Intervention or Collaboration? Redesigning Information and Communication Technologies for Development.

Resource type
Intervention or Collaboration? Redesigning Information and Communication Technologies for Development.
How can we design and build digital technologies to support people in poor and low resource environments to achieve their objectives? And how can we do this inclusively and ethically, while considering the complexity of their living and working environments? This is the central question in my research. One of the grand challenges of international development cooperation is to make digital technologies available for social and economic development of poor regions of the world. To achieve this goal – often referred to as ICT4D – knowledge and technologies are transferred from wealthy countries to poor regions. Nevertheless, these efforts have often turned out unsuccessful and unsustainable, despite large budgets and numerous projects in prestigious international development programs. Mismatch between the transferred technologies and the target environment is a recurrent problem of ICT4D projects. Improvement can be achieved, for example, by involving end-users in the design process. International development organizations are aware of this, and terms like "co-creation", "participation" and "user-oriented design" have nowadays become part of the international development discourse. However, real co-creation and user-centered design are incompatible with unidirectional transfer of technologies and knowledge (this is how ICT4D is commonly organized, in conventional international development). Moreover, the term participation becomes meaningless, in the light of externally formulated development goals. One key question to ask is: what do the envisaged users want? Remarkably, many ICT4D projects, programs and policies do not really ask and (field) investigate this question, which can only be answered by extensive research on-the-ground. This thesis describes the search for and the design of an alternative approach to ICT4D. Ten years of field and action research with partners in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana have led to a collaborative, iterative and adaptive approach, dubbed "ICT4D 3.0". What is novel of this alternative approach and how does it answer the central question? First of all, ICT4D 3.0 is a practical approach for critical investigation and action. It consists of a reconfigurable framework that guides the design and development of information systems, bridging the knowledge gap between developers and users to unlock and integrate different domains of (global, local, indigenous, academic, nonacademic) knowledge. It targets complex, resource-constrained environments where many (for the ICT developers and researchers) unfamiliar conditions or obstacles may exist. It fosters innovative capacity and learning in action, bringing together people with different backgrounds and perspectives in trans-disciplinary and multicultural teams. It is socio-technical, result-oriented, focused on the objectives of the stakeholders and the requirements of their livelihoods. This approach has been validated in various different contexts, by users, ICT developers, practitioners and students. Second, ICT4D 3.0 contributes to a theoretical understanding of ICT4D as a process of networked innovation in complex (adaptive) systems. The underlying idea is that knowledge sharing and diffusion of innovations are complex (non-linear) dynamic processes that evolve and propagate through social networks in rather unpredictable ways, whereby innovation works out differently, depending on context, and whereby contextual (e.g. social, cultural, environmental, political) factors play an important role, and have to be considered. This theoretical framework explains the effectiveness of a collaborative, iterative, adaptive approach in ICT4D. Third, ICT4D 3.0 is built on ethical principles. When reflecting on the meaning and purpose of digital development, it is clear that digital development is not only a question of technology and practice, and collaboration is more than a prerequisite for successful technological innovation and long-term sustainability: collaboration is a fundamental human, ethical value. Therefore, as a reflective practitioner, one has to ask oneself whose interests one is actually looking after, which goals one is trying to achieve, where they come from, how power and political issues play a role and which core values are at stake. This makes ICT4D 3.0 into a democratic process of dialogue and deliberation, in which all voices are heard, in which the local context and complexity are central and in which development goals are determined by the users themselves and not imposed from outside. In this light, the approach proposed in this thesis takes a value position and can be considered a decolonial approach, striving for democracy, emancipation, autonomy and social and economic betterment. Field experience shows that ICT4D can be a meaningful, collaborative, networked process of knowledge sharing, driven by local initiatives, realizing change for the better, in a complex world.
Short Title
Intervention or Collaboration?
Library Catalog
Bon, A. (2020). Intervention or Collaboration? Redesigning Information and Communication Technologies for Development.