The ICT4D Value Chain

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.


7 thoughts on “The ICT4D Value Chain

  1. Demonstrating the impact (or lack of impact) of ICTs on development goals presents, I think, enormous conceptual and practical challenges. For starters, what do we mean by impact? That of course depends on what approach we take to theorizing about “development”. Take your pick and the impact of ICTs gets studied and measured in very different ways. Not that that’s a problem. I raise it only to point out that researchers from all paradigmatic perspectives need to have an immediate think about “impact.”

    As someone who comes to ICT4D research with a background in communication theory, I see parallels in the current ICT4D conversation to the long-running effort by communication scholars to demonstrate that media have “effects” (impacts) on attitudes and behaviors. At least two relevant lessons emerge from the communication literature. (1)Despite decades of work on media effects, meta-analyses often find composite R-squares not much greater than 0.2-0.3 — an almost trivial amount of media impact, strongly suggesting that media-centric, technologically determinist research should be much more attentive to the factors (micro to macro) that are hidden in the unexplained variance. The rhetoric of ICT4D research has always claimed that ICTs are only enablers of development. Question: Are we prepared to say in advance, what “size” R-squares demonstrate that ICTs facilitate development goals or how little variance-explained suggests that ICTs are only bit-players? (2) The second lesson from the communication literature is that media effects often take a long time to emerge. Effects that are demonstrated in a laboratory setting often have very short half-lives. That insight points to two practical challenges for impact studies in the ICT4D space: (1)The strongest case for ICT4D impact can only be made with longitudinal data, because it offers our best chance of sorting out causality. Case in point, Jensen’s heavily (too-heavily?)cited study of Kerala fishermen that was based on five-year’s worth of data; (2) It is the rare funder that is willing to support research that runs for much more than 2-3 years. If we truly want to tackle the Impact Question (and Heeks has done us a substantial favor in foregrounding it), then we all are going to have to get very good at managing research support for the longer term.

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