At an ICT policy consultation meeting in Dhaka, organized by the APC (http://www.apc.org/), two participants prompted a much needed reality check for a room full ICT4D professionals. Mridul Chowdhury, a research affiliate at the IT Group in the Berkman Centre, Harvard University also a director of D.Net, kick-started the discussion with a presentation that questioned some of the key assumptions that that form the premise to much work in the ICT4D space. For instance, a lack of community information can be resolved by building a telecenter; poor governance can be solved by introducing ICT systems into governments; a lack of market information can be solved by building e-commerce portals. Chowdhury stressed that certain underlying factors had to be taken care of first; the information gaps that we’re really trying to solve need to be identified; the governance process needs to be reformed before throwing ICTs at it, etc. ICTs cannot solve all the world’s problems, and before one tries to throw ICTs at it, one should really assess whether ICTs are really the optimal solution. Nalaka Gunewardena, Director at TVE Asia Pacific continued the discussion in his aptly titled presentation, ‘Rhetoric vs. reality.’ He raised a pressing question: do good policies necessarily imply good implementation? His response to this was not necessarily, and often, not. The overarching issue is that unless certain conditions are fulfilled and critical issues resolved (for instance infrastructure bottlenecks), ICTs alone will not solve the problem at hand (even if it is at all the optimal solution) and even good policies will not achieve the desired outcomes. It therefore appears that many of the common assumptions, which are the premise of many ICT4D projects, to which much hope and funds are pinned, need to be scrutinized if development goals are to be reached.
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