Everything Wrong in ICT4D Academia in One Research Paper
July 7, 2014 Editor 0
Did you know you could set up a Google Scholar Alert for academic papers that mention your favorite topic? I have one set up for “ICT4D” just to see what research is new or interesting in my favorite profession.
I usually find gems like Malawi Television White Spaces (TVWS) Pilot Network Performance Analysis or Brokers of Public Access: Infomediaries, infomediation, and ICTs in public access venues, and occasionally, I see a title that just jumps out at me.
That’s what happened when I saw this one: Taarifa: Improving Public Service Provision in the Developing World Through a Crowd-sourced Location Based Reporting Application. I expected Mark Iliffe, Giuseppe Sollazzo, Jeremy Morley, and Robert Houghton to take me through a deep analysis of the impact ICT4D can have on government services.
Instead I got everything wrong in ICT4D academia.
Now let’s not personify this as unique to our 4 protagonists. They mean well, I’m sure, and they did write a good paper. It’s just not useful to us in any way, except as a demonstration of how not to think about an ICT4D project. They committed the 3 deadly sins of ICT4D with stunning accuracy.
- Focusing on Westerners: The paper starts with a long detail about a Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon that was the start of the Taarifa software. Nice enough, but they spent 2 whole pages on it – almost 1/3 of the total report.
- Focusing on Software Developers: They spend the next 2 pages of the report going into detail around Ushahidi developers and who did or didn’t commit code to github. Okay… interesting to a point, but do we really care about the standard deviation of commits per contributor?
- Forgetting about Community Members: Remember the title of the paper? Well exactly 1.3 pages of the report, less than 1/3 of the total, was spent talking about the actual community impact. You know, if crowd-sourced location based reporting can improve public service provision? And they didn’t even answer the question!
I am saddened that the authors seemed more interested in the complete rewrite of Taarifa, using the Django framework, than if community members could use technology to change their relationship with government.
Most egregious of all, is that the paper’s authors knew what they should’ve written about. In the “Related Work” section, they correctly identify a “definite gap in the research would be an ethnographic study of when a crisis occurs, observing and reporting the ’value chain’ and how the data is used,” yet they didn’t spend a second focusing on that – exactly what I thought the paper was about.
Ugh. Better luck next time guys. Maybe if you had a more gender-balanced team…
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