The “ICT for development” mantra is now more than a decade old. However, the idea continues to excite due to its projected potential towards achieving significant developmental outcome. Allocation of resources for adoption of technological innovation that contribute to development is an undisputable need. However, it is being increasingly understood that such investment needs to be better informed to be as useful as projected for the end users.
To begin with, however stimulating, the IC in itself is putting together of some tools that have no meaning till the time they are effectively used by the people. Experiences demonstrate that ICT are for communities and not just for selected individuals and the ICT adoption processes, while identifying change agents and leaders should be aimed at looking at ways to empower the people to use it.
Most of the services offered by myriad projects can be classified into three major categories: 1)Informational services that disseminate generic information (as opposed to customized , such as as agricultural practices, schemes, weather forecasts, etc. 2) Transactional services that involve an exchange of specific (or customized) information services or funds between two or more parties using the ICT infrastructure. Examples include e-commerce and email.3) eGovernance services that refer to services that involve local, state, or national government. Providing land records, submitting complaints to local officials, etc are examples.
Ten years after toying with several ICT based projects , the crucial learning is that the tools are not used by the people the way they were anticipated to -usage is sparse compared to potential, suggesting problems with awareness, infrastructure, or content. A study titled “Enabling ICT for rural India”, undertaken by the Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University, a detailed appraisal of nine ICT projects implemented across India. The most successful project in terms of number of users per day turned out to be Belaundur that provides e governance in the form of tax collection records 200 users per day against a target population of 30,000. While AP online offering utility services like bill payments recorded about 75 users per day against a target population of 15,000, Gyandoot offering e governance service like land records recorded only 10 users against a target of 25,000 and ITC e-choupal offering Agricultural/ veterinary services recorded 25 against a target population of 2,500. (Available at http://iis-db.stanford.edu/pubs/20972/ICT_full_Oct05.pdf).
The challenges abound: from lack of awareness of the people about the range of services offered, to various misperception about possible use, from the location of the centres (often inside people’s houses with barriers to entry for women or those from ‘lower’ castes ), from flaws in design to inabilities to digitize content to make them available over a e-medium. However, there are quite a few success stories as well. Rather than rejecting ICT, it is time when we learn from our mistakes to make the projects more oriented towards the end users.
Is the ICT dream over?