ICT4D projects and policies can best be understood through a value chain model. As shown in Figure 1 below, this builds on a standard input—process—output model to create a sequence of linked ICT-for-development resources and processes. The model can be used for projects and policies in various ways: to trace their history; to analyse their content; to assess and evaluate.
The ICT4D value chain offers four main domains that can be the focus for historical or content analysis or evaluation:
- Readiness: the systemic prerequisites for any ICT4D initiative; both the foundational precursors that we might conceptualise mainly at the national level such as ICT infrastructure, skills and policy; and the more specific inputs (both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’) that feed into any individual initiative. Assessment could focus on the presence/absence of these resources and capabilities, or the strategy that converts precursors into inputs.
- Availability: implementation of an ICT4D initiative turns the inputs into a set of tangible ICT deliverables; typical among which might be a telecentre or mobile phones. Again, assessment can focus on either the delivered resources and/or the delivery process.
- Uptake: the processes by which access to the technology is turned into actual usage; also noting that key concerns around this process and its ability to contribute to development have related to the sustainability of this use over time, and – for various innovations that are prototyped – the potential or actuality of scaling-up. In practice, usage indicators are more often assessed than the various uptake processes.
- Impact: which can be divided into three sub-elements:
- Outputs: the micro-level behavioural changes associated with technology use.
- Outcomes: the wider costs and benefits associated with ICT.
- Development Impacts: the contribution of the ICT to broader development goals.
Figure 1: The ICT4D Value Chain
How has interest in these four domains changed over time?
One way to trace this is through key staging posts for the ICT4D community:
- The Digital Opportunity Taskforce (DOTForce) arose from the 2000 G8 summit in Okinawa. In 2001, it produced its “Digital Opportunities for All” report which encompassed four focal areas. Three – readiness, connectivity and human capacity – were related only to the Readiness domain; and one – participation in e-networks – looked mainly at Readiness and Availability issues.
- In 2003, the first World Summit on the Information Society was held in Geneva. Its main report was, tellingly, entitled “Building the Information Society” and not surprisingly the main focus was on building ICT connection and access; again looking mostly at the Readiness and Availability domains.
- The second World Summit on the Information Society was held in Tunis in 2005. Unlike its predecessor, its agenda did start to talk about impact. It still had a strong focus on precursors like financing and governance, but it included additional discussion about the application of ICTs, thus starting to encompass the Uptake and Impact domains.
- The largest subsequent meeting was the GK3 event in Kuala Lumpur at the end of 2007. It was shaped by twelve main sub-themes. Analysing these shows a fairly even spread across the four domains, though with Impact by now the largest single focus, followed by Availability.
There has been no subsequent comparable single event in the area drawing together many thousands of participants as these staging posts did; rather, a growing number of smaller events drawing several hundreds. However, a useful bellwether is the Information and Communications for Development Report produced by the World Bank. In its 2009 edition, the ratio of mentions of ‘readiness’ to ‘impact’ was 1:35.
Such evidence is best seen as straws in the wind rather than definitive, but it does suggest a similar pattern to that seen in other areas of ICT application, and summarised in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Changing Focus of ICT4D Priorities Over Time
Whatever the exact shape of the graph, it reflects the relative lack of attention that has been paid to ICTs’ contribution to development until quite recently. That is problematic because, as you move from left to right along the value chain, assessment becomes more difficult, more costly but also more valuable. Of course there has been literature assessing the connection to development including the summary Compendium on Impact Assessment of ICT4D Projects, and the 2010 Journal of International Development policy arena: “Do Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) Contribute to Development?“.
However, donor agencies, governments, academic departments and others must still do more to shift the focus of attention along the ICT4D value chain; and to demonstrate ICTs’ development impact.
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.