The ICT4D Opportunities and Challenges in Child-Centric Development
July 17, 2015 Editor 0
Children, ICT and Development, a report for the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, by the ICT4D Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London and Jigsaw Consult, explores the ways in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) can contribute to efforts towards meeting child-focused development goals. The diffusion of ICTs has been highly uneven, and it is clear that digital divides not only trace but can also further deepen existing social divides, between income-rich and income-poor, between urban and rural dwellers, between women and men, and girls and boys.
The report therefore supports UNICEF in efforts to further develop and disseminate good practice regarding ICT4D and children. UNICEF is committed to work for the most marginalized children in society and a focus on equity and technology runs throughout the research.
The pioneering research process consisted of a review of relevant literature and in-depth interviews with 35 experts in the field connecting ICT4D with child-focused development, thus providing one of the most comprehensive overviews of the subject to date.
The literature review focuses on the topics of extreme poverty, maternal and child health, nutrition, access to education, governance and accountability, and eParticipation, children and the internet. This provides a foundation for the eight analytical themes, which are grounded in the expert interviews with practitioners, policy makers and academics.
- The first theme, access and equity, explores the complex socio-political factors which dictate availability and affordability of ICTs for children. It highlights the importance of focusing on children in the most disadvantaged city districts and remote regions and shows how ICT can both exacerbate and reduce pre-existing inequalities for children.
- The second theme, gender, emphasizes the specific challenges for girls in accessing and utilizing ICT. It explores some of the initiatives that are working to reduce the gender divide in ICT and identifies technology-related risks that are particularly likely to affect girls.
- The third theme focuses on the important role of intermediaries, assessing who controls access to and use of ICTs and the implications that this has for e-health and e-learning. Alongside this, the discussion of intermediaries also emphasizes the role of commercial interests affecting the distribution patterns of ICTs.
- The fourth issue the analysis engages with is local demand and appropriate design. It documents interviewee perspectives regarding appropriate responses to local demand and emphasizes the importance of contextualised, user-centred approaches to design.
- The fifth theme brings together as focal areas: accountability, open data, voice and participation. The interviewees repeatedly identified the interplay between these four aspects and explained the potential for advances in data collection to lead to more responsive, adaptive and participatory policy making and programming.
- The sixth topic engages with pilots, scale and sustainability: these provoked diverse perspectives from the interviewees as they are closely linked to the complex question of what constitutes a successful child-focused ICT for development programmes. The analysis examines the way in which pilot programmes are often overly-optimistic and explores the diverging views of how important the scaling-up of initiatives should be.
- The seventh theme concentrates on the private sector, partnerships, entrepreneurship and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). The interviewees expressed various perspectives on private sector involvement in child-focused ICT initiatives, disagreeing as to whether this influence is generally positive or negative. There was significant, though not universal, commitment to promoting FOSS, with interviewees explaining the benefits for scalability and sustainability.
- The final issue engages with innovation, evaluation and failure. Interviewees noted the complexity inherent in the terms. The analysis explains that from an equity perspective innovative use of ICT needs to focus on reaching more marginalized groups first and emphasizes the ongoing need for evidence building and learning through evaluation.
Experts noted that in many initiatives related to ICT4D, children should be considered as a specific, though not homogenous, category and special attention should be given to their needs. The Children, ICT and Development report concludes by returning to the seven overarching questions which guided the research process.
- It considers how ICTs can help with reducing inequality, explores the risk that they can increase inequality, and notes where they might offer quick wins for child-focused development objectives.
- It then explains how ICTs can contribute to the future of child-focused development efforts, how they can be integrated more effectively in other child-focused development efforts, and how ICT projects can assist the most vulnerable children.
- Finally, it proposes how the work of UNICEF and the field of ICT4D can contribute to one another and offers a reflection from the perspective of the report authors.
ICTs are not a technical sphere detached from the complex realities of children’s lives. They are increasingly woven into the very fabric of life, in income-rich and increasingly in income-poor countries. It is clear that if there is no targeted engagement with these socio-technical innovations, they are likely to reinforce existing inequalities.
It follows that a focus on children and on greater equity leads to an active and reflective engagement with the potential and challenges of ICT for development, targeting in particular marginalized children. This report serves as a key contribution on which to build informed dialogue and decision making, developed jointly between research, policy and practice.
Excerpt from Children, ICT and Development, a report for the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti by Dr Dorothea Kleine and Sammia Poveda of the ICT4D Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Dr David Hollow of Jigsaw Consult.
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