ICT Implementation in Rural Communities in Developing Countries

In what ways can it contribute to the tasks of livelihoods?

Master's Thesis, 2005

84 Pages










2.2.1 Definition
2.2.2 The Technical View of ICT
2.2.3 The Socio-technical view of ICT

3.3.1 Drivers
3.3.2 Deliverables
3.3.3 Strategies
3.3.4 Cross-cutting issues
3.4.1 ICT in the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework
3.4.2 ICT and Livelihood Assets
3.4.3 ICT and Transforming structures and Processes
3.4.4 ICT and Vulnerability Context
3.4.5 ICT and Livelihood Strategies
3.4.6 ICT and Livelihood Outcomes

4.1.1 The Gyandoot e-Govemment Portal in India
4.1.2 The Centre of Informatics of the University Eduardo Mondlane (CIUEM) Rural Telecentre initiative in Mozambique
4.2.1 Paradigms or Modes of ICT Initiatives in Practice
4.2.2 ICT Initiatives and Rural Livelihoods ICT and Livelihood Assets and Strategies ICT and Transforming Structures and Processes ICT and Vulnerability Context ICT and Livelihood Outcomes

Chapter 5 : CONCLUSIONS-Synthesising lessons to improve rural ICT implementation



No portion of the work referred to in the dissertation has been submitted in support of an application for another degree or qualification of this or any other university or other institution of learning.


There has been a gamut of arguments concerning the role of information and communication technologies in reducing poverty and creating sustainable rural development in developing countries. But most of the studies have centred on case study descriptions, with a handful attempting to analyse the outcomes of these initiatives using a framework that addresses the multiple dimensions of the livelihoods of the rural poor. This dissertation takes a view that ICT can contribute to sustainable rural development when it is implemented and assessed through such a framework geared at building the capabilities and assets of the rural folks and improving the links within and between these people and the organisations and institutions that play a role in rural development. It reviews various paradigms of rural ICT in developing countries and goes on to analyse the implementation and contribution of two of such initiatives to rural livelihoods using the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework. The result revealed that such factors, as the perceptions of practitioners, political contentions and policy environments are the major factors shaping ICT initiatives for the rural poor.


First and foremost, I thank God for using various channels including individuals who availed themselves, for the accomplishment of this dissertation.

I am highly indebted to my supervisor, Dr. Alemayehu Molla for his relentless patience and direction which largely helped me to fine tune this research. I also appreciate the efforts of other lecturers in IDPM and the Manchester Business School in delivering quality lectures that helped build my interest and analytical dogma for this study.

To my late Dad, mum and Mr. Cantey, I say thank you so much for your care, counsel and optimism in me. And to my brothers, sisters and friends, I say thank you so much for your support.


This work is for:

My mum, Konjit Laar;

The memory of my Dad, Laar Ting-bont (Kontilaar);

My brothers and sisters; and

The glory of God the Almighty


illustration not visible in this excerpt


“It is past time to put to rest the sterile debate over whether new technologies are a luxury or a necessity for the poor. The real challenge now is for all of us to work together to identify and accelerate the real benefits of technological advances. ”

M. Malloch Brown, UNDP Administrator (Harris 2002:1).


The information revolution wrought by the convergence of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has sparked a gamut of arguments concerning the role of these technologies in effecting socio-economic development. Advocates perceive that ICTs encapsulate the ability to drastically break physical boundaries, freeze distance and time differences, lower transaction costs, and thus expand markets (OECF 1996; Avgerou 1998; Mansell 1999; Chowdhury 2000; Jeffrey 2002; Molla 2005). Most interestingly, they see the new technologies as a weapon of mass poverty eradication and an emancipator of the marginalised in society through the provision of information (Caspary 2002; Krishna and Madon 2003; McNamara 2003; IDRC 2003a). On the other hand, technological pessimists label the forgoing techno-optimistic expressions as a hype (Heeks 1999a; Chapman et al. 2003). Citing factors such as the marketing of pornographic products on the internet, the perpetration of organized corporate crimes, job losses, abuse of information rights and the erosion of indigenous cultural heritage to back their claims (Obijiofor 1998), they perceive that the emergence and diffusion of ICTs would worsen the plight of the ordinary person in society (Morales-Gomez and Melesse 1998).

What then is the way forward? In any case, both sides may have a point. However, it is important to note that it is not the technology per se, but the way it is being conceptualised against the realities of different contexts that is the problem (Chandler 2000; Curtain 2003; Soeftestad and Sein 2003). As Noeleen Heyzer of the UN Development Fund for women puts it, “there are tremendous opportunities if we know how to shape this technology and if we know how to intervene” (IDRC 2003a). The problem, however, lies in knowing how to shape or intervene.

On the other hand, a dualistic disparity often referred to as the digital divide is being created between countries or individuals who are capable of attracting and exploiting the opportunities inherent in ICT and those who are not (Mansell 1999; Benjamin 2001; McNamara 2003, Arun et al 2004, Economist 2005). Various layers of this dualism exist with majority of people sandwiched beneath or cut off from the ,global village". At the international level, there is a gulf between the developed or otherwise advanced countries (ADCs) and the developing countries (DCs). At the national level, the discrepancy is normally between the urban rich and the rural poor. This implies that the people living in rural communities in DCs are the most disadvantaged of this information age. Others further perceive the divide on the basis of gender, age and ethnicity (Westrup and Al- Jaghoub 2005), meaning that there could be further denials in these communities.

Perhaps what makes the above problem more serious is that it tends to escalate the already existing socio-economic gap between the rich and the poor as the technologies have been associated elsewhere with the expansion of the wealth of nations and individuals (Castells 1998; OECD 2003).

Despite doubts in generalising this claim (Heeks 1999b; Heeks and Kenny 2002), in particular there is a need to examine how the power of ICTs is appropriately leveraged by the rural poor for their own benefit as well as contributing to the socio-economic development of their nations and the world at large. The fact is that apart from the rural poor being the most excluded of the global village enhanced by ICTs, they form a good portion of DCs" population (Harris 2002, McNamara 2003; HDR 2004). It therefore means that it may be highly impossible for these countries to make substantial gains in deploying these technologies for economic development while sidelining the rural folks (Annam 2002).

Accordingly, some countries and development organisations have begun implementing ICT initiatives in rural areas in DCs (McNamara 2003). But these still remain experimental in nature, with the problem of sustainability as a major concern (Benjamin 2001; Arunachalam 2002; Hearn et al 2005). The positive impacts of these projects are yet to be substantiated and it is not clear where and when appropriate implementation models will emerge for replication to other parts of the developing world which are in pressing need of information for livelihoods (Benjamin 2001; McNamara 2003; Gurstein 2005). There is an alarming lack of empirical analyses of actual experiences on the local appropriation of ICTs and their contribution to poor people's economic and social livelihoods to help shape new implementation policies and strategies (Baak and Heeks 1998; Findings 2001; World Bank 2002b; Rothenberg-Aalami and Pal 2005).


The main objective of this research is to uncover the ways in which ICT initiatives can contribute to the sustainable livelihoods (SL) of rural communities in DCs. This is to help discover the reasons behind their shortcomings in order to suggest ways for improving future implementation policies and processes. The research seeks to accomplish this by answering the following questions through a literature review and analyses of two case studies of such undertakings:

a. What are the paradigms of rural ICT implementation in DCs?
b. What role has these initiatives played in rural livelihoods?
c. What lessens can be drawn from these initiatives to inform rural ICT imp lementation.


By answering the above questions, it is hoped that this work will contribute to the body of knowledge by increasing the understanding of what rural dwellers actually need from ICT for livelihoods. It will unearth some important shortcomings of current ICT initiatives in this domain and help to re-orient the perceptions and actions of project sponsors, policy makers and researchers towards more holistic and sustainable approaches that empower the poor to have a better and lasting understanding and control of their lives through ICT (Ramirez and Richardson 2005). It is also hoped to create awareness for people in rural DCs to champion their own development goals by grabbing the opportunities being created by the new technologies.


In recent times, it is increasingly clear that most technology oriented projects fail to meet major stakeholder objectives not because of the physical artefacts involved, but rather the perceptions and actions of the participants (Heeks 2002a; Soeftestad and Sein 2003). As a result, there has been a shift in interest in the Information systems (IS) research camp from technological to managerial, social and cultural phenomena that shape realities (Myers 1997). This new approach calls for the use of qualitative research techniques. Qualitative research involves the use of empirical evidence such as interviews and questionnaires, participant observations, documents and textual data to help understand and explain the social meaning behind events (Benbasat 1987).

However, qualitative research can easily grow out of alignment if care is not taken as it depends, in a way, on the researcher's experience and impressions (Myers 1997). Yet Chenail (1997) believes that the issue of being muddled is natural and sometimes necessary, and only need to be recognised and tidied up. On the other hand, qualitative research is unique and cannot be substituted for others such as quantitative because “the goal of understanding a phenomenon from the point of view of the participants and its particular social and institutional context is largely lost when textual data are quantified” (Kaplan and Maxwell 1994 in Myers 1997:1).

This research employs such an approach in an effort to uncover and explain the multifaceted role of ICT in rural livelihoods in DCs. It is based on literature review and analysis of case studies as recommended in the field of IS (Walsham 1993).

As cited by Bell (1999), Adelman et al. (1977) and Nisbet and Watt (1980) view a case study as an inquiry around an instance concerned principally with the interaction of factors and events to help identify processes that may remain hidden in a large survey but which may be critical to the success or failure of interventions. They think focusing on a particular aspect of a problem provides an avenue to study it in some depth within a limited time and other resource frames. But for Yin (1994), case studies lack the rigour for generalisations. However, he concurs with Darke et al. (1998) and Allison et al (1996) that the holistic in-depth analysis it produces can enable lessons to be drawn and adapted to similar situations, especially where knowledge is lagging. In accordance, Bassey (1981) clarifies that the relatability of a case study to similar situations is more important than its generalisability. The method of data collection for this purpose may be based on primary or secondary sources, observation or interviews or document reviews, depending on the situation under investigation; none is mandatory (Bell 1999).

In this study, secondary sources such as journals, books and web sites have been consulted for evidences and analysis (Frankfort-Nachmias and Nachmias 1996). This approach appears to be time and cost effective and good for gaining an impression of how a programme operates without interrupting it (Stewart and Kamins 1993). It can increase the efficiency of a study by targeting real gaps and oversights in knowledge (ibid). However, if care is not taken, searching through secondary sources can be time consuming and likely to provide incomplete information because of its inflexibility and restriction to what already exists (Dunsmuir and Williams 1992). It requires one to be quite clear about what is being searched for, which seems to undermine the emergent nature of IS research practice (Benbasat 1987).

Also, apart from the fact that secondary evidences may represent an old situation, they might have been collected in a format meant for a specific purpose and may thus lack consistency in perspective with an analysis in question (Sharp and Howard 1996 and Stewart and Kamins 1993). But this does not rule out the value of this particular research. Efforts have been made to ensure that the information is up to date without undermining the relevance of historical reflection. This is because the contribution of an ICT initiative cannot be realised overnight; and sustainability, which is central to this work, is not a static phenomenon and cannot be determined through a point observation (Mayanja 2003). It is also hoped that the use of multiple secondary sources would lead to triangulation of the evidence to improve the outcome of the analysis. After an extensive literature review, two rural ICT initiatives from different DCs, which are deemed to incorporate development and sustainability issues, have been selected and analysed based on pattern matching through the lens of the sustainable livelihoods (SL) framework (Yin 1994).


The dissertation is structured in five major parts as follows:

Here in chapter 1, the motivations of this study, the research methodology with which the goals shall be achieved, the structure of the research and how this work can make a contribution to the body of knowledge are presented.

Chapter 2 sets the context of this paper, reviewing the concepts of ICT and of rural development. From this review, a stand is taken on how ICT and rural development need to be viewed.

Chapter 3 then presents the relationship between ICT and rural development. It first examines the nature of rural ICT initiatives and proceeds to set ICT in perspective with the SL framework.

In chapter 4, evidence from the field is presented and analysed using the SL framework given in chapter 3. Two ICT initiatives that sought to benefit the rural poor are considered, one from Mozambique and the other from India.

Finally, chapter 5 draws lesssons from the analyses in chapter 4 to inform Rural ICT implementation in DCs.


This chapter has provided the background and objectives of the research. It showed that there is the need for more research on the analysis of the appropriation of ICTs by local communities to help shape ways in which the technology can be leveraged for the benefit of rural communities in DCs. It also outlined the questions and methodology for such analysis and concluded with a presentation on how this dissertation is structured.



It is believed that most ICT initiatives have failed partly because the actors lacked understanding of basic concepts pertaining to the technology and development reflective to the context within which it is implemented (Baak and Heeks 1998; Heeks 2002a). Thus to have a better understanding of the role of ICTs in rural development, it is important to look at underlining perspectives of these two concepts (Sein and Harindranat 2004).


2.2.1 Definition

ICT can be defined as the “electronic means of capturing, processing, storing, and communicating information” (Heeks 1999a: 3). It is an integration of two forms of technologies to achieve seamless flow of complete, accurate, relevant, appropriate and timely information to inform decision-making (Alter 1999; Bocij et al. 2003; Dordick and Wang 1993). One is information technology (IT), which deals with the gathering, processing, storing and retrieving information with speed, accuracy, and efficiency (Laudon and Laudon 2002). This particularly involves the use of electronic computers and computer software. The other aspect is communication technology, which involves the speedy transfer of information from one device to another and entails the use of such technologies as the telephone, mobile phone, fax, radio, TV, facsimile, satellite and other cable networks (ECA 1999;European Commission 2001).

However, as this technology permeates almost every facet of human activity (Macome 2002), it has been viewed differently by different groups of people (Orlikowski and Iacono 2001). From the Orlikowski and Iacono" (2001) paper on ,,...Desperately Seeking the “IT” in IT Research.", two broad views of ICT can be synthesised. These include the technical and socio-technical views.

2.2.2 The Technical View of ICT

This view takes a narrow picture of ICT, concentrating on the technical aspect to deliver services to customers (ibid). In some situations, the technology is considered only in terms of its presence or absence with no description of its features, functions and models (Sawyer and Chen 2002). Thus, ICT is likened to a natural object and characterised to operate universally as it was designed to behave (Orlikowski and Iacono 2001). However, natural objects can also be used differently for different purposes in different environments (Checkland and Holwell 1998). This narrow view of ICT relatively contributes to the contrasting and ambiguous findings and opinions about its role in development (Sein and Harindranath 2004). For example, a study of IT investment approaches in Namibia confirms this by finding that majority of the respondent organisations viewed ICT only as hardware and software, making them unable to arrive at convincing return on investment (ROI) figures (Lubbe 2002). Thus, there is the need to have a broader view of ICT that “acknowledges not only the technical, hard perspective but also the soft, human aspect” (Molla and Loukis 2005: 3).

2.2.3 The Socio-technical view of ICT

This view goes beyond the technological artefact to engulf the activities and interactions performed in specific social and cultural contexts (Madon 1997; Kitchin 1998; Avegerou and Walsham 2000; Kling 2000; Orlikowski and Iacono 2001; Sein and Harindranath 2004). In relation, Heeks (1999a) asserts that the outcome of an ICT initiative depends on the cooperative interaction of a multivariate socio-technical network. He argues that ICT on its own does not make sense unless it is tactfully incorporated into an information system (IS), which is a system of “human and technical components that accepts, processes, stores and communicates information for decision making or learning”(Heeks 2004a:7). Thus, he models a systemic view of the technology as shown in Figure 2.1 below which incorporates the technology itself, the information on which it operates, processes of purposeful action, people to carry out those processes, and the environment of “institutions (organisations, groups, markets) and of influencing factors (political, economic, socio-cultural, technical and legal)” within which this IS exists (Heeks 1999a: 3).

Figure 2.1: A Systemic View of ICTs

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Heeks (1999a: 3)

This socio-technical view shows the pervasiveness of ICT and the likelihood of a myriad of factors to impinge on it to alter its function, outputs, outcomes and impacts in a given milieu (Brohman 1996; Checkland and Holwell 1998; Orlikowski and Iacono 2001). It creates awareness of pertinent issues that can shape and align the thinking of stakeholders in a given project to help minimise inconsistencies and confrontations that usually underlie the failure of technology led initiatives (Kouroubali 2002, Heeks 2003a).

Such inconsistencies have also been confirmed to result from the divergent ontological orientations of people about what constitutes the technology and the epistemological stance they take on its application (Checkland and Holwell 1998; Baak and Heeks 1998; Molla and Loukis 2005), thereby strengthening Sein and Harindranath"s (2004) view that the manner in which ICT is viewed can greatly shape its contribution to development.

We take this socio-technical view for the analysis of the role of ICT in rural livelihoods based on a stand that the technology influences and is in turn influenced by people and communities (Walsham 1993; Bergvall-Kareborn 1999). Before doing such analysis in Chapter 4 however, it is worthwhile to look at the meaning of rural development in the context of DCs.


Development is generally accepted as the attainment of a better quality of life (Soeftestad and Sein 2003). But the consensus on what constitutes a better quality of life is a serious problem (Shepherd 1998) as many development paradigms compete to score this goal (Hite 1999; Thompson 2004;Bell and Morse 2003). However, as regards rural development in DCs, these paradigms can be broadly categorised into the modernisation, the dependency, and the human centred perspectives (Shepherd 1998; Soeftestad and Sein 2003; Sein and Harindranath 2004).

Conventionally, rural development has been a victim of the modernisation paradigm (Shepherd 1998), which posits development as “a transformation of society, a movement from traditional relations, traditional ways of thinking, traditional methods of production, to more modern ways” (Stiglitz 1999:1).

Along this perspective, development is a mechanistic process involving capital investment, the application of science and technology in production and services, the establishment of nation-state and large political and economic organisations, and social restructuring, leading to productivity increases and economic growth (Mansell and Wehn 1998). In this sense traditional communities are blamed for accepting the world as it is and urged to model the western societies which are deemed to have escaped the shackles of poverty by dint of research and exploitation of technology resulting from those research works (Soeftestad and Sein 2003).

From a seemingly different angle, the dependency perspective sees the deplorable state of DCs" economies as resulting from the very processes that made and continue to make ADCs richer at the expense of DCs (Rist 1997). It argues mainly that ADCs exploited DCs through colonisation and dominant trade policies (Sein and Harindranath 2004; Co­operative movement 2000). In relation to the adoption of ICT, this perspective urges DCs to break away from the developed world because it is feared the technology would exacerbate the marginalisation syndrome (). It is recalled that the transatlantic telegraph and the railway networks of Africa in the 19th century were used to strengthen the centralised control of the British Empire on its colonies and facilitated the carting of mineral, agricultural and forest products to the ports for shipment to Europe but not to benefit the lands on which they were built (Benjamin 2001). It is felt ICT activities such as the present offshore computing mirror the same trend. But this may not be the answer as the same centre and periphery marginalisation would continue in DCs between Urban and rural settings (Ghosh 2001).

The human centred perspective, in a total deflection, puts the human being at the centre of the development process, advocating for the need to help people to release their potential (Thomas 2000; Das Gupta et al. 2004; Soeftested and Sein 2003). This thinking accuses the modernisation and dependency theories of being unsustainable, and defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Redclift 1987:43). This calls for the need to build the capacities of local communities because understanding and championing one"s development priorities can be hampered by the lack of information and knowledge (Shepherd 1998). For example in Nepal, while environmentalists and development agents considered landslides as a problem and tried to prevent them, farmers thought they benefited from the possibilities of creating new farmlands and they went to the extent of engineering mini-landslides, using water (ibid). It means that there is the need for external interveners to collaborate with local people to help determine their needs because what may be seen as development from outside may be different as seen by the beneficiaries.

Often some countries have achieved rapid economic growth but the growth has yielded only more of what they started with, benefiting only a meagre proportion of the population who normally reside in urban areas, while the majority of the people, especially the rural folks has actually become poorer (Mchombu 2004; Jalilian and Kirkpatrick 2005). Thus, it is strongly argued that development should not be viewed only in terms of economic growth, but contrastingly as a complex process through which the quality of life improves as judged by the target population (Ratner 2002).

That is, development should target at reducing poverty, increasing the standard of living, increasing education and health levels, reducing inequality, promoting culture and local context, and building a democratic society marked by participation and transparency (Todaro 1994; Howkins and Valantin 1997; Servaes 1999; WDR 2001; Soeftestad and Sein 2003; Thomas 2000). That is, it should be based on local needs, planned and executed in collaboration with the local community (Bassette 2004). This is the stand for this dissertation because development must embrace not only economic growth but also the social and human components of well-being (Macome 2002).


This chapter has briefly considered the concepts of ICT and of rural development. It is clear that the technical, narrow view of the technology causes serious problems in ICT implementation because it fails to recognise the importance of soft issues. Thus, the socio-technical view, which recognises the full engagement of technology with people and organisations, has been recommended for implementing and analysing ICT initiatives. In a similar vein, it has been argued that the modernisation and dependency perspectives of development are unsustainable and inappropriate for meeting the needs of the people because they fail to recognise and leverage the context within which development projects are undertaken. Thus, development needs to take a human centred perspective whereby participatory approaches are adopted to help people understand themselves and champion their lives.



The forgoing chapter has given a brief of some relevant views of ICT and of rural development in DCs. In this chapter, we explore the link between the two concepts, seeking to uncover the potential benefits and challenges of implementing ICT in rural communities of DCs. To do this, it may be helpful to first have an understanding of what pertains in those localities.


Most people have an image of what is meant by a rural area. Yet, the subject is contentious, particularly regarding whether rural towns are rural or urban and vice versa (Hite 1999; Gordon and Craig 2001). For the purpose of this study, the meaning of rural communities in DCs would be based on their characteristics (Hite 1999).

In a global survey on rural communications, it was found that about 40 per cent of the world's population live in the rural and remote areas of DCs where access to ICTs such as basic telephony, broadcasting and the Internet are still very limited (ITU 2004). These areas are isolated or far detached from an urban or city centre and dispersed geographically (Hudson 1999). They are characterised by income levels far below the estimated national income per capita, low literacy rates not only in international but also in local languages, and a general lack of essential social amenities (Nepal and Petkov 2002; UNESCAP 2005).


Excerpt out of 84 pages


ICT Implementation in Rural Communities in Developing Countries
In what ways can it contribute to the tasks of livelihoods?
University of Manchester  (IDPM)
MSc Management and Information Systems
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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implementation, rural, communities, developing, countries
Quote paper
David Sanka Laar (Author), 2005, ICT Implementation in Rural Communities in Developing Countries, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/312470


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