Full title: From ICT4D to Cognitive Justice: Framing Research for Open Development
During the era of the New World Information and Communications Order (NWICO), Tichenor et al. advanced the knowledge gap hypothesis, stating that, “As the infusion of mass media information into a social system increases, segments of the population with higher socioeconomic status tend to acquire this information at a faster rate than the lower status segments, so that the gap in knowledge between these segments tends to increase rather than decrease” (1970:159-160). With the emergence of modern ICTs, development researchers and practitioners became concerned these would further reinforce the knowledge gap. But they were also encouraged by the hypothesis that access to ICTs would allow developing countries to ‘leap’ over a stage in development and join a community of nations in the post-industrial information society. As a result, early research on “ICTs for Development” (ICT4D) was obsessed with the problem of the digital divide (James, 2005).
More recently, researchers have begun to question the wisdom of focusing so heavily on facilitating access to information and knowledge. In particular, Cees Hamelink questions the notion of development underlying research and policy on the digital divide. Drawing on the work of Allan Kaplan, he argues that development should not be conceived of as a process of engineering which depends on the delivery of information and knowledge, but rather as a process which “enables people to participate in the governance of their own lives” (Kaplan, 1999:19 as cited in Hamelink, 2002: 8). With this in mind, Hamelink concludes that, “…the real core question is how to shape ‘communication societies.’ In fact for the resolution of the world’s most pressing problems we do not need more information processing but the capacity to communicate” (Hamelink, 2002: 8). Indeed, given that the practice of sovereignty has changed radically with the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the ‘global’ era, and given that the practice of media power has been revolutionized by technologies that enable distributed networking (web 2.0 / open production) over broadcast distribution, we no longer talk about the NWICO era concept of the ‘Right to Communicate,’ but rather the idea of ‘Communications Rights’. In this view, “the way forward would have to be through the democratization of media and communication, rather than through state- or industry-led efforts to create new global orders” (Alegre & O’Siochru, 2006; emphasis mine).
While a shift may be taking place empirically and conceptually, frameworks for research often still reflect older notions of development in which empowerment of local actors happens through the delivery and appropriation of technology as a means to close the knowledge gap. With this paper, I hope to begin a discussion about how research frameworks can reflect the shift from ICT4D to Open Development. The paper identifies philosophical, design and methodological issues that researchers confront when considering research in the field of Open Development. The first section reviews the main assumptions and core research questions posed by scholars of Social Informatics (SI) and Community Informatics (CI). Departing from these positions, the paper then extends an alternative philosophical foundation and research agenda for Development Informatics (DI) in the field of Open Development. In doing so, it argues that cognitive justice should form the guiding principle for research in the area of Open Development. Cognitive justice is the idea that no one form of knowledge should dominate at the expense of others, but rather that different forms of knowledge should exist in dialogue with each other (Visvanathan, 2002; van der Velden, 2005; Santos, 2007). By extension, the notion of cognitive justice implies that the structure of information resources, social networks and systems for knowledge production must also support diversity and dialogue. The second section identifies research design challenges faced by DI (openness, complexity and case selection) and suggests some means to overcome these issues. The final section tackles the practical issue of blending research innovations made possible by ICTs with best practices for research in developing settings, and suggests some specific research methodologies appropriate to the project of DI.
Author: Katherine Reilly