As a term, “ICT4D” is a strong and generally positive force. It acts as a magnet to aggregate knowledge and practice. It provides a clear and unambiguous tag for searches and material and events. The “4D” component provides a purpose for activity. Without it, we would lose more than we gain.
There was the well-meaning but ultimately-disadvantageous attempt to supplant it with “ICTD”, and there has been its fractionation as the field has grown into “M4D”, “HCI4D”, “ICT4E”, etc. Now there’s the faint whiff of a new(ish) kid on the block: “digital development”.
At the turn of the century, “digital development” showed signs of becoming the chosen term for application of ICTs to development, before ICT4D nipped in from 2001 to squeeze it out. It had a moment in the sun during the 2000s when it was used to help explain the digital divide. And now it has received some recent resuscitation. In 2014, UNCSTD commissioned a report on Digital Development, and USAID set up a Digital Development team as part of its Global Development Lab. In 2015, the widely-cited “Principles for Digital Development” were launched. In 2016, it got a cluster of mentions in the World Development Report, “Digital Dividends.”
As a term, “digital development” has plenty going against it: it’s generically ambiguous (searches bring up material on development of fingers and toes); it’s specifically ambiguous (searches bring up material on development of digital devices, or child development of digital technology capabilities); it doesn’t offer a snappy tag or signal; it has no inherent purpose.
Personally, I think it better we badge this “ICT4D 3.0” given the many benefits of the ICT4D label. (Actually, “ICT4D 2.0” would be better still but I already jumped the gun on that one back in 2009).
Nonetheless, “digital development” is a term with a bit of momentum behind it, and also a sense from recent entrants to the field – admittedly only gleaned from conversations at the WDR2016 London launch – that it is somehow new, and different from ICT4D. So, at theCentre for Development Informatics, we decided to run with that and see where it got us: holding a brown-bag lunch at which everyone was asked to assume there is some kind of phase change from ICT4D to Digital Development and, given that, to give examples or indicators of that change.
Our summary of the phase change differences is shown in the table below. A blog is not the place to provide a detailed explanation of the content, but I’ll note some main features:
- Our bumper slogan was that digital technologies are a tool for development under ICT4D, but will be the platform and medium for development under Digital Development.
- Digital Development both informs and is informed by a wider sense of phase change from “international development” to “global development” (discussed at a different brown-bag event of which more, perhaps, anon). One particular aspect of this – still a matter of much debate – is that development becomes a universal process, not one restricted to developing countries; a changing geography also seen within the shift in content from MDGs to SDGs.
- It seeks to incorporate earlier ideas like “Development 2.0” (seen as exemplifying some of the new development models of a Digital Development era) and “ICT4D 2.0” (seen as the innovation worldview that underpins Digital Development).
- It draws significantly from existing ideas on the network society and internet studies, and seeks to incorporate them into the global development domain. That intersection of digital and development is where most work still needs to be done. Castells & Himanen recently had a stab at this but it remains a work in progress. Alongside research into, and examples of, all the elements in the right-hand column, thinking about the digital/development intersection therefore forms the main agenda to take forward.
This article was originally published at ICTs for Development Blog (March, 2016) at: https://ict4dblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/from-ict4d-to-digital-development/