ICT4D is Dead! Long Live ICT4D!

In a previous post I pushed back against James BonTempo's claim to have charted “The Slow Death of ICT4D”. In a comment on my blog Professor Richard Heeks called on James to be more specific about exactly what he was claiming was dying and - full credit to James – he revised and clarified his position in a thoughtful new post.


James is apparently no longer proclaiming the death of ICT4D as a field, but rather the death of what he sees as ICT4D's reliance on a 'select few' ex-pat technical 'experts'.


This clarification is welcome. If the 'Death of ICT4D' that James foresees is only the death of dependency on foreign technocrats then we can all enthusiastically welcome that death; 'bring on the funeral'. As long ago as 1988, on my first ever ICT4D assignment, my brief was to make myself redundant as soon as possible. Such capacity building is a basic operating goal of any development initiative – designed to ensure that people become the subjects of their own development.


However, whilst it is entirely possible to make yourself redundant in a narrow technical role, the reality is that wider social inequalities (and the vested interests that underpin them) are not nearly so simple to eradicate. So the struggle for development and for social justice must continue, and so will the use of ICTs in that process.


In his own specialist area of public health James feels that 'the final blow' to ICT4D will come very soon, “when ICT becomes a part of the Public Health core curriculum”. He feels that then, “everyone will have the (minimal) requisite skills, and implementing ICT projects will be a part of everyone's job”, leaving James out of a job as Director of ICT & Innovation at John Hopkins University's Centre for Communications Programme.


I don't enough about the field of public health to calculate how soon it might be possible to attain the requisite skill levels for ICT in public health education in all countries, but I nonetheless look forward to the death of ICT4D predicated on foreign technocrats and on 'international development'.


Yet at the same time I say 'long live' the forms of ICT4D that were never, or are no longer, based on such relationships.
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Having pushed back against James' claim to have charted 'The Slow Death of ICT4D', I also want to push back against what I consider to be his restrictively narrow view of the field; James characterises ICT4D as a mere sub-set of 'international development' and as one predicated on foreign-technocrats.


To my mind this is inaccurate on a number of levels and steals agency from the core actors in development.


James' view characterises ICT4D as a narrow technocratic pursuit. He makes invisible the majority of ICT4D work in that occurs in the absence of foreign technical experts and doesn't allow for the use of ICT4D outside of the work of INGOs in 'international development'.


In my own experience ICT4D has never been a narrow technocratic activity and it certainly is not limited to a mere subset of the work of INGOs engaged in 'international development'. In bullet-point format my view is that:


  1. All countries are 'developing'

  2. ICT4D is everywhere: in the UK, USA and Canada

  3. ICT4D is 'indigenous' everywhere: in Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Kenya and South Africa

  4. 90% of successful ICT4D work anywhere is non-technical

  5. 90% of development work in any social development field in any country is not the work of foreign 'experts' or of 'international development'

  6. Therefore ICT4D is not merely a sub-set of 'international development'


My own view is that all countries are 'developing'; substantial inequities and structural disadvantage exists within all countries. In all countries people respond to these development challenges in resourceful and innovative ways, appropriating whatever technologies are available to them.


I've always considered ICT4D to include the use of ICTs for development by any actors, in any country. This includes social media use in the struggle against oppressive governments, building social development apps in the UK classroom, and the use of eHealth in Druid Heights USA as much as in so-called 'developing countries'.


Personally I don't consider 'development' to be reducible to the activities of salaried ex-pats in the 'international development' industry; I hold it to be self-evident that the vast majority of 'development' work carried out in any country is, and always has been, undertaken by local people without reliance upon foreign 'experts'. Development work and ICT4D is carried out by local voluntary organisations, faith-groups, community development associations, cooperatives, government and many other agencies that are not 'international development' INGOs.


I believe that there will be an on-going role for practical ICT4D work in all territories for many years to come due to (a) on-going structural inequality and injustice and (b) the fast pace of technological change and innovation.


Like Steve Song I don't really care whether 'ICT4D' is what you wanna call it, but for as long as obscene levels of inequality exist people will continue to organise practically and politically to resist that injustice, and in their acts of resistance they will continue to appropriate whatever technologies are available in their efforts to secure a better life.

Which is why I say 'Long Live ICT4D!'


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