Lyon Declaration on ICT4D
The post-MDG Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development [pdf] is very welcome in that it represents a clear advance over the original Millennium Development Goal on ICT4D, but in my opinion the declaration does not go far enough in giving the most disadvantaged people effective control over their own development, and seems to rest upon some false premises about rights and information in producing development.
I don't think a right to information would be 'transformational'; in my opinion 'access to information' cannot empower people, and to be sustainable, I believe any approach to development must be people-centred and not information-centric. MDG-8.f reads, 'In cooperation with the private sector, to make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications'; its targets are access focused, specifically: telephone lines per capita, cellular subscribers per capita, and internet users per capita.
IFLA and others have provided valuable leadership and have been rightly vocal in calling for ICT4D policy to go 'Beyond Access'. The Lyon Declaration makes a number of welcome and progressive moves in this direction. The declaration goes beyond access to mobile phones and the internet as the silver bullets of ICT for Development and focuses instead on content and skills. The Lyon Declaration calls for access to 'information and knowledge', and call for building the skills essential to making 'effective use' of ICT4D. This is all good stuff. However, in my opinion, the declaration rests on false premises about rights, and about the relation of information to empowerment and to development.
The Lyon Declaration claims that 'a right to information would be transformational' in achieving socio-economic prosperity and well-being. I do not believe it could be. Rights never have never caused social transformational. Rights may be a prudent tactical goal and may prove to have instrumental value as a moral asset in a wider struggle for development but rights have never transformed social reality.
If rights were transformational of socio-economic prosperity and well-being then we would expect the civil-rights movement in the USA to have led to equity. We would not expect black people to still be being disproportionally beaten, shot and incarcerated by the police or for the average wealth of a black household in the USA to be one twentieth (yep, one twentieth) of the average wealth of a white household in the USA. Rights are not transformational.
Access ≠ Empowerment ≠ Development
The Lyon Declaration also claims that, 'access to information supports development by empowering people, especially marginalised people and those living in poverty'. In my opinion information doesn't empower people, and marginalised and impoverished people find it most difficult to translate information into access development.
If access to information empowered people to development then the 3 billion people, who in the last 25 years have gained access to the effectively infinite information resources of the world wide web, would now have experienced empowerment and been 'developed'. In reality the BRICS countries and Africa are showing some development gains whilst in the so-called 'developed' countries have suffered economic depression and social inequality indicators are alarming.
Empowerment isn't something that can be done 'at' or 'to' people, least of all by inanimate information. Genuine empowerment must be people's self-action. According to Enynes, Kabeer & Cornwall [pdf], 'Empowerment happens when individuals and organised groups are able to imagine their world differently and to realise that vision by changing the relations of power that have been keeping them in poverty'.
In realising this aim, we might reasonably expect those involved to find the use of information and communication technologies productive at various points in amplifying their capacity and intent but we cannot a priori presume to know that they will or in what ways.
Changing the power structures that create and sustain marginalisation and impoverishment is inevitably a protracted process. It requires building people's critical consciousness to identify impediments to their flourishing and supporting their self-directed action for change. The most marginalised and most disadvantaged people might be expected to need the most time, personal development and resources redistribution in order to attain a position of equity (and to be able to make 'effective use' of ICTs for Development).
I welcome the Lyon Declaration which goes well 'beyond access' and the limited framework of the original MDG on ICT4D. In the spirit of constructive criticism I offer my personal opinion that it does not go far enough in order to give the most disadvantaged people effective control over their own development. One way to achieve this might be to modify the current info-centric approach and reliance on rights-as-transformation with a more person-centred approach that invests in people's critical-consciousness to transform their their own development (and in people's capacity to appropriate ICTs to this end).