ICTD 2.0, Peer Production and Open Development - ICTD 2010 Workshop Final Report
The workshop entitled ICTD 2.0, Peer Production and Open Development attracted over seventy participants at the recent ICTD 2010 meeting at Royal Holloway. We would like to use this document to outline some of the outcomes of the workshop and begin a broader discussion between all participants.
Even though the title of the workshop was “ICTD 2.0,” it is clear that the 2.0 moniker is an overused phrase. It has been applied to a whole range of practices, tools, websites, and projects. However, irrespective of what “2.0” specifically means, we know that there have been some quite rapid changes in how people around the world are able to communicate and access information. Today almost a third of the world has Internet access and about two thirds have mobile phone access.
We have to then ask whether ICTs will foster openness, participation and the creation and sharing of user-generated content, information and knowledge; whether changes in connectivity, access and, in theory, participation will alter how development is both practised and conceptualised; and, more broadly, whether ICTs will offer potentials for development to become more open and inclusive.
In order to address these themes, the workshop was framed around four questions with participants dividing into smaller groups in order to discuss the four most appropriate responses to each question. The remainder of this document details each question and the outcomes of each group debate.
Question One: What does the fact that 30% of the world’s population has access to the Internet and 68% can access a mobile phone mean to policies and practices of development? Is “ICTD 2.0” an over-reaching idea, or are these shifts significant and powerful enough to warrant an entirely new model of development?
This group agreed on four primary responses:
• The term ICTD2.0 represents a moment of optimism and real potential. There are huge leaps in “access” thanks to mobiles and lower cost computing that change what is possible with ICTD. We, as ICTD practitioners, can seize this.
• On the other hand, the term itself is rather empty. It merely signals “change” or “progress” without much explanation about what is different. More importantly, the term begs, implies, cajoles and rewards us to leave behind what we already know, …which is more than we may think we know. We have got to build upon what is already known to work in ICTD, rather than throw it out.
• The deep questions of unequal access, unequal use and power/hierarchy/centrality do not disappear simply because of the shift to 2.0. These remain in new guises and ICT4D theory and practice should continue to address them.
• The 2.0 shifts re-emphasize the “C” in ICT, rather than the traditional “I”. Participatory processes and coordination are the order of the day
Two key points of disagreement in this group’s discussion were:
• Where there is a lasting difference between the pc and the mobile (how soon will mobile Internet be relevant for resource-constrained communities)
• Whether policymakers have enough, or enough high quality materials and resources to guide them.
Question Two: How can systematic exclusions of people/ideas/voices from peer production and crowd-sourcing of development practices be countered? How should these exclusions inform the ways in which economic, social and political development is enacted?
Two groups of participants addressed these questions. The first group’s discussion centred around four responses:
• Identifying who is excluded and the context in which they are embedded (governing structures, tools (and goal of process/tool), forms of participation, access, etc.)
• Creating ways to involve those identified (through intervention work, capacity building, participatory design/modification of tools, understanding/offering incentives, increasing/creating access points, and etc.)
• Communicating progress in order to raise awareness of the benefits/possibilities to others
• Ensuring change is mutual (i.e. adapting methods/tools back through to the origin based on experience with participants)
The second group first identified a series of reasons behind exclusion: lack of access to technological infrastructure, lack of access to technological tools, lack of access to skills/knowledge about technological tools, lack of time, lack of financial resources, censorship, peer group dynamics and inability to ‘break in’, lack of diversity in issues covered, apathy, self-exclusion (i.e. “we don’t want these tools”). The group then agreed on four ways of countering these types of exclusion (two being research-based and two being more practical):
• Understand the nature of exclusion - we can then better understand if peer production/crowd-sourcing tools are appropriate to solve development problems.
• Define the architecture of participation - who is excluded and why? Which organisations need to be approached to cover the excluded groups?
• Extend access in the community - find community spaces (libraries, telecentres) that provide access to technology, tools and organisational capacity
• Awareness raising (that the tools exist and could serve community members) and training (in how to use the tools)
Question Three: What are some of the most and least successful cases of harnessing the power/wisdom of the crowd for development work and why?
This group agreed that the success of a specific case is not necessarily linked to the technology employed. For example, while sms was key in the Philippines in the campaign to depose Estrada in 2001, it was also powerfully used in the 2007 Kenyan elections to distribute hate messages. Similarly, while Wikipedia is seen by many in the group as a very successful case of wisdom of the crowd, a participant from Syria explained that in her country it is not successful, as anonymous participation is not considered trustworthy. The role of Twitter in the 2009 Iran elections was also controversial, as according to the group it contributed to both the organising of the activists and in making them more easily traceable by the Iranian authorities. Everyone agreed on the role played by Ushahidi in successfully providing up-to-date information after the Haiti earthquake in 2010. Another successful example is the use of social media by the Obama campaign in the US elections.
The reasons behind a success story include the local appropriateness of a specific platform, as the Wikipedia example suggests. Another factor is the presence of local feedback: whether local users can directly benefit from the wisdom of the crowd, as opposed to providing information only to be used elsewhere. The Ushahidi story also hints at the power of the open source ethos of specific projects in bringing together inclusive communities.
Question Four: What is the role of online social networks or online communities of practice in ICTD 2.0? What are some examples of successful and failed networks and communities? Why did they or didn’t they work? What does it take, in a development context, to make the online tools available useful enough for those who want to and can contribute content to do so?
Three groups of participants tackled the issues raised by these questions.
Group A identified three main requirements for the functioning of any social network for development: a) low barriers to entry via systematic, not spontaneous, processes; for instance, this may involve finding people through wider networks already in existence, like Facebook; b) motivation; in other words, the network must fulfil a community need; and c) cultural awareness; in particular, the group felt it important to recognise cultural differences in what may appear to be a monoculture at first glance. As models of networks to study further, this group highlighted a teachers’ support group in Nigeria, a Ukrainian Facebook group for librarians, and the Food and Agriculture Organizations’ highly successful online community of practice, e-agriculture.org.
Group B identified the role of networks and communities of practice to be knowledge production and exchange and named Mobile Active and the ICT4D Twitter community as examples of effective networks, citing good community builders as key reasons for success. Similarly to group A, this group noted that value is created when a community comes together around a joint purpose, making it valuable for new members to subscribe. In terms of characteristics that make a network useful for development work, the group cited adaptability, which results from a community led design process, as the top reason.
Group C concluded that the role of online networks is representation and bridging of different approaches to development, and focused in particular on the potential of communities of practice to improve research theory. The group agreed that networks provide a platform for social support, and that this is often their most valuable aspect. Some successful uses of online networks were found in lobbying, building critical masses around political causes and emergency responses, and the mobilization of resources.
We would like to thank all of the participants for participating in the workshop and contributing their thoughts. Please feel free to direct any questions or comments about this document or our session at ICTD 2010 to Mark Graham (mark [_at_] geospace.co.uk). Please also let us know if we have omitted any important points that were raised in the workshop. We look forward to continuing the debate.
p.s. Thanks to Isabella Wagner and the ICT4D.at team, a short video of some of the session is available below: