Tag Archives: ICT4D

Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development

recict4dIt is always exciting to have finished the page proofs and done the index of a book, especially when this has to be completed between Christmas and the New Year as it was with Reclaiming ICT4D at the end of 2016! However, when the cover has been agreed and it appears on the publisher’s  website, then one knows that it is actually going to appear in several months time!

This is  OUP’s overview of the book:

  • Combines understanding of both theoretical and practical aspects of ICT for development (ICT4D)
  • Challenges existing orthodoxy and offers alternatives that can make a practical difference in the field
  • Addresses the interests underlying the use of technology in development
  • Wide ranging in coverage, including discussion of regulation, partnership, technological innovation, and the darker side of ICTs

I like being involved in the design of different aspects of my books, and I am so grateful to OUP for agreeing to publish Reclaiming ICT4D in two fonts, one to represent theory and the other practice.  I am also immensely happy that they were willing to use one of my pictures on the cover to represent much of what the book is about.  In case it is not immediately obvious, this picture taken a year ago in Murree (Pakistan) represents many things: a hope for the future, with the young boy vigorously hitting the ball way over his friends’ heads; cricket itself acknowledges the complex heritage of colonialism and imperialism; in the background is a telecommunications mast, providing the connectivity that has the potential to be used to reduce inequalities, but all too often increases them; the electricity so essential for powering ICTs is very visible;  and women are absent, representing another dimension of inequality that is addressed in the book.  It is also much more than this.  My father visited Murree 71 years ago, and may have walked along this street; I went there with friends, and the book is very much a personal story of how I have learnt from them and the many people who have shared their wisdom and experiences with me over the years; it is above all about how people like these boys, playing on the street, can use ICTs to transform their lives for the better, rather than becoming the cyborg cannon-fodder that global capitalism seeks to devour for the benefit of the rich and powerful.

A little more formally, this is how OUP describe the contents of the book on their website:

“The development of new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has transformed the world over the last two decades. These technologies are often seen as being inherently ‘good’, with the ability to make the world better, and in particular to reduce poverty. However, their darker side is frequently ignored in such accounts.

ICTs undoubtedly have the potential to reduce poverty, for example by enhancing education, health delivery, rural development and entrepreneurship across Africa, Asia and Latin America. However, all too often, projects designed to do so fail to go to scale, and are unsustainable when donor funding ceases. Indeed, ICTs have actually dramatically increased inequality across the world. The central purpose of this book is to account for why this is so, and it does so primarily by laying bare the interests that have underlain the dramatic expansion of ICTs in recent years. Unless these are fully understood, it will not be possible to reclaim the use of these technologies to empower the world’s poorest and most marginalised.”

Its seven chapters are entitled as follows:

1: A critical reflection on ICTs and ‘Development’
2: Understanding the Technologies
3: The International Policy Arena: ICTs and Internet Governance
4: Partnerships in ICT4D: Rhetoric and Reality
5: From Regulation to Facilitation: The role of ICT and Telecommunication Regulators in a Converging World
6: Reflections on the Dark Side of ICT4D
7: …in the Interests of the Poorest and Most Marginalized.

It is also being made available as an Ebook, and publication date is estimated as 25th May 2017.

To request a review copy, do contact OUP directly using their request form.


Filed under Africa, Asia, Books, Development, ICT4D, Photographs, Uncategorized

Indexing “Reclaiming ICT4D”

I always enjoy indexing my own books, although it can at times be brain-numbingly tedious!  So, I have spent the last few days proof-reading Reclaiming ICT4D, and at the same time constructing the index!  It has taken much longer than I had anticipated, but I am delighted that it really does capture the essence of what I have tried to write about.  It is always fascinating to see the juxtaposition of words: “holistic” next to “honour killings”; “operators” next to “oppression”; and “poverty” next to “power”…  However, having just finished it, I now wonder just how many people ever actually read indexes!

Anyway, for those who want to know what the book is really about, I am therefore posting the index for everyone to see if their favourite ICT4D topic is included – and a glimpse of part of it is shared below!  I very much hope that you find something of interest in it!

Now it will only be a few months for OUP to print the book!



Filed under Books, ICT4D, ICTs, Inequality, Universities

Making money from meeting the SDGs? An overarching approach to sustainable development

I am delighted to have been asked to moderate the session on “Making money from meeting the SDGs?” at ITU Telecom World in Bangkok on Monday 14th November (4:45 PM – 6:00 PM, Jupiter 10), although I wonder a little why I have been chosen for this task given my past criticisms of the SDGs!  Perhaps the “?” in the session title will give me a little freedom to explore some of the many challenges and complexities in this theme.  Following in the footsteps of the Millennium Development Goals (2000), the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) still generally focus on the idea that economic growth will eliminate poverty; indeed, they assert that poverty can truly be ended.  This is a myth, and a dangerous one. For those who define poverty in a relative sense, poverty will always be with us.  It can certainly be reduced, but never ended.   It is therefore good to see the SDGs also focusing on social inclusion, with SDG 10 explicitly addressing inequality.  We need to pay much more attention to ways through which ICTs can thus reduce inequality, rather than primarily focusing on their contribution to economic growth, which has often actually led to increasing inequality.

This session will explore the implications of such tensions specifically for the role of ICT businesses in delivering the SDGs.  Key questions to be examined include:

  • How can the ICT sector contribute to accelerating the achievement of the SDGs by providing ICT-enabled solutions and building feasible business models?
  • Is the SDG agenda relevant for the ICT industry?
  • What roles should the ICT industry, and its corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments in particular, play in working towards the SDGs?
  • Can the SDG framework provide an opportunity to accelerate transformative ICT-enabled solutions around new solutions like big data or IoT?

Underlying these are difficult issues about the ethics of making money from development, and the extent to which the ICT sector is indeed sustainable.  All too often, the private sector, governments and even civil society are now using the idea of “development” to build their ICT interests, rather than actually using ICTs to contribute to development understood as reducing inequalities; we increasingly have “development for ICTs” (D4ICT) rather than “ICTs for development” (ICT4D).  To be sure, businesses have a fundamentally important role in contributing to economic growth, but there is still little agreement, for example, on how best to deliver connectivity to the poorest and most marginalized, so that inequality can be reduced. As my forthcoming book argues, we need to reclaim ICTs truly for development in the interests of the poorest and most marginalized.

We have a great panel with whom to explore these difficult questions.  Following opening remarks by Chaesub Lee (Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, ITU), we will dive straight into addressing the above questions with the following panelists (listed in alphabetical order of first names):

  • Astrid Tuminez (Senior Director, Government Affairs. Microsoft)
  • Lawrence Yanovitch (President of GSMA Foundation)
  • Luis Neves (Chairman Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), and Climate Change and Sustainability Officer, Executive Vice President, at Deutsche Telekom Group)
  • Ola Jo Tandre (Director and Head of Social Responsibility, Telenor ASA, Norway)
  • Tomas Lamanauskas (Group Director Public Policy, VimpelCom).

Magic happens when people from different backgrounds are brought together to discuss challenging issues.  This session will therefore not have any formal presentations, but will instead seek to engage the panelists in discussion amongst themselves and with the audience.  We will generate new ideas that participants will be able to take away and apply in their everyday practices.  Looking forward to seeing you on the Monday afternoon of Telecom World in Bangkok!


Filed under Conferences, Development, ICT4D, SDGs, Sustainability

Against “EdTech”…

Sitting in on a recent donor-stakeholder discussion about the use of ICTs to support education for poor people in developing countries, inspired me to formalize my critical thoughts on the increasingly common usage of the term “EdTech”.   There are three main reasons why this terminology is so problematic:

  • children-in-malawi-schoolFirst, the term EdTech places the emphasis on the technology rather than the educational and learning outcomes. Far too many initiatives that have sought to introduce technology systematically into education have failed because they have focused on the technology rather than on the the education.  The use of the term EdTech therefore places emphasis on a failed way of thinking.  Technology will only be of benefit for poor and marginalized people if it is used to deliver real learning outcomes, and this is the core intended outcome of any initiative. It is the learning that matters, rather than the technology.
  • jica-stm-ptc-computersSecond, it implies that there is such a thing as Educational Technology. The reality is that most technology that is used in schools or for education more widely has very little to do specifically with education or learning.  Word processing and presentational software, spreadsheets, and networking software are nothing specifically to do with education, although they are usually what is taught to teachers in terms of IT skills! Such software is, after all, usually called Office software, as in Microsoft Office, or Open Office. Likewise, on the hardware side, computers, mobile phones and electronic whiteboards are not specifically educational but are rather more general pieces of technology that companies produce to generate a profit.  Learning content, be it open or proprietary, is perhaps the nearest specifically educational technology that there is, but people rarely even think of this when they use the term EdTech!
  • intel-classmate-zambia-2010Third, it is fascinating to consider why the term EdTech has been introduced to replace others such as e-learning or ICT for education (ICT4E) which clearly place the emphasis on the learning and the education.  The main reason for this is that the terminology largely reflects the interests of private sector technology companies, and especially those from the US. The interests underlying the terminology are a fundamental part of the problem.  EdTech is being used and sold as a concept primarily so that companies can sell technology that has little specifically to do with education, and indeed so that researchers can be funded to study its impact!


Those who use the term EdTech are all conspiring to place the emphasis on the technology rather than on the education.  This is often deliberate, but always misguided!  Many of those who use the term are also concerned primarily in generating profits from education rather than delivering effective, life-changing opportunities for people to learn.  If you ever use the word again, please think twice about it, and preferably use something more appropriate!


Filed under Development, Education, ICT4D

“Reclaiming ICT4D” – in the beginning

It is always exciting submitting a book manuscript to a publisher, and today is no exception!  I have at last finished with my editing and revisions, and sent the manuscript of Reclaiming ICT4D off to Oxford University Press.  I just hope that they like it as much as I do!  It is by no means perfect, but it is what I have been wanting to write for almost a decade now.

This is how it begins – I hope you like it:

“Chapter 1

A critical reflection on ICTs and ‘Development’

This book is about the ways through which Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have become entwined with both the theory and the practice of ‘development’.  Its central argument is that although the design and introduction of such technologies has immense potential to do good, all too often this potential has had negative outcomes for poor and marginalized people, sometime intended but more often than not unintended.  Over the last twenty years, rather than reducing poverty, ICTs have actually increased inequality, and if ‘development’ is seen as being about the relative differences between people and between communities, then it has had an overwhelming negative impact on development.  Despite the evidence to the contrary, I nevertheless retain a deep belief in the potential for ICTs to be used to transform the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalized for the better.  The challenge is that this requires a fundamental change in the ways that all stakeholders think about and implement ICT policies and practices.  This book is intended to convince these stakeholders of the need to change their approaches.

It has its origins in the mid-1970s, when I learnt to program in Fortran, and also had the privilege of undertaking field research in rural India.  The conjuncture of these two experiences laid the foundations for my later career, which over the last twenty years has become increasingly focused on the interface between Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on the one hand, and the idea of ‘development’ on the other.  The book tells personal stories and anecdotes (shown in a separate font).  It draws on large empirical data sets, but also on the personal qualitative accounts of others.  It tries to make the complex theoretical arguments upon which it is based easy to understand.  Above all, it has a practical intent in reversing the inequalities that the transformative impacts of ICTs have led to across the world.

I still remember the enjoyment, but also the frustrations, of using punch cards, with 80 columns, each of which had 12 punch locations, to write my simple programs in Fortran.  The frustration was obvious.  If you made just one tiny mistake in punching a card, the program would not run, and you would have to take your deck of cards away, make the changes, and then submit the revised deck for processing the next day.  However, there was also something exciting about doing this.  We were using machines to generate new knowledge.  They were modern.  They were the future, and we dreamt that they might be able to change the world, to make it a better place.  Furthermore, there was something very pleasing in the purity and accuracy that they required.  It was my fault if I made a mistake; the machine would always be precise and correct.  These self-same comments also apply to the use of ICTs today.  Yes, they can be frustrating, as when one’s immensely powerful laptop or mobile ‘phone crashes, or the tedium of receiving unwanted e-mails extends the working day far into time better spent doing other things, but at the same time the interface between machines and modernity conjures up a belief that we can use them to do great things – such as reducing poverty.

Figure 1.1 Modernity and the machine: Cambridge University Computer Laboratory in the early 1970s.


Source: University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory (1999)

In 1976 and 1977 I had the immense privilege of undertaking field research in the Singbhum District of what was then South Bihar, now Jharkhand, with an amazing Indian scholar, Sudhir Wanmali, who was undertaking his PhD about the ‘hats’, or periodic markets, where rural trade and exchange occurred in different places on each day of the week (Figure 1.2).  Being ‘in the field’ with him taught me so much: the haze and smell of the woodsmoke in the evenings; the intense colours of rural India; the rice beer served in leaf cups at the edges of the markets towards the end of the day; the palpable tensions caused by the ongoing Naxalite rising (Singh, 1995); the profits made by mainly Muslim traders from the labour of Adivasi, tribal villagers, in the beautiful forests and fields of Singbhum; the creaking oxcarts; and the wonderful names of the towns and villages such as Hat Gamharia, Chakradharpur, Jagannathpur, and Sonua.  Most of all, though, it taught me that ‘development’ had something powerful to do with inequality.  I still vividly recall seeing rich people picnicking in the lush green gardens of the steel town of Jamshedpur nearby, coming in their smart cars from their plush houses, and then a short distance away watching and smelling blind beggars shuffling along the streets in the hope of receiving some pittance to appease their hunger.  The ever so smart, neatly pressed, clothes of the urban elite at the weekends contrasted markedly with the mainly white saris, trimmed with bright colours, that scarcely covered the frail bodies of the old rural women in the villages where we worked during the week.  Any development that would take place here had to be about reducing the inequalities that existed between these two different worlds within the world of South Bihar.  This made me look at my own country, at the rich countries of Europe, and it made me all the more aware of two things: not only that inequality and poverty were also in the midst of our rich societies; but also that the connections between different countries in the world had something to do with the depth of poverty, however defined, in places such as the village of Sonua, or the town of Ranchi in South Bihar.

Figure 1.2: hat, or rural periodic market at Hat Gamharia, in what was then South Bihar, 1977 1.2 Source: Author

            Between the mid-1970s and the mid-2010s my interests in ICTs, on the one hand, and ‘development’ on the other, have increasingly fascinated and preoccupied me.  This book is about that fascination.  It shares stories about how they are connected, how they impinge on and shape each other.  I have been fortunate to have been involved in many initiatives that have sought to involve ICTs in various aspects of ‘development’.  In the first instance, my love of computing and engineering, even though I am a geographer, has always led me to explore the latest technological developments, from electronic typewriters that could store a limited number of words, through the first Apple computers, to the Acorn BBC micro school and home computer launched in 1981, using its Basic BASIC programming language, and now more recently to the use of mobile ‘phones for development.  I was fascinated by the potential for computers to be used in schools and universities, and I learnt much from being involved with the innovative Computers in Teaching initiative Centre for Geography in the 1990s (see Unwin and Maguire, 1990).  During the 2000s, I then had the privilege of leading two challenging international initiatives that built on these experiences.  First, between 2001 and 2004 I led the UK Prime Minister’s Imfundo: Partnership for IT in Education initiative, based within the Department for International Development (UK Government Web Archive 2007), which created a partnership of some 40 governments, private sector and civil society organisations committed to using ICTs to enhance the quality and quantity of education in Africa, particularly in Kenya, South Africa and Ghana.  Then in the latter 2000s, I led the World Economic Forum’s Partnerships for Education initiative with UNESCO, which sought to draw out and extend the experiences gained through the Forum’s Global Education Initiative’s work on creating ICT-based educational partnerships in Jordan, Egypt, Rajasthan and Palestine (Unwin and Wong, 2012).  Meanwhile, between these I created the ICT4D (ICT for Development) Collective, based primarily at Royal Holloway, University of London, which was specifically designed to encourage the highest possible quality of research in support of the poorest and most marginalized.  Typical of the work we encouraged was another partnership-based initiative, this time to develop collaborative research and teaching in European and African universities both on and through the use of ICTs.  More recently, between 2011 and 2015 I had the privilege of being Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, which is the membership organisation of governments and people in the 53 countries of the Commonwealth, enhancing the use of ICTs for development.

Two things have been central to all of these initiatives: first a passionate belief in the practical role of academics and universities in the societies of which they are a part, at all scales from the local to the international; and second, recognition of the need for governments, the private sector and civil society to work collaboratively together in partnerships to help deliver effective development impacts.  The first of these builds fundamentally on the notion of Critical Theory developed by the Frankfurt School (Held, 1980), and particularly the work of Jürgen Habermas (1974, 1978) concerning the notion of knowledge constitutive interests and the complex inter-relationships between theory and practice.  The next section therefore explores why this book explicitly draws on Critical Theory in seeking to understand the complex role and potential of ICTs in and for development.  Section 1.2 thereafter then draws on the account above about rural life in India in the 1970s to explore in further detail some of the many ways in which the term ‘development’ has been, and indeed still is, used in association with technology.”


Filed under 'phones, Accessibility, Africa, Caribbean, Commonwealth, Communication, Ethics, ICT4D, ICT4D general, India, Radio, Story-telling, Uncategorized

Reclaiming ICT4D

I am so relieved to have finished the first draft of my new book on ICT4D to be entitled “Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development” which is to be published by Oxford University Press.  Now it is time to redraft and revise it in the light of all of the helpful comments that I have received from colleagues and friends – for which many thanks.  Somehow, I also need to cut it in length, which is proving to be much more difficult than I had anticipated!

It is always fun to create wordles just to try to capture the essence of a book in an image, and so I thought I would share this to provide an overview of what I have written – and of course to whet potential readers’ appetitites.  I guess that most of what I had hoped for has indeed been revealed, but of course the image does not capture the emphasis or the way in which I have referred to particular themes!  It is good, though, to see the emphasis on people, development and ICTs!

ICT4DwordleFor those who would like a little more detail, this is the provisional Table of Contents – subject of course to revision:

  1. A critical reflection on ICTs and ‘Development’
    • A ‘critical’ approach to ICTs for development
    • Understanding ‘Development’
    • ICT4D in theory and practice
    • Reclaiming ICT for Development (ICT4D)
  1. Understanding the technologies
    • An ever more converged and miniaturized digital world: technological and business implications
    • Spectrum and their management
    • From fixed line to wireless communication
    • From voice to data: impacts of the digital transition
    • On Openness and being Free
    • Social Media and Over The Top services
    • 5G and the Internet of Things
    • Incubators, Digital Hubs and App Development
    • The importance of a technical understanding
  1. The international policy arena of ICTs and Internet Governance
    • Stakeholders in the international ICT arena
    • The World Summit on the Information Society and the evolution of ICT4D multi-stakeholder dialogue in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals
    • The differing interests of multi-stakeholderism: the ITU, ICANN and the IGF
    • The future of multi-stakeholderism and interests in the Internet
  1. Partnerships in ICT4D: rhetoric and reality
    • The idea of partnerships in development
    • The emergence of Public-Private Partnerships
    • ICT4D partnerships: a good case still remains
    • Delivering effective multi-sector partnerships
  1. From regulation to facilitation: the role of ICT and Telecommunication Regulators in a converging world
    • A balance of interests
    • Technical aspects of ICT and telecommunication regulation
    • Universal Service and Access Funds
    • The challenge of revenue generation
    • New models of facilitation in the interests of the poor
  1. Reflections on the dark side of ICT4D
    • Privacy and security
    • The dark side
    • From ‘cybersecurity’ to resilience
    • The big con: social media, Google and Big Data
    • Dehumanization: cyborgs and the Internet of Things
    • In the interests of the poor and marginalized
  1. …in the interests of the poorest and most marginalized
    • ICTs and empowerment
    • Technical options for empowering the poor and marginalized
    • The role of governments and international organisations
    • The power of multi-sector partnerships
    • The Dark Side: managing security and resilience
    • Enhanced learning, understanding and action
    • Reclaiming ICTs for development


Filed under ICT4D, Uncategorized

Dehumanization: cyborgs and the Internet of Things

[Just written this,  the beginning of Section 6.5 of my new book on ICT for Development – thought it might be of interest]

I distinctly remember once walking down Queen Victoria Street in London, and looking down through a window beneath street level to see row upon row of computers, each with their human attached, working away at delivering some unknown products.  It so reminded me of my early readings of Marx’s (1976) Capital, and the dehumanization of labour through the factory system that was designed to extract yet greater surplus value for the capitalists.  Although people like to think that they are in control of their ICTs, this is increasingly not the case.  Office workers come into their open plan work spaces, and ‘their’ computers force them to log in so as to access the information and communication tools necessary to do their work.

All too often, people communicate together by mobile devices even when they are in the same room (Figure 6.1); the art and skill of face to face conversation is swiftly being eroded, mediated instead through technology.  Internet addiction is now widely recognised as a compulsive-impulsive spectrum disorder (Block, 2008) involving excessive use, withdrawal, tolerance and negative repercussions (see also Cash et al., 2012), with rehabilitation centres being created across the world, from China to the USA, in order to try to help addicted people.

Figure 6.1: Young people communicating at the Hotel International and Terminus, Geneva, 2013


Source: Author, 19 May 2013 (taken with permission of all five people shown in the photograph).

One particularly prescient early image of the relationship between humans and technology is Villemard’s depiction in 1910 of how he thought a school might look in 2000, showing books being dropped into a machine that transforms the information, which then passes through electric cables into each pupil’s headsets.  Conceptually, this is not that different from the online learning systems that now increasingly dominate classrooms on both rich and poor countries alike.

Figure 6.2: Villemard’s 1910 image À l’École, depicting how he thought a school might look in 2000.


Source: http://expositions.bnf.fr/utopie/grand/3_95b1.htm, accessed 3 August 2016.

In the GSMA’s Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona in February 2014 smartwear was all the rage, and I remember thinking as I walked past Sony’s advertisement for Xperia on the metro platform wall (Figure 6.3) that there were things about my life that I would definitely not want to log, and would certainly not want others to have access to by hacking either my devices or the cloud servers where they might be stored.  Yet countless people have purchased such devices, and regularly have their health data automatically uploaded so that companies can analyse it and generate profits without paying them anything in return.  This is an extreme example of Big Data surplus extraction, because not only do people have to buy the devices in the first place, and sometimes the software, but they also then give the data to the companies for no recompense, and generally receive little back individually that might actually enhance their health.

Figure 6.3: Sony’s poster “Log your life with SmartWear” on the wall of a metro station in Barcelona during Mobile World Congress, 2014


Source: Author, 28 February 2014

[now time to write the actual section that explores the increasingly interwoven character of machines and humans, especially as ICTs are increasingly being advocated as a way to enhance development]

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Filed under ICT4D, Photographs, Uncategorized