Archive for February, 2016

Understanding WDR2016 as a Conflict of Closed vs Open Institutional Logics

11 February 2016 3 comments

How can we explain the negative consequences associated with ICTs: the digital deficit and digital ills identified in the 2016 World Development Report?

As summarised earlier, the Report itself blames the digital deficit – inequity in the distribution of ICT benefits to a few “haves” rather than the many “have nots” – on two divides: a digital divide of very uneven access to the digital infrastructure; and a social divide of inadequate policies, skills, and (public sector) institutions.  And it ranges a little wider in identifying authoritarian states, vested interests, and monopolies as the source of some negative ICT-related impacts.

The Report therefore starts to manoeuvre around two classic ICT4D shortcomings[1]:

  • The teleological error: the association of ICTs solely with their intended purposes; assuming that policy needs only focus on removing barriers to diffusion and adoption to deliver development.
  • The structural error: the association of ICTs solely with “imminent development” (incremental, short-term, development driven by individual agency), ignoring the association of ICTs with “immanent development” (the development that emerges from the deep structures of society).

But we can push further than the Report does to look at those deep structures, using the ideas of institutional logics.  Institutional logics are broad social forces with both material and symbolic elements that shape the way we think and act.  Religion, family, state, and market are typical logics but running through digital development is a conflict between two other logics:

  • Open logic: a cooperative logic that values openly-accessible inputs, participative and collaborative processes, and shared distribution of benefits.
  • Closed logic: a competitive or controlling logic that values restriction of inputs, processes and benefits to particular individuals or groups.

At least in the economic and political spheres, closed logic is the dominant global force but challenged sporadically by open logic[2].  On that basis, we can see three patterns reflected in the Report:

  • Reinforcement: cases in which the dominant closed logic is reproduced, or extended, or augmented through use of ICTs. Examples abound: electronic surveillance of citizens by autocratic regimes; the lack of impact of e-procurement systems on bribe-paying and bid participation rates; capture of e-participation systems by political elites; and development of digital monopolies.
  • Insurgence: cases in which the subordinate open logic is strengthened through use of ICTs. For instance, crowdsourcing to report and reduce electoral violence and fraud, creation of open learning systems, or crowdfunding platforms.  But these are fewer and weaker than the reinforcement examples.  So there is a sense of marginality: incremental gains that do not disturb the underlying closed logic – sometimes perhaps deliberate “openwash” that coats closed logic with an open veneer.
  • Metamorphosis: cases in which ICTs initially support open logic which is then translated into closed logic. A number of the Report’s sharing economy examples have followed this trajectory; for example, mutating from non-profit to for-profit.

The Sustainable Development Goals are clear that development to date has been too incremental, and needs to be transformational.  If we take that seriously, then ICT4D must attend to its teleological and structural errors; in particular, asking how ICTs can accompany or even facilitate structural transformation.

This does not mean spurning closed logic and supporting only open logic – competition, control and cooperation are all fundamental human impulses, and none of them alone can deliver development.  But ICTs cannot help deliver the SDGs’ radical agenda if they simply help closed logic grow at the expense of open logic.

This means more ICT4D research on the role of digital technology vis-a-vis the immanent development that emerges from society’s deep structures, and more ICT4D practice that recognises and engages with those structures.

[1] Adapted from Murphy, J.T. & Carmody, P. (2015) Africa’s Information Revolution, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK.

[2] See, e.g., Fuchs, C. (2008) Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age, Routledge, New York.

Understanding e-Waste Management in Developing Countries

2 February 2016 Leave a comment

Organisations are the largest consumers of ICTs and the largest producers of e-waste.  But what shapes their e-waste decisions?  Why do some recycle, others donate, and others dispose?

To understand this, research in the Centre for Development Informatics by Loga Subramanian first categorised four different e-waste strategies:

  • Indifferent: the organisation does not adopt any strategic position in relation to e-waste.
  • Reactive: the organisation adopts the minimum e-waste strategy necessary to react to its context.
  • Proactive: the organisation pushes its e-waste strategy ahead of the basic reactive minimum.
  • Innovative: the organisation sees e-waste as an opportunity and adopts an innovative strategy in order to address that opportunity.

eWaste Strategies

To explain these differences, a six-factor model was developed of e-waste strategy determinants.  Key external determinants were:

  • Government regulation: in particular the threat of fines and other costs associated with non-compliance with environmental regulations.
  • Peer pressure: especially where there is some form of sectoral association.
  • Client requirements: where these include a need for particular environmental standards or actions.
  • Corporate reputation/brand image: given environmental actions are seen to directly correlate to image and reputation.

Key internal determinants were:

  • Financial impact: the financial implications of e-waste decisions.
  • Organisational culture/leadership: the complex of values, beliefs, assumptions and symbols which organisational leaders promote and which shape all decisions and actions.

eWaste Strategy Determinants

Applying this model to India’s largest e-waste producer – the ICT sector – Loga found a significant difference in strategies between different organisations:

  • Very large firms adopted a proactive strategy, driven by significant internal and external pressures that reflected their position within global value chains.
  • By contrast, ICT sector SMEs were largely indifferent to e-waste, felt few external pressures due to their position within localised value chains, and typically used informal channels that produced some financial return on their scrap ICT.

Given these insights, what are the policy implications?  Current legislative approaches – transferred from the global North and based on the principle of extended producer responsibility – are unlikely to help.  e-Waste recyclers must be brought into the legislative and financial equation.  SMEs must be placed within the purview of legislation (they are currently exempt), and SME associations must place e-waste onto their agenda.

If you would like to know more, please refer to the journal article reporting this research, published in the journal, Information Technology for Development and available via open access: “Understanding e-Waste Management in Developing Countries”.

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