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THINK! - S. Masiero - Digital Technologies and Human Development: Approaching Theory and Practice in ICT4D

THINK! - S. Masiero - Digital Technologies and Human Development: Approaching Theory and Practice in ICT4D

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In this paper, we provide a set of guidelines for the exploration of the academic sphere of ICT4D. Firstly, we
propose an operational definition of development, which focuses on empowerment and participation rather
than on sheer economic growth. Secondly, we make an argument in favor of the context-based approach to
development, which is capable of overcoming the mismatch between generalist theories and on-field reality.
Thirdly, we advocate political analysis as preferable to performance evaluation in development, due to its
capacity of providing a systemic picture and a long-term view on projects. These guidelines, which should
help the reader delving properly in the burgeoning literature on ICT4D, are related, in the conclusion, to the
increasingly advocated usage of ICTs in the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals.
In this paper, we provide a set of guidelines for the exploration of the academic sphere of ICT4D. Firstly, we
propose an operational definition of development, which focuses on empowerment and participation rather
than on sheer economic growth. Secondly, we make an argument in favor of the context-based approach to
development, which is capable of overcoming the mismatch between generalist theories and on-field reality.
Thirdly, we advocate political analysis as preferable to performance evaluation in development, due to its
capacity of providing a systemic picture and a long-term view on projects. These guidelines, which should
help the reader delving properly in the burgeoning literature on ICT4D, are related, in the conclusion, to the
increasingly advocated usage of ICTs in the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals.

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The advent and diusion o Inormation and CommunicationTechnologies (ICTs) on a worldwide scale has played a major role in shaping the world in its current, globalized shape.Such a shape is powerully captured by the denition thatGiddens (1990, cited in Baylis and Smith 1999: 24) giveso the term
 globalization
: namely, “the intensication o worldwide social relations which link distant localities, insuch a way that local happenings are shaped by eventsoccurring many miles away and vice versa”. I the world isexperiencing such interconnectedness, whose output is thato creating linkages that were unconceivable beorehand intheir rapidity and reach, this is due, by and large, to thedevelopment o technologies that can potentially connecteveryone on the globe. The importance o nonexclusionrom the global network o ICTs – as argued by Castells(2009) – is paramount today: in eect, the overall costs o exclusion rom the network are increasing at a aster pace,i compared to the benets gained rom inclusion.Given the phenomenic shape o a globalized world, itis interesting to investigate the link between digitaltechnologies and the level o human development thateach country presents. This was the task we pursued ina previous article, where we have drawn a “map o theworld” according to the two variables o digital penetration
 Abstract 
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Digital Technologies and HumanDevelopment:
 Approaching Theory and Practice in ICT4D
and human development. On the basis o two compositeindexes, which assessed both variables or 180 countries,we have divided the world in our quarters: quarter D ( 
low-low 
 ); where both ICTs and development rank poorly, andICTs still need to be harnessed or the purpose o povertyreduction; quarter C ( 
high-low 
 ), where digital penetrationis not backed by human development; quarter B ( 
lowhigh
 );where development is relatively high in spite o a low levelo digital penetration; and quarter A ( 
high-high
 ), whereICTs and human development mutually reinorce eachother (Masiero 2008). One key argument, in that piece,was that the eatures o national strategies with respectto ICTs were quite homogeneous within each quarter: inparticular, countries in 2 quarter B are likely to ground their development pattern on a basis that diers rom digitalpenetration, whereas countries in quarter A reach similar – or higher – levels o development by leveraging moreintensively on ICTs.In such piece, our objective was that o explaining thestrong, linear association between levels o digital accessand human development on a global scale. In this work,which builds on the previous one, our purpose is that o moving a step urther, and ocusing on those countrieswhich, on a global scale, rank poorly in terms o both ICTsand development. These countries, subsumed under thename o less-developed countries (LDCs), are increasinglybecoming the object o external intervention, and thesubject o internal strategy, in terms o ICT or Development
In this paper, we provide a set of guidelines for the exploration of the academic sphere of ICT4D. Firstly, wepropose an operational definition of development, which focuses on empowerment and participation ratherthan on sheer economic growth. Secondly, we make an argument in favor of the context-based approach todevelopment, which is capable of overcoming the mismatch between generalist theories and on-field reality.Thirdly, we advocate political analysis as preferable to performance evaluation in development, due to itscapacity of providing a systemic picture and a long-term view on projects. These guidelines, which shouldhelp the reader delving properly in the burgeoning literature on ICT4D, are related, in the conclusion, to theincreasingly advocated usage of ICTs in the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals.
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The Innovation Knowledge Foundation
author: Silvia MasieroIOctober 2010THINK! REPORT 004/2010
 
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The InnovationKnowledge Foundation
Introduction:a global perspective on ICT4D
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(ICT4D): an acronym whose reach includes all the projectsthat, being grounded on the consumption or productiono ICTs, have the purpose o enhancing developmentoutcomes. Over the last decade in particular, a burgeoningliterature has been deployed on ICT4D: enthusiast scholarshave been counteracted by skeptics, and both have beeninvited to suspend aprioristic arguments in avor o deeper analytical approaches.Our purpose, in this paper, is that o providing a guide or delving properly in the academic sphere o ICT4D. Given themassive amount o empirics, perspectives, and epistemicstances in the literature, academics need a clear set o guidelines to approach to this topic, whose importance or developing countries is growing steadily. Providing theseguidelines is our objective here; in its pursuit, we will drawon two macro-bodies o literature: namely, developmenttheory, and the socio-technical study o inormationsystems (Avgerou 2003).The guidelines that we suggest here address three diverseelds: rst, we propose a suitable operational denition o development, which is identied with human empowermentrather than with national productivity and growth. Second,we encourage a context-based approach to the subject,which counteracts the deductive approach that subsumessingle casestudies under the tenets o general theory. Third,we argue in avor o political analysis, as predominantover perormance evaluation, in the assessment o ICT4Dprojects, as the ormer entails two eatures – a systemicnature, and a long-term perspective – that are lacking inthe latter’s approach to project appraisal.As we argue here, the validity o these rules is extended– and limited – to the domain o ICT4D. Indeed, this newly-devised academic sphere provides a new combination o development and inormation systems: it is a eld wheregeneral paradigms, like growth models and market-logicassessments, are likely to lose their general validity. True,insights within ICT4D are devised on the basis o existingtheories: yet, as we submit in this paper, mainstreamtheoretical basis are by and large adapted and modied,to cope with a stream o projects that combines newtechnologies and newly-tailored development models. Asa result, specic guidelines need to be deployed, and keptin mind when theory gives way to practical developmentintervention on eld.
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Guideline no.1:development as empowerment, not as sheer economic growth
A sound epistemological stance on ICT4D involves, rst andoremost, a suitable operational denition o development,a loose term that “means dierent things to dierentpeople” (Akpan 2003: 262). The starting point to deploysuch a denition is the capacity o overcoming economisticmodels, that identiy development with the sheer growth o Gross National Product (GNP) in the targeted nations.Akpan (2003) traces the birth o these models tomodernization theory, created in the 1950
s
-1960
s
andtailored on post-colonial states: development wasconceptualized, by that time, as a stage process, wherecountries would move rom tradition to modernitythrough increases in their economic output. In the viewo modernization theorists, progress consisted in mereadaptation o post-colonial countries to the phenomenicimage o Western, industrialized nations.The equation between growth and development,postulated in such a phase o world history, has beenmore recently taken up by those who purport the so-called neoliberal model. As o Madon (2005: 405), withinneoliberal doctrine, the sole determinant o improvementsin the people’s standards o living is rapid economicgrowth, achieved through minimization o the role o thestate and optimization o the mechanisms o the market.True, neoliberal stances entail a higher concern withquality o lie, as compared to modernization theory: yet,in this doctrine, achievements in terms o quality o lieare still predicated on rises in the monolithic variable o productivity.Furthermore, as signaled by Heeks (2005: 9), the neoliberaldoctrine is a manual casestudy or what Ha-Joon Chang(2002) reers to as “kicking away the ladder”: which means,denying to developing nations the very route to developmentthat was ollowed by the successul cases o the US andEurope. Industrialized countries, which now adhere to apattern o aid conditional to liberalization in the market o LDCs, might be orgetting the burgeoning role that the statehas played within their own development. This hypocrisy,coupled with an economistic stance on improvements inthe living standards o people, entails the principal error in the neoliberal vision o development: namely, reducingthe polidimensionality o this concept to its intrinsicallyeconomic dimension, orgetting other ingredients thatcontribute to a better and sustainable quality o lie.The neoliberal view on development nds its major rival inAmartya Sen, and in the idea o “development as reedom”that his work advocates. According to Sen, productivity
THINK! REPORT 004/2010
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is only one o several means, through which the actualobjective o development may be pursued: this objectiveis to be identied with “expanding the real reedoms” thatpeople enjoy (Sen 2001: 3). Real reedoms, in the view o Sen, are to be achieved in several elds: each reedomstems, in an almost tautological way, rom the removal o a “substantial unreedom”. As a result, sucient incomesstem rom the removal o poverty and unemployment:equally, education comes rom eliminating barriers to schoolattainment, and high lie expectancy is the outcome o theprogressive deletion o roadblocks to health. In this vision,reedom is both and ends and a means to development:polidimensional welare is achieved through the removal o unreedoms, and tends to a state in which people are reeto ully develop their own lie plan (Sen 2001: 7).Sen’s approach is known in the literature as the “capabilitiesapproach” (Madon 2004), insoar as development, throughnecessary implication o liberty, is a condition wherepeople are able to reely develop their capabilities, in order to pursue the project that they have devised or their ownexistence. As such, development is conditional to providingindividuals with the means that they need or the purposeo empowerment: which means, a process in which peopleare endowed with control on their own lives, getting rid o dependence on those who overcome them in richness andbargaining power. The inherently polidimensional view o empowerment, on which Sen’s vision is predicated, is at theroot o the perspective o the United Nations DevelopmentProgramme (UNDP): in its view, human development “isabout much more than the rise or all o national incomes(…) [it is about] enlarging people’s choices”.
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As such,the measure devised in this eld by UNDP is the HumanDevelopment Index (HDI), a composite indicator thatcombines a proxy or health – related to lie expectancy;one or education – combining literacy rates and grossenrolment ratios; and one or income – obtained throughper capita GNP.
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As a result, when we reer to ICT4D, our “D” should not bemeant as the pure rate o growth o national economies,but as the real empowerment that citizens enjoy intheir lives. Moreover, in the perspective o institutionaldevelopment theorists, such as Brett (2003), empowermentis impossible without the ormation o participatoryarrangements involving local people: which means,models in which the poor and underdeveloped are directlyconsulted, and proactively involved in projects or their development. This implies, according to Chambers (2004),an abandon o top-down models o intervention, groundedon the recognition o the value o indigenous technicalknowledge. In this perspective, ICT4D should not onlycreate nominal empowerment; it is, instead, in charge o translating political stances o participation into practicalarrangements or accountability.
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A vision o development, predicated on equating thisconcept with empowerment rather that with growth o GNP,emerges in the view o those that advocate
telecentres
asa tool or ICT4D. Telecentres are, in the loose denitionprovided by Roman and Colle (1999: 1), “all the shared andpublic premises where the public can access ICTs”: theseare, in eect, physical spaces, looking similar to cybercaésat a rst glance, whose purpose is that o oering ree or low-cost connectivity to the public. As explained by Proenza etal. (2001, cited in Madon 2005: 401), the dierence betweencybercaés and telecentres lies essentially in their ultimateends: whereas the ormer pursue a prot-led objective or private entrepreneurs, the latter are involved in maximizingdevelopment-related gains rom connectivity.ICT practitioners, who pursue development throughtelecentres, do not see them as instrumental to nationalproductivity. Telecentres are indeed, as noted byHeeks (2005: 11-12), tools or ICT consumption rather than production; as such, they do not cater to proper economistic objectives. Diversely, advocates o telecentreshave a strong vision o empowerment through ICTs, whichis carried out within e-kiosks in three principal ways:trust-building, context-based services, and civil societyinvolvement (Masiero 2009).More specically, trust-building reers to the relationo amiliarity that telecentre entrepreneurs – or thegovernment – build up with local users, or the purpose o attraction and retention within telecentre programs. Theseindividuals, as o Gopakumar (2007: 22), need to proactivelywork as intelligent intermediaries, or “inomediaries”(Mukerji 2008: 2): this means that, to overcome the barrierso technophobia and lacking capabilities in the recipientpopulation, they need to make the link between themand the novelty o digital technologies. Context-basedservices, tailored on the eatures o the local sociopoliticalenvironment, need to be devised in telecentres, in order to enhance the willingness and ability o recipients to takeactive roles in participation (Madon 2005, Oestmann andDymond 2001, Hudson 1999). Finally, as observed by Madon(2007), telecentres proactively involve the civil societyby acting as “shared public spaces”: it is commonplace,indeed, to nd that e-kiosks are used as hubs o interactionby cultural associations, or by organizations or theempowerment o vulnerable groups.Trust-building, context-based services, and civil societyinvolvement are the three key eatures o the telecentreparadigm, and those which express its vision o developmentas the empowerment o recipients. Beneciaries, as a newe-kiosk is opened in their area, are sustained by humanintermediaries; they are attracted by coherent services;and they are given tools or expression through sharedsocial spaces. True, this perspective may be too rose-tinted
1
 
http://hdr.undp.org/en/humandev/, accessed 1
st
October 2010
2
http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/indices/hdi/, accessed 1
st
October 2010
THINK! REPORT 004/2010
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