Yesterday I noted one question posed at the Policy Makers’ Workshop:
Can ICTs be useful for rural and remote areas of developing countries, especially the poverty-stricken regions?
We need to examine that question for a moment. At one level of analysis, it is hard to not answer that question in the affirmative. At another level, it is a meaningless question. Merely because it is syntactically correct does not imply that it has any content. Consider the question:
Can magnetic levitation superfast monorail transportation systems be useful for rural and remote areas of developing countries, especially the poverty-stricken regions?
Clearly, yes. Not just magnetic levitation superfast monorail transportation systems, but an almost unending variety of things would be useful for the development of poverty-stricken remote areas. Not merely for those areas, all of those unending variety of things would be useful for the development of not so remote and not so poverty-stricken areas of any developing country. Thus that question is actually content-free.
It is hard to argue that ICT, or anything else for that matter, cannot be useful in development. There are only two problems:
Our resources are limited. Anyone who does not keep that in mind is clearly out of touch with reality. Prioritizing the needs and sequencing the required intervention is an impossible task unless considerable thinking goes into the analysis of the problem.
Therefore a meaningful question would be: How appropriate is ICT for rural and remote areas of developing countries, especially the poverty-stricken regions? Or, how should we sequence the use of ICT, both temporally as well as spatially, for economic development? That is, should we take our resources and thinly distribute it all across the country or should we focus on some areas first and then move to other areas? Should we use our limited resources to bring ICT tools to the most remote and the poverty-stricken areas of the country and neglect other areas? Should we concentrate on ICT for remote and poverty-stricken areas before we concentrate on other needs of those areas?
These are important questions and need to be debated and discussed before we waste any more resources than we already do with the gazillions of ICT for development conferences and initatives.