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 Digital Opportunity through Technology & Communication Partnerships

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DOT-COM TAG Shares Thoughts on Future of ICT and Development
[Special Issue: Winter 02]

As part of the First Annual Technical Advisory Group (TAG) meeting, October 22nd, 2002, the eight TAG members each shared their thoughts about the future of ICT for development over the next five years. Summaries of their statements are listed below.

TAG members

Dr. Peter Cowhey
Elliot E. Maxwell
Dr. Michael Nelson
Steve Cisler
Clotilde Fonseca
Dr. Nancy Hafkin
Dr. Ernesto Laval
Dr. John Mayo

Steve Cisler: dot-ORG Click here to visit his biography
For those who care about gaps, the technology gap will grow. Many individuals and organizations in developed environments (and I don't mean just countries but down to the city level in developing countries) will operate on a hierarchy of wants, while the underserved world will operate on a hierarchy of more basic needs. ICT products will be sold as "lifestyle" choices.

The selections they make in developing countries will be quite different. The options available to the poor will be fewer, but there will be progress, more trained people, more sharing of knowledge. It just won't be at the same level as in Washington or London or Singapore. that... free developing countries from U.S. dominance in ICT...

There will be more emphasis on solutions that try to free developing countries from U.S. dominance in ICT, but these will still face major challenges in reaching critical mass. Microsoft will continue to make deals to inhibit the spread of Linux or other open source software. The Simputer, Volkscomputer, the $50 PDA from Sri Lanka, and other hardware from developing countries may not be around in five years, but others will be tried, and acceptance should be greater outside the country of origin.
Huawei, A router company is China is already making a line of products to compete with my home town firm, Cisco, and at one-tenth the price. While not as innovative as Cisco, they are commodifying a certain level of products.

Foundations, government agencies will demand a constant stream of credible success stories if they are to continue funding programs like the dot-com alliance. The unequal power between the donors and the recipients of ICT aid will dictate the goals that constitute a successful project. Mission drift of host country ministries and NGOs will occur to keep support from abroad. However, if DFID's decoupling aid from purchase of domestic products results in more successful projects, the U.S. government may also allow this.

The excitement over unlicensed wireless will continue but be muted somewhat by problems of interference and demands by incumbents and those who paid dearly for licensed spectrum to "control" the ISM bands (as has happened in Buenos Aires and Lagos). The telecom industry depression is not over, and I don't know if the big companies will ever recover from the 3G debacle. It may remain a commercial flop rivaling digital television here in the U.S.

I hope that research will take place in the next five years to measure the net effects of ICT access, training, and jobs on the movement of young people between city and rural areas and between countries. So far, I have seen the Internet pulling people out of rural areas, not giving them a means to stay in areas where it's no longer profitable to farm, mine, fish, or cut timber.

Practitioners in developing countries will continue to surprise us with the innovative solutions to overcome both technical and social barriers, and we have much to learn from them. I am in awe at what they are able to accomplish with few resources and so many problems.

Peter Cowhey: dot-GOV Click here to visit his biography
The most interesting parts of ICT innovation will be driven in unexpected ways by users.
Predicting the future is best left to Las Vegas odds makers. Or, to be more precise, our ability to predict specifics of any interest is pretty limited. But we can make pretty good forecasts about the patterns of future dynamics. So, here are three future patterns to watch.
  1. The most interesting parts of ICT innovation will be driven in unexpected ways by users. The key feature of digital technology is that, with the proper policy and market framework, users of the technology can drive the key innovations. The big telephone companies consistently got digital networking wrong. The future was invented by users in university labs and business who also became "co-inventors" of the technology. Specialized suppliers (like Cisco) popped up to meet the hardware needs generated by their experiments. The exciting part of ICT in developing countries is the opening up of huge new groups of totally new user populations. We don't know what they will want, and that is where the surprise will come.
  2. Whole new ways of reconceptualizing the arts. A general rule of thumb is that every dramatic improvement in our ability to travel and communicate cheaply over long distances has a profound impact on the creative arts. In the early 20th Century European travels in Africa became common enough that the artistic sensibilities of the great African sculptors began to revolutionize art in Europe--as any study of Picasso's inspirations will show. Today, "world music" is a first installment. The movie hit, "The Matrix," represented the conquest of Hollywood action drama by Hong Kong aesthetics. "Anime" is changing animation. And we have yet to dig deeply down into the next realm of cultural influences opened by the penetration of ICT into poorer regions.
  3. New ways of improving "total factor productivity" (the key driver of economic development). ICT largely is confined to big companies, manufacturing, technology firms and finance in the industrial countries. That is, those companies and industries have revolutionized production and distribution and customer relations through ICT. But areas like agriculture and construction, two major parts of developing countries, are nowhere as intensive in their use of information and communications technology. Someday they will be revolutionized in their productivity by ICT, and it may happen first in developing countries.
All of this suggests one lesson for our programs. Evaluation of projects to learn lessons for best practices over time is absolutely critical. Mission managers must have sufficient resources to evaluate outcomes seriously, and be held accountable for their skills in doing so. We are in a "learning by doing" business.

Clotilde Fonseca: dot-ORG Click here to visit her biography
...move from connectivity to connectedness.
  • Next five years - not much change unless challenge and agenda are defined.
  • Review issues like cost of technology ands question whether it is cheaper especially because standards are constantly going up.
  • Have to overcome conception of development as linear process; Need to invest in human capacity in new ways, can't wait for all preconditions to be satisfied. See key investments to help people leapfrog.
  • Beware of using power of technologies to do things of the past (get rid of old paradigms) Which interventions are really meaningful for change? We keep looking through the future through the rear view mirror. We're still doing the things of the past (with the new technology).
  • Have to grab opportunity of digital technologies - much more than the Internet, and there are wonderful things that can be done without being on-line.
  • Move from information to knowledge-based culture. Need information, but provide with skills that allow understanding and use of information that is becoming available.
  • Take people-centered approach and move from connectivity to connectedness.
  • Evaluation - impact identification - not enough sensitivity to identify the unexpected consequence.

Nancy Hafkin: dot-ORG Click here to visit her biography
Turning information into action: We have been focused on infrastructure and access because this is the sine qua non of any use of ICTs in developing countries or anywhere else. In the next five years, when more infrastructure solutions emerge and access becomes easier and less costly, the focus will move (not away from but to include) more clearly the process and the outcomes.
Too often we think that ICT for development is a matter of INFORMATION DELIVERY. One of the major defining characteristics of poverty is isolation and absence of resources. Information is a resource; access brings end to isolation and availability of information resources. If only we can get the information to the people who need it [we say], that will essentially solve the problem. But the equation is a lot more complex than that. The problematic is how to turn information access and information delivery into information use, knowledge, action, individual and institutional transformation and social change.
...turn information access and information delivery into information use, knowledge, action
The old problem was how to get the packet over there. The old model was: if you send it and they get it, ICT for development has happened. New paradigm: What was sent? Who sent it? Who got it? Did they want it? Did they understand it? What did they do with it? Five years from now we will be less sanguine about this essentially one-way process. There will be more emphasis on content development at the local level and horizontal information sharing rather than one way "information pouring."

Technologies: we'll return to the concept of appropriate technology-use what works. Not the concept of the 'seventies that if a tractor was appropriate in North America, then a hoe was appropriate in Africa . . . but rather appropriate in the sense of what works. If online communication remains a problem in rural Uganda, then try CD-ROMs. If PCs are too expensive and direct current dependent, try hand-held computers. Simputer and open source. Falling cost VSATs. If it works and does the job, use it.

Combinations of new technologies with more traditional ITs- e.g. Internet with community radio. Technology doesn't have to be state-of-the-art to present digital opportunity.

Continuing refinements of the concept of universal access through public access- rented mobile phones with Internet capability, mobile Internet vans [or bikes], kiosks. And local languages, information intermediaries and information-based businesses.

Emphasis on social and contextual analysis of technology and technology diffusion. Macro assessments don't do it. We have to know who needs what, who is getting what, who isn't getting what and why. The patterns that emerge in such analysis are the clues to the correctives that need to take place. The keyword is inclusion. Gender analysis and sex-disaggregated data are a big part of this. This analysis should take place before projects hit the ground.

Killer apps: ICT for development- to me its greatest value is as a tool for empowerment, a leveler of the playing field. It gives the resource poor a chance at the resources they have never had. But it doesn't happen automatically. Huge efforts are needed to make ICT a tool for empowerment, as opposed to a tool for further enrichment of the already enriched.

To me the killer apps are service delivery applications such as e-government and distance health (not just telemedicine, which is a highly specialized high bandwidth application), - a panoply of health and health-information related applications, with emphasis on communicable disease, water and environment, and distance education, with emphasis on basic education and non-formal education. Too much of what currently passes for distance education is only remote delivery to those already enrolled at the highest levels of formal education.

E-business (ICT-enabled business): The presently Indian-dominated phenomenon of outsourcing will increasingly penetrate new areas, particularly areas of Africa where English is the language of instruction. The jobs will be the reward for graduating from (for countries that adopt enabling as opposed to disabling communications policy). This is e-business for countries that get their act together in both ICT policy and education policy.

But it is going to go beyond educated workers to the big development challenge: to women in the informal economy- where the majority of people by gender and by mode of economic organization work. We haven't figured it out yet, but it is coming and it will make a huge difference in the empowerment business that we have all been talking about.

Partnership- we need more sharing of information and collaboration among others with similar objectives among the multilaterals bilaterals, ngos and foundations. The challenge is too big and the resources too few to risk duplication and overlap.

Ernesto Laval: dot-EDU Click here to visit his biography
  • Most of us dream of deep transformations in relation to development. In education these deep transformations imply - for example - that students are really able to understand what they read (which is not happening now).
  • Most of us also dream of how technology might help to achieve such transformations. How could we have new teaching and learning approaches, or communities organized for promoting their local development?
  • In the future I see an obvious increase in the penetration of new technologies. More schools and communities will have access to computers, Internet and mobile devices and more teachers and students will be trained in the use of such tools.
  • BUT I also see that the transformations we dream of will not take place:
    • Schools will have computers, Internet and technology but the teaching and learning problems will not be solved.
    • Communities will have telecenters, but the local community will have not transformed their main activities because of that.
Deep transformations require time and planning for the long term...
  • Deep transformations will not take place because most of us will not be addressing the real and complex problems that require a transformation: which involves several key actors, is a process that requires time and planning for the long term, and requires a focus on the actual implementation in the long run, and not just the initial initiatives to promote adoption.
  • After five years we will have achieve a first stage in this process of transformation (technology will be available) and we will recognize that a second stage is required. Most of us will begin to think about this second stage.
  • What is the challenge for those involved in DOT-COM? To focus mainly in the first stage allowing technology to be available? Or to think also on the second stage and the problems to be solved for deep transformations to take place once technology is available?

John Mayo: dot-EDU Click here to visit his biography
There was an encouraging degree of overlap, mutual understanding and support reflected in the project overviews presented by the three lead agency representatives and their associates in the morning session. By the same token, the questions and reactions of the TAG as well as other members of the audience underscored the need for the Alliance partners to continue planning, implementing and evaluating projects in coordinated and mutually reinforcing ways. Three critical dimensions of the project - connectivity & networking, constituency building, and content development - were evident to me in the DOT-COM documents and in the morning's presentations.
...imperative that the gate keeping roles of teachers and principals be appreciated
Enhanced connectivity & networking across a broad spectrum of development agencies and applications are among the Alliance's core objectives. In their commitment to network and Internet literacy, Alliance partners also must recognize the tendency of new information technologies and services to exacerbate existing socio-economic gaps, at least in the short term. If the project is to realize the democratizing and pluralistic development objectives articulated by Dr. Meyer in his introductory remarks, and in so doing increase the participation of previously isolated and/or disenfranchised groups, there must be a commitment to gap closing measures within the Alliance and its partner groups. Such measures could include the provision of information services to previously underserved groups, cross-subsidies of various kinds, and concessionary user rates for local NGOs. If properly promoted and documented, such commitments could serve as models for national and international development agencies concerned with communication policy.

For the Alliance to achieve its objectives, constituency building will have to occur on an on-going basis and at various levels, among both public and private organizations. It is likely that social marketing strategies also may be required if grassroots organizations are to utilize new regional and local information services. The success of such services must be based in turn on clearly articulated needs and priorities. With regard to dot-EDU programs, specifically, it is imperative that the gate keeping roles of teachers and principals be appreciated. Will new communication services be adequately understood, implemented and maintained by such groups? Have they received the necessary training and technical support necessary to adopt technology-based or assisted pedagogies within their classrooms on a continuing basis? Lacking such support, it is likely that even the most innovative and powerful programs will wither over time.

Content development also is likely to remain a major challenge for the Alliance, and especially the dot-EDU component, throughout the project. To increase access and boost student achievement in a wide variety of settings, multi-channel learning systems will have to be developed. The temptation simply to "download" or adapt at minimal cost off-the-shelf learning packages in such situations may be compelling. It must be avoided, however, unless enough time and resources can be provided to demonstrate the efficacy of imported methods and materials in unfamiliar circumstances. At the same time, DOT-COM's sponsors, in Washington and in the field, must recognize the time and financial challenges involved in designing local language materials for digital delivery and use. To achieve such objectives, the Alliance should determine how best to strengthen materials development capacities within local universities and teacher raining institutions.

Elliot Maxwell: dot-GOV Click here to visit his biography

The Internet ... represents profoundly democratic values and provides an extraordinary environment for innovation and participation.
At the network level, we should still strive to foster competition. But this has to be done with a recognition that the incumbent network operators are, and are likely to remain, the dominant players for at least the next five years. Efforts at reform will create inroads but change will come slowly--but must be pursued for all the reasons we have embraced competition in the industrialized world.
While competition policy focuses on the network operator we should also strive to carve out areas where new technologies can be protected, and where their disruptive effect can be encouraged. Safe harbors where they can be protected from domination by the incumbent. These technologies include wireless, particularly new unlicensed services such as those based on 802.11b, and the Internet as embodied in VoIP.

This suggests that we need to spend more time advocating the development of the Internet infrastructure as opposed to focusing only on the telecom infrastructure. And it means attention to creating an "open" environment--open standards, open source software, open access to networks, open spectrum. We should be seeking to create a networked society rather than a society with a more robust telecom or IT sector.

We're still in an early stage of this development, having been frustrated by the slow pace of the development of competition in the telecom sector. The learning stage will take some time but we need to harvest the lessons that we've learned in the industrial world and not simply prescribe what we've done to our target countries. That means more evaluation and reflection than we've often done, and more attention to the specific country conditions. I'd expect that the end result will also be that we go beyond the specific country to think regionally. Wisdom and insight are scare commodities and we need to gather the best of a region to work together and support one another.

Some thoughts beyond the network level. I've already mentioned open source software as a vehicle that has important local effects in stimulating the IT sector and reducing software cost and customer capture. The growth of content in languages other than English will also have an important impact and we should be encouraging the development of culturally appropriate content. One obvious source of content is government-related information--which should help make government more transparent and change the relationship between the government and the citizenry--to say nothing about the possible benefits in health, education etc.

The learning stage I mentioned applies to old folks like me. But kids are growing up in a new electronic environment. They will see this environment as natural. They will see the world with new eyes. Focus on helping them learn how to take these insights and change the world. And pay closer attention to the broader question of user driven innovation and the viral growth of services now made possible by the Internet.

As we try to effect change we have to ask whether we are making the best use of these technologies. We don't want to diminish our changes of success by failing to take advantage of what we're preaching.

As we try to affect change, we have to ask whether we, and the projects we are supporting, are making the best use of the technologies we are championing. We don't want to diminish our chances of success by failing to take advantage of what we're preaching. That openness is something which we should be attempting to propagate and defend around the world.

Michael Nelson: dot-GOV Click here to visit his biography
Internet revolution less than 5% complete
  • Can do anything you want as long as you have a good buzzword or bumper sticker.
  • Internet revolution less than 5% complete; new technologies are there and should promote these to Missions and host country governments.
  • Do what market is not doing. Don't recreate what cyber cafes and ISPs are doing. Competence and training is critical.
  • New applications like PDAs and VoIP need to be promoted plus open source (e.g. Apache) - not just cheaper but better. - PDA technology really important, wireless LAN, VoIP, most important is development of open source software - Linux, Apache, GRID computing.
  • Leverage / partner: use existing infrastructure like cyber cafes.
  • ICT community needs to bring together all information created so we can go beyond anecdotes and develop lessons; work with Canadians etc to tie the pieces together.
  • Change the DOT-COM name. It's confusing and we should connect it more with development.

For more information, please contact
Siobhan Green, Information & Dissemination Coordinator, DOT-COM Alliance
Tel: +1 202 884 8948
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