Page 2 of 13WHAT DO WE MEAN BY ICTD?
The field of Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) now includes a vast variety of projects with many different aims and objectives. When we look at the path traveled by the term "ICT" in recent years, its expanded coverage should come as no surprise. "Information" - or structured data - is now widely recognized as central to economic production. Even traditional business sectors such as agriculture are increasingly reliant on human information interventions such as the genetic modification of crops or classification systems for produce. Communication technologies are a key factor in these developments as they are the means by which information is stored and circulated. ICTs are the transportation networks of the information economy, and their exponential growth and diversification are well documented in recent reports (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia 2005).
"Development" itself is a term with many competing definitions. Most policymakers focus on macroeconomic growth as a key indicator of development; social entrepreneurs like Muhummad Yunus of the Grameen Bank emphasize access to credit and business development; and economists such as Amartya Sen (1999, p. 10) describe development in the holistic terms of personal freedom, noting that economic gains are not the only measure of effective development and that we must also examine the state's role in helping to provide: "(1) political freedoms, (2) economic facilities, (3) social opportunities, (4) transparency guarantees and (5) protective security". Recently, trends toward measuring and valuing development include a collective dimension outside the nation-state and the individual citizen, encompassing collective cultural development of indigenous groups (Coombe 2003) and the natural environments that support people's lives. These various aspects of development are sometimes in conflict with each other, making the terrain of development, and ICTD, a complex political field.
Increasingly, development is linked to sustainability, as economic development has often involved the use of finite natural resources and short-term economic growth may result in fewer opportunities for development in the future. Elina Zicmane (2004, pp. 8-10) notes that the European Commission defines sustainable development as "development in which present generations find ways to satisfy their needs without compromising the chances of future generations to satisfy their needs". She notes that a common analytical framework is the "4D" interpretation, which looks at four dimensions of sustainable development: ecological, economic, social, and cultural. "Regardless of a separate definition of each dimension," she says, "all four of them are strongly linked and require a cross-cutting approach." ('sustainability" is discussed further later in this chapter.)
So it would be a brave person who would propose a succinct overall definition of development. However, development aspirations become clearer when we move toward the actual impact of development activities on the ground: human development. The United Nations" Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) give development this pragmatic lens, emphasizing the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; universal primary education; gender equality; the reduction of child mortality; maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; environmental sustainability; and a global partnership for development.
The role of ICTs in addressing the most pressing concerns of the least developed territories is far from clear. However, we believe that in looking closely at how various technological initiatives are taking shape on the ground, we can gain a better understanding of the opportunities and risks of ICTD activities. In this respect, the Asia Pacific region provides a rich testing ground with both important success stories and instructive failures.
In this overview chapter, we outline some key concepts that are useful for considering contemporary ICTD initiatives in the region, to assist the reader in analyzing and evaluating the other chapters in this edition of the Digital Review of Asia Pacific. We also discuss initiatives and themes gathered from the Digital Review authors" meeting in Singapore in March 2008 where 50 experts from the region shared their views. Greater detail on policy initiatives can be found in the overview chapter on ICT regulatory approaches and detail on specific initiatives will be found in the chapters on individual economies.