IRC17, Bengaluru, March 03-05, 2017


23. #RepresentationAndPower

Last updated on Nov 07, 2016.


Description of the Session

ICT for Development is an important area in which many Internet researchers are engaged. Most ICTD research involves human participants, often people who are marginalised (economically, politically and socially) and are therefore vulnerable. This vulnerability is further exacerbated as participants who may have limited experience of digital technologies are drawn in to 'becoming digital', often without knowing or understanding the possible consequences of that change. Therefore, ICTD research and practice demands careful ethical examination.

As an interdisciplinary endeavour, the standards and guidance that ICTD researchers and practitioners can turn to are as diverse as the disciplines from which they originate (e.g. anthropology, sociology, geography, HCI, computer science, information systems, engineering, community informatics, economics etc.). Most of those standards have been developed for very different situations and do not explicitly consider some of the challenges faced in ICTD research. For example, the challenges of the linguistic, cultural and economic differences between researchers and participants that are common in ICTD, the socio-historical interplay between culture, technology, communication and colonial legacies. Neither do they consider new challenges arising from new technologies such as large scale automated data collection (Big Data). The lack of clear guidance, reflection and ethical debate leaves participants, practitioners and researchers at risk of harm.

Developing some minimum standards offers an opportunity to: improve practice; better protect participants; protect the reputation of the field; guide new entrants to the field; to inform teaching of ICTD and Internet Research, and to make our practice more accountable.

An existing project to develop some minimum standards for ICTD is under way, with project progress recorded at This session invites delegates at IRC to explore the issues and bring their expertise to this effort. It is important that any set of standards for ethical conduct in ICTD should be shaped by diverse voices across different cultures.

  • Ethical guidelines relating to automated data capture and analysis (big data) within ICTD, and
  • Ethical guidelines relating to anonymity, privacy, and rights to representation when ICTD research and practice is reported to external audiences.

These two areas specifically relate to the conference theme of 'becoming digital' because they involve digital traces and representation of people who are typically unaware that these digital traces are being created or the potential consequences that might arise.

This session invites Internet Researchers to reflect on the implications of such data capture, analysis and reporting and how the implicit power relations that are created in such activities can be subjected to adequate oversight and governance.

Previous discussions in the #ICTDEthics project ( have identified a number of provocative questions that need to be considered. The aim of this session is to explore some of these questions and perhaps to identify additional issues.

Our hope is that by debating these issues it may be possible to develop some minimum standards for ethical behaviour in ICTD. This offers an opportunity to: improve practice; better protect participants; protect the reputation of the field; guide new entrants to the field; to inform teaching of ICTD and Internet Research, and to make our practice more accountable.

Note: this is one of two proposals linked to the international #ICTDEthics project.

Session Plan

This is an interactive session following a 'double diamond' design process of four stages: discover, define, develop, deliver.

This session is intended to follow on from the #ICTDEthics session that we have proposed.

Stage 1: Discover - To help ground the work, we will split into groups to explore a set of micro-ethical scenarios. These will be (fictional) stories that illustrate some of the potential ethical challenges. Groups will be asked to explore these stories and highlight ethical concerns and possible resolutions.

Stage 2: Define - The groups will report back identifying relevant trade-offs in each story.

At this point, participants will be provided with an overview of the #ICTDEthics project to date, and the resources and issues under debate at: Specifically, we want to focus on the debates around the capture and use of big data in ICTD, ; and on questions of anonymity, voice and representation in ICTD reporting However, we intend that participants will be free to focus on any area of the project that attracts their attention and concern.

Stage 3: Develop - In this section groups will develop responses to the challenges and questions that are posed both from within the session discussion and from the #ICTDEthics project.

Stage 4: Deliver - Finally, the groups will feed back their conclusions to the whole session.

Documentation Plan is central to the documentation plan. The findings and outputs from the session will be shared with this global effort.

Flip charts will be used to capture conclusions and issues. With each group's permission the feedback will be audio recorded. The recordings will be used to summarise conclusions and share them via the wordpress site. All participants will subsequently be able to continue the debate using the comment facilities in the site.

Paper Abstracts

Not applicable.

Details of the Team

Bidisha Chaudhuri is an Assistant Professor at the International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore (IIIT-B), India. She is the author of the book “E-Governance in India: Interlocking Politics, Technology and Culture” (2014, London & New York: Routledge). Her research interests include e-governance, public policy reform, ICT for development, and South Asian politics. She is currently working on the interlinkages between learning and open information systems.

Andy Dearden is Professor of Interactive Systems Design in the Computing Department at Sheffield Hallam University, UK. His background is in Human Computer Interaction, and he has been active in ICTD research since 2006 and has collaborated with projects in India, Sri Lanka, East, West and South Africa. Together with Dorothea Kleine, Andy initiated the #ICTDEthics project and will participate electronically from the UK.

Linus Kendall is a PhD student at Sheffield Hallam University. His PhD project is entitled: Designing ICTs for social and situated learning in sustainable agricultural development. He is using ethnographic action research to explore these issues in collaboration with DRCSC, a sustainable development NGO based in West Bengal.

Dorothea Kleine is a Professorial Research Fellow in the Department of Geography at Sheffield University, UK, and leads the Digital Technologies, Data and Innovation theme at the Sheffield Institute of International Development. Dorothea’s research investigates sustainable human development, global justice, and the potential role of digital technologies in making progress towards these aims. Together with Andy Dearden, Dorothea initiated the #ICTDEthics project and will be participating electronically from the UK.

Janaki Srinivasan is an Assistant Professor at the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore (IIITB). Her research interests include the political economy of development, social theory, critical information studies, ICTD, and qualitative research methods.