Sunday, August 29, 2004

Information Technology and International Development

"Between a rock and a hard place"
I am neither a practitioner nor an academic. I am somewhere in between.... or is it that as a knowledge broker, I should be trying to be the bridge between theory and practice, between the academics and the practitioners. I work more closely with the practitioners than with the academics, yet it often seems that the practitioners are too busy "doing" and wondering why some things don't happen as they'd expected and they're not looking to the academics or to theory for some insights into what went wrong. When the practitioners are happy with their successes, they're not likely to link their success to any theory or previous research either. They'll talk about learning from experience.

This is not to say that practitioners ignore theory. In fact, many have the theoretical background and theoretical frameworks in the back of their heads. What is missing is a more systematic look at existing theoretical frameworks to extract insights and create more stable and enduring linkages with practice. Practice should be more inspired by theoretical insights and the practitioners' insights should inspire researchers/academics a little more (you've heard that before?).

These Sunday morning theory/practice thoughts came out as I was scanning through the two past issues of the relatively new journal, Information Technologies and International Development, published by The MIT Press. In the second issue (Winter 2003), there is an article by Raul Roman titled "Diffusion of Innovations as a Theoretical Framework for Telecenters." Roman notes that while there is a growing body of literature on telecenters that is targeting policy makers, practitioners and those who set up telecenters, there has been little attention paid to any theoretical frameworks beyind telecenters. There have been discussions of evaluation frameworks and evaluation methods for telecenters, but that's it.

This caught my eye because a couple of months ago I was looking into diffusion theory and Rogers work in particular to think about ways to develop a theoretical framework for a study of IT adoption by SMEs in Macedonia.

It also caught my eye as I have been thinking about replicability and scalability issues and suddenly, a light was turned on. How can we talk about replicability and scalability of IT projects without talking about innovation diffusion theory. More thinking to be done.....

Sunday, August 22, 2004

"I tried going back to reading fiction, sick and tired of the jargonic, bureaucratic works I and others produce. I must be very picky because I find it really hard to find something I really enjoy reading in fiction. I'd rather write it myself."

That is what I wrote in my last entry in this blog. Reading it again, it sounds excessively arrogant. It's nice to write quickly without too much self-editing, but then, there's a greater chance of being misunderstood. In that paragraph, I did not mean at all to suggest that I prefer writing fiction to reading fiction because I am in any way a better writer than anyone published. Quite the contrary, I have very limited confidence in my ability to ever be published and no real interest in even seeking to be published. What I really meant is that I enjoy the creative processes involved in writing fiction much more than I enjoy reading other people's fiction at this point. Yet, to be a good writer, one has to read others' work!

I finished "Another Day in Paradise." Some of the stories are really powerful and rang very true. I did not spend much time as a humanitarian worker myself. I was working with Action Internationale Contre la Faim for three months in Liberia, followed by a year with the United Nations Development Program, also in Liberia. These experiences (however short compared to that of many of the humanitarian workers profiled in the book), in addition to a long history of worldwide travel as a child, have had a profound impact on my thinking and how I view my work away from the field and how I view short visits to developing countries that I have been able to take in recent years.

The field is where I would have wanted to be if my career had continued to be my primary goal in life. The field, however, would not have been compatible with a family life. I opted for the family life.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Excerpt of reviews of "Another Day In Paradise" -

I tried going back to reading fiction, sick and tired of the jargonic, bureaucratic works I and others produce. I must be very picky because I find it really hard to find something I really enjoy reading in fiction. I'd rather write it myself.

So here is what I am reading these days. I bought a bunch of books at one time, which is totally atypical for me.

- Another day in Paradise: International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories, compiled and edited by Carol Bergman
- No room at the table: Earth's Most Vulnerable Children, by Donald H. Dunson
- Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, by Kevin Bales
- Silent Terror: A Journey Into Contemporary African Slavery, by Samuel Cotton
- Free the Children: A Young Man Fights Against Child Labor and Proves that Children Can Change the World, by Craig Kielburger, with Kevin Major
- Emma's War: An Aid Worker, A Warlord, Radical Islam, and the Politics of Oil - A True Story of Love and Death in Sudan, by Deborah Scroggins.

This is all part of a personal project but the personal and professional are never so far apart. So, you ask, what does this have to do with Knowledge for Development? It has to do with feeling so far away from where so called "development" is supposed to happen. It has to do with wondering what it is that I contribute, wondering whether I am not part of the problem. It has to do with knowing that not only do I not have any answers to development problems, but I could be contributing to the problems. If we can't help, the least we should do is "do no harm".

To a large extent, it is the ethical and moral issues around development and humanitarial issues that I am interested in at the moment. The distance between the "helpers" and the "beneficiaries" is too great. The words we use are wrong. The realities we live in are too separate. Yet to feel productive as a professional, to feel that at least, I am not hurting anyone and perhaps I am doing something to contribute to solutions rather than problems, then it is essential to consider that distance, to look at the ethical and moral issues, to wonder and ask questions where questions need to be asked. I know very little, but at least I know that.