Understand the true costs and risks,
as well as benefits, of innovation. IT innovation like the XO may offer great
benefits but also involves costs and
risks. The purchase of a laptop is merely the start of a stream of ongoing costs.
The total cost of ownership for a laptop
program could include infrastructure
investment, training, tech support,
hardware maintenance, software licenses and upgrades, and replacement
expenditures. Cost can also include
the opportunity cost or the foregone
investment in teachers, facilities, or
other educational materials cited by
India’s education ministry as its main
reason for not joining OLPC. 6
There is also a risk that the expected
benefits might not be realized. Problems in implementation could limit actual use, and the need for ongoing funding means that the innovation might
not be sustainable beyond some initial
13 Another risk is investing in a
technology platform that might not be
supported in the future; for instance,
investment in software, content, and
training for the XO platform could be
wasted if OLPC would disappear.
Policymakers are able to reduce the
risk if they make major acquisition decisions only after careful evaluation of
pilot projects that enable learning firsthand how the technology fits with their
educational goals and environment.
Learning from other countries’ experience can be valuable even when the
context is different; Al-Gahtani1 says
that successful pilot projects by peers
in other developing countries help reduce the perceived risk of adoption.
Adopting organizations need to develop internal capabilities and set priorities. Although governments might receive outside assistance for trials, they
must be able to sustain the innovation
in the development of digital educational content, training of teachers to
integrate ICT-based educational materials in the teaching-learning process,
and design and installation of supporting IT and power infrastructure.
For example, one independent evaluation concluded: “While the Uruguayan
government is making a great effort in
providing funding for the hardware,
there is no funding for designing and
developing software and content for
use with the laptops or for conducting a thorough evaluation of the edu-
cational and societal outcomes of the
project.” 13 Other evaluations argue that
the countrywide deployments envisaged by OLPC are simply beyond the
resources of any developing country,
saying that governments must set priorities regarding goals and the regions,
sectors, and schools to be served.
The potential significance of the XO,
as well as of other IT innovations, in
developing countries calls for systematic, independent evaluation—a true
“grand challenge” for the computing
and social science communities. Researchers can provide value by conducting well-designed studies of the
diffusion and results of such innovation. The knowledge created promises
to prevent wasting a great deal of money and effort and lead to quicker diffusion and better use of innovations that
prove beneficial. While OLPC has so far
fallen short of its goals, there is much
yet to be learned by studying this case
of IT innovation.
The Personal Computing Industry Center ( pcic.merage.uci.edu/) is supported
by grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the U.S. National Science
Foundation. Any opinions, findings,
and conclusions or recommendations
expressed in this article are those of
the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Sloan Foundation
or the National Science Foundation.
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Kenneth L. Kraemer ( email@example.com) is a research
professor in the Paul merage school of business, co-Director of the Personal computing industry center,
and associate Director of the center for research on
information technology and organizations, all at the
university of california, irvine.
Jason Dedrick ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is co-Director and
a project scientist in the Personal computing industry
center at the university of california, irvine.
Prakul Sharma ( email@example.com) is a research associate
in the Personal computing industry center at the
university of california, irvine.
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