sciences, which are concerned with
how things are, these fields are concerned with how things should be. The
goal of an engineer is to build systems
that achieve some desired result, based
on a process that centers on the gener-ate-test cycle, producing likely solutions and testing whether they are successful relative to some desired metric.
How to design in anticipation of a
positive result and evaluate whether or
not that result is as anticipated are the
methodological and empirical bases
for this trade.
From this perspective, ICTs should
not be viewed as a panacea for development but as a tool allowing local change
agents (like NGOs) to be more effective
and accountable. As the examples here
show, computing is able to support local organizations in generating and
sharing new ideas, implementing and
disseminating projects, and measuring their effects. The goal is to facilitate
a virtuous cycle of experimentation by
augmenting local efforts and improving
their visibility and accountability to the
institutions that might support, replicate, scale and/or learn from them.
Here, I have highlighted the role of
NGOs, but one could equally focus on
government agencies and local businesses. NGOs are important sources
of innovation for rural development.
Their familiarity with the problems
and people of a region, along with their
idealism and activism, enable them to
identify and pursue novel development
strategies. Their lack of government
and commercial accountability allows
them to be more creative and free in
this enterprise. If an idea is demonstrably successful, it can later be scaled
through state or business approaches.
How can computer scientists and engineers design computing technologies
to achieve desired development objectives? Mobile phones have demonstrated a positive contribution, improving
the efficiency of commodity markets
in a variety of contexts.
10 While the simple ability to communicate provides
an immediate advantage, the effect
of computing often takes time to realize. Specifically, it must be accompanied by organizational and procedural
changes that take advantage of the new
opportunities computing affords (such
as decision making based on analysis
of past performance).
Many technologies useful for achieving these goals are technologically simple. Complexity arises in their adoption
and interaction with human social and
organizational systems. To manage this
complexity, computer scientists and
engineers must improve the process of
designing, introducing, and evaluating
computing technologies. This engineering process involves understanding local users, designing appropriate
and easy-to-introduce solutions, and
demonstrating their ability to achieve
beneficial social and economic change.
This process must also be contextual
and iterative, requiring rich learning
from field tests and pilot deployment of
varying scale and duration.
Approaching these issues rigorously
should require methods from the social sciences, including user studies
and ethnography used for decades to
study human-computer interaction.
The emphasis on process must now
go beyond user interface design to encompass end-to-end application and
systems design. Students of computing must not only learn the mechanics of computing and its underlying
abstractions and analytic foundations
but also the how to design and evaluate
computing systems that achieve specific human objectives.
Many thanks to my NGO and CBO field
partners, including Asobagri, CEPCO,
CCD, Jatan Trust, and the Mahaka-lasm SHG federations, for allowing
me to work with and learn from them.
Thanks, too, to my wonderful students,
including Yaw Anokwa, Kuang Chen,
Brian DeRenzi, Neil Patel, and Yael
Schwartzman, for sharing their insight
and experience from the field, and to
Neal Lesh, Deborah Estrin, and the
anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on earlier drafts.
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Tapan S. Parikh ( email@example.com) is an assistant
professor in the school of information at the university
of california, berkeley, and has an affiliate appointment in
the Department of computer science and engineering at
the university of washington, seattle.
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