Considering Failure: Eight Years of ITID Research

Leslie Dodson, S. Revi Sterling, John K. Bennett


This paper examines 40 articles published in Information Technologies & International Development between 2003 and 2010 to identify commonalities among projects that failed to meet some or all of their development objectives. We considered whether the selected papers articulated clear development objectives and whether baseline data were used to inform project design. We then evaluated two factors associated with how the development objectives were implemented: the development perspective (top-down vs. bottom-up) and the project focus (the technology vs. the community). Our goal was not to find fault with our colleagues or their work; rather, we sought to advance the debate about the effectiveness of ICTD initiatives. We conclude that top-down, technology-centric, goal-diffuse approaches to ICTD contribute to unsatisfactory development results. Careful consideration of development objectives, perspective, and focus is essential in all phases of an ICTD project, from design through deployment. Honest and comprehensive reporting of failure (and success) helps ICTD researchers and practitioners to focus on best practices in meeting critical development needs.

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