To use or not to use Technology: Is Technology always positive for Human development? Does Design matter?

Blake, Adam; Haenssgen, Marco; Poveda, Sammia; Kleine, Dorothea (2014). 'To use or not to use Technology: Is Technology always positive for Human development? Does Design matter?' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

It is hard to imagine our world without any technology. We have grown used to having computers, mobiles, a diversity of digital machines. Many technological and designed products, perhaps most, are developed with the aim of expanding valuable freedoms and powers and have indeed made important positive contributions, many may argue that some of these products actually increase social injustice. Therefore, considering our present time, a time of Crisis, the Technology and Design group would like to discuss the relation of technology and design and its relationship with human development.

The discussion will start with a theoretical paper, by Adam Blake that explores the theoretical compatibility and practical value for ICT4D design of the intersection between boundary objects and the CA. This paper argues that effective use of information and communication technologies to aid human development (commonly 'ICT4D') requires stakeholder communication and collaboration. These 'boundary' interactions are influenced by 'objects' such as protocols, processes, paperwork and other things that can aid cooperation without consensus. Can boundary objects be theorised as influencing the effectiveness of the ICT4D design process from a capability approach (CA) perspective? How might the concepts and evaluation frameworks associated with the CA themselves act as boundary objects in this process? This paper will explore the significance of boundary objects as an aid to conceptualising ICT4D project formation from a CA perspective.

Following this presentation, considering ICT are being intensely used in projects as ways to bring efficiency and greater development outcomes, this panel will also discuss some practical examples of ICT projects and their impacts. First, Marco Haenssgen's paper will challenge the mainstream, supply-driven approach to mobile-phone-based health service delivery ('mHealth'). Focusing on upstream elements of mHealth, this paper explores patterns of mobile phone ownership and use and people's healthcare-seeking behaviour in rural India (Rajasthan) and China (Gansu). The presented findings highlight diverse forms of mobile phone use both across and within these contexts, and that people can be creative users of mobile technology when accessing healthcare. While there is a role to play for mHealth, this paper urges practitioners to understand such upstream factors in order to avoid the potential exacerbation of healthcare inequities.

Second, Sammia Poveda's paper will argue that the way people learn how to use ICT, impacts on the way they relate to it and how they use it for their empowerment. As our world becomes more technological, even jobs that do not require specific training, search for employees with some ICT skills. Consequently, this may cause people to ignore what they would like to achieve in life, and choose to learn ICT skills just to be able to have an income. Thus, having access to free courses may be seen as a way to expand capabilities, however, Freire (author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed 1970), argues that being taught just a few ICT skills needed for your job, knowing the internet does offer many opportunities, is also a way of oppression (Freire & Guimarães, 2012). Therefore, drawing from findings from a study conducted in Brazil, this paper supports the idea that teaching ICT skills should use appropriate pedagogical approaches, envisioning the individual's freedom of usage above technological proficiency.

After reflecting on the relationship between technology and human development from theoretical and practical perspectives, this panel will conclude with a paper that proposes a tool for planning and evaluation. Dorothea Kleine, proposes how to use the Choice Framework as a living tool for responsible innovation and participatory design. This contribution reflects on the potential of using a tool, the Choice Framework (Kleine 2013) to (1) map socio-technical systems, (2) identify and negotiate capabilities sought by local people, (3) assess whether within these systems, technologies can assist in capabilities extension, (4) through participatory design processes, co-produce such technologies and (5) engage in participatory monitoring, evaluation, modification and upkeep of such interventions. Drawing on examples, it will chart a pragmatic yet value-sensitive middle course between enthusiastic try & succeed/fail fast approaches and overly hesitant technoskepsis.

We are looking forward a session in which the use of technology for development purposes is disccused in detail, not only from a theoretical perspective but also from practical terms. Although we believe in the possitive impacts technology can have on society and individuals, we are also aware of its limitations and the possibility for it to enhance inequalities. The most important aim of this session is to reflect critically on the role of ICT in development.


  1. Why Mobile Phone Ownership is a Bad Proxy for Use: A Case Study of Rural India and China, and the Implications for mHealth, Marco Haenssgen
  2. Boundary objects, the capability approach, and design: How do boundary objects influence the process and intended outcomes of ICT for development (ICT4D) projects?, Adam Blake
  3. Empowerment and ICT: much more than just skills, Sammia Poveda
  4. Neither Hamlet nor the Sorcerer's Apprentice: Using the Choice Framework as a living tool for responsible innovation and participatory design, Dorothea Kleine
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