ACCESS is a common theme often repeated within the international development community when it comes to information and communication technology (ICT’s).
The idea is that if access to ICT’s is provided to communities and individuals from developing countries they will desire and strategically utilize them to do things like; stimulate political participation, improve health care services and enhance opportunities for employment and education.
ICT’s have great transformational potential when leveraged in the right way, but the question of whether or not a community can or will leverage this potential when provided access has been left somewhat unexamined.
Cultural and social processes play a big role in the way that communities use ICT’s. For instance it should not be expected that individuals with a different world view will approach technology in the same way as those distributing it. Relationships created between different global communities and new technological tool sets will be affected by unique cultural backgrounds and social expectations in different ways. Therefore, development professionals should be extremely cautious when introducing ICT’s into regions with different cultural and social backgrounds. It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that particular outcomes have a direct relationship to a particular technology itself. This is not always the case. During the Arab spring Facebook and other social media outlets greatly impacted the Arab revolution, although on the other hand these technological tools were also simultaneously used by the Egyptian government to spy on political activists.
The effectiveness of ICT’s in developing countries should not be a measure of how many people have access to these tools, but how many people are actually utilizing them in a strategic way that is directly connected to particular goal. In order to truly measure effectiveness, organizations that are providing access must also include a map of what kind of outcomes they desire and provide comprehensive training and support as a means to that end. Support in the form of education that takes into consideration the particular cultural and social influences unique to that region and uses this information as a strength guiding the way that educational tools are constructed.
Until the social and cultural aspects of the integration of technology become as important as the technology itself I fear that continued attempts to use it as a tool for good will continue to be met with disappointment.