Context and the processes of ICT for development

Niall Hayes, Chris Westrup

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper argues for a rethinking of the notion of context in the information and communication technology for development (ICT4D) research domain. We argue that context can be conceived of as a dynamic outcome constructed through processes of development and interpretation rather than as an entity which can be isolated and represented. Instead of focusing on the adequacy of the representation of context-the motivation of contextualism-researchers should consider the processes by which context is represented. Three principles are proposed to assist in this endeavour. Firstly, representation of context is a relational process in which both 'macro' and 'micro' actors engage. Understanding the context of ICT4D requires multiple accounts drawn from different actors. Secondly, while research needs to describe the concepts used by 'macro' actors to represent context, it is crucial to recognize them as outcomes of processes of development and not as self-evident entities. Finally, we suggest that research needs to attend to how these accounts are produced, be they by 'macro' and 'micro' actors. This can be understood as an emergent activity showing not only unexpected outcomes but also that the concepts describing actors change in development. These principles are applied to the case of M-PESA, now widely known as an innovative mobile banking application from Kenya. One outcome of this approach is that it helps explain why ICT4D projects in general, and M-PESA in particular, are often difficult to replicate successfully. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-36
Number of pages13
JournalInformation and Organization
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


Dive into the research topics of 'Context and the processes of ICT for development'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this