ICT4D policy movement research: new pathways to understand policy implementation and digital development from a political perspective


The problematization of failure in digital development contexts has facilitated the emergence of arguments in favor of incorporating a politicized perspective to Information Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) research in order to expand its explanatory capacity (Gagliardone, 2018; Lin, Kuo, & Myers, 2015; Uimonen, 2015). However little attention has been paid in these discussions to ICT4D policy (implementation) processes (Gillwald, 2010; Ordoñez, 2015) despite their importance to understand the long term success and failure of projects and programs in developing countries from a politicized perspective (Grindle, 2017). Some ICT4D policy scholars have connected this gap to academic biases favoring economic and normative policy analyses in the field (Gillwald, 2010), but we argue that this might be also related to the academic predisposition to study policy implementation (when policy intents are turned into actions) as a geographically bounded and motionless endeavor because it allows researchers to brush aside the fact that local ICT4D policy endeavors are modeled after somewhere else “successful” experiences (Unwin, 2009) which presupposes not only a high level of policy movement (displacement and localization of policies from one scenario to another) across different jurisdictions (global-national-local) but also conflictive political interests in play that are hard to miss. Thus, our research question is: how can we re-politicize ICT4D policy implementation research from a policy movement perspective? To answer it, we proceed in three steps: first, we identify papers in ICT4D policy implementation studies and public policy studies using policy movement research approaches to produce politicized images of policy implementation processes, then we single out elements in those papers affecting positively or negatively the use of policy movement research approaches to produce politicized images of policy implementation processes, and finally, we identify cross-fertilization spaces between the fields consulted that should be explored further to achieve the objective proposed. Our findings are based on an exhaustive literature review of ICT4D policy movement studies. We analyzed articles dealing with ICT4D policy implementation experiences in Global South countries from 2009 to 2019, consulting two different academic databases, and two different smart recommendation systems, to spot policy movement-related papers among them. We complemented this review with a second one in public policy studies focusing on academic sources exploring policy movement models with politicized perspectives in other areas than ICT4D to identify the models that suit the best the needs of our object of study. We conclude that developing a politicized approach to ICT4D policy movement research is more likely to happen when and if  scholars employ policy movement models close to policy translation because that allows them to introduce a theoretical device capable of detecting political tensions in policy implementation scenarios but, before importing such models into ICT4D policy research, academics should adjust them to detect the structural and agency tensions, transcalar dynamics (global-national-local), and policy “textures” (thematic differentiability of ICT4D policies expressed in political terms) of the field. Being the policy value of the paper, the reconstruction of interdisciplinary dialogues between two research fields with similar concerns and complementary perspectives.