Response to - Please Stop Using the Term “Beneficiaries” in ICT4D

ICT4D guru Wayan Vota writes 'We do it every day. We refer to the people we are working with as “beneficiaries”. For years, I used this term as well, but I’ve stopped. I’d like you to stop too. ..... In technology solution design, it is a standard business practice to work with the clients and customers. In international development we are (or should be) working with people to find ways to accelerate social and economic development. So the term “beneficiaries” should never be used'. (See Please Stop Using the Term “Beneficiaries” in ICT4D)

Agreement

I agree totally. "Development" projects (and not only ICT4D projects) should be genuinely collaborative and based on mutual respect. They should never be tainted with mind-sets that are patronising, top-down, neo-colonialist or "do-gooding".

I've been dancing around on the edges of the ICT4D community for years - sometimes thinking we are "on the same side" and sometimes thinking we are completely alienated from each other. Soon after I was drawn into the world of "development" by Peter Adetunji Oyawale I was shocked to discover the number of projects that bring in "solutions" to "beneficiaries" without the initiators first having had the humility to find out what the questions and relevant issues really are.

I applaud what Wayan has written (especially as he is enough of an "ICT4D insider" to say it on behalf of "beneficiaries" and be listened to). As someone on the edge of ICT4D I'm collecting up some earlier thoughts and links here to add my voice to what he's written.

More equal relationships

We need more equal and mutually respectful relationships, not just in ICT4D but in all aspects of development. The links below touch on the subject in various ways.

Closing the gaps

One of the reasons I set up Dadamac was to try and reduce the gap between researchers and practitioners. As Wayan knows I have failed spectacularly. In 2012, at his ICT4D Fail Fair in London I was formally recognised as the champion failure for my many year of outstandingly unsuccessful efforts to close such gaps.

I've written about my relationship with the ICT research community previously in Fantsuam Foundation - initial "visibility" project

I was at Fantsuam when Kazanka Comfort - the general secretary of the Fantsuam Foundation Micro-finance Programme - came back from an ICT conference in South Africa. The main thing she shared with John and me illustrated the chasm between practitioner knowledge and academic research. (I don't remember the exact date, I was at Fantsuam quite often between 2004 and 2008 - perhaps it was around 2006)

Many of the papers at the conference had been sharing findings that: "Bring the technology and they will come" does not work . To us it was such a statement of the obvious that it was sad to think of research money and effort being thrown away on it - and even more heartbreaking to think of all the heavily funded top-down projects that had been initiated in ignorance of that basic fact. 

I decided I should stop complaining about the chasm between top-down initiatives and grass root realities and do something to open up communication - hence Dadamac.

(snip)

  • 2010 - I had come to the conclusion that maybe our best hope of sharing information directly from the grass roots might be through collaborative research projects so I focussed on ICTD2010 in December.
  • 2011 - I had come to a better understanding of why the ICT4D community was not looking for collaborations with the grass roots, and why various other ideas I had had were probably unrealistic. I therefore stopped reaching out in the ways I had been doing.

Taken from - Fantsuam Foundation - initial "visibility" project

Continuing to dance on the edges

Many thanks to Wayan for raising this topic. ICTworks is a voice of reason and is one of the few places where I continue to connect with the ICT4D community. I don't often respond now, I'm more of a lurker, sampling what's going on and what's being thought. 

At one time my heart would leap with delight every time someone wrote in ICTworks about the need for greater participation, or a need to emphasise the users ahead of the technology, and I would be tempted to join in the debate. Then I realised the terrible truth that if items like that were seen as worth publishing then the general level of awareness around such issues must still be abysmal.

Attitude shifts

Wayan asks what word should be used instead of "beneficiaries". People suggested ‘user’, ‘stakeholders’, ’partners, ‘clients’,’customers" 'primary actors' and more besides. There were also comments pointing out that changing the word won't help, unless there is also a change in attitudes.

I'm cautious of putting words into people's mouths, and obviously there are many different kinds of ICT4D projects, but I look forward to a time when ICT4D people will start their projects by looking for people in the local community who will act as consultants.

When the ICT community approaches local people as "consultants" rather than "beneficiaries" then I'll know that attitudes are changing and the gap is closing between people on "my side of the divide" and the official ICT4D world. Then perhaps Dadamac's networks and knowledge, and our structures and communication channels can be put to good use in the service of externally initiated ICT4D projects.