1: (Original question)
What are we doing to address the digital divide?
1: (Reformulated question)
Do we still need to address the digital divide? Why and how?
Putting a telecenter in each village will not solve all the development challenges faced by that village. Putting cell phones in each village will not solve all the development challenges faced by that village either. Yet, lack of access to information technology, whether cell phones alone or a broader range of ICT, is very likely to prevent the village and its community members from taking advantage of some opportunities to address the challenges they are facing.
A few years ago, the digital divide was a central theme of development agencies and great progress has been made in the dissemination of information technology (particularly cell phones) and the telecommunication infrastructure that supports it. There is more to be done. Continued progress depends on the work of policy makers who are responsible for ensuring that regulatory and policy issues are addressed and that the proper environment is in place for the public sector and private sector to play their respective roles in ensuring the deployment of the infrastructure.
2: (Original question)
Should we focus on cell phones or telecenters?
2: (Reformulated questions)
What are the benefits and constraints associated with specific ICTs and which ICT or combination of ICTs should be used to help address specific development challenges?
Will technology convergence make the cell phones vs. telecenter debate irrelevant?
It is worth repeating that putting a few computers connected to the Internet in each village will not necessarily do much to help the community to address its development challenges. Cell phones seem to be disseminating at a much faster rate than computers and the Internet, yet cell phones dont allow people to do as much as computers or other ICTs. The question is not so much, which ICT should be promoted to address the digital divide, but rather which ICT is most effective at addressing what. Assuming that the starting point is a challenge to be addressed rather than a technology, then the questions become: Which ICT would be most effective to address this particular challenge?
dot-ORG has worked with a range of technologies, helping deploy cell phones in Uganda, working with partners to develop innovative applications of handheld computers (Personal Digital Assistants PDAs) in health and for voter registration support. In addition, dot-ORG has worked to emphasize linkages between new technologies such as the Internet, and older technologies such as radio. The CLIC project in Mali, for example, offers many opportunities to demonstrate linkages between radio, computers and the Internet.
Likewise, dot-EDU has been working with a range of technologies in the context of applications in education and learning. See for example the article in this issue describing a project in Myanmar making use of digital cameras and video CDs.
The key point is that there is a wide range of technologies that can help to address development challenges and their deployment is meant not just to address the digital divide but more importantly to help address major development challenges across sectors.
At the same time, rapid technology convergence means that new technologies are likely to make it possible for increasingly sophisticated handheld devices to do a lot more than what the average cell phone can do. The distinction between what can be done with a handheld device and what can be done in a telecenter may very well disappear in the near future. Yet it is the regulatory and policy environment that will determine the extent to which emerging technologies can be disseminated rapidly in developing countries and the regulatory frameworks put in place should support the deployment of all types of information technologies rather than focus on any individual technology.
dot-GOV continues to work very actively with decision-makers around the world to establish the most effective regulatory and policy frameworks. As technologies continue to evolve rapidly, and to converge, the regulatory and policy frameworks must also evolve and adapt rapidly. In other words, there is a lot more work to be done to support developing countries in establishing the proper regulatory and policy environment. Part of that work involves awareness raising and establishing a common understanding of what are sometimes very complex issues. dot-GOV has developed a number of fact sheets that are already proving very helpful in disseminating basic, essential knowledge about issues such as
and more. For more details, look for these fact sheets in the DOT-COM digital library.
In some cases, dot-ORG also works to supplement the existing infrastructure, as in the case of Mali, where thirteen Community Learning and Information Centers (CLICs) were equipped with VSAT connectivity earlier this year.
3: (Original question)
What is the real impact of ICT interventions?
3: (Reformulated questions)
Do we know what the impact of ICT interventions is?
What methodologies already exist to help us assess the impact of our interventions?
How can we improve upon what already exists to answer that we get some clearer answers regarding the impact of ICT interventions?
To argue that all these technologies CAN help address development challenges is one thing. To document that it is indeed happening is another. The ICT for Development (ICT4D) community still needs to do a lot of work to improve the methodologies used to measure the impact of ICT initiatives:
- Plethora of pilot projects varying degrees of attention paid to M&E and to extracting lessons
- Challenge of synthesis - inadequate attention given to synthesizing M&E results across programs and projects
- Difficulty in applying lessons to new projects How much have we really learned?
- Difficulty of measuring impact at best, we are able to document results and extrapolate potential longer term impact.
- Difficulty in measuring return on investment we often dont know how our ICT activities measure up against other types of investments in education, health and other key development sectors.
We hope you will enjoy the articles in this 10th issue of the DOT-COMments newsletter and we would like to encourage you to use the new functionality on the site that allows you to send us your feedback on individual articles. (See the box located in the top left corner of each article allowing you to 1) access a print-friendly version of the article; 2) send a link to the article via email; 3) send us feedback regarding the article.)
The next issue of the newsletter will focus on gender issues within DOT-COM projects.
|Core funding for the DOT-COM Alliance is provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade, Office of Infrastructure and Engineering (EGAT/OI&E), Office of Education (EGAT/ED), and Office of Women in Development (EGAT/WID), under the terms of Award numbers: GDG-A-00-01-00009-00, dot-GOV; GDG-A-00-01-00014-00, dot-ORG; GDG-A-00-01-00011-00, dot-EDU.
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The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Agency for International Development or the United States Government.
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