Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are transforming the way governments, business and individuals learn, work and communicate with each other. If they are employed strategically within development programmes to promote access and sharing of relevant knowledge as well as fostering participation of the poor and marginalised in decision- making processes that affect their lives, ICTs help to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The focus of SDC from 2001 to 2008 was to support international mainstreaming efforts of ICTs in development processes, e.g. through supporting a series of targeted publications, thematic roundtables and particularly through strengthening to the development perspective and the multi-stakeholder process in the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS). In addition to a direct support to the WSIS process and the promotion of the active participation of Civil Society Organisations from the South and the East therein, SDC has directly participated in and supported a whole range of organisations and networks active in the area of ICT4D (see below).
Support for most of these organisations was phased out between 2008 and 2010. The Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM) is responsible for Switzerland’s commitments in this area, in collaboration with the ECOSOC Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The SDC is currently focusing on the integration of ICTs in its own projects and programmes (as a strategic instrument).
ICTs encompass a full range of increasingly converging technologies, including traditional and emerging devices such as interactive community radios, television, mobile phones, computer and network hardware and software, the Internet, satellite systems, and podcasting. The effective use of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) is not just a question of infrastructure and software. It also requires an appropriate institutional and regulatory framework and the development of human capacity and relevant content. Holistic and contextualised implementation of ICTs is complex as it depends considerably on the sector or theme in which they are employed as well as the overall socio-economic context (access and affordability of infrastructure, human capacity, cultural habits). Thus ICTs should not be seen as a panacea for all development problems but rather an important tool to be applied as part of a broader strategy for sustainable development.
ICTs can be employed fulfilling three partly overlapping functions:
- Access: Using ICTs to facilitate access to and sharing of timely and relevant information and knowledge.
- Voice and Communication: Using ICTs to strengthen the voice of poor, excluded and disadvantaged people in decision-making and self-expression of their culture.
- Networking: Using ICTs for networking and human communication while fostering multi-stakeholder partnerships to achieve effects on a larger scale (up-scaling).
The transformative potential of ICTs as a tool can be particularly harnessed to
- increase efficiency: reaching more people while reducing transaction costs.
- increase effectiveness: in terms of process, ownership, participation, networking and improvement of governance and better delivery of basic services such as education agricultural extension, microfinance and health.
- improve innovation and productivity: for example for micro, small and medium enterprises through better access to information, credit, markets and procurement using ICT tools in management, marketing and distribution channels.