Talking ICT4D

Back in 2009 I carried out something of an experiment. Me and Erik Hersman attended ICT4D in Doha. For both of us it was our first time at a ‘professional’ tech-for-development gathering. After hearing and writing so much about the disconnect between academia and practitioners in ICT4D, I wanted to see if it existed – and in what form – for myself.

I wasn’t disappointed. After just one day it became blatantly clear that the majority of people were attending to share their research, and latest paper, and to tick boxes. The audience were the other speakers. It was a very self-serving event, to say the least.

In the corridor outside the main hall sat – among others – Erik, Brenda, Patrick and I. We weren’t reading papers (or our blog posts) to each other, but trying to find ways of getting FrontlineSMS, Ushahidi and Freedom Fone to play nicely together. Clearly, the needs of the practitioners there were very different to everyone else, namely the academics, observers, ICT4D professionals and other recognised ‘experts’.

In six years, little seems to have changed. When I look today at the frequent and regular ICT4D conferences, gatherings and meetups – most of them entrenched in Western corridors – I continue to wonder. Who are the audience? What is the purpose? Objective? Impact? Is it the same people who attend – and speak at – most of these events?

My hunch is that, like in Doha, practitioners out there are having very different conversations than the ‘professional’ tech-for-development players. The needs of the two camps continue to be very different. I meet few social entrepreneurs or social innovators obsessing relentlessly about big data or drones. That seems to be a luxury for others.

Thankfully, increasing amounts of the more interesting stuff in ICT4D is beginning to happen outside the official development system. Give it a few years and most of it will be. Maybe there ought to be a few more conferences about that.

9 thoughts on “Talking ICT4D

  1. Wayan says:

    Before you slag it, please spell it correctly, it’s ICTD, not ICT4D.

    Now that we’re clear, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never attended ICTD because I knew it was just academics talking to themselves. I’ve pointed this out to the organizers many times, to no avail.

    Now my ICT4D events are pointedly about, for, and with practitioners. Maybe you could attend one and see how easy it is to drop the practionier vs. professional tech for development player dichotomy you seem to be stuck on. Those of us employed by iNGOs are not inherently evil or fake, and those in small organizations are not inherently good or authentic.

    It takes a global village to get things done. Love if you joined us again.

  2. kiwanja says:

    Thanks for the comment, Wayan. When you get a moment, I’d love some response to my questions a few months ago to the ICT4D Principles. I’ve had very little joy being “part of the conversation” there.

    I think it’s fair to say we have very different viewpoints, opinions and ambitions. Having seen, worked in, and studied big $$$ development since 1993 I have huge challenges with the approach. I’m happy to be working outside of it for the large part, and focusing my energies on helping people solving their own problems. Small organisations may not be “inherently good or authentic” but experience tells me that it’s the right thing to support, encourage and nurture them.

    I’ll leave it at that.

  3. Wayan says:

    Small orgs are great to support, and I love supporting them too. It doesn’t have to be binary, either. We can have big, medium, and small organizations of all types (for profit, nonprofit, social enterprise, etc) working together. We don’t need to romanticize or demonize any one group over the other – every group, every person has success and failure in doing the right thing.

  4. Wayan says:

    As to your principles post, there isn’t much to say. Like this one, you condem others efforts based on what apparently is a blanket assumption that if its not from and for small orgs, it’s a waste of time or inherently evil.

  5. Jacob says:

    In total agreement with you on this, Kiwanja. Refreshing to read. Only academics or people who work in big $ development are going to disagree with you.

  6. kiwanja says:

    Thanks, Jacob. It’s probably easier to just write things people agree with, but that doesn’t really get us anywhere. When people are challenged they usually do one of two things – get defensive and withdraw, or engage in the conversation.

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