A belated congratulations to ICT4D's first centre review


Centre for ICT4D 5-Year Review

On Tuesday 5 May the ICT4D centre had their 5-year centre review looking back at all the outstanding achievements and projects of the centre since its founding in 2009 by Prof Gary Marsden. 

Here are some highlights from the review and from past ICT4D Researchers:

The Centre in ICT4D at UCT provides a base for UCT and international researchers to undertake ICT4D research and train graduate students. Its establishment makes a powerful statement about the significance of this area of research in the developing world and in Africa in particular.

The graduate students and alumni who have been trained in the relatively short period since the establishment of ICT4D already form a network of ICT4D experts working across the African continent. This network is a major outcome of the work of the Centre. The map below represents places of origin for the Centre’s current PhD students, many of whom are employed as academic staff in African universities. 

Insights from African students

This is my second year working in the ICT4D laboratory and the most prized thing for me is the cultural diversity. Working and interacting with people from varying cultural backgrounds has been nothing less than amazing. (Lighton Phiri, PhD student from Zambia)

Coming here from Uganda and working with Professor Edwin Blake has given me an opportunity to have a better understanding of other techniques that can be used to introduce technology to inexperienced users or underserved communities. My focus is on rural water and service delivery looking at how we can use technology to provide information and close information gaps that exist. I have benefited so much for Edwin’s expertise in community-based design. Also, being in a space with people from other African countries and hearing about the challenges they face in their own communities, you learn that your challenges are not so unique. There is a lot of knowledge here. People working in areas like education and health help you to better understand the concept of ICT for development and what development really means. Outside of this space, development is tied to numbers – economic growth – but here it is more tied to improving quality of life for people. This space really does allow us to expand our understanding of what development really is.(Fiona Ssozi, PhD student from Uganda)

I dream of establishing a similar centre for ICT4D research and practice in Lesotho. The idea is to train young students and practitioners in ICT4D best practices and methods of designing/developing appropriate ICT solutions for the people of Lesotho across different sectors and to inspire the creation of new solutions and collaborative projects with others in the region. The starting point after my PhD will be to seek ways to involve Lesotho undergraduates and young graduates to further develop my current PhD project. (Maletsabisa Tsabi Molapo, PhD student from Lesotho)

The interaction among students has been very helpful in sharing ideas and thoughts from various backgrounds that contribute significantly to one’s research. The interaction with lecturers in reading groups and other forums has also been helpful in inspiring the research culture. (Mvurya Mgala, PhD student from Kenya)

Student experiences of interdisciplinary research training

As these diverse partnerships suggest, the ICT4D Centre aims to connect, network and build a common understanding among ICT experts from various disciplines at UCT and beyond. Interdisciplinary research draws on a range of discipline-specific perspectives in order to address complex research problems. At its most intense it moves beyond teamwork to bring together information, methodologies, perspectives and concepts from disparate disciplines in order to create a common language of understanding.Gaining qualitative insights requires sustained periods of fieldwork, experimentation and gradually developing mutual understanding and empathy. For example our work with NPO’s such as the Deaf Community of Cape Town (DCCT), Ikamva Youth in Khayelitsha and the Fingo Festival in Grahamstown have involved working closely with organisations to build specific systems, providing and evaluating equipment and software and studying it in use. 

For my Masters project I created a mobile digital storytelling interface to suit the needs and functions of rural African communities. At the time researcher Nicola Bidwell was spending part of her sabbatical in the Centre. The Centre is a place where people from different disciplines can come and conduct research and students are able to benefit from that. Had the Centre not been this kind of space, I would never have met Nic and my project would probably not have been interdisciplinary at all. In this Lab, we are all technologists; we are excited about the potential of communication and mobile technologies on the African continent. But there are many questions we can’t answer, which is why we need to lean so heavily on interdisciplinary work (Thomas Reitmaier, PhD student – Computer Science)

As a designer I struggled to find places that would facilitate the design-side of my envisaged Masters, as well as the ethnographic aspects of media design research. Interdisciplinary work is a total scarcity in the South African academic landscape, it is very difficult to negotiate and establish interdisciplinary centres that actually work. Throughout my Masters, I was thoroughly schooled in methods for conducting participant-based media research on numerous projects with Marion and I could exercise my design muscles on projects with Gary and his students. This in-between home at the Centre in ICT4D exposed me to the kinds of issues computer scientists face in developing technologies and the kinds of valuable insights and contributions media studies and arts students could offer. As time progressed, I realised that I needed equal parts of knowledge from all three disciplines [Design, Computer Science, Media] to continue the practical work I was so passionate about. (Anja Venter, Graphic Designer and PhD student – Media Studies)