Transitioning Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) Projects from Research to Implementation
Walton, Rebecca W.
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Since international development emerged at the end of World War II, people have had high expectations that technology and information would play a central role in improving the lives of people in resource-constrained environments. However, we still do not understand how best to design and implement technologies to inform, connect, and empower people in these environments. To address this gap in understanding, this dissertation seeks patterns across seven projects that sought to use information and communication technology (ICT) to support development goals in India. The research is situated within the relatively young, interdisciplinary field of information and communication technology for development (ICTD). Relevant literature includes not only ICTD but also development studies, critical theory, and complex systems literature. The study examines the transition of seven ICTD projects, addressing the research question, "Which elements are important to transitioning ICTD projects from research to implementation?" All seven projects were led by professional researchers: three projects by academic researchers at Indian universities, two by academic researchers at U.S. universities, and two by industry researchers at a multi-national corporate research lab. The projects represented a range of development domains, including education, agriculture, and employment. This study presents an analysis of the projects based on four months of onsite data collection, including observation and interviews with project leads, project members, partner organizations, and intended beneficiaries. Exploring the transition of multiple projects revealed critical patterns related to four broad themes: (1) scope creep, (2) scalability, (3) project management and sustainability, and (4) perceptions and behavior. These patterns not only affected the transition of the seven ICTD projects from research to implementation but also offer important implications for future ICTD researchers, particularly those seeking to transition their findings into development applications in the field. For example, one major takeaway from this study relates to sustainability, a widely held criterion of project success, which posits that more successful ICTD projects continue to exist over time. The findings from this study challenge that somewhat simplistic view of project sustainability by illustrating that ICTD projects live on in a variety of complex ways. Therefore, this research suggests sustainability should be defined much more broadly than it is usually presented in ICTD literature. A second contribution of this research is identifying common surprises and challenges across ICTD projects that were led by seasoned researchers in the field. For example, credibility and trust building played a more significant and far-reaching role throughout the life of ICTD projects than project leaders expected. A third implication of this study is that ICTD project stakeholders should temper their expectations of ICTD best practices. Examining the transition of seven ICTD projects illustrated not only benefits of ICTD best practices but also drawbacks.