How can we better design ICT programs for development and evaluate their impact on improving peoples’ well-being? A new approach, the Alternative Evaluation Framework (AEF) takes into account multiple dimensions of peoples’ economic, social and political lives rather than simply focusing on access, expenditure and infrastructure of ICT tools. This new approach is presented in How-To Notes, Valuing Information: A Framework for Evaluating the Impact of ICT Programs, authored by Bjorn-Soren Gigler, a Senior Governance Specialist at the World Bank Institute’s Innovation Practice.
The critical point of AEF is its holistic approach to viewing ICT programs, that simply providing access to ICT tools is not adequate, unless it is followed by effective and meaningful usage that enables people to improve their lives. The AEF digs deeper into understanding what influences (i.e., promotes or blocks) such use of ICTs by unpacking the link between ICTs and development. This makes sense. So much of development work is evaluated based on how much money is spent, or how many things have been built, as opposed to whether these things are improving peoples’ lives and how.
In order to explain this framework, the author applies Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach  and the concept of development, which is “the process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy”. Such freedom, according to Sen, is achieved through “the expansion of capabilities of persons to lead the kind of lives they value”. Capabilities, as defined in Sen’s theory are enhanced by both resources (capital) and agency. Agency is “the ability to define one’s own goals and act upon them”.
Using this theory and analogy, Gigler considers ICT tools as the capital, while agency as the information literacy, which is a set of abilities used to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate and effectively use the needed information”. Following the analogy, the author defines information capabilities as the combination of the capital and information literacy - one’s ability to effectively use informational capital (i.e., access to ICTs) to achieve the things that one desires.
So, how do people become information capable? What makes people want to use ICTs for their cause in the first place? What kind of support can they be provided in order to use ICTs most effectively? And, what would hinder their ability to do so?
This ‘unpacking’ of the link between ICTs and economic and social development forces one to think at a micro level and identify what makes people use ICTs in order to bring about positive impact on their lives. Things that may influence one’s behavior, such as information needs, access and availability, language, social and cultural context, enabling environment, and level of empowerment become a critical part of sorting out what works and what doesn’t.
Aside from being an evaluation framework, this approach certainly prompts thinking that is beyond providing access, even though such qualitative information is hard to measure. And this approach is extremely useful in designing effective ICT programs that have the potential to transform peoples’ lives. In fact, this ‘people-centered’ approach should be the mainstream approach in development, rather than the alternative.
Photo Credit: Stockvault.net by 2happy