Why Participation for Development?
With the title ‘Participation for Development’, we aim at opining up for a discussion on the premises of both Participatory Design and ICT4D. What is participation? How does it look like in different contexts? What is the rationale behind involving participation? What is development? Designing with underprivileged communities challenge the assumptions around the objective of participatory design processes. Technology is but a means in this context. What is at stake is the where to and how of the development of livelihood.
Development is often understood as bringing underprivileged communities up to the living standard of the high income countries. Development researchers have however for decades argued that the Western development trajectory is not a sustainable and desirable one. Not only the goals of development in underprivileged communities, but also life standards and technology development in and for the privileged countries are up for discussion. However, not introducing technology will not improve the situation either: The fast technology advances leave more and more people without access to technologies excluded from the digital connected global world (Heeks, 2009). This includes imbalances in physical access to technology as well as the resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen (Mechal & Searle, 2010:44).
‘Participation for Development’ points to a much-needed discussion in the so-called developed countries as well. The development in the currently low and middle income countries might point to alternatives that are valid in the high income countries as well, if the now as problematic recognised aspects of the privileged societies can be avoided. Understanding development as human development brings in unifying theories like the Capability Approach (Sen 1999) that can be applied similarly in countries of any level of income.It is then important to approach the co-design sessions as that of socially embedded action rather than transfer and diffusion, i.e. to acknowledge that something that already works somewhere cannot necessarily be transferred to work in the same way elsewhere (Avgerou, 2010).
Why at the Participatory Design Conference?
Participatory design in resource-restricted contexts is more complex because the users of the envisaged technology solution may have limited access to technology as well as to the design process. Careful planning is necessary to adapt the design methods and design probes to ensure active participation by all. Winschiers-Theophilus (2006) indicated that not only the result of design needs to be considered, taking the different cultural context into account; also the design process and the tools and methods need to be designed and adapted to fit to different cultural contexts. Furthermore, the gap between current technologies and the usage of ICT is often much wider than in e.g. in Scandinavian countries with a rather equal, highly educated and technology savvy population. This in turn requires the development of more comprehensive socio-technical prototypes, (Gonsalves et al. 2011) addressing not only the interfaces of the intended beneficaries but also the wider organisational context and socio-technical infrastructures, addressing issues like connectivity, economic sustainability, training possibilities, policies and legal regulation. Sustainability and capacity development needs to be thought into the development from the very beginning.
Avgerou, C. (2008). Discourses on ICT and development. Information Technologies and International Development, 6(3), pp1-18 (2010)
Heeks, R. (2009). The ICT4D 2.0 Manifesto: Where next for ICTs and International Development? Working Paper Series, Paper No.42. Development Informatics Group. Institute for Development Policy and Management.
Mechael, P. & Searle, S., (2010). Barriers and Gaps Affecting mHealth in Low and Middle Income Countries : Policy White Paper. pp. 1-79.
Sen A (1999). Development as Freedom. New York: Anchor Books.
Winschiers, Heike. "The Challenges of Participatory Design in a Intercultural Context: Designing for Usability in Namibia." PDC. 2006.