ICTD2010 – final conference summary

At last, we have now finished screening and post-producing a lot of material we gathered at ICTD2010 in December – the biggest ICT4D / ICTD conference in 2010 – and proudly present to you the final summary of the conference.

On the ICT4D.at Youtube channel you can see interviews and summaries of specific sessions and the four days of ICTD2010.

In the mean time the call for papers for ICTD2012 in Atlanta has already been released. Also there’s already an ICTD2012 Twitter account for upcoming news.

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ICTD2010 – final conference summary
was published on 21.03.2011 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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ICTD2010 – resume

ICTD2010 is over now and we’re happy we were there, joined the organizers and got a very special view from behind the curtains on the conference. We are still publishing interviews and are planning for an extensive wrap up of the whole four days, but as the impressions are still fresh it’s time for me to write a very personal resume on what I’ve seen and heard there, and what I think is relevant for the ICT4D field as a whole.

Interdisciplinary research field vs. Mainstreaming ICT4D

What I really liked at ICTD2010 was that there were sessions and workshops covering many different topics. Different sector-specific viewpoints on ICT4D were all invited to the conference. There were tracks on health, microfinance, environment, gender, open source and many more.

The conference organisers identified this openness to other disciplines as the main reason why there were so many people wanting to participate. They event had to close their online registration early as a result of this big demand. Approximately 580 people registered it to the conference in the end.

Naturally, this diversity led to interesting discussions and fruitful exchange (as far as I can judge). To me it seemed to be a consensus at ICTD2010 to view ICT4D as an interdisciplinary research field on its own.

This of course opposes the view of several donor organisations who want to mainstream ICT4D in their general development efforts (here Richard Heek’s case against mainstreaming ICTs in development). In the Donor Voices session at the conference this tendency was underlined once more, especially by representatives of the Swiss, Canadian and German development cooperation.

It remains to be seen how this will develop.

Practitioners vs. Researchers

A topic which was addressed at several sessions at ICTD2010 was the gap between ICT4D practitioners and researchers.

At the conference, therefore people with both backgrounds were invited and already in the opening panel of the first day, Tim Unwin challenged five renowned practitioners to share their views and to “tell us (the researchers) what they think we should be doing”. Responses called for “focus more on people’s needs”, “more critical thinking”, “make sure community ownership” , “not focus too much on technology and tools”, “a directory of organizations working and researching in the field”, “justification to be able to work in ICT4D” or “research on the regional contextual differences”. See a wrap up of the Opening Panel: Practitioners Perspectives here.

Generally at the conference many people stated that practitioners and researchers should find an appropriate language to share their expertise, so they can simplify life for each other. Furthermore the need for better documented projects as well as more engagement of researchers in the field was raised.

Sharing failure

An improvement which Anriette Esterhuysen identified in an interview we held with her was that “people are more willing now to talk about their failed projects”. Also, as is stated in the WWW foundation blog:

there were quite a few papers presenting failed initiatives. Failure can be as instructive as success. But as academic disciplines grow up, they become competitive for promotion and funding, and failure becomes shame.

This also fits with other recent initiatives to motivate people in ICT4D projects to publish their failure as well as their success (for example Mobileactive.org’s Failfare intitiative), as it’s people’s lives ICT4D projects are dealing with and repeating mistakes can have severe impacts.

Technology-driven vs. looking at the individual people’s needs

A very interesting sentence relating to this dilemma came from ICTD2010 programme chair Kentaro Toyama. Having swapped his position at Microsoft Research to the University of Berkeley recently, I asked him which differences between the two he noted in the approach to ICT4D. What he said was, that actually these different approaches to ICT4D drove him in the first place to take the position in Berkeley. At Microsoft Research he said, he was too much constrained to technology, which he considered not to be helpful in many cases (the complete interview with Kentaro Toyama here).

Many other voices also repeated the claim that “technology is not a silver bullet” and the need to look at the individual people’s needs. Kiss Abraham states in an interview we led with him that the focus on technology is de-humanizing the whole ICT4D debate and that much more research on the individual people’s needs and the changes technology brings to them is required. Ineke Buskens states in the same interview that researchers should keep in mind that real people with a purpose are behind all the research (complete interview with Ineke Buskens and Kiss Abraham here).

With our poster about “Stories from the Field: Mobile Phone Usage and its Impact on People’s Lives in East Africa” we were also addressed by a lot of interested people who said they were waiting for more research on such an individual level.

North and South

At ICTD2010 great focus was laid on bringing together researchers from “North” and “South”, to get away from the often-criticized approach to research FOR the target group, but not WITH them.

Furthermore, a very critical approach towards development was expressed. One very catchy quote on this topic was Geoff Walsham saying that development is not a final state, but we all are developing and that there is no need to consider countries of the “North” more developed than countries of the “South” (full length interview to be uploaded).

A novelty at ICTD2010 was the introduction of a Spanish track on the first day which was well attended. Dorothea Kleine said in our interview (full length interview to be uploaded) that conversations about ICT4D should be carried forward by different groups of people in different languages and that she hopes for more participation in languages other than English for future conferences.

Also Ineke Buskens tried to include French and Arabic speaking people in the ICTD2010 pre-confernce platform by translating several sent in texts to these languages.

Related to this, as was quoted by Whiteafrican and Afronline, the lack of ICT4D research by Africans was addressed. One paper (“ICTD Research by Africans: Origins, Interests, and Impact“) even specifically topicized the contributions of African researchers to the ICT4D debate. You can watch our interview with one of the authors – Paul Plantinga – at the ICT4D.at Youtube channel.

The decision to host the next ICTD conference in the Global North (Georgia Tech) was therefore heavily disputed and by some people regarded as a missed opportunity to bring ICT4D research back to the local, affected people. It must be stated though, that Georgia Tech obviously was the only university with a formal bid for ICTD2012, so the decision cannot be regarded as politically motivated.

Most of this is not new

An interesting and maybe worrying fact about the topics above, which I identified as substantial at the conference is that most of them are not new or just recently found out about.

We’ve all heard of that before, at conferences and events, in papers or news articles. As Tim Unwin states in our interview (part 2): “One of the things that probably sadden me most about the field is how little it has changed. We’re hearing much the same things we’ve heard for 3, 4, 5 years.”

Maybe the ICT4D field is still immature as is stated on the WWW foundation blog, maybe it is picking up slowly, or maybe the real decision makers – which are primarily the donors I would guess – don’t agree to the majority’s solution to the above mentioned topics as of yet. The “Voices of the donors” session at ICTD2010 suggests otherwise, but I’m curious if these “old” challenges will be resolved and new challenges will be identified until the next ICTD conference 2012, or if we’ll still be stuck with the current ones.

Comments on my musings are most welcome, for more and detailed information on ICTD2010 check the official conference page, Ismaels notes and the ICT4D.at Youtube channel.

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ICTD2010 – resume
was published on 23.12.2010 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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ICTD2010 – videos 2

Some more videos from ICTD2010 we’ve uploaded to Youtube in the mean time.

First day – opening panel:

First day – pre-conference platform session:

Third day – wrap-up:

Interviews are constantly being uploaded, so check the ICT4D.at Youtube channel or watch them here:

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ICTD2010 – videos 2
was published on 17.12.2010 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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ICTD2010 Pre-conference – we want to hear your voice!

In the run up of the biggest ICT4D / ICTD conference this yearICTD2010 in London – we have been supporting the organizers in setting up a pre-conference platform.

The aim of this platform is to give people who can’t participate at the conference the possibility to share their ideas and to “raise the voice of the South“, listening to the needs and critical voices of people affected by ICT4D / ICTD.

People can send in one-pagers which will be posted and then discussed – first on the platform and finally also at a session of the ICTD2010 conference.

The main facilitator of the platform is Ineke Buskens, a gender, research and facilitation consultant living in the Western Cape, South Africa. Her introductory text to the platform – Bridging the Divides – is well worth a read. In there she states that the

lack of shared understanding of the main thrust and purpose of the ICTD or ICT4D project could be the main obstacle towards seeing the ICTD community evolve in such a way that we are all able to ‘celebrate one another’s unique strengths’

Furthermore she raises the question

what does development actually mean in ICTD? Does ICTD mean development of ICTs for the developing world? Does it mean developing markets for ICT products and tools in the developing world? Or does it mean engaging development with and through the use of ICTs in and with the developing world?

To contribute to this question and to bring in an often ignored perspective, she asks everybody

to contribute by sharing what they really and passionately want to share, having a southern perspective in their focus and the interest of the South in their heart, whether they are located in the South, in the North, or in both.

These contributions should be small texts – approximately one page. Two questions which she raises to kick-start this whole process are:

1) What are the ICT4D Research Needs in the developing world from a developing world perspective and why would you think so? Please be concrete and specific and go beyond general categories such as ‘health’, education etc.

2) What action projects have taken place in the developing world that were actually successful research projects, in the sense that they met a real need in a real way (and hence acted on valid and appropriate tacit knowledge) but did not have the ‘knowledge quest component’ worked out enough in their narrative to be recognized as research? Can you come up with examples and sketch what you think the knowledge quest would have been if it had been made explicit from the start?

So if you have answers to the questions and if you have something to say about these topics, please send in one-pagers to Ineke Buskens (ineke@researchforthefuture.com) or Florian Sturm (florian.sturm@ict4d.at) and join the discussion on the platform (the Discussion section is open for everybody). We are looking forward to your input.

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ICTD2010 Pre-conference – we want to hear your voice!
was published on 21.10.2010 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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Biggest ICT4D / ICTD conference this year: ICTD2010 London

This year in December the probably biggest and most important ICT4D / ICTD conference this year will take place in London. Tim Unwin and Dorothea Kleine (both from Royal Holloway University) have gathered people from around the world to help them in pulling in as many opinions and viewpoints as possible from as many individuals and organizations as possible to make the conference a rich and helpful experience for the whole ICT4D / ICTD scene.

It aims to provide a forum for researchers, practitioners and all those with interests in the use of information and communication technologies in development practice to meet to discuss the latest research advances in the field. [from the ICTD2010 page]

Keynote speaker so far announced include Sir Tim Berners Lee (Director of W3C) and Lídia Brito (Director of Science Policy Division, UNESCO), furthermore the who is who of the international ICT4D / ICTD research and practitioner scene will be present there.

We at ICT4D.at are also contributing to the conference – currently by providing technical assistance for the pre-conference activites (to be announced), and at the conference with doing audio, video and web 2.0 coverage of what’s happening there. Furthermore we are advertising the event through our channels – so click the ICTD2010 London web page link here and make sure you attend the conference. Once again the dates:

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What: ICTD2010 conference

Where: Royal Holloway University, London

When: 12. to 16. December 2010

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For everybody interested in ICT4D / ICTD research and networking it’s probably the place to be this year. Registration opens soon, hope to see you there!

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Biggest ICT4D / ICTD conference this year: ICTD2010 London
was published on 09.04.2010 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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