This article addresses the potential information and
communications technologies (ICTs) hold for contributing to development goals. Curtain considers both
older technologies, such as newspapers, radio and television, and newer
technologies, including mobile phones and the internet.
ICTs, according to Curtain, offer the "potential to vastly improve productivity" in developing countries. The question, he says, is
how to achieve the best results given the unique operating constraints in each country.
Curtain aims to balance what he sees as a sometimes "overly optimistic" view with a more realistic and
balanced assessment of the role of ICTs. To this end he provides both descriptions of the barriers faced in implementing ICT programmes,
and practical steps and checklists addressing how to work within these constraints.
Curtain discusses a number of constraints including economic barriers, weak infrastructures, limited training of
personnel and cultural barriers to adopting managerial or technical changes.
The challenges a programme faces, according to Curtain, will depend in part on whether organisations use an ICT-driven or ICT-in-support approach to using new technologies in development
projects. An ICT-driven approach focuses on delivering the technology, and is,
according to Curtain, "more
likely to emphasise communication as a good outcome in itself." He cites
studies, however, indicating that the communication and information benefits are
not always the most important need faced by organisations and businesses in developing
countries. Equal or greater benefits may be gained from addressing other areas,
such as increasing production efficiency or access to credit.
Additionally, infrastructure problems may make it difficult to support the
system in the long term.
The ICT-in-support approach, according to Curtain, focuses on ICTs as a
"supporting or supplementary" element in achieving the primary
development goals. Curtain points out the success that some of these programmes
have had, but notes that such approaches have sometimes had difficulty finding
funding despite providing cost-effective results.
Curtain discusses the reasons for failure of ICT projects, including: gaps between original design and
actual implementation; the complex nature of on the ground political realities; and gap in understanding of local needs driving the project.
To address these shortfalls, Curtain provides checklists suggesting good practice in implementing
ICT-based projects. It is time, he argues, to move focus from the raw technology behind ICTs to issues of implementation and deployment.
The article is divided into five sections:
- Access to ICT in the Asia Pacific and obstacles to diffusion
- Two approaches to use of ICT for development: ICT-driven and ICT-in-support
- Barriers to the take-up of ICT for development
- Key components of good practice in ICT-driven projects
- A role for ICT in mainstream development projects
Email from Richard Curtain to the Communication Initiative, July 22 2005;
Australian Development Gateway website.