#3: ICT4D

By Krystle van Hoof

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What is (/are) ICT4D? Is it just another hyped acronym, likely to fizzle out before anyone really knows what it is? Or is it revolutionizing development cooperation? (Or, is it, like most things, somewhere in between? #boring)

ICT = Information and Communication Technologies
(radio, television, cell phones, computers, software, internet…)

4D = for (International) Development

The End.


As with most buzzword terms (and I would say any term that ends in 4D can be considered a buzzword/jargon term), the meaning of ICT4D has come to be greater than the sum of its parts.

At its base, the idea of information and communication technologies for development is to use technology to close the digital divide between those who have access to technology (and all the benefits it brings) and those who don’t. But, it is, of course, more complicated than that.

If it were as simple as the above, ICT4D would mean running around handing out phones and computers to anyone who doesn’t have one (though, it can be that too, just not necessarily a successful or ethical example of it.)

In reality, the ICTs in ICT4D are used (hopefully strategically) as part of a larger development program. Kentaro Toyama, aka The ICT4D Jesterargues that

“Technology—no matter how well designed—is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. It is not a substitute.”

So, if you don’t have the right intent (eg. corruption) or any capacity (eg. lack of appropriate instruction), technology isn’t going to help you achieve your goal (no matter how many cell phones you hand out.) This reminds me of a quote I really like from twitter guru, Scott Stratten (@unmarketing):

“Social media doesn’t fix anything. It just amplifies things. If your restaurant sucks, it just sucks harder in social media.”

And so it would follow that, if your development program is not well thought out, is not participatory or doesn’t have appropriate intent and capacity at its base, ICTs will only make it more expensive, not more effective.

Okay, caveats and cynicism aside, there are some really cool projects happening in ICT4D! Here are a few examples: 

Telemedicine (remote diagnosis and treatment using ICTs)
If you’re a clinician with minimal training in a remote, rural village, having access to the Internet can mean the difference between life and death for patients.  The International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) has just such a story on their website about a little boy’s life being saved after information about his case was emailed to a doctor in the capital city, some 600km away, who was able to diagnose him and recommend a successful treatment.

Fighting Sexual Harassment
HarassMap is a crowdsourced map of where-not-to-go in Cairo for women. Specifically, it crowdsources data on where women have experienced sexual harassment (everything from ogling to catcalls to sexual assaults) and plots points on a map, which you can browse by category and date. Harass map doesn’t just help women avoid harassment and assault but advocates for the creation of anti-sexual harassment policies and programs.

Participatory Radio
Participatory radio is a great example of ICT4D because it involves using technology that is already exists and is being used in the local context (capacity) and putting it to use in a different way aimed at improving the circumstances of the listeners (intent) and, oftentimes, the broadcasters themselves (intent and capacity! And bonus points for respecting local context!)

Farm Radio International, a Canadian-based NGO working in Africa, uses a participatory radio campaign model to engage smallholder farmers and help them improve their agricultural practices. Not only are they using radio as an ICT, but they also gather continuous feedback from their listeners, often through an automated mobile phone system.

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  1. Michaela Garberg

    Thanks for an interesting post, Krystle! I agree that ICT4D has great potential but needs to be used in a thought through way. I think you, in this post, successfully highlight the political nature of technologies and the fact that access is not per se a grand solution to development issues. Granqvist (2005) similarly criticizes the ICT4D discourse and its focus on the digital divide. He advocates the need for a critical assessment framework as a guidance for ICT4D efforts to take into consideration social and political aspects rather than just focusing on access to technology, something that might be helpful for planning and implementing beneficial ICT4D projects.

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  3. ICT4D for development is a field of research and practice joining specialties from computer science, information systems, and development. Thanks for sharing the good information about ICT$D