Archive for the ‘Researching ICT4D’ Category

An ICT4D Research Network in the North of England

12 July 2017 1 comment

Are there any benefits to be derived from a regional network that would not readily emanate from a smaller institution-based or a wider global research network?

ICT4D Network Launch Group Photo (Credit to Felipe Gonzalez)

ICT4D Network Launch Group Photo (Credit to Felipe Gonzalez)

Colleagues from the Manchester Centre for Development Informatics (CDI) and the Sheffield Digital Technologies, Data and Innovation group (DDI) co-organised an inaugural workshop on the 23rd of June to launch such a regional network for ICT4D researchers in the north of England. Twenty-four participants, from six regional institutions[i], gathered in Manchester to share their research interests and build connections. Following this one day networking event, I have concluded that not all research networks are equal; unique benefits can be derived from a meso-level, regional research network. Here are my reasons :


Researchers in close geographical proximity can interact more frequently and benefit from the richer, in-person nature of meeting together. ICT4D researchers typically connect with colleagues globally through some of the mainstream conferences, such as ICTD and IFIP WG 9.4. Conferences, as network events, are useful to disseminate research to members and these events occasionally lead to research collaborations. However, close regional proximity allows for more frequent interactions with a wider range of activities, such as reading groups, workshops, training events, etc. Regional network interactions can take place with relatively little additional organisational burden compared to conferences.


ICT4D is a rather small field compared to other mainstream disciplines that focus on development (politics, sociology, economics, etc.). Home institution networks rarely reach double figures – only two of the participating institutions at our inaugural workshop have more than ten active ICT4D researchers. Such small groups lack critical mass and only bring together a small set of competencies that a researcher can draw on to augment their own work. This is a significant limitation at a time when calls for multi- and interdisciplinary research into ICT4D issues are more urgent than ever before; not the least of these wrung out from Geoff Walsham in his recent ICT4D research agenda-setting paper[ii]. A regional network, such as ours in Northern England, exponentially expands the potential for collaboration amongst scholars in close regional proximity.

It was tremendously interesting to hear (for the first time!) of the novel work done by researchers who live and work so near. Inspiring highlights that stood out for me were research projects on drones for development, ICT and mental health, and media for development. Synergies and complementarities were readily identified and sparked new conversations; just during this initial gathering, we saw a diversity of strong competence in healthcare, development, media, education and leadership, to name a few, that are not readily accessible at any one of the participating institutions.


Collaborative research can be very rewarding, but many of us can testify that not all research partnerships are equally enjoyable; it can be really difficult to build productive collaborations without a critical mass of people to choose from. A regional network can fill this gap, perhaps better than global networks. The reason is simple: a regional network provides frequent opportunities to interact with a range of scholars (closeness and competencies) to “test” the working chemistry with potential collaborators. This enables researchers to find collaborators that they would actually enjoy working with, instead of taking a shot in the dark with someone less familiar from a loosely-connected global network, or being limited to ICT4D colleagues from their own institution. We have already seen an appetite for such collaborations amongst workshop participants and look forward to see the research that emerges.


However, a regional network offers benefits beyond the 3Cs – Closeness, Competence, Chemistry – such as:

  • Providing isolated researchers with a connection to an ICT4D community, enabling them to become more involved and research active;
  • Enhanced responsiveness to research opportunities and funding calls that require stakeholder involvement beyond a single institution;
  • PhD supervision collaboration and potential teaching interactions;
  • Creating a point of connection to a network of active researchers for those that would want to bridge into ICT4D.

Turning a bit philosophical, from a social capital theory perspective we could conceptualise relationships with work colleagues at your own institution as “strong ties”, and those with colleagues in your global network as “weak ties”. Learning from Granovetter[iii] and Burt[iv], I would argue that we as ICT4D researchers would benefit from a balance of strong ties and weak ties. Disseminating research findings and gaining access to information about research opportunities often occur over a network of weak ties. However, collaborations leading to innovative and impactful ICT4D research are more likely to originate from strong ties. ICT4D research could benefit from regional networks, such as ours, to facilitate the development of more and stronger ties amongst active researchers. This proposition will be put to the test over the coming years.


How will our network function in order to realise these potential benefits? It is still early days, but so far it was decided that the network will be led, in the first instance, by a steering group comprising of representatives from all participating institutions. Our first objective will be to decide on a name and the second to create an online presence where members can engage and interested people can connect. Regular news bulletins will help maintain and enhance awareness of network activities. Local seminars, workshops, reading groups and other relevant events will be opened up to the network community and researchers will be supported in their endeavours to participate in cross-institutional activities. Finally, the network aims to host two network events per year: one general event that will bring everyone together and another aimed at the specific needs of ICT4D early career and doctoral researchers. So, stay tuned for all that’s to come!

Please contact Jaco Renken if you are in Northern England and would like to get connected.

[i] University of Manchester, University of Sheffield, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Salford, University of Bolton, and University of Central Lancashire. Representatives from Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Lancaster, and the University of Liverpool could not make it to the event, but are part of the network.

[ii] Walsham, G. (2017). ICT4D research: reflections on history and future agenda. Information Technology for Development, 23(1), 18-41.

[iii] Granovetter, M. (1983). The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited. Sociological Theory, 1(1), 201-233.

[iv] Burt, R. S. (2000). The Network Structure of Social Capital. Research in Organizational Behavior, 22, 345–423.

Discussing ICTs and the SDGs

5 January 2016 1 comment

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.

ICT4D Brown Bag Priorities

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)

ICT4D Research Priorities from the Post-2015 Development Agenda

25 March 2014 5 comments

What should be the future priorities in researching ICT4D?

The post-2015 development agenda will be the single most-important force shaping the future of international development.  In planning our priorities for development informatics (DI) research – the academic study of ICT4D policy and practice – we should therefore pay close attention to the post-2015 agenda.

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 blog, I summarise the findings from a recent working paper: “Future Priorities for Development Informatics Research from the Post-2015 Development Agenda”.  This presents results from a content analysis exercise which compared the content of the post-2015 development agenda against the content of 116 recently-published papers researching ICT4D.

The basic comparison is shown in the figure below.  It provides a measure of research gap by plotting the extent of difference between the post-2015 text and the development informatics papers; aggregated into a set of development issues.  Issues above the line are more highly represented in DI documents 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.

DI Research Gaps Chart

Figure 1: Measure of “Research Gap” Between Development Informatics Research and Post-2015 Agenda


This chart plus a whole set of other analytical data (see online paper for details) produce the development informatics research priority map shown below.  Laterally, it sorts research issues in terms of their relation to development.  Mainly by type of goals – environmental, economic, social, political, or cross-cutting – but also including mechanisms of development.

DI Research Priorities Map

Figure 2: Map of Post-2015 Development Informatics Research Priorities


Vertically, it sorts research 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 DI research.  The larger the gap, the greater the need for additional development informatics research on this topic in future.  Put another way – if you are planning what ICT4D-related topic to research in future, there is a logic in starting your search at the top of the figure.

Further details about the topics identified in the research map can be found in the online paper.

Analysing the Post-2015 Development Agenda

30 January 2014 3 comments

In two earlier posts, I outlined the current process of creating the post-2015 development agenda, and analysed how important it will be to development practice and research.

But what will that agenda be?  The best guide at present appears to be four key documents that emerge from the totality of post-2015 activity as previously summarised:

  • The foundational “Realizing the Future We Want for All” document and its update “A Renewed Global Partnership for Development”: these are the products in 2012 and 2013 respectively of the UN System Task Team; the core of the post-2015 process.
  • As part of that process a High-Level Panel was set up based around the leaders of the UK, Indonesia and Liberia, which produced a report, “A New Global Partnership” in mid-2013.
  • The Open Working Group, and High-Level Political Forum, and Expert Committee associated with Rio+20 and the Sustainable Development Goals are all in mid-process, so the best guide as yet is the outcome of the Rio+20 conference; a UN General Assembly resolution of 2012 entitled, “The Future We Want”.

Textual analysis of these documents was undertaken.  A simple approach to this was the creation of tag clouds: the cloud for the combined post-2015 documentation is in the figure below.

PTDA TagCloud

Tag Cloud for Combined Core Post-2015 Documentation

 A more detailed analysis was then undertaken via word counts within the documentation.  In all, roughly 200 terms were analysed.  The term list was developed via:

a)   selection from the top 500 words counted in the document using Wordle, which also produced the tag cloud; eliminating all non-discriminatory terms (both simple terms like “and”, “the”, “of”, etc, but also those which relate to development but do not provide any particular guide to a development agenda such as “development”, “developing”, “countries”, etc), plus

b)   similar selection from the top 500 words within the MDG documentation (see future posts), and

c)   cross-checking with terms used in a set of other current development reports and journal paper titles.

The frequency of all terms was normed to a mean count per 10,000 words.

All meaningful terms which appeared more than 10 times per 10,000 words (i.e. with a frequency of more than 0.1% of the text) are shown in the table below.


Freq. per

10,000 Words


Freq. per

10,000 Words


Freq. per

10,000 Words





















































































Most Frequent Development Terms in Post-2015 Documentation

 Detailed discussion of the dynamics of the post-2015 development agenda will be undertaken in a future post.  Here, I note the following ten conclusions:

  1. The importance of sustainable development as a core model, of course arising particularly because of the presence of the Rio+20 track within the post-2015 process; with some recognition of the role of inclusive development.
  2. Poverty and environment being the two most important individual development issues on the agenda.
  3. Perhaps, a reasonable parity between three of the main domains of development: environmental, social, and economic.  But a question mark over the place for political development: “politic*” scores just 8.3 and so does not appear; but “govern*” would score 31.2.
  4. A strong presence for items related to MDGs 1 to 6: e.g. poverty, health, women, food, education.
  5. A strong recognition of the importance of technology within development.
  6. A strong presence for what one might term the mechanisms or processes of development: the need for partnerships and cooperation and participation, the role of policies, but also of processes and implementation and impact.
  7. Despite moves towards a more multi-stakeholder perspective on development and the presence of business and communities; still a dominant role for the state in its various guises: state, government, public sector.
  8. Some sense of a systems perspective on development.
  9. Maslow’s shade – or at least the importance of basic needs – stands over the agenda given the presence of poverty, health, food, energy, water, security.
  10. The recognised importance of data (just outside the list at 9.2) and information as the foundation for decision-making and action in development.

Readers are encouraged to make their own analysis of the findings presented in the table, and to draw any other big picture conclusions.

How Important Will The Post-2015 Agenda Be For Development Research And Practice?

19 December 2013 1 comment

In an earlier post, I outlined the current state of the post-2015 development agenda (PTDA) process.  Later posts will look at the content of that agenda and its implications for development – particularly development informatics – research.

Before getting to that, though, it is appropriate to ask a couple of foundational assumption-checking questions.

Question number 1: “How important will the PTDA be to international development?”.  If it is just going to end up gathering dust on a shelf, or if it is just  a side-show, then there is little point using it to shape our research priorities.  We will not know the answer to that question until something like 2020 at the earliest but we have two current guides.

The first is how important the post-2015 agenda is currently perceived to be.  One set of evidence is the extent of participation in the consultation process.  There have been nearly 100 national, six regional and eleven thematic consultations, with each of these typically involving many hundreds of organisational participants[1] plus thousands of online contributions[2].  It is hard to benchmark this against other activities but it must represent one of the most substantial exercises in global consultation.  Other evidence comes from polling perceptions: for example, of more than 100 civil society organisations surveyed in 27 developing countries, 87% wanted a post-2015 development framework[3].

A second guide is historical: investigating how important the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been to international development, given they are by far the closest historical phenomenon to the PTDA.  There is a generalised assumption about the MDGs’ importance: “the MDGs … have an incontestable strength”[4]; “the Millennium Development Goals … have unified, galvanized, and expanded efforts to help the world’s poorest people”[5].  However, in the complex field of influences that exists within international development, attribution is problematic: “the direct development impact of the MDGs is difficult to determine”[6].

Those who have sought to study this come up with differentiated conclusions depending on the area of influence investigated.  For example:

  • Debate/Discourse: “There is widespread agreement that the MDGs have placed broad-based poverty reduction at the center of the development agenda at least in international discussions and policy discourse”[7]; “There is plenty of evidence of the influence of the MDGs on policy discourse, if this is measured by mention of the goals or their presence in donor policy documents, PRSPs and developing country government goals”[8].
  • Aid Flows: “The MDGs have mobilized government and business leaders to donate tens of billions of dollars”[9]; “We argue that the MDGs may have played a role in increasing aid”[10].
  • Policy: “For better or worse, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have constituted the longest standing paradigm that has ever emerged in development thinking. The goals have been an organising framework for international aid over the last ten years. At the core of countless policy documents, plans and announcements”[11]; “policy statements of major bilateral donors align with the MDG priorities only partially and in varying ways … there is a considerable adoption of MDG priority areas, however there is equal or higher adoption of priorities not in the MDGs”[12].
  • Outcomes: “the most powerful impact of the MDGs appears to have been on aid flows, but the impact of that aid on outcomes is difficult to assess and plausibly muted”[13]; “In some areas, such as vaccination or primary education enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa, the links between the MDGs, the mobilisation and focusing of additional aid, and subsequent impacts seem convincingly close. But in others, the links seem less plausible”[14].
  • Practice: “The research shows that in the organisations studied [small number of faith-based NGOs], the extent of influence of the MDGs has been minimal upon development activities in a direct sense, although some indirect influence due to donor funding requirements has been reported”[15].

Drawing on these sources and others[16], a subjective summary assessment of MDG impact can be drawn up as shown in Figure 1.

MDG Development Influence

Figure 1: Relative Impact of MDGs on Differing Aspects of International Development

Question number 2: “How important will the PTDA be to development research agendas and funding?”.  Again, we can look at current evidence about PTDA activity, plus also historical evidence relating to the MDGs.  At the time of writing, many of the major development research institutes – those with a majority focus on international development and lying at the top of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program rankings[17] – have post-2015 initiatives underway.  This seems much less true of US-based institutes, probably reflecting the lower levels of US engagement with the MDGs and the post-2015 agenda[18]:

  • Center for Global Development: has a number of blog posts on post-2015 and some publications on the MDGs which include thoughts on post-2015, but no main topics or initiatives.
  • Kennedy School Center for International Development: has no apparent research programmes or specific activities related to the post-2015 agenda.
  • International Food Policy Research Institute: has its own 2020 agenda but no major post-2015 research activity.

The picture is very different for development research institutes outside the US.  Listing these in descending TTCSP rank order:

Alongside this snapshot of current activity, we can look at historical impact of the MDGs on research agendas and funding.  Data on the output side is not particularly clear.  A review was undertaken of articles in the three top development studies journals – World Development, Development and Change, and Journal of Development Studies – published during 2008-2013.  This suggested that 1-2% of articles had a specific engagement with the MDGs (mentioned in the title or abstract), and 10-15% mentioned the MDGs somewhere in the main text.  In the absence of other benchmarks, not much can be concluded from this data.

A stronger sense of the importance of the MDGs comes from the input side; from analysis of funder research strategies.  For this activity, analysis was undertaken of the research strategies of three key development research funders – Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) – during the period 2002-2012.  This suggested a continuum of MDG influence as summarised in Figure 2:

  • IDRC: research strategy documents have just one or two passing references to the MDGs, and the MDGs do not frame research strategy.  For example: “Although not explicit nor an underpinning of IDRC’s health programming, there is an implicit interest in the health-related Millennium Development Goals”[19].
  • SIDA: the MDGs are one among a number of components that have shaped research strategy.  For example, a core overview[20] lists three foci for research: matters of relevance to low-income countries; research issues arising from international commitments as defined by the MDGs and UN conventions; and cooperative arrangements that identify new research of relevance to developing countries.
  • DFID: “The current effort is … using the Millennium Development Goals as the main framework for determining research strategies and priorities”[21].  “All DFID’s efforts are directed towards achieving the targets set by the world community in the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. They are the basis for choosing research topics”[22].  “The purpose of DFID’s research is to make faster progress in fighting poverty and achieving the MDGs”[23].

MDG Development Research Influence

Figure 2: MDG Influence on Development Research Strategies

Taking together all of the evidence, it seems reasonable to conclude that – whatever its absolute strength and with acknowledgement to local variations – the post-2015 development agenda will be the single most important force shaping the future of development and of development research.  It is certainly of sufficient importance to take very seriously in the planning of future development-related research agendas.  If our own future research is in synch with post-2015, at the least we can use that to boost the credibility and perceived relevance of our research; at the most, we will gain greater funding and a wider audience for our research.  Future posts will explore this further.

[1] e.g. TWWW (2013a) Global Thematic Consultation on Governance and the Post-2015 Development Framework,The World We Want; and TWWW (2013b) Health in the Post-2015 Agenda, The World We Want

[3] Pollard, A., Sumner, A., Polato-Lopes, M. & de Mauroy, A. (2011) 100 Voices, CAFOD, London

[4] Prammer, E. & Martinuzzi, A. (2013) The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Post-2015 Debate, Case Study no.13, European Sustainable Development Network, Vienna

[5] McArthur, J. (2013) Own the goals: what the millennium development goals have accomplished, Foreign Affairs, March/April

[6] Higgins, K. (2013) Reflecting on the MDGs and Making Sense of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, The North-South Institute, Ottawa, ON

[7] Kenny, C. & Sumner, A. (2011) More Money or More Development: What Have the MDGs Achieved?, Working Paper 278, Center for Global Development, Washington, DC

[8] Lockwood, M. (2012) What have the MDGs achieved?  We don’t really know, From Poverty to Power, 31 Aug

[9] McArthur 2013

[10] Kenny & Sumner 2011

[11] Pollard et al. 2011

[12] Kenny & Sumner 2011

[13] Kenny & Sumner 2011

[14] Lockwood 2012

[15] Dore, M. (2011) Keeping Faith with the MDGs, MSc Dissertation, University of Edinburgh

[16] e.g. Gore, C. (2009) The Global Development Cycle, MDGs and the Future of Poverty Reduction, European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes, Bonn; and Manning, R. (2010) The impact and design of the MDGs: some reflections, IDS Bulletin, 41(1), 7-14

[17] McGann, J.G. (2013) 2012 Global Go To Think Tanks Report and Policy Advice, Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

[18] e.g. Hulme, D. (2009) The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): A Short History of the World’s Biggest Promise, BWPI Working Paper 100, Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester, UK

[19] IDRC (2009) Innovating for Development Strategic Framework 2010-2015, IDRC, Ottawa

[20] Regeringskansliet (2010) Research for Development, Regeringskansliet, Stockholm

[21] Surr, M., Barnett, A., Duncan, A., Speight, M., Bradley, D., Rew, A. & Toye, J. (2002) Research for Poverty Reduction: DFID Research Policy Paper, DFID, London

[22] DFID (2004) DFID Research Funding Framework 2005-2007, DFID, London

The Post-2015 Development Agenda

28 November 2013 8 comments

This is the first of a number of related blog entries that will look at the post-2015 development agenda and its implications.  This entry describes the process of setting that agenda.

In theory, the origins of the post-2015 process could be traced back many years to the setting of the Millennium Development Goal deadline.  It was obvious then that there would be a post-MDG world from 2015.  However, it seems more appropriate to date the timeline (see Figure 1 below, and more detailed timeline in Table 1 at the end) from September 2011, with the formation of the UN System Task Team: the body charged with overseeing the post-2015 process.

PTDA Timeline

Figure 1: Post-2015 Process Outline Timeline

The MDGs were an integration in 2001 of two rather separate processes: the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s work on International Development Goals, and the UN’s work to develop the Millennium Declaration[1].  This added to the time and effort required to produce the MDGs, yet the same is happening again with the post-2015 process, as summarised in Figure 2 below (adapted from an original by Claire Hickson[2]).

PTDA Structures

Figure 2: Post-2015 Development Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals Process Map

The timeline shown is therefore a single representation of multiple strands.  The post-2015 development agenda process is relatively well-advanced.  Following the UN System Task Team’s formation, a series of thematic and national consultations on the agenda have already been conducted, with two key reports produced in 2012 (“Realizing the Future We Want for All”) and 2013 (“A Renewed Global Partnership for Development”).  A High-Level Panel was set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  Chaired by the Presidents of Indonesia and Liberia and the UK Prime Minister and involving 24 other “eminent persons”, this produced its report mid-way through 2013.  These documents were placed before the UN General Assembly when its 68th session began in September 2013; a session which included special meetings and events on the MDGs and after.

At the time of writing, the sustainable development goals (SDGs) process was not quite so well developed.  Emerging from the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio+20”) and its General Assembly resolution in July 2012, this led to formation of a UN Open Working Group.  The Group has been supported by a UN System Technical Support Team, which provides a link to the post-2015 activity since it works under the UN System Task Team.  It has also been supported by an “Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing” and a “High-Level Political Forum” that provides political momentum for the process.  The Open Working Group has a series of eight sessions being run during 2013-2014, and structured along thematic lines.  This will report towards the end of 2014.

At that point – during 2015 – an integration of the two processes and political negotiation of the final post-2015 agenda should occur, leading to a new post-MDG framework to run from the start of 2016.  It is worth just asking whether such a framework might not emerge.  Present signs are that this would be extremely unlikely: process, timeline and structures are all in place; and significant political capital – plus other resources – has already been invested.  It would take something huge and unexpected to derail the process.  We can therefore work on the assumption that there will be a post-2015 agenda.

Table 1: The Post-2015 Process Schedule

Sourced largely from Hickson (2013)

Date Activity
Sep 2010 UN MDG Summit
Sep 2011 UN System Task Team established to lead post-2015 process
May 2012-Apr 2013 Post-2015 thematic global consultations
Jun 2012 Rio+20 summit; working group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set up
Jun 2012 UN System Task Team “Realizing the Future We Want for All” report
Jun 2012 National post-2015 consultations begin
Jul 2012 Rio+20 “The Future We Want” resolution to UN General Assembly
Aug 2012 High-Level Panel (HLP) set up by Ban Ki-moon
Sep 2012 HLP convened
Nov 2012 HLP first substantive meeting (London)
Jan 2013 SDG Open Working Group created
Feb 2013 HLP second meeting (Monrovia)
Feb 2013 EU post-2015 communication “A Decent Life for All”
Mar 2013 UN System Task Team “A Renewed Global Partnership for Development” report
Mar 2013 HLP third meeting (Bali)
Mar 2013-Feb 2014 Eight sessions of SDG Open Working Group
May 2013 Draft SDG report
May 2013 HLP “A New Global Partnership” report
Jul 2013 Progress report of SDG Open Working Group to UN General Assembly
Sep/Oct 2013 New UN General Assembly session and MDG Review Summit
Sep 2013 First session of High-Level Political Forum on sustainable development
Sep 2014 SDG Open Working Group to report to UN General Assembly
Jan 2015 MDG deadline
Jan-Dec 2015 Intergovernmental negotiations via UN General Assembly on Post-2015 Agenda
Sep 2015 High-Level Political Forum Meeting
c.Jul-Sep 2015 UN General Assembly Post-2015/MDG Review Summit
Jan 2016 New Post-2015 framework in place

[1] Hulme, D. (2009) The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): A Short History of the World’s Biggest Promise, BWPI Working Paper 100, Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester, UK

[2] Hickson, C. (2013) Post-2015 development goals process and timeline, Trio Policy, 11 Jul

Development Informatics Research Must Stop Ignoring ICT’s Downsides

The dominant narrative within ICT4D associates digital technologies with positive impacts, and has tended to underplay negative impacts.  What are the implications for development informatics research?

Jessops Amazon

There has been a recent cluster of global evidence about negative impacts:

We can begin to understand this via the ICT impact/cause perspectives diagram shown below.

ICT Impact Cause Diagram

Unless we adopt an extreme perspective, we can recognise that in terms of impacts, it would have been equally easy to pull out a set of positive evidence about ICT.  But it is positive and negative together that tell the whole story.  And in terms of causes, there is no simple relationship between the technology and the impacts identified above but, instead, a socio-technical foundation.

This leads to a number of implications for the academic field of development informatics:

Balance: are we balanced enough in terms of the impacts we associate with ICTs in our work?  Pushing a largely positive narrative can have the effect of making our work seem like hype; a relentless monotone buzz to which those working in development become habituated, and start to ignore.

Preparation: are the policy makers and practitioners who use our work prepared for what’s coming?  Development informatics research needs to engage with the negative impacts, providing research users with an understanding of those impacts and, where possible, some strategies for amelioration.

Analytical Tools: do we understand what is behind these ICT trajectories?  ICTs are not the direct cause of the impacts outlined above; they are an enabler of particular economic and political interests.  Development informatics needs to ask the age-old question: cui bono?  Who benefits when high street shops close?  Who benefits from cyber-repression?  Who benefits from printed guns?  Who benefits from pornography?  Cui bono is answered by the analytical tools of political economy.  We need to be answering those questions and using these tools a whole lot more in development informatics.

Advocacy: how do we engage with ICT4D innovation trajectories?  Even as it becomes more open and more decentralised, the trajectory of innovation can still be shaped by debate, by advocacy and by activism.  Development informatics has always been an engaged area of academic endeavour, not stuck in the ivory tower.  We have often worked with those seeking to deliver the positive impacts of ICT4D.  The challenge now is to work more with those seeking to avoid the negative impacts of ICT4D.

If you see other implications, then let us know . . .

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