e-Science for Digital Development: 'ICT4ICT4D'

Martin Hilbert


While the ICT for development (ICT4D) community is well aware about the far-reaching changes introduced by the digital age, it is remarkably slowly getting used to the idea that digital tools also revolutionize its very own core business: research. Information and communication technology (ICT) is currently transforming the way knowledge is created and insights are obtained. This applies to inductive empirical inquiry (especially ‘big data’), as well as deductive theoretical scholarship (especially ‘computer simulation modeling’).

This paper explores best practices of the application of such e-science in the field of development and contributes an informed perspective to intensify an outstanding discussion within the ICT4D community. ICT should not only be used for development (ICT4D), but also for the constant updating of our understanding of digital development, in order to fine-tune policies and project designs: ‘ICT4ICT4D’.

On the one hand, the paper shows that the consideration of this double role of ICT has the potential to significantly increase the impact of ICT4D. The digital ‘big data’ footprint provides unprecedented insights into dynamics in the development context that have traditionally been lacking empirical evidence; and the modular nature of computer simulations allows us to study scenarios for specific contexts, which lessens the dependence on one-size-fits-all models. This increases potential impact for ICT4D because both of them provide complementary tools to assure that the application of ICT for development purposes is rooted in their context-dependent local reality.

On the other hand, developing countries and the ICT4D community face important challenges when applying these tools, which—as all technological innovations—should never be adopted uncritically.

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Educators’ guide

Synopsis questions

  1. What are the two different components of digital research?  How are they related by the “Lucas critique”?  [Section A]
  2. What are the characteristics of big data?  [Section B]
  3. What are the characteristics of agent-based models?  [Section C]
  4. What are the opportunities of using e-science for development?  [Section D]
  5. What are the challenges of using e-science for development?  [Section D]

Development questions

  1. What do you think is the most promising application of big data in the area of ICT4D?
  2. Which agent-based model would you create if you could quickly and easily set it up?
  3. Think of a development project with which you are familiar: what would be the key opportunities for e-science, and what would be the key challenges?
  4. How do you imagine science will work in 50 years from now, and what impact will that have on ICT4D research?