Emerging Research Issues

Note that the order of the following issues in no way reflects relative importance.

  • Education: If a central area of future ICT4D activities is based on open activities involving sharing, mobilization, collaboration and innovation, then the extent and success of that venture will be dependent upon the skills and networks of individuals in developing countries to engage in these activities. Furthermore, as new innovations and adaptations arise the importance of critical thinking skills and flexibility become ever more essential. These skills will be needed to harness the value of new social capital networks that have both economic and intellectual value. This raises important questions concerning what type of education are best and how should we deliver that education?
  • Socio-economic divide: Given the crucial role of social factors, it is clear, as would be anticipated, that the social, political, and economic factors that determine different individuals’ relative resource sets and capacities for action will be influential in determining their ability to take advantage of these networking possibilities (for example, one’s social capital). While the increased ubiquity of mobiles might make universal access a possibility, these other constraints will still play a major role. What social-economic factors are most critical for realising Open ICT4D activities to generate the maximum social benefit?
  • Institutional change: A movement from closed to more open and participatory institutions (such as with e-government and open business models) generally require fundamental changes to organizational processes and structures. For example, universities originally sought to develop proprietary models of courseware distribution over the Internet, until MITs Open Course Ware (OCW) finally broke the mould. This was a radical shift requiring universities to see the value in open-educational resources and to institutionalise the process of online courseware provision and all that entails (Atkins, 2007). How can institutions best negotiate these institutional changes? What forms will the new institutional structures take?
  • Sustainability/new business models: As many “open” ICT4D activities involve content production outside of the typical funding models of the market and state, issues of funding/incentives/and sustainability become increasingly important. Thus, central questions for future open activities are: What are the sustainable business models for content production and provision? What types of content should/could be provided by the government or market? What are the pitfalls and benefits of market or state based hosting of information? What sacrifices are made if hybrid models are used, for example, supporting free content through private sector advertisements?
  • Intellectual property rights: The fundamental and changing role of property rights in the digital and network era cannot be overlooked. Evidence is emerging that property rights, as currently conceived, do not work as theorised (especially with respect to digital content), and even might be constraining innovation. What property rights regimens are best suited for particular Open ICT4D activities?
  • Complexity: Openness is not a binary concept, it is scalar; content is neither open nor closed, rather it ranges from highly open to highly closed depending upon who makes it, who accesses or uses it, and how it is owned. The degree of openness determines the amount of flexibility you have with a particular piece of content (broadly defined). For example, software APIs are partially open whereas open source is more open. This is potentially a significant understanding for the following two reasons: (1) Understanding the level of openness potentially helps us to anticipate what types of outcomes are possible (the less open the more constrained, the more open the more possibilities); (2) This suggests that there are different levels of complexities related to different open activities. This has implications for research, for example, that the greater the complexity the harder it might be to generate big effects making research focusing on outcomes more difficult.
  • Filtering and accreditation: The movement towards more horizontal structures of organization brings a different set of issues to the fore, such as how and who will validate, filter and organize data? For some activities, intermediaries in the hierarchical structures with special expertise/skills may still be necessary (e.g., for certain government services, or for peer micro-lending) while some may be possible without intermediation by replacing expertise with collective intelligence such as peer rating systems. Both of these situations require further research: for what technologies and in what circumstances do different approaches to peer-based validation of content work (or not) and how do we avoid the downsides (such as the spread of mis- or dis-information)?
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