ICT4HD. Round Table. What is the role of Latin America on Research on ICT4D?

Notes from the I International Workshop on Research in ICT for Human Development, at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, and held in Fuenlabrada, Spain, on May 13th and 14th, 2010. More notes on this event: ict4hd10.

Round Table: What is the role of Latin America on Research on ICT4D?

If you cannot see the slides please visit <a href="http://ictlogy.net/?p=3367">http://ictlogy.net/?p=3367</a>

Andrés Martínez, EHAS Foundation (Spain)

EHAS Foundation does research on what works and what does not work in the field of Health and ICTs in Latin America.

David Chávez Muñoz, Pontificia Universidad Católica (Peru)

Main problems in Latinamerica: poor, polarized, full with injustices, fragmented, multicultural, economically and technologically dependent from North America, Europe and North Asia, emigration, increasing destruction of the environment, etc.

ICTs are not the factor that lead to human development, but a catalyst. Can we nevertheless maximize the effect of ICTs in Latin America so that they contribute in achieving higher levels of development?

The problem is that the resources for R+D+i are not invested in these matters, but in other “strategic” issues.

A case study: the spread of broadband. While in developed countries the deployment of broadband has been successful for 99% of the population, in Latin America it has only succeeded in urban areas, but not in suburbs or in rural areas, where it has been a complete failure. The SDH/ATM + ADSL model is not viable in rural and marginal Latin America. We need R+D+i that produce other viable alternatives such as SDH/ATM + LMDS/MMDS, SDH/ATM + WiMAX, GSM/LTE, etc.

Structural problems to perform such kind of research:

  • Low articulation of actors, problems and scientific integration.
  • Education and training.
  • Methodologies, tools or infrastructures.
  • Funding.
  • Low articulation amongst social actors.

Temporal problems:

  • Duplicity of efforts.
  • Effectism, short-term planning.
  • Paradigmatic paralysis.

We have to build R+D+i networks: To reach a critical mass, to stop brain drain, etc.

Iván Hernández, Universidad del Cauca (Colombia)

Key factors for research in ICT4D in Latin America to be successful:

  • Multidisciplinarity.
  • Aim at economic development.
  • Identify opportunities.
  • Create businesses, build industry around ICTs.
  • Improve the quality of life.

Pablo Belzarena García, Universidad de la República (Uruguay)

Two main needs:

  • Policies to exclusively fund research aimed at human development;
  • Need for governments and other institutions to adopt the outcomes of research in development fields: research + development.

A good example: Plan Ceibal. Besides being a good applied project, the Plan Ceibal has become a good research engine, has it has triggered lots of research projects around it. Now the challenge is how to apply the outcomes of such research.

Fernando Balducci, Fundación Fundatel (Argentina)

ICTs can be a social inclusion tool.

Knowledge has to be transferred and appropriated by the target population of development research. If 90% (as it happens) of the outcomes remain within university walls, research is a failuer.

I International Workshop on Research in ICT for Human Development (2010)

Centres for Research and Innovation Development and for ICT

Notes from the II Encuentro Internacional TIC para la Cooperación al Desarrollo (Development Cooperation 2.0: II International Meeting on ICT for Development Cooperation) held in Gijón, Spain, on February 10-12th, 2009. More notes on this event: cooperacion2.0_2009. More notes on this series of events: cooperacion2.0.

How do we go forward in the field of ICT4D R+D+i?

Florencio Ceballos, telecentre.org

  • ICT4D are a clear niche that can grow outside the circuit of development issues
  • Capacity building happens locally, and this means building confidence, trust.
  • Institutional independence has to be promoted to enable real capacity building.
  • Focus on networking: promoting open networks for capacity exchange

It’s not as much as how you design agendas, but how you make them evolve, how to shift the paradigm. And this shift of paradigm is towards openness.

Caroline Figueres, International Institute for Communication and Development

There is a need for a research to ground some “evidences”, and showcase successes in the field of ICT4D under the rigour of scientific analysis.

People in the South should be put in the agenda of ICT4D research, as most of the output is targetted to developing countries.

Co-creation (e.g. in the sense of Don Tapscott’s Wikinomics) is a very powerful concept. Capacity building can be enabled this way by means of knowledge workers co-creating together.

Kentaro Toyama, Microsoft Research India (MSR India)

How to do formal research in ICT4D? Several steps:

  1. Immersion. Ethnography
  2. Design, involving people, where technology is just one component and a cost-effective one
  3. Evaluation, including finding statistical significance on the impact of a specific project or action

It’s a good idea to break the link between funding and the research agenda. The researcher should be able to pursue their own interests and not be tied (or upset) to the need for funding.

Experience in research might be as important as (or even more) than experience in development. Accuracy of the scientific process is crucial.

Andrés Martínez, EHAS Foundation.

Evidence has to be demonstrated to convince policy-makers and funding institutions that some actions are to be taken and deserve being supported (politically or economically).

  • Research is needed in the impact of ICTs in welfare, health, education
  • But also, research is needed on how to provide appropriate and cost-effective infrastructures, as most communities just do not have access to either hardware or connectivity
  • Sometimes the context is unknown. Thus, research should focus not only on the impact of a specific project, but on what the context (sociocultural, health, education, economic) is.
  • Research on services.
  • How to measure empowerment and mainstreaming of technologies in specific communities and sectors (e.g. the Health sector)

The only way to promote research in the field of Development and ICT4D is to foster publication of research results in indexed publications. Despite the interest of the topic, if the work is “well done”, then it can be published. It is highly relevant to find the problem you want to deal with your research, more important than finding “the” solution.

And diffussion is absolutely worth doing it. On the one hand, results of the projects and the research undertaken. On the other hand, not only information about the results, but knowledge transfer through assistance, direct training, formal education, especially to achieve multiplier effects.

Merryl Ford, Emerging Innovations Group of the Meraka Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

There’s sometimes resilience to empowerment. Capacity building is not only about specific (digital) skills, but also about changing mindsets.

  • Slogan on disabilities in SouthAfrica: Nothing about us, without us. We need to make sure that we don’t do things “for” people but “with” people. Africa should take ownership of its development agenda.
  • Interventions should be simple
  • The cellphone is the PC of Africa
  • Sustainability, replication, massification. A pilot needs to be scaled at any stage.

Q & A

Q: research on impact… is a real need or an imposed “need” of the inner structure of development cooperation, projects, agencies and so? Ceballos: The need to measure impact is real. Many policies are put into practice based on intuition, on vision. So we do need to evaluate these policies to support or reject such intuitions. Martínez: short-run projects are difficult to analyze accurately, as there’s no time to do it properly. A solution would be that everyone involved in the projects collected data and helped to analyze it.

Q: How do we cope about the cost of maintenance of cellphones in rural areas? A: There are alternatives (e.g. via radio) that do not charge per call… but the maintenance of the whole network does have a cost. Certainly, it’s not a matter of absolute costs, but a matter of cost-benefit analysis, seeing whether the project is worth running it and find out how to support the overall costs.

Q: How do we put social research together with tecnology research in development related research? A: The problems that research has to face have to be far ahead enough. And they require plenty of time. In this sense, everyone involved in ICT4D should be in a same conversation, to gather all sensibilities and be able to look far in the horizon.

Development Cooperation 2.0 (2009)