Personal profile


Richard Heeks is Professor of Digital Development in the Global Development Institute, part of the School of Environment, Education and Development.  He is Director of the Centre for Digital Development.

Following a period of work as a programmer for ICL, Richard studied for a BA/MA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge, and then taught science in a rural school in Nigeria.  He worked as a researcher at the Universities of Leicester and Loughborough, gaining an MPhil for his study of personal information systems.  Richard then undertook an ESRC/SERC-sponsored PhD at the Open University on the Indian software industry.  Following his doctorate, Richard joined the University of Manchester to teach, research and consult on digital development and information and communication technologies for international development (ICT4D).

He is one of the pre-eminent and highly-cited academics in the emerging sub-discipline of digital development/ICT4D, and has written six books, more than 60 refereed articles, and over 150 other papers and reports.  His books include the Routledge text, "Information and Communication Technology for Development".  He has accepted invitations to be associate editor for key journals in the field combined with editorial board membership for four further journals.  He has edited eight journal special issues that have contributed to foundational theorisation of ICT4D.  Richard has organised two international conferences and ten international conference tracks, and he is a regular invited keynote speaker to UN, World Bank, donor and other international conferences.

He has acted as an external degree examiner in the ICT4D field at universities in Europe, Africa and Asia; and as a research assessor for bodies such as the US National Science Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, British Academy, EPSRC, ESRC, Nuffield and Leverhulme.  Complementing this have been more than twenty advisory activities on ICT4D for bodies such as DFID/FCDO, GIZ, IDRC, ILO and UNIDO.  Richard also convenes the UK Development Studies Association's specialist group on Digital Technologies, Data and Development.

Richard has been project leader on nine major international research contracts, with grants totalling more than £1,800,000 and coordinating the work of partner organisations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  These include the ESRC-funded project, "Fairwork in the Platform Economy in the Global South", and the ESRC-funded "Development Implications of Digital Economies" research network.  He is responsible for the creation of five new postgraduate programmes, including the world's first Masters in Digital Development and the distance learning MSc in Management & Information Systems.

Research interests

Richard works in the growing field of digital development, researching ICT4D - information and communication technologies for development. This analyses the relation between digital (Internet, platforms, data, mobile, etc) and key socio-economic development processes (poverty alleviation, economic growth, social justice, environmental sustainability).

Richard directs the Centre for Digital Development (CDD), the largest academic group dedicated to research on digital and development. The Centre's research outputs can be found in two edited working paper series; one on "Digital Development", one on "iGovernment", and the ICT4D blog.
Richard's research interests include: 

a) Digital Political Economy
Richard’s current research focuses on the implications for global South countries of China’s emergence as a digital superpower, in competition with the US. He also has general interests in the role of ICTs in challenging authoritarian rule and fundamentalism.

b) Digital Transformation for Development (DX4D)
Richard and CDD colleagues are researching implications and good practices in digital-transformation-for-development; understanding what it means to be transformative in a digital development context.

c) Data Justice and Digital Equity
Richard researches the extent to which datafication and digitalisation reproduce or challenge economic, social and political marginalisation and inequality.  This draws from foundational papers on data justice and urban data justice, and includes the Urban Data Justice case collection and research into big data-based positive deviance.  Recent work updates digital divide ideas with the concept of adverse digital incorporation, explaining how inequality increases for those included within digital systems, and encouraging digital development alternatives.

d) New Digital Economy
Emerging from the "Development Implications of Digital Economies" research network, current work centres on the role of digital enterprise and digital labour in challenging inequality, including participation in the Fairwork project that promotes decent gig work.  Outputs on digital labour platforms include foundational papers on the principles of decent gig work, on platforms as socio-technical transitions, and on institutional voids.

e) e-Sustainability and Resilience
This covers the relation of ICTs to climate change and resilience, and the widely-used "design-reality gap" model that measures sustainability of ICT4D projects.  Current interests relate to the intersection of digital and resilience.

f) Conceptualising ICT4D
Including the first textbook on “Information and Communication Technology for Development”; journal special issues on ICT4D theory and on critical realism and ICT4D; and work on the role of actor-network theory in development and on institutional logics.  It also includes field-shaping work on ICT4D priorities in research and policy/practice, and on the emergence of digital development and "ICT4D 3.0".

Past research activity includes:

Digital Economy
Richard undertook the original benchmark study of the Indian software industry.  He subsequently developed the Software Export Success Model, and analysed the software sector using models of competitive advantage. Subsequent work analysed the emerging mass of digital enterprise including "impact sourcing" and inclusive digital innovation.

Digital Politics
Richard has been one of the world's leading academic analysts on e-government. His foundational work includes the most-downloaded paper analysing e-government research, and the first international textbook on e-government, Implementing and Managing eGovernment.  

Further information

Richard has supervised twenty-five PhD students and 170 Masters students to successful completion of their research dissertations.

He is currently supervising four PhD students on topics including digital water innovations, ICT4D champions, platforms in development, and advantageous digital incorporation.

Future PhD applications are welcome: see "Opportunities" text below for topic priorities.  Further details on PhD application can be found at the GDI web site.

Richard is Director for the world's first Masters programme in Digital Development.  This seeks to create "digital development champions" who combine technical competencies in digital information systems and project management with an understanding of development context and practice.  The programme typically includes overseas fieldwork and the possibility for international internships. 

He also co-directs the world's first distance learning MSc in Management & Information Systems.  Richard welcomes enquiries about both programmes.

Richard is the moderator of a number of online workspaces dealing with ICTs and international development.  These include workspaces covering best practice and case guidance on e-Government; on the digital economy; and on ICTs, climate change and resilience.  Richard also leads the LinkedIn group dealing with ICT4D.

And finally . . . Richard is a keen clough scrambler, and supports Manchester's greatest football team.


Postgraduate Masters students work with me on one of the three programmes that are the main focus for my teaching and supervision: MSc Digital DevelopmentMSc Management & Information Systems; and MSc Management & Information Systems by distance learning.  On occasions, this leads to joint publication of research papers.

Doctoral (PhD) study opportunities fall within the general areas of research covered by the Centre for Digital Development or the more specific areas described in my own “Research and projects” tab.

Current digital development/ICT4D topics of interest include:

1. Digital Political Economy:
- China's digital expansion into other global South economies
- ICTs confronting authoritarianism and fundamentalism
- ICTs and tax justice
- ICTs and political empowerment

2. Digital Transformation for Development (DX4D):
- Action research on DX4D
- Power, politics and DX4D
- Adverse digital incorporation
- Digital development alternatives

3. New Digital Economy:
- New IT-based inclusive business models (IT impact sourcing; sharing economy; platform cooperativism; etc)
- The liminal digital economy (grey and black economy digital enterprise)
- Digital labour (gig economy; online outsourcing; informal sector IT work; 4IR and future of work)
- Digital enterprise (IT offshoring; digital and platform start-ups; IT sector/enterprise success models; etc)

4. Data-Intensive Development:
- Data revolution (big / real-time / open data incl. open development)
- Data justice
- Data science methods for development incl. data-powered positive deviance

5. e-Sustainability:
- ICTs and resilience
- ICTs and sustainable development of upland regions
- Sustainability of ICT4D projects (extending and deepening the design-reality gap model)

We always welcome ideas for other doctoral study topics which fall within the area of digital development/ICT4D and which meet our research criteria of originality, rigour and significance.

In methodological terms, we are keen to encourage work that incorporates some quantitative aspects, and which takes an action research and/or (pragmatist) critical realist approach, but we support a wide range of approaches.

You are welcome to make a first approach to discuss doctoral study via email –  To apply for doctoral study, see the University’s PhD application page.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Areas of expertise

  • H Social Sciences (General)
  • ICT4D
  • Digital Development
  • Development Studies
  • Information Systems

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Global Development Institute
  • Digital Futures
  • Policy@Manchester
  • Work and Equalities Institute


Dive into the research topics where Richard Heeks is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • 1 Similar Profiles

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or