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.

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