ICT4D, the importance of building the net

Computer scientists, geographers, sociologists, anthropological, political scientists: the field of ICT4D is inherently multidisciplinary, and it involves different actors. The Spider Center at the University of Stockholm brings together practitioners, researchers, civil society organizations and institutions around the same table to create a global network able to implement technology for development from an inclusive perspective.

[By Serena Carta, from ICT4dev]

I have been in Stockholm for a couple of weeks now, for my research on ICT4D. I am a visiting student at the Spider center, an independent research center based in the computer science Department of Stockholm University. Since 2004, the Spider’s mission is to “encourage innovative use of technologies for development and poverty reduction through building partnerships and strengthening the knowledge on ICT4D at the global level”. The main activities of the Center can be summed up with two keywords, networking and information brokering; “interconnected world” and “digital solidarity between the generations” are part of the vision that informs it.

The Spider center acts as a network of universities, civil society actors, governments, private companies. Most funds come from SIDA (the Swedish Agency for development and cooperation) that is in charge of financing 90% of the activities of the Centre. The remaining 10% is accounted for by the Stockholm University whose annual turnover is around 1.5-2 million. The Spider center finances the realization of projects targeting the use of technology applied to democracy, education and health promotion. The countries involved are those labeled as “priority areas” by the Swedish aid policy (i.e., Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia). At the same time, the Center also encourages and supports on-site research by students and researchers. Such a combination of research and fieldwork allows the implementation of ICT innovation in development projects, as well as the creation of a geographical network of all the stakeholders involved in international cooperation. It also furthers interactive research to develop best practices and lesson learned repositories for spreading.

The projects

From its inception, Spider has completed roughly fifty projects in various fields. Since the adoption of a “2.0” agenda in 2011, the Center has focused on three key themes: democracy, education, and health. Particular attention has been paid to the empowerment of young people, creativity, and capacity development. The Spider project officer Ulf Larsson explained that the financial support is given to each project up to 56 thousand euros spread over 1-2 years. According to Larsson, this is but “a seed from which we hope sustainable impact initiatives can arise». Associations and local networks in partner countries of the South are the average grant applicants: “we publish a notice on our website, then start our selections. The winner receives our support through monthly meetings that help us to monitor the development of the project. Once completed, the applicant should be able to stand on his or her own legs and, if successful, s/he will receive more funds from us or other entities to implement it to its completion. ”

Research and knowledge brokering

The Spider center, however, also has an academic core. Each project is audited by one or more students or researchers who conduct theoretical and empirical analysis on site to monitor and log both the results, and impact generated. «The collaboration between professionals and researchers contributes to contextualize the study of ICT4D. At the same time, it helps those leading the project to gain a broader view and make it better” Ulf says. In some cases, a partnership between the Spider center and the youth Promotion Association AIESEC, young people who just graduated is involved in spending a few months in the field by providing technical expertise project. Finally, the research results are published as reports or videos and made available to the public at large via the Spider website. The aim is of facilitating the circulation and sharing of ideas and best practices in the field of ICT4D.

The importance of building the net

The chosen name, Spider, makes the intent of this research center clear. Over the years, the network it built became quite impressive. There are 230 experts from 40 different countries, 800 active stakeholders worldwide, 17 partner universities in Sweden and four geographic and thematic networks bringing together all the countries in which funded projects came to fruition. The intent was to strengthen South-South cooperation and connect those initiatives with new contributors. The international EIFL Association, a partner, based in Rome, is among them in promoting access to information through digital libraries in developing countries.


Photo: Dorothea Kleine (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Paula Uimonen (former Spider director)  – credits: