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.
Christopher Westrup: Contribution of Social Research on ICT4D
Optimism as to the scope of ICT4D:
- Ending of isolation;
- social and political mobilization and participation;
- increased collaboration;
- focus on the poorest communities;
- pressure for collective global action;
Some “divisions”: scholars vs. practitioners; development experts vs. ICT tool developers. It nevertheless seems that the “social” part of technologies is increasing, as we have been witnessing since the appearance of the Web 2.0 and, most especially, since the raise of social networking sites and social media in general.
- Understanding the link between ICTs and Development;
- Understanding the social influence, crucially important to the trajectory of any technology-based project
- ICT facilitated collaboration;
- Local adaptation;
- Focus on the plight of marginalised groups.
Perspectives of social sciences in ICT4D:
- What is happening: taking a God’s eye view of the field.
- What is the framework: framing social contributions, what we find and how we can intervene: transfer and diffusion discourse vs. ICT as the product of socially embedded action (micro approach).
- How can an impact be made: a transformative discourse: Information Systems innovation as a product of and produces change in the social, political and economic conditions of developing countries (micro approach).
- Should take both macro and micro together and focus on how both come together in the process of development.
- Designing technology is also designing the social, as technologies are designed with contexts in mind.
- Technologies are appropriated and used sometimes in unexpected ways, implementation can be highly innovative. We need to look very carefully at how projects are implemented. The processes are crucial.
- Any action is about redistributing resources, about gainers and losers. ICT4D engages in a redistribution of resources and development can be understood as interacting processes of dependence and independence.
Successful case: M-Pesa
M-Pesa ad in Kenya about mobile banking:
Department for International Development video about M-Pesa:
M-Pesa has been hugely successful and is still growing. What has been its “process” in terms of and ICT4D (research) project?
People on the ground saw that mobile phones were being used to send credit between people, and rethought the whole concept of a mobile phone into a mobile banking service.
In Tanzania, notwithstanding, the system has not been as successful. Why? Market share of Safaricom, the operator: from 80% in Kenya to 45% in Tanzania. In Kenya, many people and well organized, which helped in training them about the new system. Not the same thing in Tanzania. In Kenya it has had very tolerant regulation from the market, as it does not operate under the assumption that it is a bank.
- Macro and micro approach: to make a change, but looking at what was happening.
- People where using the technology in their own way.
- People appropriated the new technology producing a very innovative way of doing things.
- We cannot tell exactly about the redistribution outcomes and the (new) processes of dependence and independence, but there have certainly been some as now money transactions are controlled/centralized by new actors.
- Understanding the social implications is crucial to assess the impact of ICTs.
- The social and the technical are interlinked.
- Technologies are not neutral.
- There always is a redistribution of resources.
Q: Is there any tool in the social sciences toolbox to assess the “non-neutrality” of a specific technology and its implications before it being applied? A: It would be great to have it, but it most likely does not exist. Methodologies are usually used not to assess but to provide a “scientific background” that what we intended to do is backed by evidence.
Q: Would a private company have invested in a project like M-Pesa without public money behind? How can we justify public money (DFID’s) put into a private company (Safaricom/Vodafone)? A: It was believed that a way to bring change could be by changing the market, by changing commercial relationships and the market status quo. So, the outcome is also benefiting private companies, the lion’s share goes to the community at large.
Ismael Peña-López: Action is about redistributing resources or about creating more wealth by making more resources available? Why should there always be a trade-off (of resources, power, etc.) that implies redistribution? A: Agreed that it should not necessarily be a zero-sum game, and it is right to say that resources are not fix and can be increased, but it is also true that power (that controls these resources) actually is redistributed by our direct action on the resources. Thus, even if resources could be grown, power (and, hence, resources indirectly) will definitely suffer a redistribution [I really loved this answer, which I fully share].