Tipping points and thresholds are the triggers that signal critical changes. Identifying tipping points and critical thresholds that can serve as short and medium term targets within a longer-term project can help to ensure rapid results and long-term success.
The main challenge with ICT projects and perhaps with other development projects as well is that we do not know enough about these tipping points and thresholds. On top of this knowledge gap is a constant pressure to accomplish a lot in very little time.
Why are tipping points important?
Tipping points and thresholds are more than benchmarks leading to a final goal. They represent critical events. Knowing more about tipping points would allow us to set establish more realistic timeframes and targets for ICT projects. In addition, a better understanding of tipping points would allow us to design projects around anticipated tipping points.
Keeping it Real
In The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, author Malcolm Gladwell argues that the tipping point is a major moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfires. In the context of ICT projects, we are not looking to start wildfires but rather to sow seeds of technology. We are sowing the seeds of technology. In many cases, we are experimenting with new, improved seeds, and as with any experiment, we have to learn what the proper mix of nutritional supplement is required to ensure maximum growth.
With the proper mix of ingredients (project inputs) and support (project management), a seed can germinate, grow, take root and soon enough the tree that has grown no longer needs support and can replicate itself.
Network Effects, Critical Mass, Take-off
Metcalfe's Law suggests that the value of a network grows as the square of the number of users. This is referred to as a network effect or network externality. A couple of related concepts are critical mass, which suggests that something will happen once a threshold is reached critical mass is reached and take-off, which suggests that the rate of growth or increase will increase rapidly beyond a certain take-off point.
Many new technologies benefit from network effects. In other words, their value increases as the number of users increases. Unless the technology crosses a certain threshold of users, it never takes off and may die. On the other hand, adoption rates speed up as more and more people start using the technology. That period or number of users where this transition happens is the tipping point.
increasing take-up is a priority. The potential benefits of eGovernment improved service, greater efficiency and potential cost savings will not be realized if usage of the services is low. Governments are finding themselves confronted with the challenge of low usage and the need for innovative methods of driving take-up. There is a push to break through take-up thresholds; once a certain critical amount of business is transacted online, rapid take-up is possible and real benefits then accrue.
Accenture (2003). eGovernment Leadership: Engaging the Customer.
What are the implications for project design, implementation, and evaluation?
1a. Heat the water
- Looking back at completed projects, is it possible to identify tipping points, moments in time that mark significant change? What can we learn from these?
- Would knowing more about tipping points help us target investments in a more cost-effective manner?
- Our recipes for successful projects must become more specific.
1b. Heat the water for twenty minutes
1c. Heat the water to a boil
2a. Provide training to users
2b. Provide training to 500 users within six months
2c. Provide training until X percent of users are ICT literate
In the last statement, Provide training until X percent of users are ICT literate, a number of corollaries are necessary: 1) the percentage is the tipping point or threshold that we are looking for; 2) what constitutes ICT literate needs to be defined.
From an ICT perspective
From an ICT in education perspective
. Is it possible that
- What is the level of effort (in terms of project inputs) that is required to reach the levels of impacts that we are targeting?
- Are there thresholds (a minimum level of purchasing power for example) below which ICT will have very limited impacts?
- What types of public access solutions and what types of ICT-related services are most suitable under or over certain thresholds of power access, purchasing power, etc?
...below X hours of computer access per week for each student, very little impact can be expected.
... no impacts can be expected until students advance beyond basic computer skills.
... no impacts on teaching and learning can be expected until 70 percent or more of the teachers have received formal training to integrated ICT into teaching and learning.
How will we know?
The answer is simple. We will not know until we learn to better measure the impacts of our interventions. That, on the other hand, is nothing but simple!
Suggested Readings / Resources
- What can we learn from learning curves? How can learning curves help us adjust our expectations and develop better projects?
- What can we learn from innovation diffusion theory in terms of how and why individuals adopt new technologies?
Torero, M., & Von Braun, J. (eds.) (2006). Information and Communication Technologies for Development and Poverty Reduction: The Potential of Telecommunications, IFPRI.
Gladwell, M. (2000).The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
|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.
|© 2002 dot-com-alliance. All rights reserved.
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.
|DOT-COM Secretariat Administration Page