Methodology (continued)

This webtext reports a subset of findings from a four-month field study in India, exploring the transition of seven ICTD projects from research to implementation. The overarching research question guiding the larger exploratory study was, "Which elements are important to transitioning ICTD projects from research to implementation?" For ICTD projects to successfully transition into long-term implementation, it is centrally important for projects to continue to meet their development goals (e.g., improving farmer livelihoods). This webtext reports a subset of the study's research findings, addressing the question, "In what ways do communication modes, media, and devices affect ICTD projects’ ability to meet development goals?"


ICTD projects were selected using the following inclusion criteria: (1) project was led by a professional researcher; (2) project began as exploratory research with the intention to transition successful findings into implementation; (3) project occurred in India. In addition to meeting these inclusion criteria, the projects shared a few other characteristics. For example, all projects were led by a researcher who was knowledgeable and experienced in ICTD, Indian culture, or both; all projects incorporated some aspects of user-centered design, such as user testing of pilot approaches; and all projects included partner organizations, such as nonprofit or government organizations with expertise in the domain area (such as education or agriculture).

The projects and their development goals are briefly described below:

Project 1: An academic researcher at an Indian university led a project to provide customized advice to farmers using technologies including digital photography and databases. The development goal was to improve farmer livelihoods by increasing their crop yield. The exploratory pilot research investigated whether agricultural experts could provide customized, accurate advice to farmers based on records of a farm’s history, digital photos of crops, and weekly information forms. After an extensive and successful pilot effort, the project sought to transition into a long-term implementation through a start-up company that would charge farmers a fee to continue to receive customized advice. At the conclusion of this study, the project leaders were also exploring the possibility of partnerships with other organizations offering services relevant to farmers.

Project 2: An industry researcher at a corporate research lab led a project to connect domestic workers with employment opportunities through a job-matching website. This project’s development goal was to meet a user-identified need by increasing domestic workers’ awareness of and access to employment opportunities, providing information that would enable them to select jobs based on factors important to them such as location and pay. Stakeholders engaged in a year-long pilot effort that exposed the complexities of establishing relationships and procedures among stakeholders such as potential employers seeking trustworthy domestic help, domestic workers seeking fair treatment and compensation, a local nonprofit organization seeking to unionize workers, and researchers seeking to design and test computer interfaces for semi-literate users. After the year-long pilot, the project ended because of the extensive infrastructure and resources that would be necessary to sustain the project.

Project 3: An academic researcher at a U.S. university led a project to use mobile phone-based games to support literacy education. The development goal of this project expanded over time from the narrower and more straightforward goal of developing a single technology application to support education to the broader, long-term development goal of helping to develop an educational ecosystem around mobile technology. This project began as exploratory research into the ways that ICTs might appropriately mitigate barriers to literacy education. The project expanded over time into a formal research group that develops and tests culturally appropriate mobile phone games that coordinate with English literacy curriculum in Indian schools. At the conclusion of this study, the project leader was exploring the possibility of long-term implementation through the founding of a nonprofit organization in India.

Project 4: An academic researcher at an Indian university led a project to develop locally designed and manufactured ICT hardware and software that could be customized for a variety of user-identified purposes. The development goal was to increase the use of information technology across the broader population in India by producing a device appropriate for local users and contexts (e.g., low power usage, capable of displaying Indian language characters, etc.). The early exploratory work involved investigating a range of needs that a portable computing device could meet for Indian users and then designing flexible hardware and open-source software. The project leader founded a start-up company to market and sell the device, and a larger company eventually bought the start-up. At the conclusion of this study, the larger company had employed many of the original team members, who were designing modified versions of the device for specific uses (rather than the originally envisioned general-use device).

Project 5: An academic researcher at a U.S. university led a project to support microfinance groups by developing a method to combine paper and electronic recordkeeping. The development goal was initially to develop technology to help microfinance groups to better meet their own development goals (i.e., to do what they do better), but because the technology was so flexible, the development goal expanded to support a range of nonprofit organizations’ development goals through customized technology applications and IT support. The exploratory work involved exploring how mobile phones could be used to capture data from paper records and wirelessly transfer the data to a database. The long-term implementation involved handing off the technology to a start-up company that offered technology services to nonprofit organizations.

Project 6: An industry researcher at a corporate research lab led a project to use locally filmed digital videos to supplement and improve existing farmer-training programs. The initial development goal was to improve farmer livelihoods by increasing subsistence farmers’ adoption of agricultural techniques taught in existing training programs. The exploratory research involved incorporating locally produced demonstration videos into a single nonprofit organization’s existing training, with a focus on increasing adoption of the agricultural techniques being demonstrated. The long-term implementation strategy was to found a new nonprofit organization with a greater geographical reach to support the slightly broader development goal of appropriately using technology to improve farmer livelihoods.

Project 7: An academic researcher at an Indian university led a project to answer agriculture questions online. The development goal was to make available appropriate, credible, accurate information for Indian farmers who had specific agricultural questions. The exploratory work involved setting up an online forum, partnering with region-specific agricultural experts employed by the Indian government’s agricultural extension program, and facilitating technology-mediated communication between farmers and agricultural experts. To support a long-term implementation, the project went through the university’s business incubation program and then launched as a start-up company.

Data Collection & Analysis

Data collection occurred onsite in India from October 2009 through January 2010, primarily through semi-structured interviews with 44 project stakeholders. The stakeholders informing this research study are grouped into four categories:

Project Leaders: These stakeholders envisioned the project from the beginning and spearheaded the early, exploratory research efforts.

Project Team Members: These stakeholders were involved in the early research, working under the project leader in areas such as technology design, field testing, or partnership development.

Intended Beneficiaries: These stakeholders represented people who were intended to benefit from the project: for example, subsistence farmers who sought increased yields.

Members of Partner Organizations: These stakeholders belonged to government organizations or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) relevant to the development domain. Their role involved liaising with intended beneficiaries, providing domain expertise, or funding the project.

The number of stakeholders involved in each project varied, depending on factors such as the current state of the project, the geographic scale, and the level of involvement by original project leaders. To balance the effect of each project on the overall patterns of outcomes, I sought to interview a comparable number of stakeholders for each project and to speak with stakeholders in a variety of roles. I conducted formal, semi-structured interviews with 5–8 stakeholders for six projects. For the seventh project, I conducted formal semi-structured interviews with the 3 project stakeholders who were centrally involved in the early research and transition efforts. I interviewed every project’s leader, as well as the stakeholders who were most heavily involved in early research and transition efforts. These stakeholders included (1) project team members involved with technology design and research and (2) members of partner organizations that played a variety of roles, such as liaison with intended beneficiaries, subject matter expert in the development domain, and funding agency. For two projects, I also interviewed intended beneficiaries who were involved in the early pilot research.

Stakeholder quotes are labeled by role in the Findings section to help clarify the participant’s perspective, but roles were not always exact or easy to determine. For example, one project had two leaders at the time of the interviews because they were in the process of transitioning leadership from the project’s founder to a former team member. Other stakeholders seemed to straddle the line between team member and member of a partner organization because of the influential and dedicated role they played in their respective ICTD project, and some stakeholders originally had more in common with potential beneficiaries but became team members of an ICTD project. When roles were potentially murky, stakeholders were labeled based on their own description of their role in the project.

Participants were recruited through snowball sampling, a recruitment method in which participants refer the researcher to additional participants. This recruitment strategy is particularly appropriate for building upon existing trust and relationships in social networks. Snowball sampling also proved useful for reaching non-English-speaking participants. These participants were contacted directly through members of their social networks, who also served as interpreters during interviews.

Interview topics included the role of the participant, the goal of the project, project scope, and the transition of the project from exploratory pilot research to long-term implementation on the ground—identifying changes, surprises, and successes related to project transitions. Interviews ranged from almost 90 minutes to 20 minutes, often depending on how centrally the participant had been involved with the project. Interviews were documented through digital audio recordings and typed notes; notes were fleshed out shortly after interviews.

The subset of findings reported in this webtext was identified through iterative formal coding of interview notes and transcripts to identify patterns of meaning. The first round of coding noted all direct and indirect mention of communication strategies relevant to a project’s development goal, including modalities such as written text, digital or non-digital media, or communication devices such as mobile phones. During this first round of coding, I created memos to note potential patterns and relationships among these patterns. Based on iterative review of these memos and the data culled in the first round of coding, I developed the following coding structure for more finely grained analysis:

Amplification: Communication strategies that enable project amplification (e.g., amplification of reach, impact, scope)

Digital & Non-Digital Media: Communication strategies involving combinations of new and old media

Appropriate Technology: Suitable fit of communication technology with users and/or their environments

Customization Requirements: Tensions related to communicating information that is appropriate, useful, or actionable for the full range of stakeholders

Language & Literacy Constraints: Ways that language and literacy limit or impede communication

Limited Skills & Participation: Constraints upon communication strategies related to stakeholder skillsets or participation

Equipment & Infrastructure Constraints: Environmental hindrances to communication

It is constructive to group these codes into two major groups: The first three codes are bridges, which have primarily positive effects on efforts to meet development goals, and the next four are barriers, which impede development goals. The bridges and barriers and their relationships are discussed in detail in the Findings section.

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Communication Scenario
A child has been kept from school one day to help with household duties. Using the family mobile phone, she plays a literacy game that reviews her grade level’s English vocabulary words. When the phone is needed by another family member, the communication device (mobile phone) becomes unavailable.

Relevant Bridges & Barriers
Appropriate Technology
Customization Requirements

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