Information and communication technologies for development

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An OLPC class in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Inveneo Computing Station
Desktop computer powered by car battery system which is charged by solar panels

Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) is a general term referring to the application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) within the field of socioeconomic development. ICT4D concerns itself directly with overcoming the barriers of the digital divide. ICTs can be applied either in the direct sense, where their use directly benefits the disadvantaged population in some manner, or in an indirect sense, where the ICTs assist aid organizations or non-governmental organizations or governments or businesses in order to improve socio-economic conditions. In many impoverished regions of the world, legislative and political measures are required to facilitate or enable application of ICTs, especially with respect to monopolistic communications structures and censorship laws.

ICT4D can be interpreted as dealing with disadvantaged populations anywhere in the world, but it is more typically associated with applications in developing countries. It is becoming recognized as an interdisciplinary research field as can be noted by the number of conferences, workshops and publications in the field.[1][2] Such research have been spurred on in part by the need for scientifically validated benchmarks and results, which can be used to measure the efficacy of current projects.[3] Many international development agencies recognize the importance of ICT4D. For example the World Bank's GICT section has a dedicated team of some 200 staff working on these issues.

The dominant terminology used in this field is "ICT4D". Alternatives include ICTD and "development informatics".


[edit] History

There have been numerous telecentres established in developing countries to improve acceess to ICTs. However, mobile phone usage and mobile telecommunications in general help to raise the ICT index of many developing countries.

[edit] Projects

Schoolkids with laptops in Cambodia.

[edit] Anatomy

ICT4D initiatives and projects may be designed and implemented by international institutions, private companies (e.g. Intel's Classmate), governments (e.g. e-Mexico initiative), non-governmental organizations (e.g. International Institute for Communication and Development), or virtual organizations (e.g. One Laptop per Child).

ICT4D projects address one or more of the following issues:

[edit] Problems

Bad access roads and lack of power hamper ICT4D Projects in rural areas

Projects which deploy technologies in underdeveloped areas face well-known problems concerning crime, problems of adjustment to the social context, and also possibly infrastructural problems.

Projects in marginalised rural areas face the most significant hurdles. Since people in marginalised rural areas are at the very bottom of the pyramid, it has been postulated that they stand to benefit the most from ICTs.[citation needed] However introducing ICTs in these areas is also most costly, as the following barriers exist:[4][citation needed]

  • Lack of Infrastructure: no power, no running water, bad roads
  • Lack of Health Services: diseases like HIV, TB, malaria are more common.
  • Lack of Employment: there are practically no jobs in marginalised rural areas.
  • Hunger: hungry users have problems concentrating.
  • Illiteracy: Text user interfaces do not work very well, innovative Human Computer Interfaces (see Human Computer Interaction) are required.
  • Social Contexts: the potential users living in rural marginalised areas often cannot easily see the point of ICTs, because of social context and also because of the impediments of hunger, disease and illiteracy.

The World Bank runs Information for Development Program (infoDev), whose Rural ICT Toolkit analyses the costs and possible profits involved in such a venture and shows that there is more potential in developing areas than many might assume.[5] A fact which the makers of Aryty have not missed.[citation needed]

[edit] Lessons learned

What's crucial in making any ICT4D effort successful is effective partnership between four key stakeholders:

  • Public sector (governments - from developed nations, developing nations, international bodies, and local governments)
  • Private sector (companies belonging to members of the target audience, multi-national organizations wishing to expand their markets to the 4 billion people under US$2/day, pro-poor or social companies)
  • Informal sector (NGOs, advocacy groups, think tanks)
  • Representation from the target audience

InfoDev have published 6 lessons from an analysis of 17 their pilot programmes (see below). These lessons are backed by a variety of examples as well as a list of recommendations, which should be read by everyone starting an ICT4D project.[6]

  • Lesson 1: Involve target groups in project design and monitoring.
  • Lesson 2: When choosing the technology for a poverty intervention project, pay particular attention to infrastructure requirements, local availability, training requirements, and technical challenges. Simpler technology often produces better results.
  • Lesson 3: Existing technologies—particularly the telephone, radio, and television—can often convey information less expensively, in local languages, and to larger numbers of people than can newer technologies. In some cases, the former can enhance the capacity of the latter.
  • Lesson 4: ICT projects that reach out to rural areas might contribute more to the MDGs than projects based in urban areas.
  • Lesson 5: Financial sustainability is a challenge for ICT-for-development initiatives.
  • Lesson 6: Projects that focus on ICT training should include a job placement component.

Another insight is that the four most important factors for ICT4D devices are Power, Performance, Portability, Price: the 4Ps[7]

[edit] Sustainability and scalability

A Geekcorps volunteer setting up a Wi-Fi antenna in Mali

A growing perspective in the field is also the need to build projects that are sustainable and scalable, rather than focusing on those which must be propped up by huge amounts of external funding and cannot survive for long without it.

Also, many so-called "developing" countries, such as India (or other South Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, as also nations like Malaysia, China, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa and many others) have proved their skills in IT (information technology). In this context, unless these skills are tapped adequately to build on ICT4D projects, not only will a lot of potential be wasted, but a key indigenous partner in the growth of this sector would be lost. Also there would be unnecessary negative impact on the balance of payments due to imports in both hardware and software.

Currently, the main two perspectives coming out of this sector either emphasize the need for external aid to build infrastructure before projects can touch viability, or the need to develop and build on local talent. Both approaches are, of course, not mutually exclusive.

[edit] Critics

As it has grown in popularity, especially in the international development sector, ICT4D has also increasingly come under criticism. For instance, questions have been raised about whether projects that have been implemented at enormous cost are actually designed to be scalable, or whether these projects make enough of an impact to produce noticeable change. [8]

For instance, the Sri Lankan journalist Nalaka Gunawardene argues that thousands of pilot projects have been seeded without regard to generalisability, scalability, and sustainability, implying that these projects will always require external funding to continue running and that their impact is limited.[9] This sentiment echoes a 2003 report by the World Bank.[3]

Further criticism of ICT4D concerns the impact of ICTs on traditional cultures and the so-called cultural imperialism which may be spread with ICTs. For example, young males are tempted to spend their recreational time playing violent computer games. It is emphasised that local language content and software seem to be good ways to help soften the impact of ICTs in developing areas.[10]

[edit] Organizations

Mobile phone subscribers per 100 inhabitants growth in developed and developing world between 1997 and 2007

[edit] UN ICT Task Force

In 2001 the United Nations Information and Communication Technologies Task Force was formed to address a variety of ICT4D topics. The Task Force held semi-annual meetings focusing on specific themes, including a Global Forum on Internet Governance (UN headquarters in New York, March 2004); a Global Forum on an Enabling Environment (Berlin, November 2004); and a Global Forum on Harnessing the Potential of ICTs in Education (Dublin, April 2005). The UN ICT Task Force's mandate ended on December 31, 2005. A new group, called the 'Global Alliance for ICT and Development', was created to continue much of the work of the UN ICTTF.

In November 2002, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a call for Silicon Valley to create the computers and communications systems that would enable villages to leapfrog several generations of technology and enter the Information Age directly.[11] This would provide the technical basis for WSIS discussions.

[edit] Global Alliance for ICT and Development

In 2006, at the end of his tenure, outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan launched the Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID).

It is described as a "multi-stakeholder forum" and a "cross-sectoral platform and forum that will bring together all stakeholders representing relevant constituencies". It includes a large number of persons from the fields of government, development cooperation, foreign policy, finance, the social sector (health, education), regulatory agencies, industry and workers' associations, producers and consumers of ICT, the media, non-governmental organisations, community social organisations, foundations, scientific, academic and ICT communities and "individuals providing advocacy and oversight on Information Society issues and implementing programs addressing the United Nations' MDGs Millennium Development Goals."

GAID is lead by a steering committee, with Intel's Craig Barrett as its chairman.

It also has a Strategy Council, a set of high-level advisors, and a "champions' network". The Global Alliance for ICT and Development held its first meeting on June 19 and June 20, 2006 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

[edit] Asia Pacific Development Information Programme and International Open Source Network

The United Nations -- through its various organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme's Asia Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP) -- has brought out a number of publications. Many are published with shareable content licenses. Specifically in the field of Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS), the International Open Source Network (IOSN) has been an active player.

UNDP-APDIP publishes two series of e-primers, namely the e-Primers for the Information Economy, Society and Polity and the e-Primers on Free/Open Source Software. The former series details the concepts, issues and trends surrounding the information economy, society and polity. It intends to raise awareness and help policy makers and planners understand the relevance of information and communications technology (ICT) for development, by explaining technical jargon in simple terms. The latter series serves as an introduction to various aspects and dimensions of FLOSS, with country case-studies. It aims to raise awareness on FLOSS issues and support capacity building efforts.

[edit] The International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

The IDRC is a Canadian governmental agency (crown corporation) that has a very broad programme which includes many small to mid-sized ICT4D projects. The IDRC is also one of the major sponsors of the movement.

[edit] The One Laptop per Child Project and 50x15

OLPC XO-1 laptop.

OLPC is a high profile project initiated by Nicholas Negroponte. Several large companies are members of the organisation including MIT and chip manufacturer AMD. It has a wide open source community. The aim is to produce laptops cheaply enough to provide them to every school child in the world. Through its bold and controversial aim, the project has generated much exposure for ICT4D in general.

The 50x15-project is a similar worldwide project, offering low-cost computers from a variety of manufacturers.

[edit] MIT

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the IMARA organization (from Swahili word for "power") sponsors a variety of outreach programs which bridge the Global Digital Divide. Its aim is to find and implement long-term, sustainable solutions which will increase the availability of educational technology and resources to domestic and international communities. These projects are run under the aegis of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and staffed by MIT volunteers who give training, installed and donated computer setups in greater Boston, Massachusetts, Kenya, Indian reservations the American Southwest such as the Navajo Nation, the Middle East, and Fiji Islands. The CommuniTech project strives to empower underserved communities through sustainable technology and education.[12][13]

The institute also runs the Entrepreneurial Programming and Research on Mobiles[14] and Africa Information Technology Initiative[15] which focus on ICT4D.

[edit] Inveneo

Graph of internet users per 100 inhabitants between 1997 and 2007 by International Telecommunication Union

Inveneo is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in San Francisco with focus on ICT4D mostly in Uganda.[16][17][18][19][20][21] The organization developed thin client called Inveneo Computing Station, which is similarly to Linutop 2 based on a reference design ION A603 mini PC by First International Computer and runs AMD Geode CPU.[22][23][24][25] Inveneo also helped to set up a communication system for relief workers after Hurricane Katrina.[26] Jamais Cascio, a co-founder of WorldChanging, featured Inveneo in July 2005.[27]

[edit] Microsoft

Microsoft started to offer special developing world Windows version dubbed "Starter edition" since Windows XP, which is cheaper than other editions, has limited application functions, network connectivity and is restricted to low-end hardware.[28][29]

Microsoft sees sub-Saharan Africa as one of the last great computing frontiers and wants to make Windows a fixture there. The company has established a presence in 13 countries and has donated Windows for thousands of school computers and funded programs for entrepreneurs and the youth and has used aggressive business tactics aimed at Linux, which is its biggest threat in the region.[30][31] The company also makes a kind of ICT4D service with its "Unlimited Potential" program.[32]

[edit] Other organizations and initiatives

Charging mobile phone from car battery in Uganda

[edit] Notable events

[edit] World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)

A major event for ICT4D was the twin WSIS (WSIS). The first part of WSIS took place in Geneva, Switzerland in December 2003 (with a large ICT4D exhibition and an ICT4D symposium co-ordinated by infoDev). The second part of WSIS took place in Tunis, Tunisia, in November 2005. One of its chief aims of the WSIS process was to seek solutions to help bridge the so-called "digital divide" separating rich countries from poor countries by spreading access to the Internet in the developing world.

Perspectives on the WSIS are available elsewhere on Wikipedia, and this covers links to civil society, Tunis 2005, US priorities at WSIS, media responses, Tunis conference developments, roles for business and government, digital divide issues, the digital divide and the digital dilemma, common ground, a civil society study on WSIS, and external links.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ "University ICT4D". UICT4D.ORG, University of Washington. 2007. 
  2. ^ "SPIDER". Swedish Programme for ICT in Developing Regions, KTH. 2007. 
  3. ^ a b McNamara, Kerry S. (2003) (PDF). Information and Communication Technologies, Poverty and Development: Learning from Experience. World Bank, Washington D.C., USA. Retrieved on 2007-04-08. 
  4. ^ Thinyane, M., Slay, H., Terzoli, A., & Clayton, P. (4 September 2006). A preliminary investigation into the implementation of ICT in marginalized communities.. Stellenbosch, South Africa: South African Telecommunication Network and Application Conference. 
  5. ^ Dymond, A.; Oestermann, S. (2004) (PDF). A Rural ICT Toolkit for Africa. Information for Development Programme (infoDev) of the World Bank. World Bank, Washington D.C., USA. Retrieved on 2007-04-08. 
  6. ^ S. Batchelor, S. Evangelista, S.Hearn, M. Pierce, S. Sugden, M. Webb (November 2003). ICT for Development Contributing to the Millennium Development Goals: Lessons Learned from Seventeen infoDev Projects. World Bank. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Graham, Mark (2008). "Warped Geographies of Development: The Internet and Theories of Economic Development" (PDF). Geography Compass 2 (3): 771. doi:10.1111/j.1749-8198.2008.00093.x. 
  9. ^ Nalaka Gunawardene Waiting for Pilots to Land in Tunis Islam Online, November 2005. Retrieved August 11, 2007.
  10. ^ Anderson, Neil (2005). "Building digital capacities in remote communities within developing countries: Practical applications and ethical issues" (PDF). Information technology, education and society 6 (3). 
  11. ^ Kofi Annan, Perspective: Kofi Annan's IT challenge to Silicon Valley,, November 5, 2002. Retrieved August 11, 2007.
  12. ^ Cf. Fizz and Mansur, MIT Tech Talk, June 4, 2008
  13. ^ IMARA Project at MIT
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Wireless Technology to Bind an African Village - New York Times
  17. ^ PC World - Business Center: Inveneo Braves Goats, Killer Bees for IT
  18. ^ VoIP on a bike | InfoWorld | Column | 2005-07-19 | By Ephraim Schwartz
  19. ^ One Billion Laptops -
  20. ^ VOIP Phones Give Villagers a Buzz
  21. ^ Tech entrepreneurs see profit in connecting next billion Internet users -
  22. ^ Inveneo Computing Station Review Overview in Desktops Reviews at - Page 1
  23. ^ AMD project brings Web access to third world -
  24. ^ OLPC News: Inveneo Communication Stations vs 2B1 Children's Machines
  25. ^ AMD brings Linux to East Africans
  26. ^ :: Inveneo lights up Bay St. Louis
  27. ^ WorldChanging: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future: Inveneo
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
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  35. ^
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[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

[edit] United Nations System initiatives

[edit] Academic initiatives

[edit] Other international initiatives

[edit] Media

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