This study sets out, for DFID staff, the fundamental principles underlying a proposed approach to ICTs and development, and draws from those principles a set of recommendations for DFID's priorities in this area. For the purposes of this study, ICTs are defined as technologies that facilitate communication and the processing and transmission of information by electronic means. This definition encompasses the full range of ICTs, from radio and television to telephones (fixed and mobile), computers and the Internet.
The role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in combating poverty and fostering sustainable development has been the subject of increasing debate and experimentation within the international community. The contrast between the complexity and expense of some of these technologies and the urgent, basic needs of the poor has led some to doubt whether ICTs should be a priority for DFID and other development agencies, and for developing countries themselves. Others have hailed these technologies as holding out great hope for developing countries, and have warned of a growing “digital divide” between rich and poor that must be narrowed by concerted international action.
The study concludes that access to ICTs should not be seen as an end in itself; the measure of success remains progress towards reaching the International Development Targets, rather than the spread of technology or bridging the digital divide. However, addressing the information and communication needs of the poor and creating information rich societies is an essential part of efforts to tackle poverty. Properly deployed, ICTs have enormous potential as tools to increase information flows and empower poor people. DFID and other development partners should work closely with developing countries to maximise the contribution of the full range of ICTs to achieving the International Development Targets.
The study recommends that, in its approach to ICT issues, DFID should:
Mainstream attention to the information and communication aspects of poverty and appropriate use of ICTs in the development process;
Address information and communication issues in national poverty reduction strategies;
Focus on creating the right enabling environment for the spread of ICTs, for entrepreneurship and innovation, and the free flow of information
Help the poorest address their information and communication needs;
Improve and focus the response of the international community;
Strengthen developing countries' voice in international negotiations on ICT issues.
DFID should build on the progress already made to mainstream consideration of information and communication issues for poverty reduction and the appropriate use of the full range of relevant ICTs as tools in development. Advisory Departments will need to provide advice, raise awareness in DFID to help staff consider information and communications issues in their work. This process should include providing, for interested staff, concise, evidence-based material drawing on research and experience about what works and what does not. Advisory Departments are also likely to be the appropriate ‘home' for funds for supporting multilateral initiatives related to ICTs.
DFID's Country and regional departments should consider the recommendations for action with partners in developing countries and determine whether these are priorities for action by DFID in a particular country or region. Advisory Groups will need to work with staff responsible for interactions with other development agencies to promote greater focus and effectiveness within the international development community.