Positioning the University in the Global South – ICT4D Research

By Caroline Khene

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I have been a researcher in the field of ICT4D for the past 14 years in South Africa. I chose to focus in this particular field, because I really believed that through knowledge and applied research, we can address at least some of the many challenges we are confronted with in our context. When I first became an academic, right after my PhD, it was surprising to observe how removed our curriculum and research are from engaging with the realities of our context. Our field was extremely, and still is (although improved a bit) business driven. The concept on ICT4D was not given the true attention naturally needed in our context, but was seen as a side-lined research community engagement (“charity”) activity unaligned with the conventional focus of our curriculum and research. Despite these views and challenges, ICT4D began to emerge as a significant research focus area among many of my South African colleagues, and given the kind of students and contexts we practice in, this is seen as a vantage point to truly develop the meaning of African Theory in Information Systems.

The ICT4D field is currently dominated by the global north, which is most likely the case given the resources available and key networks. I quite enjoyed reading the editors piece of the recent special issue of JAIS (Journal of the Association of Information Systems) – ICT4D: The next grand challenge for information systems. I can certainly agree with most of the aspects highlighted in that paper, as the proposal to create that explicit link between mainstream IS and ICT4D is so vital for IS academic departments in developing countries, who still rely on curricula guidelines predominantly developed by stakeholders originating from outside our contexts. What the editors indicate in this particular special issue, is that the selected papers for the journal issue do not necessarily originate from academics from universities in the global South

“Consequently, we have the stark reality that researchers based in institutions located in developing countries make limited contributions to both the mainstream and ICT4D disciplines. Tellingly, none of the authors of the papers in this special issue come from institutions in developing countries.”

The editors indicate that the special issue does not focus on understanding why this is the case, but have flagged this as an issue. Nonetheless, what is paramount is that they argue that:

“Arguably, insights developed by researchers who are situated in a context are richer than those developed by researchers located at a distance (both geographically and culturally).”

Considering these comments, this really calls for a need to investigate why this is the case for researchers located in institutions in the global south, and what challenges exist for exclusion. The editors mention that these relate to “limited access to literature and communities of practice and even basic training in information systems”. I believe this is certainly the case in many African and developing countries which need support and better collaborations that empower their voice as authors in academic papers, rather that passive participants. Furthermore, coming from a South African university, the challenges highlighted are hardly the case in key universities, where access to literature databases and libraries, communities of practices, and industry standard training in information systems is available. Nonetheless, we still do welcome the key international collaborations in developing research among our students and peers; but also desire the acknowledgement that collaborations are not a one-way activity, but two-way activities where both universities from the global north, and the global south can actually learn from each other. For example, the Erasmus programme in Europe has allowed some academics to visit each other’s universities, to share perspectives and teach at each other’s institutions. In 2016, the University of Limerick sent one of its academics from the Kemmy Business School to teach on project management in international development projects. Students from South Africa also shared their perspectives with the academic, which became a mutual insightful exercise for both parties. Subsequently, an academic from South Africa visited the University of Limerick to lecture students on an ICT4D e-governance perspective on project management – also resulting in insightful shared perspectives. This Erasmus engagement resulted in the publication of a paper between the two academics, sharing their knowledge and experience both theoretically (rigor) and in practice (relevance). Furthermore, one of the African students who was doing a Masters degree in Project Management at the University of Limerick at that time, informed his NGO about the ICT4D e-governance initiative in South Africa, leading to a recent key partnership to implement a similar initiative using applied research.

The other aspect I would like to touch on is “the way” of doing research. As I indicated earlier, IS has been dominated by a positivist approach. In contrast, the ICT4D field is mainly an intepretivist case study dominated field – now with critical realism gaining momentum. Research comes in different forms based on our chosen philosophical approach or worldviews, i.e.: Positivist, interpretivist, critical realist, pragmatist, emancipatory, etc. In the sphere of ICT4D in the global north, these have been used in different studies, producing quite interesting and relevant research. However, where we are in our progress towards development, we do not wish to simply create knowledge about knowledge, but to address the complex problems in our contexts. Why this is of value to us, is because as ICT4D researchers, we directly experience and live in these circumstances, which ignite a desire to change things. Examples include infringement on civic rights of marginalised communities, corruption, lack of access to basic services (water, sanitation, electricity), dealing with the challenges refugees experience, closing down of remote schools due to lack of access to textbooks and educational content, etc. ICT is not a panacea for addressing these challenges, but have been seen to play a key role in addressing these issues. These issues remain complex from a social, political, economic, and ethical standpoint, which require researchers in these contexts to invest in critical, pragmatist, and emancipatory approaches to research to unravel these complexities. An academic or researcher in a global north context is positioned to invest in this approach and provide insight from experiences. Furthermore, innovation from this research exercise does not exist only in the development of an ICT4D artefact or recommendations, but in the ability to guide implementation and sustain these artefacts and recommendations. Given most study participants are already faced with resource constraints and other social-cultural constraints, the university needs to stand out as a service model to society, to address the lack of skill or insight to drive development. The university does not hold all the resources or political power to address challenges, but it is certainly positioned as a bridge to fill the gap of a lack of knowledge and insight in addressing a challenge in a particular way.

The outputs of the research process applied in this way tend to originate from the context more than typical IS theory. In my experience reviewing IS Journal and conference (locally and internationally), and examining thesis, it has been quite down heartening to have to see yet another Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) interpretation, or heavy reliance on Sen’s Capability approach. Don’t get me wrong – these theories have been quite powerful and insightful, however, at times they are insufficient to drive the interpretations of our contexts. To get a paper published in a mainstream IS journal, one is required to build their argument from popular theory – however, what does one do, if the theory does not explain the context. Are we forced to reverse engineer, and squeeze our empirical experiences into a particular theory just to get published? Or should we rather explore theory from a vast variety of disciplines (transdisciplinarity) to introduce new understanding of IS in developing countries. I choose the latter. Theory is important, because it shapes our understanding of phenomena from different angles. However, publishers, editors, academics should begin to recognise the emerging change in methodology and approach, when working in our unique contexts – this calls for the development and recognition of sensitised approaches to research in African and developing countries.

Biography: Caroline Khene is an Associate Professor of Information Systems at Rhodes University, South Africa. She is also Co-Director of the MobiSAM (Mobile Social Accountability Monitoring) project, a digital citizen engagement initiative. Her research areas of interest are in ICT4D and E-governance, with a focus on project management, evaluation, and strategy formulation. She also conducts research on higher education development in developing countries – with an aim to build capacity and sensitivity to those unique contexts.


European Regional Conference on the Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries

22nd to 24th June 2018, Tirana, Albania

Key Dates

Panel/Workshop Submission Deadline: 20 February 2018
Abstract Submission Deadline: 20 March 2018
Acceptance Notification: 20 April 2018
Camera-ready Version Due: 20 May 2018

Venue: Hotel Tirana International, Tirana, Albania

Theme: Digital Innovation for Sustainable Development
Information technologies in general are great drivers of change that can create opportunities for new and improved models of sustainable international development. Digital innovation, when adapted to specific needs, could have the ability to solve social challenges, but concerns about amplifying inequality, access to benefits and diverting resources away from more pressing development priorities remain.

We are particularly interested in submissions related to innovation agility, indigenous innovation in developing countries and digital innovation for sustainable development. However, we are soliciting submissions across the full range of topics of interest to IFIP Working Group 9.4 in the broad areas of technology and sustainable international development.

The aim of the Regional Conference is to provide an engaging space for researchers but also practitioners active in our areas of interest working in, or visiting, Europe to meet and network.

Call for Submissions

We are seeking abstract submissions for research presentations at the conference. Abstracts will be collated into an eBook of abstracts which will be published online with an ISBN.

We also seek proposals for panel sessions on topical issues bridging across multidisciplinary theory and practice, and professional development training workshop sessions on research impact, methods, fieldwork or publishing aimed at Graduate Students and Early Career researchers.


Abstracts, panel and workshop proposals, two pages long, in PDF format, by email to ifip94euro2018@gmail.com

Submissions should follow the formatting guidelines for the IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology (IFIP AICT). Submissions should include: Title, Author names, Address, Email/URL, Keywords, the main body of the extended abstract and references, if required. It is not necessary to include an abstract section in the extended abstract.

Details and templates are available here.

Call for Participation
We plan to offer a number of bursaries to attract Graduate Students from universities in developing countries in Europe or outside, researching on topics of interest for the conference who may have difficulty obtaining support from their host institution to attend the conference. If you wish to apply for a bursary, please indicate this clearly in your cover letter when you submit your abstract. Bursaries will be allocated on a merit basis, so it will be helpful if you can include documentary evidence demonstrating your need for financial support.

Conference Committee

Conference Chair:           Endrit Kromidha, Royal Holloway, University of London

Programme Chair:           Julian Bass, University of Salford 

Programme Committee

Jyoti Choudrie University of Hertfordshire, UK
Betim Cico South East European University, Macedonia
Jose-Rodrigo Cordoba-Pachon Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Robert Davison City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Gentian Elezi Agenda Institute, Albania
Neki Frasheri Polytechnic University of Tirana, Albania
Endrit Kromidha Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
G Hari Harindranath Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Richard Heeks University of Manchester, UK
Ravishankar Mayasandra-Nagaraja Loughborough University, UK
Irena Malolli National Agency of Information Society, Albania
Silvia Masiero Loughborough University, UK
Petter Neilsen University of Oslo, Norway
Devinder Thapa University of Agder, Norway

Meet our new IFIP WG 9.4 Chair

Prof Robert Davison

Robert Davison is the new chair of the IFIP WG 9.4, a position expected to run initially from May 2017-May 2019.

I was born in the UK, went to Nottingham University (1986-1991) and came to Hong Kong in September 1991 to find a job (having failed to find one in the UK). I completed my PhD part time (1993-1998) and am now a Professor of Information Systems at the City University of Hong Kong, where I have worked since 1992.

As a researcher, much of my work focuses on knowledge management in Chinese companies. My temperament is more inclined to qualitative data and interpretive case studies / action research, though my students are often more positivist and quantitative, and so conformist. Yes, I see myself as rather non-conformist.

I have been active in the international IS community for many years, as a founding member of the AIS in 1995, and in a variety of roles in the AIS and elsewhere. Since 2002, I have been the editor in chief of the Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries (EJISDC) which after many years of essentially self-publishing will be published by Wiley with effect from 2018. I am also the editor in chief of the Information Systems Journal (also published by Wiley). As an editor, I travel widely to promote both journals, as well as the group. Most recently I have been in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Philippines and Indonesia. At the end of September I will be in Angola for a few days. Some of these places are rather off the beaten track, yet there are researchers here, people to engage with, people to include into our groups and networks.

In accepting Maung’s nomination for the chair position of this working group, I felt inspired by his past leadership, but also eager to see what innovations I might be able to bring. The group is one of the largest such IFIP groups, and indeed one of the most successful. I suspect that it is also one of the most disparate, with members from developing and developed countries around the world. That creates challenges, for even as we all share a research interest in developing countries, our backgrounds, our stories, our interests, our approaches, our means vary widely, encompassing those who are well resourced to those who are not resourced at all. Although I see the group as being very inclusive, I would like to make it more inclusive.

I feel that PhD students and early career researchers deserve our particular attention, because they represent the future of the discipline, and our group. We need to ensure that they feel included in our events, and also that they are encouraged to play a role in those events. Although I do not expect that we will organise events exclusively for PhD students, I do think that we should try to bring as many PhD students (and other early career researchers) to our meetings and workshops as possible. One way to do this is not to rely on a single biennial conference, but to encourage regional events, which can then cater to the needs of people living relatively closer to that regional location (since the annual event may be far away). The regional events will be organised by the regional representatives, of whom we have quite a number. If you would like to volunteer, please let us know.

This is the first of a series of profiles. I hope that future newsletters will run more of them.


Conference report

The IFIP Working Group 9.4 14th International Conference on the Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries was held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on May 22–24, 2017.  The venue was the delightful Royal Ambarrukmo Hotel with its wonderful manicured gardens and pool. The conference was attended by 147 participants from 31 countries. The theme of the conference was “ICTs for Promoting Social Harmony: Towards a Sustainable Information Society.” Where a harmonious society a peaceful and balanced connected whole, as part of a transformed social dynamic. A harmonious society is where there is a sustainable exchange of resources and development taking place through mutual agreement.

A call for tracks was distributed in 2016, with 17 track proposals received, of which 13 were finally selected for inclusion in the conference. There were 118 submissions from which 68 papers were accepted for publication. For the first time, the papers were published in the IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology series (IFIP AICT Vol. 504, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-59111-7). We thank Springer for their support in publishing the proceedings of this conference.

The conference benefited from three outstanding keynote speakers: Robert M. Davison, City University of Hong Kong, Chrisanthi Avgerou, London School of Economics and Kentaro Toyama, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The blue flashing-light police car escort ensured prompt arrival for coaches carrying participants at the gala dinner and spectacular performance of the Ramayana Ballet with the Prambanan 9th Century Hindu temple complex as a backdrop.

Special thanks go to the hosts of this conference, Universitas Islam Indonesia and Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta. Every conference has an organisational leader whose outstanding achievements contribute to the overall success of the event. For this conference Fathul Wahid, who led the local organisation team and also pulled together the final proceedings, is to be congratulated for his exceptional effort.

Thanks also to my fellow conference co-chairs: Jyoti Choudrie, University of Hertfordshire, UK, M. Sirajul Islam, Örebro University, Sweden, Fathul Wahid, Universitas Islam Indonesia, and Johanes Eka Priyatma, Sanata Dharma University, Indonesia.

The event has resulted in a special issue for the Information Technology for Development Journal (Taylor and Francis) which could include extended versions of papers published at the conference (deadline, January 2018). We are also pleased to announce that Prof Robert M. Davison, City University of Hong Kong has been elected chair of IFIP Working Group 9.4. We are delighted that, Arlene Bailey, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica will continue as Working Group Secretary.


Julian M. Bass,

University of Salford,

UKGroup photo session - IFIP WG 94 2017 Conference 01.JPG


IFIP 9.4 Newsletter

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