Group discussion > Reasons Why Most ICT4D Initiatives Fail --- and What elements seem to be part of ones that are successful

Reasons Why Most ICT4D Initiatives Fail --- and What elements seem to be part of ones that are successful

3649 days ago

Greetings from Ghana! -- to all who are participating in the ICT4D Poverty Reduction Summit at a distance.

We have had some great meetings with tribal leaders, and with each other -- and come up with the following so far.

We want your feedback and thoughts -- do you agree or disagree? Would there things you would add? Additional questions/ideas you might have?

What are some Reasons Why Most ICT4D  Initiatives Fail?
-- the idea/results are not directly tied with visibly improving economic condition of the end user
-- the project begins with the technology as the starting point (not the needs/strengths/context of the people) -- and often does not even have the infrastructure or technical expertise to support it (e.g. electricity, support to fix it, etc)
-- the idea comes from outside of Africa, and is not relevant to everyday life -- it is seen as something extra or outside, not integrated as a part of everyday life.
-- (For Rural Areas In Particular) the project needs to involve the local government, or local authorities for buy-in and support, both to extend the reach it can have as well as the long term sustainability of it
-- Believing they are "in poverty" vs recognizing the "poverty is in them" -- when those initiating the project and/or the end users view poverty as something they are in. In reality, they are rich (as far as lands, opportunities, etc), the poverty is mainly in their heads.

What elements seem to be part of ones that are successful?
-- Enhance some existing concrete economic activity (e.g. breeding, farming, etc); focus on a strength they have and figure out how you can make it even better
-- Increase Relevance by including end user at the very beginning and through the project (listen first, look for causes, look for positive deviance, be open to non-ICT solutions, act incrementally)
-- Think "Simple" - build on existing infrastructure (radio, TV, mobile phones), and/or don't let end user see the complexity of the infrastructure
-- For rural projects particularly, involve and get buy-in from local government authorities (e.g. for one of UCADs teacher training projects, it 10X the amount of participants and impact)
-- Change focus from what others can do to help African's to what can African's in that particular community do to help others in the world. Focus on their strengths and what they can give.


What are your thoughts you would like to add?



Ugo Vallauri
3648 days ago

Hi Clint,

Thanks for this summary. I think it's hard to disagree in principle with most points raised.
The point I feel strongest about is focusing on the richness of the continent, as opposed to the poverty. It brings to mind a very inspiring paper Tim wrote on this: "On the Richness of Africa":
(It was also the subject of his keynote speech at eLearning-Africa 2009, some colleagues might remember)

Now, my critique of the summary. My main concern would be: ok, but so what? Meaning: this particular set of problematic issues is not unique to ICT4D, it could be argued that it similarly affects previous and/or concurrent waves of development/aid initiatives.

I am also worried about making such generalisations, because they tell us very little about specific projects and specific good practices that might help. For example, I would love to hear more about good practices in involving the local government in rural projects, as I don't really know much about this.

I would also add that perhaps failure and unintended consequences are not necessarily "bad", as long as they get properly documented and reflected upon in a transparent way, thus informing follow-up activities

Thanks for posting this - I hope you all had a very successful event!

John Alwala
3647 days ago

Hi Clint

The ideas you have posted certainly highlight some vexed issues on poverty and strategies to alleviate the scourge. I believe the most common way of viewing poverty is an individual's ability to have decent food, clothing and shelter. Certainly there is no question there is rampant poverty in most of Africa, and the various attempts at alleviation are quite laudable, even if these originate outside Africa. And some of the attempts are technologically oriented (depending on the project), such as ICT4D, or Appropriate Technologies (such as those for provision of clean water, etc). There are also those that seek to rpovide financial support, such as micro-finance, etc. Synergistically all these effforts are necessary and critical.

Some of the reasons your respondents gave are fine. However, in my view, the problem lies more with the attitudes of the 'helped'. May be the technologies we profer do not move these 'helped' to such levels that they identify with these technologies, rather viewing the technologies as mere temporal interventions which will die off with passage of time. In this way they lack the enthusiasm but treat the solutions as one of those 'foreign ideas'. With such an attitude the initiatives are bound to fail, or have much less than the desired impact. I think when a technology is wholly accepted, there may be no limits on the impact on the 'helped'. Mobile technologies, for example, have, in my view, gained the critical mass of acceptance in Africa and the philosophical questions around acceptance, complexity, etc, do not arise at all. The question is how to use these technologies to enable people economically, and so on.

Esther Nasikye
3647 days ago

Hi Clint,

This sounds like a very rich discussion. As you are aware, I have been researching on what you are discussing here and my experience and findings are not any different from what the group in Ghana discussed.
But as a person who has worked with a numebr of poverty alleviation projects in Uganda and East Africa, I think attitude as John pointed out is still a major challenge. But for me this attitude is on both sides. On one side is the philantropist who feels they have the solution to Africa's problems and they are the experts in poverty alleviation when they can't define poverty by any means/standard. They come with the "ultimate solution" which is often rebuffed by the people because it feels like a carry on of colonialism in any case.

Then the other side has the African who thinks they are rich because they haven't seen anything better and they also think the "white man" has a lot of money to give so they can always come in and "solve" the problem because they have too much.

I recently watched a documentary of how African defined poverty. I found a summary here

I am in the buisness of helping to change mindsets and I think mindsets have to be chanegd if poverty is to alleviated in Africa.

Some of the successful projects I have worked with spent more money on sensitisation of the community and leaders about the project before it was implementated. With this, sustainability and ownership of the project by the community was guaranteed. For a project on access to agricultural information for rural women farmers has to target the husband as well lest they think the mobile phones may make their wives promiscious.
In one particular project I am working on, husbands and males in the community had to be sensitised after we discovered the women were not turning up for the community meetings because the husbands thought they were going to meet other men especially the so called local council leader who thought the project was good for the community.

Sometimes this sensitisation has to extend to the leaders be they at community or national level. Ministerial appointments in many countries in Africa are not based on qualification. How else would the government of Uganda "sack" a renown ICT enthuisiast and replace him with a Political Economics graduate from Havard Unievrsity.No wonder Uganda has no clear ICT polciy yet government buy in is important for success of any project.

But I would like to add to the list of why some ICT4D initaitives fail

1. How gender sensitive is the project: Are the needs of men and women included in the projecft design for example?

2. Lack of sutainability and ownership of the project.

3. People Problems (though this applies to any poverty alleviation project). The social and cultural barriers that project managers face, such as resistance to change, departmental issues, lack of cooperation and teamwork, inadequate communication, lack of leadership support, and politics and infighting.

3646 days ago

Ugo, John, and Esther,

Great thoughts! Thanks for adding some additional perspectives.

I'm working now on editing some of the videos we took of some of the tribal leaders, as well as thoughts from each of the participants -- and very curious what your reaction will be to them as well.

Overall though, this event has given me hope in some ways that we can find solutions that are directly tied to economic activity in a way that enhances that activity. I'll post more on that soon too.


3646 days ago


Here are some of the outcomes so far...

Some Outcomes from the Summit:
- Great meetings with Dr. Yidana (new chair), and other ICT professors, the Vice Chancellor, and many students at UEW.

- They were very happy about the opportunity to collaborate with Kenya & Mozambique on their new Bachelors ICT program (to be offered for the first time in September). Interactions between Dr. Yidana and John Alwala have already begun.

- Had a university event/seminar with many of the ICT students attending -- revolving around the topic of ICT4D 

- Had media coverage, we were recorded for replay on local TV on radio stations. We were also interviewed by a national newspaper -- and asked what our advice for the national government would be.

- Field visits to several rural areas, received and learned a lot by the tribe leader and/or community council. Recorded messages from each, and recorded the entire conversation. Also recorded some footage at a school that was given 15 computers, bought 15, and none of which work any more. 

- Evaluation progress (for EDULINK final report)

- Had several vision meetings (for future collaboration) -- out of which came a draft of a paper for publication, and some concrete ideas for future funding proposals of collaboration for rural ICT4D development projects

- Shot footage so we can create videos (for example: "5 Reasons Why Most ICT4D Fails" (and 5 ways to increase its impact;  or "Voices of 'Poverty'")

- Reconnected with Mary McPalm, who is now Dean of the School of Creative Arts, and wants to be more involved.

- Able to see progress and contribution of Myriam Munezero (faculty exchange from UEF to UEW) & enjoy participation from Wilson (student exchange participant from UEW to Tanzania).

- Delivered some of the remaining equipment for Ghana while at the ICT department.

- Connected again with Boubakar Barry, or Association of African Universities, based in Accra 

- Feel a better understanding of what doesn't work, why not -- and have some leads for what might work better instead.