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The Innovation Knowledge Foundation

Digital Technologies and Human Development:
author: Silvia Masiero I October 2010

Approaching Theory and Practice in ICT4D
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Abstract
In this paper, we provide a set of guidelines for the exploration of the academic sphere of ICT4D. Firstly, we The Innovation Knowledge Foundation 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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and human development. On the basis of two composite indexes, which assessed both variables for 180 countries, we have divided the world in four quarters: quarter D (lowlow); where both ICTs and development rank poorly, and The Innovation Knowledge Foundation harnessed for the purpose of poverty ICTs still need to be reduction; quarter C (high-low), where digital penetration is not backed by human development; quarter B (lowhigh); where development is relatively high in spite of a low level of digital penetration; and quarter A (high-high), where ICTs and human development mutually reinforce each other (Masiero 2008). One key argument, in that piece, was that the features of national strategies with respect to ICTs were quite homogeneous within each quarter: in particular, countries in 2 quarter B are likely to ground their development pattern on a basis that differs from digital penetration, whereas countries in quarter A reach similar – or higher – levels of development by leveraging more intensively on ICTs. In such piece, our objective was that of explaining the strong, linear association between levels of digital access and human development on a global scale. In this work, which builds on the previous one, our purpose is that of moving a step further, and focusing on those countries which, on a global scale, rank poorly in terms of both ICTs and development. These countries, subsumed under the name of less-developed countries (LDCs), are increasingly becoming the object of external intervention, and the subject of internal strategy, in terms of ICT for Development

Introduction: a global perspective on ICT4D

The advent and diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on a worldwide scale has played a major role in shaping the world in its current, globalized shape. Such a shape is powerfully captured by the definition that Giddens (1990, cited in Baylis and Smith 1999: 24) gives of the term globalization: namely, “the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities, in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa”. If the world is experiencing such interconnectedness, whose output is that of creating linkages that were unconceivable beforehand in their rapidity and reach, this is due, by and large, to the development of technologies that can potentially connect everyone on the globe. The importance of nonexclusion from the global network of ICTs – as argued by Castells (2009) – is paramount today: in effect, the overall costs of exclusion from the network are increasing at a faster pace, if compared to the benefits gained from inclusion. Given the phenomenic shape of a globalized world, it is interesting to investigate the link between digital technologies and the level of human development that each country presents. This was the task we pursued in a previous article, where we have drawn a “map of the world” according to the two variables of digital penetration
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(ICT4D): an acronym whose reach includes all the projects that, being grounded on the consumption or production of ICTs, have the purpose of enhancing development outcomes. Over the last decade in particular, a burgeoning literature has been deployed on ICT4D: enthusiast scholars have been counteracted by skeptics, and both have been invited to suspend aprioristic arguments in favor of deeper analytical approaches. Our purpose, in this paper, is that of providing a guide for delving properly in the academic sphere of ICT4D. Given the massive amount of empirics, perspectives, and epistemic stances in the literature, academics need a clear set of guidelines to approach to this topic, whose importance for developing countries is growing steadily. Providing these guidelines is our objective here; in its pursuit, we will draw on two macro-bodies of literature: namely, development theory, and the socio-technical study of information systems (Avgerou 2003). The guidelines that we suggest here address three diverse fields: first, we propose a suitable operational definition of development, which is identified with human empowerment rather than with national productivity and growth. Second, we encourage a context-based approach to the subject, which counteracts the deductive approach that subsumes single casestudies under the tenets of general theory. Third, we argue in favor of political analysis, as predominant over performance evaluation, in the assessment of ICT4D projects, as the former entails two features – a systemic nature, and a long-term perspective – that are lacking in the latter’s approach to project appraisal. As we argue here, the validity of these rules is extended – and limited – to the domain of ICT4D. Indeed, this newlydevised academic sphere provides a new combination of development and information systems: it is a field where general paradigms, like growth models and market-logic assessments, are likely to lose their general validity. True, insights within ICT4D are devised on the basis of existing theories: yet, as we submit in this paper, mainstream theoretical basis are by and large adapted and modified, to cope with a stream of projects that combines new technologies and newly-tailored development models. As a result, specific guidelines need to be deployed, and kept in mind when theory gives way to practical development intervention on field.
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Guideline no.1: development as empowerment, not as sheer economic growth

A sound epistemological stance on ICT4D involves, first and foremost, a suitable operational definition of development, a loose term that “means different things to different people” (Akpan 2003: 262). The starting point to deploy such a definition is the capacity of overcoming economistic models, that identify development with the sheer growth of Gross National Product (GNP) in the targeted nations. Akpan (2003) traces the birth of these models to modernization theory, created in the 1950s -1960s and tailored on post-colonial states: development was conceptualized, by that time, as a stage process, where countries would move from tradition to modernity through increases in their economic output. In the view of modernization theorists, progress consisted in mere adaptation of post-colonial countries to the phenomenic image of Western, industrialized nations. The equation between growth and development, postulated in such a phase of world history, has been more recently taken up by those who purport the socalled neoliberal model. As of Madon (2005: 405), within neoliberal doctrine, the sole determinant of improvements in the people’s standards of living is rapid economic growth, achieved through minimization of the role of the state and optimization of the mechanisms of the market. True, neoliberal stances entail a higher concern with quality of life, as compared to modernization theory: yet, in this doctrine, achievements in terms of quality of life are still predicated on rises in the monolithic variable of productivity. Furthermore, as signaled by Heeks (2005: 9), the neoliberal doctrine is a manual casestudy for what Ha-Joon Chang (2002) refers to as “kicking away the ladder”: which means, denying to developing nations the very route to development that was followed by the successful cases of the US and Europe. Industrialized countries, which now adhere to a pattern of aid conditional to liberalization in the market of LDCs, might be forgetting the burgeoning role that the state has played within their own development. This hypocrisy, coupled with an economistic stance on improvements in the living standards of people, entails the principal error in the neoliberal vision of development: namely, reducing the polidimensionality of this concept to its intrinsically economic dimension, forgetting other ingredients that contribute to a better and sustainable quality of life. The neoliberal view on development finds its major rival in Amartya Sen, and in the idea of “development as freedom” that his work advocates. According to Sen, productivity

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is only one of several means, through which the actual objective of development may be pursued: this objective is to be identified with “expanding the real freedoms” that people enjoy (Sen 2001: 3). Real freedoms, in the view of Sen, are to be achieved in several fields: each freedom stems, in an almost tautological way, from the removal of a “substantial unfreedom”. As a result, sufficient incomes stem from the removal of poverty and unemployment: equally, education comes from eliminating barriers to school attainment, and high life expectancy is the outcome of the progressive deletion of roadblocks to health. In this vision, freedom is both and ends and a means to development: polidimensional welfare is achieved through the removal of unfreedoms, and tends to a state in which people are free to fully develop their own life plan (Sen 2001: 7). Sen’s approach is known in the literature as the “capabilities approach” (Madon 2004), insofar as development, through necessary implication of liberty, is a condition where people are able to freely develop their capabilities, in order to pursue the project that they have devised for their own existence. As such, development is conditional to providing individuals with the means that they need for the purpose of empowerment: which means, a process in which people are endowed with control on their own lives, getting rid of dependence on those who overcome them in richness and bargaining power. The inherently polidimensional view of empowerment, on which Sen’s vision is predicated, is at the root of the perspective of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): in its view, human development “is about much more than the rise or fall of national incomes 1 (…) [it is about] enlarging people’s choices”. As such, the measure devised in this field by UNDP is the Human Development Index (HDI), a composite indicator that combines a proxy for health – related to life expectancy; one for education – combining literacy rates and gross enrolment ratios; and one for income – obtained through 2 per capita GNP. As a result, when we refer to ICT4D, our “D” should not be meant as the pure rate of growth of national economies, but as the real empowerment that citizens enjoy in their lives. Moreover, in the perspective of institutional development theorists, such as Brett (2003), empowerment is impossible without the formation of participatory arrangements involving local people: which means, models in which the poor and underdeveloped are directly consulted, and proactively involved in projects for their development. This implies, according to Chambers (2004), an abandon of top-down models of intervention, grounded on the recognition of the value of indigenous technical knowledge. In this perspective, ICT4D should not only create nominal empowerment; it is, instead, in charge of translating political stances of participation into practical arrangements for accountability.
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A vision of development, predicated on equating this concept with empowerment rather that with growth of GNP, emerges in the view of those that advocate telecentres as The Innovation Knowledge Foundation a tool for ICT4D. Telecentres are, in the loose definition provided by Roman and Colle (1999: 1), “all the shared and public premises where the public can access ICTs”: these are, in effect, physical spaces, looking similar to cybercafés at a first glance, whose purpose is that of offering free or lowcost connectivity to the public. As explained by Proenza et al. (2001, cited in Madon 2005: 401), the difference between cybercafés and telecentres lies essentially in their ultimate ends: whereas the former pursue a profit-led objective for private entrepreneurs, the latter are involved in maximizing development-related gains from connectivity. ICT practitioners, who pursue development through telecentres, do not see them as instrumental to national productivity. Telecentres are indeed, as noted by Heeks (2005: 11-12), tools for ICT consumption rather than production; as such, they do not cater to proper economistic objectives. Diversely, advocates of telecentres have a strong vision of empowerment through ICTs, which is carried out within e-kiosks in three principal ways: trust-building, context-based services, and civil society involvement (Masiero 2009). More specifically, trust-building refers to the relation of familiarity that telecentre entrepreneurs – or the government – build up with local users, for the purpose of attraction and retention within telecentre programs. These individuals, as of Gopakumar (2007: 22), need to proactively work as intelligent intermediaries, or “infomediaries” (Mukerji 2008: 2): this means that, to overcome the barriers of technophobia and lacking capabilities in the recipient population, they need to make the link between them and the novelty of digital technologies. Context-based services, tailored on the features of the local sociopolitical environment, need to be devised in telecentres, in order to enhance the willingness and ability of recipients to take active roles in participation (Madon 2005, Oestmann and Dymond 2001, Hudson 1999). Finally, as observed by Madon (2007), telecentres proactively involve the civil society by acting as “shared public spaces”: it is commonplace, indeed, to find that e-kiosks are used as hubs of interaction by cultural associations, or by organizations for the empowerment of vulnerable groups. Trust-building, context-based services, and civil society involvement are the three key features of the telecentre paradigm, and those which express its vision of development as the empowerment of recipients. Beneficiaries, as a new e-kiosk is opened in their area, are sustained by human intermediaries; they are attracted by coherent services; and they are given tools for expression through shared social spaces. True, this perspective may be too rose-tinted

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to actually grasp the plethora of telecentre projects, that were deployed over the last decade: failures have occurred, and they have put in serious discussion the capability of this model to actually work. Yet, the purpose of illustrating telecentre philosophy here is that of giving a paradigmatic narrative of the equation of development as empowerment: which means, putting into practice a theoretical stance that views development as a human-centred process, fostered and nurtured by people’s participation.

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dependency” of LDCs on the West: indeed, participating in the global game of ICT-led competition makes them more and more vulnerable to the dominant, quasi-monopolistic position of Western companies. A paradigmatic case here The Innovation Knowledge Foundation is that of software, where LDCs need to devote a large share of their limited budget to cope with Microsoft’s continuous policy of releasing new versions, that require last-generation suites of hardware (Wade 2002: 452454). On a different note, Heeks (2005: 11) is skeptic on ICTs for poverty reduction, entailing projects that “never properly work”: Dagron (2001), instead, expresses radical dissent on the idea of importing knowledge, which entails a construction of poor people as “ignorant” and endowed with useless tools for technicality. The common denominator of these approaches, which is also the problem implicit in their theoretical stance, is the highly aprioristic nature of their implicit epistemology. Both enthusiast and skeptic scholars, indeed, tend to propose fixed orthodoxies, which, when applied to empirics, systematically clash against field-based reality: indeed, diversity between the spheres of ICT4D intervention constitutes a serious barrier to the application of onesize-fits-all views. ICT4D, as noted above, deploys through newly-devised combinations of digital technologies with development, and these novel marriages are very hardly encompassed by the fixed dictates of theories elaborated ex ante. On these grounds, Avgerou (2003) severely criticizes the deterministic, “tool-and-effect” approach to ICT4D. But, given that determinism also works the other way round, she takes a position of equal distance on the skeptic approaches, that deny ICT relevance for development altogether. The problem here, Avgerou sustains, is epistemological: a deductive approach – moving from the generality of standard theories to case-studies – does not work for ICT4D, where socio-technical features create a different environment for every project taken into consideration. As a result, intellectual honesty calls us to abandon deductionism, in order to proceed on the more slippery grounds provided by the context-based approach to development. In this view, projects are seen as inseparable from the context in which they are embedded (Yin 1994): thus, environmental features are used as etiological factors for the outcomes of intervention. It is here that a mainstream, radical insight of development theory comes into play: the nature of development, which had initially been identified as merely technical, has come to be seen as more and more political over time. This is why ICT4D projects, far from being conceptualized through narrowly technical problems, should be seen as proactively shaped by the sociopolitical contexts in which they deploy.

Guideline no.2: approaching ICT4D in a context-based way, not throughdeterministic stances
ICT4D, given the burgeoning literature on it, tends to be approached through the theoretical perspectives given by two main schools of thought, which counteract each other in the relevant debate. On the one hand, so-called enthusiasts are powerful advocates of ICTs, in terms of their capacity of enhancing development in nations affected by poverty and isolation. On the other hand, so-called skeptics act, in the words of Wade (2002: 443), as the advocatus diaboli in the discussion, highlighting the reasons to discard digital technologies when setting up priorities for the progress of poorer countries. The former, optimistic vision is grounded on an insight that is clearly codified in the World Development Report 1998/1999, programmatically titled “Knowledge for Development”. According to the Report, poor countries differ from rich ones not only due to lesser capital, but also due to lesser and weaker knowledge: indeed, knowledge may be conceptualized as a separate factor of production, which adds to capital and labour in the production function of all countries (World Bank 1999: 5). As a result, LDCs should set their priority on acquiring knowledge from successful, industrialized nations, and ICTs constitute a primary, powerful means towards this purpose. Here, the complementary vision of UNDP is inscribed in the discourse: grounding on the aforementioned vision of polidimensional human development, UNDP enthusiastically lists the “multiplier effects” of advances in technology, ranging from health-related gains through telemedicine to earnings in marginal productivity, which in turn generate the capacity for further innovation (UNDP 2001: 2). Such a rose-tinted view is counteracted, in its very premises, by more cautious, skeptic accounts on ICT4D. The cornerstone of this school of thought can be ascribed to Wade (2002), who argues that efforts to bridge the digital divide can be conceptualized as a “new form of
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Business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce, viewed through its applications to the developing world, constitutes a narrative that operationalizes these insights, on the contextbased nature of the outcomes sorted by projects in ICT4D. At an initial stage, this academic field has been dominated by an optimist orthodoxy, powerfully summarized by the E-Commerce and Development Report of UNCTAD (2002: 9): in this view, e-commerce allows enterprises to “generate efficiency gains, at all stages of their production and distribution processes”. Efficiency gains, as conceptualized by Molla and Heeks (2007: 96), should be generated by two sources: first, a reduction in transaction costs to the firms, earned by the disintermediation that going online involves; second, access to e-markets on a global scale, which increases the amount of transactions that firms in LDCs can enjoy for their own profits. Yet, as Molla and Heeks sustain, orthodoxy in this respect lacks any kind of empiricalsupport. Empirical papers on B2B e-commerce, indeed, capture a very different picture on its outputs: gains to LDC companies are essentially reduced to improvements in intra- and interfirm communications, and no change is actually induced by ICTs in the patterns of inter-firm trade (Moodley and Morris 2004; Humphrey et al. 2003). There are, in effect, two main reasons why the deductive orthodoxy does not meet reality: first, “disintermediation” is not likely to be experienced, as LDC firms tend to lack e-readiness – and need, as such, an intermediary to help them interfacing with new digital technologies (Duncombe and Molla 2006). Second, seller firms from LDCs are not really enabled to enjoying more transactions, because – as of Pare (2002) – e-marketplaces only act as “matchmakers”: they do not involve transactionrelated support, which is required by developed buyers to actually trust LDC companies, and complete transactions with them through the Internet. As a result, the optimistic theory of e-commerce has been targeted by a stream of skeptics, which may be seen as led by Odedra-Straub (2003). In his critique to the aforementioned UNCTAD Report, he argues that e-commerce is not enabled to work in LDCs, due to a twofold lack of e-readiness: national backwardness, missing a coherent strategy for edevelopment, is coupled at the firm level by organizational backwardness, whose outcome is lacking capability of effectively interfacing with ICT-based tools. Does this opposite, skeptic orthodoxy match well with empirics? Unfortunately no, as witnessed by success stories like those of Uganda (Duncombe and Molla 2006) and Kerala, a state in southern India (Masiero 2009). In both instances, local individuals and firms were able to turn lacking e-readiness in a source of strength: indeed, the efficient use of middlemen in Uganda, and of telecentre entrepreneurs in Kerala, as change agents at the company level, has led to proactive usage of B2B tools
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for e-trade, and to increasing levels of adoption in the observed samples.
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In sum, the mismatch between theory and reality in B2B e-commerce represents an epistemologic microcosm of ICT4D: indeed, we are faced with two competing orthodoxies, none of which can really be applied to the appraisal of field-based case studies. On the one hand, the enthusiastic view is counteracted by failures, which witness no actual gains from disintermediation and from higher access to global e-markets. On the other hand, the pessimistic view is contrasted by success stories, where local firms have built success on their very need for proactive change agents. As a result, B2B e-commerce entails a lesson that should be applied to ICT4D as a whole: namely, deductive orthodoxies should be suspended, in favor of context-based approaches that ascribe outcomes to the features of local environments.

Guideline no.3: predominance of political analysis over performance evaluation
As all projects pertaining to internal or external intervention in development, ICT4D projects need a toolkit for appraisal, in order for the outcomes of intervention to be assessed and compared to original objectives. A commonplace tool, for the purpose of appraisal, is performance evaluation, a management technique borrowed from the market logic of firm theory. The practice of performance evaluation focuses on one key dimension in assessed projects: namely, that of efficiency, i.e. the reduction of the input-output ratio that factors entail in a given organizational project. Performance evaluation, once confined to the domain of private actors, has recently permeated the public sphere, thanks to the set of techniques subsumed under the label of New Public Management (NPM). This model was devised as a tool for problem-solving, with respect to the defects of old Weberian bureaucracy: indeed, its purpose is that of maximizing the efficiency of local administrations, eliminating the roadblocks to rapidity related to bureaucratic red tape. As such, Weberian control on input – achieved through fixed procedures – is substituted, in NPM, by performance-based control on output; moreover, hierarchy is replaced by modular, flexible models through which administrative units are recombined (Hood 1991: 45). NPM, to be sure, responds to a set of needs that do not match those replied by the Weberian Model: indeed, that model was devised to fight government corruption, which explains the rigidity of procedures and the fixed structure of administrative hierarchy.

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Yet, as argued by an entire stream of scholars, NPM is not well-suited for the needs of developing countries. Manning (2001: 304-305) provides a twofold reason for this: first, LDCs face a problem of lacking capabilities, in terms of the organizational readiness that flexible units require. Second, an incentive problem is out there, because LDCs are often still facing the transparency challenges responded, in the West, by the Weberian model: as a result, demand for market-based incentives under the NPM is weak (Schick 1998). Given this twofold roadblock to NPM adoption, it is not a case if, as of Polidano (1999), LDCs are reluctant in terms of adopting NPM in their administrations: true, they might select some isolated features from this model, but they will hardly inform their whole government sphere to flexibility and performance assessment. Unfortunately, problems with performance evaluation applied to ICTs in developing countries do not end up here. This model, in its very formulation, is aimed at grasping economistic, allefficientistic aspects of administration: by doing so, it leaves outside paramount dimensions, such as equal distribution of opportunities and accountability to citizens. Moreover, performance evaluation provides, in its own nature, a short-term photography of situations: this omits information on the long-run impact of projects, within the sociopolitical realms in which they are inscribed. These problems are particularly serious in ICT4D, as projects in this field aim at impacting quality of life as a holistic dimension, offering a long-term improvement rather than an one-shot boost to outputs. To be sure, Bowornwathana (2000) explains that good reasons are out there for adopting performance management. The first motivation is related to its inherent straightforwardness: variables, in this type of appraisal, are clearly defined and controllable, which makes the job of evaluators relatively easy and replicable across contexts. Another reason is connected to facility in interpretation: in performance assessment, data are easily manageable, and straightforwardly related to policy suggestions in terms of their inherent improvement. Yet, monodimensionality and a bias towards the short term constitute serious barriers to its adoption, which lead us to argue for the predominance of a different approach. The approach we advocate here is mirrored by political analysis, as it is intended in the work of Unsworth (2008). This approach, which looks at the impact of projects on formal and informal relationships between state and society, has the primary feature of being a systemic and holistic one: rather than relying on simple, controllable variables, it focuses on the long-run outcomes that projects entail on multiple relations. How can political analysis be applied to ICT4D? There are, indeed, several mechanisms for doing so: Bailur (2007) and Scholl (2001) remain in the
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domain of management, by adopting a stakeholder-led view that evaluates the impact of projects on each actor per se and on external relations between agents. Madon (2004) Knowledge Foundation The Innovationand Garnham (2000), instead, borrow from Sen’s capabilities approach, and evaluate the impact of ICT4D on the beneficiaries’ capacity of developing their life plans. What these approaches, and other micro-strands in the relevant literature, have in common, is the capacity of shifting away from the economistic narrowness of performance evaluation, by considering the forces that act at the field level and the way through which ICT-led projects alter their action. A paradigmatic narrative, in this respect, is offered by the myriad of back- and front-end applications, which are subsumed under the comprehensive label of e-governance. Egovernance applications, at the level of both administration and services, are often evaluated through performance indicators. Yet, these indicators are not exhaustive for several reasons: first, as of Bowornwathana (2000: 399401), they only grasp short-term outputs of governance reform. By doing so, they shift responsibility for long-run outcomes away from policymakers, which will, most likely, not be in charge anymore when impacts on the long term need to be dealt with. Secondly, performance analysis does not include, outside efficiency, the unintended consequences that determined ICT4D projects may yield. Looking at five cases of e-governance in India, Bhatia et al. (2009) synthesize outputs in terms of performance indicators, such as “number of trips to obtain a service” and consequent “saving in travel costs”. Yet, these indicators are unable to grasp the fact that e-governance has entailed new modalities of corruption, given that it is officials – and not the citizens – who actually interact directly with computer screens: as such, new operations, practicable through the Internet and digital applications, are monopolized by public servants, and made conditional to the payment of bribes. These perverse incentives in the sphere of accountability outstrip the boundaries of performance evaluation, and are not contemplated by NPM-oriented modes of e-governance appraisal. Thirdly, Bhatnagar (2003) argues that standardization, which is inherent in the managerialist approach, does not function well when it comes to e-governance. He mentions the case of Karnataka, a state in southern India, where discretion of public servants has actually been reduced: yet, this has occurred only when biometric devices have been introduced, which trace decisions and actions to specific individuals. In this case, a specific tool has served the solution of a specific problem: yet, the very same tool has almost paralyzed administration in Gujarat, where public officials proved unable to actually deal with ICT-based

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devices for operation. As such, NPM-based standardization should not be applied to e-governance, given that what works well in a context might entail complete failure in a different sociopolitical field. As a result, the narrative of e-governance supports the argument in favor of political approaches, to be preferred to performance evaluation when looking at the outcomes of ICT4D. It is not, to be sure, that performance assessments should be discarded entirely: its short-term, efficientistic portraits are still a useful device to get a sense of immediate impacts of ICT-led projects on targeted areas. But still, the neglect of a holistic, long-run perspective severely weakens the capacity of evaluators, to carry out informed policy suggestions on how projects should be consolidated and improved. Therefore, field-based impact analyses are to be preferred to one-off indicators, when it comes to devising the implementation of new projects, or the continuation of existing ones.

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first and foremost, to the capacity of ICTs to provide information and access to markets by developing nations, so that poorer individuals and firms can reduce their transaction costs. Furthermore, ICTs allow for distance The Innovation Knowledge Foundation training of teachers, and for the delivery of educational programs in isolated areas of the globe. Also, telemedicine and remote diagnosis are relevant tools for e-health, that LDCs are enabled to access due to the low and decreasing cost of utilizing digital technologies. Is ITU right? Yes – and no, we submit, on the basis of the insights that have been devised in this paper. On the one hand, the success stories highlighted in our paradigmatic narratives reveal the very high potential of ICT4D, that needs to be unlocked on a global scale in the perspective of poverty reduction. Yet, on the other hand, the same narratives have revealed the limited potential of general approaches, when it comes to apply ICT-based projects across the fields. Limited replicability, which affects ICT4D due to diversity, should lead us to extreme caution in advocating world-scale usage of “successful” digital toolkits: a more correct approach lies, indeed, in the caseby-case evaluation of what may work, which is inseparable by the study of sociopolitical contexts of intervention. The challenge taken while pursuing the MDGs is a massive one indeed, and a globalscale approach can be easily assumed to be the right one for intervention. Yet, our guidelines – and the failures that a-critical replication of ICT4D has entailed – lead us to counteract this standardized approach, in favor of the evaluation of contexts without apriorism and through political analysis. As Heeks (2005: 9) sustains, “development should be guided by the head more than by the heart”: a suitable way for acting wisely, we submit, is that of adhering to the lessons of ICT4D, in terms of looking at the actual forces on field before rushing headlong in the development of new projects.

Conclusion: devising an approach to ICT4D
In this paper, we have proposed a set of theoretical guidelines to explore the comprehensive, burgeoning literature that exists on projects in ICT4D. We have firstly proposed an operational definition of development, focused on empowerment and participation rather than on sheer economic growth. We have then argued in favor of a context-based approach, capable of overcoming the mismatch between one-size-fits-all theories and project implementation. Finally, we have sustained political analysis as preferable to performance evaluation, due to its capacity of providing a holistic picture and a long-term view. These guidelines, we submit, are particularly relevant at the present day, as ICTs are increasingly being devised as a key tool for reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Codified in the context of the “New Poverty Agenda”, that constitutes a global consensus on how to reduce poverty on a world scale (Maxwell 2003: 5), these goals are matched with targets that mirror the key dimensions of the HDI: poverty reduction (MDG no.1); education (MDGs no. 2 and 3); health and life expectancy (MDGs no. 4, 5 and 6). The two remaining goals address, respectively, environmental issues (MDG no.7) and the necessity of a global partnership 3 for development (MDG no.8). There are, in effect, several mechanisms through which ICTs can be devised in order to reach the MDGs. In its attempt to provide a taxonomy of these mechanisms, the International Telecommunication Unon (ITU 2003) points,
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