Not Your Average Farmer:
Designing for Lead Users in
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[ 1] Brand, P. and
Schwittay, A. “The
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Driven Design and
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[ 2] Heeks, R. “ICT4D
2.0: The Next Phase
of Applying ICT
Computer 41, 6 (2008):
[ 3] Burrell, J. and
Toyama, K. “What
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[ 4] Von Hippel, E.
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[ 5] Patel, N.,
Chittamuru, D., Jain, A.,
Dave, P., and Parikh, T.
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for Development (ICT4D) research has a history
of making mistakes that, in hindsight, seem
obvious. For example, many working in the field
have a favorite story of a project gone wrong
because of techno-centrism. Mine is the LINCOS
telecenter project, intended to provide computing and internet access to a Costa Rican village
via a high-tech shipping container, which was
described as “an alien spaceship dropping from
the sky” [ 1]. It closed after two years—the community began using a new cyber cafe, and the
container was vandalized.
This and other early ICT4D projects conflated
the goal of diffusing technology with meeting the
real needs of a community. Richard Heeks called
this “ICT4D 1.0” [ 2]. Fortunately, we are now moving into Heeks’s ICT4D 2.0: Most of the ICT4D
papers at CHI 2010 deeply integrated needs-find-ing and community involvement into the design
and development of the technology intervention.
But with this step forward come new pitfalls
of which ICT4D researchers should be mindful.
Before designers may have made the mistake of
designing without a deep understanding of the
community and its needs; now that real needs
are being addressed, a potential trap is think-
ing the identified needs are shared by everyone.
There are a few signs this is starting to happen.
First, when describing whose needs are being
addressed, ICT4D research (mine included) rarely
gets more specific than “farmers,” “community
health workers,” “slum dwellers,” or even “low-
Second, as others have noted, ICT4D research
is often premature in presuming a local solu-
tion is generalizable and can, or should be,
scaled up [ 3]. This is partly driven by tech-
nologists’ bias toward a large-scale perspective,
but it’s also driven by external expectations.
Caught up in a drive to develop scalable solu-
tions, designers tend to be imprecise about who
specific solutions will work for. It is probable
that novel technology interventions in par-
ticular will see significant uptake with only a
subsegment of the larger potential user com-
munity. My view is that rather than feeling
disappointed about this, we should embrace it!