It was coincidence that the #HackingTeam story broke while I was drafting this post.
In one way, these two posts are very much unrelated, but in other ways there is a narrative that binds them together: While ‘digital development’, ICT4D and ICT4Bad happen right here and now, the German ministry for development cooperation (BMZ) presents a policy document entitled Strategic Partnership for a ‘Digital Africa’
that is much more a contribution to development discourse bullshit bingo than to innovativedigital strategies.
I don’t know whether the fact that the document’s generic language could be used for pretty much any development topic, the one-sided embracement of ‘the private sector’ or the blatant ignorance of ‘digital development’ in Africa are the most striking aspects of this policy document, but it is a very revealing example of how a traditional bilateral agency thinks about ICT4D.
I don’t think this is a simple, maybe even rhetorical question. As a recent article points out, a lot of interesting and innovative digital work happens outside the traditional realm of development cooperation. When global companies and/or venture capital move in or citizens develop unique solutions to local problems one of the last things that is needed are traditional, relatively small, bilateral donor agencies. Almost by definition innovation does not start in the offices of a ministry and inside bureaucratic structures. While those actors convene another conference or round-table to discuss a 2-page policy document, real change happens in real time ‘on the ground’.
One of secretaries of state in the BMZ is already saying all the right words:
Let us take digitalisation seriously. Let us use the potential of ICT for development, address the digital and educational divide and build on that resourcefulness in our partnerships by advocating for digital rights and engaging in dialogue with the tech community, software developers, social entrepreneurs, makers, hackers, bloggers, programmers and internet activists worldwide.
But that doesn’t automatically mean that there is a full understanding of what those terms mean and how willing governments and other development actors are to embrace ‘makers, hackers, bloggers’…it’s easily said in the context of the re:publica conference.
Possibly entry points could be in communication, advocacy and ‘leading by example’: Push for ‘open development’ approaches, be the accountable and transparent organization you expect others to be, embrace digital strategies internally and be a critical voice in domestic or European debates. The most obvious approach for a political institution is to re-politicize an agenda, be a (small) critical voice when surveillance, democracy and other digital topics are debated, say, open educational resources, for example.