22 December 2010

Scientific Proof

From following conferences through Twitter Hashtags, with ICT possible while nested in my rural African habitat, I notice many, sometimes rather desperate, calls for scientific proof for the impact of ICT implementations in (rural) Africa. Consensus seems to grow that it is not simple to proof impact of complex intervention as bringing (ICT) infrastructure into new frontiers, but there is little guidance on how to do it.

It is a matter of the realm within which one wants to define/proof impact. In a Western mindset scientist mostly aim to contribute to comprehensive mathematical models, preferably with conclusions in the realm of economics. Implicitly, those models focus on short-term effects, and give clear guidance on risks. They do not necessary cater for long-term effects, nor give clear guidance on uncertainties. Those models have proven track record, working well under standard circumstances.

As there is still much less known of (rural) African realities, for modeling purposes these circumstances cannot yet be defined as standard. Effects of enshrined cultural focus on history, communities of people and inclusiveness, effects of infectious deceases, and dominance of closed societies, are most significant for long-term effects. Thus, necessarily, proof of impact in Africa starts with assessing long-term significance.

We witness changed lives, spurs in local innovation, and inspired communities and people that emerge as players prone to have long term effect in the(ir) world. How does one proof that? I suggest by registering and study of facts and stories of communities and individuals concerning the intervention, evaluating their social consequences seen from various stakeholders' distinct historical and society perspectives, and possibly, when circumstances can thus be modeled, in economic terms.

I consider myself privileged to work with many scientists and students in multiple disciplines, from Africa and the rest of the world, whom dare to go in these uncharted, deep waters. Although we have come a long way, it feels like we are just starting. No wonder! Long-term assessments can take long! And as we aim for scientific proof in these varied cultural contexts, is is good take take time in assessing the results then to rely on elevator pitches only.