This study has identified patterns regarding the effects of communication mode, medium, and device on ICTD projects’ abilities to meet development goals. As discussed throughout the Findings subsections, communication-related bridges and barriers interrelate in complex ways, and not all of the effects of bridges are positive. In the complex system of ICTD, desired outcomes can directly compete, and achieving a positive effect can directly trigger negative effects.

For example, particularly in India, amplifying the number of people who can be reached with development information (good) also amplifies the number of languages spoken by information recipients (bad, or at least more complicated). Reaching more people also complicates the ability to convey useful information. Intended beneficiaries seek specific, actionable information that will help them meet their own goals. If ICTD projects do not provide that, not only will projects lose stakeholders but, more importantly, projects will not meet development goals: i.e., people’s wellbeing will not be improved.

Therefore, this study has important implications for communicators working in ICTD environments: carefully weigh the tradeoffs involved in scaling up projects, particularly through technology-based communication modalities. Scalability is a widely sought criterion for success in ICTD (Heeks, 2008; Marais, 2011) for good reason: it amplifies the positive outcomes of the early exploratory work involved in designing an effective project. Thus, scalability should not be eliminated as a consideration in ICTD work but should be considered in light of these findings. Amplifying the reach of development information through technology-based modalities may be more likely to be effective where stakeholders (project team members, domain experts, and intended beneficiaries) share a single language and where beneficiaries seek similar information-- for example, regional market prices for agricultural goods or weather information.

Another implication for ICTD stakeholders, particularly for technical communicators working in resource-constrained environments, is the value and importance of human mediation. When working with stakeholders who lack technology skills and are members of collectivist cultures, human mediation can be an even more effective and appropriate bridge than training. From a Western, individualist standpoint, training provides an individual with skills to accomplish tasks. But in resource-constrained environments with collectivist cultures, communication devices are more likely to be shared among users (Parikh, 2006) and used less frequently (Walton, Yaaqoubi, & Kolko, 2012). Users may well forget training when they go for long periods without applying those skills. Therefore, mitigating limited stakeholder skills through human intermediaries is a promising communication-related bridge for supporting development goals. Further, digital media are better suited to displaying data than to generating knowledge (Davenport, 1997). (Knowledge is defined in this context as data that is contextualized and supports decision making, as per Davenport.) Digital media can play a useful role in compiling and conveying data, but human mediation is often necessary to change that data into knowledge that supports development goals. Although human mediation offers support for meeting development goals, it can be a resource-intensive strategy. However, not all mediation must be provided and coordinated by domain experts and project team members. This study found that when intended beneficiaries did benefit from the knowledge they gained, they often shared it through their social networks.

A final implication of this research for communicators working in resource-constrained environments is to focus on using appropriate communication technologies, with “appropriate” broadly defined to include not only environmental considerations like access to electricity but also human, social considerations like effects on willingness to participate. The relationship between communication strategy and stakeholder participation varies: some stakeholders found novel technologies engaging and appealing, but other stakeholders found novel technologies intimidating or unusable. Engaging with local stakeholders is an important strategy for identifying engaging, appropriate technology. One consideration when deciding between novel versus established technologies is the availability of human mediation. Where human mediation is limited, using existing communication devices such as mobile phones, radios, or televisions can mitigate barriers related to limited skills and motivation. In addition, communication strategies that reduce or eliminate the need for physical travel offer important benefits in terms of increased productivity for domain experts and ability of intended beneficiaries to participate. In conclusion, communication modes, media, and devices had significant effects on ICTD projects’ abilities to achieve development goals.

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Communication Scenario
A domestic worker meets with a coordinator, who is a member of a local nonprofit organization, to review job opportunities. Project stakeholders had planned to make job information available online. But the nonprofit organization lacks the skills and sustained commitment required to maintain an online system, and it is difficult to match the highly specific, disparate needs of both domestic workers and potential employers. So, due to the constraints of the mode of spoken language, job information is inaccessible when the coordinator cannot be contacted.

Relevant Bridges & Barriers
Digital & Non-Digital Media
Customization Requirements
Language & Literacy Constraints
Limited Skills & Participation

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