Access to and Use of ICT Tools

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Access to and Use of ICT Tools

Access to information and communication technologies and the ability to use them vary widely. This ability to access and utilize the technologies carries with it implications for practitioners. How do they respond to these diverse needs?

How does availability of technology and access to that technology change the goals for activists, organizations or governments using ICT as a tool?

How does ICT adoption and access within a community change the role ICT can play in increasing transparency and participation?

What challenges/barriers has your organization faced regarding the promotion of ICT in governance and/or access to information?

What challenges/barriers do citizens face using ICT tools (e.g., literacy, cost, etc)

Factors affecting ICT adoption: literacy skills, government trust/perception of credibility, differing norms of conduct (ex. Bribery, face-to-face interaction). Others?

How does the management of information being shared and stored digitally affect how organizations or governments operate? What barriers exist to developing and implementing proper infrastructure, systems, controls, oversight and skills needed to manage large amounts of data effectively?

Share your thoughts, experiences, questions, challenges and ideas by replying to the comments below.

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Accountability Lab's experience using ICT

At Accountability Lab, we believe that ICTs can be very useful in opening up new opportunities for greater transparency and citizen participation, but that it's important to remember that the tools themselves must not be the end-game, as they are not useful unless local people have the access and interest to use them. We've found that it's incredibly important that the intended beneficiaries are given a voice in the development of the ideas, by talking to them extensively about the problem that is trying to be solved and gaining a comprehensive understanding of the context. Then, we try to do a user-testing workshop where we get honest feedback from a small group before the official pilot. Ultimately, the most effective way to get ICT tools to be adopted by the community is to find local partners to lead the promotion and community engagement around them. That will increase the commitment of local partners and the trust of community members.   The Lab's most effective ICT tool has been a wiki site we've helped a local organization called GalliGalli in Nepal to build and grow. The site, called, allows citizens to crowdsource step-by-step instructions on how to navigate Nepal's complex bureaucracy in order to access basic public services. While they've had over 200,000 hits on the site, they've found the best way to inform citizens about it is actually through facebook, where people are used to going for news and resources from their network. They also pair the online platform with offline events, in which they get a public official or expert to talk on a particular issue related to public services--thus helping citizens without internet access connect in to the community and get informed.  

Concerns about the weak skill base for managing digital records

The tremendous opportunities for using ICT to support transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement cannot be realised if the records generated by ICT systems are not managed to protect their integrity and accessibility.  Because this issue is largely missing from the development agenda, there has been inadequate attention to the importance of developing a skill base in this area.  The requirements are well defined in internationally agreed standards but are rarely applied.  Often planners and stakeholders are unaware that they exist, and there are very few professionals with experience of implementing them.  Estonia is an exception.  As part of its rapid progress toward digital governance, the Government of Estonia has paid real attention to the information management issues involved.  See


A Few Challenges

A few of the challenges that our local civil society partners have run into when using ICTs:

1.       ICTs can make it much easier for greater numbers of people to contact public officials, but the officials do not have the additional resources to respond to this increase. This can create problems both with government uptake of ICTs and increasing citizen dissatisfaction if they do not receive a timely response.

2.       ICTs may greatly increase communication with,  and information about, government actors, but not result in an increase in the political effectiveness of citizen groups.

3.       The hopes that ICTs could help marginalized populations gain access to politics seems to be overly optimistic.  These groups typically suffer from lack of access to or resources for ICTs, literacy, cultural barriers and other concerns that need additional attention in order for ICTs to be an effective tool for them. 

Unexpected Challenges

A few challenges we have faced in deploying ICTs that were somewhat unexpected:

i) Some citizens find it hard to transliterate from their native language (eg. Sanskrit-based languages) into Roman letters- which makes SMS based transparency systems using mobile-phones much less effective than IVR tools;

ii) ICTs are often not used in the way you expect, even after significant research on the ground with potential users. It is often hard to predict how and why people will use certain tools- which argues against putting huge amounts of moeny into the tool before it has been rapidly prototyped, tested and re-designed.

iii) Use existing technologies where possible- our experience indicates that meeting people where they are with tools they are already using makes most sense. For example, rather than setting up a new tool to help people come together around a specific topic, use Facebook and convene people through a group there- where they are already engaged and where the potential audience is already online. It is not as innovative, but it is often far more effective.

Challenges to use of ICTs

The barriers citizens face to using ICT tools include the ones suggested here (low literacy, high cost, etc). A few more to consider are technical literacy--even highly educated citizens might not be familiar with the online tools available and new ones emerging (Twitter, snapchat, surveys), or those whose opinions are important to consider may not be native English speakers (if the context is the US). Low literacy could also suggest Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, used for a variety of applications in developing economies (e.g., EngageSpark [] offers tools for SMS and voice response).

A more substantial barrier may be time. Vulnerable populations or those otherwise disenfranchised may have "access" to websites through public libraries or to other tools via mobile phones, but many working parents and others simply don't have the time to educate themselves or become active in political or social causes, if they are busy working and caring for their families. Jen Schradie and other academics are looking at various aspects of "digital inequality," a more nuanced framework than the "digital divide." See her post "7 Myths of the Digital Divide" at

Overcoming Challenges through IVR Systems

Hi Camille- very good points. One great IVR technology we've been working with is the Question Box: Developed in northern India, we're now using them in Liberia- the Question Boxes are simple call boxes that anyone in a community can use, and are connected for free to an operator who can be on call to provide them with the information they might need- to solve everyday problems and learn more about their rights and responsibilities. 

CGNet Swara ( is another interactive voice forum which enables callers to record messages of local interest and listen to the messages others have recored. messages are also posted on the internet to be viewed by journalists, activists and policymakers and are used as a means to push for solutions to problems. 

Closing the loop with ICTs

In terms of challenges we at the Accountability Lab have seen when using ICTs for transparency, one key problem is ensuring that we can close the loop once information is gathered and synthesized. There are a number of technologies that allow users to pull in information and make that information transparent. But getting people in power to use that infomation to fix problems and improve accountability outcomes is more difficult. This is one of the key challenges systems like have come up against. In Liberia, we deployed an SMS reporting system to help students at schools and universities report problems on campus. We've been moderately successful at getting administrations to fix problems that come through the system by i) keeping it entirely anonymous to avoid misuse of the systema nd build trust; ii) creating a forum for teachers, the administration and students to discuss solutions so the process is seen as a collective effort; and iii) mobilizing small amounts of catalyst funding to fix those issues that require inputs (eg. printing of student handbooks etc). This has led to a self-reinforcing loop of deterrance, reporting, discussion and action.    


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