Archive

Archive for the ‘Theorising ICT4D’ Category

Network Geography and Global Development: Dependency Redux?

6 June 2016 1 comment

The SDGs can be taken as a marker of transition from international development to global development worldviews.  Among other aspects of global development is a universalisation of development: development is everywhere; not just associated with the global South.  What does this mean for the geography of development?

One response would be to retain a physical, spatial approach to geography, but to move on from the old bipolarity of developed vs. developing; North vs. South.  Alongside moving upward to the global, this would move downward to the local; for example to regions, cities, “pockets of poverty” and the like[i].

An alternative would be to move to a network geography of development.  Social networks and transportation links mean networks have always been fundamental to development.  But telecommunication links – particularly digital links during the 21st century – have significantly accelerated the presence and salience and complexity of networks in development.  These exist as physical networks (such as physical infrastructure grids), virtual networks (such as online communities of practice) and most often as hybrid networks (such as supply chains and their parallel digital representations), so a network geography combines the physical and non-physical.  The explosive growth of networks in development demands greater use of network-based conceptualisations, including network geographies[ii].

Three main geographies can be applied to understand these networks.  First, a processual geography that focuses on the flows between nodes in the network (e.g. flows of aid between networks of development NGOs[iii]).  Second, a structural geography that focuses on the shape of the network (e.g. the impact of different network structures on water governance in Costa Rica[iv]).  Third, a relational geography that combines aspects of both flow and shape (e.g. the resource networks drawn on by development champions[v]).

Conceptualisation of these network geographies has come from a number of sources[vi].  Examples include social capital drawing from new institutional economics, global production networks drawing from economic geography, networked governance drawing from political science, embeddedness drawing from new economic sociology, and complex adaptive systems drawing from complexity theory.

However, if the spatial geography of old is to be supplanted, it will be by a new spatial geography; one that replaces position in the physical world with position in the network (physical, virtual, hybrid).  The positional network geography of development has often used the binary of being either inside or outside the network (e.g. Castells’ notion of the excluded “Fourth World”, or conceptions of the digital divide).  More sophisticated versions have added the category of “have lesses” between the “haves” and the “have nots”; those who are within the network but at the periphery.  Given, at least for digital networks, the dwindling numbers who are truly excluded, this is a more appropriate conceptualisation.  The positional geography of development thus becomes a geography of network position: distinguishing those actors at the core of the network from those at the periphery who are marginal and precarious.

While this might be an idea suitable for the 21st century nature of global development, it has earlier origins.  It sounds very similar to dependency theory, with its ideas of core and periphery.  Though long out of favour, this could provide one approach to a positional network geography of development; a revival supported by some in development studies[vii].

Aspects of dependency theory relevant to a wider network geography of development include:

  • Moving beyond the simple binary of core/periphery to world systems theory’s core/semi-periphery/periphery; or even to the idea of a spectrum of network positions.
  • Associating network position with differentiated roles vis-a-vis the production and capture of value, and with differentiated flows and ownership of resources.
  • Recognising the reproduction of network position through power; particularly the power of innovation, knowledge and technology.

A positional network geography of development would need to move away from dependency’s nation-state-centric approach, recognising many other units of analysis; and it would need to recognise the (constrained) potential for mobility of network position.  Work on global production networks has taken some of these ideas and demonstrated their relevance to another unit of analysis, but this needs to be extended to all forms of networks; not just global but regional and local; not just productive but political and social.  Indeed, one would need to recognise that any development actor lies not within a single network but within multiple networks; potentially with somewhat different positions in each.  These would include locally-embedded as well as disembedded networks.

Further developments needed include:

  • Recognition of the relational, institutional and cognitive/symbolic sources of power within the network; and the potential for network-specific conceptions of power[viii].
  • Recognition of the role played by the new technologies that increasingly mediate, enable and constrain the networks of global development; requiring some socio-materiality to be incorporated[ix].
  • Recognition of the increasing potential for quantification of positionality via social network analysis; a tool which can add absent methodological rigour[x].

 

[i] Horner, R. (2016) Unpacking the emergence of global development, unpublished draft

[ii] Bebbington, A. & Kothari, U. (2006) Transnational development networks, Environment and Planning A, 38(5), 849-866

[iii] Bebbington, A. (2004) NGOs and uneven development, Progress in Human Geography, 28(6), 725-745

[iv] Kuzdas, C., Wiek, A., Warner, B., Vignola, R., & Morataya, R. (2015) Integrated and participatory analysis of water governance regimes, World Development, 66, 254-268

[v] Renken, J. & Heeks, R. (2013) Conceptualising ICT4D project champions, paper presented at ICTD2013, Cape Town, 7-10 Dec

[vi] Heeks, R. & Renken, J. (2015) Investigating the potential of social network analysis in development studies, paper presented at DSA 2015 conference, Bath, 7-8 Sep

[vii] E.g. Fischer, A.M. (2015) The end of peripheries? On the enduring relevance of structuralism for understanding contemporary global development, Development and Change, 46(4), 700-732

[viii] E.g. Castells, M. (2011). A network theory of power, International Journal of Communication, 5, 773-787

[ix] E.g. Contractor, N., Monge, P. & Leonardi, P.M. (2011) Multidimensional networks and the dynamics of sociomateriality: bringing technology inside the network, International Journal of Communication, 5, 682-720

[x] Heeks, R. & Renken, J. (2015) Investigating the potential of social network analysis in development studies, paper presented at DSA 2015 conference, Bath, 7-8 Sep

Advertisements

Actor-Network Theory, Technology and Development

What can actor-network theory offer to our understanding of technology and development?

This blog entry summarises the answer from an open access paper in the journal Development Studies Research: “Technological Change in Developing Countries: Opening the Black Box of Process Using Actor–Network Theory”, and it builds on an earlier entry on ANT and development.

Technology rather dropped from the development agenda during the 1980s and 1990s, but has re-emerged strongly in the 21st century; not least due to the spectacular diffusion of ICTs.

Yet, to date, conceptualisation of technological change in developing countries has had three problematic gaps:

  • It has been de-humanised: organisations are recognised as actors but people – as identifiable individuals with agency – rarely appear in the technology and development literature.
  • Technology may be understood as a physical artefact, as a system of elements, as the embodiment of knowledge. But it is not seen as playing any active role: technology is acted-upon but is not itself acting.
  • Research has tended to study factors or social structures affecting processes of technological change. But it does not describe those processes in detail: actual practices of change tend to be black-boxed.

In sum, research to date has typically stood outside the technology processes it seeks to investigate; freezing them in time and concealing their main actors.

As luck would have it, these are just the kind of lacunae that actor-network theory was intended to address.  Yet application of ANT to cases of technological change in developing countries has been rare; and within development studies literature, almost non-existent.  So new ANT-based case studies of technology and development are required to assess what insights actor-network theory can offer.

One such case study – applying Callon’s “moments of translation” to a digital information system in the Sri Lankan public sector – is presented in the Development Studies Research paper (which should be accessed for full details).  It finds that an initial network supporting technological change fell apart in mid-project, and had to be reconstructed around a new technology design and a new vision for future change.

Three challenges emerged in applying ANT:

  • Methodological: admission of subjectivity in framing an ANT-based case, and problems of thinning out detail to fit a journal-length account.
  • Analytical: that ANT can provide a rich description of how things happen, but stutters in seeking to analyse why.
  • Instrumental: the difficulty of extracting practical guidance from ANT other than rather “Machiavellian” prescriptions.

On the other hand, the case analysis shows that ANT can open the black box of technological change processes and offer new insights:

  • Networks: explaining the networks of relations that both support and oppose technological change, and also the detailed process by which they come to be formed, dissolved, etc.
  • Technology: exposing the active role that technology plays in international development – shaping, enabling, co-operating, resisting, etc.
  • Human practices: providing a detailed account of the role played by individuals and groups in technological change; particularly the way in which lead actors modify the perceived interests and even identities of others involved.

ANT therefore shows us not just that human interests, identities and relations change in a technology-and-development project; it also explains in what way they change, how it is that those changes come about, and how they relate to the project’s trajectory.

The case analysis shows that ANT will not help answer questions about the impact of context on technological process, or about the developmental impact (in the traditional sense) of technology. However, it may help to answer questions such as:

  • How do we explain the trajectory of a technology and development project?
  • How does a particular innovation in a developing country diffuse, scale up or sink without trace?
  • What role does technology play in processes of technological change?
  • How does power manifest itself in such processes? How are apparently relatively powerless actors sometimes able to influence the direction of technological change? How are apparently relatively powerful actors sometimes not able to get their way on a technology project?

As the technology used in development becomes more complex, more interconnected, more intertwined into the lives and livelihoods of developing communities, and changing at an ever-faster pace; then ANT will likely become more relevant and more useful as a conceptual frame.

 

Understanding ICT4D and Capabilities via User Roles

There has been a small but substantive engagement to understand how the capability approach of Sen and others could be applied in the ICT4D field (e.g. Andersson et al 2012, Kleine 2013).  One of the key challenges is the granularity of the capability approach.  It requires us to break down development not merely to the level of individuals but to the level of single capabilities or functionings.  Thus, at least in theory, generating a list that is many billions-long.

The capabilities approach can therefore only be operationalised by aggregation: a simplification that groups capabilities into a relatively few categories (e.g. Alkire 2002), or which aggregates from the individual to the group (e.g. Thapa et al 2012).

In this blog entry, I propose a different type of aggregation, via the notion of the “roles” people play in relation to ICTs.  Developing from the concept of roles within the workplace (e.g. Biddle 1986, Huvila 2008), we can define a role as a set of tasks and behaviours that are performed by an individual.  Roles therefore represent something halfway between a realised functioning and a livelihood.  They are shaped by “a mix of both social dynamics and technological affordances” (Postigo 2011:184).

Here, a set of roles will be analysed that people can play vis-à-vis ICT; represented as a ladder, as shown in the figure below.  In simple terms, climbing the ladder could be read as a greater intensity of engagement with the technology.  It is also a ladder of technological capability; each step reflecting higher-level competencies (skills, knowledge and perhaps also attitudes) that are required for this type of ICT use but which are also created by this type of ICT use.  And it also represents Sen’s ideas, with each successive role being a greater level of realised functioning.

ICT Roles Ladder

Figure 1: Ladder of ICT-Related Roles

The various roles can be understood in relation to categories of ICT use.  These are summarised in the figure and detailed below, selecting examples of particular relevance to those in low-income communities.  For further details, see the online paper: “ICTs and Poverty Eradication: Comparing Economic, Livelihoods and Capabilities Models”.

Non-Use:

In these roles, members of poor communities are not direct users of either the technology or the information and services it carries:

  • Delinked: there is no obvious connection between particular ICT applications and poor communities.  An example might be applications within a large corporation which does not produce goods or services of relevance to poor communities.
  • Indirect: this represents a very large category of ICT applications in organisations in which the poor have no direct connection with the ICT, but in which the ICT application does deliver some benefit.  Examples might include the use of ICTs in large firms to improve supply, distribution and marketing to base-of-the-pyramid markets.

Other ICT Uses to Enterprise ICT Use:

In these roles, the poor make direct use of either the technology or the information and services it carries.  They can do this either as entrepreneurs or in other roles:

  • Intermediated consumer: this can represent all three main levels of consumption-related use of ICTs – one-way broadcast of information, interaction, transaction – but in no case is the consumer a direct ICT user; hence there is limited ICT-enabled change in role.  A typical example might be the delivery of e-government services, undertaken at kiosks and service centres staffed by intermediaries.
  • Passive consumer: a role in which there is direct use of the ICTs but just to receive “broadcast” information e.g. about health or market prices.
  • Active user: digitally-enabled interaction and transaction with socio-economic contacts; for example, the remittance of “mobile money” from urban migrants to rural relatives, or the use of telecentres by farmers to get agricultural guidance from distant advisers.

Enterprise ICT Use to ICT Sector:

In this role, those in poor communities make direct use of ICTs:

  • Producer: creation of enduring digital content.  This could be undertaken by an entrepreneur, for example, advertising goods and services on a voice-activated information service.  But it also overlaps into the ICT sector category; for example, musicians or video producers recording then sharing content on mobile phones.

ICT Sector:

In these roles, the use of ICTs is so central to the livelihood that it is seen as lying within the ICT sector:

  • Worker: employment in an ICT-based activity (one that could not exist without ICTs); for example, those employed to undertake data entry and other digitisation tasks as part of IT impact sourcing contracts.
  • Entrepreneur: creation of a self-employed ICT-based livelihood (one that could not exist without ICTs); for example, the umbrella people selling phone calls by the roadside, or those who set up PC kiosks providing digital photography, e-ticketing and e-government services.
  • Innovator: adaptation of the technology by modifying the technology itself such as the “street hacks” that alter mobiles to accept dual SIMs, or by modifying ICT-enabled processes such as the mobile money agents who adapt methods of service delivery to match their local context.

Any attempt to aggregate capabilities has its downsides, since it must necessarily simplify away some of the richness of Sen’s ideas.  However, the use of roles – whether those proposed above or others – as an analytical approach offers a fairly straightforward and robust way of evaluating ICT4D initiatives, which does some justice to the intentions and insights of the capability approach.

Further work now needs to be done to dig into the literature on work-roles, life-roles, social-roles and role theory, in order to provide a stronger foundation for the role ladder.

Using Actor-Network Theory in ICT4D Research

30 July 2011 14 comments

Actor-network theory (ANT) has been around since the 1980s, and significantly utilised in some disciplines, such as information systems.  But – oddly – it has hardly been applied at all in development studies, including within ICT4D research.  That is recently starting to change but to give some further impetus, we organised an international workshop in June 2011: “Understanding Development Through Actor-Network Theory”.  You can find online a working paper series derived from the workshop.

Actor-network theory began as a means to explain how science works, such as the operation of scientific laboratories and projects.  However, it has subsequently grown to be seen as a full-blown social theory.  In particular, ANT says three things.

First, it says, “Hey, sociologists, you’ve been so obsessed with humans that you’ve been ignoring all the objects in the world.  But those objects – documents, mobile phones, plants, websites, etc – play an important role; just like humans they shape the people and other objects around them. So ANT is going to treat them the same as people, and call them both ‘actors’.”

Second, it says, “Hey, sociologists, because you’ve been so obsessed with humans, you think that society and social contexts or social factors are what explains everything in life.  But you’re wrong.  In fact you’re so wrong you’ve got your basic equation of life the wrong way around.  You think that society explains what goes on in the world.  Nope.  What goes on in the world is what explains society.  So ANT is going to focus on the mechanics of life: the ways in which people and objects interact with each other.”

Third, it says, “Hey, more recent French-type sociologists, you’ve been so obsessed with breaking things apart to understand the bits of grammar and bits of history that made them that your idea of researching a clock would be to smash it to pieces with a hammer.  That is not how to research a clock.  To research a clock you need to understand how all the pieces got put together, following the network of people and objects that interacted in order to make that clock.  So ANT is going to focus on how networks are assembled.”

Much ANT writing is horribly obscure, so full of hideously complex sentences and words that the writers must surely have done this deliberately in the hope of avoiding Oscar Wilde’s dictum, “to be intelligible is to be found out”.  But, done well, ANT can tell a good story and even occasionally give you the sense that you are suddenly seeing the world in a whole new light.  A whole new light that – because it’s about dynamics and innovations and technology and networks – seems especially relevant to ICT4D.

A couple of good entry points – good because they each provide a fairly clear and portable conceptual framework that you can re-use in your own research – are:

–         Callon, M. (1986) Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of scallops and the fishermen of St Brieuc Bay, in: Power, Action and Belief, J. Law (ed.), Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 196-233

–         Law, J. & Callon, M. (1992) The life and death of an aircraft: a network analysis of technical change, in: W.E. Bijker & J. Law (eds), Shaping Technology/Building Society, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 21-52

Also not too unreadable is Latour’s Reassembling the Social, though had Latour been shot half-way through the dialogue with a PhD student that is reported in the book, I can’t help feeling a verdict of justifiable homicide would have been returned.

Although, as noted, use of ANT in ICT4D research has been limited there have been enough examples, at least from developing country cases within the information systems field, that we get a sense of the questions ANT is good at answering:

–         How do you explain the trajectory of an ICT4D project?

–         What role does technology play in an ICT4D project?

–         How does power manifest itself in an ICT4D project?  How were apparently powerless actors able to influence the direction of an ICT4D project?  How was it that apparently powerful actors didn’t get their way on an ICT4D project?

–         How does a particular ICT4D innovation (be it a new technology or business model or idea) diffuse or scale-up or sink without trace?

–         How did a particular ICT4D impact or ICT4D policy come about?

If you’ve identified other ICT4D questions that are especially suitable for an ANT lens, then do contribute them.

If you want an example of applying ANT in ICT4D that also includes a reflection on the pros and cons of the theory, and some thoughts on applying it in your research, I can recommend:

–         Stanforth, C. (2007) Using actor-network theory to analyze e-government implementation in developing countries, Information Technology and International Development, 3(3), 35-60

There is also a discussion of the relation between ICT4D and ANT in:

–         Rubinoff, D.D. (2008) Towards an ICT4D geometry of empowerment: using actor-network theory to understand and improve ICT4D, in: Developing Successful ICT Strategies, M.H. Rahman (ed.), Information Science Reference, Hershey, PA, 133-154

And feel free to comment on other ICT4D literature that makes use of ANT.

If you would like to participate in discussions about ANT, you can join our online forum on LinkedIn at: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/ActorNetwork-Theory-in-Development-Studies-3995328

We are also populating a group on Mendeley with reference details, and welcome contributions: http://www.mendeley.com/groups/1255941/actor-network-theory-in-development-studies/

Finally, the first of our working paper series delves into some of these issues in greater detail: “Development Studies Research and Actor-Network Theory

Understanding ICT4D Adoption via Institutional Dualism

28 February 2011 12 comments

Sometimes with ICT4D projects, you build it and they don’t come.  Why is that?  Why do potential users resist, object, reject?

One explanation comes from the concept of “institutional dualism”.

First developed to explain how Japan reacted to the import of Western ideas and technologies in the 19th century, this can also be used to understand any innovation – including ICT4D initiatives – in which there is some separation between designers and intended adopters.

Each of those two groups sits within its own institutional network: a complex of institutional elements (e.g. norms, rules, beliefs, values) and organisations and actions.  Left to its own devices, any institutional network will tend to “self-reproduce”.  For example, its cultural values will encourage particular actions, and those actions will in turn reinforce the network’s cultural values.

But innovations like an ICT4D application will bring two different institutional networks – those of the application designers, and those of the application adopters – into contact.  We can call this institutional dualism because of the two institutional networks that come into play (see figure).

A strong example of institutional dualism would occur if a team from a European university designed an ICT4D application and then introduced it into a rural location in Africa.  The European designers’ behaviour is enabled by a set of Western organisations and shaped by a set of Western institutional forces, some of which will be inscribed into the ICT4D application.  During implementation this network is drawn into contact with the very different network of rural Africa, with different organisational structures, behaviours, and institutional forces.

Many ICT4D projects will be a bit less starkly drawn than this, but will still involve institutional dualism because designers and adopters almost always come from different places and different spaces.

What then happens?  There are four possible outcomes from a situation of institutional dualism:

  • Domination: one of the institutional networks prevails over the other in the ICT4D project.  If the designers dominate, the project could fail due to its mismatch to the broader local context.  If the adopters prevail, that requires a complete re-design of the project to have occurred.
  • Contest: neither of the institutional networks prevails, but there is ongoing competition between them.  The ICT4D project may stagger on, but always in difficulty as it is pulled in two different directions.
  • Parallel-Running: a separation is arranged with some aspects of the project guided by the designers’ institutional network, some by the adopters’.  This is only possible where the ICT4D project has a broad flexibility and scope.
  • Hybridisation: the ICT4D project becomes the site within which the two institutional networks blend, forming a mixture of institutional values and hence a set of hybrid actions within the organisational structure of the project itself.

Of these four, only hybridisation and some types of domination are likely to lead to a sustainable ICT4D project.  We have seen this in practice with a large-scale ICT4D case study of institutional dualism from the Brazilian public sector.  Although giving some outward signs of hybridisation, beneath the surface this remained a story of ongoing contest and parallel-running even some years after its first implementation.  It was still contingent, and it demonstrates the great difficulty ICT4D projects have in institutionalising themselves when operating in environments of strong institutional dualism.

The ICT4D Value Chain

28 December 2010 6 comments

ICT4D projects and policies can best be understood through a value chain model.  As shown in Figure 1 below, this builds on a standard input—process—output model to create a sequence of linked ICT-for-development resources and processes.  The model can be used for projects and policies in various ways: to trace their history; to analyse their content; to assess and evaluate.

The ICT4D value chain offers four main domains that can be the focus for historical or content analysis or evaluation:

  • Readiness: the systemic prerequisites for any ICT4D initiative; both the foundational precursors that we might conceptualise mainly at the national level such as ICT infrastructure, skills and policy; and the more specific inputs (both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’) that feed into any individual initiative.  Assessment could focus on the presence/absence of these resources and capabilities, or the strategy that converts precursors into inputs.
  • Availability: implementation of an ICT4D initiative turns the inputs into a set of tangible ICT deliverables; typical among which might be a telecentre or mobile phones.  Again, assessment can focus on either the delivered resources and/or the delivery process.
  • Uptake: the processes by which access to the technology is turned into actual usage; also noting that key concerns around this process and its ability to contribute to development have related to the sustainability of this use over time, and – for various innovations that are prototyped – the potential or actuality of scaling-up.  In practice, usage indicators are more often assessed than the various uptake processes.
  • Impact: which can be divided into three sub-elements:
    • Outputs: the micro-level behavioural changes associated with technology use.
    • Outcomes: the wider costs and benefits associated with ICT.
    • Development Impacts: the contribution of the ICT to broader development goals.

Figure 1: The ICT4D Value Chain

 

How has interest in these four domains changed over time?

One way to trace this is through key staging posts for the ICT4D community:

  • The Digital Opportunity Taskforce (DOTForce) arose from the 2000 G8 summit in Okinawa.  In 2001, it produced its “Digital Opportunities for All” report which encompassed four focal areas.  Three – readiness, connectivity and human capacity – were related only to the Readiness domain; and one – participation in e-networks – looked mainly at Readiness and Availability issues.
  • In 2003, the first World Summit on the Information Society was held in Geneva.  Its main report was, tellingly, entitled “Building the Information Society” and not surprisingly the main focus was on building ICT connection and access; again looking mostly at the Readiness and Availability domains.
  • The second World Summit on the Information Society was held in Tunis in 2005.  Unlike its predecessor, its agenda did start to talk about impact.  It still had a strong focus on precursors like financing and governance, but it included additional discussion about the application of ICTs, thus starting to encompass the Uptake and Impact domains.
  • The largest subsequent meeting was the GK3 event in Kuala Lumpur at the end of 2007.  It was shaped by twelve main sub-themes.  Analysing these shows a fairly even spread across the four domains, though with Impact by now the largest single focus, followed by Availability.

There has been no subsequent comparable single event in the area drawing together many thousands of participants as these staging posts did; rather, a growing number of smaller events drawing several hundreds.  However, a useful bellwether is the Information and Communications for Development Report produced by the World Bank.  In its 2009 edition, the ratio of mentions of ‘readiness’ to ‘impact’ was 1:35.

Such evidence is best seen as straws in the wind rather than definitive, but it does suggest a similar pattern to that seen in other areas of ICT application, and summarised in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Changing Focus of ICT4D Priorities Over Time

 

Whatever the exact shape of the graph, it reflects the relative lack of attention that has been paid to ICTs’ contribution to development until quite recently.  That is problematic because, as you move from left to right along the value chain, assessment becomes more difficult, more costly but also more valuable.  Of course there has been literature assessing the connection to development including the summary Compendium on Impact Assessment of ICT4D Projects, and the 2010 Journal of International Development policy arena: “Do Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) Contribute to Development?“.

However, donor agencies, governments, academic departments and others must still do more to shift the focus of attention along the ICT4D value chain; and to demonstrate ICTs’ development impact.

%d bloggers like this: