Open ICT4D is the use of new ICTs to engage in “open” processes to achieve development gains. More specifically, open ICT4D is a way of organizing social activities for development benefits that favour:
- Universal over restricted access to communication tools and information. For example, access to the telecommunications infrastructure through a mobile phone, or access to an online content such as MIT’s Open CourseWare (OCW) or government information.
- Universal over restricted participation in informal and formal groups/institutions. For example, the use of SMS to mobilize political protests, or new e-government implementations that provide increased transparency and new accountability arrangements.
- Collaborative over centralized production of information, cultural content, and physical goods. For example, collaborative production of school textbooks, co-creation of government services, mesh networks.
At an abstract level, one way to understand these three components of Open ICT4D is to see them as part of a continuum, where each prior component is a pre-requisite for the following one. Access (and its associated infrastructure and skills) is a pre-requisite for participation that in turn is a pre-requisite for collaborative production (See Figure 1 below). For these reasons, generally speaking, as we move from access to participation to collaboration, the complexity of the enabling pre-requisites required for the activity is increased. Indeed, it may be that for true “open” collaboration new institutional forms will be necessary. A good example that is discussed more below is the range of e-government activities that moves from simple presentation of information on a Web-site, to more interactive e-services, and eventually to participatory e-services (see Table 2 for a list of activities from more closed to more open). This final move is considered transformative because it requires major back-end changes to the public sector bureaucracy that is not built to handle truly participatory or collaborative activities.
Recall that we view Open ICT4D as an hypothesis. This is not an argument that ICTs will lead to increased openness and will lead to positive development outcomes. Rather, it is an hypothesis that:
There are many processes that can be made more open through the use of ICTs and that doing so will generate development outcomes that are:
- Incrementally better: i.e., in a more efficient (e.g., faster, cheaper) and/or effective manner (e.g., better leveraging of local knowledge, contextually-appropriate innovations, more local buy-in through transparency and participation), and/or
- Novel/Transformational: i.e., in a manner that without an open ICT approach is impossible (e.g., novel innovations, new forms of participation, mobilization, or organization).
There is a corollary to this hypothesis: different activities will function optimally (directly or indirectly generating social value) with greater or lesser degrees of openness.
Consequently, as ICTs spread and these social platforms become more prevalent, the central research question is: how, in what contexts, and to what extent does the opening up, through ICTs, of information, communication, participation and collaboration lead to more positive social outcomes?