Prelude to ICTD2009 Conference - Defining the Discipline

A group of researchers and I are planning a project on the use of mobile communication technology in several developing countries - my site being Tamil Nadu, India, where I used to do ethnography for my PhD dissertation.

Our project could be defined as belonging to the field of ICTD or Information and Communication Technologies and Development. As one might guess, it is a broad field concerning developing countries and the use of new technologies in them. To get to know more about the field, I will be attending ICTD2009 next week in Doha, Qatar.

There's another abbreviation, ICT4D, that has more or less the same kind of meaning than ICTD but perhaps with a slightly different orientation. In his blog post ICT4D, ICTD, or what? Chris Coward discusses the definition of the discipline.

Chris says ICT4D usually connotes "the application of (primarily digital) ICT to interventions that have an explicit developmental goal such as health, education, government transparency" etc. and it has a tendency to ignore conventional development goals or research about all kinds of non-developmental uses of ICT in the developing world context.

For example, according to Chris his colleague's paper about depictions of computers in Indian cinema proposed for ICTD2009 was critiqued for not fitting in the discipline. To Chris this is regrettable as,

"it is incredibly relevant to understand how the computer has become a symbol of aspiration within a society, how that symbol has changed over time, is the computer used for good or ill, what effect this has on people’s views of technology’s promise or pitfalls, and so on."
Chris goes on to compare ICT4D with ICTD which has a broader scope not excluding more research on how ICT is used in developing countries. ICTD doesn't necessarily have to have a developmental goal.

In defining the discipline that focuses on ICT in developing countries there is also the problem of defining "development" and, as Chris says, the need to discuss the meaning of lumping "countries into developing or developed buckets". Also, there's the big question of whether ICTD is a field at all, and if so, what should it be eventually called. Chris says he will take these issues up in an ICTD Curriculum Workshop at Doha. I'm sure there will be at least one interesting discussion at ICTD2009!

Pic sources: Indian monk with cell phone from W3C; ICTD2009 logo from the conference website; book cover of ICT4D: Information and Communication Technology for Development from Cambridge catalogue.

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