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ICT4D Pilotitis Causes and Remedies Framework

By Guest Writer on May 23, 2024

Stop Pilotitis

Countries from low-and-medium income sectors have faced several long-standing challenges, including poverty, unemployment and an overburdened healthcare system. In many of these countries, ICT4D projects are piloted to help alleviate some of these challenges.

What is ICT4D Pilotitis?

Investors often prefer to fund a “proof-of-concept” before committing to a larger project, as a successful pilot project provides evidence that the initiative has potential and justifies further financial support. However, many of these ICT4D projects have not had much success in being replicated in other contexts, a phenomenon that has earned the title of “pilotitis”.

The term “pilotitis” describes projects that are typically short-lived and never scaled to reach their full potential. Pilotitis can erode the confidence of the intended beneficiaries in the projects. These initiatives are often short-lived, fail on their promises, and do not provide any long-term benefits.

Pilotitis: Cause-Remedies Framework

A Synthesis of the Causes of ICT4D Projects’ Pilotitis: Prioritising the Remedies for the SDG2030 Agenda by Tania Prinsloo and Funmi Adebesin presents a synthesis of a systematic literature review of 25 research papers. The synthesis identified four broad causes of pilotitis and four broad areas of remedies to the “disease” that has plagued the ICT4D space for many years.

Four Causes of Pilotitis

The Pilotitis: Cause-Remedies Framework highlights the circular nature of the causes, which contribute to a cycle of failure.

  • Local Context-Related Issues: Local Constraints, Cultural Differences, Unsuitable Solution
  • Resource-Related Issues: Skills Transfer, Training, Adequate Reporting
  • Business Model-Related Issues: Incompatibility, Government Support, Unsuitable Solution,
  • Design-Reality Gap-Related Issues: Unnecessary Technology, More Pressing Needs, Unique Needs

Four Remedies for Pilotitis

Based on our synthesis of 25 extant literature, we identified remedies are represented as semi-circles, following a specific sequence. It is crucial to address these remedies in a particular order.

  • Technical Remedies: User-Centric Approach, Offline Functionality, Data to Stakeholders
  • Economic Remedies: Adequate Financing, Long-Term Financing, Cost Considerations
  • Environmental Remedies, Government/Local Involvement, Local Laws and Traditions, Partnerships
  • User Acceptance Remedies: Provide Training, Continuous Users’ Feedback, Needs-Targeted Solution

To achieve the SDGs by 2030, we propose the Pilotitis: Cause-Remedies Framework as a tool that can be used to ensure that future ICT4D projects do not succumb to pilotitis and experience subsequent failure. By adopting the suggested remedies outlined in the framework, we are optimistic that the prospect of future ICT4D projects would be enhanced, thereby increasing the likelihood of their success.

The findings indicate that a more effective approach to pilot projects can contribute to a greater number of successful ICT4D initiatives that can be expanded and genuinely address the beneficiaries’ needs and requirements.

A lightly edited synopsis of A Synthesis of the Causes of ICT4D Projects’ Pilotitis: Prioritising the Remedies for the SDG2030 Agenda by Tania Prinsloo and Funmi Adebesin

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4 Comments to “ICT4D Pilotitis Causes and Remedies Framework”

  1. Great piece. However, we believe that proposed remedies are incomplete.

    No innovation should be financed that doesn’t build on an open-source software infrastructure (no reliance on first developer, low maintenance cost), modularity (objectives evolve), and data circularity (ensure that data compilation and processing can be repurposed and made relevant to a broader set of stakeholders).

    Single-purpose digitalization projects are merely a symptom of the broader farce that is MEL in development programs.

  2. Mika Välitalo says:

    Thanks for the post!

    I think ICT4D pilotitis is part of a larger “development projectitis” problem. Regardless of using technology or not, by far most project activities, processes, mechanisms etc. do not continue once the funding stops. In the sustainability part of the funding application it most often says “We’ll pilot this model and expect government (or other local entity) to adopt the model for long term use”. If e.g. the government of the country X would adopt all the ICT4D and other project models NGOs are continuously creating, I think they’d need to double their gov budget every Y years.

    Maybe one of the solutions is just to pilot much less and use already existing mechanisms, processes, services?

    In any case, IF you decide to pilot, the tips and guidelines in the post are to the point and valuable.

  3. Joris Komen says:

    Hi Tania and Fumni, there’ve been numerous “fail-fests” describing a multitude of ICT4D projects which failed with “IF ONLY’ end-notes. I was a co-author on a well-documented ICT4D project which failed because of preferential government engagement with a global proprietary software mogul, instead of tried-and-tested Open Source solutions in Namibia (and several other countries!) See —

    I do think it a great shame that your book chapter, and book itself are NOT openly accessible, behind a paywall which is too expensive and beyond the budgets of most startup ICT4D projects in developing countries. I do note that the majority of works you’ve referenced in your chapter are accessible via a Google Scholar option which present a synthesis of a systematic literature review of 25 research papers. I think the persistent lack of “openness” is actually the “disease” that has, and continues to plague the ICT4D space.

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