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)