Tim, Aman, Stéphane and I are back from the ICTD2010 conference, which took place last week at Royal Holloway college, UK.
What struck me the most at the conference is how “immature” the ICTD field is, perhaps because I’m new and previous conferences I attended were about older topics. Indeed, many discussions, on or off the stage, evolved into arguments on what ICTD is, or even what “D” is.
Being immature has its virtues, though. For instance, I think it explains the fact that there were quite a few papers presenting failed initiatives. Failure can be as instructive as success. But as academic disciplines grow up, they become competitive for promotion and funding, and failure becomes shame. The fact that there doesn’t seem to be an established framework for evaluating and analyzing the impact of project may also have something to do with the range of avowed outcomes. Another sign of a young subject.
Another thing that surprised me was how much there was on the question of whether ICTs would save the developing world. A few speakers were quite vocal, defensive even, in their asserting that no, ICT isn’t the solution to poverty. It seems that at some point in the past the claim was ostentatiously made, and now the community still bears the stigmata and does its best to rebuff it. Read Toyama (and the Jester) for more proof.
Yet another good side of the lack of maturity of ICTD is that the field isn’t too politicized. But to be honest, I wish it was sometimes, or at least a bit more controversial, either on ICT topics (is there a future for SMS?) or D topics (are Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and derivatives the sweat shops of the digital age?).
I don’t know how the discipline and the conference will evolve, but I’ll definitely go again to find out. It’ll be hard to outdo this year’s host in their organisation, but I trust that next year Georgia Tech will come close.