This is a condensed summary of an article written by the OCSDNet coordinators that appeared in the African Technopolitan earlier this year. The full version is available here.

Global and local power structures systematically favour the knowledge of some privileged groups, while excluding or delegitimizing the realities of others. Many scientific research and development projects are extractive in nature, profiting from local knowledge and resources, while putting external objectives before local needs. In this paper, we look at the case of ICTD research in particular to highlight barriers we believe may be preventing “for development” research from meeting its full potential to improve livelihoods. Brief findings from the paper are summarized below:

Open Access – For a community that performs research on development, it is critical that the knowledge produced is accessible to those that may benefit from it. Publishing in closed access journals is one clear way that a field can de-legitimize its calls for development. Open Access has the potential to facilitate the flow of knowledge in all directions, not only from the global North to the global South, but also within the global South and from the global South to the North (Chan & Costa, 2005). This increased freedom in access and agency to publish can greatly facilitate the development of more localized, context-dependent understandings of development challenges and potential solutions. Therefore, it is expected that development research groups would be amongst those most in support of Open Access although we have not seen this in practice to date.

Representation – If the ICTD field aims to be more inclusive and tap into new voices for more inclusive development, it must be keenly aware of representation both across geographical locations, and also from within the country and communities. As part of this reflection, questions of who is the researcher versus who is framed as the research “subject,” and whose voice is being heard need to be asked. There are many lessons that can be learned by studying the Writing Culture critique of the 1980s from the discipline of anthropology. Without such cross-disciplinary sharing, we find it still common for global North researchers to speak or write on behalf of the global South.

Open & Collaborative Science Approach – Many of the themes found in ICT4D work, such as equity and sustainable development, are found in other fields and social movements tackling the issues from slightly different fronts – with some movements directly challenging the existing power structures and paradigms of traditional scientific knowledge, while others aim to change the structures from within. However, we believe the key moving forward is determining how to realize these common aspirations without perpetuating the status quo. In this regard, the potential of the Open Collaborative Science (OCS) movement is worth noting. In addition to its strong reliance on ICT to promote collaboration in the global research network, it shares with ICTD research the intent to advance community building and human empowerment in development processes, but with a further emphasis on the cognitive dimension of knowledge creation. Locating synergies between both fields can inform current practices of knowledge production, push the boundaries defining what constitutes valid scientific knowledge and break down hierarchies that situate views of the “expert” at the core of development-oriented research.

The approach advanced by Open and Collaborative Science (OCS) is part of Open Science and Open Development movements (Nielson, 2012; Smith & Reilly, 2014) seeking to dismantle traditional scientific knowledge production models, by opening up the research process to multiple social actors across disciplines, geographies and levels of expertise. OCS emphasizes collaboration above its other tenets and is interested in maximizing dialogue between actors at multiple stages of research: including the design of the research problem, data collection and analysis methodologies and the publication and circulation of findings, with the objective of exploring different modes of meaning making, production and circulation in scientific production. It seeks to build infrastructures and mechanisms to actively facilitate the inclusion of marginalized and often silenced groups in this process and ultimately create platforms, spaces and opportunities of exchange in which diverse sources of knowledge are viewed as legitimate, important and necessary for the development process. This philosophy proactively eliminates the extractive and exploitative practices derived from global and local academia to establish new principles for research that support the restoration of a knowledge commons in which knowledge is collectively governed, used, produced and circulated under principles of equity and justice.


It is critical for development research groups to recognize the global power structures within which they are operating and reflexively assess the disjuncture between narratives promoting “for development” research work and its actual practice. We suggest leveraging Open Access as an entry point to begin shifting the hegemonic system of traditional scientific knowledge. This will require greater engagement across different development research movements for increased collective influence. Through such cross-discipline collaboration and proactive bridging of development rhetoric with research practice, policies and programs implemented through these development research programs can greatly contribute to the democratization of debates around the meaning of well-being across languages, geographies, cultures, traditions of knowledge exchange.



Chan, L., & Costa, S. (2005). Participation in the global knowledge commons: challenges and opportunities for research dissemination in developing countries. New Library World, 106(3/4), 141–163.

Nielsen, M. (2012). Reinventing discovery: the new era of networked science. Princeton University Press.

Reilly, K. (2011). Designing research for the emerging field of open development. Information Technologies & International Development, 7(1).