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ICT4D Failures and how we learned from them

By Naoko Asano Enomoto

What do you think when you hear that the failure rate of ICT4D projects by the World Bank is about 70%? Is it higher or lower than you expected? This week, each of us, ICTs for BOP bloggers explores what we can learn from the failures of past projects. As other writers such as Anna discusses the lessons learned for a specific case, in this post, I would like to more broadly discuss how various audiences interpret the lessons learned differently.  Let’s find out what the percentage I cited above means to you.

World Bank’s targeted ICT interventions were limited

The Hindu’s post, titled “World Bank’s targeted ICT interventions were limited: evaluator” reports the World Bank and it’s internal Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) released an Evaluation of World Bank Group Activities in Information and Communication Technologies, which is a review of a total $4.2 billion in World Bank committed to the ICT section during fiscal years2003 and 2010, of which about $2.9 billion was for supporting ICT sectors in “the poorest” countries.  The four main domains of the World Bank ICT4D projects are: 1) ICT sector reform, 2) increased access to information infrastructure, 3) ICT skills development, 4) ICT applications.

The Hindu views it as a key finding that “limited in targeted efforts to increase access to the underserved beyond what was commercially attractive” with the result only 30 per cent of the projects targeting underserved groups succeeded and approximately 70 per cent of them failed. Through the interview with The Hindu, Laurent Besancon, Coordinator for the New ICT Strategy of the World Bank, stated that the bank’s future focus would be on policy reform to boost broadband potential in developing countries; and also on helping operators finance the “public good” aspect of infrastructure, such as setting up telecom towers in remote rural areas.

Congratulations to the World Bank!?

In relation to our initial question, The Hindi finds most of the results of the World Bank –related ICT for Development (ICT4D) projects during 2003-10, as somewhat “limited”. Many of you may support this view. For example, in his blog “ICTs for development”, Professor Heeks, who is one of the most engaging scholars in this field, stated the five broad reasons for why many ICT4D projects fail.

  • Failure to involve beneficiaries and users: those who can ensure that project designs are well-matched to local realities.
  • Rigidity in project delivery: following a pre-planned approach such as that mandated by methods like Structured Systems Analysis and Design Methodology, or narrow use of Log Frames.
  • Failure to learn: not incorporating lessons from experiences that arises either before or during the ICT4D project.
  • Ignoring local institutional capacities: not making use of good local institutions where they already exist or not strengthening those which could form a viable support base.
  • Ineffective project leadership: that is unable to direct and control the ICT4D project.

(Excerpt from ICTs for Development)

However, there are other ways to interpret the same result. ICT works post provides interesting insights in this regard. It states that instead of asking why the past projects did such a bad job or calling for reduction of ICT investment, we should evaluate more about the transparency and risky practices of the World Bank. Furthermore, ICT works regards the number of 30% success rate for increasing access to the underserved as positively, compared with the “the 20% success rate of Silicon Valley start-ups who are coddled by the most business-conducive environment in the world”. Of course, it should not be easily compared with the situation of the World Bank’s ICT4D projects (relatively non-profit oriented) and Silicon Valley venture businesses (for- profit oriented). However, when we think about what is “failure ” or “Success”, especially in quantifiable terms, we have to be fully aware of evaluator’s lens as well as our own.  Moreover, considering ICT4D is a relatively new field, it is most critical to share the failures with others.  This transparency must replace a tendency to cover-up or hide failure, and must of course be accompanied by avoiding making mistakes  (this is also very important!) in order to improve outcomes forICT4D in future projects.  Some scholars and practitioners have already started an initiative to share the failures or “what does not work” in ICT4D projects.  This initiative coined the term “Failfaire”, which offers online space to exchange knowledge and holds international conferences to connect people with same aspirations.

Let us know how you view the results of ICT4D projects illustrated by Anna, Maria and Fatima!

Sources and Footnotes

World Bank’s targeted ICT interventions were limited: evaluator in THE HINDU on Aug.11, 2011, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article2347766.ece

A Great Success: World Bank has a 70% failure rate with ICT4D projects to increase universal access in ICT works on Aug.17, 2011 http://www.ictworks.org/news/2011/08/17/great-success-world-bank-has-70-failure-rate-ict4d-projects-increase-universal-acces

Capturing Technology for Development in Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), (n.d.) http://ieg.worldbankgroup.org/content/ieg/en/home/reports/ict.html

Can a Process Approach Improve ICT4D Project Success? In ICTs for Development on Nov.29, 2011, http://ict4dblog.wordpress.com/?s=failure

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