Intervention or Collaboration? Redesigning Information and Communication Technologies for Development

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis – Research and graduation external


How can we design and build digital technologies to support people in poor and low-resource environments to achieve their objectives? And how can we do this inclusivelyand ethically, while considering the complexity of their living and working environ-ments? This is the central question in my research.One of the grand challenges of international development cooperation is to makedigital technologies available for social and economic development of poor regions ofthe world. To achieve this goal – often referred to as ICT4D – knowledge and tech-nologies are transferred from wealthy countries to poor regions. Nevertheless, theseefforts have often turned out unsuccessful and unsustainable, despite large budgetsand numerous projects in prestigious international development programs.Mismatch between the transferred technologies and the target environment is a re-current problem of ICT4D projects. Improvement can be achieved, for example, byinvolving end-users in the design process. International development organizationsare aware of this, and terms like "co-creation", "participation" and "user-oriented de-sign" have nowadays become part of the international development discourse. How-ever,realco-creation and user-centered design are incompatible with unidirectionaltransfer of technologies and knowledge (this is how ICT4D is commonly organized,in conventional international development). Moreover, the term participation becomesmeaningless, in the light of externally formulated development goals.One key question to ask is:what do the envisaged users want?Remarkably, many ICT4Dprojects, programs and policies do not really ask and (field) investigate this question,which can only be answered by extensive research on-the-ground.This thesis describes the search for and the design of an alternative approach toICT4D. Ten years of field and action research with partners in Mali, Burkina Faso, andGhana have led to a collaborative, iterative and adaptive approach, dubbed "ICT4D3.0". What is novel of this alternative approach and how does it answer the centralquestion?First of all, ICT4D3.0is a practical approach for critical investigation and action.It consists of a reconfigurable framework that guides the design and development ofinformation systems, bridging the knowledge gap between developers and users tounlock and integrate different domains of (global, local, indigenous, academic, non-academic) knowledge. It targets complex, resource-constrained environments wheremany (for the ICT developers and researchers) unfamiliar conditions or obstacles mayexist. It fosters innovative capacity and learning in action, bringing together peoplewith different backgrounds and perspectives in trans-disciplinary and multiculturalteams. It is socio-technical, result-oriented, focused on the objectives of the stakeholders ers and the requirements of their livelihoods. This approach has been validated invarious different contexts, by users, ICT developers, practitioners and students.Second, ICT4D3.0contributes to a theoretical understanding of ICT4D as a processof networked innovation in complex (adaptive) systems. The underlying idea is thatknowledge sharing and diffusion of innovations are complex (non-linear) dynamicprocesses that evolve and propagate through social networks in rather unpredictableways, whereby innovation works out differently, depending on context, and wherebycontextual (e.g. social, cultural, environmental, political) factors play an important role,and have to be considered. This theoretical framework explains the effectiveness of acollaborative, iterative, adaptative approach in ICT4D.Third, ICT4D3.0is built on ethical principles. When reflecting on the meaningand purpose of digital development, it is clear that digital development is not onlya question of technology and practice, and collaboration is more than a prerequisitefor successful technological innovation and long-term sustainability: collaboration isa fundamental human, ethical value. Therefore, as a reflective practitioner, one hasto ask oneself whose interests one is actually looking after, which goals one is tryingto achieve, where they come from, how power and political issues play a role andwhich core values are at stake. This makes ICT4D3.0into a democratic process of di-alogue and deliberation, in which all voices are heard, in which the local context andcomplexity are central, and in which development goals are determined by the usersthemselves and not imposed from outside. In this light, the approach proposed in thisthesis takes a value position and can be considered a decolonial approach, striving fordemocracy, emancipation, autonomy and social and economic betterment.Field experience shows that ICT4D can be a meaningful, collaborative, networkedprocess of knowledge sharing, driven by local initiatives, realizing change for the better,in a complex world.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Maastricht University
  • Wyatt, Sally, Supervisor, -
  • Akkermans, Hans, Supervisor
Award date15 Dec 2020
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
Print ISBNs97890788289241
Electronic ISBNs97890788289258
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2020


  • ICT4D
  • Co-creation
  • International development
  • Low-resource environments
  • User-centered design
  • Indigenous knowledge
  • Complexity
  • Agile software development
  • Grassroots innovation
  • West Africa
  • Participatory action research
  • Design science
  • Ethics

VU Research Profile

  • Connected World


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