Track chairs

  • Ingrid Nyborg (ingrid.nyborg[at]nmbu.no, Noragric, Norway)
  • Frode Bjerkås (frode.bjerkas[at]nmbu.no, Noragric, Norway)
  • Arunima Mukherjee (arunimam[at]ifi.uio.no, University of Oslo, Norway)

Overview of the Research area

Decades of top-down driven development efforts have led to the learning that these are not effective and we must “put the last first”, and involve communities centrally in such efforts  ICTs both provide a tool for empowering communities to engage with these development efforts, and also come with their own challenges. Creating ICT enabled collaborative networks have been identified by research and practice as a relevant strategy in this regard. Our panel thus seeks to explore the theme of “Communities, ICT-Enabled Networks and Development.”

Bringing communities to the centre of development by involving them in decision-making processes is, in this regard, essential. This cuts across sectors and subject-matters, from natural resources management to conflict prevention, from preventing disease outbreaks to ensuring food security, and from agricultural practices to local school management, to name but a few. And in this ‘digital age’, the knowledge of how to use, manage, and appropriate technology in people's’ own lives is a critical asset for improving their economic, political, and social freedoms, and enhancing their agency. In the digital age, the knowledge of how to use information technology is—similar to literacy—a critical human capability that enables a person to realize the “various things he/she values doing or being” in all dimensions of his or her life (Sen 1999, 75). Technology does not stand at the center of this process; at the center is a person’s ability to access, process, and act on information facilitated through the use of new technologies (Gigler 2015). And this ability can be nurtured and enhanced through collaborative networks involving people, institutions, practices and ICTs.

This track will focus on improving our understanding of the role of information and communication technologies in strengthening community participation and networks, and also critically examine experiences of such community focused efforts. The track invites community focused ICT-based experiences from different domains such as agriculture, policing, public health, rural development, water and sanitation and others. We will also encourage deep theoretical reflection on the topic drawing upon conceptualizations of power, networks, capabilities, accountabilities and others.

Exemplar topics and types of contributions looked-for

  • Health: The community is the foundation of the health system and the health information system, as there resides the people who need care, and also where all the health data originates from. Many new technological interventions are ongoing at the community level, involving mobile devices, internet and access through cloud hosting. There are many challenges in their successful deployment, such as community representatives having limited say in the technological choices made, weak infrastructure, and challenges of capacity and literacy. Often systems are designed to strengthen processes of surveillance and control from the top, rather than to improve local care giving processes. Some key questions here concern how can community based actors self-organize implementation processes so as to enhance self-reliance, create supporting networks, and direct the benefits of the ICTs to those who need it most.
  • Conflict, Policing and Human Security: Post-conflict societies, although they vary in most respects, have something in common: public institutions are considered weak and untrustworthy. This is true for policing institutions as well. Abuse of policing powers, corrupt practices, and impunity are characteristics people often ascribe to their police authorities. ICTs for policing in such contexts often involve or aim at comprehensive data analytics for surveillance and state control over the citizenry, or they often originate in donor countries’ policing systems. Meanwhile, community-oriented approaches to policing in developing and post-conflict countries gradually gain strength, and thus community-oriented ICTs for policing also emerge. Communities and civil society establish, in cooperation with or independent of formal security authorities, ICT networks for their own security. One question that arises is, to what degree can ICTs contribute to or detract from improved human security for vulnerable populations?
  • Agriculture and Food Security: Ever since people have grown crops, raised livestock, and caught fish, they have sought information from one another. What is the most effective planting strategy on steep slopes? Where can I buy the improved seed or feed this year? How can I acquire a land title? Who is paying the highest price at the market? How can I participate in the government’s credit program?  Updated information allows the farmers to cope with and even benefit from these changes. Providing such information can be challenging, however, because the highly localized nature of agriculture means that information must be tailored specifically to distinct conditions. Can ICTs be useful and cost-effective for poor farmers with restricted access to capital, electricity, and infrastructure? And how can the usefulness be effectively materialized?
  • Disaster Prevention and management: Disasters vary in scale, severity, and duration, but there is one constant: the impacts are inherently local. Can ICTs play a role in mobilizing and preparing local communities in preventing/preparing for such disasters, especially when most of the risk information is gathered and assessed through sophisticated technologies? How can such knowledge become useful locally, and framed within their overall development aspirations and survival strategies.

References and bibliography

Sen, Amartya. "Freedom as development." (1999).

Gigler, Björn Sören. Development as freedom in a digital age: Experiences from the rural poor in Bolivia. World Bank Publications, 2015.