Beki Grinter

Growth of ICT4D research

In ICT4D, research on February 13, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Richard Heeks recently posted data showing the growth of ICT4D research.

I find this interesting.

I am sure that you can produce similar data about Biomedical Informatics research. Easily. That would not peek my interest as much.

Because there’s an important difference between Biomedical Informatics and ICT4D, a battle for legitimacy. From what I understand the history of Biomedical Informatics, in addition to being a history of growth is one of finding a name. Biomedical Informatics appears to supersede Health Informatics (although that’s still very much used). It’s also meant to imply more than Bioinformatics. And then there’s a history of different names being used in North America and Europe (I think that’s some of the difference between Health and Medical Informatics). But, things do largely seem to be converging on Biomedical Informatics as the right name for the discipline, with specialities in all sorts of things such as public health informatics, clinical informatics, bioinformatics, and so forth.

But, that’s the name… and the name has been changed and discussed to reflect what should be included in the field. (I have my own opinions of course, which turn on doing the thing that I find myself frequently doing, which is to inspect assumptions… that’s how the idea of Wellness Informatics started, as a means to organize that type of inspection… and I still don’t know where it stands, but I have and continue to enjoy the conversations and people that that process has facilitated).

By contrast, ICT4D has been growing while the people doing the research have been discussing what the research is in the field. That, at least to me, seems quite unusual. To have sustained growth and increased commitment to a field of research for which the case for the research in the field is not clear, even to some of those who do work in the field.

Now that’s interesting. There seems to be a collective “gut sense” that this is an area with rich possibility even though the nature of that possibility is hard to pin down. I wonder whether some of it can be explained by the low morale in CS, and what I see as some of the differences that this area supports… But I don’t know.

All I do know is that smart people, and increasing numbers of them, are putting their bets on ICT4D. And perhaps that’s as it should be. Some of my management are fond of the idea that high risk equals high reward. Well I’d say it’s pretty risky to take on things that the research reward is not clearly understood.

  1. i have to say i find the distinction you’re posing somewhat strange.

    all fields struggle with names and scope.

    look at the various balkanization and merging efforts between computer science / computing science / computer sciences / informatics / information science. and your own commentaries on “what is CS.”

    the name changes around what you call biomedical informatics seem similar – attempts to wrap names around what began as disparate research agendas, resulting in different degrees of acceptance. for example, bioinformatics is VERY different from what generally goes by medical informatics.

    to note that reflective ICT*D researchers are trying to figure out whether it is “for” D or “and D” or “in D” is not to say that people are unclear whether there is meaningful research and “reward” there. just as with other subdisciplines, it means that people are trying to wrap their heads around what can be usefully combined in the scope of a name and community. i don’t think there’s anything unusual about that. if anything, i think it’s healthily “meta” to have the conversation while a field is developing, as opposed to getting years down the road and having bitter feuds later (like the current fad of hiving off of HCI into information schools, which i think is quite unhealthy for both i-schools and CS).

  2. Good points.

    I guess I still feel there’s something a bit different going on… oddly enough one paper I read about “what is ICT4D” holds biomedical informatics up as the example of where the discipline should be…

    I suppose one difference that I was thinking about, but likely not clearly (and it’s also just one perspective) is that there’s a lot of “where’s the CS in ICT4D?” and so the fact that it continues to grow despite that question is also interesting to me (and attract CS oriented researchers).

    I agree it’s healthy also.

  3. I also read a recent article that related CS and ICT4D. According to them, CS contributes a ‘constructive’ perspective to ICT4D, and that perspective somehow brings value to other ICT4D research, like evaluation research.

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