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ICT4D Academics Are Failing the Poor

By Wayan Vota on November 3, 2016

ict4d-research

How much does ICT4D academic research achieve actual economic and societal impact? That was the question asked by ICT4D researcher Roger Harris in a recent study, “How ICT4D Research Fails the Poor.”

He found that more than 90% of academic researchers declare their intention to influence practice and policy with their research findings, however, ICT4D research falls short of its potential to benefit the recipients of development programs.

In fact, his findings illustrate how ICT4D research fails the poor.

  • ICT4D researchers do not engage closely with the users of their research findings. Few seem to interact with research users in a way that would either stimulate demand for their research or help them understand how research could contribute to solving their problems.
  • Few researchers engage in advancing policy positions or working with others who might do so. Similarly, while communicating with the public is quite well regarded as a research output by ICT4D researchers, they seem less inclined to translate this into tangible activity within formal communication programs that might involve ICTs or other forms of networking.
  • The incentives of the institutions within which researchers work militate against the activities that are deemed necessary for research to have practice and/or policy influence. Cited publications are more highly regarded than other forms of communication and on achieving any influence on practice or policy. It is arguably because of this that researchers engage less in activities that might yield practice or policy influence.

The study concludes that ICT4D researchers and their institutions need to take practice and policy influence more seriously, by engaging more closely with the users of their research and by encouraging more and better communications with the public, especially through the use of ICTs. They need to do this for at least three reasons:

  1. to continue receiving funding;
  2. to realize their potential for influence on international development policy and practices and
  3. because it is the right thing to do.

The study recommends that ICT4D researchers pay more attention to how their research can be used outside academia and, where necessary, adopt positions for practice and policy that can be furthered through their research activities. The emphasis on academic publication should be matched with an equal prominence given to socioeconomic influence.

Check out the complete list of 79 ICT4D academic journals and publications

In the spirit of practicing that which one is teaching, Roger Harris is preparing capacity-building activities in support of achieving socioeconomic impact with research for members of his own institution. This includes engaging with research users, adopting specific policy positions and strategies for communicating findings to the right audiences, in the right language and using the most suitable medium of communication.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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2 Comments to “ICT4D Academics Are Failing the Poor”

  1. Jacques says:

    I am in agreement with this finding. In my view this is due to two factors:
    * There is too much desk research, and too little fieldwork.
    * Metrics to determine success are often biased towards funders/donor expectations, rather than success from the receivers.
    Here is an example: a wi-fi mesh network (village web) is deployed. The engineers test it and it works, so the report is positive. But the community does not use it – because they never bought into the technology.
    The real world is much, much more complex than what is typically reported in ICT4D circles.

    • Markus Pscheidt says:

      Ad “* There is too much desk research, and too little fieldwork.”:

      Desk work still could lead to policies. In fact, wise policies need a lot of thinking.

      Ad “Here is an example: a wi-fi mesh network (village web) is deployed. The engineers test it and it works, so the report is positive. But the community does not use it – because they never bought into the technology.
      The real world is much, much more complex than what is typically reported in ICT4D circles.”:

      True, the focus should rather be on making (existing) technology work in ICT4D settings than doing pilot studies that are quickly abandoned. Especially long-term research projects could lead to insights.