Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) involves using ICTs as central components of efforts to improve the lives of people in resource-constrained environments, particularly in developing countries (Brewer et al., 2005). ICTD projects face a number of challenges to achieving development goals, but careful selection of communication modes, media, and devices can play an important role in mitigating some of those challenges. For example, where human capacity is limited, ICTs can amplify that capacity. If there are insufficient numbers of agricultural extension officers to visit villages and consult with subsistence farmers, for example, ICTs could amplify the reach of agricultural extension officers through SMS messages, video demonstrations, and computerized records of local farm histories. However, ICTs are not a silver bullet for meeting development goals such as improving farmer livelihoods. The research presented in this webtext identified communication-related bridges and barriers to achieving development goals.

Information and Communication Technology for Development

ICTD projects often involve using ICTs such as mobile phones, computers, and various digital media to communicate technical information like agricultural procedures or healthcare information to local stakeholders. Thus, ICTD projects involve challenges familiar to technical communicators, such as selecting communication modes based on usage environment and stakeholder capacities and crafting rhetorically effective information products that affect people’s decisions and behavior. Technical communication scholars have examined the roles that culture plays in effective technology-mediated communication, particularly in how people design, perceive, use, and interpret technology-mediated communication (Ding, 2009; McCool, 2006; St. Amant, 2002; Sun, 2001, 2006; Thatcher, 2012). Selecting appropriate communication strategies for a particular rhetorical situation is complicated by not only local and organizational contexts but also by larger cultural contexts (Thatcher, 2006). In ICTD environments, the considerations for selecting appropriate communication modes, media, and devices are further complicated by constraints in human capacities like technology skills and infrastructure such as electrical power.

Within ICTD, amplification has emerged as a key concept in vigorous scholarly debates about the role and value of technology in development work (see Donner & Escobari, 2010; Donner & Tellez, 2008; Toyama, 2011a&b). Proponents argue that technology amplifies human capacity. If human intent is positive and institutional capacity is present, technology has the potential to magnify positive outcomes and existing institutional impacts (Toyama, 2011a&b). In considering patterns of communication-related bridges and barriers to development goals, Kentaro Toyama’s (2011a) theory of technology as amplifier provides a productive interpretive framework. This theory posits that technology can be a useful tool for meeting development goals only in contexts with preexisting positive capacities: that is, technology amplifies existing capacity but cannot fill capacity gaps (Toyama, 2011a&b). Addressing the relation of human capacity to technology, new media scholars Paul DiMaggio and Eszter Hargittai (2001) have urged scholars to explore how desired outcomes relate to the usage of technologies, and recent work by Zhongdang Pan, Yan Wenjie, Gang Jing, and Jiawen Zheng (2011) introduced a conceptual structure useful for identifying relationships among ICT users’ desires, their capacity for technology usage, and their access to the necessary resources.

Much ICTD research describes practical, applied case studies, so there is comparatively little research identifying patterns across case studies. However, the widespread failure of ICTD projects to meet their development goals has established the need for a better understanding of ICTD environments (Brand & Schwittay, 2006; Heeks, 2002; Toyama, 2011a&b). There is a growing body of literature describing ICT usage and online behavior in developing and transitioning regions (Chen, Amershi, Dhananjay, & Subramanian, 2010; Donner & Tellez, 2008; Dwivedi, Khan, & Papazafeiropoulou, 2006; Islam & Islam, 2007; Johnson, Pejovic, Belding, & van Stam, 2011; Mwesige, 2004; Pan et al., 2011; Ratan et al., 2009; Walton, Yaaqoubi, & Kolko, 2009; Wyche, Smyth, Chetty, Aoki, & Grinter, 2010). But few studies examine the role and effects of communication modes and media in developing regions (Parikh & Ghosh, 2006), though many ICTD projects have employed multimodal and/or multimedia communication strategies (Cetin, Plauche, & Nallasamy, 2008; Findlater, Balakrishnan, & Toyama, 2009; Kumar, Agarwal & Manwani, 2010; Parikh, Javid, Ghosh, & Toyama, 2006).

Communication Modes, Media, & Devices

Considered altogether, communication modes, media, and devices address the production, dissemination, representation, and accessing of information. But these communication terms—mode, medium, device—can be difficult to untangle from each other and distinctly define (Lauer, 2012). One reason for this difficulty is that scholars from a variety of fields share a single term, such as “multimodality,” with each discourse community defining it differently. For example, Roope Raisamo (1999) described a human-centered view of modality, influenced by psychology, which focuses on input and output modes driven by human sensory systems such as visual mode, auditory mode, tactile mode (Silbernagel, 1979). In computer science, a multimodal computer interface is one that accepts and combines input from multiple machine-facilitated stimuli such as mouse clicks and speech recognition (Chatty, 1994). In composition studies, multimodality involves intentionally and strategically using “all available means of persuasion and communication,” such as text, still and moving images, and audio information (Selfe qtd in Lauer, 2012). Communication scholar Gunther Kress’s (2010) definition of mode informed this webtext: “Mode is a socially shaped and culturally given semiotic resource for making meaning. Image, writing, layout, music, gesture, speech, moving image, soundtrack, and 3D objects are examples of modes used in representation and communication” (p. 79). By this definition, a magazine article that includes text, layout, and images would be multimodal, as would face-to-face communication involving spoken words, facial expressions, and body gestures.

Kress (2010) described several factors shaping the modern media landscape, including the “convergence of representational, productive, and communicational functions in technologies and devices” (p. 22). This convergence has resulted in murky distinctions between media and devices. For example, Cynthia Selfe distinguished between medium and mode but equates medium with the device of dissemination: “Medium is the delivery mechanism. Modality is the semiotic channel that we use to communicate. So the medium is the computer, the television, the radio. For me, that’s how I distinguish it” (Lauer, 2012). However, when addressing ICTD contexts, it can be useful to distinguish between digital and non-digital communication broadly and also to address issues of communication hardware more specifically. This distinction can be productive because communication-related barriers to development goals operate at different levels such as limited literacy among stakeholders (which affects mode), lack of access to electricity (which affects media), limited skillsets (which affect device). Therefore, in this webtext, media refers to the broader category of dissemination (digital versus non-digital), whereas device (e.g., mobile phone or computer) is a more specific component of digital media dissemination. Within a single ICTD project, a range of multiple communication channels may be necessary to facilitate communication. An ICTD project may employ a variety of communication strategies (e.g., online portal, SMS message, human mediator) with overlapping, redundant content to provide sufficient flexibility to make information available to a variety of stakeholders under a variety of conditions.

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Communication Scenario
A subsistence farmer wants to post a question online regarding recent trouble with his crop. He is semi-literate and does not know how to use a computer, so a friend operates the computer for him. But when the friend is unavailable, the communication device (computer) and mode (written text) are not usable.

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

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