M4D conference, Karlstad
21 January 2009

Just before the holiday break last month, I attended a great conference in Sweden, dedicated specifically to “Mobiles for Development” (M4D).  The conference sparked some interesting discussions, particularly and notably around the issues of affordability and even ‘addictiveness’ of mobile telephony.  Richard Heeks (one of the keynote speakers) offers a detailed and judicious post on this. Forgive the teaser – the whole post is worth the read.

If you had to choose three words to sum up the future of ICT4D, they might well be “mobiles, mobiles, mobiles”.  And the way to that future is being more clearly indicated as the promise of mobiles-for-development research comes to fruition; reflected, for example, in the recent 1st “m4d” international research conference. But such research is starting to throw up some perplexing – even worrying – findings about mobiles.  At its bluntest, such research suggests mobiles are doing more economic harm than good, and sometimes making poor people poorer.  Let’s have a look…

In other news, Katrin Verclas (of MobileActive.org), Kentaro Toyama, and I presented a paper, Reflections on MobileActive08 and the M4D Landscape, Here’s the abstract:

We identify four common choices facing individual M4D projects (intended users, technical accessibility, informational links, and market links) which collectively mark the current landscape of M4D. Discussions of M4D projects have tended to be delineated by traditional development domain (health, education, agriculture, etc). By focusing on choices that cut across domains, we highlight elements which vary across M4D projects, but which to date have not been observed to correlate with project success. We discuss these four choices in light of the broader course of the field of information and communication technology and development (ICTD). Further, we argue that choices made at the project level may create different M4D landscapes, with implications for the breadth and depth of the technology’s impact on development.