Design Principles for ICTD

Some issues

Some guidelines for ICTD recommend particular design principles.

The UNICEF Principles for Innovation in Developing Countries gives a set of injunctions that are recommended as best practice, such as: “Design with the user”,  “Ensure solutions are sensitive to, and useful for, the most marginalized populations: women, children, those with disabilities, and those affected by conflict and disaster”, “Design for scale”,  “Build for Sustainability”, “Be replicable and customizable in other countries and contexts”, “Reuse and Improve”, “Use, modify and extend existing tools, platforms, and frameworks when possible.” etc.

One participant at the Ann Arbor workshop specifically rejected the injunction to “Design for Scale”, suggesting an alternative of “Design for Applicability”. The post-it note reads:
Scalability = uniformity, Applicability = can be applied to a variety of situations, Scale = development monoculture, Washing hands -> broad universal problems.

Debates around the principle of ‘design for scale’ or ‘design for replicability’ can reflect a fundamental ethical debate between broadly ‘utilitarian’ perspectives emphasising benefits to large numbers of people, versus deontological, virtue or care ethics. Some ICTD projects might work with small, isolated, and culturally very specific groups of people. If this is legitimate and ethical, then does that invalidate an injunction to ‘design for scale’?

Another participant highlighted the problem that building on existing tools, platforms and frameworks can constrain what can be achieved and might prevent novel solutions being developed.

On the other hand, evaluations of ICTD interventions have often criticised projects for using technologies that were not appropriate and sustainable in the context in which they were being applied. This could be criticised both for conducting research with vulnerable people without ensuring that those people gained adequate benefits from the research, and for wasting resources that could have been applied to develop technologies that were more appropriate.

Some Questions

  • Should minimum ethical standards for ICTD mandate or recommend any general design principles?
  • Given that a major international institution (UNICEF) has released a set of such principles and guidelines, which of these should / should not be included as minimum standards?
  • Are you aware of other similar collections of principles that should be examined by ICTD practitioners and researchers?

Some background

The UNICEF principles for innovation and technology in development present one possible set of principles.

Your comments

Please consider the questions, or suggest other questions and join this discussion. You can provide comments here, or you can email Andy & Dorothea










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