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Global Development Institute

A Framework to Assess Participation and Empowerment Impacts of ICT4D Projects

Matt Haikin and Richard Duncombe

Abstract

Community participation in ICT-for-development (ICT4D) is sometimes portrayed as a ‘magic bullet’, which will inevitably lead to better project outcomes and the empowerment of marginalised participants from the local community. This paper takes a critical approach to participation, drawing on dual roots of participation in Development Studies and Information Systems, to consider whether apparently successful ICT4D projects, that follow best-practice for participation, are also succeeding in longer-term participant and community empowerment.  The paper identifies issues and success factors relevant to participatory ICT4D and its potentially empowering role for local communities; explores the relevance of these factors to the reality of ICT4D projects in developing countries; and investigates the potential for producing an analytical framework that incorporates a project design approach that could help practitioners in the field incorporate empowerment objectives.

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Educators’ guide

Synopsis questions

  1. What are the key benefits to taking a participatory approach to development projects?  [Section B1]
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of participatory approaches in ICT4D projects?  [Section B2]
  3. Consider the case studies.  In what ways could each be described as achieving participation and in what ways have they fallen short?  [Section C3]
  4. What new factors are identified as leading to greater sustainability of ICT4D projects?  [Section C4]
  5. In what ways does the paper suggest that effective participation in ICT4D projects can lead to greater empowerment?  [Section D]

Development questions

  1. Imagine you are a practitioner.  How would you use this framework when designing and implementing your own ICT4D project on the ground, and what obstacles do you think you would face?
  2. Discuss the relationship between participation and technological empowerment.
  3. Critique the revised analytical framework: what is missing, what assumptions does it make?
  4. Drawing on your own experience, can you develop the framework further – finding elements that are missing or that don’t match with your understanding of what constitutes success?
  5. In what ways is either individual or community empowerment linked to longer-term sustainability goals for ICT4D projects?