Kentaro Toyama has a great piece in the Boston Review on the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in development – really, though, it is a larger commentary on how we think about using technology in development generally.  Simply put, Toyama warns against treating ICT as itself a solution for poverty – instead, he argues, it is but one tool, a means to an end:

If I were to summarize everything I learned through research in ICT4D, it would be this: technology—no matter how well designed—is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. It is not a substitute. If you have a foundation of competent, well-intentioned people, then the appropriate technology can amplify their capacity and lead to amazing achievements. But, in circumstances with negative human intent, as in the case of corrupt government bureaucrats, or minimal capacity, as in the case of people who have been denied a basic education, no amount of technology will turn things around.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with Alex Dehgan the other day – talking about how efforts to address particular development challenges, whether via technology or other approaches, should be focused on a systematic approach to the problem that will yield different, but locally-appropriate, outcomes in different places, instead of the search for a singular solution that could be applied anywhere and everywhere (history is littered with the wreckage of these efforts – most recently, see the Millennium Village Project).  This is what I have been after in my work on livelihoods and adaptation for the past 7 years or so – a way of approaching these issues in a rigorous manner that allows for the serious consideration of local context.  How we translate that into programming and policy remains to be seen . . .