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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

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Understanding WDR2016 as a Conflict of Closed vs Open Institutional Logics

11 February 2016 3 comments

How can we explain the negative consequences associated with ICTs: the digital deficit and digital ills identified in the 2016 World Development Report?

As summarised earlier, the Report itself blames the digital deficit – inequity in the distribution of ICT benefits to a few “haves” rather than the many “have nots” – on two divides: a digital divide of very uneven access to the digital infrastructure; and a social divide of inadequate policies, skills, and (public sector) institutions.  And it ranges a little wider in identifying authoritarian states, vested interests, and monopolies as the source of some negative ICT-related impacts.

The Report therefore starts to manoeuvre around two classic ICT4D shortcomings[1]:

  • The teleological error: the association of ICTs solely with their intended purposes; assuming that policy needs only focus on removing barriers to diffusion and adoption to deliver development.
  • The structural error: the association of ICTs solely with “imminent development” (incremental, short-term, development driven by individual agency), ignoring the association of ICTs with “immanent development” (the development that emerges from the deep structures of society).

But we can push further than the Report does to look at those deep structures, using the ideas of institutional logics.  Institutional logics are broad social forces with both material and symbolic elements that shape the way we think and act.  Religion, family, state, and market are typical logics but running through digital development is a conflict between two other logics:

  • Open logic: a cooperative logic that values openly-accessible inputs, participative and collaborative processes, and shared distribution of benefits.
  • Closed logic: a competitive or controlling logic that values restriction of inputs, processes and benefits to particular individuals or groups.

At least in the economic and political spheres, closed logic is the dominant global force but challenged sporadically by open logic[2].  On that basis, we can see three patterns reflected in the Report:

  • Reinforcement: cases in which the dominant closed logic is reproduced, or extended, or augmented through use of ICTs. Examples abound: electronic surveillance of citizens by autocratic regimes; the lack of impact of e-procurement systems on bribe-paying and bid participation rates; capture of e-participation systems by political elites; and development of digital monopolies.
  • Insurgence: cases in which the subordinate open logic is strengthened through use of ICTs. For instance, crowdsourcing to report and reduce electoral violence and fraud, creation of open learning systems, or crowdfunding platforms.  But these are fewer and weaker than the reinforcement examples.  So there is a sense of marginality: incremental gains that do not disturb the underlying closed logic – sometimes perhaps deliberate “openwash” that coats closed logic with an open veneer.
  • Metamorphosis: cases in which ICTs initially support open logic which is then translated into closed logic. A number of the Report’s sharing economy examples have followed this trajectory; for example, mutating from non-profit to for-profit.

The Sustainable Development Goals are clear that development to date has been too incremental, and needs to be transformational.  If we take that seriously, then ICT4D must attend to its teleological and structural errors; in particular, asking how ICTs can accompany or even facilitate structural transformation.

This does not mean spurning closed logic and supporting only open logic – competition, control and cooperation are all fundamental human impulses, and none of them alone can deliver development.  But ICTs cannot help deliver the SDGs’ radical agenda if they simply help closed logic grow at the expense of open logic.

This means more ICT4D research on the role of digital technology vis-a-vis the immanent development that emerges from society’s deep structures, and more ICT4D practice that recognises and engages with those structures.

[1] Adapted from Murphy, J.T. & Carmody, P. (2015) Africa’s Information Revolution, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK.

[2] See, e.g., Fuchs, C. (2008) Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age, Routledge, New York.

Digital Dividends: Thoughts on the 2016 World Development Report

13 January 2016 1 comment

Some years back, helping run a session at the World Bank, I introduced myself to a table of participants.  “Oh yes”, came the sniffy response, “you’re the ICT failure guy”.  This was a World Bank that believed in – and heavily promoted – the development benefits of ICTs, and had little time for any contrary evidence.

Judging from this year’s World Development Report – “Digital Dividends” – that rose-tinted optimism has been replaced by a much more realistic, and somewhat downbeat, perspective on ICT4D; a perspective that’s emerged from strong engagement with the current evidence base.

Three Divides

WDR2016 is a tale of three divides.

The first is an impact divide: a gap between ICT’s widespread diffusion and its actual delivery of benefits – the “digital dividends” of the title.  As one would expect, the Report does a great job of laying out those dividends, particularly through pithy frameworks and graphics.  It shows the way in which ICT affordances of efficiency, inclusivity and innovation have driven productivity, growth and jobs in the economic sphere, and more capable and responsive governments in the political sphere.

Yet alongside the digital dividend has come:

  • a digital deficit: inequalities in the distribution of these benefits with a few “haves”, many “have nots”, and far more “have lesses”; and
  • digital ills: cybercrime and curtailment of online freedoms that sit beside the ICT4D unmentionable, online pornography.

The cause of these problems – at least the digital deficit – is the two other divides.

The digital divide is familiar territory: the problems of accessibility and affordability with customary prescriptions that mix competition and regulation, and at least a mention for the applicability problems that arise from digital illiteracy.  But of more interest is the strong recognition that a social divide is the main determinant of the pattern of ICT4D impacts: a gap between the regulations, skills, and institutions needed to deliver digital dividends for all vs. the actual regulations, skills and institutions present within developing countries.

Those who believe in a contextualised, socio-technical approach to ICT4D will nod along to all this.  Even the consequent prescriptions – “regulations that allow firms to connect and compete; skills that technology augments rather than replaces; and institutions that are capable and accountable” – while they have an expected flavour of neo-liberalism, constitute a broader digital policy agenda than often promoted in the past by the World Bank.

Digital Development

This broader agenda reflects a bigger picture issue: the Report is one more marker of the transition from “ICT4D” to “digital development”.  The absence of ICT4D (it gets no mentions save a bibliographic reference to one of my papers) in favour of digital development is more than just a change in terminology but – as I’ve written in an earlier report (see here for edited version) – reflects the slow change from ICTs being a tool that assists development to their being the platform that mediates development.

The agenda for digital development will be substantially shaped by the Sustainable Development Goals, with their three essentials of transformation, inclusion and sustainability:

  • As noted above, WDR2016 identifies how much ICTs have already delivered; how reality has so far undershot the transformative potential of ICTs, due to technical and social divides; but also what the solutions might be.
  • Inclusion – or rather lack thereof – is also a key Report theme, citing concentration of economic and political power, state and corporate control of citizens, and inequality of economic impacts. The Report’s focus on economic and political domains means it has much less to say about ICTs and inequalities in other domains such as social and family and cultural life.  It is also rather mixed in its perspective on ICTs and inclusion: at times arguing inequalities “persist, not because of digital technologies, but in spite of them”, but in other places explaining how ICTs have facilitated digital monopolies, automation of middle-income jobs, and digital authoritarianism.
  • Sustainability and its operationalisation through resilience gets a brief acknowledgement but – as I’ve noted in my “ICT4D2016” paper – much remains to be done to really get a grip on the coming e-sustainability and e-resilience agenda.

The practice of digital development will be substantially shaped by Development 2.0: the ICT-enabled innovations that challenge existing development structures and processes: users as digital producers, the power of the crowd, digital participation, network structures, data-intensive development, and open development.  In largely reviewing the existing evidence base, “Digital Dividends” has less to say about these.  But they are identifiable within the Report as part of the coming flow.

WDR1998/99 (“Knowledge for Development”) had an important impact in kick-starting ICT4D.  WDR2016 faces a different world – one far more mature, and perhaps a little jaded in its experience of ICTs and development, but it reflects this evolution well and will be a vital pointer for the “digital development” future.

 

Disclosure: I was an invited Advisory Panel member for WDR2016.

The Data Revolution Will Fail Without A Praxis Revolution

14 August 2014 8 comments

Pose the following to data-revolution-for-development activists: “Show me an initiative of yours that has led to scaled, sustained development outcomes”.

If – as likely – they struggle, there’s a simple reason.  We have not yet connected the data revolution to a praxis revolution for development.  The data revolution takes advantage of technical changes to deliver new volume, speed, and variety of data.  The praxis revolution makes changes to development processes and structures in order to turn that data into development outcomes.

Perhaps data activists never took, or fell asleep during, Information Systems 101.  Because the very first session of that course teaches you the information value chain.  You’ll find variants of the example below in Chapter 1 of most information systems textbooks.

New Info Value Chain

It explains that data per se is worthless.  Value – and development results – only derive from information used in decisions that are implemented as actions.  To make that happen you also need the intelligence to process the data into information; the imperative that motivates you to run the whole chain through; and the soft capabilities and hard resources to access data and take action[1].

It is – relatively – easy to deliver the new data and to attack the ‘access’ issue by lowering skill and technological barriers for development decision makers, for example via good data analytic and visualisation techniques.  It is much more difficult to address the praxis components of the chain.  That’s not just a question of providing information-, decision-, and action-related skills and other resources for individuals.  It will typically require:

– new, more evidence-based decision-making processes

– new, more agile decision-making structures

– new institutional values and incentives that orient towards these new decision-making modes.

At present, that does not seem to be happening.  If we create a quasi-heatmap of the focus for some key data-revolution-for-development (DReD) sources[2], then we see that almost all the focus lies at the source of the value chain or before (prioritisation, digitisation, standardisation, etc of data).  There is a very little thought given to the development impact of data.  And the “wings” of intelligence and imperative, and the core of praxis (information-decision-action) are missing.

Heatmap Info Value Chain

“Heatmap” of Key Data-Revolution-for-Development Sources

 

Of course that’s partly understandable: there’s a clue in the term data revolution; in the remit set for organisations like Global Pulse; and in the technical profiles of most of those involved.

And the limited incursion of techies into praxis is partly welcome.  As Evgeny Morozov has noted, the techie prescription for praxis is algorithimic regulation – a steady incursion of automation into the downstream stages of the value chain which assumes digital decisions and actions are some apolitical and rational optimum, which denies the importance of politics and thus neuters political debate, and which diverts attention from the causes of society’s ills to their effects with the attitude: “there’s an app for that”.

So, at present, we face two future problematic streams. One in which a great deal of money is wasted on DReD initiatives that make no impact.  One in which a technocentric view of praxis prevails.

Both require the same solution.  First, an explicit recognition of information value chains in the design and implementation of all DReD projects.  Second, a more multidisciplinary approach to these initiatives which incorporates participants capable of both debating and delivering the praxis revolution: those with information systems, organisation development and political economy skills are probably more relevant than decision scientists – to paraphrase Morozov, we’ve got quite enough Kahnemans and could do with a few more Machiavellis.

 

[1] Developed from Heeks & Kanashiro (2009) with a modification courtesy of Omar Malik, University of Nottingham, UK.

[2] Analysis of the content of: http://devinit.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Data-Revolution-DI-briefing.pdf; http://www.opendataresearch.org/content/2014/667/researching-emerging-impacts-open-data-oddc-conceptual-framework; and http://www.unglobalpulse.org/research/projects.  A fuller and more robust analysis will require more sources and co-coding of content.

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”.]

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