Evolution of ICT for Development

Using Richard Heeks (2009) classification, three phases of ICT4D can be distinguished: ICT4D 0.0, ICT4D 1.0 and ICT4D 2.0 .

In 1955, information technology for development started in Kolkata with a computer which was used for calculations for the government (Heeks 2009). In phase 0.0, most project initiators were governments. Information technology was used to facilitate administrative tasks inside governments. After 1980, information technology (IT) usage for development was broaden to improve economic growth.

ICT4D 1.0

Between 1990 and 2000 a change happened to ICT4D. One main influence was the invention of the internet. The other were the declaration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 by the United Nations.

The MDGs

The Millennium Declaration is the main document of the millennium summit of the United Nations in September 2000.

The declaration ‘contained a statement of values, principles and objectives for the international agenda for the twenty-first century’ (United Nations 2000).

The MDGs are time-bound targets aggregated from the objects of the Millennium Declaration with the addressing of extreme poverty. The goals should be achieved by 2015.

The MDGs are:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

  2. achieve universal primary education

  3. promote gender equality and empower women

  4. reduce child mortality

  5. improve maternal health

  6. combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

  7. ensure environmental sustainability

  8. global partnership for development

ICT4D 1.0 projects

A lot of ICT4D 1.0 projects were initiated after the declaration of the MDGs. Their main characteristics were:

...actors: international development organizations and NGO‘s (non-governmental organizations)

...their model: supplying access to information using PCs with connection to the Internet.

Most of these projects belonged to one of the following categories:

  • Telecentre

...is a room or building in a rural area with one or more PCs which are connected to the Internet.

Telecentre in Peru
Telecentre by Roberto Bustamante at Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/elmorsa/4269058735/sizes/m/in/photostream/Telecentre in Peru

  • Networks and partnerships

...with the aim to improve health care or facilitate information exchange between institutions.

  • E-commerce

...projects are used to enable people selling products online.

  • E-services

..are projects that enable people access to market information (e.g. product prizes, weather forecasts).

  • Education

...included projects where educational content is created and distributed via e.g. radio channels.

Most of these projects were small and aimed at local communities. The next two paragraphs present examples of two different types of large scale ICT4D projects.


The One Laptop Per Child OLPC initiative is a project with the aim to build and sell affordable educational technology to developing countries (Wikipedia 2013b). This is a large scale developing project - for further information read here.

Watch Nicholas Negropontes TED-talk about the vision behind the OLPC project in February 2006.

Nicholas Negroponte: The vision behind One Laptop Per Child

Tabb (2008) presents an interesting analysis of the One Laptop per Child project. She says that orders for OLPC laptops are still lower than expected. ‘By the end of the year 2007, the only countries that had placed actual orders for the laptops were in Latin America.’ (Tabb 2008)
If you are interested in the project then I would suggest to you here article for further reading.

The OLPC initiative was criticized in several ways. One main critique applies to the gap between expectations of the initiators and the real local situation. John Naughton (2005 cited in Selwyn 2011a) argues:

[The OLPC initiative] is thus rather grandly contemptuous of mundane questions such as wether there is any evidence that giving kids computers is educationally better than giving them books, hiring more teachers or building more schools - or even paying families to send their kids to school. For Papert - and his MIT colleagues - technology seems to be the answer, no matter what the question. (Naughton 2005 cited in Selwyn 2011a)

What do you think? Should the question be asked: what is more important - technology or books, teacher or computer? This will probably end in a prolonged discussion with many more questions and less answers.

After all, technology has its merits. It enables active, self-controlled and therefore more learner-centered learning (Selwyn 2011b). Learning with technology bears chances for the future life of children from developing countries. As long as they get a thorough education in a classroom together with their peers and with a teacher as a guide and facilitator.  

The Hole-in-the-Wall

The Hole-in-the-Wall is an initiative which started with the aim to deliver educational content with a computer to very poor children. For further information about this project visit the Hole-in-the-Wall website. 

Watch Sugata Mitra’s TED-talk about his experiments in self-teaching.

Sugata Mitra's new experiments in self-teaching

This project focus more on how children learn and how technology supports this learning than on providing access to technology on a large scale. For more information about Sugata Mitra's approach to self-organised learning watch his Tedtalk about how to build a school in the cloud which can be found in the resources part of this OER.  

Why ICT4D projects fail

A great problem for ICT4D is that many projects are failing or are not sustainable (Brunello 2010, Heeks 2009, Selwyn 2011a, Toyama 2010). Successful projects are often small and localized. 

However, impact measurement of ICT for development is a difficult task (Kleine 2010). Focusing on economic growth alone might not be adequate in most cases. Brunello (2010) states that most initiatives put ‘the focus ... on compensating the deficiencies instead of cultivating individuals’ talents.’

Why are ICT4D projects often not sustainable? What do you think?

Watch the video by Clint Rogers about 7 reasons why most ICT4D projects fail. It includes interesting interviews with persons of the field.

Top 7 Reasons Why Most ICT4D FAILS - Dr Clint Rogers 2010

These are the 7 reasons from the movie why most ICT4D initiatives fail:

#1. Idea/Result Not Directly Tied to Improving Economic Condition of End User

#2. Not Relevant to Local Contexts/Strengths/Needs

#3. NOT Understand Infrastructure Capability

#4. Underestimate Maintenance Costs & Issues

#5. Projects Supported Only by Short-term Grants

#6. NOT Looking at Whole System

#7. Project built on Condescending Assumptions 

There are more reasons why ICT4D initiatives were not sustainable:

Many ICT4D projects use a so called top-down approach. This approach is explained by the following example:

Hildyard et al (2001) provide an example of a participatory project in south India, where village women were given World Bank loans to buy a dairy cow on the condition that the women attended a dairy management course. However 90% of the women did not use the money for cows. When questioned by the staff, the women showed a relative or friend’s cow to prove they had bought one. In answer to the World Bank’s questions, the women answered “you did not ask us if we wanted dairy animals” or “I would rather have a loan to start a tea business” (CIIR, 1995 cited in Hildyard et al, 2001). (Bailur 2007)

Most projects are addressing proposed people’s needs which don’t necessarily correspond to people’s real needs and wants. This is made clearer by the following example from the ICT4D project “Our Voices” (an initiative where local people created content and broadcasted this content using community radio) :

The thing is, the [local language] channels, which are based out of [the state capital], they’re all entertainment based, and they’re all copying the STAR network, basically copying the same pattern, started off with soap operas, religious kind of episodic programmes, long drawn out like villagers like, sensational crime reporting, news, but not really locally relevant, but entertaining all the same. And they play a lot of movies, so what happens on the field is, the guys, it’s largely an agrarian community, the farmer, comes back from the field at 7pm when it’s dark, switches on the TV, sees a movie’s just starting, obviously just wants to relax and see the movie. At the same time, we might be giving a programme about an agricultural scheme, which the government might have for him, which might significantly increase his yield, but he’s not interested in listening to it, because it’s boring. You know, he wants to watch the movie. That’s the competition we’ve got, the challenge we have to overcome. [Interview with Ramesh, August 2006]. (Bailur 2007)

First few months, took a lot of energy and effort co-ordinating the project. These guys, you have to keep telling them that programming should be in a certain direction. Because it’s really development, development, development. We can either approach community radio as what the community wants. If you make it that way, it will be music only. But at [the donor agency] we can’t justify all this equipment to play music all day. There has to be a development angle. So you kind of need to keep pushing programming in a certain direction [Interview with Ramesh in December 2004]. (Bailur 2007

A lot of projects focus on supplying technology (e.g. hard- and software), but are not considering the time and the resources it takes to learn how to manage this technology. Meaning that local people are not trained enough to keep the technology working or are not able to fix it.

Many projects are not contextual to the local situation. That is, technology might not be adequate to the given situation where e.g. the infrastructure is not fit enough to allow working with PCs.

Do you see any parallels to educational projects you attended or online resources you visited? Some aspects of unsustainable ICT4D projects are accounting on a broader field and should be kept in mind during project planning for ICT4D projects but also projects not belonging to this content.  

ICT4D 2.0

So where is ICT4D heading? What is the future of ICT4D? What is ICT4D 2.0?


M-development is the new term in the ICT4D field and seen as the key actor of ICT4D 2.0. It refers to mobile phone-based applications and development projects. Mobile phone subscriptions are “booming” in developing countries. In 2005, the mobile-cellular subscription per 100 people in developing countries were 22,9 rising to 89,4 in 2013 (ITU 2013).

A device that was a yuppie toy not so long ago has now become a potent force for economic development in the world's poorest countries. (The Economist 2008)

However, in very poor countries, countries with a low HDI, the mobile phone subscriptions are still on a low level. (You might want to have a look on a interesting chart at Gapminder World http://www.bit.ly/1cK2Cv9

Who are mobile phone users?

Firms adopted mobile-phone technology early. Individual mobile phone usage grew slower. Mobile phones are usually shared, meaning that ‘reported data on mobile phone subscriptions could significantly underestimate the number of mobile phone users.’ (Aker & Mbiti 2010).

Here are the key points that are seen as the positive influence of mobile phones to achieve a better life in developing countries:

  • improvement of communication among social networks
  • reduction of search costs
  • easier access to information and improvement of market efficiency
  • better coordination between buyers and sellers
  • facilitation of service delivery

Compared to Internet-based developmental projects mobile phone-based solutions...

..provide a higher accessibility and are easier to handle.

..are more robust.

..are cheaper.

..have a better infrastructure.

BUT mobile communication devices can also have negative side effects which are for instance:

People without mobile-phone do not benefit from all those positive influences. On the contrary, people without access to mobile communication might actually lose contact to buyers or customers and therefore their jobs.

Mobile networks tend to be less competitive, less generative, and less protective of privacy than the Internet. (Zuckerman 2010)

Mobile networks are centralized which means that they are better controllable than decentralized internet networks. They are less innovative than web-based solutions and less anonymous than the Internet.

What is the future of m-development?

A decentralized mobile phone network could be more competitive, generative, and useful for human rights activists—what would be truly revolutionary would be if it also paid for itself. (Zuckerman 2010)

Mesh networks as an example of decentralized networks are more useful for developing countries with a low rural infrastructure. Mesh networks might foster autonomy of small communities and competition between providers and therefore allowing lower costs. Additionally, they are providing a certain amount of anonymity.

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