Rethinking the ICT Sector as the Human Body

My friend and close associate Gameli Adzaho analogizes the ICT ecosystem with the human body in a way that fascinates me below:

In many respects, the ICT ecosystem can be likened to the human body. In biology, we learn that the organs of the human body are organised into systems, and that each system is responsible for a major physiological process such as energy production, movement or reproduction. ICT similarly involves various stakeholders; each stakeholder has identifiable and not-so identifiable roles to ensure that technology is properly harnessed to drive development. The main stakeholders in the ICT policy formulation process are the government, private sector, civil society and academia. If ICT were to be likened to the human body, which organs would each of these stakeholders be?

graph_stakeholdersGovernment performs many important functions to drive ICT adoption and innovation in the developing world. Key among its duties is spearheading national ICT strategies, building infrastructure and developing the regulatory framework needed for ICT to thrive. Government is also responsible for ensuring that all citizens benefit from the advances in ICT.  In order words, government assumes the role of the heart in the ICT body, as the heart is responsible for pumping blood, hence distributing nutrients and oxygen, to all part of the body.

Another strategic stakeholder in the ICT space is the private sector; its role is akin to that of the lungs. In the body, the lungs are responsible for gaseous exchange, ensuring that there is enough oxygen for turning digested food into energy. Private sector, being “the engine of growth” utilise the infrastructure and enabling environment created by government to churn out innovations. Without the private sector, advances in ICT in the developing world would be very slow indeed.

Based on the infrastructure and environment established by the government, the private sector actively invested in infrastructure and ICT and took innovative actions. This made Japan one of the world’s most advanced IT nations. At any time, the most significant point is how freely and creatively the private sector can act in the environment created by the government.

– Yasuo Sakamoto, deputy director-general of the Information and Communications Bureau at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Supporting the government and private sector to effectively harness the promise of ICT is civil society. Civil society’s role in the ICT space ranges from implementing rural ICT4D projects, through advocacy at the policy formulation level, to advancing open governance and accountability through open data. The playing field of civil society seems to be large and often fills in where government and/or the private sector lags. Civil Society Organisation (CSOs) can therefore be symbolised by the skin (ensuring that everyone can “feel” ICT) or the kidney (ensuring good governance and reducing corruption).

Further, academia plays the critical function of research and education, reminiscent of the brain. Research is important to work out the most up-to-date and relevant tools and strategies needed to execute a particular task. In addition, academia is responsible for developing the skills and competencies of the work force so as to increase their productivity and competitiveness in the information age. Beyond all this, researchers and educators are engaged in disseminating their knowledge through media publications and presentations at fora and conferences.

All the key actors and stakeholders in the ICT ecosystem work together to ensure that people, including those at the grassroots, benefit fully from one of the most critical set of tools that advancements in human civilisation have blessed us with. Just as in the body there is intricate interaction of its parts to ensure that the organism survives and grows, it is essential that all players in the ICT ecosystem coordinate to deliver quality service to the people. That is surely the first step to harnessing ICT as a tool for development.