Digital development – 2 trends that may define the future

Foreseeing the future is next to impossible and most predictions tend to fall short. However, by looking at the current situation and trends one can sometimes identify obstacles that needs to be addressed and might have impact on the future state of a sector.

In his keynote speech at this year’s USAID Digital Development Forum Jonathan Donner, Senior Director for Research at Caribou Digital, points out several factors that he think will have a big impact on the future direction of digital development. In this blog post I will take a closer look at two of them, universal access and effective use of ICT and network society.

Donner’s Diagram of “A multi-part vison for Digital Development for the next decade. © Caribou Digital/Jonathan Donner

Reaching for universal access and effective use of ICT

Although access to technology and the internet has increased significantly in the last decade, there is still large diversity within countries and populations. Furthermore, the use of technology and internet is very different between the western world and poor countries, where internet access is expensive in relation to average income. Donner points out, for an example, that “people [using expensive data bundles] don’t surf and browse, but rather sip and dip”. He calls this “a metered mindset” and mentions that data suggest that a quarter of all Android users in Kenya has used the airplane mode although most of them are unlikely to have gone on an airplane.

Affordability is one factor that hinders universal access and effective use of ICT, but there are also other factors. Low literacy, language barriers and as discussed in a previous blog post societal gender norms also restrict girls and women’s access and use of Internet.

Continued rise of Network Society

Whether we like it or not, internet and internet based social media platforms such as Facebook are here to stay. While popular among the general population, social media platforms have their own set of problems, or dilemmas. Donner calls for an increased awareness in the development community on its role in shaping the digital world.

Platform power has real implications for privacy, for national sovereignty, for local media systems, and for strong civil societies.

Donner argues that the development community should not just focus on connecting people to a global network society, but also take responsibility in the discourse and what we are part of building Platforms aren’t all bad, but they are a major driver of the labor and civil society disruptions”. He calls for mindfulness in relation to promoting digital policies and programs that depend on the power of these platforms in the developing world”. He also encourages organizations and programs to keep their regular websites and not just rely on social media platforms and apps.

2028 and beyond

While Donner does not provide a prediction of what ICT for Development, or development in a digital age, as he prefers to put it, will look like in a decade his thoughts and sentiments does provide great insights to main themes of the current debate. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are trending topics in today’s debate about platforms, but as Donner illustrates in his speech there need to be a more holistic discussion on the challenges development and the society at large is facing in this digital age. Lastly, he notes that whether or not the development community is participating, the digital landscape is shaping and changing constantly with new technologies.