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Field building necessarily involves longer-term commitments to lines of research than might otherwise be the case. It is, however, important to remain open to new ideas and new partners who may be outside the existing research institutions that participate in the supported networks. Perhaps the best example of how this approach can pay dividends is the case of the Pan Localization research network.

Along with multi-phase support to research networks and remaining open to new ideas and new partners through small grants competitions, the field building approach used by the ICT4D program at IDRC includes several other elements, some of which are the following:. The field building approach is not without its perils. Once a research network has received several phases of support, it can be challenging to disengage if no successor or institutional sponsor has been found. As well, while small grants programs can be important sources of innovation and outreach, they are time consuming and administratively burdensome.

Additionally, it has helped to advance the social and economic prospects within developing countries. This is true in sectors that have already been referenced. It is also the case that, more generally, IDRC has helped to build the general field of applied research in ICT itself over the last decade.


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New specialist research institutes in this area have arisen and researchers with this as their specialization are now much more likely to be included in think tanks, universities and other research organizations. The celebrity of ICTs and development began to fade almost as quickly as it arose.

By , it was becoming clear that other international development agencies were beginning to withdraw from the field. This decline, the report indicates, has been partially offset by several special initiatives within OECD countries. IDRC , 5. There had been signs even earlier that this was happening. July in Ottawa is a time when most Canadians want to be on vacation. But this is exactly what happened.

Other withdrawals would soon follow. It is difficult to ascertain what may have prompted these decisions. Donors are notoriously fickle when it comes to programming priorities. But anecdotal evidence points to questions about the role of aid — in contrast to private investment — in reducing the digital divide especially with the growth in mobile telephony and a perception that the ICT4D field was littered with technologically driven, unsustainable pilot projects.

The Dot Force and the two summits served as powerful magnets to generate great interest in the ICT4D sector throughout the developing world — an interest that continues to this day. Many new activists, researchers and institutes entered the new field that had been created. In late , IDRC moved from a dedicated ICT4D program area to mainstreaming thematic issues into other programs such as health, agriculture and governance, among others.

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The first decade of the twenty-first century saw a major transformation in how the developing world uses the tools of ICTs. In many ways, while the shift has yet to be named, the changes in access to communications and computing in development in the past decade have been at least as transformative as the Green Revolution was in agriculture two decades earlier. Human, organizational and business output has been dramatically increased through telecommunications.

Networks of knowledge and information sharing that never could have existed without these ICT tools have become commonplace. The emerging-market countries that were early adopters of these new tools now account for increasing shares of world output and productivity. There are now more than 6 billion mobile phone subscriber accounts — most of them in the developing world.

The social networking tools of the Internet have helped to bring despots and dictators to their knees. Mobile telephony and the Internet are now part of the everyday elements of business and organizational life in the developing world. It also helped to establish cadres of knowledgeable researchers and sustainable institutions that continue this important work in the developing world into the future.

This is no mean feat for a hastily assembled, rapidly grown, multidisciplinary team of development professionals. It is time that this be chronicled, understood and shared. Amoako, K. Bell, D.


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    Carden, F. New York: Sage Publications. Fuchs, R. Ottawa: IDRC. Global Knowledge Partnership Foundation. Government of Canada. Mbeki, Thabo. Middleton, C. Muirhead, B. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier Press. Paris: OECD. Okinawa Charter on Global Information Society. Kyushu-Okinawa Summit, Okinawa, 22 July. Online: www.

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    Digital technologies today are indispensable tools used in almost every facet of our daily lives. Especially in the developing world, mobile phones have transformed the lives and livelihoods of average citizens.

    Yet, two decades ago, when there were more phone lines in Manhattan than in most of Sub-Saharan Africa, only a few visionary institutions could have imagined that computers, the Internet and mobiles would be so prominent in poverty-stricken environments. Information and communications technologies ICTs began to emerge as an issue in the field of development at a time when the concepts of sustainable development, biodiversity, economic growth and services for all dominated the landscape.

    These discourses did not consider the introduction of technology to address development issues, as technology was perceived as a luxury item rather than an indispensable building block for social and economic development. Despite this early skepticism, a few institutions and players in the world of development were prepared to argue that, like implementing basic needs infrastructure, access to ICTs was also needed. These early advocates for exploring the use of technology in the global south assumed that, by supporting and researching the ways in which ICTs could be used for development purposes, they would be able to overcome a range of developmental barriers such as access and performance in the education, health, political and community sectors of life.

    It recognized that ICTs could play an important and complex role in fostering human development and reducing poverty. As a Canadian Crown corporation, IDRC supported developing country researchers to conduct in situ research on social, economic and environmental issues related to growth and development. From its inception in , IDRC had understood that information technologies were an indispensable element in this mission.

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    Not only did developing countries require these technologies to reach out to the best sources of knowledge about health, agriculture, the environment and other socioeconomic development essentials, they needed the same tools to become knowledge producers in these areas themselves. Information technologies — and, later, communications technologies as well — were essential ingredients to accomplish this.

    IDRC as a donor believed that capacity building was the most important mission of its work. The process and the skills acquired in the process of research for development by southern researchers and institutions were at least as important as the results of the research itself. It also remained with them over the long term. IDRC understood that the pre-market circumstance of most developing countries meant that computers, the Internet and telephony were unlikely to be of benefit beyond the minority elites who could afford them.

    The approach taken by IDRC in this case was to make pre-market investments in pre-market circumstances in support of pro-poor sectors like healthcare, agriculture, rural development and education. This helped to create an awareness of the usefulness of these tools and it built local demand for these services.

    This accelerated the formation of local markets and helped to build the first generation of local entrepreneurs that would sustain the sector in the long run. What began in just a few places now includes most countries in Africa. Telecoms regulators and policy leaders learn how well or how poorly their jurisdictions are faring based on solid, comparative evidence.

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    Accordingly, the pressure for progressive reform mounts and policies change. Along with the significant financial investments IDRC makes in support of development research, the programming staff at IDRC are more than just administrators. They are specialists in their respective fields and have real world experience in doing development research and working in the developing regions of the world.