Multidisciplinary effort. First, the multidisciplinary nature of ICTD shines through in all of these articles. It's notable that while Heeks, a social scientist, discusses the anticipated technical contributions of the next phase of ICTD, the other three articles, written by computer scientists, emphasize elements such as human motivation, empowerment, and economics. Engineers are famous for carrying around the proverbial technology hammer seeking nails, or problems, to pound on. Yet, more often than not, the developing world presents hammer-wielders with screws, and this requires adaptation—not only adaptation of existing technology, but also adaptation of social structures and even research paradigms for those hoping to make a difference. For example, the articles from Microsoft Research and UC Berkeley include discussions of financial sustainability and the critical role of partnerships with local organizations. In both articles, it becomes clear that specialists are learning something of other disciplines, and they are finding it necessary to pay considerable attention to areas outside their expertise to have meaningful impact.
Economic sustainability. As Heeks emphasizes, the PC-based telecenter providing general public access to computing or the Internet appears to be waning in interest among ICTD researchers, despite its earlier status as the focal point of ICTD work and ongoing interest outside the academic community. For example, the government of India is set to roll out 100,000 government-supported telecenters, yet formal studies of the economic sustainability and socioeconomic impact of telecenters have found them wanting.
Indeed, none of the articles here considers the telecenter as a locus of innovation. In its place, the authors pay increased attention to innovations involving wireless technology, mobile phones, and digital video, where the PC often lurks in the background. Marsden, for example, has restricted his portfolio of innovation almost entirely to the mobile phone, arguing that it is a technology for which both sustainability and impact are already evident.
Furthermore, all of the articles underscore the value of fitting technology into the existing social fabric, rather than creating new institutions to house the technology. New institutions are difficult to set up, and if a technology can work within the existing social structures, it's all the more likely that the community will embrace it.
Pull of opposites. A third trend to note is the constant pull of opposites in ICTD. On the one hand, developing countries present problems that are as diverse as the cultures they encompass, and the issues fully emerge only with direct interaction with the target communities. On the other hand, many of the issues are recurring, and they often are just minor variations of challenges encountered in the developed world. These contrasting poles are reflected in the realization and identification phases presented in the article from Microsoft Research.
Questions of cost also raise another apparent contradiction: For obvious reasons, it's desirable to decrease the cost of technologies and the infrastructure required to support them. UC Berkeley, therefore, has opted for a strict diet of inexpensive, mass-market technologies, with customization restricted to software and firm-ware; Marsden mentions "creative solutions using old hardware" and seeks to "leverage more out of existing platforms." At the same time, people seem to find the money to buy fancy mobile phones, and governments think nothing of spending millions of dollars on technology projects. In fact, in many communities, technology is an aspirational indicator of wealth and prestige.