I was one of the 7 panellists that participated in The Guardian’s live chat on the role of technology in advancing the MDG agenda. The panel included a couple of experts on humanitarian aid which in my book is a bit different from actual development assistance. In any even below are some onf my inputs.
This was my opening shot, sort of an overview on the subject.
The discussion on the role of ICTs in development and more specifically on the achievement of the MDGs is certainly not new. It actually startted back in 1999 when the MDGs where being design.
We have learned a few things since. From those lessons, I can highlight three core themes that are in turn cloelsy interrelated
Policy: ICTs need to be in development policy agendas to have any real impact on the ground. There is however a policy gap between key decision makers and ICT practitioners. The former see ICT as just another theme and perhaps a good tool to change a few things around. The latter tend to see ICTs as an end on themselves, and one that can change everything by itself. This gap is perhaps best reflected in the current SDG or post2015 discussions where ICTs are barely mentioned.
Implementation: we need to focus of three core pillars: economic/environmental including jobs, growth, inequality, sustainability); social such as the delivery of basic services such as education and health (as well as public information); and governance related which includes participation, transparency and accountability. These three pillar in turn should address three critical challenges: localization, scalability and replicability, and sustainability.
Evaluation and assessment: there is also clear need to assess and measure progress (or lack thereof) ICT investments geared towards the MDGs. This will entail having good benchmarks and agile indicators. Here, open data and bid data can play a key role as can crowdsourcing, etc.
Sound policies which inlcude ICTs can lead to implementation priorities custimzid to local needs which in turn need to be assessed and measure to revisit policies and refine implementation. And so on and so forth.
On the question about the effectiveness of ICTs on specific MDGs:
ICTs are particularly effective in supporting information rich sectors such as education, health and agriculture. They are also ideal to deal with processes that demand transactions between governments and stakeholders. In these cases, ICT has a direct role in the provision of the specific service or information. But ICTs can also have an indirect role in many other sectors as they can for example inform people how to get a service or more importantly allow people to participate in decisions that will bring a service or benefit to their communities. This is part of the governance and empowerment angle I mentioned before.
On the questions if there should be a dedicated ICTD target:
On the twitter question on having a goal for Internet access, I think the answer is no. As mention before target 18 of MDG 8 is such a goal and includes all ICTs. That does not mean we should not push for ICTs in the new development agenda. We need to ensure that ICTs are seen as necessary means of implementation for most of the new development goals, bearing in mind that we seen them as enablers for development providing scalable new solutions to traditional development gaps and issues.
And some final reflections on the topic:
Three things come to mind immediately:
1. We need to beef up the evidence that technologies can and are indeed making a big difference on the ground to bring this to policy makers attention.
2. We need to work more closely together and support not only public private partnerships but also multi-stakeholder partnerships that involve stakeholders from the very beginning.
3. We should continue to endorse the empowerment and governance elements of the new technologies and ensure people have a voice in the determination of their own future.
Too bad we did not have time to address the gender issues!