IEEE Computer: ICT4D 2.0

In the June issue of the journal “IEEE Computer“, there is a special feature on ICT4D with four large articles. One of them is about ICT4D going to the next level – ICT4D 2.0
Richard Heeks from the University of Manchester writes about the development of ICT4D in general, its current state and future challenges.
In the introduction he gives a – in my opinion – very true statement why ICT4D is essential from the activists point of view.

First, there is a moral argument. Most informatics professionals spend their lives serving the needs of the world’s wealthier corporations and individuals because, to borrow bank robber Willie Sutton’s phrase, “that’s where the money is.” Yet seeking to squeeze a few extra ounces of productivity from firms that already perform relatively well, or save a few minutes in the life of a busy citizen, pales in ethical importance when compared to the potential benefits of applying new technology to our planet’s megaproblems.

At least for me this is very essential. I don’t see the need for yet another process optimization tool when the same effort could, drastically expressed, avoid that people are starving to death.

Heeks then claims that ICT4D has reached a new stage where the lessons learned so far have to be addressed and a new view on the world’s poor has to be adopted.
He writes about the importance of mobile phones, the need for maybe not new – but appropriate technology, the importance of participation of local people and creation of content by them (he mentions Web 2.0 there) and a need for services and application supporting the poor.

I strongly agree with him in this point, as also parts of my diploma thesis cover these aspects. Furthermore I certainly think Web 2.0 can play a substantial role for some of these requirements.

In the following, Heeks introduces three innovation models for innovations in ICT4D. He distinguishes between development for the poor (pro-poor), with the poor (para-poor) and by the poor (per-poor) and identifies the future need for the last.
In the next chapter about “New Worldviews”, Heeks denounces the exeggerated technocentricity in early ICT4D and underlines the necessity of integrating computer and information science with development studies. As he puts it, the understanding of all three subjects will be one of the major tasks for ICT4D 2.0

… we need to develop or find ICT4D champions who are tribrids: They must understand enough about the three domains of computer science, IS, and development studies to draw key lessons and interact with and manage domain professionals.

I myself definitely support this statement and would generally like to see more computer scientists learning about the implications of their research and actions. In my opinion, informatics is highly intertwined with changes in society and the ability of social responsible application of technological skills is essential. Therefore I would for example highly approve more social science in informatics curricula.

Finally Heeks concludes that ICT4D 2.0 – contrary to ICT4D 1.0 – puts the poor in the focus of development, seeing them as “active producers and innovators”. He also identifies the main future challenges to enable and motivate the poor to take action themselves.

I find the article very interesting and one of the things I really like is that it sums up the change in the perception of the poor which should be addressed by ICT4D.
Fewer and fewer projects have the “sending computers to Africa” approach which almost never lead to any benefits. Rather than that, projects are launched with a focus on collaboration and sustainability.
To use a common saying – “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”.
Furthermore, the innovative usage of ICTs in less developed countries – like the examples posted by Martin – lead to the initialization of projects by the poor themselves.
“The man” now uses the internet to find information on how to fish and uses GPS to find the best fishing grounds.

The IEEE Computer journal is regrettably not free available but students at the Universität Wien or the Technische Universität Wien can access it via the respective journal database.
Otherwise, for the interested it is possible to sign up as an IEEE Society member for access to the whole IEEE database or to purchase the single article.
I hope I didn’t infringe any copyrights by citing the two passages from the article – if I did please write me and Iwill remove them.

IEEE Computer: ICT4D 2.0
was published on 22.07.2008 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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3 Responses to “IEEE Computer: ICT4D 2.0”

  1. Martin Konzett Says:

    This is a excellent post! Would be really cool to have all the resources online. Keep going!

  2. / PICNIC08 Says:

    […] of people directly confonted with problems. As Richard Heeks put it some time ago in his article on ICT4D 2.0, the approach to development for the poor (pro-poor) will not work in the future, but rather […]

  3. Julio Cox Says:

    I don