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.....

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