Second Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (I): Tim Unwin: ICT4D, a dialectic exploration

In the following articles I’ll be writing about the Second Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium organized by IPID, the International Network for Post Graduate Students in the area of ICT4D, and supported by SPIDER (The Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions). Sincerest thanks to all those that have made possible this second edition, especially Gudrun Wikander, Annika Andersson and Marcus Duveskog

Keynote speech: Tim Unwin
ICT4D: a dialectic exploration

We might do quite well in practice, but… what about an ICT4D theory?

  • Dialectics: seeking a synthesis, a/the resolution of the thesis and antithesis
  • From a European intellectual apparatus (from Socrates through Hegel to Marx) to… an alternative African and Asian modes of thought? Might the solution to some problems be elusive unless you changed the way you look at the problem?
  • What are the conditions under which ICTs may indeed be of value for “development”? And, in this train of though, what would be the role of technologies?

What is development? The dominant hegemonic model:

  • Focused on the MDGs
  • Absolute poverty to be eliminate by economic growth
    Providing the appropriate liberal democratic governance structures are in place

An alternative model?

  • Focused on relative poverty
  • Placing emphasis on social culture
  • enabling people to fulfill their own voices — empowerment?

Thesis vs. Antithesis

  • Exogenous or endogenous?
  • Top down supply driven or bottom up demand led?
  • Software and Knowledges: proprietary or open source
  • Partnerships or project delivery?

Technology as exogenous: a thesis

  • Much of literature addresses ICTs as exogenous: the Knowledge Society
  • An “externally” introduced “innovation” that can bring significant benefits
  • ICTs delivering “development” solutions in health, education, rural development…
  • ICTs as technologies developed primarily in the major global economies, and made available to deliver on development (defined as MDGs growth…)

Exogenous Technologies: an antithesis

  • ICTs are endogenous to “developed” capitalist economies
  • Central to speeding circulation of capital, reducing labor costs, increasing market
  • Need to focus on endogenous I&C technologies in other parts of the world

A top-down supply-led thesis: new ICTs developed in dominant economies and rolled out to developing world. Arrogance of economic and political power. Solutions that should “always” work, as norms; companies wanting to expand markets; countless self-proclaimed “successful” initiatives.

We should begin with needs, design needs based solutions.

Knowledge as private profit: proprietary thesis.

  • Knowledge and education enable benefits
  • People should therefore be willing to pay
  • People should profit from their endeavours: intellectual property rights and copyright
  • What is worth has a price
  • Focus on the individual

Knowledge as global common good: an antithesis.

  • Focus on the community
  • Knowledge for the betterment of human society; must be shared
  • Communal development

Thesis: Partnerships as the solution

  • Complexity of problems requires new skills
  • Engage all relevant stakeholders
  • Reduce duplication and wheel reinvention
  • Gain from synergies
  • Combining demand and supply approaches

Where’s the balance?


Khalid Rabayah makes an interesting comment I fully share: the focus in ICT4D strategies is usually in Technologies (in Infrastructures) and neither in Information nor in Communication. There’s an urgent need to shift to content — local content — and design Information Strategies. While agreeing, Tim Unwin’s counterargument is based on the benefits of globalization: sharing what’s out there, not reinventing the wheel, being able to communicate across the World, etc.


Second Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (2007)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2007) “Second Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (I): Tim Unwin: ICT4D, a dialectic exploration” In ICTlogy, #47, August 2007. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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