Community-based Participatory Design of Technological Alternative for a Development Context: (The Case Study of ICT appropriation for Ethiopian Rural Communities)

Amanuel Zewge

Research output: Book / Anthology / Report / Ph.D. thesisPh.D. thesis


Background:Significant improvements have been observed in information and
communication technology (ICT) in developing countries. This has brought new opportunities to support development goals. As the type of development goals are context-dependent, ICTbased intervention requires a people-centered design approach. Research problem domain and focus area: ICT for development (ICT4D) intervention in rural communities demand a different approach compared to traditional ICT projects. Participatory design (PD) approach is known for beneficiaries to tackle workplace design challenges. However, the research context of this study is focused on the Ethiopian agriculture scenario. Several analytical dimensions such as the role of local people, technology options, cultural practice, PD techniques, and community empowerment, to mention a few, need to be investigated in a local context. We formulate the research question: How can community-based ICT intervention be designed in a socially complex rural context with people who have little or no technology experience?

Approach and methodology: We adapted a pragmatic epistemological paradigm that allows a logical and practical empirical inquiry using multilevel actions and interventions in collaboration with target beneficiaries. Participatory action and design research method was followed. The sequence of interrelated participatory design workshops and meetings was undertaken for understanding local needs and appropriating technological alternatives.

Results: The lessons learned and the knowledge obtained is presented in terms of four themes. The first theme presents the aspects of Ethiopian sociocultural participation practices. Such practices offer much more elaborate notions about why, how, and under what conditions people do things together. These practices not only facilitate the identification of problems that need to be addressed, but also foster in-depth collaboration attitude. Here, we present a conceptual base to articulate why familiarizing PD concepts and design practices are so important for PD research and approaches.

The second theme, the participatory problem analysis led us to design two kinds of technological alternatives. Aligning technological alternatives based on community communication practices enable us to bridge the gap between what is known in academic studies from what is useful in context. The results also indicate the need for extending the usability concept and evaluation procedure from individual attributes to a usability attribute related to group (community) users. The third theme addresses local ownership both in terms of process and design outcomes. Involving communities in the design process is not sufficient
unless they show the willingness to take local responsibility. Here, an integral part of infrastructuring activities is establishing a locally trusted entity towards a common resource and their administration. The fourth theme presents a conceptual framework that demonstrates commonly overlooked ICT4D issues and links between them. Specifically, it presents an alternative approach to viewing “D in ICT4D” instead of considering it as a simple package of
individual rights such as economic information.

Conclusion: Our multiple-level investigations and experimentations rooted in
community context provide a theoretical and methodological approach. When collaboration for development is the subject of research, people participation will have a sense of intrinsic value that empowers them to take agency in activities that are relevant to their lives. For a community to come together for action around a shared social condition, one of the most important key issues is finding active bonds and local cooperative practices.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherIT-Universitetet i København
Number of pages244
ISBN (Print)978-87-7949-017-8
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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