ICT and sustainable development

Whenever we talk about Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D), two questions arise: ‘What is development’ and ‘how does ICT lead to development?’ The first question somehow has been addressed by referring to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s theory of ‘capability approach’.

The approach conceptualises development as ‘freedom of choice’ to make conducive social, political and environmental arrangements so that individuals can live a life that they value and have a reason to value.

For example, if someone wants to stay in their village and have access to education, healthcare and income-generating activities, they should be able to do that.

Then the question arises how ICT enables such opportunities.

To see the link between ICT and development, we must first ask why someone uses ICT.

In this regard, affordances’ theory suggests that people only use an object if they can see some action possibilities.

So, we can argue that the usage of technology lies in the affordances (properties of an object that show users the action they can take) that an individual perceives in the ICT.

This leads to another question: how an individual perceives the affordances if he/she has no capability to do so. One theoretical answer is – through a mediator - a social activist, political leader or someone.

However, just perceiving affordances does not work. The community people need to actualise those affordances.

In developing countries, to actualise those affordances, people must work collectively.

To promote ‘collective action’, we need to have social norms that bind them. They need trust among the group members and social networks.

We can rephrase the answer to the question how ICT enables development. We stated ICT affords action possibilities, but it needs to be perceived by actors or mediators. To actualise this perceived affordance, we need collective action, and the source of collective action is social capital.

Furthermore, if collective action is taken and the affordances are actualised, it can enhance individual and collective capabilities. The only question that remains is: what about sustainability? To answer this, we can refer to Fritjof Capra’s concept of qualitative growth.

He says growth or development is a central characteristic of all life; a society or economy that does not grow will die sooner or later. However, the development should be economically sound, ecologically sustainable and socially just.

Furthermore, technologies should not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life.