Research on ICT for development 'lacks African voice'
[LONDON] African academics are being left behind in the rush to research how communication technologies can help development, according to a review of papers in the field.
As a result, key theories in the field are being formed without the influence of African academics, researchers told the Information and Communications Technology and Development 2010 (ICTD2010) conference, in London, United Kingdom, this week (13–16 December).
The team surveyed, for the first time, academic publications in the field of ICTD between 1990 and 2009, using the Thomson Reuters ISI Web of Knowledge.
The researchers also took an in-depth look at research output and themes over a more recent period (2007–2009), including a study of some of the emerging international and African ICTD journals.
African researchers and institutions have contributed just nine per cent of international papers across all ICTD disciplines — although this went up to 13 per cent for some topics such as library science and e-governance. In 'hard' sciences, such as computer science, this figure fell to below one per cent.
The research comes at a time of growing interest in how ICTs can boost Africa's — and other developing nations' — development, as highlighted, for example, by the recent mobile health summit held in Washington DC in the United States.
The team, based in South Africa, said that of the nine per cent of publications containing at least one African author, South Africa contributed over a third of the papers, with Botswana and Nigeria contributing 14 and 17 per cent respectively. The number of non-English publications was negligible.
African participation at related international conferences was also low.
"Today's theories [of the use of ICT in development] are being formed with little African influence," said Kathleen Diga, co-author of the paper and a researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. "ICTD claims to be participatory but the lack of African contributions undermines this."
The authors said that some of the causes were generic obstacles to Africans publishing research, such as the emphasis on teaching rather than research as the driver of career success, difficulties accessing international journals, and a claimed Northern bias against Southern authors.
Tim Unwin, UNESCO's (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) chair in Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) and organiser of ICTD2010, said that the problems are not limited to Africa.
"We need to do much more to support people from other parts of the world who don't understand the rules of the game enough to get published in those [international] journals," he told SciDev.Net.
Polly Gaster, head of ICT4D at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique, said that interesting ICT research in Africa is being done at PhD level, and a survey of theses might have produced a more positive picture.
But, she added, they "are remaining as theses and sitting on a library shelf somewhere and that is the end of them".
See below for a video by ICTD2010, with other presentations and interviews from the conference, on Tuesday (14 December):