Posted to the Ethnos Project by on June 15th, 2014

Information Technologies & International Development has published its Vol. 10(2) Summer 2014 IFIP 9.4 Special Issue, Into the Future: Themes, Insights, and Agendas for Information and Communication Technologies for Development

This Special Issue of ITID contains a selection of articles from the IFIP 9.4 2013 12th International Conference on the Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries, held in Jamaica May 19–22, 2013. This biennial conference took place in collaboration with the University of the West Indies at Mona and ICT4D Jamaica. IFIP 9.4 is a working group within the ICT and Society Technical Committee and is entitled Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries.

The conference attracts researchers from a wide range of methodological approaches. While most contributions were qualitative there were a number of quantitative contributions. The range of perspectives was also notable, from computer science to anthropology and from theory to policy and practice. In relation to the conference theme, an agenda for future research and practice, cumulatively, papers considered a number of crucial future challenges for the area, gaps that have not been addressed sufficiently, new technological possibilities, better understandings of institutional dimensions, methodological developments and the need for further rich ethnographic studies. The next conference is in Sri Lanka in 2015.

The papers submitted to this Special Issue were initially selected by the track chairs and then considered by the Special Issue Editors. These decisions were based on both the reviews of the conference papers and also the interest they generated at the conference. We wanted to allow this special issue to reflect the diversity of the conference, and the interesting tracks that were represented. Once we had shortlisted the papers they were then sent out for several rounds of reviews. Unfortunately, not all the shortlisted papers survived the reviewing rounds. For those that have, this has resulted in significantly different and enhanced papers to those that are included in the conference proceedings. We outline each below.

This Special Issue comprises four articles that adopt very different positions. Two are explicitly theoretical position papers, and offer important insights into how we might think about future ICT4D Research. One paper offers the scaffold of practice theory and sets up a provocative argument about the paucity of theoretical reflection in this domain. The second paper argues that we need to consider the role of active mediators in the development network, far removed from the specific development setting, that are actively shaping the agenda and the possibilities for work in this domain. The two other articles are case study–based and report on primary empirical data. One case study focuses on Malawi and the other on Jamaica. Both case study papers offer important insights into how information and communication technologies are put in place in specific development settings and used in ways that are unanticipated both positively and negatively. They also represent two different sectors, one healthcare and the other education. Cumulatively, the four papers represent many of the concerns that the IFIP 9.4 group attends to and issues that require further development.

Framing ICT4D Research Using Activity Theory: A Match Between the ICT4D Field and Theory?

The article by Stan Karanasios argues that, thus far, the ICT4D field has a paucity of theoretically informed accounts. Indeed, the role of theory in ICT4D research was one of the key discussion points at the IFIP 9.4 conference. His article can be viewed as a position paper, and we envisage that future studies will draw on it when thinking about ICT4D’s theoretical foundations. Karanasios presents activity theory as one approach that may help to address this omission. His article usefully outlines some of the key theoretical constructs developed by activity theorists and argues that ICT4D should be viewed as a practice. His article then provides an account of how activity theory may inform future ICT4D studies. He concludes by setting out a research agenda for activity theory and ICT4D and posits five activity theoretic contributions that can be drawn on to frame future ICT4D studies.

Consultants as Intermediaries and Mediators in the Construction of Information and Communication Technologies for Development

The article by Niall Hayes and Chris Westrup discusses the role of consultants in ICT4D, focusing on consultants’ roles as intermediary and mediator. The authors do this by drawing on some theoretical concepts from science and technology studies. Linking to the conference theme and looking at insights for the future, the authors discuss possible agendas that international consulting firms may have for development and the role of objectivity in these consultancies. The article presents insightful and interesting arguments on the positioning of consultants in the development sphere and implications for future discussions in this area.

Paying Per Diems for ICT4D Project Participation: A Sustainability Challenge

The article by Terje Sanner and Johan Sæbø picks up the important theme of the possibilities for long-term sustainability of ICT4D project interventions. This is a topic that has had considerable debate in the literature to date and one that is of great importance for our domain. Their article reports on primary empirical data collected in Malawi. The data offers a rich account of why different actors participate in a mobile health project, their priorities, and what they would like to participate in. They develop an analysis of how to encourage participation in ICT4D development projects. Central to this is the issue of per diem payments. Sanner and Sæbø highlight the contradictory role that they have played in this debate. On one hand, they offer the prospect of attracting local participation to ICT4D projects, while on the other hand, they highlight how they have also undermined long-term capacity building and sustainability. Sanner and Sæbø draw specifically on institutional theory and institutional logics to develop their analysis and argue that while some institutional logics may appear contradictory, in fact, they require each other. As well as some useful reflections on institutional theory, they offer some normative insights pertaining to sustainability and incentivization.

Aboard Abroad: Supporting Transnational Parent–School Communication in Migration-Separated Families

The article by Deana Brown and Rebecca Grinter presents relevant and interesting research related to the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to support interaction and to connect children of migrant parents and their home school–parental support networks. Through empirical data collected in Jamaica, supported by earlier interviews with migrant parents, the authors examine the modes of existing interaction between migrant parents and teachers, and propose supporting ICT mechanisms for enhancing the ongoing involvement of parents living abroad with their children’s schools and caregivers. The proposed network would provide flexibility, transparency, security, and mobility in facilitating these interactions to support educational outcomes.

This issue also includes a review by Tim Unwin of the book Evaluating Communication for Development: A Framework for Social Change, authored by June Lennie and Jo Tacchi. The book review provides insights on the need for evaluation in development interventions, and highlights key components of the authors’ framework. Synergies with areas discussed in the special issue are apparent as evaluation of ICT4D initiatives continues to be critical in informing ongoing and future interventions that are designed to address complex development challenges.

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