Who gets to label the problems?

Richard Heeks in his seminal paper emphasizes the evolution of ICTD and the major differences between ICT4D 1.0 and 2.0. ICT4D stands for information and communication technologies for international development.

In differentiating both versions, the former, ICT4D 1.0, focused on providing solutions that ICTD researchers felt were sufficient for the people — simply ‘copy’ and ‘paste’ solutions from parts of the world where it worked and it’ll certainly work in your target population, while the latter concentrated on involving the people for whom the technological intervention is designed. In retrospect, individuals who pushed 1.0 should not be heavily criticized for they had to start from somewhere, and they laid the foundation for 2.0 researchers to step back and objectively observe their actions. This back and forth is what indeed helps formulate and develop new research agenda. However, there are still a few salient factors that are yet to be addressed in both ICTD versions.

Who gets to choose what ICTD problems should be solved? In fact, who gets to label diverse phenomena as ICTD-worthy issues? Is it the government or the media, top researchers, big corporations or rising entrepreneurs? History has showed on many occasions that humans are cognitively biased and ultimately driven by selfish measures — it is arguable that altruism truly exists in any human interventions. But without delving into philosophical arguments on terminologies, we, as ICTD researchers, need to step further back to the why. It is imperative that we observe the lens with which world phenomena are viewed as ICTD problems because any interventions made will leave an indelible mark on the target communities, good or bad. If anyone can label any circumstance as a problem that needs to be solved and jump into communities to run experiments or build technologies, then who holds the innovator responsible for effects meted on the lives of inhabitants of the communities?


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