Open Ict4d And Capabilities

Another high-level way to conceptualise the relationship between openness, new ICTs and human development is through Sen’s notion of development as the expansion of capabilities (Sen, 2001). From this perspective, one’s access and capacity to understand, act upon and participate in different activities that one has reason to value is what makes up an individual’s capabilities (or individual autonomy as Benkler describes it). Benkler (2006) elaborates on the ways that the networked information economy has the potential to increase this freedom: (i) an increased range and diversity of things that individuals can do, (ii) an increased range and diversity of available information and (iii) reduced power of proprietary providers over individuals. Note that these capabilities include a large range of activities that are enabled by the goods (content, technologies and processes) that are more openly useable and re-usable.

This notion of capabilities need not necessarily be wedded to the highly individualistic notion that is traditionally associated with the capability approach (Gasper, 2002; Stewart, 2005). The notion of capabilities can be extended to include the capabilities of groups or collectivities (Evans, 2002; Ibrahim, 2006). Indeed, as discussed, some of the most powerful aspects of new ICTs are their role as enabling social activities, including facilitating the formation of coordinated group activity around specific objectives or interests. These activities effectively form new groups, and perhaps new forms of social relations and social capital, that fall outside of the traditional notions that draw from strong bonds of family relations or community associations. That is not to say that the process of new group formation and coordination might not also be enhanced by already existing forms of social capital. Rather, in some domains, increasingly open social and digital environments with the appropriate enabling ICTs allows for the dynamic creation of new sets of coordinated group activity from which a whole new range of group capabilities emerge. Furthermore, these group capabilities function with important causal impacts. Witness one of the first shots over the bow: in 2001, Manila residents, angered by a perceived injustice, organized a protest using SMS that lead to the fall of the Estrada presidency in four days (Castells, Fernandez-Ardèvol, Qiu, & Sey, 2007, p. 187).

The capability approach provides a potentially useful high-level conceptualisation for a variety of reasons beyond its popularity in development circles. First, it dovetails nicely with the perspective on openness and the enabling role of ICTs. Second, the notion of capabilities is cross-cutting as it necessarily includes a variety of dimensions – economic, cultural, social, technical, etc. Third, capabilities are conceptually useful because they highlight the importance of process; capabilities are both a means and an ends of development. Note that the notion of capabilities comes at a very high level of abstraction. In order to understand in a more concrete manner exactly how new ICTs and openness processes lead to enhanced capabilities, it is necessary to move to a lower level of theory – one that coincides with the actual ICT implementations that exist.

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