It is hard to know what to make of this admittedly brief "briefing" by
Heeks, but clearly it is meant to have some wider significance since it
has been announced hither and yon so it is worth taking a closer look at.
Notably it is addressed to the "'e-development' community", presumably
those who are knowledgeable and interested in the overall strategies and
practices related to the application of ICTs for Development. But
precisely who that might be is left unstated and that in itself is a bit
of a puzzle. Is the statement addressed to on-the-ground practitioners
who presumably are themselves making practical decisions whether to go
with FOSS or without but who are unlikely ever to take a look at a
"Briefing" issued by the Development Informatics Group of the IDPM of the
University of Manchester?
Is the briefing addressed to the ICT4D programming and project design and
development group, who seem for a variety of reasons, at least based on
the reaction to date to Heeks' note, rather unwelcoming of this position?
Is the briefing addressed to the policy makers in countries such as Brazil
or India where very very serious attention is being paid to Open Source
for reasons that don't figure very tellingly in the Briefing Note i.e. as
an element in a broader IT AND Economic Development srategy? The
presentation of somewhat suspect ("A recent survey on our eGovernment for
Development Information Exchange") and a reference to "a survey in
Africa", which at least on my machine I can't open, is hardly likely to be
of much weight in influencing what I assume are quite serious policy and
strategic analyses from what are emerging as major players in the ICT game
overall and not just in ICT4D.
Or is the briefing addressed to the funders of ICT4D projects, which is
where I suspect it is in fact addressed. One whole paragraph out of eight
(and the longest to boot) is specifically, if indirectly addressed to
funders..."Donors have moved in..." That being said, the intent would seem
to be to undermine donor support for FOSS initiatives.
But I'd also like to address the overall way in which the argument is
framed. Several years ago when I was working on Cape Breton Island, Nova
Scotia we were presented with a challenge...how do we enable local
economic development using ICTs given that the other of the elements in
the local economy had collapsed and nothing much else seemed to be on the
In fact, rationally, (and I think this would be Heeks' position) we
couldn't really enable local economic development with ICTs... The local
cost structure was too high, the local skill base to shallow, there was a
lacking in political will or sufficient numbers to exert useful influence.
If we had approached economic development based on what people already
knew; what people were already doing; a "survey" of current practices,
expectations and identified opportunities we would not have even started.
Our recommendations should have been to abandon the project and the Island
and move everybody to the mainland where the delivery of welfare services
could have been done more cost-effectively... So the choice was fairly
stark, do we abandon these efforts (and by implication a 300 year old
extremely vital and creative settlement) or do we deny the "default"
position and attempt to figure out how to make it work because basically
there was no other choice.
I see Heeks' argument as rather parallel to the one above... Heeks is
arguing that it isn't being done, so it can't be done, so it shouldn't be
done, so it doesn't need to be done...Hmmm...
What I see the FOSS people as saying (and I really don't have any evidence
of the merits of their case but nor I think does Heeks provide us with
any) is--it needs to be done, therefore it should be done, therefore it
can be done, therefore we will do it (and those others who also believe
that it needs to be done are welcome to join us in these efforts...
From: African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Dr Richard Heeks
Sent: October 12, 2005 12:53 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Pre-WSIS eDevel Briefing 1: FOSS and Development
In the run-up to the WSIS-Tunis, Development Informatics
Group at the University of Manchester will be releasing a
series of "eDevelopment Briefings".
These are very short (one-two page) overviews of current
evidence and thinking on key issues related to ICTs and socio- economic
Our first eDevelopment Briefing – "Free and Open Source
Software: A Blind Alley for Developing Countries?" – is
available at: http://www.manchester.ac.uk/idpm/dig/briefings.htm
It reviews recent experiences and the likely future trajectory for
FOSS in development.
Development Informatics Group
IDPM, University of Manchester, UK