Openness and transparency are good things and the more we have of them the better. Right? Wrong.
In contexts of too little openness – “hypo-transparency” – ICTs can help bring greater transparency, with positive developmental effects. But in contexts of relative openness, ICTs are ushering in a hyper-transparency that will destroy public institutions. As summarised in the figure below, I therefore propose an inverse-U relation between e-transparency and various measures of political development, such as trust in public institutions.
As an experiment, try the following. View your beloved from a very far distance. They are a tiny speck, and you feel nothing for them. Now move closer to view them from a few feet away. Likely you will see much to admire and feel a warm glow (if not, it may be time for an upgrade). Now get up really, really close and examine them in minute detail – take a look up their nose, in their ears, inside their . . . well, you get the idea. That glow’s probably not quite so warm now, is it?
Something similar happens with ICTs and transparency. Applied in corrupt, opaque, self-serving environments, ICTs have been shown to reduce corruption and improve the efficiency and equity of practice. But applied further in democratic environments where a reasonable degree of e-transparency and openness already exists, ICTs can make things worse rather than better.
Through greater e-transparency, ICTs help us know ever-more about the behaviour (decisions and actions) of those within public institutions. The majority of that behaviour will be appropriate. But humans are flawed, so they will always make mistakes, act selfishly, and do bad things. Absent other effects, the greater the transparency, the greater the absolute amount of such inappropriate behaviour that will be revealed, and the less citizens will value and trust public institutions.
Any effects of transparency in reducing the amount of behaviour that is inappropriate are mitigated both internally and externally. Internally, transparency pushes institutions to spend increasing time on non-value-adding defensive activities. These include trying to second-guess and avoid what might cause offence or other negative public reaction; excessive caution in behaviour to avoid risk or failure; and inefficiencies in protecting necessary confidential interactions – the “safe space for genuine deliberation” – from external gaze. Yet, “without the exchange of confidences, it is not possible for people to have real confidence in their colleagues and in the organisations that employ them”.
Externally, ever-greater flows of e-transparency data undermine public institutions because of . . .
- Cognitive deficits: the greater the flow of data, the lower the absolute availability of knowledge and motivation among the public to properly interpret that data, leading to a dominance of simplistic interpretations, many of which are negative because of . . .
- Cognitive bias: the negativity bias that causes humans to attend more to bad than good news, to remember bad more than good news, and to form negative stereotypes more quickly which are more resistant to disconfirmation. And the tendency, for example when searching online, to attend to extreme rather than average data. Extreme and negative interpretations of data on public institutions become more prevalent because of . . .
- Political incentives: attention and profile online accrue to those who posit more extreme views, and there are plenty of commentators who have political or economic incentives to criticise current public institutions and who – within already-relatively-open contexts – are able to do so. They have an ability to shape the narrative in part because citizens give up their own interpretation due to cognitive deficits. And thus we have a self-reinforcing spiral.
The impact of this can be seen, for example, in the decline of trust in public institutions in democracies during the Internet era. Dating this from the turn of the century, some illustrations:
- A decline in trust in the European Union from 40% to 30%.
- A decline in Americans’ confidence in Congress from 27% to 7%.
- A halving of Americans’ confidence in news media.
Of course e-transparency is not the only factor behind trust, but a review of some key literature finds little evidence that transparency builds trust. Instead, “in a number of cases, the evidence points in another direction: that is, transparency may ultimately decrease trust”.
This has a number of negative knock-on consequences if lack of trust leads to calls for greater transparency which leads to a further erosion of trust. With only a minority – sometimes a small minority – of citizens trusting institutions, those institutions are weakened in their ability to defend the public realm and public interests. And we see a shift in power from public to private institutions, and from centrist to more extreme political views and parties.
Is this an argument against e-transparency? It is not. But it is an argument that:
- We are guided by the inverse-U curve to give highest priority to using ICTs to open up the most-powerful, least-transparent institutions. That means authoritarian regimes and transnational corporations. Oh, and FIFA. Don’t applaud Edward Snowden until he exposes the workings of the 3PLA, or Julian Assange until he leaks the tax avoidance plans of global IT firms. If you want a transparency hero, pick Herve Falciani.
- We place greater emphasis on accountability than transparency. Transparency, in Furedi’s words, fosters “a political culture of voyeurism”. Accountability – at least when properly designed – fosters reasoned, considered checks and balances against abuse of power.
- We accept there are limits to openness, and that we want transparency but not hyper-transparency: “A democratic society should understand that it is important to uphold the right to the private exchange of views and that not everything officials do ought to be visible to all”.
 Furedi, F. (2011) Let’s stop kowtowing to the cult of transparency, Spiked, 5 Oct http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/11140
 Furedi ibid.
The UN Secretary General’s Synthesis Report on the Post-2015 Agenda was released on 4th December. It’s just one document but could be bellwether of future development priorities.
It represents the culmination of a historical trajectory in the relative presence of “ICT” vs “data” in the development discourse. As discussed in a more detailed post-2015 vs. MDG agenda analysis, ICTs outpolled data at the turn of the century in the Millennium Development Goals. In early post-2015 development agenda documents, this reversed – data was mentioned three times more than ICTs. In the Synthesis Report, the ratio is close to 10:1. Data is mentioned 39 times; ICT just four times.
What would it mean if data replaces ICTs as the core focus for informatics in international development?
For many years there have been concerns about the techno-centricity of ICT4D: the assumption that technology, alone, can be sufficient to generate development; and the failure to recognise the wider contextual factors that govern the impacts of technology. Moving to a data-centric view helps a bit: it moves us to think about the stuff that technology handles, rather than the technology per se.
But it doesn’t help a lot. As Information Systems 101 teaches, it is information, not data, that has value and adds value. And a data-centric view is not inherently better than a techno-centric one at recognising the importance of context. For both these reasons, as I’ve discussed earlier in this blog, it looks like many “data-for-development (D4D)” initiatives to date are stuck at the very first upstream step of the process – they produce data but only rarely produce results.
For the academic community working in the sub-discipline of development informatics, a relative shift from ICT4D to D4D will mean a requirement for new research focus and skills. At the least, we will need to add new research projects and research competencies around data and decision sciences. At the most, these might partly replace – at least in relative weight – technical computing activities and capabilities.
That reorientation will certainly be true of the practitioner community, leading to demand for new postgraduates programmes – MSc Data for Development and the like. Just as with ICT4D, there will be a key role for practitioner hybrids – those with the ability to bridge between the world of data and the world of development – and a need for training programmes to help develop such roles. Arguably the most valuable role – to some extent trailled in my work on ICT4D 2.0 – will be the development informatics “tribrid”, that bridges the three worlds of ICT, data systems, and development.
The existing academic wateringholes and channels of development informatics will need to respond. In particular, the main ICT4D conferences and journals will need to decide whether to make a clear and strong extension of their remit into D4D. Mark Graham and I have made a first step with the 2015 IFIP WG9.4 conference in Sri Lanka; adding a “Data Revolution in International Development” track. This is an example of academic tribridisation: ensuring technology, data and development are covered in one place. It will be interesting to see what the ICTD conference series, and the main journals, do about the coming D4D wave and whether they also tribridise.
Some of the policy and practice wateringholes have already responded. One well-placed convocation is the World Telecommunication / ICT Indicators Symposium. This has, for some time, covered data, ICT and development and could grow to become a key tribrid location. More important but more difficult will be whether the WSIS follow-up process can do the same. As previously analysed, and unless it takes some decisive action, WSIS runs the risk of seeing the data-for-development bandwagon roll past it.
There are no doubt other implications of the limelight shifting from ICT4D to D4D: do add your own thoughts. These implications include value judgements. Data is not the same as technology, and the international development agenda risks taking its eye off ICT just at the moment when a digital development paradigm is emerging; a moment when ICT moves from being a tool for development to the platform for development.
Without a better connection between D4D and ICT4D we also risk losing all the lessons of the latter for the former, and turning the clock back to zero for those now entering the development informatics field riding in the data caravan. It is the privilege of those new to a field to believe they are reinventing the world. It is the burden of those experienced in a field to know they are not.Follow @CDIManchester
 “Informatics” is the complex of data, information, knowledge, information systems, and information and communication technologies.
Should we have a “95:5 rule” for ICTs and development?
Typical consumption-related uses of ICTs touch 95% of people but make only a 5% difference to their livelihoods. This covers “intensive” application of ICTs: their use to intensify an existing livelihood. Examples include use of mobiles to bring market information to farmers; access to e-government at a local kiosk, substituting a journey to district headquarters; use of a website helping handicraft producers sell their goods; or use of email by a retailer in a low-income community.
Typical production-related uses of ICTs touch 5% of people but make a 95% difference to their livelihood. This covers “extensive” application of ICTs: their use to extend the range of possible livelihoods, by created a new ICT-based livelihood. Examples include the umbrella people selling mobile phone calls by the street; or a worker from a poor community undertaking data entry work; or a mobile money service agent. So extensive ICT livelihoods only exist because of ICT and they fall into the ICT sector, broadly defined.
A classic example is the comparison of two studies from Kerala, India. The arrival of mobile phones in one fishing area led to an average 9% increase in profits for fishermen. Given 75% of income in South Indian fishing households comes from fishing, that suggests ICT consumption increased household income by 7% on average. Simultaneous to this, the Keralan government was engaged in setting up an IT impact sourcing initiative, outsourcing data entry and digitisation work to groups of women from below-poverty-line families. These new ICT jobs led to an average 75% increase in household income.
As with most quantitative findings, these specific figures don’t exactly match 5% or 95% but an overall average may get closer.
Let’s first take evidence on intensive use. Consumption-related evidence sometimes reports more than a 5% income increase. But this must be set against other work that shows a less than 5% income increase or no increase or questions the limited time-scales or scope of studies that demonstrate income increases. And it must also be set against the occasional study showing an exact match: “Internet users reported an increase of US$ 51.86 in labor income … 5.01% per year”.
Can we say that 95% of those living in the global South are digital ICT consumers? We are certainly close to that point. There were just over 90 mobile subscriptions per 100 citizens in developing countries in 2014. We need to bump that down to take account of individuals with multiple subscriptions but bump it up again to take account of shared access. The end result will be in the neighbourhood of 95%.
Turning to evidence on extensive use, many of those working in the ICT sector derive 100% of their income from their employment. We could shade that down overall given some with ICT-based livelihoods will have other income sources. The proportion of those working in the ICT sector is growing but typically less than 5% (e.g. 5.7% of employment in OECD countries but generally much lower in less-wealthy countries). As an example, India’s ICT sector represents less than 1% of India’s workforce but that must be multiplied by three given the estimate that two-thirds of India’s ICT jobs lie outside the formal ICT sector. But that estimate may exclude a number of ICT-based livelihoods, so the result may at least be heading for 5%. It is certainly increasing year-on-year.
Given these pulls in various different directions, an endpoint of 95%:5% is not unreasonable, and certainly all the evidence points to some form of strong Pareto-type distribution.
Mathematically, 5% of 95% has the same development effect as 95% of 5%. That means these two uses of ICTs should be given equal emphasis by governments, development agencies, development informatics researchers, ICT4D practitioners, etc.
But at present they are not. Intensive, consumption-related ICT application is given far, far more attention. In future that needs to be rectified, with equal emphasis given to digital inclusion by improving existing livelihoods; and to digital inclusion by creating new ICT-based livelihoods.Follow @CDIManchester
 Heeks, R. & Arun, S. (2010) Social outsourcing as a development tool: the impact of outsourcing IT services to women’s social enterprises in Kerala, Journal of International Development, 22(4), 441-454
 E.g. Aker, J.C. (2008) Does Digital Divide or Provide? The Impact of Cell Phones on Grain Markets in Niger, BREAD Working Papers (177), Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development, Duke University, Durham, NC; Rizvi, S.M.H. (2011) LifeLines: livelihood solutions through mobile technology in India, in: Strengthening Rural Livelihoods, D.J. Grimshaw & S. Kala (eds), Practical Action Publishing, Rugby, UK, 53-70
 E.g. May, J., Dutton, V. & Munyakazi, L. (2011) Information and Communication Technologies as an Escape from Poverty Traps, PICTURE Africa Research Project, Nairobi; cited in Diga, K. (2013) Access and usage of ICTs by the poor, in: Connecting ICTs to Development, L. Elder, H. Emdon, R. Fuchs & B. Petrazzini (eds), Anthem Press, London, 117-136
 E.g. Srinivasan, J. & Burrell, J. (2013) Revisiting the fishers of Kerala, India, in: ICTD2013: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, J. Donner & T. Parikh (eds), 56-66
 OECD (2011) Size of the ICTsector, in: OECD Factbook 2011-2012, OECD, Paris; EC (2012) Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector, EU Skills Panorama, European Commission, Brussels
 NSSO (2013) Key Indicators of Employment and Unemployment in India, 2011-2012, National Sample Survey Office, Government of India, New Delhi; Nasscom (2014) India IT-BPM Overview, Nasscom, New Delhi.
 Nandi, R. (2014) Decent work and low-end IT occupation workers in Delhi, The Journal of Social Science and Humanity Research, 2(1), 9-23
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