Having its roots in computer science and information systems, the field of information and communication technologies (ICT) in development has arguably been dominated by technocentric approaches, mainly concerned with describing and managing the mechanisms of technology diffusion and adoption. However, the high failure rate of many ICT for development (ICT4D) interventions and their limited focus on wellbeing impact has drawn attention to the needs for designing better evaluation frameworks to help make sense of the complex realities in which ICT interventions take place, and for interrogating the usefulness of mainstream approaches on the impact of ICT4D interventions on wellbeing.
Efforts to operationalise the capability approach, and to apply it to the field of ICT4D constitute an increasingly popular alternative in this regard. The alternative shifts the focus of ICT4D evaluation away from an exclusive focus on technology access and use, towards understanding their multidimensional development outcomes, including their impact on wellbeing. One avenue, which has largely been underexplored, is the potential contribution of systems thinking approaches for further strengthening the focus on multidimensional development outcomes while improving the practical applicability of ICT4D evaluations.
This doctoral research sets out to explore how systems thinking concepts and techniques can be used to complement existing approaches so as to increase the success rate of ICT4D interventions, as measured by their effect on the wellbeing of intended beneficiaries. Drawing on multiple theoretical influences, including the capability approach, systemic inquiry, critical theory and pragmatism, this thesis evaluates four ICT4D interventions, including a researcher-led ICT4D intervention, which have all taken place in Indigenous communities of the North Rupununi, Guyana, between 2005 and 2015.
The findings of this study suggest that the wellbeing impact of ICT4D interventions is primarily determined by whether they are introduced to address locally – defined needs and the extent to which beneficiary communities are involved in their design, implementation and evaluation. It argues that applying concepts and techniques from systems thinking can help address some of the criticism and shortcomings of established and emerging approaches for evaluating ICT4D interventions, by looking beyond efficiency and optimisation towards questions of participation, power, purpose and values. The research then outlines the contours of a Systemic Implementation and Evaluation (SIE) framework, as a way to draw attention to the inevitable clashes of worldviews that characterise interventions involving multiple stakeholders, and to allow a critical reflection on the nature of these interventions and the changes brought about. It concludes by producing a series of policy recommendations associated with enhancing the impact of ICT4D interventions on Indigenous wellbeing.