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African Voices on Why ICT4Ds FailPosted by: admin on Thu, 2011-02-24 15:04
After focusing on the success of ICT and social change innovations in the developing world- we look for commentary on the other side- reasons for failure. AudienceScapes Editor Alexandra Walker highlights African voices on the web commenting on many ICT interventions that are unable to survive beyond the pilot phase.
Alexandra Walker, Editor, AudienceScapes Project
A video making its way around the web features African researchers and practitioners discussing why the majority of ICT projects are unable to survive beyond the pilot phase.
They echo many of the points made at a recent World Bank webinar about mobile applications for development.
Filmed at a recent ICT4D summit on poverty reduction in Ghana, the video includes interviews with experts from Mozambique, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya and other countries. Overall, most of the experts faulted leaders of ICT interventions for their tendency to start designing a project with technology in mind, rather than the needs of the beneficiaries.
The video posits the following reasons as contributing to the high failure rate of ICT interventions in developing countries:
1) Idea/Results NOT Directly Tied to Improving Economic Condition of End User
The solution has to be tied to the user’s existing economic activities. If users feel that an ICT service helps them -- with production, for example – they will adopt it. Too often the service misses the user’s major problem.
South African researcher and professor Johannes Cronje offered a concrete example. Founders of an ICT project think, “Let’s get farmer internet connectivity so he can take the tomato to market at the best price.” Cronje argues the founders are mistaken: It doesn’t matter what the price is, that’s the wrong information for the farmer. He needs to know how to add value to his already ripe tomato which must be sold whether the price is good or not. How does he make chutney? Ketchup? Sun-dried tomatoes?
ICT is a means for making money, but doesn’t in and of itself generate income for users.
2) Not Relevant to Local Context/Strengths/Needs
Most of these ICT projects emanate from outside the beneficiary areas. And too often, the organizers don’t assess the needs of the users before designing and implementing the project. Consequently, when the funding dries out, stakeholders often don’t see the relevance to their needs, so this “white man’s project” is allowed to disappear.
It is imperative that each context is viewed as unique – one can’t apply a successful project for fishermen in Kerala, India, to another country.
When organizers of an ICT4D project arrive, they seldom involve the community in developing the service, so the community doesn’t feel ICT is part of their lives.
3) Failure to Understand Infrastructure Capability
The primary problem cited here is the instability of electricity in most African countries and how that hinders the effective operation of an ICT-driven project.
4) Underestimate Maintenance Costs & Issues
All interviewed testified to how expensive the cost of owning or operating ICT equipment is. One researcher noted that in one of his studies, the respondents spent one-third of their income on mobile phones. Even when the computers are received as gifts, the cost of maintaining them is too high to be sustainable. On top of this the lack of trained staff to maintain them and the ability to protect equipment from heat and sun are major obstacles.
5) Projects Supported only by Short-term Grants
The fact that many of the ICT projects lack a business model means there’s no income to maintain projects. It’s important that anyone implementing these projects look at the realities on the ground for project to succeed – often the practicality is not there. A community or an institution’s actual ability to operate a program after the pilot phase is not honestly considered.
6) Not Looking at the Whole System
Anyone designing or implementing these projects have to be in a country and live there to understand the problem the technology is meant to solve. One may realize that solution isn’t connected to technology at all.
7) Project Built on CONDESCENDING Assumptions
The whole premise of these interventions is that Africa is poor and has problems, according to Prof. Cronje from South Africa. Cronje insists that ICT4D interventions should be “asset-based interventions.” Otherwise, he says, “We miss the indigenous strengths.”