Archive for the ‘Digital Development’ Category

Technology Foundations for Digital Development

If there is to be a coming digital development paradigm, on what technologies will it be based?

Mobile, broadband, and mobile broadband (hence smartphones and tablets) will be a key foundation for the digital development paradigm.  They are already present or rapidly diffusing in developing countries.

As these diffuse, cloud, social media and other Web 2.0 applications necessary for digital platforms will become dominant.  The highest growth rates for cloud are already in the global South[1].  Social media is already dominated by the global South: by 2016 North America and Europe made up just 26% of global social network users, with 52% in Asia (including Oceania), 13% in Central/South America, and 9% in the Middle East and Africa[2].

Looking further ahead, of technologies likely to have a significant impact on development, the Internet of things is a main contender: the online connectivity of increasing numbers of objects.  The main growth area – 50 billion devices predicted by 2020[3] – is seen to be two types of connection.  First, stand-alone sensors – for example providing agricultural readings from fields, or medical readings from health centres.  Second, sensors integrated into mainstream objects from cars and refrigerators to toilets and shoes.

All these applications become smart when they move from a passive ability to collect and transmit data to an active ability to take a decision and action on the basis of that data: smart irrigation systems that automatically water dry crops; smart electricity grids that automatically isolate and re-route around transmission failures.   Even more than cloud, smart systems bring significant potential to increase efficiency and effectiveness of infrastructure and business, alongside significant potential to increase dependency and vulnerabilities to cybercrime and surveillance[4].

Digital ICTs have already moved us along the time dimension to a world of 24/7 everywhen connectivity (see Figure 1[5]).  Thanks to telecommunications advances, anywhere can now be connected, and we are slowly erasing the blank spaces on the digital map and moving towards everywhere being connected.  In terms of nodes, pretty well anyone and anything could now be connected thanks to ubiquitous computing.  There is still a very long way to go but within a generation almost everyone will be connected, and we will be steadily moving closer to everything being connected thus vastly multiplying the number of “points of potential control, resistance, and contestation”[6].

Figure 1: The Growing Domain of Digital Connectivity

We can therefore think of three generations of technological infrastructure for digital development (see Figure 2).  The first, already well-rooted, is based largely around mobile devices.  The second, currently emerging, is based around digital platforms and the Internet including Web 2.0 applications.  The third, currently nascent, will be based around a ubiquitous computing model of sensors, embedded processing and near-universal connectivity, and widespread use of smart applications.

Figure 2: The Generations of Digital Infrastructure for Development

Digital development is the subject of a Development Informatics working paper: “Examining “Digital Development”: The Shape of Things to Come?”, and is the topic for other blog entries.


[1] UNCSTD (2013) Issues Paper on ICTs for Inclusive Social and Economic Development, UN Commission on Science Technology and Development, Geneva

[2] WAS (2016) Digital in 2016, We Are Social, Singapore

[3] Pew Research Center (2014) The Internet of Things Will Thrive by 2025, Pew Research Center, Washington, DC

[4] UNCSTD (ibid.)

[5] Adapted from ITU (2005) The Internet of Things, International Telecommunication Union, Geneva

[6] p24 of Deibert, R. & Rohozinski, R. (2012) Contesting cyberspace and the coming crisis of authority, in: Access Contested: Security, Identity, and Resistance in Asian Cyberspace, Deibert, R.J., Palfrey, J.G., Rohozinski, R. & Zittrain, J. (eds), MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 21-41

An Emerging Digital Development Paradigm?

28 February 2017 3 comments

Taking a longer-term view, the relationship between digital ICTs and international development can be divided into three paradigms – “pre-digital”, “ICT4D”, and “digital development” – that rise and fall over time (see Figure below).


Changing Paradigms of ICTs and Development


The pre-digital paradigm dominated from the mid-1940s to mid-1990s, and conceptualised a separation between digital ICTs and development[1].  During this period, digital ICTs were increasingly available but they were initially ignored by the development mainstream.  When, later, digital technologies began to diffuse into developing countries, they were still isolated from the development mainstream.  ICTs were used to support the internal processes of large public and private organisations, or to create elite IT sector jobs in a few countries.  But they did not touch the lives of the great majority of those living in the global South.

The ICT4D paradigm has emerged since the mid-1990s, and conceptualised digital ICTs as a useful tool for development[2].  The paradigm arose because of the rough synchrony between general availability of the Internet – a tool in search of purposes, and the Millennium Development Goals – a purpose in search of tools.  ICTs were initially idolised as the tool for delivery of development but later began to be integrated more into development plans and projects as a tool for delivery of development.

The isolationism of the pre-digital paradigm remains present: we still find policy content and policy structures that segregate ICTs.  But integrationism is progressing, mainstreaming ICTs as a tool to achieve the various development goals.  From the development side, we see this expressed in national policy portfolios, in Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, in UN Development Assistance Frameworks.  From the ICT side, we see this expressed in national ICT policies and World Summit on the Information Society action lines.

The ICT4D paradigm is currently dominant and will be for some years to come.  Yet just at the moment when it is starting to be widely adopted within national and international development systems, a new form is hoving into view: a digital development paradigm which conceptualises ICT not as one tool among many that enables particular aspects of development, but as the platform that increasingly mediates development.

This is the subject of a Development Informatics working paper: “Examining “Digital Development”: The Shape of Things to Come?”, and will be the topic for future blog entries.


[1] Heeks, R. (2009) The ICT4D 2.0 Manifesto: Where Next for ICTs and International Development?, Development Informatics Working Paper no.42, IDPM, University of Manchester, UK

[2] ibid.

From ICT4D to Digital Development?

30 March 2016 10 comments

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)
Data Text-dominant Audio-visual-dominant
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.

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