Thinking out of the ‘demo’ mode


Earlier this week, I was at a conference where the focus was on ICTS for development in India. Among many interesting speakers was Prof. Kriti Ramamrutham from IIT Bombay. The Professor is working in the Media Lab Asia Project which has been described as the world’s largest academic research program dedicated to bringing the benefits of new technologies to everyone, with a special focus on meeting the grand challenges in learning, health, and economic development.

In the course of his speech, he mentioned that this was the fourth conference he was attending in the last one month on this subject of ICTs. The fourth in one month. Which may not be very surprising considering that ICTs seem to be the flavour of the season in the development arena. There are indeed hundreds of projects related to ICTs in India; in the course of research for my presentation at this conference, I read about some fascinating initiatives in the areas of education and governance and so on. Which are touching and making a difference in the lives of thousands of people.

But think about their overall impact on the devlepoment process; it is close to negligible. True, individual projects make a difference to people, but only in that community, that village or that district…. and no further…. Rajesh Jain keeps writing about this all the time…. about the need to get out of the ‘demo’ mode and think about scalability. For, unless the projects are implemented on a large scale, the impact on development will stay this way, in small pockets and in certain regions. To me, this means that the divide gets larger….. or deeper…… development divide, digital divide whatever……. Some regions, some communities get the benefits of such demo projects….. and repeatedly….. The problem is just too large in India (as far as development needs are concerned) and it will take millions of such test-pilot projects to even make a dent…..

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