Ten years of ICT4D research in Development Communication: From 2009 to 2019


The decade of 2010s has arguably witnessed an unprecedented pace of social change in diverse socio-cultural aspects. From various anti-establishment movements such as the Occupy movements, Black Lives Matter, the Arab Springs, and Brexit, to recovery efforts of global humanitarian crises such as the earthquakes in Haiti, Japan, and Nepal, which heated the discussions of climate issues, the past decade has experienced both challenges and advancements in scaffolding theories and practices of communication.

Of particular interests to the fields of media and communication, timely with the advancement of smart communication technologies, were the powerful roles and meanings of the various information and communication technologies (ICTs) within these processes; ranging from smartphones and social networks to satellite images. Of particular interest to the subfield of development communication, as was observed and foreseen by Ogan et al. (2009), was the utilization of these information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D).

The previous meta-analysis of development communication studies between 1998 to 2007 observed a re-introduction of the modernization approach into the field due to the increased attention to ICT4D research, which assumes the autonomous power of technology in social progress (Ogan et al., 2009). However, throughout the decade-long discussions about the role of ICTs in social change, scholars across the disciplines now widely agree that ICTs alone do not act as social panacea (e.g. Servaes, 2014; Servaes & Hoyng, 2017; Unwin, 2017), and even pointed out the “dark sides” of ICTs in developmental issues, calling for more contextual and critical approaches (e.g. Heeks, 2010; Pieterse, 2010; Unwin, 2017; Zheng et al., 2018; Zuboff, 2015).

Nevertheless, these discussions in the theoretical domain are not always reflected in the approaches taken into the applied research domain. In this recognition, we aim to conduct a meta-analysis of ICT4D research of the past decade (from 2009 to 2019) within the field of media and communication. This study is part of a current more comprehensive research project that examines this decade of ‘Development Communication’ studies. By examining 78 peer-reviewed ICT4D studies collected from the Communication and Mass Media Complete (CMMC) database, the current study particularly focuses on two aspects of ICT4D research. First, the study asks how the ‘ICTs’ and their ‘role’ have been implicated in the process of development within these studies. Second, we ask how ‘development/social change’ has been defined in relation to the ICTs.

The implications of our study lie beyond the mere observation of the ICT4D research and conceptual trends of the past decade. The myth of ICTs intersects with the notions of, for example, ‘participation,’ ‘sustainability’ and ‘capacity’ in social change (Fuchs, 2010; Servaes, 2014). By addressing these questions, our study is expected to contribute to the field by offering a more acute, yet reflexive, sense of these surrounding notions in social change, essentially around ‘communication’ and ‘technologies.’