Pose the following to data-revolution-for-development activists: “Show me an initiative of yours that has led to scaled, sustained development outcomes”.
If – as likely – they struggle, there’s a simple reason. We have not yet connected the data revolution to a praxis revolution for development. The data revolution takes advantage of technical changes to deliver new volume, speed, and variety of data. The praxis revolution makes changes to development processes and structures in order to turn that data into development outcomes.
Perhaps data activists never took, or fell asleep during, Information Systems 101. Because the very first session of that course teaches you the information value chain. You’ll find variants of the example below in Chapter 1 of most information systems textbooks.
It explains that data per se is worthless. Value – and development results – only derive from information used in decisions that are implemented as actions. To make that happen you also need the intelligence to process the data into information; the imperative that motivates you to run the whole chain through; and the soft capabilities and hard resources to access data and take action.
It is – relatively – easy to deliver the new data and to attack the ‘access’ issue by lowering skill and technological barriers for development decision makers, for example via good data analytic and visualisation techniques. It is much more difficult to address the praxis components of the chain. That’s not just a question of providing information-, decision-, and action-related skills and other resources for individuals. It will typically require:
- new, more evidence-based decision-making processes
- new, more agile decision-making structures
- new institutional values and incentives that orient towards these new decision-making modes.
At present, that does not seem to be happening. If we create a quasi-heatmap of the focus for some key data-revolution-for-development (DReD) sources, then we see that almost all the focus lies at the source of the value chain or before (prioritisation, digitisation, standardisation, etc of data). There is a very little thought given to the development impact of data. And the “wings” of intelligence and imperative, and the core of praxis (information-decision-action) are missing.
“Heatmap” of Key Data-Revolution-for-Development Sources
Of course that’s partly understandable: there’s a clue in the term data revolution; in the remit set for organisations like Global Pulse; and in the technical profiles of most of those involved.
And the limited incursion of techies into praxis is partly welcome. As Evgeny Morozov has noted, the techie prescription for praxis is algorithimic regulation – a steady incursion of automation into the downstream stages of the value chain which assumes digital decisions and actions are some apolitical and rational optimum, which denies the importance of politics and thus neuters political debate, and which diverts attention from the causes of society’s ills to their effects with the attitude: “there’s an app for that”.
So, at present, we face two future problematic streams. One in which a great deal of money is wasted on DReD initiatives that make no impact. One in which a technocentric view of praxis prevails.
Both require the same solution. First, an explicit recognition of information value chains in the design and implementation of all DReD projects. Second, a more multidisciplinary approach to these initiatives which incorporates participants capable of both debating and delivering the praxis revolution: those with information systems, organisation development and political economy skills are probably more relevant than decision scientists – to paraphrase Morozov, we’ve got quite enough Kahnemans and could do with a few more Machiavellis.Follow @CDIManchester
 Analysis of the content of: http://devinit.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Data-Revolution-DI-briefing.pdf; http://www.opendataresearch.org/content/2014/667/researching-emerging-impacts-open-data-oddc-conceptual-framework; and http://www.unglobalpulse.org/research/projects. A fuller and more robust analysis will require more sources and co-coding of content.
There has been a small but substantive engagement to understand how the capability approach of Sen and others could be applied in the ICT4D field (e.g. Andersson et al 2012, Kleine 2013). One of the key challenges is the granularity of the capability approach. It requires us to break down development not merely to the level of individuals but to the level of single capabilities or functionings. Thus, at least in theory, generating a list that is many billions-long.
The capabilities approach can therefore only be operationalised by aggregation: a simplification that groups capabilities into a relatively few categories (e.g. Alkire 2002), or which aggregates from the individual to the group (e.g. Thapa et al 2012).
In this blog entry, I propose a different type of aggregation, via the notion of the “roles” people play in relation to ICTs. Developing from the concept of roles within the workplace (e.g. Biddle 1986, Huvila 2008), we can define a role as a set of tasks and behaviours that are performed by an individual. Roles therefore represent something halfway between a realised functioning and a livelihood. They are shaped by “a mix of both social dynamics and technological affordances” (Postigo 2011:184).
Here, a set of roles will be analysed that people can play vis-à-vis ICT; represented as a ladder, as shown in the figure below. In simple terms, climbing the ladder could be read as a greater intensity of engagement with the technology. It is also a ladder of technological capability; each step reflecting higher-level competencies (skills, knowledge and perhaps also attitudes) that are required for this type of ICT use but which are also created by this type of ICT use. And it also represents Sen’s ideas, with each successive role being a greater level of realised functioning.
Figure 1: Ladder of ICT-Related Roles
The various roles can be understood in relation to categories of ICT use. These are summarised in the figure and detailed below, selecting examples of particular relevance to those in low-income communities. For further details, see the online paper: “ICTs and Poverty Eradication: Comparing Economic, Livelihoods and Capabilities Models”.
In these roles, members of poor communities are not direct users of either the technology or the information and services it carries:
- Delinked: there is no obvious connection between particular ICT applications and poor communities. An example might be applications within a large corporation which does not produce goods or services of relevance to poor communities.
- Indirect: this represents a very large category of ICT applications in organisations in which the poor have no direct connection with the ICT, but in which the ICT application does deliver some benefit. Examples might include the use of ICTs in large firms to improve supply, distribution and marketing to base-of-the-pyramid markets.
Other ICT Uses to Enterprise ICT Use:
In these roles, the poor make direct use of either the technology or the information and services it carries. They can do this either as entrepreneurs or in other roles:
- Intermediated consumer: this can represent all three main levels of consumption-related use of ICTs – one-way broadcast of information, interaction, transaction – but in no case is the consumer a direct ICT user; hence there is limited ICT-enabled change in role. A typical example might be the delivery of e-government services, undertaken at kiosks and service centres staffed by intermediaries.
- Passive consumer: a role in which there is direct use of the ICTs but just to receive “broadcast” information e.g. about health or market prices.
- Active user: digitally-enabled interaction and transaction with socio-economic contacts; for example, the remittance of “mobile money” from urban migrants to rural relatives, or the use of telecentres by farmers to get agricultural guidance from distant advisers.
Enterprise ICT Use to ICT Sector:
In this role, those in poor communities make direct use of ICTs:
- Producer: creation of enduring digital content. This could be undertaken by an entrepreneur, for example, advertising goods and services on a voice-activated information service. But it also overlaps into the ICT sector category; for example, musicians or video producers recording then sharing content on mobile phones.
In these roles, the use of ICTs is so central to the livelihood that it is seen as lying within the ICT sector:
- Worker: employment in an ICT-based activity (one that could not exist without ICTs); for example, those employed to undertake data entry and other digitisation tasks as part of IT impact sourcing contracts.
- Entrepreneur: creation of a self-employed ICT-based livelihood (one that could not exist without ICTs); for example, the umbrella people selling phone calls by the roadside, or those who set up PC kiosks providing digital photography, e-ticketing and e-government services.
- Innovator: adaptation of the technology by modifying the technology itself such as the “street hacks” that alter mobiles to accept dual SIMs, or by modifying ICT-enabled processes such as the mobile money agents who adapt methods of service delivery to match their local context.
Any attempt to aggregate capabilities has its downsides, since it must necessarily simplify away some of the richness of Sen’s ideas. However, the use of roles – whether those proposed above or others – as an analytical approach offers a fairly straightforward and robust way of evaluating ICT4D initiatives, which does some justice to the intentions and insights of the capability approach.
Further work now needs to be done to dig into the literature on work-roles, life-roles, social-roles and role theory, in order to provide a stronger foundation for the role ladder.Follow @CDIManchester
What should be the future priorities for ICT4D policy and practice? And what should guide the World Summit on the Information Society process – the global node for ICT4D policy and practice – beyond 2015?
The post-2015 development agenda will be the single most-important force shaping the future of international development and, hence, the single most-important force shaping the future of ICT4D.
In previous blog entries, I have discussed: the process by which the post-2015 agenda is being created; its importance; its content; and the way in which it reflects changing trends and priorities in international development.
In this entry, I summarise the findings from a recent working paper: “ICT4D 2016: New Priorities for ICT4D Policy, Practice and WSIS in a Post-2015 World”. This presents results from a content analysis exercise which compared the content of the post-2015 development agenda against the content of nearly 1,000 pages of ICT4D-related text gathered from WSIS+10 review and vision activities.
The basic comparison is shown in the figure below. It provides a measure of “ICT4D gap” by plotting the extent of difference between the post-2015 text and the WSIS+10 documentation; aggregated into a set of development issues. Issues above the line are more highly represented in ICT4D than in the post-2015 agenda; issues below the line are less highly represented. The larger the indicator the greater the over- or under-representation.
Figure 1: Measure of “ICT4D Gap” Between ICT4D Policy/Practice and Post-2015 Agenda
This chart plus a whole set of other analytical data (see online paper for details) produce the ICT4D priority map shown below. Laterally, it sorts issues in terms of their relation to development. Mainly by type of goals – environmental, economic, social, political, or cross-cutting – but also including development mechanisms, of which ICT itself is one.
Figure 2: Map of Post-2015 ICT4D Priorities
Vertically, it sorts issues in terms of gap. The higher up the diagram a topic appears, the greater the gap between its presence on the post-2015 agenda and its presence in current ICT4D policy/practice as exemplified by WSIS. The larger the gap, the greater the need for additional attention to be paid to that topic. Put another way: in reshaping future WSIS priorities specifically and ICT4D priorities more broadly, there is a logic in starting at the top of the figure.
Further details about the topics identified in the map can be found in the online paper.Follow @CDIManchester
Around the time of the MDGs, ICT4D became the focus for a critical mass of activity; a “sidestreaming” approach that saw specialist ICT4D units arise in a number of international and national organisations. Following the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), this was largely mainstreamed with specialist units being disbanded or shrinking, and ICT4D expertise seen as diffused into the main development sectors. There is a logic to mainstreaming – if done right – in ensuring integration of ICTs into a broad range of development goals.
But there are also many dangers of just mainstreaming, as I have previously summarised: you lose the focus for learning about ICT4D; you hide or downplay technological innovation which can be a source of motivation and hope, and a lever for change; you lose sight of the ICT sector and digital economy roles in development; you silo ICT into individual development sectors and thus miss the technology’s cross-cutting, integrative capabilities; and there is no “Development 2.0” or other vision for ICTs as a force for transformative change.
So alongside mainstreaming, there needs to be some sidestreaming: retaining and supporting specialist ICT4D units within … the UN system overall; individual UN organisations; international development agencies; national development agencies; national governments; international NGOs; etc. But ICT4D seems to spend more time making arguments for mainstreaming than for sidestreaming: in a recent analysis of WSIS+10 documentation, mainstreaming was found to be mentioned on a fairly regular basis but the need for sidestreaming – very much present if one cared to draw it out – was only implicit.
The case for specialist concentrations of expertise will require evidence of the past benefits of, and continuing future necessity for, sidestreamed structures at all levels within development. That should associate the value of sidestreaming just identified – learning, motivation, hope, change, ICT-based livelihoods, integration, transformation, etc – not just with the positive impacts of ICT4D but also the negative: as development becomes ever-more digital, we will require a focused effort to address ICT’s dark side.
As noted, this applies at various levels but the structuring at the level of the UN system mirrors that one would find at the level of individual countries and organisations. Essentially you have a technology-focused structure – the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in the case of the UN; equivalent to a Ministry of ICT at national level or the IT department at organisational level. Its future is never in doubt and it remains the bastion of sidestreaming. But these structures have a problem: they are full of engineers with a techno-centric worldview who find it difficult to understand development language and concepts.
We can characterise the issue in terms of the ICT4D value chain. Technical structures are good at dealing with the technical components of ‘readiness’, and the technical deliverables of ‘availability’. But they are not so good at dealing with the non-technical elements of both stages, nor with the issues of ‘uptake’ and ‘impact’. That would be a problem in itself but it is exacerbated because, over time and as ICT diffuses ever-further into international development, there is a shift in focus from just being concerned about readiness and availability to being equally – if not more – concerned with uptake and impact.
The solution here is that, over time, one places less emphasis on technical personnel and technology-dominated structures, and greater emphasis on ICT4D hybrids: socio-technical people and structures who combine an understanding of informatics (data, information, ICTs, information systems) with an equal understanding of development. In theory, the UN system has this via the UN Group on the Information Society, which was set up in 2006 in the wake of WSIS 2005 to draw together those with ICT4D interests and responsibilities from across the UN system. However, the extent to which UNGIS members are actually hybrids is unclear, and more generally, UNGIS seems to have limited power and reach in part due to its lack of independent resources.
So what of the future for ICT4D structures in the UN system? One could argue for a hybridisation of the ITU: a broadening of its scope to turn it from a technical into a socio-technical organisation that can cover all parts of the ICT4D value chain. But that could be self-defeating in terms of politics and impact: it could create an ICT4D silo that was isolated from development; all sidestream and no mainstream. And it would also be impractical given the focus and interests of ITU’s membership. Far better for ITU to stick to the readiness and availability issues that it does best – infrastructure, standards, access, bridging the digital divide – and instead to strengthen UNGIS with its own clear and independent mandate, funding, and secretariat. It would also make sense to draw other and emergent UN actors into UNGIS, such as Global Pulse.
This would create an appropriate ICT4D structure within the UN system (see figure below) with ITU providing the broad foundation of ICT expertise, and UNGIS providing the hybrid spearhead that connects out to all of development.
Structuring ICT4D Within the UN System
This would also ensure one further essential aspect of ICT4D’s future within the UN system, which is the continuation of WSIS beyond 2015.
[This blog entry is a modified excerpt from the working paper: “ICT4D 2016: New Priorities for ICT4D Policy, Practice and WSIS in a Post-2015 World”.]Follow @CDIManchester
ICT4D drew attention, money and other resources at the turn of the century because it was associated with a compelling narrative. Albeit via a variety of terms, we foresaw the creation of an information society in developing countries; delivering the e-fruits of the global North to the global South.
At present, we have no such ICT4D narrative for post-2015 development. The technology has fragmented with ICT4D struggling to keep hold of mobile, broadband, cloud, social media, smartphones, etc. The development goals and sectors that ICT serves are sub-fragments within economic, social, political and environmental fragments.
Having never really gone away, it is hard for ICT4D to really reinvent itself with a reinvigorated sense of what an “information society” is and why it matters. But it should at least try.
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process – the global node for ICT4D policy and practice – is publishing materials on its “beyond 2015” vision. But as yet these have little to offer. There is no defined core of an information society, just a sweeping up of the many fragments in the hope they might amount to something worth pursuing. The notion of an information society is qualified: in a number of places it must be “inclusive”; at one point it must be “people-centric, inclusive, open and development-oriented” (did someone forget to add “sustainable” to that list?).
The erosion of vision is in some ways understandable because ICT4D stood well ahead of actuality in the early 2000s, offering a clear and different future destination. Over the years, reality in developing countries has started to catch up but WSIS has not maintained its headway: it has moved from casting visions to reflecting realities. WSIS has also fallen victim to a path dependency that keeps it within existing tramlines: a future of the same old action lines, and a conservatism that leads to repetition of increasingly-stale incremental formulations instead of embracing transformative new thinking. If path dependency is typical of institutionalised processes then fragmentation of core concepts is typical of multi-stakeholder processes: it is easier to keep adding phrases to please particular constituencies. But it means “information society” resembles the mule in Buckaroo – increasingly over-laden, and with the only solution that it must throw off all of these loads and boil down to a more singular and coherent vision.
ICT4D could try to join another’s army, looking for a central role within the core narratives of post-2015 development. But those narratives are not yet clear – perhaps sustainable development; perhaps inclusive development – and narratives of “sustainable informatics” or “inclusive informatics” might give ICTs a marginal not central role in development. They would, nonetheless, be worth developing: the questions “where do ICTs fit into a sustainable development agenda?” and “where do ICTs fit into an inclusive development agenda?” remain unanswered.
ICT4D could try grabbing someone else’s flag, claiming the data revolution as its own, and carrying that forward at its head into post-2015 discussions. It won’t be a comprehensive narrative, but at least it would be something that smells of fresh paint.
ICT4D might try to develop its own internal narrative. The two candidates so far have barely sputtered, let alone caught fire. “Development 2.0” – the ICT-enabled transformation of development processes and structures – remains a marginal concept but one worth further investment given transformative development is a third possible narrative of the post-2015 agenda alongside sustainability and inclusivity. “Open development” has, thanks to IDRC, had more thought and work put into it and – another plus – it reaches out well beyond the technology. But that is also its downside: it does not yet resonate as an ICT- or even informatics-related narrative; and it suffers from conflicting meanings (the World Bank’s definition of open development is narrowed to open data and its impact on transparency and accountability; IDRC’s definition is more ambitious and potentially paradigmatic).
All that can be suggested at present, then, is exploratory moves to look for an overarching narrative. The future role and structure of ICT4D policy and practice may well depend on how far forward those moves are able to explore.
[This blog entry is a modified excerpt from the working paper: “ICT4D 2016: New Priorities for ICT4D Policy, Practice and WSIS in a Post-2015 World”.]Follow @CDIManchester
I have a joke – it’s not a very good one – that in ten years’ time new staff joining my development studies department will have to don the equivalent of the Hogwarts sorting hat. This will allocate them to either Somalia, Chad, DRC or Afghanistan, which by then will be the only developing countries left.
Sadly, this will probably be an exaggeration but there is a sense in which the development industry is succeeding, and thus steadily putting itself out of business. Take a look at the ‘five good things’ tab by Hans Rosling at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24835822; or take a look at the changes in the DAC list of aid recipients: the number of low-income countries on the list shrank from 72 in 1997/99 to 54 in 2012/13.
So we have an external, objective reality of fewer developing countries over time. We have some evidence of shrinkage within development discourse: comparing top-10 tag clouds for the MDGs vs. the post-2015 agenda, it is notable that “developing countries” no longer appears.
And we may also have an internal, subjective reality. There must be better data on this – please comment to supply – but I was struck by an anecdotal report from a colleague who has travelled to a number of African countries in the past few months. She found the young Africans she met were unwilling to accept the “developing country” label for their nations, which they saw as stigmatising. They saw the development industry typically focusing on the negative, and missing out on enterprise, innovation, investment, opportunity and other related keyword identities.
In part, this data just reinforces past messages on development becoming a more intra- than inter-country phenomenon e.g. that the majority of the world’s poor live in middle-income countries, and may well continue to do so in coming decades. So we see a decline of the national, geographic identity of development both externally and internally: perhaps a better title would have been “the death of the developing country”. But we also see signs – in Rosling’s presentation but more generally in progress on the MDGs – of fewer individuals overall suffering at the wrong end of the socio-economic development continuum.
While much of this is contested and could be reversed, the direction of travel at present seems clear and it will have important implications.
First, for the notion of international development. One can see this reflected in the changes from the MDGs to the post-2015 agenda, as discussed in a number of prior blog entries. While mainstream notions of economic development and social development remain; they now sit alongside other views: sustainable development, inclusive development, open development, institutional development. The development hegemony of the global North is also being challenged by Southern models of development. In other words we have an increasingly pluralistic notion of development which must bring with it niches and fragmentation in the field. In turn, these could well bring a lack of focus and lower profile for international development.
Second, for development studies departments. Do they shrink themselves down alongside the shrinking of low-income countries? Do they convert themselves into area studies departments? Do they convert themselves into more cross-cutting departments that focus on global challenges: poverty, environment, inequality? Do they embrace the intersections with business schools and expand to encompass the “emerging economy” notion? Linked to all these possibilities is again the question of identity: how do development studies departments brand themselves externally, and think of themselves internally to match the changing development context?Follow @CDIManchester
 I’ll leave aside the discussion about the extent to which the development industry is the cause of the improvements Rosling and the DAC list describe.
 Negative external projections of Africa are, of course, a long-term concern – see, e.g., Pratt, C.B. (1980) The reportage and images of Africa in six US news and opinion magazines, Gazette, 26(1), 31-45
 For analysis of the loss of focus in development see, e.g., http://www.societies.cam.ac.uk/cisa/documents/Chang_Hamlet_Paper.pdf
 For an analysed defence of development studies against dissolution, albeit from 2003, see: http://www.eadi.org/fileadmin/WG_Documents/Reg_WG/lister.pdf
A key theme in the post-2015 development agenda is transformation: a belief that the incremental developmental changes achieved to date will no longer be sufficient in the remainder of the 21st century; and an aspiration for a step-change in approach.
Analysis reported earlier argues development informatics research – studying ICT4D policy and practice – should give a higher priority to researching the relation between ICTs and the transformation of development. Such research already has a terminology – Development 2.0; understood as the ICT-enabled transformation of development.
But what would the Development 2.0 research agenda consist of?
Defining that research agenda has been difficult because defining Development 2.0 has been difficult. And defining Development 2.0 has been difficult because defining “transformation of development” has been difficult.
First, there is the threshold problem – when is a change sufficiently large to be classified as “transformative” as opposed to just “incremental”? Second, there is the direction problem – transformation of what? Of context (e.g. structures)? Of inputs (e.g. goals, visions, aspirations)? Of processes (e.g. business models, partnerships)? Of outputs (e.g. inclusion, sustainability)?
But uncertainty of this type can provide the basis for research. We can use this, plus a few sources that do engage with Development 2.0 as the intersection of ICTs, transformation and development (Thompson 2008, Heeks 2010, Hanna 2011, Thompson 2013, Hanna 2014), to give some outline shape to a Development 2.0 research agenda:
1. Definition: what does Development 2.0 mean? This could start with content analysis of what little has been said and written about Development 2.0; looking for definition in terms of the extent and content of transformation of development. Interpretive work on a broader range of stakeholder views could also be provided.
2. Conceptualisation: how should we understand Development 2.0? Related to definition, this might attack the issue in a more deductive manner by seeking to conceptualise Development 2.0 through particular theoretical lenses drawn from development or informatics studies or other disciplines.
3. Political Economy: who drives Development 2.0? Who are the main stakeholders arguing for ICT-based transformation of development? Why are they putting forward these arguments? Who benefits from this discourse?
4. Ecosystem: who and what makes up a Development 2.0 ecosystem? A Development 2.0 ecosystem is that combination of organisations (government, private sector, NGO/community, etc); institutions (policies, culture, etc), technologies (standards, infrastructure, architecture, applications, etc), and other resources (money, skills, etc) which allows ICTs to have a transformational effect at anything from district to regional to national to international level.
5. Business Model: what are the new ICT-based business models that provide for a transformative developmental impact? In many ways, the Development 2.0 business model is the organisational equivalent of the higher-level ecosystem; covering organisational strategy, structure, process and value chain from suppliers to clients. Despite the ‘business’ language, Development 2.0 models can be identified in public, private and NGO sectors (Heeks 2010).
6. Facilitation: what processes and capacities are needed to facilitate emergence and successful implementation of Development 2.0? This can be answered for both broader ecosystems and narrower business models. It can encompass a focus on structures, on processes, and on the agency of individuals or groups.
7. Impact: what impact does Development 2.0 have? This could be answered in terms of any economic, social, political or environmental understanding of development. So, for example, using lenses of growth, capabilities, inclusion, or sustainability.
The agenda here is still quite general – feel free to suggest inclusions, exclusions, modifications, specifications – but at least it represents a starting point for us to follow.Follow @CDIManchester
 Thompson, M. (2008) ICT and development studies: towards development 2.0, Journal of International Development, 20(6), 821-835
 Heeks, R.B. (2010) Development 2.0: Transformative ICT-Enabled Development Models and Impacts, Development Informatics Short Paper no.11, Centre for Development Informatics, University of Manchester, UK
 Hanna, N. (2011) e-Transformation: Enabling New Development Strategies, Springer, New York
 Thompson, M. (2013) Development 2.0 and beyond, ICT4D Seminar Series, Oxford Internet Institute, 27 Feb
 Hanna, N. (2014) An E-Transformation Research Agenda, personal communication with author, 26 Mar