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Three Ways to Improve the Impact of ICT4D Research on International Development

By Wayan Vota on September 12, 2018

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A primary objective of any research field, and ICT4D is no exception, is to have a significant research impact on their domain of interest.

The thrust of In ICT4D Research: Reflections on History and Future Agenda by Geoff Walsham is aimed implicitly at this goal through the identification of important topics, the discussion of relevant theories and the choice of methodologies and approaches to multi-disciplinarity.

Let us discuss the issue of research impact more directly and ask the question: What could be done in the future to enhance the impact of the ICT4D research field?

Create a Shared Conceptual Framework

One approach with potential to increase impact would be to unify the ICT4D field around a particular definition or ideology of development in order to provide coherence and critical mass around this shared agenda.

Thapa and Sæbø (2014) discuss different development theories used in the ICT4D literature and suggest Sen’s capability approach as an overall guiding framework to explore the link between ICTs and development.

This work is interesting but it seems unlikely that a single development theory will be sufficiently strong and widely accepted to provide overall coherence. Rather, it can be argued that we should allow different ideologies of development but make them more explicit. A good illustration of this approach is provided by Heeks (2014) by using the post-2015 development agenda to identify priorities for future ICT4D research.

It may not be possible to agree on a shared definition of development but an alternative approach to coherence for the ICT4D research field, and thus the potential for enhanced research impact, may be by developing a shared conceptual framework for the ICT4D field.

Van Biljon and Alexander (2014) provide one approach to this through a conceptual map of discipline, research paradigm, underlying theory, research methodology, data capturing strategy and data analysis. The conceptual framework was tested and refined through an analysis of the full papers from the ICTD2013 conference.

Engaging Directly with ICT4D Practitioners

The material above is oriented towards more coherence for the ICT4D research field in the hope that this might provide increased research impact. A more direct way of trying to increase impact is through engaging with user and policy-making communities.

Support for this approach is provided by the literature survey of Gomez et al (2012) which demonstrated an increasing interest in policy recommendations over the first decade of the new millennium. This is encouraging in terms of potential future research impact but Harris (2016) provides some words of caution based on a literature review of research impact and a survey of ICT4D researchers.

Harris agrees that ICT4D researchers are interested in influencing both practice and policy but notes that they are less inclined towards the activities which would make this happen, especially engaging with the users of their research and communicating their findings to a wider audience.

In addition, Harris argues that the institutions within which ICT4D researchers are located often do not provide incentives for researchers to adopt these engagement practices.

Strive for ICT Integration into Development

One way of trying to engage with users, practitioners and policy makers is through communities of practice based on particularly themes and issues, for example health or agriculture or human rights.

This relates to seeing ICTs as part of a bigger picture of development. It is interesting to note that this theme of ICTs as insufficient in themselves, but important to an overall approach, was identified way back in 1988 in the Delhi conference discussed in the historical part of this paper.

Raiti (2006) sees the need for a multidisciplinary field with multi-disciplinary authors and ICT4D as “part of a larger puzzle of development”. It could be that the most effective way for ICT4D researchers to achieve impact is, somewhat ironically, to play down the importance of ICTs in themselves but emphasize their role in multi-faceted development approaches.

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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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