more letters, more problems: ICT4D as a compound term
4 November 2011

Here are five great posts that I have been thinking about over the last few days. I’ve tried to tweet a thought or two but am finding that difficult to do in this case.  Too much subtlety for 140 characters, so I must blog. Drat.

1) @stevesongThree reasons why an M4D focus may be bad for development.

2) @kiwanja ICT4D Postcards: The story so far.

3) @whiteafrican  The Subtle Condescension of “ICT4D”

4) @wayan_vota Venn Diagram Location of m4D and Apps4D in ICT4D

5) @nwin The ‘4’ in ICT4D

I’m not going to try to summarize each of the posts. Each is worth a read, and as a set they are even better.  At some point in the midst of this discussion (which also included @jeffswin @meowtree and and @katypearce), I added two tweets

a) As terms, #ict4d & #m4d can be problematic. Perhaps #ictd is better & broader? Simply ICT in/and D.

b) With acronyms: more letters=more problems. Healthy critiques abound. T>techno-focus, 4>paternalism D>growth #ictd

Let me expand on these assertions in something a bit closer to compete sentences.

i. As terms, #ict4d & #m4d can be problematic.   See blog posts 1-5 for evidence to this effect.  @nwin’s newest post with the reference to Kleine and Unwin (2009) is particularly nice here.

ii. Healthy critiques abound. That was a short way of saying that I think the discussion and criticism are important, and ultimately beneficial to the community of researchers and practitioners involved. There are problems with the 4 and with the D.  Even if we march on ahead under the banner of say #ict4d or #ictd, we should know the limits and complications of the terms we use, and remain cognizant of how those terms influence or conversations with each other and with the broader worlds of development and technology (and whomever else you might talk to about ICTD

iii. T>techno-focus, 4>paternalism D>growth. Here I link each letter to a common critique of it. But to reply to @nwin, the > is not an = and I don’t mean to imply that links are iron-clad. But they are common.   It is possible to be “4” development without being paternalistic, but it is also easy, if one is not thinking carefully, to use formulations of development which can slip towards paternalism.  Same for confusing “D” with growth and consumption.   There was a long conversation in plenary at the ICTD2010 conference about what the field “means” by “development”.  We have not agreed on a common term yet – perhaps we never will.

iv. Perhaps #ictd is better & broader? Simply ICT in/and D. Personally, I like ICTD better than ICT4D, since it allows for alternate and more expansive inquiries into non-instrumental or even counter-instrumental users of technologies in “developing” contexts. (See for example, this great book by Jack Qiu – #ictd but maybe not #ict4d).  Unfortunately #ict4d and #m4d get the traffic on Twitter so that’s where I go to learn from and interact with all of you.

v. With acronyms: more letters=more problems. On its own, each letter is problematic and the problems interact when the the letters are strung together. But not everyone agrees about which letters are more problematic.  I have seen heated debates about “IT” vs. “ICT” let alone the R and the D. This gets worse with fragmentation #m4d #ict4rd #hci4d #ict4sd, etc. Above, @Stevesong did a bit of a rant about the M but seemed OK with the D.  @Whiteafrican took strong issue with the D but seemed OK with the ICT4. Later @nwin made a strong case for keeping the “4”, since  is a (welcome) challenge to think about inclusivity, intervention, and power relations in his work.

In summary, I don’t think we’re going to move off ICT4D as the default compound term, at least for a while. But I like these discussions and think it is important for the community to have them from time to time…probably quite frequently since the field/community of practice is increasingly methodologically diverse, and growing. The conversations are not easy as some might like them to be, but that is because they are about a “compound” community. Regular bouts of reflection are not just navel gazing – they should help us remain reflective, careful, and precise in the use of the terms we use to describe what we do and why we do it.