between social and technical actors more or less satisfied them. Above all, research works of Silvia Gaiani, A strength-based approach for innovative design of ICTs for rural development (ICT4RD) in Finland (an ongoing project) , Sirajul Islam’s Factors influencing the adoption of mobile phones among the farmers in Bangladesh, and Hatakka Mathias and Annika Andersson, open educational resources for development - let's be realistic about its potential, was useful reference for my work. Likewise, there is an open opportunity to visit Matti Tedre, Associate Professor, Tumaini University, Tanzania for my research work.

Although it was almost a closed door three days intensive workshop, surprisingly, I did not experience a single day when any of the participants were absent. After attending this conference, I realized why empiricism is still a core of the science. I learned from the research presentation that we need to sense and feel the real project to understand it properly. Only after, we can make a good connection between theory and practice and vice versa.


Unfolding ICT4D: Part-II (Nature & Scope)

ICT4D is an interdisciplinary research domain, which integrates wider perspectives of three study areas, such as computer science (CS), information systems (IS), and development studies (DS). For instance, CS can answer the questions like what is possible with digital technology, likewise, IS branch can find the feasibility of digital technologies, and DS can explore what is desirable with this digital technology. Until 1990s researcher were more tended to focus on development and ignore the IT or isolate the IT from mainstream development into separate policies and ministries. However, single-mindedly, scholars in information systems acknowledge that both techno-deterministic or socio-deterministic approaches to ICT4D research have a lack of fidelity, as such; the notion of development is the consequences of interplay between these two. It is not just an implementation of technology will do miracles, as a matter of fact, they are designed and used by people operating in a complex social, political, economical, and cultural context. Thus, it is important for a researcher to understand the multi - perspective approach of ICT4D domain. Through the lens of integrated disciplines we can look into the development issues - in connection with technology (ICT). Based on this interdisciplinary approach, some of the ICT4D related key research questions - taken from the lecture notes of Barbara Fillip http://ebookbrowse.com/ict4d-course-barbara-fillip-at-courses-ictlogy-net-pdf-d38867055 - are as follows:

What is the true potential of ICTs for developing countries?
How much can ICTs contribute to economic growth and sustainable development?
Are we expecting too much of ICTs?
What is the extent to which ICTs can contribute to sustainable development?
To what extent is that potential being realized?
Are there countries where ICTs seem to be significantly contributing to sustainable development?
Are there other countries where ICTs don’t seem to be having a significant impact?
Why are there differences in countries’ abilities to take advantage of ICTs?
Is the potential of ICTs being realized evenly across countries as well as within countries?
Are some segments of society not benefiting from ICTs? Why?
How can that potential be realized more fully to benefit all more evenly, both within and across countries?
If we look at the countries that are realizing that potential, how are they doing it?
What are the countries not realizing that potential failing to do or doing wrong?
Who is responsible for doing what to realize that potential?
What are the respective roles of national governments and institutions, the private sector, the international development community and civil society?

Heeks, R. (2007). Theorizing ICT4D research. Information Technologies and International Development, 3(3), 1-4.
Heeks, R. (2008). ICT4D 2. 0 : the next phase of applying ICT for International Development. Computer ( Formerly : Computer Group News ), 41(6), 26-33.


Unfolding ICT4D: Part-I (more on ‘D’ development)

To understand how ICT influence and are being influenced by the development context; we need to understand ‘D’, since the design and outcome of ICT4D projects are influenced by the development context. Thus, understanding of development theory is important to facilitate and outline development strategies.
Development is a subject of academic and organizational discourse, and there are different competing theories to characterize the notion of development as illustrated in Table 2. Development is generally defined as an organized intervention in collective affairs according to a standard of improvement that varies according to class, culture, historical context and relations of power.
Up to around 1940 development was synonym to industrialization and colonization. In development thinking and economics in the post Second World War period, the core meaning of development was economic growth. Later on economic growth was combined with political and social changes and the meaning of development thinking was broadened to encompass modernization. Modernization theory characterized development as displacement of values, beliefs and actions of the traditional societies. It advocates that development can be achieved through imitating the development strategies and ideologies applied in developed countries, so called ‘modern society’, into less developed countries to bridge the gap of differences or to developed to become ‘modern’.
During 1960 dependency theory or structuralism came into existence that emphasizes the national or auto-centric economic growth with dependent or national accumulation. Marxism, supporter of dependency theory, viewed modernization as proponent of capitalism, and describe structuralism as a system of antagonistic relations between several social classes, including the capitalist, who owned the means of production and power to appropriate surplus, and workers, who had no power and had to sell their labor. He blamed that capitalism had the potential of increasing the productive capacities within the society, bringing workers together in socialized labor and engaging them in production processes to generate wealth. Marx envisaged, in the long run, that capitalism may lead to class struggle between capitalists and workers. Consequently, worker would overcome the capitalists and take over the productive capacities, and eventually form new political movements. In between these grand theories of development, the concept of alternative development arose during 1970. It was oriented towards community participation, grassroots politics and human development. Alternative development argues against the capitalism and envisions a post-capitalist world. They advocated that development should be informed by the value of cultural identity, self-reliance, social justice and ecological balance. They envision a post-capitalist world of continued modernization toward a socialist world order, an alternative to the western model of development.
During the1980s two development theories appeared, namely the Neoliberalism and the Human Development theories. The concept of Neoliberalism argues that there are certain institutional constraints influencing market efficiency, and thus contributing to the lack of development. Neoliberalism advocates that self-regulated markets and motivated individual entrepreneurs can achieve development. It further argues that market capitalism could offer individuals more opportunities for entrepreneurship and specialization. Neoliberalism eliminates the notion that developing economies represent something different than other markets. Economic growth is to be achieved by allowing market forces to operate through structural reforms, liberalization and privatization.
The notion of development known as the post-development paradigm criticizes the whole notion of development. The proponents of post-development argued that development could be contradictory process that generates intended and unintended outcomes far from its promise of development.
Technology, during this developmental transition period, played a crucial role as instruments to achieve economic growth and development. As depicted in Table, technology at the beginning was seen important for exploring new territories, to extend colonization and exploiting the natural resources. After 1940s the role of technology was boosting industrialization and mass production. During modernization, innovation of new technologies was done for economic growth. Similarly, the role of technology keeps on changing from economic growth to knowledge management. The alternative development paradigm advocated the use of appropriate technology. The purpose of appropriate technology was to preserve local culture and extract indigenous knowledge.
After the arrival of internet and ICT based services in the 1990s, the role of technology changed from a tools view, to a more holistic understand of how technology could act as a central force in the discourse of economic and social development. The new technology allowed “the small and new compete on equal terms with the large and the well-established, and permit leapfrogging to an ‘information economy’”.
All the development theories have their own history and context. Even the perceptions of modernization are different in different nations and communities based on class, culture, historical context and relations of power. Existing development theories are extended largely state-led (modernization, and dependency), market-led (neoliberalism) and society-led (alternative development). A prominent definition of development in the contemporary ICT4D discourse is human-centered development based upon the theoretical foundation of Amartya Sen’s work on capability approach. In the context of ICT4D project, particularly focused on rural and remote communities, the human development approach like Sen’s capability approach could be argued to be more relevant, as we will discuss more in the next section.

Meanings of development
ROLE of technology
Industrialization, catching up
Boost industrialization
Colonial economics
Resource management, trusteeship
Exploration of new territories
Development economics
Economic growth – Industrialization
Innovation, mass production
Modernization Theory
Growth, political and social modernization
Mass production Innovation and Increased productivity
Dependency Theory
Accumulation – national, auto-centric
Creation of domestic product
Alternative Development
Human Flourishing, Participation
Enhancing local communities and cultures
Human Development
Capacitation, enlargement of people’s choices
Develop human capabilities
Economic growth-structural reform, deregulation, liberalization, privatization
Enhance Market efficiency
Authoritarian engineering, disaster
Strengthen localization, extract indigenous knowledge
TABLE : Various development perspectives and roles of technology, adapted from (Pieterse, 2001)


The capability approach is a broad framework for the evaluation and assessment of individual well-being and social arrangements, the design of policies, and proposals about social change in society. The major constituents of capability approach are “functionings (‘beings’ and ‘doings’)” and “capabilities”. Functionings are well-being, whereas, capabilities are opportunities and freedom to achieve those functionings. Sen criticized the individual and social evaluation based on such variables as primary goods, resources or real income. He mentioned these variables a means rather than ends to freedom and argues that individual substantive freedom (capabilities) is the primary end objective and the principal means of development. The UNDP has adopted such basic insights from capability approach and formulated statistical measures of human development based on it, for example, human development index (HDI), gender development index (GDI), gender equity measure (GEM), and human poverty index (HPI).
In terms of ICT4D research, the capability approach put emphasis on the contribution technologies may have to increase capabilities of human beings to function in their societies. For example, in addition to providing ICT services there is a need to create social and institutional environment so that poor and needy can access and assess information, build knowledge, and take decisions, in other terms, enhance their basic capabilities. The capability approach calls for an alternative e-development beyond the space that centers on economic growth or modernization. Alternative e-development should focus on the space of substantive freedom where ICT may add to development by influencing change in quality of life through innovation and diffusion of human oriented technologies. Thus there is a need to add knowledge from other research disciplines besides welfare economics and development studies, like information systems area, to understand how ICT relates to development through capability approach.
The capability approach makes a distinction between means, such as ICT artifacts and services, on the on hand, and functionings ends, such as education, healthcare and social capital, and capabilities (freedom and opportunities to achieve functionings) on the other hand. The basic importance of resources, such as ICT services, is needed to enable people to do and to be. Goods and services here doesn’t mean just exchangeable for income or money, but the characteristics, which interest to people. For example, setting up telecenter in the village doesn’t make difference if they cannot provide the localized contents to the community people, though telecenters are essential as well.
Three groups of conversion factors personal, social, and environmental influence the relation between commodities (goods and services) and the funciotionings to achieve certain beings and doings. Personal conversion factors denote the personal characteristics, such as physical conditions, sex, reading skills and intelligence to convert commodities into a functioning. For example, an illiterate users cannot use the text based user interface. Social conversion factors are features like social norms, public policies, gender roles, caste systems and power relations. For example, priorities of dominant caste groups may determine information systems design and implementations that leads to the exclusion of marginal and non-dominant castes. Likewise, environmental conversion factor means geographical location, climate, and infrastructure. The achieved functionings is the combination of means to achieve, freedom to achieve them, and personal preferences and social influences on decision making mechanisms.

Castells, M. (2000). The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture Vol 1: The Rise of the Network Society Blackwell.
De’, R. (2009). Caste Structures and E-Governance in a Developing Country. In M. Wimmer, H. Scholl, M. Janssen & R. Traunmüller (Eds.), Electronic Government (Vol. 5693, pp. 40-53): Springer Berlin / Heidelberg
Escobar, A. (1985). Encountering development:The Making and Unmaking of the Third World: Princeton:Princeton University Press.
Heeks, R. (2002a). i-development not e-development : special issue on ICTs and development. Journal of International Development, 14(1), 1-11.
Medhi, I., Sagar, A., & Toyama, K. (2007). Text-free user interfaces for illiterate and semiliterate users. Inf. Technol. Int. Dev., 4(1), 37-50.
Pieterse, J. N. (2001). Development Theory:Deconstruction/Reconstruction: TCS: SAGE Publications.
Robeyns, I. (2005). The Capability Approach: a theoretical survey. Journal of Human Development, 6(1), 93-114.
Sen, A. (1992). Inequality Reexamined: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Sen, A. (2000). Development as Freedom: Oxford University Press.
Zheng, Y. (2009). Different spaces for e-development: What can we learn from the capability approach? Information Technology for Development, 15(2), 66-82.


Unfolding ICT4D: Part-I (Buzzwords)

While reading through literature, I found many fascinating, puzzling, and some meaningful technical buzzwords to symbolize ICT4D notion. The buzzwords are i4D, ICT&D, k4D, km4D, IT4D, ICTD, ISDC, and ICT4D. Whatever the abbreviation and acronym stands for, the bottom line message is to deploy information and communication technology for national development. Development here refers to change in quality of life, empowerment, basic capability equality, poverty reduction. In sum, achieving millennium development goal for the four billion poor people who are living at the bottom of the pyramid. Well, this is not the pyramid of Egypt, but the pyramid where the four billion poor are laddered.
According to academia, ICT4D is an interplay among ‘information’, ’communication’, and ‘technology’ - these meant for national development. Internet took all the credit to popularize this ICT4D term, though we should not read ICT as a synonym of the internet. Information and communication technology (ICT) is defined in many ways, such as TV, Radio, Mobile Phones, Internet and other digitally stored information. Likewise, Information and communication technology – ICT in short, precursor of IT – includes technologies like radio, internet, television, mobile phones, wi-fi, wi-Max, and there will be many more in coming future. ICT was initially conceptualized as an instrumental to national development. However, there is no direct relation between technology diffusion and development process. Numerous factors, such as social, political, human, environmental, and economical are equally important for the overall development process. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore its pervasiveness. It is critically important to engage all relevant stakeholders in the effective delivery of technology in socioeconomic development process.

Prominent scholars in ICT4D research area - suggested seven interconnected principles for the success of ICT4D projects: projects should be based upon clearly identified and relevant development needs of specific user groups, they require charismatic leaders and champions who are able to bring together the many different stakeholders involved, they require the establishment of trust between the different stakeholders, they need to focus from the start on the sustainability of the initiative beyond any initial input of resources, they should be founded on a transparent ethical framework that openly acknowledges the contributions and expectations of the various partners involved, significant effort should be put into sustaining the partnership and its constituent networks, and they should have mechanisms in place whereby the needs of users can effectively be matched by the contributions that the different partners can offer.


Heeks, R. (2008). ICT4D 2. 0 : the next phase of applying ICT for International Development. Computer ( Formerly : Computer Group News ), 41(6), 26-33.
Unwin, T. (2009). ICT4D: Information and Communication Technologies for Development: ICT4D: Information and Communication Technologies for Development.


Unfolding ICT4D: Part-I

The notion of ICT4D has been started around 1950s and progressing towards ICT4D2.0. Technology-wise, it progresses through radio, television, internet, mobile, and web 2.0. Consequently, the role of technology transformed from pro-poor to para-poor. The dimension of ICT applications proliferates across social, political, physical, environmental, human, and financial sectors. During its transition from version ICT4D1.0 to version ICT4D2.0, in tandem, the millennium development program (MDG) was born. The core objectives of MDG is to reduce poverty, improve healthcare, provide better education, and foster gender equality in developing countries. It is broadly agreed that ICT can play a central role on achieving MDG’s national development goals. However, the challenges lying ahead with information and communication technology for national development (ICT4D) projects are its proper implementation, systematic impact evaluations, scalability and sustainability.
Although plethora of research works is done on these issues, they are mostly snapshot case studies. The scholars are trying to understand the phenomenon of linking ICT to 'D' through fragmented case studies. The fragmented case studies can create a problem in synthesizing and theorizing ICT4D researches. In addition, interdisciplinary nature of  ICT4D research makes it more complex and obscure. One could easily perplexed with terms, such as implementation, impact, scalability, and sustainability. Likewise, research terms, such as methodologies, theories, artifacts, context, etc., additionally enhance their difficulties. Above all, the concept of development is still a subject of discourse both in academia and practice. Thus, researchers, including me, are finding it very difficult to understand a relation between technological change and national development, in the context of developing countries. The objective of this article, therefore, is to demystify the notion of ICT4D and elucidate the terms to provide a basis for developing research agendas.