ICTs – Changing the game, changing the players

In my last blog, I attempted to rouse optimism in the ongoing surge of ICTs in development. Who am I trying to convince? Myself, for starters. And this is because it is imperative that these tools produce impact, that they are inclusive and, most importantly, that they do no harm. In short, that they follow the Principles for Technology in Development set out by UNICEF.

The power to handle these tools tend to be held by a like-minded set of actors – NGOs, aid providers, governments and supranational organisations. However, Fuchs (2014: 35) points out that the tools “increase one’s ability…to take collective action outside the framework of institutions and organisations” whilst social media can become “virtual spaces of participatory communication” (Denskus & Esser, 2013: 406) for the everyman…so where does this leave us? The changing nature of development that has been brought on by technology is in part due to how NGOs and aid organisations are influenced by the very technology itself. How they work has changed. How the recipients of their work interpret their work has changed.

To corroborate this, I think that firstly it is more interesting to give a micro-level example than a macro one. Sahel Solidarité is a local NGO in several regions of Burkino Faso that was founded in 1973 to support farmers organisations and specific women’s groups to establish sustainable development practices. They have been working with ICTs for over a decade now in order to improve the lives of the people they work with. And ‘work with’ is important here. The NGO, alongside locals who possess hygiene expertise, use multimedia to increase awareness on hygienic water use and sanitation. This is done by incorporating the vintage and the modern..

‘New and old technologies were creatively combined by using portable projection equipment (beamer, laptop and generator) and a screen made of a white sheet and two tree branches. One of the village’s elderly explained the good and bad practices on the photos by pointing them out with a stick’.

– Institute for International Cooperation and Development, 2009


Derived from iicd.org

But do not be mistaken that this is some kind of one-off gimmick. Sahel Solidarité have implemented a methodology which is sophisticated and pedagogical; their focus is on capacity building and behavioral change. It is ICT at work, ICT on the ground and ICT that engages. Low costs combined with pragmatic use of the limited ICT tools available has enabled Sahel Solidarité to produce results which justify their adapted way of practicing development. ICTs have influenced this NGO and this is the future made present.

On a more macro level, ICTs highlight the changing nature of development in more grandiose terminology. Notions of empowerment (Ferguson et al., 2014; Manning 2012; Meikle, 2016) and participation are prevalent in the literature and the internet itself is a playground of possibilities with its “interactive, decentralised” (Guo & Saxton, 2014: 60) core. Advocacy by means of strategic communication has moved from Executive Summaries to Twitter posts and the potential ‘information interaction’ has taken a seismic shift. In turn, how NGOs and aid organisations operate has become more transparent and they are now structured in a more flexible and flatter way than ever before.

ICTs are here to stay and the landscape of development is dynamic and disperse – how its influence impacts upon the receivers of these practices is another question.