Questioning ICT myths

Can a lack of information be solved simply by setting up telecentres? Should poor-governance sought to be sorted out just by building e-governance? And, if the problem is a lack of market information, can this be met merely by building up e-commerce portals?

Mridul Chowdhury is a research affiliate at the IT Group in the Berkman Centre, Harvard University. He’s also a director of D.Net. For him, though, the April 19-21 APC Regional Consultation on ICT Policy in South Asia was an occasion to question some assumptions made by those in the ICT4D (information and communication technologies for development) network.

He made a strong critique of the lack-of-information-can-be-solved-by-telecentres thinking. Or the poor-governance-can-be-sorted-out-by-e-governance trend. And even the lack-of-market-information-can-be-met-by-e-commerce-portals approach.

Said he: "Telecentres are based on the premise that give people access to ICTs, and they find a way to use it, besides also satisfying their basic info needs. But ICT is not like a road; you don’t have to train people to walk on a road."

"We need to start with identifing information gaps that we’re really trying to solve," he stresses.

Without a lot of planning, e-governance has attracted a lot of funding, he also points out. "We shouldn’t be stressing on the e- part of it, but rather should stress on the ‘governance’. Maybe we should call it governance reform process. We need to reform the way the government works," says he.

"One big problem with donor funding is that it always ends up with people like us. It really does not get to the community

directly which it tries to affect. So we’re always the middle-men trying to solve the problems. Our responsibilities

are massively great. It is therefore very important to understand what the people who cannot really understand funding," Chowdhury added.