Archive

Archive for the ‘Development 2.0’ Category

Crowdfarming: Platform-Enabled Investment in Nigerian Agriculture

20 November 2018 Leave a comment

Crowdfarming is fast becoming the easiest means of investing in agriculture in Nigeria. On one hand, we have smallholder farmers who have agricultural skills and farmland but lack sufficient finance.  On the other hand, there are individuals who have money to invest but lack agricultural skills and access to farmland. Intermediated by digital platforms (Figure 1), crowdfarming entails sourcing funds from several individuals (the crowd) to invest in smallholder agricultural enterprises. In some cases, investors receive returns in the form of agricultural produce, while in other cases returns are financial – that is, investors receive their initial investments plus profits [1].

Figure 1: Snapshot of a Nigerian digital platform-enabled crowdfarming webpage (source: Thrive Agric, 2018)

There are currently at least seven active (indigenous) digital platform-enabled crowdfarming agribusinesses in Nigeria. These are: Thrive Agric, Farmcrowdy, Growcropsonline, Growsel, Farmkart, eFarms and Agropartnerships. Drawing from research carried out with Thrive Agric, it is understood that investors (also called ‘farm subscribers’) are considered part-owners of farms they invest in. The contractual agreement between the crowdfarming platforms and farm subscribers provides details on the returns on investment per farm enterprise, length of the production/investment cycle (e.g. see Figure 1), insurance cover on funds invested, and secure online payments. Farm subscribers also receive regular information on the farm’s progress through email alerts and notification of final payments at the end of the production cycle. Subscribers can also apply to visit the farms they invest in.

In Nigeria, crowdfarming platforms are tapping into a large pool of financial investors who are mostly educated individuals, located in urban areas in Nigeria or in the diaspora. Thrive Agric’s model has attracted over 3500 investors, located in 10 countries (Figure 2), who have invested in nine agricultural value chains, directly supporting the livelihoods of over 12,000 farmers (Figure 3), since its inception in 2017.

Figure 2: Geographic spread of Thrive Agric’s crowdfarming subscribers investing in smallholder agricultural production across Nigeria (source: author’s field research, 2018)

Figure 3: Geographic spread of Nigerian states where crowdsourced funds are invested by Thrive Agric (source: author’s field research, 2018)

Despite its growing recognition as a means of investing in agriculture, some factors still constrain the scaling-out of the crowdfarming model beyond its current scope. These factors include:

  • Low level of awareness and trust issues: according to the Chief Technical Officer of Thrive Agric, not many people are aware of crowdfarming and its benefits to both investors and farmers in Nigeria. As such, there is still the potential for more people to invest but getting the word out there, cost effectively, remains a challenge.
  • Currency and bank transaction issues: currently, investing in Nigeria’s agriculture through crowdfarming can only be carried out in Nigeria’s currency (the Naira) due to fluctuations in foreign exchange rates. As a result, investors are required to have a Naira account to participate in this space.

Looking ahead: what does the future hold for Nigeria’s agricultural growth through crowdfarming?

Investing in Nigerian agriculture has been described as key to driving the growth of the sector and Nigeria’s economy in general [2][3]. However, the growth of Nigeria’s agricultural sector has been constrained by a myriad of factors especially those relating to low financial investments in infrastructure, agricultural research, high yielding inputs and information delivery [4]. As agricultural production in Nigeria is still largely rain-fed, the issue of timely access to finance, ahead of the rainy season, remains a reoccurring constraint to the socio-economic growth of farmers (ibid). Figure 2 shows that digital platforms are breaking down barriers to agricultural investments in Nigeria by bridging the gap between investors (both home- and diaspora-based) and smallholder farmers.

However, there is still a lot to understand in terms of the long-term impact of investing in agriculture through digital platform-enabled models like crowdfarming. Research is also needed to ascertain the nature of interaction between these platform models and the existing institutional forms that govern agricultural value chains. This will help broaden our understanding and the broader implications for the distribution of value among stakeholders along agricultural value chains that are platform-enabled.

References

[1] Flynn, P. (2015) What is Crowdfarming, Hazel Blog http://blog.hazeltechnologies.com/article-27-what-is-crowdfarming

[2] Izuchukwu, O. (2011) Analysis of the contribution of agricultural sector on the Nigerian economic development, World Review of Business Research, 1(1): 91-200

[3] Udoh, E. (2011) An examination of public expenditure, private investment and agricultural sector growth in Nigeria: bounds testing approach, International Journal of Business and Social Science, 2(13): 285-292

[4] Phillip, D., Nkonya, E., Pender, J. and Oni, O.A (2009) Constraints to Increasing Agricultural Productivity in Nigeria: A Review (Vol. 6). International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC

Advertisements

Organisational Use of Social Media: A Perspective on International Development NGOs

28 September 2018 Leave a comment

Social media have become a ubiquitous phenomenon; no-one would argue nowadays. From sharing personal experiences to connecting with other people the implications of these technologies are beyond the eye can reach. Social media have entered the international development area too. The ICT-for-development field is exploring and trying to understand the potential of social media and emerging technologies such as cloud. The impact of social media for development purposes is still an ongoing research process [2]. The potential of social media in the context of international development covers four broad areas, which are: connecting with others; collaborating with other people; creating and sharing content; and finding, using, organising and reusing content [1].

How organisations make sense of technology use for their goals is an ongoing research topic. This also applies to non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGOs are active players in the field of international development, both as providers of aid and services to underprivileged communities as well as policy advocates [3, 4]. Despite the enormous diversity of NGOs, a general characterisation of NGOs is nonetheless possible within the context of this study. NGOs have the following five characteristics: institutionalised organisation, separate from the government (non-state), non-profit, self-governing and often some degree of voluntary participation in its activities [5-7].

Table 1. A classification of Northern development NGOs

Table 1 is a classification of Northern development NGOs. “North” in development discourse often means the OECD countries are considered, whereas “South” depicts non-OECD countries [8]. The first generation of NGOs focused on emergency relief and welfare. As a development strategy relief and welfare are mostly a temporary alleviation of the signs of underdevelopment. The second generation brought more attention to small-scale and self-reliant local community development. However, NGOs soon realised the limited impact of this approach, and this led to the third generation, aiming at sustainable systems development, in local public and private organisations that are linked into a supportive national development system. These NGOs are moving from a service delivery role to a facilitating one, where they facilitate other organisations to create capacities, relationships and responsibilities required to address designated needs in a sustainable way [9]. Korten [5] and De Senillosa [10] go even further suggesting the need for a fourth-generation category, which will facilitate the coming together of loosely-defined networks of people and organisations to transform the institutions of global society [5]. Fowler [11] speaks of civic innovation for creating innovative solutions to old and new social problems based on action and support from the citizen base.  A fifth scenario is that development NGOs are beginning to stimulate the role of international and local businesses in the social sustainability of the South [12] or even to take up that role themselves as social entrepreneurs using commercial undertakings to cross-subsidise social interventions [13].

Some NGOs tend to focus solely on emergency aid but nowadays development NGOs often have activities that cover a mixture of these so-called generations or development mindset goals, thus showing a combination of roles the NGOs take within the same organisational entity. NGOs are not static throughout their lifespan and some of their activities may be dropped or evolve to others that fit better with a different NGO role in another column as shown in Table 1.

Organisational Social Media Use for Development NGOs 

More and more development NGOs are harnessing the power of social media to affect change [14]. Social media have been used for activities such as organising community activism, for empowering citizens, and for coordinating emergency or disaster relief efforts [15]. Examples of mapping disaster-struck regions using social media after earthquakes or after hurricanes have shown the potential of crowdsourcing for NGOs involved with relief activities [16-18]. Table 2 illustrates the specific uses of social media for the various roles and accompanying dominant mind-set the development NGOs have as found in research I have undertaken.

NGO’s development mindset Example
Social Media Use in Relation to NGO’s Activities for Emergency Assistance A Dutch NGO developed an emergency app that mapped the needs of communities in need in a disaster struck area. Local communities can relay information on what’s needed via mobile phones (even via text messages), or via Internet-connected devices.
Social Media Use in Relation with Development Activities An NGO created an online community mainly of villages in the global South who share indigenous knowledge and experience, mainly on agricultural practices. The community connected villages from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Social Media Use when Development Becomes a Self-Reliant Political Process An NGO has created online resources to inform citizens on digital activism. They have also established emergency response capacity and support for bloggers, cyber activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and other civil society activists, that are under threat. 
Social Media Use for Human and Sustainable Development An example of this case is a network of young practitioners from various development NGOs who organised an online (and offline) community to address prejudices in international development and particularly reframing the message and perception of the global South. They have set up an annual online contest to showcase good and bad examples from social media campaigns by Dutch development NGOs.
Social Media Use when Development Goes Beyond Aid

 

An example is one NGO that is transforming from being a crowdsourcing platform for small-scale private initiatives for development projects, toward a social enterprise that will work increasingly with businesses and cities by offering them a “do good” platform for their employees and citizens. This has also changed a North-South dichotomy as the projects are both in the global North as well as in the global South.

Table 2. Specific uses of social media for the various roles and accompanying dominant mindset of development NGOs

If we take the five aforementioned NGO strategic activities and cross-reference these with the four potential activity areas of social media use in the context of aid and development [1], we arrive at an applicability framework as shown in Table 3. The social media activities are sorted along the four areas for each NGO’s strategic developmental activity. This work-in-progress framework provides NGOs with a practical instrument for assessing the use of social media for international development purposes.

Table 3. Classification of social media activities related to development objectives of NGOs

This work-in-progress artefact provides a useful and nuanced starting point for development NGOs to explore their organisational use of social media and align these to the NGO activities as mentioned in the columns of the table. Based on the NGO’s activities one or more columns are relevant for assessing the use of social media. The cells in the table that are found when intersecting the column with the rows provide information on how social media acts for that specific development purpose and social media activity in the context of development in mind. The arrows indicate that these cells are similar to the cell on the left of them.

Social media have the potential of transforming patterns of work and interactions of organisations [19]. For the changing role that NGOs take when development goes beyond aid, this aspect of social media may prove to be very useful.

The framework as shown in Table 3 is being discussed with practitioners from development NGOs to assess its practical contribution. Some are cautious about development outcome of ICT and social media [20]. “Social media for development is a contested process that might amplify rather than dissipate powerful voices, and transform a fairly open online space as a proxy for mediated participation in support of the status quo”, they argue. The table is hoped to help explore such issues further.

References

  1. Zuniga, L. and N. White, Module Web 2.0 and Social Media for Development, in Information Management Resource Kit (IMARK). 2009, FAO.
  2. Heeks, R., ICT4D 2016: New Priorities for ICT4D Policy, Practice and WSIS in a Post-2015 World, in Development Informatics Working Paper Series. 2014, Centre for Development Informatics, Institute for Development Policy and Management, SEED, University of Mancheste: Manchester.
  3. Clarke, G., Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Politics in the Developing World. Political Studies, 1998. 46(1): p. 36-52.
  4. Atack, I., Four Criteria of Development NGO Legitimacy. World Development, 1999. 27(5): p. 855-864.
  5. Korten, D.C., Getting to the 21st century: voluntary action and the global agenda. 1990: Kumarian Press.
  6. Salamon, L.M. and H.K. Anheier, In Search of the Nonprofit Sector I: The Question of Definitions. 1992: Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies.
  7. Lewis, D. and N. Kanji, Non-Governmental Organizations and Development. 2009: Taylor & Francis.
  8. Mitlin, D.C., A study of relations between Northern and Southern NGOs in Kenya. 2003, London School of Economics and Political Science (United Kingdom).
  9. Korten, D.C., Third generation NGO strategies: A key to people-centered development. World Development, 1987. 15, Supplement 1(0): p. 145-159.
  10. De Senillosa, I., A new age of social movements: A fifth generation of non-governmental development organizations in the making? Development in Practice, 1998. 8(1): p. 40-53.
  11. Fowler, A., NGDOs as a moment in history: Beyond aid to social entrepreneurship or civic innovation? Third World Quarterly, 2000. 21(4): p. 637-654.
  12. Bendell, J. and D.F. Murphy, Partners in Time? Business, NGOs and Sustainable Development. 1999, The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD): Geneva.
  13. Fowler, A., NGO futures: Beyond aid: NGDO values and the fourth position. Third World Quarterly, 2000. 21(4): p. 589-603.
  14. Ørecomm, Social Media in Development Cooperation, ed. R.S. Braskov. 2012, Malmö University and Roskilde University: Ørecomm – Centre for Communication and Glocal Change.
  15. Bresciani, S. and A. Schmeil. Social media platforms for social good. in Digital Ecosystems Technologies (DEST), 2012 6th IEEE International Conference on. 2012.
  16. Crowley, J. and J. Chan, Disaster relief 2.0: the future of information sharing in humanitarian emergencies, in Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. 2011, iRevolution – From Innovation to Revolution: Washington D.C. and Berkshire, UK.
  17. Livingston, S. and G. Walter-Drop, Bits and Atoms: Information and Communication Technology in Areas of Limited Statehood. 2014: OUP USA.
  18. Meier, P. Using AIDR to Collect and Analyze Tweets from Chile Earthquake. iRevolution Blog: From innovation to Revolution 2014 3 April 2014 [cited 2014 3 May]; Available from: http://irevolution.net/2014/04/03/using-aidr-to-collect-and-analyze-tweets-from-chile-earthquake/.
  19. Suarez, D.F., Nonprofit Advocacy and Civic Engagement on the Internet. Administration Society, 2009. 41(3): p. 267-289.
  20. McLennan, S.J., Techno-optimism or Information Imperialism: Paradoxes in Online Networking, Social Media and Development. Information Technology for Development, 2015: p. 1-20.

Open vs. Closed Institutional Logics in Open Development Projects

“Open development” is a concept with some momentum in the ICT4D field, encouraged particularly by support from IDRC[1].  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[2], 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[3].

  Open Logic Closed Logic
Resources Open source technologies

 

Freely-accessible data and content

Proprietary technologies

 

Restricted data and content

Processes Inclusive production of knowledge and technology

 

Student-centred learning

Exclusive production of knowledge and technology

 

Didactic teaching

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”[4].  In this case, two main outcomes were seen:

  1. 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.
  2. 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[5].

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”.

[1] Reilly, K.M.A. & McMahon, R. (2015) Quality of Openness, IDRC, Ottawa

[2] 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

[3] 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

[4] 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

[5] See, e.g., Heeks, R. (2015) The curse of hyper-transparency, ICT4DBlog, 27 Feb; and Dahlander, L. & Gann, D.M. (2010) How open is innovation?Research policy, 39(6), 699-709

Priorities for ICT4D/WSIS Policy and Practice Beyond 2015

11 June 2014 1 comment

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.

ICT4D Gap Chart

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.

ICT4D Priorities Map

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.

Restructuring ICT4D and WSIS Beyond 2015

9 June 2014 1 comment

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.

ICT4D UN Structure

 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”.]

The Missing Vision for ICT4D and WSIS Beyond 2015

ICT4D drew attention, money and other resources at the turn of the century because it was associated with a compelling narrative.  Albeit via a variety of terms, we foresaw the creation of an information society in developing countries; delivering the e-fruits of the global North to the global South.

At present, we have no such ICT4D narrative for post-2015 development.  The technology has fragmented with ICT4D struggling to keep hold of mobile, broadband, cloud, social media, smartphones, etc.  The development goals and sectors that ICT serves are sub-fragments within economic, social, political and environmental fragments.

Having never really gone away, it is hard for ICT4D to really reinvent itself with a reinvigorated sense of what an “information society” is and why it matters.  But it should at least try.

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process – the global node for ICT4D policy and practice – is publishing materials on its “beyond 2015” vision.  But as yet these have little to offer.  There is no defined core of an information society, just a sweeping up of the many fragments in the hope they might amount to something worth pursuing.  The notion of an information society is qualified: in a number of places it must be “inclusive”; at one point it must be “people-centric, inclusive, open and development-oriented” (did someone forget to add “sustainable” to that list?).

The erosion of vision is in some ways understandable because ICT4D stood well ahead of actuality in the early 2000s, offering a clear and different future destination.  Over the years, reality in developing countries has started to catch up but WSIS has not maintained its headway: it has moved from casting visions to reflecting realities.  WSIS has also fallen victim to a path dependency that keeps it within existing tramlines: a future of the same old action lines, and a conservatism that leads to repetition of increasingly-stale incremental formulations instead of embracing transformative new thinking.  If path dependency is typical of institutionalised processes then fragmentation of core concepts is typical of multi-stakeholder processes: it is easier to keep adding phrases to please particular constituencies.  But it means “information society” resembles the mule in Buckaroo – increasingly over-laden, and with the only solution that it must throw off all of these loads and boil down to a more singular and coherent vision.

ICT4D could try to join another’s army, looking for a central role within the core narratives of post-2015 development.  But those narratives are not yet clear – perhaps sustainable development; perhaps inclusive development – and narratives of “sustainable informatics” or “inclusive informatics” might give ICTs a marginal not central role in development.  They would, nonetheless, be worth developing: the questions “where do ICTs fit into a sustainable development agenda?” and “where do ICTs fit into an inclusive development agenda?” remain unanswered.

ICT4D could try grabbing someone else’s flag, claiming the data revolution as its own, and carrying that forward at its head into post-2015 discussions.  It won’t be a comprehensive narrative, but at least it would be something that smells of fresh paint.

ICT4D might try to develop its own internal narrative.  The two candidates so far have barely sputtered, let alone caught fire.  “Development 2.0” – the ICT-enabled transformation of development processes and structures – remains a marginal concept but one worth further investment given transformative development is a third possible narrative of the post-2015 agenda alongside sustainability and inclusivity.  “Open development” has, thanks to IDRC, had more thought and work put into it and – another plus – it reaches out well beyond the technology.  But that is also its downside: it does not yet resonate as an ICT- or even informatics-related narrative; and it suffers from conflicting meanings (the World Bank’s definition of open development is narrowed to open data and its impact on transparency and accountability; IDRC’s definition is more ambitious and potentially paradigmatic).

All that can be suggested at present, then, is exploratory moves to look for an overarching narrative.  The future role and structure of ICT4D policy and practice may well depend on how far forward those moves are able to explore.

[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”.]

A Development 2.0 Research Agenda

25 April 2014 4 comments

A key theme in the post-2015 development agenda is transformation: a belief that the incremental developmental changes achieved to date will no longer be sufficient in the remainder of the 21st century; and an aspiration for a step-change in approach.

Analysis reported earlier argues development informatics research – studying ICT4D policy and practice – should give a higher priority to researching the relation between ICTs and the transformation of development.  Such research already has a terminology – Development 2.0; understood as the ICT-enabled transformation of development.

But what would the Development 2.0 research agenda consist of?

Defining that research agenda has been difficult because defining Development 2.0 has been difficult.  And defining Development 2.0 has been difficult because defining “transformation of development” has been difficult.

First, there is the threshold problem – when is a change sufficiently large to be classified as “transformative” as opposed to just “incremental”?  Second, there is the direction problem – transformation of what?  Of context (e.g. structures)? Of inputs (e.g. goals, visions, aspirations)?  Of processes (e.g. business models, partnerships)?  Of outputs (e.g. inclusion, sustainability)?

But uncertainty of this type can provide the basis for research.  We can use this, plus a few sources that do engage with Development 2.0 as the intersection of ICTs, transformation and development (Thompson 2008[1], Heeks 2010[2], Hanna 2011[3], Thompson 2013[4], Hanna 2014[5]), to give some outline shape to a Development 2.0 research agenda:

1. Definition: what does Development 2.0 mean?  This could start with content analysis of what little has been said and written about Development 2.0; looking for definition in terms of the extent and content of transformation of development.  Interpretive work on a broader range of stakeholder views could also be provided.

2. Conceptualisation: how should we understand Development 2.0?  Related to definition, this might attack the issue in a more deductive manner by seeking to conceptualise Development 2.0 through particular theoretical lenses drawn from development or informatics studies or other disciplines.

3. Political Economy: who drives Development 2.0?  Who are the main stakeholders arguing for ICT-based transformation of development?  Why are they putting forward these arguments?  Who benefits from this discourse?

4. Ecosystem: who and what makes up a Development 2.0 ecosystem?  A Development 2.0 ecosystem is that combination of organisations (government, private sector, NGO/community, etc); institutions (policies, culture, etc), technologies (standards, infrastructure, architecture, applications, etc), and other resources (money, skills, etc) which allows ICTs to have a transformational effect at anything from district to regional to national to international level.

5. Business Model: what are the new ICT-based business models that provide for a transformative developmental impact?  In many ways, the Development 2.0 business model is the organisational equivalent of the higher-level ecosystem; covering organisational strategy, structure, process and value chain from suppliers to clients.  Despite the ‘business’ language, Development 2.0 models can be identified in public, private and NGO sectors (Heeks 2010).

6. Facilitation: what processes and capacities are needed to facilitate emergence and successful implementation of Development 2.0?  This can be answered for both broader ecosystems and narrower business models.  It can encompass a focus on structures, on processes, and on the agency of individuals or groups.

7. Impact: what impact does Development 2.0 have?  This could be answered in terms of any economic, social, political or environmental understanding of development.  So, for example, using lenses of growth, capabilities, inclusion, or sustainability.

The agenda here is still quite general – feel free to suggest inclusions, exclusions, modifications, specifications – but at least it represents a starting point for us to follow.

 

 

[1] Thompson, M. (2008) ICT and development studies: towards development 2.0, Journal of International Development, 20(6), 821-835

[2] Heeks, R.B. (2010) Development 2.0: Transformative ICT-Enabled Development Models and Impacts, Development Informatics Short Paper no.11, Centre for Development Informatics, University of Manchester, UK

[3] Hanna, N. (2011) e-Transformation: Enabling New Development Strategies, Springer, New York

[4] Thompson, M. (2013) Development 2.0 and beyond, ICT4D Seminar Series, Oxford Internet Institute, 27 Feb

[5] Hanna, N. (2014) An E-Transformation Research Agenda, personal communication with author, 26 Mar

%d bloggers like this: