Gurumurthy Exposes the Failings of ICTD Approaches

10/6/09: By narrating the tale of an Indian village in which outside private corporations that didn’t “know a damn about democracy” drew the road map of an alternative governance, Anita Gurumurthy recently argued that employing information and communication technologies for developmental (ICTD) must be based on a sound critical theory. The tale is representative of the dominant ICTD discourse in developing countries, said Gurumurthy, the director of IT for Change, in a lecture at the Watson Institute.

At the very heart of the tale is how the multinational private sector assumed that ICTD would automatically achieve a balanced stance in the “intersection between society, technology, and development” regardless of the political and socioeconomic particularities of each Indian village, Gurumurthy said.
“The future of government reform was seen as e-government,” Gurumurthy said. However, this was not based on empirical evidence; people just made assumptions. “There was a firm faith that something would happen,” she said.
In another example, Gurumurthy described the market-led mobile telephony model as more of a business model than a social enterprise model. While economic empowerment was an expected outcome, Gurumurthy said, “in a paradoxical way, this was oversimplifying.”
She posed rhetorical questions: Does development mean an info-society where the highest benchmark is sending an SMS text message? How will computers lead to development in a village where some do not even know how to hold a mouse?
However, Gurumurthy noted that there are some liberating aspects of the ICTD discourse. For an impoverished woman, for instance, filling out an application in a telecenter is “a lot more emancipatory than to meet an official who is a patriarchal manifestation,” she said.
On the other hand, people are not incentivized to go back again to a telecenter after they have obtained a certain documentation, such as a birth certificate. There is no “business model that would generate revenue,” Gurumurthy added. This often leads to the failure of what is “an externally dictated kind of model,” Gurumurthy said.
The lecture, “Social Enterprise to Mobiles: Depoliticizing Development and Information Technologies,” was part of the South Asia and Social Change Series, sponsored by Development Studies, South Asian Studies, and the Office of International Affairs.
By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Samura Atallah ’11