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Reflections on the “10 Myths of ICT for Development”. Kentaro Toyama Visiting Researcher University of California, Berkeley University of Washington – Change Seattle – October 20, 2011.

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Presentation Transcript
slide1

Reflections on

the “10 Myths of ICT for Development”

Kentaro Toyama

Visiting Researcher

University of California, Berkeley

University of Washington – Change

Seattle – October 20, 2011

slide3

“Technology can be a major force to advance financial inclusion, which can help improve the lives of the poor in the developing world.”

– Bill Gates

Photo: Safaricom; Source: http://www.thegatesnotes.com/Topics/Development/Mobile-Phones-and-Savings-A-Powerful-Pair

slide4

“Facebook-armed youth of Tunisia and Egypt rise to demonstrate the liberating power of social media.”

– Roger Cohen [New York Times]

Photo: KhalilHamra, Associated Press, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/09/world/middleeast/09egypt.html

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/opinion/28iht-edcohen28.html

slide5

“We want to be connected to one another, a desire that… our use of social media actually engages.”

– Clay Shirky

Photo: http://jobsblog.com/blog/wumpus-outreach-project;

Source: Shirky, Clay. 2010. Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.

slide6

“Technology can be a major force to advance financial inclusion, which can help improve the lives of the poor in the developing world.”

– Bill Gates

“Facebook-armed youth of Tunisia and Egypt rise to demonstrate the liberating power of social media.”

– Roger Cohen [New York Times]

“We want to be connected to one another, a desire that… our use of social media actually engages”

– Clay Shirky

Sources: New York Times, 2011; Bill Gates, 2011; Clay Shirky, 2008.

a theory and 10 myths
A Theory and 10+ Myths

Theory: Technology (only) magnifies human intent and capacity.

range of responses
Range of Responses

Theory: Technology (only) magnifies human intent and capacity.

“[The blog is a] breath of fresh air among all the bland, boring, conveyor-assembled writing about the subject.”

“Redoubled efforts to create technology that will be of special value to the least advantaged might help to offset technology’s tendency to heighten inequality. ”

“[Everything] that Kentaro said was true, but thatthe talk still left me completely deflated and uninspired.”

“The way Kentaro [presents] it, we should conclude that nobody can do anything.”

  • Sources: Ekaterina Mitiaev; Archon Fung; Tapan Parikh; kansal123. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_mTwm5m8DM;
does the theory work
Does the theory work?

Theory: Technology (only) magnifies human intent and capacity.

Falsifiability

  • E.g., counterexample if ICT has positive impact without positive intent or capacity

Causal explanations

  • E.g., ICTs can have either positive or negative impacts, depending on the situation
  • E.g., projects tend to work if there’s a committed partner

Predictions

  • E.g., ICTs alone will never turn around an underperforming school system.

Corollaries

  • Directionality of impact determined by people.
  • Positive impact can be had by people alone, but not by technology alone.
  • Complete solutions involve human components.
  • Technology scales impact, only if the right substrate of human intent and capacity is present.
  • Without that substrate, scaling technology impact requires scaling intent and capacity.
does the theory work1
Does the theory work?

Theory: Technology (only) magnifies human intent and capacity.

Falsifiability

  • E.g., counterexample if ICT has positive impact without positive intent or capacity

Causal explanations

  • E.g., ICTs can have either positive or negative impacts, depending on the situation
  • E.g., projects tend to work if there’s a committed partner

Predictions

  • E.g., ICTs alone will never turn around an underperforming school system.

Corollaries

  • Directionality of impact determined by people.
  • Positive impact can be had by people alone, but not by technology alone.
  • Complete solutions involve human components.
  • Technology scales impact, only if the right substrate of human intent and capacity is present.
  • Without that substrate, scaling technology impact requires scaling intent and capacity.
the gadget is the technology

Marx, Leo. "Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept". Social Research, Vol 64. N. 3, Fall 1997.

Misconception

The gadget is the technology.

Exemplar: Nicholas Negroponte

Counter: Socio-technical theory

E.g., “By consigning technologies to the realm of things, this well-established iconography distracts attention from the human—socioeconomic and political—relations which largely determine who uses them and for what purposes.” (Leo Marx 1997)

Fix: Always think of technology as a socio-technological system.

  • Reference: Marx, Leo. "Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept". Social Research, Vol 64. N. 3, Fall 1997.
the free market can solve all problems

Misconception

The free market can solve all problems.

Exemplar: C. K. Prahalad

Counter: Progressivism

E.g., “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.” (Adam Smith 1776)

Fix: Keep attention on progressive efforts.

People benefit more as producers than as consumers.

Social

Welfare

Public/non-profit

services

distribute

means to

wealth

attention

to justice

Growth

Corporations /

taxation

focus

wealth

attention to

efficiency

  • Reference: Smith, Adam. 1776. The Wealth of Nations. Book V, Chapter 2, Part 2.
the free market can solve all problems1

Misconception

The free market can solve all problems.

Exemplar: C. K. Prahalad

Counter: Progressivism

E.g., “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.” (Adam Smith 1776)

Fix: Keep attention on progressive efforts.

People benefit more as producers than as consumers.

Growth

Corporations /

taxation

focus

wealth

attention to

efficiency

Social

Welfare

Public/non-profit

services

distribute

means to

wealth

attention

to justice

  • Reference: Smith, Adam. 1776. The Wealth of Nations. Book V, Chapter 2, Part 2.
the free market can solve all problems2

Misconception

The free market can solve all problems.

Exemplar: C. K. Prahalad

Counter: Progressivism

E.g., “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.” (Adam Smith 1776)

Fix: Keep attention on progressive efforts.

People benefit more as producers than as consumers.

Social

Welfare

Public/non-profit

services

distribute

means to

wealth

attention

to justice

Growth

Corporations /

taxation

focus

wealth

attention to

efficiency

  • Reference: Smith, Adam. 1776. The Wealth of Nations. Book V, Chapter 2, Part 2.
what works in the developed world works in the developing world

Misconception

What works in the developed world works in the developing world.

Exemplar: John Williamson (“Washington Consensus”)

Counters: Path dependency; contextual design

Fix: Understand problem first; develop solution second. (Note, technology may not be part of the optimal solution.)

Photo: Vishwa Kiran

technological progress will save the poor

Misconception

Technological progress will save the poor.

Exemplar: Eric Brewer

Counter: Science and technology studies

E.g., “The very successes of technology often produce perverse outcomes, in the form of unpredicted threats to life, health, nature and social cohesion.” (Jasanoff 2002)

Fix: Accept that poverty is primarily a social phenomenon.

Progressive efforts are worthwhile (even with technology).

  • Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Wikipedia;
  • Jasanoff, Sheila. "New Modernities: Reimagining Science, Technology, and Development". Environmental Values. Vol. 11, No. 3 (2002), pp. 253-276.
external change is what matters

Misconception

External change is what matters.

Exemplar: Megan Smith (Google.org)

Counter: Human development

E.g., “The first and overarching Big Problem is to make the Good Person… The equally Big Problem… is to make the Good Society.” (Maslow 1971)

Fix: Focus more on mentoring, less on providing for.

recommendations
Recommendations

If insisting on technology use…

  • Identify trends and institutions already having positive impact and apply technology to amplify them.
  • Get immersed in on-the-ground development, not just technology hacking.
  • Stay focused on development goals; remain detached from technology success.
  • Maintain focus on progressive application of technology.
  • Consider teaching and mentoring, over production of technology.

If not insisting on technology use…

  • Lavish efforts on individual and institutional capacity.
  • Maintain focus on progressive activity.
  • Let technology take care of itself.
  • Stay focused on development goals.
  • Don’t be distracted by development fads (including technology-based ones).
technologies that might invalidate the theory
Technologies that might invalidate the theory:

I know

kung fu!

…then again, maybe not!

slide26

Jean-Marc Côté, education in the year 2000 (1899).

Thanks!

kentaro_toyama@hotmail.comhttp://www.kentarotoyama.org

Image: Buckingham, David. "Beyond Technology: Children's Learning in the Age of Digital Culture. 2007 Polity Press.