A Framework for Understanding the Link Between ICT and Development: How Affordances Influence Capabilities

Understanding the role of ICT in development is at the core of the ICT4D field. However, while most agree that ICT do contribute to development, the question of how is still not fully explored. In this research-in-progress, we propose a framework that combines two theoretical lenses, the choice framework (that is based on the capability approach) and affordances, to increase our understanding of ICTs role in the development process. The capability approach considers development as freedoms for people to live the lives they have a reason to value. The affordance theory describes action possibilities allowed by material properties, thereby allowing the examination of how individuals explore material properties of information systems with the objective of enhancing their capabilities. We argue that, by combining the choice framework with affordances we can better explain the role of ICT in the development process, and explain how individuals’ agency and social structures influence their ability to perceive affordances in their interaction with the ICT.

What theories do we need to know to conduct ICT4D research?

Research in ICT4D is a constant search to answer the question of how ICT fosters development in underdeveloped communities. While many theories have guided research, we are yet to develop a cumulative body of knowledge to answer this question. In this paper, we argue that the elusive link between ICT and development needs to be grounded in three groups of theories: theories to understand development; theories to understand ICT; and theories to understand how ICT make development happen. We present exemplars of theories from each group, and illustrate how we have used them in our research. Through reflecting on which questions to be answered by including the three groups of theories, we propose research agendas.