Last week I talked about how technology and data plays a role in engaging citizens and improving development outcomes. I talked about the role of internet and communications technologies (ICT) within this landscape. This week, I want to continue that discussion with more thoughts from my EdX course: Citizen Engagement: A Game Changer for Development.
Technology has the potential to include those who have traditionally been excluded from the development process to have a stronger voice in development with crowdsourcing techniques. Shirin Madon says ICT is successful when it is focused in improving localized relationships between people and their governments. However, technology can also act to exclude the poorest and most marginalized groups. There are many obstacles to making ICT uses much more inclusive, including lack of access and technology literacy.
New technologies can break down hierarchies and enable collaboration across different groups and stakeholders, thus promoting horizontal and vertical accountability between citizens and the service providers and governments. According to Shirin Madon, ICT bridges the gaps between governments and citizens using an interface that makes the process more transparent. Many of the technologies today such as open source platforms are collaborative by nature.
The selection of appropriate technology solutions is really critical to its success as a part of engaging citizens. Technology needs to be implemented within the local, social, cultural, political and economic context. Simply introducing technology into the interface between government and citizens will not lead to meaningful change. There will continue to always be human intermediaries in the developing world in order for technology to be a useful tool for participation.
While ICTs are not a panacea for development, under certain conditions they can, in fact, be instrumental for both strengthening social accountability mechanisms at the demand side, and also promoting institutional changes and behavioral changes within government and donor agencies or on the supply side. If ICTs are able to enhance people’s opportunities, provide them with new options and expand the capabilities for economic and social development, then they can make a real difference in enhancing people’s well-being. Using technology to help people realize their potential and hold governments accountable to take action is key for development.