Study Groups

Information, Technology and Development

This group covers all aspects of the relationship between the development process and "informatics" (meaning information, information systems, knowledge, and ICTs). It covers both strategic/policy and tactical/project levels; and encompasses all lifecycle aspects: readiness, design and development, transfer and adoption, use and impact.


Using Actor-Network Theory in Development Research

We have just launched a new “Actor-Network Theory for Development” working paper series: arising from the study group meeting on the same topic held in 2012.

The foundational paper – Development Studies Research and Actor-Network Theory – provides a primer on actor-network theory including pros and cons; explores ANT’s relevance to current trends in development thinking and practice; and outlines development research questions that ANT may help address.

The remaining seven papers in the series use different fractions and degrees of ANT to investigate a variety of development issues.  The overall purpose is to help development studies researchers decide whether ANT may be relevant for their work and, if so, how and what to apply.

We will consider further working papers: if you have a relevant paper, you are welcome to submit it for consideration:

Previous meeting:

New Models of Innovation for Development

Date: Thursday/Friday 4-5 July 2013
Location: University of Manchester, UK

View the report

Innovation has been moving up the strategic agendas of many development actors such as government and development agencies, multinationals and other large organisations.  New markets for innovative goods and services among those at the base of the pyramid, and new technologies – particularly information and communication technologies – are inducing and enabling new actors to become involved in innovation for development.  This is creating new contexts and new locations for innovation.  And, as a result, new models of innovation are emerging.

This workshop shared and explored some of these new models for which a variety of labels have emerged: “Pro-poor innovation”, “BoP innovation”, “Inclusive innovation”, “Below-the-radar innovation”, “Grassroots innovation”, “Frugal innovation”, “Jugaad innovation”, and more.

View the list of presented papers

Presented Papers

Authors Title Author(s) Title
Hannes Toivanen Invisible innovation: base of the pyramid ICT service ecology and pro-poor strategies Lesego Nkhumise, Gillian Marcelle and Shahid Vawda Innovation in water management: making science relevant for poor communities
Maria Clara C. Soares and José E. Cassiolato Innovation systems and inclusive development: some evidence based on empirical work Kees Swaans, Birgit Boogaard, Ramkumar Bendapudi, Hailemichael Taye Beyene and Saskia Hendrickx The use of innovation platforms to increase income and food security: experiences from India and Mozambique
Dinesh Abrol, Elisa Arond, Mariano Fressoli, Adrian Smith and Adrian Ely Renewing inclusive models of innovation: grassroots innovation in historical and comparative perspective Beth Cullen , Josephine Tucker, Alan Duncan, Katherine Snyder, Zelalem Lema, Aberra Adie, Eva Ludi, Aklilu Amsalu Innovation platforms, power and representation: lessons from the Blue Nile Basin, Ethiopia
Roald Suurs, Fernando J. Diaz Lopez, Jenny de Boer and Matilde Miedema A systems-based model for successful upscaling of sustainable innovation at the bottom of the pyramid Theo Papaioannou How inclusive can innovation and development be in the 21st Century?
Jaap Voeten & Wim Naudé Responsible innovation in small producers’ clusters in Vietnam: the policy implications of a societal process approach Mario Pansera Is there space for non-conventional innovation in mainstream theory? Towards a framework to explain heterodox innovation
Christopher Foster Nurturing user-producer interaction: innovation flows in a low income mobile phone market Adrian Ely, Adrian Smith, Melissa Leach, Andy Stirling, Ian Scoones Globally-linked local innovation for sustainable development: implications for a new hybrid politics post-Rio+20
Diana Akullo & Haaro Maat The public private partnership: a case of agricultural innovation in Uganda Rukmal Weerasinghe, Jaywardene & Ronnie Ramlogan Innovative capabilities of Sri Lankan SMEs to face global competition
Pankaj Sekhsaria

Technological jugaad as a ‘culture of innovation’ in India

Judith Sutz & Cecilia Tomassini Knowledge, innovation, social inclusion and their elusive articulation: when isolated policies are not enough.

The workshop was a joint initiative of the Centre for Development Informatics, Institute for Development Policy and Management, Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, and DSA Information, Technology and Development study group.  It is supported by funding from IDPM, MIoIR and the UK Development Studies Association.

Richard Heeks (IDPM, University of Manchester, UK), Evgeny Klochikin & Yanuar Nugroho (MIoIR, University of Manchester, UK); Email:

Understanding Development Through Actor-Network Theory Workshop

Date: 30th June 2011

Attended by 45 international delegates from the UK, mainland Europe, South/North America, Africa and Asia, this workshop brought together new work applying actor-network theory in international development research. Our aim was to explore the extent to which ANT can improve our understanding of development.

Actor-network theory has emerged over the past twenty years as a major conceptual force in social science. To date, though, it has hardly been applied within development studies. Yet the potential for ANT in the study of development has never appeared greater. The growing recognition of agency, process and relations among all development actors. The greater use of networks of individuals and organisations to deliver development. The increasing role played by technology in development processes. All these point to a prospective value of actor-network theory in helping us understand development today, and that value was explored in the following presentations:

  • Flattening the Development Landscape by Isam Faik, Mark Thompson & Geoff Walsham argued that ANT's flat ontology allows us to reject the dominant notion of scale within development, and to reverse the typical direction of causality in development (from the macro to the micro) by adopting the network metaphor
  • Challenging the Ontology of Technoscientific Artefacts: Actor-Network Theory in the Context of Developing Countries by João Porto de Albuquerque, Henrique Luiz Cukierman & Ivan da Costa Marques argued that, through ANT, we can recognise the inherent 'colonising' characteristics of the supposedly-neutral technologies being introduced into developing countries.
  • Making and Marketing a Leaf Protein Concentrate: The Formation and Dissolution of a 1970s Development Project by Tom Smith used archival research and an ANT lens to demonstrate that notions of success and failure in development projects are best understood from the extent and durability of the alliances they create rather than any inherent value of the project.
  • Understanding the Politics of Development Project Implementation: An Actor-Network Perspective on Local-Global Interactions by Richard Heeks & Carolyne Stanforth similarly demonstrated the trajectory of development projects is best understood via the mobilisation, interaction and disintegration of a 'global' and a 'local' network that inhabit all such projects, with actors relations determined not by static 'power over' each other, but by the dynamic enactment of 'power to'.
  • Re-Translating Nature in Post-Apartheid Cape Town: The Alliance of People and Plants in Opening 'Urban Nature' to "Coloureds" and Other Non-Whites by Henrik Ernstson opened a new perspective on urban ecology in developing countries, viewing - through ANT - nature not as a static categorisation by experts but as an actor in a politicised process through which marginalised peoples can become capable stewards.
  • From Herding to Business: A Sociology of Translation of Dairy Farming in Western Uganda by Frederik Oberthür, Ulrike Felt, Birgit Habermann & Christian Vogl also argued that nature can be viewed as an actor in development, with ANT moving the introduction of new agricultural technologies from being seen as a simple transfer process to being seen as a process of translation of ideas involving multiple actors.
  • Technologies of Othering: The Case of Fuel-Efficient Stoves in Darfur by Samer Abdelnour & Akbar Saeed showed how particular constructions of problem-and-solution are put in place by networks of influence and persist through those networks even after evidence emerges that the solution is ineffective and/or disconnected from its supposed problem.
  • Understanding Responsible Innovation in Small Producers' Clusters in Vietnam through Actor Network Theory by Jaap Voeten, Gerard de Groot, Job de Haan & Nigel Roome used an ANT lens to track the spread of innovations among small enterprises, exposing particularly the role of informal institutions and relations in both enabling and constraining innovation.
  • Decentring Collective Action: Internet Activism and Collective Agency by Yingqin Zheng & Cheng Zhang showed how ANT can be used to reconceptualise the growth of Internet-based activism in developing countries, seeing it in terms of a collective agency that is decentred, constantly in flux, and yet also able to change the power dynamics between authority and citizens.

ANT showed itself able to expose current features within the development landscape - particularly networks of influence and action, and the diffusion and use of new technologies - and offer new insights. It disputed linear and objectivist visions of development, and offered a more complex and emergent view that, arguably, adheres more closely to the lived experiences of development projects and processes. And it brought to light aspects of development that are often hidden: inscribed assumptions that are taken for granted; people who are assumed to be marginalised and powerless, and non-human actors from documents to technologies to fauna and flora that play a key role in development but which other theorisations have struggled to encompass. Above all, it offers us a view of development - and a way of understanding development - as dynamic and political.

We therefore had a keen sense at the workshop of planting a seed of ideas - that actor-network theory can offer new insights into development - from which we hope a fruitful harvest of future research may soon be gathered. We have a commitment to highlighting the pros and cons of ANT as a research tool for development, with plans for a special issue to be published from the workshop, and a virtual space to share ideas and provide support for those using ANT in development.

Presentations from the workshop can be found here.

Developed from the workshop, the "Actor-Network Theory for Development" working paper series can be found here.

Please join us in the virtual space for researchers interested in using actor-network theory in development research at:

The workshop was organised and chaired by Richard Heeks (IDPM, University of Manchester) and Shirin Madon (DID, London School of Economics).

One-day workshop on "ICT Policy in Developing Countries"

Date: Thursday 25th March 2010
University of Manchester's Centre for Development Informatics

We had seven presentations in total. Three analysed the main achievements and challenges faced by national ICT policies; in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Two used analytical frameworks to understand the implementation of ICT policy in Pakistan and China. Two analysed the ICT policy-making process, in Uganda, and for regional policy across Africa.

A summary statement from the workshop - Delivering Coherent ICT Policies in Developing Countries - has been created. This plus abstracts, PowerPoint presentations and photos from the workshop can be found here.

One-Day International Workshop on "Mobiles and Development"

Date: 16 May 2007
Location: University of Manchester

On Wednesday May 16th, the DSA's "Information, Technology and Development" study group held a one-day international workshop on "Mobiles and Development: Infrastructure, Poverty, Enterprise and Social Development".

The workshop was organised at the University of Manchester by the Development Informatics Group, with the support of the Brooks World Poverty Institute.

A two-page summary report from the workshop on key issues and research priorities, plus copies of the presentations are now available  

Given the growing power of mobile devices, their penetration into the poorest communities, and the emergence of innovative applications - such as the use of airtime as currency - it seems likely this will be a rapidly-growing area for research and practice. An agreed output from the workshop was therefore the creation of an m-Development Network, drawing together researchers and practitioners interested in this topic.

If you would like to be registered with the m-Development Network, please email the Study Group convenor - Richard Heeks with your contact details.

One-Day Workshop on "Gender and ICTs in a Global Society"

Date: 6th June 2006
Location: University of Manchester

The DSA Information, Technology and Development study group held a one-day workshop at IDPM, University of Manchester on 6 June 2006, on the topic of "Gender, ICTs and Development". Details of speakers plus access to online abstracts and presentations are available here.

Evidence was presented showing all facets of the relation between ICTs and women's livelihoods. There were signs of negative impacts: increasing violence against women as their use of technology was perceived as a threat to a male-dominated status quo. There were signs of neutral impacts: reproduction of existing patterns of genderised norms and relations within new ICT-related environments. And there were signs of positive impacts: new jobs, new skills, and social empowerment achieved through ICTs.

The notion of "gender" in practice seemed to be interpreted largely as relating to women, with little if anything being done to address men's attitudes and behaviour. This may increase the danger that ICT introduction creates – or is perceived to create – a zero-sum game between men and women.

Evidence from the workshop supported a more general feeling that "supply-led" initiatives such as telecentres, which have been largely driven top-down by international and national agencies, face difficulties in comparison to more "demand-led" usage of ICTs by women, such as take-up of mobile telephony, which is spreading rapidly. As well as being more sustainable, mobile telephony also seems to be generating innovative developmental applications for women, such as the use of airtime as a form of savings and credit.

Finally, one might expect a typical attitude curve with women's use of ICTs, beginning with an overdose of hope or hype, leading to disillusionment. Two things emerged. First, that there are few signs of the disillusionment – women do seem to be keeping faith with the power of ICTs. Second, that we know little about the value of hope for women from poor communities – ICTs do seem to provide women with a belief (whether realistic or not) that they have a route to empowerment, and it may be that belief and hope are themselves an empowering force for women's development.




Richard Heeks