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IDIA2012 Conference

Conference program

A critical assessment of M4D
and Development 2.0

Professor Chrisanthi Avgerou
Information Systems and Innovation Group
London School of Economics


For more than 30 years now ICT has been the source of a mix of excitement and grave concern for experts on development. Scholars, professionals and activists across the spectrum of development institutions and ideologies have seen ICT as the bearer of unprecedented opportunities for improving the life conditions of the neediest. But visions of ICT-led development have hardly been realised. Few exemplary cases that demonstrated unprecedented opportunities in ICT4D conferences scaled up. Overall ICT has not become the means for transforming life conditions in poor communities. In the ‘digital divide’ discourse, so prominent in academic and NGO circles since the 1990s, ICT became yet another indicator of widening gaps that separate ‘advanced’ and ‘emerging’ economies on the linear scales of global development.

A new wave of optimism is being created by advancements on two technology fronts: the wide diffusion, beyond expectations, of mobile phones even in the poorest regions of the world (M4D) and emerging web based platforms that enable economic and social interaction within and beyond local communities (Development 2.0). These have raised hope for enabling three areas of activities for the improvement of life conditions in developing countries: the creation of livelihoods for the poor, anti-authoritarian movements, and effective developmental government. I will examine the arguments for each of these areas in which mobiles and web platforms are expected to make a difference, illustrate them with examples, and critically discuss whether this build up of optimism is justified. My aim is not to prove or disprove the developmental capacity of the emerging technologies. I assume that these technologies, as indeed those that captured the imagination of development experts in the past few decades, bear a great deal of potential for socio-economic change. I will focus instead on examining what other efforts, in addition to acquiring or getting access to the technologies, need to be pursued or facilitated by policy makers and development professionals in order to create conditions conducive to exploiting the new technological promise.