Theories informing ICT4D research and practice

Whenever we talk about ICT4D, the question arises ‘what is development’ and ‘how does ICT leads to some sort of development?’. The first question somehow has been addressed by referring to Amartya Sen’s capability approach where development is conceptualized as ‘freedom of choice’. Put simply, to make conducive arrangements so that individuals can live a life that they value and have a reason to value.  But, the question of ‘how does ICT leads to …‘ is still a topic of further research. In this regard, the first question that comes into our mind is why someone would or wouldn’t use particular technology. One theoretical lens to understand this question is affordances, which means ‘material properties that provide some action possibilities to a goal directed actor’. We can argue, the usage of particular technology lies on the affordances that an individual perceive in the technology. But, it leads to another question: how does an individual perceive the affordances, if he/she has no capability to do so. One theoretical answer is – through mediator. The mediator can be a social activist, political leader, or someone else. To understand the various roles that the mediator plays in translating the concept of technology as affordances can be analyzed through actor-network theory perspective. So far, we said the reason why people use certain technology: it is because they perceive affordances (directly or through mediators), but, especially in the ICT4D context, just perceiving affordances doesn’t work. The subject needs to actualize those perceived affordances. And, for actualizing those affordances, the subject needs to work collectively, in other words we can say they need ‘collective action’.  To promote ‘collective action’ we need to have some sort of social norms that bind them, they need trust among the group members and social network. All these concepts such as norms, trust, network can be tied to the theory of social capital. At this point, we can rephrase the answer to the question: how does ICT leads to development (capability enhancement). We stated, ICT provide affordances, but it needs to be perceived by actors or mediators, then to actualize this perceived affordances, we need collective action, and the source to collective action is social capital. Furthermore, if the collective action is taken and the affordances are actualized then it can enhance individual/collective capabilities. The only question that still remains to answer is: what about sustainability? To answer this we can use the concept of ecosystem. The ecosystem argues, it’s not enough to have a system of mutual influence and interrelationships, but we need to also look into the diversity, coevolution, keystone species, and locality. Therefore, by integrating the theoretical lenses of affordances, actor-network theory, social capital, collective action, capability approach, and ecosystem, we can demystify the link between ICT and development.

N.B. This is one of the many ways of exploring the link, similarly capability approach is also one of the many ways of conceptualizing development.  Be a bit careful when we say affordances,  the technology can impose constraints as well.


Participation in ICT Development Interventions: WHO and HOW?

The aim of participatory development (PD) in the context of using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for development (ICT4D) is to empower underprivileged communities and disadvantaged segments of the stakeholders. The literature on ICT4D is replete with empirical evidence showing ICT interventions often fail because they are initiated from without, with no involvement from the affected (Heeks, 2002). Clearly, the principles and concepts of PD are relevant to ICT4D. However, we should not consider PD a panacea but must understand the caveats and processes by which PD happens. Questions we must ask ourselves include the following: What are the various challenges in PD; who are the relevant stakeholders; why and how do actors enroll in the project; and how do we create sustainable ICT4D projects through PD? To understand these research questions, we present a case analysis of a project in Nepal called the Nepal Wireless Networking Project (NWNP). Drawing on our findings and the specific initiatives that they enabled–telemedicine, education and jobs–we propose that the key participants in the NWNP were activist actors and the affected and that activists drew upon existing social capital to enroll the affected through a process explained by Actor Network Theory (ANT). In the process, they built other forms of social capital, which in turn extended the benefits of PD to several mountain villages.

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