“Open development” is a concept with some momentum in the ICT4D field, encouraged particularly by support from IDRC. A core challenge has been theorisation of open development, and here I briefly propose and test the idea that institutional logics can offer such a foundation.
As noted in an earlier blog entry, “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.”
We can understand these ideas better by applying them to a real open development ICT4D case; selecting here the iDART system – open source software developed in South Africa by Cell-Life to help pharmacists dispense anti-retroviral drugs to those with HIV/AIDS. The case has been written up by Melissa Loudon and Ulrike Rivett, and is here reinterpreted through a logics lens.
Cell-Life originated as an inter-university collaboration in Cape Town and, as such, has been heavily influenced by the institutional logics that operate within academic organisations. Universities can be understood as sites of conflict between open and closed institutional logics; with the latter traditionally dominant but the former finding voice.
Examples of the constitution of the two institutional logics and their material (resources, processes, structures) and symbolic (culture) elements are shown in the table below, drawn from the case study.
|Open Logic||Closed Logic|
|Resources||Open source technologies
Freely-accessible data and content
Restricted data and content
|Processes||Inclusive production of knowledge and technology
|Exclusive production of knowledge and technology
|Structures||Unbounded peer-to-peer, multi-disciplinary networks||Mono-disciplinary silos|
|Culture||Universities seen as learning and action research environments
Academics seen as facilitators
|Universities seen as ivory tower storehouses of knowledge
Academics seen as experts
With Cell-Life an enclave of open logic within a wider context of closed logic, conflict between the two logics was inevitable. Examples include:
- System development processes: system developers with a background of closed processes encountered with some difficulty very different open logic imperatives within the project.
- Intellectual property rights: the university’s approach to software – proprietary IP that would be commercialised to the benefit of the university – conflicted with the open source approach underpinning Cell-Life’s work.
- Software market: direct rivalry occurred between open-source iDART software and competing proprietary pharmacy management software.
There were also conflicts over the closed focus on disciplinary silos vs. the open logic of multi-disciplinary action research.
When organisational logics conflict, there are a number of potential outcomes including “decoupling”, “compromise”, and “selective coupling”. In this case, two main outcomes were seen:
- Compromise: a hybrid approach that combines aspects of both open and closed logics. System development processes were neither completely open nor closed, but a mix of the two. Users were involved through feedback on prototypes but the Cell-Life team retained control over the development process, often acting as proxies for users and acting as overall custodians of the system. Some but not all user revision requests were incorporated.
- Protected Niche: Cell-Life created a protected niche of open logic, with barriers created against closed logic. After five years within the university system, Cell-Life was spun-off as a non-profit entity, thus increasing the structural barriers and distance to the dominant closed logic of the university system. The software itself was developed to focus particularly on low-resource, rural pharmacies; a market niche not targeted by closed-logic-based commercial vendors.
What can we conclude?
First, that the idea of open vs. closed institutional logics is applicable to open development projects. Institutional logics offers a new language; a new way to describe and explain what has happened on the project. From this brief analysis, it’s not clear what new insights it provides beyond this; but that may be the nature of this post-hoc, external reinterpretation. There is certainly a case for pre-hoc application of institutional logics – definitely, to analyse open development; likely, to analyse ICT4D more broadly – to help describe the outcome of conflicting logics; to explain when one logic dominates another; to understand how to deal with conflicting logics in practice; and to identify the role of open development/ICT4D champions as institutional entrepreneurs.
Second, and assuming we could generalise the idea of conflict between open and closed logics, this suggests that achieving true “open development” may be very difficult: there will always be pressure to hybridise. But not only might fully-open development be unfeasible, it might also be undesirable. Indeed, both extremes might be undesirable: closed development because it leads to inequality and exclusion, open development because it leads to disincentives to action and potentially-ineffective or chaotic outcomes.
One can see the latter in the case study, which restricts the openness of processes not only because of the pressures of closed logic, but also for reasons of project effectiveness and efficiency. The evidence base here is just preliminary, but could suggest – assuming most development systems lean further to the closed than open end of the spectrum – that the objective should be “more-open development” rather than “fully-open development”.Follow @CDIManchester
 Loudon, M. & Rivett, U. (2013) Enacting openness in ICT4D research, in: Open Development, M.L. Smith & K.M.A. Reilly (eds), MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 53-77; an earlier version available as: Loudon, M. & Rivett, U. (2011) Enacting openness in ICT4D research, Information Technologies & International Development, 7(1), 33-46; some details from Rivett, U. & Tapson, J. (2009) The Cell-Life Project: converging technologies in the context of HIV/AIDS, Gateways, 2, 82-97
 See also Lounsbury, M. & Pollack, S. (2001) Institutionalizing civic engagement: shifting logics and the cultural repackaging of service-learning in US higher education, Organization, 8(2), 319-339
 See Nicholson, B., Malik, F., Morgan, S. & Heeks, R. (2015) Exploring hybrids of commercial and welfare logics in impact sourcing, , in: Openness in ICT4D, P. Nielsen (ed.), Department of Informatics, University of Oslo, Norway, 78-91; which draws on Pache, A.-C. & Santos, F. (2013) Inside the hybrid organization: selective coupling as a response to competing institutional logics, Academy of Management Journal, 56(4), 972-1001
For inclusive innovation to prosper, new policy initiatives are needed, argues the working paper “Policies to Support Inclusive Innovation”. Inclusive innovation is the means by which new goods and services are developed for and by marginal groups (the poor, women, the disabled, ethnic minorities, etc). It is central to addressing inequality in society, and thus increasingly on the agenda of global development actors. (See here for a more detailed explanation of inclusive innovation.)
But inclusive innovation suffers from a series of failures – of innovation development, design, diffusion and use – that provide a rationale for policy intervention:
- Formal innovators focus insufficiently on the poor.
- Informal actors are delinked from innovation systems.
- Those serving peripheral markets have weak adaptive capacity.
- Low-income users lack capability to use innovations effectively.
- Underlying policies and context are weak or absent.
These can then be flipped directly into five main inclusive innovation policy objectives:
- Orient Formal Innovation Systems Towards the Poor. Measures will include creating new innovation partnerships, supporting local innovative research, and reducing risk by providing market incentives for inclusive innovation.
- Promote Grassroots Innovators. Measures will include linking grassroots actors into formal innovation systems e.g. via intermediaries, and incentivising development and diffusion of grassroots innovations.
- Improve Absorptive Capacity of Low-Income Groups. Measures will include building skills to absorb and adapt innovations that meet the needs of marginalised groups, and supporting innovation hubs and clusters.
- Drive More Effective Use of Innovations among Low-Income Groups. Measures include supply-side actions to accelerate affordability of innovations, and demand-side actions to build the skills and knowledge necessary for effective use of innovations.
- Reduce Structural Barriers to Inclusive Innovation. Measures include altering government regulations that exclude or are biased against low-income actors, including altering sourcing rules.
However, such policy measures will only be enacted if there are broader policy changes. This firstly means changing the worldview of policy makers so that they understand there is an important two-way connection between innovation and social inclusion; that marginalised actors are both consumers and producers of inclusive innovation. It also means creating “Inclusive Innovation Policy Collaboratories” that bring together a wide range of stakeholders, and which adopt an experimental and iterative approach to the policy measures outlined above.
The diagram below provides an overview summary of inclusive innovation policy background and recommendations.
As a term, “ICT4D” is a strong and generally positive force. It acts as a magnet to aggregate knowledge and practice. It provides a clear and unambiguous tag for searches and material and events. The “4D” component provides a purpose for activity. Without it, we would lose more than we gain.
There was the well-meaning but ultimately-disadvantageous attempt to supplant it with “ICTD”, and there has been its fractionation as the field has grown into “M4D”, “HCI4D”, “ICT4E”, etc. Now there’s the faint whiff of a new(ish) kid on the block: “digital development”.
At the turn of the century, “digital development” showed signs of becoming the chosen term for application of ICTs to development, before ICT4D nipped in from 2001 to squeeze it out. It had a moment in the sun during the 2000s when it was used to help explain the digital divide. And now it has received some recent resuscitation. In 2014, UNCSTD commissioned a report on Digital Development, and USAID set up a Digital Development team as part of its Global Development Lab. In 2015, the widely-cited “Principles for Digital Development” were launched. In 2016, it got a cluster of mentions in the World Development Report, “Digital Dividends”.
As a term, “digital development” has plenty going against it: it’s generically ambiguous (searches bring up material on development of fingers and toes); it’s specifically ambiguous (searches bring up material on development of digital devices, or child development of digital technology capabilities); it doesn’t offer a snappy tag or signal; it has no inherent purpose. Personally, I think it better we badge this “ICT4D 3.0” given the many benefits of the ICT4D label. (Actually, “ICT4D 2.0” would be better still but I already jumped the gun on that one back in 2009.)
Nonetheless, “digital development” is a term with a bit of momentum behind it, and also a sense from recent entrants to the field – admittedly only gleaned from conversations at the WDR2016 London launch – that it is somehow new, and different from ICT4D. So, at the Centre for Development Informatics, we decided to run with that and see where it got us: holding a brown-bag lunch at which everyone was asked to assume there is some kind of phase change from ICT4D to Digital Development and, given that, to give examples or indicators of that change.
Our summary of the phase change differences is shown in the table below. A blog is not the place to provide a detailed explanation of the content, but I’ll note some main features:
- Our bumper slogan was that digital technologies are a tool for development under ICT4D, but wiil be the platform and medium for development under Digital Development.
- Digital Development both informs and is informed by a wider sense of phase change from “international development” to “global development” (discussed at a different brown-bag event of which more, perhaps, anon). One particular aspect of this – still a matter of much debate – is that development becomes a universal process, not one restricted to developing countries; a changing geography also seen within the shift in content from MDGs to SDGs.
- It seeks to incorporate earlier ideas like “Development 2.0” (seen as exemplifying some of the new development models of a Digital Development era) and “ICT4D 2.0” (seen as the innovation worldview that underpins Digital Development).
- It draws significantly from existing ideas on the network society and internet studies, and seeks to incorporate them into the global development domain. That intersection of digital and development is where most work still needs to be done. Castells & Himanen recently had a stab at this but it remains a work in progress. Alongside research into, and examples of, all the elements in the right-hand column, thinking about the digital/development intersection therefore forms the main agenda to take forward.
|Development||Development goals||MDGs||SDGs (Inclusion, Sustainability, Transformation)|
|Nature of development||International Development (global South)||Global Development (universal)|
|Technology||Infrastructure||Partial (individually-connected ICTs; global North dominant presence)||Ubiquitous (cloud-based “digital nervous system” of converged ICTs; global South dominant presence)|
|Key technologies||PC, internet, mobile phone||Smartphone, broadband, sensor, 3D printer|
|Focus||Conspicuous artefacts, devices||Data, information (artefacts become unobtrusive, tacit in life)|
|Development Application||Development role||Tool for development||Platform and medium for development|
|Development models||“Development 1.0”: digitising and improving existing development processes
|“Development 2.0”: redesigning development processes and systems (users as digital producers, the power of the crowd, digital participation, network structures, data-intensive development, and open development)|
|“Intensive development” and discrete digital economy||“Extensive development” and pervasive digital economy|
|Innovation model||“ICT4D 1.0”: inclusive pro-poor (laboratory), semi-closed, linear||“ICT4D 2.0”: inclusive para-poor/per-poor (participative, grassroots), semi-open, agile & iterative|
|Development Systems||Development geography||Places and nodes||Spaces, hybrid places, relations, and flows (breakdown of time/space barriers)|
|Development structures||Linearity: hierarchies and chains||Complexity: multi-scalar, interconnected (but still hierarchical) networks and ecosystems|
|Networks: local, national; simple and loose-connected; physical||Networks: transnational, global; complex and inter-connected; physical and virtual|
|Generic impacts: stability, development||Generic impacts: volatility, ripple of shocks, uncertainty, precariousness, potential regression|
|Development processes||Human (decisions & actions)||Smart (algorithmic decision-making; automated action)|
|Development logics||Closed-dominant||Form (models/structures) and practices (processes) change but still closed-dominant|
|Development Agency||Capabilities||Digital immigrant||Digital native|
|Technology usage||Partial, intermittent||Digital immersion|
|From physical collective to individual use (introspection)||From individual to virtual collective use (performance)|
|Development Impacts||Economic development||Enhanced capitalism||Frictionless capitalism|
|Political development||Accelerated liberalism||Accelerated pluralism|
|Impacts worldview||Positive||Positive and negative|
|Development Policy||Policy structures||Feudal: partly-mainstreamed (cells within sectoral silos)||Federal: fully-mainstreamed (foundation to all sectoral policy/strategy) & sidestreamed (cross-cutting coherence)|
|Development issues||Inclusion: digital divide (absolute exclusion)||Inclusion: network position (relative exclusion and adverse inclusion)|
|Sustainability: of ICT4D projects||Sustainability: of development; resilience|
|Transformation: only digitisation and improvement as potential impacts||Transformation: redesign and transformation as potential impacts|
|Value chain focus||Readiness to Uptake as constraints to positive impacts||Impact: positive and negative|
|Development Informatics Research||Research issues||Incremental impacts: digitisation and improvement of traditional development||Disruptive impacts: redesign and transformation, including digital economy and digital politics|
|Readiness and adoption||Political economy and digital harm|
|Technology and context||Agency, institutions, and structural relations|
|Conceptual models||Traditional disciplinary conceptions||Network models, complex adaptive systems|
|Digital divide models||Political economy models|
|Technology acceptance model||Institutional logics|
My thanks to all CDI colleagues (MSc ICT4D students, PhD researchers, and staff) who contributed at and after the brown-bag lunch, and without whom there would be no table.Follow @CDIManchester
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:
- 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. 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.Follow @CDIManchester
 Adapted from Murphy, J.T. & Carmody, P. (2015) Africa’s Information Revolution, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK.
 See, e.g., Fuchs, C. (2008) Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age, Routledge, New York.
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.
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.
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”.Follow @CDIManchester
Some years back, helping run a session at the World Bank, I introduced myself to a table of participants. “Oh yes”, came the sniffy response, “you’re the ICT failure guy”. This was a World Bank that believed in – and heavily promoted – the development benefits of ICTs, and had little time for any contrary evidence.
Judging from this year’s World Development Report – “Digital Dividends” – that rose-tinted optimism has been replaced by a much more realistic, and somewhat downbeat, perspective on ICT4D; a perspective that’s emerged from strong engagement with the current evidence base.
WDR2016 is a tale of three divides.
The first is an impact divide: a gap between ICT’s widespread diffusion and its actual delivery of benefits – the “digital dividends” of the title. As one would expect, the Report does a great job of laying out those dividends, particularly through pithy frameworks and graphics. It shows the way in which ICT affordances of efficiency, inclusivity and innovation have driven productivity, growth and jobs in the economic sphere, and more capable and responsive governments in the political sphere.
Yet alongside the digital dividend has come:
- a digital deficit: inequalities in the distribution of these benefits with a few “haves”, many “have nots”, and far more “have lesses”; and
- digital ills: cybercrime and curtailment of online freedoms that sit beside the ICT4D unmentionable, online pornography.
The cause of these problems – at least the digital deficit – is the two other divides.
The digital divide is familiar territory: the problems of accessibility and affordability with customary prescriptions that mix competition and regulation, and at least a mention for the applicability problems that arise from digital illiteracy. But of more interest is the strong recognition that a social divide is the main determinant of the pattern of ICT4D impacts: a gap between the regulations, skills, and institutions needed to deliver digital dividends for all vs. the actual regulations, skills and institutions present within developing countries.
Those who believe in a contextualised, socio-technical approach to ICT4D will nod along to all this. Even the consequent prescriptions – “regulations that allow firms to connect and compete; skills that technology augments rather than replaces; and institutions that are capable and accountable” – while they have an expected flavour of neo-liberalism, constitute a broader digital policy agenda than often promoted in the past by the World Bank.
This broader agenda reflects a bigger picture issue: the Report is one more marker of the transition from “ICT4D” to “digital development”. The absence of ICT4D (it gets no mentions save a bibliographic reference to one of my papers) in favour of digital development is more than just a change in terminology but – as I’ve written in an earlier report (see here for edited version) – reflects the slow change from ICTs being a tool that assists development to their being the platform that mediates development.
The agenda for digital development will be substantially shaped by the Sustainable Development Goals, with their three essentials of transformation, inclusion and sustainability:
- As noted above, WDR2016 identifies how much ICTs have already delivered; how reality has so far undershot the transformative potential of ICTs, due to technical and social divides; but also what the solutions might be.
- Inclusion – or rather lack thereof – is also a key Report theme, citing concentration of economic and political power, state and corporate control of citizens, and inequality of economic impacts. The Report’s focus on economic and political domains means it has much less to say about ICTs and inequalities in other domains such as social and family and cultural life. It is also rather mixed in its perspective on ICTs and inclusion: at times arguing inequalities “persist, not because of digital technologies, but in spite of them”, but in other places explaining how ICTs have facilitated digital monopolies, automation of middle-income jobs, and digital authoritarianism.
- Sustainability and its operationalisation through resilience gets a brief acknowledgement but – as I’ve noted in my “ICT4D2016” paper – much remains to be done to really get a grip on the coming e-sustainability and e-resilience agenda.
The practice of digital development will be substantially shaped by Development 2.0: the ICT-enabled innovations that challenge existing development structures and processes: users as digital producers, the power of the crowd, digital participation, network structures, data-intensive development, and open development. In largely reviewing the existing evidence base, “Digital Dividends” has less to say about these. But they are identifiable within the Report as part of the coming flow.
WDR1998/99 (“Knowledge for Development”) had an important impact in kick-starting ICT4D. WDR2016 faces a different world – one far more mature, and perhaps a little jaded in its experience of ICTs and development, but it reflects this evolution well and will be a vital pointer for the “digital development” future.
Disclosure: I was an invited Advisory Panel member for WDR2016.Follow @CDIManchester
Now the Sustainable Development Goals are with us, what are the implications for ICT4D? A recent discussion held by members of the Centre for Development Informatics gave some pointers.
The MDGs have run their course, achieving a mixed bag of success. The post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – an ambitious set of 17 goals and 169 targets – take over the proverbial baton in the global race towards achieving, what has been described as “the world we want”. There are criticisms of the efficacy of these types of goals and the processes by which they are derived. But they provide a starting point and framework around which actors with varied mandates can gather. Indeed, the SDGs have already begun to shape the development discourse, development models and development funding mechanisms.
The discussion was initially motivated by a blog post from Tim Unwin where he critiques the limited role of ICTs within the SDGs. While several discussants sympathised with many of the points raised in Unwin’s article, others took an alternate view. Too great a presence for ICTs could risk re-kindling the ICT4D hype-cycles that generated unrealistic expectations in the 1990s and early 2000s. If the telecentre age taught us anything, it is that overemphasising the ability of ICTs to generate development outcomes is counterproductive for developing communities, as well as for donor and ICT communities.
Others argued that the low profile for ICTs was encouraging because it reflected the times in which the SDGs were written: a recognition of the embeddedness and pervasiveness of ICTs within a progressively digital society. Consequently, not only are ICTs now seen as instrumental, they have become a platform through which development activities are increasingly mediated. For instance, even if not explicitly mentioned, it is impossible to conceive effective environmental monitoring that does not involve sensors, satellite imaging, and a solid infrastructure to handle the data generated. Additionally, ICTs are now raising development issues of their very own: digital identities, digital exclusion, privacy and security come to mind.
Another theme we tackled was the relationship between the SDGs and ICT4D research. The questions considered included: “Do we obtain our research agenda from the SDGs or from what we see happening in the world of ICTs? Should the engagement of the ICT4D academic community with our peers in policy and practice be informed by the SDGs?”.
There was consensus that, while the SDGs might not necessarily drive ICT4D research agendas, they can provide a vehicle and language through which we can make more explicit linkages between our research and the development issues of our day. Developmental progress is often seen to result from changes in behaviour. Identifying and fostering the factors that cause or inhibit behavioural change are, therefore, integral to development planning and policy-making. ICT4D researchers can improve the support we offer to policy, practitioner and entrepreneurial colleagues by providing better evidence of how ICTs impact behavioural changes that are aligned with the realisation of the SDGs. Therefore, we discussed the need for ICT4D researchers to become more adept at discerning issues of causality around human behaviour and ICTs.
As researchers motivated by global inequality and pressing social concerns, we felt our work should not just focus on addressing knowledge gaps but development gaps. Here, the SDGs provide guidance. Case in point, Goal 13 calls for urgent action against climate change and its impacts and a recent survey of ICT4D research identified significant gaps in our knowledge about ICTs, the environment and climate change. So, if you have a particular concern for the environment (perhaps we all should?) and are keen on starting a PhD, this might be an area on which to focus.
The example above highlights bigger questions about the relationship between knowledge gaps and development priorities and how knowledge gaps around particular development priorities, such as climate change, have remained scarcely addressed within our field. On this theme, we focused on how the SDGs can be used to bridge these gaps and priorities. One practical approach for academics and anyone interested in addressing development priorities within the ICT4D space – practitioner, policy maker, entrepreneur or combination – is to use the SDGs as a stepping stone to find that unique point where the wider social concerns of development, our desire to make a difference (personal actualisation), and sustainable mechanisms (through business, NGO, public agency, etc) intersect.
On Addressing Development Priorities through ICT4D
These are just a few ideas. We are curious to hear what others have to say and welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.
Written by Ritse Erumi, Juan Gomez and Ryo Seo-Zindy (CDI PhD Researchers)Follow @CDIManchester