Contribution of Social Research in
I Jornadas Internacionales sobre Investigación en TIC para el
Universidad Rey Juan Carlos
13-14 May 2010
Centre for Development Informatics and Manchester
Business School, University of Manchester.
• Increased interest in ICT4D
• Themes arising from social research in ICT4D
• Perspectives on social research in ICT4D
• Methods arising from social research in ICT4D
• Concluding Comments
Optimism as to the scope of ICT4D
• ‘explosion of mobile phone use in the developing world – the ending of
• new social network technologies – social/political mobilization and
• penetration of open and collaborative content development and delivery
• focus on the largest but poorest socio-economic group (the "Bottom of the
Pyramid") and the new business and non-profit models that target and serve
• increasing pressure and need for collective global action on climate change;
• realization from crisis and recession that poverty strikes everywhere, and the
economic management and risk mitigation capabilities of most countries
need serious strengthening.’
• Source: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/events/2009/09/idrc
One view of ICT4D and the types
• ‘People who both understand grassroots development needs and are proficient in
ICT. A very small percentage of online writers fall in this category. These people have
the skills to develop tools/ techniques, speak the language of ICT4D, and are able to
get exposure for their projects.
• Academics who are interested in the field. They are able to develop concepts in
ICT4D, and mostly run small research projects to prove/ disprove their hypotheses,
build concepts, and make predictions. There is a lot of energy here - perhaps why we
saw so many research papers in our web searches. These people explore and predict
trends, but are not often in contact with grassroots folks, and rarely implement
• Everyone else either comes from the ICT community, and open to designing tools for
development/ social projects, or people working in the development sector who need
ICT solutions but have relatively low/ no knowledge of ICT. These two sets of people
do not usually speak the same language.’
• Source: Global Voices Website, (2010) http://globalvoicesonline.org/2010/02/04/who-writes-about-ict4d-
A division between development
expertise and developers?
• ’ … many development experts seem hesitant to learn technical skills and
languages. They may want a ICT solutions, but there are numerous obstacles
to engagement, including expertise, time, resources, and organizational
culture. Hence ICT experts sense that development practitioners are rarely
clear about helpful solutions.
• Likewise, ICT tool developers may not involve development communities in
the need analysis/ development phase, producing many solutions that are
top-down, and without user support.’
Source: Global Voices (2010) http://globalvoicesonline.org/2010/02/04/who-
The trend is perhaps the most important point not the
specific figures (Source Heeks 2010)
ICT4D has an increasing number of
specialist journals (source Heeks 2010)
• In short, increasing the scope of technologies to
include the social implies that we have to
understand how the social is integrated into
ICT4D – the contribution of social research to
Rethinking the Social …
"We are building toward a web where the default
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook April 2010.
Source BBC 2010: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8590306.stm
What is the social and the
(Source Google Images search 2010)
What does existing research tell us?
Certain issues attract research interest:
– Understanding the link between ICTs and
– ‘[s]ocial influences are crucially important to the
trajectory of any technology-based project.’
(Walsham et al. 2007 p322)
• ICT Facilitated Collaboration
– How to collaborate across cultures and how to
ensure that a mutual and beneficial influence
between social and IS processes.
• Local Adaptation
– Stresses the need for attentiveness to the specifics
of local cultures.
– designers and sponsors of technological applications
often have ‘an overly simple expectations regarding
the role of ICTs in development objectives.’ (ibid p.
• Focusing on the plight of marginalised groups.
• Technologies are seen as only one aspect of a
complex set of issues and solutions.
• We might say that this way of looking at social
research takes a God’s eye view of the field
Largely ignoring the
processes of research
Photos (Google Images 2010)
Research as framing social
contributions – what we find and
how we can intervene
• A different approach is to look at different
frameworks or discourses of ICT4D research.
Chrisanthi Avgerou (2008) suggests there are
Transfer and Diffusion Discourse
• ‘mainly concerned with catching up with the
technologically advanced rich economies
through transferring their technologies and
emulating their institutions’. (ibid 135)
ICT as the product of socially
‘a locally constituted process of technology
construction and organisational change. Its
purpose arises from local problematisations and
its course is determined by the way local actors
makes sense of it and accommodate it to their
lives.’ Avgerou 2008:135
• A ‘micro’ perspective
A Transformative discourse
• IS innovation is a product of and produces
change in the social, political and economic
conditions of developing countries.
• A ‘macro’ perspective
• This second way of
classifying IS research shows
how the social contribution
to ICT4D is framed by
• How these perspectives are
created is not addressed and
this is why another view of
social contribution to ICT4D
focuses on the processes of
development practice – on
how ICT4D takes place.
• (Photos Google Images 2010)
1. Should take both ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ together and focus on how both
come together in the processes of development.
2. Technologies are designed with contexts of use in mind – design seeks to
include how the technologies will work. Technologies have plans of the
social built into them.
3. These technologies are appropriated and used in sometimes unexpected
ways. Implementation can be highly innovative.
4. ICT4D engages in a redistribution of resources and development can be
understood as interacting processes of dependence and independence.
• Research on social and ICT4D is increasing and
mirroring a general increase in interest in ICT4D
• How we understand the social is important in assessing
– Is it a set of issues?
– A series of perspectives?
– Issues and perspectives which arise from the processes of
Implications of understanding the social as
arising and shaping the processes of ICT4D
• Social and technical are closely interlinked
• Technologies include views of the social.
• Social reshapes technologies in use.
• Technologies are not neutral and attention needed on
the ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ processes of ICT4D
• ICT4D is always innovative and engaged in the
(re)distribution of resources.