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[liberationtech] New ICTD2012 Special Issue Published

Yosem Companys companys at
Wed Jun 12 21:06:56 PDT 2013

From: Arlene Luck <aluck at>

Information Technologies & International Development has just published its
latest issue at

Reflections at the Nexus of Theory and Practice:
Selected Papers from ICTD2012

Jonathan Donner, Rebecca E. Grinter, Gary Marsden
Special Issue Editors

This Special Issue of ITID contains six articles, each drawn from the
plenary papers presented at the  Fifth International Conference on
Information and Communication Technologies and Development hosted at the
Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, March 12–15, 2012. In total,
38 papers were presented at ICTD2012, 18 as plenary talks and 20 as poster
presentations, all drawn from a field of 94 double-blind peer-reviewed
submissions. The proceedings are available at the ACM Digital Library

As editors, we selected papers for this special issue which had been
particularly well-reviewed during the conference process, and which engaged
a diversity of current issues in the ICTD field. The invited  authors
extended and modified their papers based on feedback from ICTD2012, and then
participated in an additional single-blind peer review cycle with experts in
the field. The six revised individual ICTD2012 papers, as well as Bailur’s
review of Dutta’s Communicating Social Change: Structure, Culture and
Agency, each make new stand-alone contributions to the field. However, to
introduce the issue, it is worth reflecting on the papers as a set, and on
the 2012 conference from which they have been drawn.

One notable attribute of this year’s selections may be that a
preponderance of the articles engage with the structure and trajectory of
the field. The two clearest examples of this style are Dearden’s “See No
Evil? Ethics in an Interventionist ICTD” and Dodson, Sterling, and
Bennett’s “Considering Failure: Eight Years of ITID Research.” Each
uses a review of the existing ICTD literature to explore implications and
difficulties of conducting research with and among actual people and complex
communities. By placing the intervention and the project near the center of
ICTD practice, the two pieces support a perspective that “success” in
ICTD (or perhaps at least in ICT4D) cannot be framed in terms of advances in
abstract theory, but rather, in terms of an interplay of theoretical
progress and positive practical impact.

Two of the other articles also engage directly with the trajectory of the
field, albeit in manners which depart from interventionist frame shared by
the two discussed above. In “Cell Phone Analytics: Scaling Human Behavior
Studies into the Millions,” Frias-Martinez and Virseda suggest a promising
new methodology, rooted in the systematic analysis of large data sets, that
may improve researchers’ abilities to associate estimated socioeconomic
and demographic characteristics of populations with different levels and
patterns of mobile phone behaviors, without drawing on often-costly or
scarce individual or household-level interview data. Meanwhile, in
“Anthropology, Development and ICTs: Slums, Youth, and the Mobile Internet
in Urban India,” Rangaswamy and Cutrell draw on the results of an
ethnographic study to highlight the centrality of “mundane,
non-instrumental, and entertainment-driven needs” among
resource-constrained teenagers in Hyderabad. In so doing, the authors call
specifically for an integration of ICTD and anthropological perspectives,
and for the broadening of an analytical frame inside ICTD to accommodate
such uses.

Finally there are two articles which represent recent instances of the
tradition of interventionist field research in ICTD. In “Emergent
Practices Around CGNet Swara: A Voice Forum for Citizen Journalism in Rural
India,” Mudliar, Donner, and Thies report on the development, deployment,
and appropriation of a citizen journalism platform in India. Their work is
multidisciplinary, combining details of an original technical component (an
interactive voice response system), with an evaluation of a specific
instance of its uptake and impact (as the citizen journalism portal CGNet
Swara). Patel, Savani, Dave, Shah, Klemmer, and Parikh also take a close
look at an original voice-based system in “Power to the Peers: Authority
of Source Effects for a Voice-Based Agricultural Information Service in
Rural India.” Where Mudliar et al.’s approach is wide-ranging,
integrative, and exploratory, Patel et al.’s analysis of Avaaj Otalo is a
focused experimental design engaging specifically with established
information processing theory. Their findings—detailing an instance in
which farmers found audio tips from peers to be more compelling than the
same tips coming from experts—will further fuel the growing interest in
peer-to-peer forms of information provision and sharing in development. It
is our belief that both types of evidence and inquiry will continue to be
important for the field as it moves forward; both inform better practice and
design at scale for ICTD interventions, and both have implications beyond
the specific instances of citizen journalism and agricultural extension
explored in the articles.

In a recent piece in this journal, Geoff Walsham (2013) offered some
reflections on ICTD2012, noting (among other points) a relative lack of
“Explicit Focus on the D for Development” concerning engagement with
both policy and with the political economy of global ICTs. We would agree
that these six papers do little to directly assuage Walsham’s important
concerns. Matters of policy and political economy are only tangentially
addressed by these selections. The engagement with specific definitions of
development is also not universal, with perhaps only Dodson et al. and
Rangaswamy and Cutrell explicitly drawing on existing conceptualizations of
development, and the latter doing so largely in order to help push their
inquiry beyond those conceptualizations.

In contrast, the strength of these papers as a set may, instead, be that
each one is involved some way with “the nexus of theory and practice” in
the multidisciplinary community that is ICTD (Heffernan, Lin, & Thomson,
2012). Frias-Martinez and Virseda outline a new method; Rangaswamy and
Cutrell encourage a broader scope; Dearden offers a framework for better
engagement with research participants; Dodson et al. raise important
questions about the relationship between framing and evaluation. Mudliar et
al. describe one promising new platform with many possible new uses, while
Patel et al. help build the evidence around specific best-practices for
using peer-to-peer voice in development.

As noted earlier, this iteration of the ICTD conference featured review and
methods articles which are helpful in facilitating reflection on wider
aspects of an increasingly multidisciplinary field. These are accompanied by
the continued presence of papers that focus on addressing specific
development practices and do so at a level of detail that enriches our
knowledge of what, precisely, it is to “do development.” As a set, they
reflect a field engaged in a robust dialogue around methods and practice.
While Walsham’s critique should be taken as a further charge for the field
of ICTD, the continued production of scholarship, like the pieces
represented in this special issue, helps to raise the bar on our practice.
It will guide the field toward generating results to inform policy,
innovation, and intervention—based not just on isolated cases, but across
the accumulated evidence of multiple initiatives.


François Bar, Kentaro Toyama

Arlene Luck
Managing Editor

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