Mountain regions are home to one-tenth of the world’s population. Yet they are also among the poorest, most-remote and most-excluded areas. Can ICTs address these issues?
Maybe. But, to date, there has been very little research on this: partly because mountain areas are the last places on earth to get connected; partly due to the lack of conceptual frameworks attuned to the specific conditions of these areas.
Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics has published a working paper – Remoteness, Exclusion and Telecentres in Mountain Regions: http://bit.ly/Hvkk4 – which develops two simple frameworks. One looks at the positive and negative impacts that ICTs have on resources moving into and out of mountain communities. The other looks at the “information chain” (see below): the set of actions and complementary inputs required for information to have a resultant development impact.
Using these frameworks to analyse the impact of a telecentre set up within a poor community in the high Andes, we found ICTs enabling new and positive resource flows for the two key user groups: teenaged school students and young farmers. These flows help to maintain social networks. They also support information searches that have improved agricultural practice so long as other information chain resources have been available. But non-use and ineffective use of the telecentre are found where information chain resources are lacking.
ICTs have some impact on intangible elements of remoteness. In this particular example, they also offer access to some previously-excluded resources. But they have not really addressed the systemic exclusions faced by mountain communities. And they so far appear to be a technology of inequality; favouring those residents who begin with better resource endowments.
On this basis, we recommend that mountain ICT projects need to be:
- “Info-centric“: focusing less on the technology and more on the data that technology carries.
- “Chain-centric“: attending to the additional information chain resources – over and above technology and data – that are required in order to turn digital data into development results.
- “Socio-centric“: recognising that new information chain resources are mainly provided by individuals’ social contact networks.
- “Econo-centric“: being especially mindful of ICT uses that enable new or more productive income-generating activities.
But this work is just a small start: we need much more research to be done as ICTs diffuse into mountain communities; work that takes account of the specific geographies of those communities.
Where are the Amazon and eBay for international development? ICT has delivered new models for business and commerce; is it also delivering new models for international development?
A new short paper, “Development 2.0: Transformative ICT-Enabled Development Models and Impacts” outlines some initial ideas (summarised below), building on an earlier Viewpoints column in Communications of the ACM.
Ideas about Development 2.0 must be initial because ICTs have only very recently diffused to the bottom of the pyramid (with many gaps and inequalities remaining). A first pass suggests three potentially-transformative, ICT-enabled development models:
- Direct Development delivers resources and services without the intervention of traditional development actors; where those resources and services can be digitised. Examples would include Kiva, MYC4 and similar micro-lending platforms.
- Networked Development occurs neither solely through the state and similar agencies nor through the market, but through a mesh of actors and institutions that are connected and can act together through ICTs. Examples include txteagle’s crowdsourcing, and the ‘crowdvoicing’ of e-participatory budgeting. (See also an example of emergent ICT-enabled networks impacting development.)
- Grassroots Development occurs from within poor communities, as a result of ICT-enabled empowerment. Examples include beeping/flashing, and use of airtime as currency. (See further discussion in an earlier entry on grassroots ICT4D innovation.)
These models could only be judged transformative if they are having real and significant new development impacts. Evidence is only just emerging, but five types of impact are starting to be seen:
- Connecting the excluded: providing information and other livelihood assets including social capital that were previously unavailable.
- Disintermediation: cutting out the gatekeepers who prevent access to resources and services, or who charge rents for such access.
- Digital production: enabling those in low-income communities to become producers of digital content, and to develop ICT-based productive livelihoods.
- Digital innovation: enabling those in low-income communities to appropriate technology to such an extent that they start to do new things with it.
- Collective power: enabling communities to bring the power of the group to bear in the service of economic or socio-political agendas.
These ideas on models and impacts, however, leave many questions:
- How should we frame and conceptualise ideas about Development 2.0?
- How can we properly distinguish between an incremental and a transformative effect of ICTs on development processes and structures?
- Where can we get independent, long-term impact data relating to the new ICT-enabled models, as opposed to the current ‘evidence’, much of which is anecdotal and/or written by those with vested interests.
These and other Development 2.0 issues form part of the ongoing research agenda for Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics.