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Global Development Institute

Can a Process Approach Improve ICT4D Project Success?

Matthew Walton and Richard Heeks


In studying ICT4D one may develop a sense of scepticism towards the topic, fuelled by high failure rates that have plagued ICT4D practice and the subsequent lack of developmental impacts that such failure implies.  It seems that if the impacts of ICT4D are to be realised, changes must be made to the way it is approached and delivered.

Simultaneously, in studying development, one may notice the process approach as a significant alternative to traditional, top-down management; and notice a connection between elements of the process approach and reactions to failure highlighted in the ICT4D literature.  This paper thus sets out to answer the question: "Can a process approach increase the likelihood of success in ICT4D projects?"

Through analytical study of four successful ICT4D projects, it finds the presence of the five key elements of a process approach: beneficiary participation; flexible, phased implementation; learning from experience; institutional support; and programme management.  Pushing the use of a process approach further, we find that "success" and "failure" should not be used as single, cross-sectional, final judgements.  Instead, they should be seen as multiple, contingent and passing; and as a basis for learning.

From this perspective, ICT4D projects should look for successes – solution relevance, opportunities for capacity-building, and sustainability.  Those can be delivered by taking a dynamic, holistic view – summarised in the ICT4D Process Approach Wheel – that frames ICT4D management as an ongoing interconnection of the five process elements.

The paper ends with some specific recommendations for ICT4D project practice.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. What does the paper argue to be the root causes of ICT4D project failure?  [Part A1].
  2. What is a process approach to development?  [Part A2].
  3. In what way could the four case projects be deemed successful?  [Part B2].
  4. In what way to do the four case projects demonstrate aspects of a process approach?  [Part B3].
  5. What is success and failure in a process approach, and how does the process approach contribute to these outcomes?  [Part C1].
  6. What practical recommendations for ICT4D project managers flow from a process approach perspective?  [Part C2].

Development questions

  1. Can you find evidence from other sources of a connection between a process approach and project success rates?  (And how is 'success' defined in these cases?)
  2. Is there some circularity in the research's deductive approach – defining the characteristics that are sought, and then "finding" them within the cases?  How would an inductive research approach be different?
  3. Can you develop the ICT4D-project-as-wheel analogy further – finding elements that either support or undermine the analogy?
  4. What barriers would you likely face if you tried to introduce the process approach in an ICT4D project?