Empowerment through Knowledge*

IDIA, the International Development Informatics Association, is an association serving as a forum for international cooperation between individuals and organisations focusing on research in the use of ICT for developing economies and societies (ICT4D), where various constraints impact on the use of ICT compared to highly developed regions. IDIA, established in 2006, provides opportunities for scholars and technical specialists alike to exchange knowledge on the modes and principles of applying ICT to such contexts and regions.

IDIA has members on all continents and relevant sub-continents, from various sectors:

Why Development Informatics?

The World Bank, the UN's MDG vision, and other well-meaning institutions and authors, typically claim that one quarter of the global community live on less than USD1.00 per day. However, this claim is based on a specific economic ideology, where that USD1.00 is calculated with regards to spending money. It is also an overgeneralisation, and does not account for the fact that USD1 goes much further in a self-sustaining rural village than in the slums of a large city. DI (Development Informatics) should investigate such claims, and through proper research present a balanced view.

More than 40% of global population work in the agriculture sector, which is typically rural and removed from cheap telecommuncations networks. About 30% of world population is unemployed. In economically developing regions, telecommunication networks are poorly developed. Though the mobile industry is growing at a phenomenal rate, even in developing regions, the globe is not covered by cheap networks, and access is not cheap. Ironically, access in Africa, the poorest of all continents, is also also the most expensive.

Given this background, and the fact that there is no return on investment for business to develop networks in remote areas, as well as the fact that the low tax base of these regions prevent governments from introducing and maintaining ICT services, it is safe to conclude that more than a billion people (and perhaps 2 billion plus) will remain unconnected deep into the 21st century. This seems to be true not only of geographically remote communities, but also of socially remote communities within highly developed regions.

What can be done to remedy this situation? Assuming that ICTs are effective tools to distribute knowlegde (including local knowledge) that local communities could use to improve their quality of lives, we have a moral duty to put on our thinking caps, think out of the box, and design ICT systems for such contexts - ICT systems that are not built on office models that were designed for the New Yorks of this planet.

With some lateral thinking and re-engineering of ICT systems, it it quite possible to indeed connect the disconnected billion or two people on this planet. Well, that is if they want to be connected. DI should investigate the arguments for and against such positions, the assumptions, the arguments. And if indeed a case can be made that the world needs to be connected, what kind of connectivity, what kind of devices, what kind of content? Almost all ICT4D projects are biased to a particular economic model. History shows the majority of such projects have failed. Perhaps it is time to consider alternative models and theories.

Development Informatics operates against this background. It focuses on fundamental questions regarding development, and specifically using ICTs for development. And if ICT is indeed important, finding relatively cheap solutions for total global connectivity and access to information.

It is not necessarily about connectivity. It is not necessarily playing into the hands of economic globalists. It is not necessarily using the classic PC-internet model of ICT. It is also not about technology for the sake of technology; but more about enabling communities to make their own choices. And if ICT can assist in that decision-making process, what should the nature of the ICT be?

The value system on which this is based is that ICT experts may be able to create systems that will enable such communities to have access to information and knowledge, and thereby empowering themselves. The experts cannot empower communities, and neither should the experts determine what communities need - communities themselves should determine their own needs. The role of ICT experts is merely to provide the necessary enabling tools. ICT enables, communities empower themselves.

Development Informatics may seek technological solutions, but the moral ground and value system should play a supportive role, rather than being dominant.

Conferences and Workshops

The 4th International Development Informatics Association Conference is to be held in Cape Town, 3-5 November 2010.

We hold annual workshops in South Africa. See more.

People

Administration


* Knowledge is power - Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)

IDIA operates under the auspices of COSI (Centre for Organisational and Social Informatics), in cooperation with the CCNR (Centre for Community Networking Research) at Monash University. IDIA is managed within the School of Information Technology, at the South African campus of Monash University.