ICT and Development: 9 principles and 5 methods to start with

The relation between Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and development, and the presentation of methods and principles for the digital development have been the focus of the first module of the online course ICT Innovations for Development. Joshua Harvey, consultant at UNDP for the Human Centered Design, has led the participants during this first part of the course, ended on the 21st of November.

What does development mean? What do we mean with “technology for development”? The first step to introduce this first module has been defining these two concepts from their historical evolution to the widespread acronym ICT4D: “The practical application of knowledge of the intersection of computation, data, and networks for social transformation and the provision of assistance during and after crises“.

The idea of social innovation and digital development is based on the hypothesis that the communities we are working for actually use ICT tools and that these instruments can create new opportunities for change and transformation of the socio-economic context. Innovation, therefore, is simultaneously product and process as noted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR). “When we talk about innovation for development, we do not talk about technical aspects nor of the structural parts of a tool. Instead, we are talking about how technology can intervene in a specific social context and about processes that generate solutions to tackle people’s needs“. In fact, digital development has to be people oriented. A project has to be thought, structured and implemented for and with the beneficiaries of the new product or the service provided.

Unfortunately, theory and practice do not often match” Joshua explains “but (thank God!) we have some principles that can lead us in designing and implementing our interventions“. Our lecturer has shown and explained the main principles of the digital development.


1. Design with the user: who is the project for? Who are the stakeholders? How does the authentic experience of the user inform your design? How can we understand the real needs and necessities 0f the beneficiaries?

2. Understand the existing ecosystem: What is happening in the problem space? What are your constraints – policy, infrastructure, capacity, will? What exists to facilitate solutions? What are the ideas, opinions of the people about the problem? Did someone try to solve it? What are the limits?

3. Design for scale: Is the project structured from the specific context, from the number and kind of users? Is your product or service growth-oriented? How to develop tools today to allow a growth tomorrow?

4. Design for sustainability: Is your product or service dependency-aware? Will it be dependency-aware in the future? Is it financially sustainable?

5. Be data driven: Are you measuring? What are you measuring? How are you using your measurements?

6. Use open standards, open data, open source, open innovation: How “deeply” is your product or service a public good? Is it accessible to everybody? Are the collected data, the measurements, the documents and the methodologies available?

7. Reuse and improve: Have you considered the already existing instruments and technologies in order to innovate and reuse them?

8. Address privacy and security: Are sensitive data protected? Are the privacy and security respected? Besides the law, are others tools used to guarantee privacy and security of individuals?

9. Be collaborative: The project is more efficient when more people and several perspectives are involved; so, how can we engage more people?

These principles are essential to ensure that we are making a good product in a responsible and efficient way“.

Finally, during the last session, the lecturer has presented many methodologies to make concrete the concepts and the principles previously analysed.

The methods are the concrete things we do, how we translate our ideas into practice“.

Here we report some of the methods discussed:

Design research: the central idea of this approach is that experiences, needs and preferences of the user play a central role in the design and the conception of the product or service. “What happens if I build a chair not because I know how a chair is made, but according to how do people take a seat on the chair?“.

Prototyping: this is not about building something but to improve something that already exists according to what we need. It is an extension of the first method, it is a process that starts from user’s necessities: through comprehension and observation of someone’s need, you can reply with an adequate product. That is why it is important to foreseeing a phase to evaluate user’s reaction in order to improve the product.

User testing: this is the phase in which the user’s response is considered. It is a try of the prototype, a further step after the prototyping, to ensure that the product or service is suitable for the user.

Agile Development: once more, the user is the focus. Here it is not anymore about tools or instruments, but about people’s stories. These stories reveal necessities, and these needs are translated into the tool’s requirement we are developing. It is an interactive process which does not start from a concept or a study to directly reach a final target, but it is a process based on a continuous elaboration.

Lean: now, it is time to introduce the product into the real world to fully understand if it is suitable in the context. It is important to understand how to launch the product into the market through a precise strategy, a business model that makes our product competitive and more advisable than others.

All these methodologies are parts of a unique framework that considers the person as the central element of the project. After the observation and the comprehension of the preferences and necessities of the user, and after a deep analysis of them, it is possible to move to the design phase. Once the product is developed, this has to be tested and modified until the achievement of a people oriented and efficient result.


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