ICTD2010 (XX). Donor Voices

Notes from the Information and Communication Technolgies and Development — ICTD2010, held at the Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK, on December 13-16, 2010. More notes on this event: ictd2010.

Closing Panel: Donor Voices
Chairs: Tim Unwin

Patrick Kalas, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation

SCD is moving out of ICT4D strictly speaking: there is a need to focus on the ‘D’.

We have to speak to the specialist and the non-specialist, to stress on diffusing the word of what we are doing, how and why.

Let us not focus only in one technoogy (e.g. mobiles) and dismiss other technologies that have proven to be valuable: community radio, etc.

We have to put more effort on impact research.

Christine Qiang, The World Bank

Mobile networks are transformative in many ways: reaching population, intensifying relationships, etc. Mobile applications have a strong leapfrogging nature.

ICT as a general purpose technology, is both a blessing and a curse. It empowers people, but also poses a major challenge in terms of capability. We must not invest in bubbles of expectations: evaluation should be always in everyone’s mind.

We need to be realistic on what technologies can or cannot achieve. There are issues of complementary infrastructure, human capacity, etc.

Please see the World Bank ICT Strategy open for public consultation.

Pierre Lucante, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)

Importance of digital capabilities.

We have to mainstream ICT in other disciplines.

Laurent Elder, IDRC-CRDI

There is many people working in ICTs and development, despite they do not calling it ICT4D (or ICTD). on the other hand.

It is important that practitioners and researchers/academics come together and work side by side. Everything should be rooted in development theory.

Under resource constraints, will you choose sustainability over scalability? How do we measure impact? How should we better assess projects and their impact? These are very difficult questions. And, somewhat, they should not put that much pressure upon projects and/or the people and institutions behind them.

Don’t be critical, don’t be cynical: try to make a difference. It is much more easy to criticise and destroy than to act and build.


Q: What is the role of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in development? Lucante: it is important, but it would be desirable to be involved in a broader way that just CSR. Kalas: CSR is not the way to establish private-public partnerships, as it is a too narrow way of collaboration. Partnerships are also about sharing risks

Q: how do we encourage research in developing countries? Qiang: investing in local application or technology development (e.g. mobiles) is a way to encourage local researchers to be able to participate in topics that are of their total concern. Elder: another way to do it is that they can actually collaborate with other colleagues with more researching experience but with a genuine interest and knowledge of/in the field.

Q: Why multi-stakeholder partnerships in ICTs? Kalas: Governments alone cannot make a huge impact, there is a need to bring the private sector in. The problem is how to. Elder: ICT are not only about technologies, but also about social impact.

Q: Are funding open standards and open source enough? Elder: We need to invest in the ‘open’ because we need to know how things work, not only the outcome. On the other hand, if research/projects are paid with public funds, they should result in publicly available goods.

Personal note

A huge thank you to the organization for putting together such a great conference. Thank you very much.

More information


Information and Communication Technologies and Development (2010)

ICTD2010 (XIX). South to North: A fishbowl on the transferability of ICTs in income-poor countries to income-rich countries (debating applicability, methods, policies)

Notes from the Information and Communication Technolgies and Development — ICTD2010, held at the Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK, on December 13-16, 2010. More notes on this event: ictd2010.

South to North: A fishbowl on the transferability of ICTs in income-poor countries to income-rich countries (debating applicability, methods, policies)
Chair: Chris Coward, Karen Fisher

Have some innovations created in resource-constrained environments been actually applied in other (developed) countries (e.g. microfinance)? How has that happened? Under what conditions transferability worked?

To what extent low-cost solutions are designed for the South? counterexamples?

Which ICTD innovatoins have already spread from the South?

What characteristics have North and South innovations in common?

Which contextual factors influence transferability?

What transfer methodologies have been used? What are their characteristics?


There are several examples of usages of FrontlineSMS that could be applied in the North, where mobile penetration is usually over 100% and almost everyone is texting messages and that are currently being used: small interventions on vulnerable people, letting a collective (e.g. customers) know that you are in the neighbourhood, etc.

Networks to support customers are operated in many places by outsourced/networked companies. These networks can be shared by operators, are decentralized, and are very very cheap and quick to be set.

One thing that surprisingly has not been transferred to the North is mobile banking. The (grassroots) innovation was appropriated by operators and spread as an industrialized commodity in Southern countries, but it has not been transferred to the North.

One of the reasons for innovation transferability might be that it is made by people that see themselves as equals.

Many innovations are not transferable because the constraints have already been addressed with some other solutions. E.g. mobile banking is more difficult to be transferred to the North because there already is a banking system that, despite its flaws, it does work. Affordability just adds to this issue of already existing competition in a specific field.

Is innovation to improve some people’s lives or to ‘milk’ consumers?

If we look at the resources, in the North labour is relatively cheap and technology relatively expensive, while in the South it is just the opposite. Thus, the solutions must have this different balances into account.

Social movements in the South have expanded technology in the South much more than in the North. The way they have used technology, media, has been much more intensive and transformative than elsewhere. So it is many times more about people and usage, rather than technology itself.

When it comes to design, there are several aspects that can be addressed through ‘universal design’ and that create benefits for everyone, independently of the original intended target (e.g. low side-walks that allow pass for wheelchairs, strollers, etc.). This design is expensive if done retroactively, but it does not add an cost when done at the very first steps of the design process.

More information

I think it is worth revisiting here Ethan Zuckerman’s Innovation Test, which evaluates innovations according to the following points:

  1. Does the innovation come from constraint?
  2. Does it fight culture?
  3. Does it embrace market mechanisms?
  4. Does it innovate on existing platforms?
  5. Does it come from close observation of the target environment?
  6. Does it focus more on what you have more that what you lack?
  7. Is it based on a “infrastructure begets infrastructure” basis?


Information and Communication Technologies and Development (2010)

ICTD2010 (XVIII). Publishing ICT4D Research

Notes from the Information and Communication Technolgies and Development — ICTD2010, held at the Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK, on December 13-16, 2010. More notes on this event: ictd2010.

Publishing ICT4D Research
Chairs: G. Harindranath

Geoff Walsham
Reflections on ICT4D research publishing after a Cape Town workshop.

Where to publish:

  • Go for a portfolio approach — conferences plus a range of journals.
  • Choose your journal with care — read back issues, etc.
  • Consider co-authoring some of your papers with a more experienced author.
  • Probably avoid the so-called top journals in early career.
  • Cover (slightly) different topics and different approaches for different audiences.
  • When co-authoring, let the expert in the field of the journal lead the article, and keep your leadership for the topics/subjects/journals you’re an expert on.

The review process:

  • Key initial goal: get your paper past the SE/AE screen and about to the reviewers.
  • Cover every point made by the reviewers and say how you have responded.
  • You can disagree with particular points made by the reviewers but you need to say why.
  • Focus on the key critical points which are being raised by the reviewers and editors.

What to do with a ‘reject’?

  • Consider carefully the reasons for rejection.
  • In most cases, revise the paper and submit it elsewhere.
  • Don’t give up, academic careers are marathons not sprints.

Planning for future writing:

  • Geenrate a realistic annual work plan.
  • Think about support mechanisms: colleagues, conferences, seminar groups, etc.
  • Try out your material on others: take every possible opportunity to do this.

Q: What about social networks an open publishing? A: This is a good approach to broaden your portfolio, but it should not be your only strategy. Indeed, still most places select or evaluate on a mainly a publishing-basis.

Cathy Urquhart
Publishing ICT4D research in the Information Systems area. Future themes in ICT4D research in Information Systems.

Collaboration with senior peers is beneficial, and you can offer the senior colleague something in exchange too (fresh ideas, more time, etc.)

You can’t put your eggs into just one basket.

Publishing ICT4D in Information Systems:

  • In Business Schools, increasing pressure to publish to the Association of Business Schools (ABS) journal rankings — many candidate journals for ICT4D not listed.
  • On the plus side, there are some mainstream Information Systems journals open to ICT4D research.
  • If we only publish in Information Systems journals, what does that do for our relationships with other areas, e.g. development studies, in what is a multidisciplinary field?
  • In a field that aims for impact, what is the consequence of only publishing in Information Systems academic journals?

Future themes in ICT4D research in information Systems:

  • Theorising ICT for Development — call for Papers in Information Systems journal: we need more theory.
  • The politics of ICT4D — call for papers in the International Journal of e-Politics: we need more policy.


Q: We are talking about publishing only in terms of academic careers. Notwithstanding, we might have other interests, as reaching the practitioner or, over all, making an impact at the policy-level. Maybe it is more important to publish in newspapers or write policy-briefs.

Shirin Madon
Publishing ICT4D Research… some personal reflections.

ICT4D is no more a ‘niche’ area. But this makes it more important to have a strategy, to know when to publish during your project, whether your article will be career-focused or impact-aimed. What kind of strategy?

Some considerations are due on whether to publish on open or closed journals, or to self-archive and to find ways to circumvent the ‘closeness’ of the system.

We should try and publish in outlets that make sense for the audiences that read them. Sometimes this includes NGO newsletters, newspapers, etc.

Tim Unwin

Nobody reads academic papers.

  • Journal papers are form or professional exclusivity. Because of the need to publish, there is a wide range of bad literature being published. The publishing norms are Anglo-Saxon-made. Peer review is not naive, it is about gate-keeping.
  • Know the rules of the place you want to be published in. Get in touch with the referees.
  • If we want to share of ideas, the Internet is the platform. Blogs get hundreds of times more read than academic papers. How do we actually fund publication? There still is a huge value in the traditional role of editors.
  • There is a conspiracy to create an ICT4D field. Do not constrain your ideas, change happen at the edges. Everyone is in their silos and do not read each others’ papers.
  • Books are hugely important. Books allow more room to include and expand ideas.
  • Never add your supervisors in your papers, unless they definitely wrote and/or contributed significantly to the paper.
  • We have to find more places where research can happen. We have to move out of the US/Europe and find innovation where it is happening.

Geoff Walsham: we have to differentiate research with dissemination. The latter includes writing in practitioner papers, newspapers, doing consultancy, etc.

Q: How do funders dictate the research agenda? Shirin Madon: It is a good thing that funders ask for a multidisciplinary approach, as this forces researchers to join forces. Tim Unwin: researchers always have the choice to refuse funding if it does not go in line with what ethics in research suggest.

More information

(NOTE: most energetic session, full of non-reportable debate).


Information and Communication Technologies and Development (2010)

ICTD2010 (XVII). Technology ‘Teach-In’

Notes from the Information and Communication Technolgies and Development — ICTD2010, held at the Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK, on December 13-16, 2010. More notes on this event: ictd2010.

Revi Sterling, Heather Underwood
Technology ‘Teach-In’

Weigel and Waldurger (2004)
Unwin (2008)

Three possible classifications that should help in choosing the appropriate technology:

  • Hi vs. low cost of access.
  • Individual use vs. communal use.
  • Ease or difficulty of use.

What are you trying to do? Who are you trying to reach? What are your limitations? What is the community baseline? What is acceptable to the community? What is legal? What is already there? What are the climate conditions like?

(The session included a simulation role-game where different scenarios were presented and there was a discussion on how the different needs could be approached with the appropriate technology… or without it).

More information

Weigel, G. & Waldburger, D. (Eds.) (2004). ICT4D – Connecting People For A Better World. Lessons, Innovations and Perspectives of Information and Communication Technologies in Development.

Unwin, T. (Ed.) (2009). ICT4D: Information and Communication Technology for Development.


Information and Communication Technologies and Development (2010)

ICTD2010 (XVI). Development Theory ‘Teach-In’

Notes from the Information and Communication Technolgies and Development — ICTD2010, held at the Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK, on December 13-16, 2010. More notes on this event: ictd2010.

Katie Willis, David Simon
Development Theory ‘Teach-In’

Development can be understood as employment, human rights and freedom, environment conservation, education, consumption, etc.

The ‘resources cost hypothesis‘: if your country finds a valuable resource for the rest of the world (e.g. oil, diamonds, gold, etc.) your country may be exploited, screwed and turned into ruins. Indeed, slavery and other related practices have traditionally been the way to either get rich or get exploited, depending on the side you are in.

  • What does development include?
  • How should it be achieved?
  • Where should development take place?
  • At what scale should development take place?
  • Who should decide what development it and how it should be achieved?
Modernisation Theory

The idea that development is about progress, innovation, modernization. Coined in a post-World War II and Cold War geopolitical context.

Walt W. Rostow (1960). The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-communist Manifesto.

It is normally characterized by a top-down approach, based on the more economically developed countries and the Global North experience and led by governments or large international agencies. One size fits all. “Do the right thing and you will end up where we are”.

Dependency Theory

Developed in the 1960s and 1970s, it is based on the experience of less economically developed countries. It analyses the glogal economic systems and its relationships of dependence of poorer people to the economic elites.

Andre Gunder Frank (1967). Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America.

It triggered several policy responses, like greate4re protectionism, policies of import substitution to help domestic industrialization, revolutions and the implementation of communist forms of economic and political organization.

It is a very deterministic approach and takes a an approach that looks at reality/economies as a very static thing.


Stated 1980s onwards (now mainstream in international development thinking), it stresses on the role of the market rather than the state.

The key policy dimensions focus on privatisation, reduction of state expenditure, currency devaluation, opening up of domestic economy to foreign investment, etc. It is usually implemented through structural adjustment policies (SAPs) and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRPSPs).

Normally, these plans come with strings attached: if a government does not apply certain measures, it will not get more aid for development, commerce agreements, and other kind of conditionings.

Bottom-up / Grassroots Development

It comes as a response to preceived failure of top-down development from 1980s onwards. It features a rise of NGOs as key actors in development.

In some ways, some see it related with Neoliberalism, as it is NGOs, at the micro level, the ones addressing the problems of the population, instead of the State, at the macro level, the one doing it. It is local people the ones that drive change, that are champions of change, that leverage social capital, through participatory mechanisms, etc.

Grassroots development’s features are small-scale, it recognises diversity of developmetn goals, highly efficient, empowering, environmentally sustainable, many times having a very slow path because it requires consensus, etc.


After colonialism there is a recovery of ‘lost’ / subordinated identities

Thus, some conceptions of development go in the line of recovering, on the one hand, tradition and cultural heritage; but, on the other hand, also the productive practices that where abandoned but that might still be applicable and even beneficial and sustainable in its usual context.

Its critics state that it is driven by a fundamentally anti-Eurocentric feeling, that it is inherently post-modern, supposedly empowering, yet often exclusive and even elitist too.

Anti- and Post-Development

Anti-Development: rejecting development as corporate, capitalist, neocolonial perversion/betrayal. Emerged in the mid 1990s. We have to find a new vocabulary for development, find new resources (other than merely economic). More a critique and a call to start over again, rather than “anti-“.

Post-Development: moving beyond conventional development, rethinking/reinventing alternative visions of development. Leveraging local skills while introducing external input, like technology.

Technologies in Development

Not neutral in terms of applications and implications. Impacts often diverse by scale and social group, and with intended and unintended consequences. The technology itself might be neutral, but it is not once it is applied.

Socially contingent: winners and losers, cultural norms and values, progressives vs. conservatives. Quite usually richer people are amongst the winners, and poorer amongst the losers, often a matter of affordability.

How sustainable? Financially, technically, socially, politically.

The coevolutionary process: there are multiple relationships amongst values, the organization, the environment, knowledge and technology.


Some state that Amartya Sen’s capabilities is but part of a neoliberalist approach, as it focuses on the freedom of choice and on empowering the individual.

We have seen that in recent decades the discussion has gone from the macro- to the micro-level, but ICTs are sort of being able to think again not only at the macro-level but, actually, at both levels at the same time, as many solutions are more or less equally applicable at the domestic and at the state level, or have an impact at both levels.


Information and Communication Technologies and Development (2010)

ICTD2010 (XV). Gadgets

Notes from the Information and Communication Technolgies and Development — ICTD2010, held at the Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK, on December 13-16, 2010. More notes on this event: ictd2010.

Paper Session: Gadgets

Impact of Low-Cost, On-Demand Information Access in a Remote Ghanaian Village
Clifford Schmidt, Trina Jean Gorman, Michael Shayne Gary, Andrew Azaabanye Bayor

Context: low income, low or none literacy, no electricity.

Try to see how to get on-demand information, which is difficult if you have to access a kiosk and wait for the operator to be there, for the information to be ready or available, etc.

The Talking Book is the the world’s most affordable, durable, audio device designed specifically for people who cannot read and who live without electricity. Local experts spread knowledge reliably and easily with no information loss. Rural teachers complement their lessons with interactive applications and audio books.

The Talking Book allows for listening to and recording of content.

How to implement it?

The chief of the village will be approached and he will provide contacts with the relevant people and institutions around.

Once the target users are identified, an average of 45′ training is needed to operate the device.

After a year of usage of the Talking Book to get information on agriculture, an impact assessment was performed in order to see how had their harvests changed and whether these changes had had any origin in the usage of the Talking Book. It appeared that most people had been using the Talking Book and applying its knowledge to their daily practices and that their harvests had significantly been better in comparison with those that had not used the Talking Book. The impact was even more evident indeed because most people applied the advice of the Talking Book only to a part of their crop, thus the comparison was even more easy to test.

One of the problem is that it had been younger people the ones that had been using more intensively (or at all) the devices. There was not, though, any difference at the education level: unlike what was expected, less literate people did not think that the device was for “smarter” people, but used it them too.

On-demand access to locally recorded information can have a positive impact and the Talking Book is a low-cost good option for that.

Managing Microfinance with Paper, Pen and Digital Slate
Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, Sunandan Chakraborty, Pushkar V. Chitnis, Kentaro Toyama, Keng Siang Ooi, Matthew Phiong, Mike Koenig

There are people that prefer paper and others digital supports.

  • Paper: tangible artefact; handwritten pen-based entry; familiar form.
  • Digital: automatic digitization, ease of aggregation and distribution; real time prompts and corrections.

86M women participants i 6M microfinance self-help groups across India, linked with banks, decentralized, autonomous, self-run. They are active in leading social, political and economic initiatives,but limited financial leverage/growth.

The problem is that they do all their accountability records on paper, which means that sending data to the central station takes a lot of time, that there are recording errors, calculation errors, legibility errors, data are incomplete, etc.

How to retain the familiar work practice while improving the system? Improve meaning locally digitising adn processing, real time prompts for error correction and completeness, establishing of a single point of entry… and keeping it low cost.

A pilot was developed: a digital slate where you write on paper, but where writing is recognized and digitized automatically. For the field trial, three methods were compared: paper-only, digital slate and touch-screen only.

Digital slate and touch-screen prover to increase the amount of “paperwork” done per day. The average meeting transaction recording time also decreased, even more in the case of the touch-screen.

Concerning the user, 88% of them stated that they preferred “the machine to speak” (the machine saying the figures and passbook entry) and not having a writer saying the figures and passbook entry.

The device can also be applied in or used for legal records, in educational testing, healthcare records etc.


Information and Communication Technologies and Development (2010)