Some initial thoughts from Tech4Dev

Whew, halfway through the week at the Tech4Dev conference at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland.  It’s really interesting to compare this conference to ICTD 2012 at Georgia Tech in March, and seems to underline a distinct difference in the approach to ICTs and development in the United States and Europe.

First, what a fantastic mix of people!  We’ve seen presentations from researchers from across Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Europe.  And an American (tomorrow morning).  The presentations have been focused on research from active projects, so the feel of the papers and presentations is different from a traditional academic conference.  The papers speak far more to the scholar practitioner who wants to know what’s happening in a locality, and less to a peer-review board.

I’ve enjoyed the practice focus, since it has opened the space for non-native English speakers who may be leading projects in their communities, but may not be full-time academics.  It also opens the space to young researchers, many of whom are presenting master’s theses on projects they did in the field.  It’s a very multi-generational space and and the panels reflect a variety of views, which has led to enjoyable discussion!

What has come through in terms of the difference between Tech4Dev and ICTD is the focus of the research.  I have yet to hear a discussion that gets into technical aspects of programming or software at this conference, and much of the focus has been on the human side of tech integration; upon walking into ICTD I found myself in a discussion of the benefits of NoSQL and Ruby on Rails for development project logistics management.  This isn’t to say that there are no technical presentations here in Switzerland, or that the human element wasn’t touched on at ICTD.  But it’s interesting to compare the tendencies of the two groups of researchers at these two conferences.  Maybe we should have an ICTD4Dev conference where we all get together for a super-conference?

I’ll have more to say soon, and will write a few short reviews of my favorite presentations later this week.  For now, back to a presentation on local technical solutions to waste management in Vietnam!

2 thoughts on “Some initial thoughts from Tech4Dev

  1. Thanks for the update, glad to hear of the diversity and depth of the projects/presentations, and your impressions about the differences in the two conferences – we need them both of course. I wonder how a super conference would work – what’s the intersection?

  2. A big part of it is getting people talking in the first place. The strength of the tech for development and tech for governance spaces is that they’re decentralized; this is also their weakness since the groups and people that are doing interesting projects aren’t always networked to share their experiences. Rob Baker and Patrick Maier have been working on a project that will act as a digital library of sorts for sorting all the reporting on projects; this should act as a strong first step in getting more projects and more interaction recognized across groups.

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