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ICT for development in Asia Pacific: Emerging themes in a diverse region

Article Index
ICT for development in Asia Pacific: Emerging themes in a diverse region
What do we mean by ICTD
ICTD: The state of the art
Globalzation and Migration
Evaluating Gender in ICTD
ICTD and Environmental Sustainability
INFRASTRUCTURE
Mobile and Wirelss
Technological Developments (Including Convergence)
EDUCATION AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
MEDIA AND CONTENT DEVELOPMENT
CONCLUSION
BIBLIOGRAPHY
ICTD: THE STATE OF THE ART

An important part of the Digital Review of Asia Pacific is to develop more specific and nuanced scenarios of ICTD. Therefore, we must critically address the expectations of ICTD. By "critically" we do not mean "negatively", but simply in a manner that questions assumptions that are not matched to lived experiences on the ground. In particular, as Richard Heeks (2007, p. 1) notes, "Very little work to date has drawn from the D of ICT4D - linking concepts in development studies to this research domain." Our aim here is to avoid the technocratic or economistic approaches often associated with ICTD discourse from an informatics background, and to keep the people-centred view of development at the centre of our analysis.

Anita Gurumurthy and Parminder Jeet Singh (2006, p. 18) trace the idea of ICTD back to the Digital Opportunities Initiative (DOI) report authored by the US-based consulting firm Accenture, the US-based non-profit Markle Foundation, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2001. This report "developed some key concepts of what came to be known as ICT4D, and… form(s) the basic framework of ICT4D thinking even today". The view of development that the DOI report projected was market-oriented and saw development mostly in terms of dominant economic growth paradigms that have come from the developed world.1 However, the concept of ICTD probably emerges most clearly from the first Global Knowledge conference held in Toronto in 1997 by the World Bank and the Canadian government. While international agencies such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have been acting in this field since the "MacBride Report" of 1980, ICTD galvanizes a new understanding about the links between communication and economic development that departs from a "cultural" model.

As ICTD matures as a field, a number of reviews of ICTD literature that question some assumptions and embedded world-views are beginning to appear (see, for example, Ekdahl and Trojer 2002; Wilson 2002). A key issue is that the way that ICTs are conceived has a big impact on the efficiency of development projects, and the views of ICTs of policymakers and practitioners on the ground are often different.

In particular, three "articles of faith" identified in ICTD must be questioned if we are to learn from the work of others and not simply promote what ethnographer Eric Michaels (1990, p. 20) described as ineffective but well-meaning advancement projects, "the discarded skeletons of which litter the countryside". First, metaphors of catch-up, progress, and leapfrogging in the ICTD literature present development as a linear pathway. ICT is seen as a positive, or at least neutral, influence on progression along this pathway. Second, there are common demands for urgency and the need to act quickly on ICTD in order not to be excluded from fast-paced developments. This advocacy of urgency persists even though the ranking of national human development indicators listed in the UN Human Development Reports remain remarkably stable over time. Third, assumptions are made about what kinds of information are valuable for development through the creation of the category of "information-poor" peoples who are compared to the knowledge-holders of the developed world rather than viewed in terms drawn from their own experience.

Taking a human development and human rights perspective, we counter that no nation is inherently underdeveloped socially, culturally, and environmentally. While ICTs often drive standardization and interoperability, we cannot assume that, for example, the speakers of over 800 languages spoken in Papua New Guinea "lack information" when their languages are not represented online (Gordon 2005). They would not necessarily benefit from a single language. It makes more sense to say that text-oriented ICTs such as the Internet are currently incompatible with many large bodies of information, particularly those held in non-dominant language groups. Rather than the deficit model common in the modernization development discourse, a more responsive approach in ICTD will mean that the socio-cultural development of peoples in their cultural environment will be given serious consideration as an opportunity for thinking about the future possibilities of ICTs.

Sein and Harindranath (2004) note that many donors and project sponsors see ICT as purely a tool for technical use, but more sophisticated projects attend to what ICTs represent or mean for users and the way this fits into the larger context of their aspirations. They see a number of different use strategies for ICTs - as a commodity, as a support for development activities, or as a driver of economic transformation - that need to be evaluated differently (Sein and Harindranath 2004, p. 20). They note that the impact can range from simple substitution of one practice for an (hopefully more efficient) ICT-enabled one, to a growth in desirable phenomena occurring because of ICTs, through to the emergence of new structures due to ICTs. These are different orders of impact, and the risk and consequences grow as higher-order change is attempted. It goes without saying that wholesale economic transformation is unlikely to occur due to a single ICTD project. ICTs are not a single neutral technology, but a complex field of activity encompassing many different technologies and various types of information that existed prior to these technologies coming into being. As Gunnar Swanson (1994) suggests about design, ICTs are 'syncretic and integrative" - they combine existing information in ways that are new, yet also reflect prior modes of economic and social life. ICTs are not in a place that people move to from their pre-ICT world, but are a complex set of systems and protocols that link people together. ICTs are fundamentally relational.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1987), discussing ICT-enabled markets as presented in the US media, made this case very plainly more than two decades ago. She noted that while capital investors such as the Lehman Brothers are described as being able to, thanks to computers, earn "about USD 2 million for ... 15 minutes of work", this economic story writes itself upon another where "a woman in Sri Lanka has to work 2,287 minutes to buy a T-shirt". For Spivak, the developed economy is not a more advanced version of an underdeveloped one: they are linked through the technologically-assisted movement of people, labour, and finance capital, and the respective interests of these economies may not only be different but sometimes antagonistic. One aim of this chapter is to make clearer the differential impacts of ICTs for economically developing communities.



 

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