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What Should We Be Teaching ICT4D Students?

By Wayan Vota on June 11, 2015


Every year, waves of excited young professionals graduate with university degrees in international development and become our colleagues and co-workers. I would love to have your thoughts on two questions about them:

  • What should new development professionals know about ICT4D?
  • What do you wish you knew about ICT4D when you started?

I ask these two questions because this fall, I am honored to be co-teaching an ICT4D class at John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) with Patty Mechael. She and I will be building on the ICT4D course she and Matt Berg pioneered at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

And while James Bontempo might argue that new college graduates are already inherently experts in ICT4D, growing up as digital natives, I believe we still need to be teaching core ICT4D principles. Patty and I are building our course around the Principles of Digital Development, with a class on each of the principles. We’ll be bringing in guest speakers to talk about each principle, and have class assignments around them.

We’ll also have demo days with new technology tools and require students to write a proposal based on a real RFP that will need to include a technology component. We are finalizing the curriculum now, and we have one final question for you:

  • What books, publications, websites, and blogs should we have students read?

Anything else we should be doing? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

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Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. 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 his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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24 Comments to “What Should We Be Teaching ICT4D Students?”

  1. Fredrik Winsnes says:

    I think basing an ICT4D curriculum on the Principles of Digital Development is a great idea. Having “Digital Natives” participating in robust debate around these principles can only help increase the use of technology in international development! I would also encourage donors and international development organizations to look to you for this curriculum as well for internal educational efforts.

  2. Jesper says:

    Hey Wyan, Will there be any room in your class for auditors? I’d be interested in sitting in.

  3. Sam Lanfranco says:

    As a development economist working with UNCTAD’s then Technology Division in the 1970s we started exploring ICT4D in the context of Singapore’s assembly of circuit boards. We said Singapore would develop, others said it was just product assembly. The evidence speaks for itself. What have I learned in 50 years of ICT4D of use to students entering the field, other than tonnes of specific lessons learned? First, have humility. You don’t know what you don’t know and posturing on what you do know is a mistake? You may think you look like you know what you are doing, but others may only go along with you because you control their access to resources. Second, really engage all the stakeholders in both policy and project formulation and in implementation. Getting the context right may take longer but it is the better path. Third, have humility…oh! I already said that. Worth repeating.

  4. Jason says:

    Technology development lifecyle. Start by identifying the problem then applying the appropriate technology solution to that problem,. Scope, design and test before implementation. build in metrics to monitor implementation, learn from that process and feed that back into scale up or the next technology development lifecycle. I would have liked to learn about this more than any specific technology or ICT4D project

  5. Eric says:

    +Discuss the different careers paths that folks might fall into (tech vendor, ICT4D consulting firm, general development implementer, donor), and the hints about how each could do better in this space.

    +Read Out of Poverty by Paul Polak, and Think Like a Freak. They are two of the most important books for development practitioners, esp. ICT4D folks.

    +Don’t skip out on fundamentals of budgeting, especially if the students aren’t getting it elsewhere. The budget I put together for Matt and Patty’s class was one of the best assignments I had in grad school.

    +Having them do a country/sector scoping exercise. One of the reasons that projects get siloed if that people don’t take enough time to map out the existing efforts in a country. Having it as a class exercise gets people familiar with a important, rarely practiced activity.

    +Have them build something that integrates at least two tools. Data Collection plus visualization. Text messaging plus email.

    +They need to know what the following are and their implications. They don’t have to be able to use them all, but at least recognize and explain the context. API, .csv, .kml, .shp, .json, GUI, UI, UX, and HCD.

    +Make sure they don’t leave your course without knowing how to create pivot tables in excel. If they aren’t getting it covered elsewhere, then it’s on you.

    +Convince the university to have a 2nd semester because there is too much for one course.

    • Wayan Vota says:

      – They will need to do a country/sector scoping as their first task
      – They will build an integrated data collection solution
      – You will be invited to teach budgeting 😉
      – You can teach them pivot tables – I don’t even know that.

  6. Elaine Baker says:

    I think the “4D” component needs to be emphasised as well as the “ICT”. It is important to acknowledge the aim or purpose of different ICT4D initiatives are often very different.

    ICT4D can be classified by “purpose”, for example:
    – ICT for data collection, monitoring and coordination, to assist better decision making by Governments, NGOs, donors etc
    – ICT to provide information to help vulnerable people (health information, information about services available, disaster preparedness information)
    – ICT for formal education, vocational training, agricultural extension and remote mentorship
    – ICT to create market linkages and provide market information which help poor people and small businesses and farmers
    – ICT to facilitate access to financial services for poor people (microfinance, health insurance etc)
    – ICT to facilitate legal protection for poor people (land titles, birth registrations, justice)
    – ICT to help grassroots organisations to better self-organise, communicate and mobilise resources
    – ICT to provide data and information access to grassroots groups and communities which they can use to better advocate to decision makers
    – ICT to enable better two-way communications between citizens and their political representatives
    – ICT as a means to increase transparency and reduce corruption
    – ICT to enable the public sector to provide services more efficiently and of higher quality
    – ICT to enable service-provision NGOs to provide services more efficiently and of higher quality to poor people
    – ICT to enable private sector to provide services more efficiently and of higher quality to poor people (and how this interfaces with use of public funds)

    I think it would be useful to give students an overview of what is going on in each of these – what has been tried, what were the effects and lessons learnt. Also how these initiatives affect the relative power structures within society – there can be losers as well as winners, and some may win more than others.

  7. Wayan Vota says:

    Thanks everyone for these comments. Please keep them coming, this post is being watched by many ICT4D educators too.

  8. Amit says:

    Students should be taught about equity and issues around inclusiveness. They need to learn about social inclusion and exclusion and how ICT can be a tool for social exclusion if there is no awareness. If not properly thought through ICT4D projects can end up favoring the haves over the have-nots.This is specially true for ICT4D projects to be implemented among rural communities or urban poor.

  9. Richard Heeks says:

    I’m currently writing a textbook for ICT4D courses, so fascinating to compare contents. The content here looks to be a very useful combination of participative info. systems project management and user-centred IS analysis and design. That would reinforce Elaine’s point that this is more an ICT course than an ICT4D course. If students already know about development, maybe that’s OK – but would they benefit from more connections to development concepts and frameworks?

    They are getting the micro-view of practice on individual projects – but would they benefit from some bigger picture understanding of the links between ICTs and development?

    I also wonder about teaching methods: is there some way to have students discover and induce design principles rather than have them declaimed from the front of the class?

    • Eric says:

      Hi Richard,

      I can’t speak for the rest of the respondents, but I didn’t focus on the international development aspects in the course because I assumed these were all SAIS students getting a masters degree in international development. I guess it’s possible that they are SAIS students getting degrees in fields other than international development. If so, I absolutely agree.

      • Wayan says:

        Correct, Eric, they are all getting masters in development, so Richard, we are focusing more on the ICT than 4D aspect, yet we will have a tight integration between tech, people, and impact.

        • Richard Heeks says:

          I guess in Manchester we’re quite fortunate to have several modules covering different aspects of ICT4D. Four come to mind: micro-level practice of ICT4D systems analysis and design; micro-plus-level practice of ICT4D project management; meso-level connection of ICTs to development goals; and macro-level big picture / long wave of ICTs and development/societal structures and trends. If you’ve got a single module only, the question is whether to try to cram all those elements in, or – as you are doing here – focus on doing one or two elements in more detail. (And then ask for the 2nd semester module that Eric suggests to do some of the other elements!)

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  11. Hi, Wayan.

    I’d like suggest the topics below; many probably are contained in Richard Heeks’ nicely structured layers course. And I agree with Eric and others, it’d be nice to design a 2-semester course if given the chance. Any ideas about online offerings?

    • Development processes and structures in the context of the Network Society (to underline changes from traditional development practices)

    • The integration of ICT into the work of development organizations (or development cooperation structures/systems); examining how to do this for successful, productive results. In other words, elements of successful ICT mainstreaming (if that indeed is possible…)

    • Networked Development, and in particular, the use of ICTs to enable the work of institutional development networks (in terms of collaboration, knowledge management, trust-building, etc. ); it’d be useful to include some network analysis basics (like SNA techniques), and perhaps an intro to complexity (applied to development contexts).

    • ICT for new practices in M&E (systems and platforms, sensors, mobile devices, mapping, ethics, etc.)

    • Human Rights in the Digital Era (including issues of cybersecurity like privacy/data protection, surveillance, censhorship, etc. )

    • And a sufficient level of competencies on data access, analysis and presentation; this includes access to key large data sources (eg. the World Bank’s data sets), as well as the use of at least a couple of good programs like Gapminder, SPSS, etc. ).

    • Finally, in relation to thematic applications of ICT, e.g. as per the new post-2015, Sustainable Development Goals agenda. It could be flexible and related to the interests of the students (this could easily run you into the 2-semester option)

  12. Mireille Nsimire says:

    What should new development professionals know about ICT4D?
    They need to know how can ICT4D principles contribute to improve their professionals experiences.
    Anytime, anywhere you go, anywhere u go, u can get materials online anytime regardless where you are, hence “anytime, anywhere you go. One defining feature of ICTs is their ability to blend the two concepts time and space. ICTs make possible asynchronous learning, or learning characterized by a time lag between the delivery of instruction and its reception by learners. Online course materials, for example, may be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. ICT-based educational delivery (e.g., educational programming broadcast over radio or television) also dispenses with the need for all learners and the instructor to be in one physical location.

  13. Julienne says:

    Hi Wayan,

    I am a rising 2nd year IDEV student at SAIS, and very excited to see that a course on technology + innovation is finally being offered. As a potential student in your class, I have the following suggestions:

    ## I love the idea of hands-on demo days for technology tools. It’s really important that development practitioners know how to use these technologies if they are going advocate using them. Having sessions to learn interactive mapping, mobile data collection or data visualization software is really important for the legitimacy of practitioners.

    ## Something I have come up against repeatedly is the need to prove to others that a technology tool is a worthwhile investment. I think it would be interesting to learn tools + techniques for showing the long-term benefits of an investment in ICT: cost-benefit analyses, process flow charts, cash flow assessments (ie. for mobile money).

    ## Another challenge I’ve found is figuring out where I fit in the development ecosystem – more than a development generalist, but less than an IT professional. I agree with Eric that it would be good to spend some time discussing what roles an “ICT4D” professional can play in the work place; how to carve out this space between ICT and development (if it’s even possible?).

    ## I’m learning more and more than technology is only a small factor, while systems are often the main barrier to increased efficiency in development. Integrating mobile money, for example, can only enhance efficiency to a certain extent, if finance and accounting systems are chaotic and disorganized. It would be interesting to understand how systems can be better structures to enable smooth integration of new technologies. This is particularly important as technologies continue to change so rapidly. Systems need to be adaptable and fluid so new technologies can be integrated.

    ## Agree with Amit on the issue of inclusiveness! V. important.

    Hope this helps – look forward to seeing you in the Fall. (Also, might I recommend a class trip to see how this works in the field ☺)

    • PhD Student from Berlin says:

      Hi Julienne, I have the same question as Jesper earlier. Could you provide any information about the procedure at SAIS? That would be a great help. I’ll be traveling around the US this fall and it would be great to join the course as a guest auditor. Do you already know about course dates? Thank you for your response, I really appreciate it. Anna

  14. Tom Marentette says:

    Hi Wayan,

    First of all, structuring the class around the Principles of Digital Development should provide a solid framework to deeper discussions in ICT4D. Also, using the NetHope/CRS guide in the class is a good idea.

    A couple of years ago I co-taught an ICT4D related class here at Notre Dame in our Global Health masters program (Topics in Global Health: Global Health, Mobile Phones and Appropriate Technologies). This is something I’d like to do more of here at ND, given time commitments. I’ll find the syllabus and post some of the texts and other readings here.