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date: 24 February 2018

Technology and Development in International Communication

Summary and Keywords

Over the last five decades, discussions and approaches to communication and development have evolved considerably. Some of these changes particularly focus on the transformation of the nation-state from its initial conception fifty years ago to its current formation, as well as the transition from the study of political and economic progress to the analysis of cultural components and social development today. These major approaches include modernization; diffusion of innovation; dependency paradigm; monistic-emancipatory approach; institutional theory approach; industrial policy; strategic restructuring model; evolutionary paradigm; interorganizational approach; ecosystem approach; and an approach that highlights culture, power, and gender dimensions. Part of this investigation are the emerging research trends in communication and development, which involves a “back to the future” trend and an investigation of the new actors and new technologies in the current communication field. This leads to a discourse about the significance of additional research that could provide new perspectives about communication and development on a larger scale. Additional research is needed in order to capture processes such as cross-organizational learning and improvisation in terms of communication and development, and to recognize the roles of power and culture in these domains. Furthermore, taking a co-processes approach prevents one from assuming that there is only one correct pathway in the field of communication and development

Keywords: communication, development, nation-state, economic progress, social development, cultural components, research trends, new technologies


Approaches to communication and development practice and studies have changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Whether it is the roles of individual national governments or the focus on top-down vs. bottom-up or even the assumption that culture matters, discussions centering on communication and development have altered substantially. Examples of these changes include: a focus on the nation-state fifty years ago to a more multistakeholder focus today; a central and top-down direction fifty years ago to a more bottom-up or combination direction today; and from a primary focus on political and economic development to a more nuanced view including cultural components and social development today.

However, some issues remain much the same: communication and development as it relates to poverty worldwide; access to a specific communication mode (from the mass media in the 1960s to internet and mobile-technology related media in the early 2000s); media interventions (whether for political development in the sixties or health campaigns in the nineties and beyond); and the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) and development policy-making challenges for governments and, more recently, international organization, private sector organizations, and nongovernmental organizations.

This essay traces the major approaches over the last fifty years, highlights the changing panoply of players (and related technologies) involved in discussions of communication and development policy and policy making, and identifies emerging trends in the field. It also briefly describes selected methods and measures used to approach technology and development in international communication. See also the essays on e-commerce, digital divide, and gender for related discussions.



With the publication of Schramm’s 1964 book on Mass Media and National Development, the modernization paradigm came to the center of attention for that particular point in history and for that era’s scholars and policy makers. Central to this approach is the notion that what worked well for developed, democratic Western nations would work well for developing nations. What was needed was the diffusion of a modernization approach. This involves a linear, one way approach: there is information flow from a government to the people. Moreover, the role of the mass media within a country is central through disseminating information to promote democracy and, ultimately, modernization.

Lerner (1958) set the groundwork for a modernization approach, setting forth a stage theory of political development facilitated by the mass media: urbanization, literacy, media exposure, and then, integration into modern, participatory society. Adding an economic focus, still very linear and also involving stages, Rostow (1960) argued that there were five steps in economic development, moving from a traditional society to one with high levels of mass consumption. (Later in his lifetime, he added another step, beyond mass consumption, where quality of life becomes central.)

Key to modernization approaches (whether the focus is on political or economic development), in addition to the role of the mass media and the staged or linear nature of the approach, is the central role of a nation-state government. It is a top-down or Western nation to developing nation approach, paralleling the development of an innovation diffusion approach (see below) to communication and development. There is no attention to culture or to social change.

Diffusion of Innovation

Stemming from the modernization approach and, ultimately, writing about its “passing” in 1976, Everett Rogers added a focus on interpersonal sources in the diffusion process. But, again, the diffusion of innovation approach, especially in its earliest form (Rogers and Shoemaker 1971), was a linear and unidirectional approach: a Western government would diffuse an innovation (such as new agricultural processes to promote development). To consider the innovation “adopted” by the recipient government or country or village, the recipient needed to use the innovation in the exact form as in its original dissemination. There was little attention to adaptation in the early days of this approach. As time went by and more studies were completed, Rogers (1976) modified the original diffusion innovation model to take into account the importance of interpersonal sources. He recognized a different role for communication including the role of radio programs. Highlighting three new elements, participation, mass mobilization and group efficacy, he even began to argue for field experiments as opposed to surveys in the study of innovation diffusion.

Dependency Paradigm

Reacting to these primarily Western-based theories and approaches, some theorists especially those from Latin America, began to formulate an alternative paradigm for viewing communication and development. Amin (1974) and Cardoso and Faletto (1979) view the relationship between developed and developing nations as one of core and periphery. The obstacles to development, in their views, are external to the developing nation. Indeed, developed nations at the core exploit and impact those on the periphery. Again, this is primarily an economic view of development. From the developing nation perspective, then, the dependency paradigm argues that a developing nation needs to remove itself from the world market and display self-reliance. Brazil is an example of a government that tried to develop its own computer industry, especially in the mid-1970s, with mixed results. See, for example, Crandall and Flamm (1989).

Monistic-Emancipatory Approach

Mowlana and Wilson (1990) build on the work of Ibn Khaldun (1958) who lived from 1332 to 1406. (Khaldun wrote about moving from a simple to complex organization with no separation between society’s religion and politics.) They argue for a monistic–emancipatory approach to communication and development. This approach is nonlinear and involves ethics, spirituality, and an emphasis on the community. Recognizing complexity of communication and development as well as the role of religion, it advocates a bottom-up strategy and popular participation. It also uses a monistic view and requires the unity of god, human beings and nature. While this approach has not become central in the literature, it does presage trends in participatory approaches.

Culture, Power, and Gender Dimensions

By 2001, Wilkins and Mody add a greater focus on the process of communication and social change and highlight the role of culture (missing from modernization and early innovation diffusion studies). They adopt a critical approach and emphasize concerns with power and with “the gendered nature of development discourse” (Wilkins and Mody 2001:387). Adding social movement theory to their repertoire of tools for understanding communication and development, they talk about the role of the media in strategic social change and express concern with cultural homogenization. Thus, they call for a focus on who has knowledge and knowledge as a resource itself. This requires sensitivity to specific cultural contexts at specific times and places. Their work extends communication and development studies to include work on, for example, health communication media campaigns (in order to diminish the spread of HIV/AIDS in developing nations).

Adding nuanced dimensions to the study of communication and development, even though focused on media roles, Wilkins and Mody (2001) also discuss environmental concerns, increasing roles of the private sector, and even the impact of corruption. These elements provide a foundation for some of the discussion in the emerging trends section of this essay.

Institutional Theory Approach

Wilson (2004) points out how institutions play a key role in communication and development. As Zucker (1987) argues, institutional theory applies well when looking at groups of organizations over time and assists in examining the environments of organizations as socially constructed normative spheres. Using institutional theory to understand communication and development-related processes calls for a longer time horizon and indepth looks at institutional change processes. While technological discontinuities such as the internet can cause rapid changes, most institutional change is incremental. Institutional theory calls attention both to the “cues” given by institutional frameworks and to isomorphic processes as central in diffusing innovations and effecting institutional change.

One major illustration of the application of institutional theory is the abrupt change in many developing and developed nations from a central government agency that planned, controlled, and regulated all of telecommunications in a nation to the increasing role of privatization and a concomitant nation-state institution change.

A compelling illustration of these processes at work can be seen in Sandholz (1993) who vividly portrays the rapid institutional change in Europe from nation-state monopolies regulating telecommunications to the dramatic creation of one new regionwide and powerful institution, ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute). Another related example rooted in an institutional theory perspective is the copying by nation-state governments of the idea of privatization of telecommunications. Whether this idea works or not, governments increasingly copied this notion and restructured both agencies (as above) and policy processes to encompass privatization.

Industrial Policy

Industrial policy refers to the ways in which a country can promote its growth, productivity and competitive advantage. Until the advent of the internet, the concept of industrial policy did not really include information-related technologies. In fact, nation-state government agencies charged with promoting economic development did not deal at all with telecommunications policy. That policy space was usually the purview of the agency charged with the provision and regulation of postal and telephone matters.

As noted earlier, communications, after the birth of the internet (a discontinuous technology), increasingly became the purview of institutions dealing with economic competition and economic advantage. Thus, the precepts of industrial policy (a nation-state government’s toolkit for promoting its economic advantage and competing in the world system) came to include information and communications-related industries. In fact, the early 2000s have also seen the policy space for telecommunications-related issues primarily in developed nations expand to include a number of government agencies such as commerce (with primary responsibility for industrial policy), defense/security, and state or foreign ministry.

The work of Mansell and Wehn (1998) provides an example of industrial policy recommendations for developing nations with regard to information and communication technologies. They provide specific templates and “tools” for ways in which developing nations can use ICTs in achieving sustainable development. Emphasizing education, they also discuss how developing countries can build national information infrastructures, an important topic of that time.

Today the big change from the early days of the modernization paradigm is the switch from a role exclusively on what governments can themselves do to what governments can do vis-à-vis the private sector. An additional change is from what nation-state governments in developing countries should do in general to prescriptions that are more individual for specific countries, each of which faces specific challenges. One trend that cuts across these themes is capacity building. What can a developing nation implement to enhance capacity and how should it measure such capacity?

Another newer dimension is industrial policy at the regional level. This focus reflects the growth of regional structures and the relative success of Europe as a region. Thus, there have been attempts on the part of ASEAN, OAU, and other regional entities to promote communication and development strategies, some focusing on regional organizations and their nation-state governments and others involving a focus on the private sector.

Strategic Restructuring Model

A more recent take on innovation diffusion with a focus on information and communication technologies as the innovation, as well as on nation-state government policies, is evident in the work of Ernest Wilson (2004) and his Strategic Restructuring Model. This model highlights the following dimensions as central to ICT diffusion in developing nations, especially over time: Structures (including political, economic and social structures in a nation); institutions (ministries of information, state-owned enterprises, etc.); politics and government policies. It also highlights the role of key individuals in developing nations as champions of an innovation and the important role of institutions. Unlike both the modernization and dependency paradigms (where little feedback or social science data were collected), this model stems from extensive field research in developing nations. It adds power to the diffusion model by characterizing diffusion as a negotiation process. This study does not find a major role for multinational corporations in the diffusion process to developing nations. It highlights the local context as well as local institutions and tells an empowering story of social networks in the ICT revolution.

Evolutionary Paradigm

Modelski (1996) links institutions, especially, in world politics, his area of focus, to evolutionary theory and evolutionary change. Examining global political evolution, he looks at the long cycle involving the rise and decline of world powers. Highlighting the role of time, he makes a strong argument for the role of evolutionary frameworks for understanding world politics. Taking a similar stance, but focusing on populations of organizations over time, Monge, Heiss, and Margolin (2008) also argue for an evolutionary or population ecology type approach in their examination of communication networks in organizational communities. The basic argument in each is that over time an environment selects out certain types of organizations for survival. There have been numerous powerful analyses demonstrating the appearance (or disappearance) of a range of organization types over long periods of time.

This paradigm can also be profitably applied to the field of communication and development. Others (Levinson 2008) have highlighted the power of evolutionary approaches to help explain the growth of public–private partnerships in communication and development arenas as well as the trend toward multistakeholderism not only in communication and development but also in global environmental and health arenas as well. The evolutionary approach emphasizes environmental characteristics such as complexity and uncertainty as helping to shape over long periods of time those organizations and organizational forms that survive.

A Network or Interorganizational Approach

Monge, Heiss, and Margolin (2008) also link network theory to communication and the evolution of organizations. A network is a collection of nodes or entities that can exist at the individual, organizational, or interorganizational levels. Looking at the environment of a network provides evidence of its resource configuration and the way in which members of a network may use the network to acquire, exchange or shape resources. Community ecology, a subset of evolutionary and population ecology dynamics, studies the very processes by which members of a network – organizations in a community – have relationships that help them acquire needed resources.

The evolutionary component refers to the variation, selection, and retention processes at work here. It traces how the organizations adapt to this environment over time. Much work on communication and development today uses network theory rather than evolutionary theory. A network approach captures well today’s complex patterns of competition and cooperation among organizations such as private sector organizations, governments at all levels, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations. It also facilitates analysis of alliances and partnerships to foster communication and development, an especially vital approach in light of today’s global financial challenges.

An Ecosystem Approach and Today’s Players

A final approach combines both the units of a network at the organizational or interorganizational level and the characteristics and components of the environments in which they are set. This can facilitate both analyses in the short term and the long term. It also captures well today’s variegated entities and concomitant patterns of combinations and permutations that are key on the communication and development scene.

As noted earlier, nation-state governments no longer are the only game in town when it comes to communication and development. With the advent of complex and converging information-intensive related technologies, the panoply of players (and their interconnections) in the policy shaping and making arenas has changed dramatically. Today, the notion of multistakeholderism is beginning to take hold as a follow-on to the United Nations-convened World Summit on the Information Society, the second phase of which ended in 2005.

Stemming from WSIS and its Working Group on Internet Governance (see Drake 2008), the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) had its inaugural meeting in Athens, Greece in 2006. While it was established as an outcome of WSIS as a nondecision-making body that would focus on multistakeholder discussion of internet governance issues, the IGF also had and continues to have access for developing nations and for disadvantaged groups as a key concern. There are, of course, serious questions as to whether all or most citizens of developing nations actually have access to such policy shaping and making whether at the IGF or elsewhere. But there are civil society organizations and some international organizations that are becoming increasingly involved in such discussions.

The ecosystem approach (Levinson and Smith 2008) allows for examining both the like and unlike organizations involved and the characteristics of their environments, including possible technological uncertainty/complexity, culture and resources (or the lack thereof). It also includes a focus on the connections and patterns of linkages (including the absence and strength of connections) and what can flow and does flow across those links (information, technology, other resources).

Emerging Trends

This section identifies emerging research trends in communication and development. It begins with a “back to the future” trend, then considers research on new actors in communication and development, and then moves on to the arena of new technologies. Finally, it highlights two very recent developments. The first links environmental studies research to communication and development research and the second treats cyberinfrastructure initiatives, social media and web 2.0 research. This paves the way for a discussion of implications for additional research with a focus on co-creation processes as a new knowledge niche with great potential for contributing to the field of communication and development. Linking co-creation processes to communication and development, together with emerging technologies (such as CI and mobile technologies) and social entrepreneurship research provides both rich potential for future research and new ways of thinking and researching about communication and development in global context.

Back to the Future Trends

The recent “One Laptop Per Child” initiative under the leadership of Nicholas Negroponte of MIT’s Media Lab (see captures aspects of both the modernization and the diffusion of innovation paradigms. Here is an example of a professor in a leading US technology-focused university with an idea – a specific, inexpensive laptop technology designed especially for children in developing country environments – disseminating this innovation, using the media, and meeting with government leaders in select developing nations to promote his idea and to make a difference (Hatch 2009).

A second back-to-the-future trend can be seen in the terminology “ICT4D.” ICT4D refers to the use of information and communication technologies to bring about development. The very phrasing of this term implies a top-down or innovation diffusion approach. Often the nation-state government and/or international organization is at the center of such work. The 2001 volume of the annual Human Development Report focused for the first time on this topic. It created a Technology Achievement Index correlated with measures of human development and argued that digital gaps do not have to be permanent.

Looking at this Report and other indices of development supplied by international organizations, one can see the nation-state as the central focus. There have also been Human Development Reports examining ICTs and development with a regional focus. (See the UNDP’s Promoting ICTs for Human Development in Asia (2005) for an example.) Examining primarily economic development, UNCTAD produces a yearly report; the most recent is the Information Economy Report, 2007–2008. Here, too, the focus is on governments and on policy implications. This UNCTAD report finds that the higher the income in a country, the lower the cost of access.

In 2009, the ITU issued a report, Measuring the Information Society: The ICT Development Index 2009, as a response to the WSIS meetings outcomes and as a way to make sense of the various indices that have appeared since the 2001 Human Development Report. This 2009 ITU edition concludes that disparities still exist, even though all countries improved (in terms of access, not use!) over the five-year period examined. The least developed countries remain toward the bottom of the index. Formulating an ICT Price Basket, it shows the high costs of access and the lowest access to broadband in the developing nations. The focus is again primarily economic; it does include data from UNESCO regarding literacy in the countries studied.

Recognizing this limitation of the term ICT4D, the World Bank has begun to use the term e-development. It still includes primarily a nation-state focus but it provides data on e-governance and other e-related services (Schware 2005). Another option now in use is the term ICT in development rather than for development.

Warschauer (2004) reminds us compellingly through his fieldwork that a focus on disseminating innovations is not enough. What is needed is an understanding of a recipient culture to continue to use the model of the innovation diffusion paradigm. Placing a bunch of computers in a developing country classroom does not imply in any way effective use or even any real use.

A third trend relates to the roles of the nation-state in communication and development. The nation-state in early communication and development studies was the central actor and key focus. As will be noted below, today there are both new actors and new venues for communication and development policy issues internationally. At the same time, since 2001, nation-state governments, especially in developed nations, appear increasingly concerned with defense and security issues and thus with ICTs as well. Yet renewed attention, especially in the development community, is being paid to information and communication technologies and the ideal of an information society as highlighted in the WSIS discussions. Thus, there are new actors at the table (see below) and the power equations of such actors vis-à-vis nation-states are in flux.

New Actors and Roles in Communication and Development

Technology experts, an epistemic community, are taking their places in communication and development discussions, along with other actors. Indeed, some have argued (Mattli and Büthe 2003) that there is much power in standards-setting exercises; it is the technical experts who often are involved in such meetings. They are also involved in such entities as ICANN, the private sector not-for-profit, headquartered in California, now in its tenth year of dealing with internet domain names and related issues.

ICANN, which does involve technology experts in its discussions, has been criticized for not having enough inputs from developing nations in its regular meetings, scheduled in various parts of the world including developing nations. Nor, according to this argument, does it have enough developing country involvement in its Governmental Advisory Body (the GAC). Indeed, a related criticism, especially on the part of some developing nations, is the absence of real power for ICANN’s GAC.

Similarly, some criticize the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) for not enough emphasis on access and on developing nations, even though the IGF, by its very definition, is supposed to be multistakeholder in nature. The IGF in its yearly agenda does continue to highlight access issues and to discuss capacity building in developing nations. Additionally, the year 2008 saw the beginnings of replication of multistakeholder forums at the regional (Europe, Africa) and nation-state levels (England). Additional IGFs at these more local levels are under discussion.

One of the interesting shifts in recent times has been the shift from a sole focus on nation-states to a focus on other actors as can be seen in the creation of the IGF as a multistakeholder forum. International organizations have been reinventing themselves to capture the shifting sands here. For example, both the ITU and the OECD have recently grappled with the roles of civil society. Each has decided to involve actively “civil society.” They have recognized that the number of nongovernmental organizations dealing with communication and development has grown exponentially.

The OECD (accessed 3/23/09 at notes that its interest in involving civil society stems back a decade ago to the OECD Ministerial on e-commerce and to the WSIS meetings. At the June 2008 ministerial meeting held in South Korea to discuss the internet economy, the OECD Secretary General called for a process of formalizing both civil society’s and the technical community’s participation. Thus, there are now two new groups: the Civil Society Information Society Advisory Council and the Internet Technical Advisory Committee. They join private sector and labor groups who already participate in the OECD activities. A similar trend is evident in the ITU where they have held a workshop to discuss the roles of civil society.

For their part, NGOs very much want a seat at the multistakeholderism table. While it is easy to identify international organizations with variegated interests in communication and development (the ITU, World Bank, IMF, UNCTAD, UNDP, WTO, OECD, for example), it is much more complicated to identify who really is “civil society.” This is particularly significant when talking about development. Are, for example, the civil society organizations at a specific policy table representative of civil society in a developing nation? Related to this question is a new question about the role of diasporas. Very recent research (Brinkerhoff 2008) indicates how a diasporic community can use ICTs, among other options, to help family and home country economic development.

The private sector also is keenly watching the multifaceted communication and development arena, now populated by nation-state governments, local governments, regional governments, international organizations, technical experts, and civil society. Scholars such as Prahalad (2006) highlight the potential of developing nations as a market for the private sector or, as he calls it, “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid.” Additional scholars and nongovernmental organizations have jumped on this bandwagon. See for example the website at, highlighting projects all over the world that are linked by their focus (and their business models) on development through enterprise, as the site notes.

Related to these initiatives is the role of social enterprise in recent communication and development efforts. Social entrepreneurs in both not-for-profit enterprises and for-profit businesses with a social mission strive to impact economic and/or social change and development.

There are tensions among each of these actors, each with its own culture and interests, and each acting in contexts fraught with technological change, increasing interconnections, and sometimes political as well as technological uncertainty. As a result of the Working Group on Internet Governance recommendations to the final session of the World Summit on the Information Society, there is the earlier mentioned IGF, now in its fourth year, and soon (by mandate at the time of its creation) to be evaluated. The research (including Cogburn 2006; Kleinwächter 2007; Levinson 2008; Marsden 2008; Mueller 2004; Mueller, Mathiason, McKnight 2004; Weber and Menoud 2008) on this multistakeholder venue indicates its complexity whether in participants or topics. Each of the first three IGF annual meetings has, as noted earlier, included discussions of access. This microcosm of multistakeholderism captures the complex relations and tensions among nation-states, international organizations, private sector, and civil society actors. Some private sector actors are concerned, among other issues, that an international organization such as the ITU might replace, slow down, or supplement markets and current mechanisms for dealing with internet governance issues, including those of developing nations. There are also concerns that certain governments may continue to impose restrictions on internet use and impede markets.

There are, of course, examples of the private sector effectively promoting development at the local level, without direct involvement of nation-state governments or international organizations. The e-Choupal case in India (Chitnis et al. 2007), where a private sector Indian company dramatically changed the way in which farmers do their work, illustrates the use of information and communication-related technologies to improve local farming efforts, recognizing and reflecting local culture effectively. Other examples include that of the Grameen Phone initiative in Bangladesh, building on the Grameen Bank model or, using internet technologies to link directly potential individual funders and development-related projects in other parts of the world.

Recent research (Bessette 2004) also highlights the roles of communities and ICTs in developing nations. Possibly paralleling early work on the role of mass media in modernization, today’s focus on community radio in developing nations to effect change transforms the media role from being a top-down mechanism for change to being a local, bottom-up and culturally sensitive agent of change and help. (See also UNESCO’s work on community media and gender and community media.) The focus on community also allows for work on participatory processes and participatory development approaches.

This leads to another emerging research focus, that of sustainability. One of the newest trends in studying communication and development is a focus both on the environment and on communication. There are at least two interrelated aspects to this intertwining of two significant but heretofore rather separate arenas of international issues. One is the interconnection among technology type and environmental impact or the greening of communication technologies in both developed and developing nations. Environmental issues are particularly key to developing nations. The second is the broader issue set of policies encompassing environmental and communication policy decision-making. Indeed, the IGF itself and even its dynamic coalitions provide examples of internet governance-related innovations copied from the rhetoric and practice of multistakeholderism in earlier global UN-led environmental policy-making discussions (Levinson 2008).

Three Technology Types and their Uses

Another emerging trend in communication and development focuses first on the nature of a technology itself and, then, its uses in communication and development contexts. Here there are three related technologies: open source technologies, mobile technologies, and social media/web 2.0 technologies. Research on open source technologies in the context of communication and development highlights ease of access and lowering of costs for using ICTs in developing nations. Some research focuses on government roles in selecting technology standards for acquisitions and operations in their purview. For example, there is research (Ghosh 2004) on Extramadura, Spain where the government selected open source as opposed to Microsoft technology. (Such decision-making may echo the dependency paradigm.) There can be political elements involved in such decisions as well: some developing countries and localities prefer to use software that is open for collaboration and that does not stem from one large country’s powerful multinational business. Research here is primarily on government decisions, roles, and outcomes.

A second trend focuses more on the infrastructure for collaboration. This is cyberinfrastructure (CI) or e-science or the grid as it is known in Europe. Here most work is at the nation-state or regional level. In 2007 the United States National Science Foundation created a high level office to promote and study cyberinfrastructure. Both England and Europe have offices related to similar endeavors. While there have been efforts to involve scientists and engineers in developing nations through their regional professional associations, there has been much less attention to the roles of civil society – especially developing nation civil society – in fostering dialogue about CI policy and the development of CI.

The story is different when looking at research related to the third technology type, mobile technology. Research here is mushrooming, especially research related to developing nations. There appears to be a good “fit” between this technology type and the needs of individuals and organizations in a development setting. Again, as pointed out at the beginning of this essay, culture plays an important role and cannot be forgotten. As Kam et al. (2009) observe in their research on teaching literacy to India’s youth using mobile video games, culture shapes what is and is not successful. But there are few studies yet that track both long-term social and economic outcomes. See Donner (2008) for a comprehensive review of mobiles and development.

The above discussion of technology types leads to an examination of research on “leapfrogging.” See, for example, Singh (1999). This argument is a counterbalance to the staged and linear requirements inherent in the modernization and related approaches. By using certain kinds of technologies (such as mobile technologies), this argument states, a developing nation can leapfrog over stages and develop more quickly. Here South Korea’s economic progress with regard to mobile phones provides an illustration of successful leapfrogging.

The final emerging trend centering on technology is the rapid-fire growth of social media and web 2.0 technologies and the possible convergence with mobile/cell phone technologies. Such technologies link people, craft networks, and shape possible outcomes of the linkages and information exchanged. They have the potential for social, political, and economic outcomes. The newest aspect of social media technologies is their use in contests and challenges to promote social and/or economic and/or political change. Three examples come from the government, university, and NGO sectors: the USAID Challenge, the UC Berkeley Human Rights Mobile Challenge, and the Social Action Change the Web Challenge (see Again, however, there needs to be additional research on the roles of culture, especially in interaction with web 2.0 technologies. There clearly is something new here and much more research is needed to capture possible impacts on development and relationships to international organizations, governments, and the private sector.

Co-creation Processes and Communication and Development

Open source, cyberinfrastructure and mobile technologies foster the presence of innovative co-processes such as co-creation, a final trend in the communication and development field. Research in innovation studies (von Hippel 2007) highlights the role of the user in co-creating innovations; research in labor–management negotiations highlights co-processes and cross-party learning as a result of negotiation (Culpepper 2008); and research on citizens and their local government puts co-creation at the center of new trends in public administration (Boivard 2007). This very recent work in three complementary domains presages the importance of co-processes such as those found in participatory development to shape positive impacts. (Note, however, that these same cyberinfrastructure and mobile technologies can promote co-processes in the conduct of, for example, cybercrime or cyberterrorism in the context of developing nations.) The aforementioned technologies provide a foundation for virtual co-processes as well as face to face. Such processes also bring the field away from a purely top-down or bottom-up approach. Rather they allow for civil society, international organizations, private sector and/or governments at all levels to work in co-creation processes impacting social, political, and economic development. They also allow for looking at processes involving the private sector in developed and developing nations.

Research Needs

More research is needed to capture such processes (including cross-organizational learning and improvisation in terms of communication and development) and to recognize the roles of power and culture (and how they may shape outcomes in these settings). Furthermore, taking a co-processes approach prevents against the early thinking in the field of communication and development that there is one correct pathway and it can be disseminated. As even the World Bank (Schware 2005) points out, there are different challenges for different countries. Indeed, international organizations may not always be necessary in solving development challenges. Recent developments in social entrepreneurship indicate that no governments or international organizations necessarily have to be involved in communication and development efforts for them to be successful; others, however, may argue that such efforts are piecemeal.

Another key area of needed research with a focus on multistakeholderism research is the issue of trust. To what extent does trust exist across stakeholder groups? Does this trust level possibly increase if and as the stakeholders interact in networked fashion over time? Additionally, there is the need to focus on possible connections among stakeholders in the practice of multistakeholderism. What is the flow (if any and in what directions and intensities) of ideas and other resources among the stakeholders? What are the outcomes of such processes? Recognizing that there are national cultures, organizational cultures, alliance cultures, and professional cultures, how does crosscultural communication play a role?

Measures and Methods

This leads to a discussion of the aforementioned key need to begin to measure more accurately impacts (Heeks and Molla 2009) in the communication and development arena. Looking back at the fifty years of approaches highlighted here, there has been a change in the methods used to collect data on communication and development. Methods rooted in both the modernization and innovation diffusion approaches tended to be checklists or surveys. Little qualitative or what we today call mixed methods (quantitative as well as qualitative) were present. As technology itself changed and with the advent of internet and now mobile-related technologies, researchers have used a variety of methods including the traditional checklists and surveys. There is a new ITU index (2009) (again with the nation-state as a central component) and also an impact assessment along with monitoring and evaluation frameworks.

Today’s possible methodological toolkit for understanding complex communication and development issues includes network analysis and mapping (Padovani and Pavan 2007); participant observation and other quasi-ethnographic methods; and content analysis and case studies. Case studies tend to be the most prevalent; they are used in order to capture the rich data needed to understand the complexities of culture and cross-cultural communication in development settings. Also there are methods related to examining long cycles and large populations of organizations in the population and community ecology fields of study. These are less popular in the study of communication and development; but perhaps they will increase in popularity due to the need to capture the growing interest in the interconnections between environmental and communication concerns.

One of the major future research challenges is assessing/measuring the presence of multistakeholderism and co-creation processes in this field. To what extent is there change and what types of change? And to what extent, if any, does multistakeholderism make a difference when it comes to social, political, or economic development? What are the comparative roles of developing nations in this new multistakeholder era? Are developing nations shaping such changes and to what extent? Which methods are most appropriate for capturing answers to these complex questions and can technology itself play a role?

While there have been extraordinarily audacious changes in communications-related technologies over the last five decades – changes that parallel in magnitude the changes at the beginning of the industrial revolution in the United States, for example – poverty is still a major problem in our world as is the absence of democratic governments. Ideas for using new communication-related technologies to foster development include e-governance, e-government, e-health, and e-education. Recently, some scholars have replaced the “e” with an “m” in order to focus on mobile technologies and their potential power in development. Much of this discourse still centers on the nation-state and its roles in development. Some success stories exist, usually in the form of case studies.

The challenge ahead and the way forward, to borrow terminology from the UN and the IGF, is to design research teams that recognize the complexity of today’s communication and development issues and include all relevant actors (not just nation-state government-focused studies). Perhaps there is even a role for co-creation processes in the conduct of future research related to communication and development processes, especially with a focus on outcomes and impacts.


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