The Digital Agency for International Development

Reflects on ICTD2015 in Singapore

By Matt Haikin on 22 June 2015

In May I was excited to be going to my first ever ICTD conference.  While studying for my Masters in Manchester a few years ago, my classmates and I had all planned to use ICTD2013 as a reunion.  It didn't happen but I was hoping some might have made it in 2015.

None did.  And worryingly, in the two weeks leading up to the conference, almost all the colleagues and other contacts I contacted told me they couldn't make it - the funding had dried up for many of the academics and the practitioners just couldn't justify the cost.

Still, I'd not been to Singapore since 1996 so I remained excited!

And Singapore lived up to my expectations and then some - what a great city!  So much fun I even managed to overlook what little I know of the dodgy politics and top-down model they - against all expectations - seem to have made work.

The conference however, I was much less impressed...

As a practitioner, I felt sidelined from the start.  The 'open sessions' of most interest to non-academics were the Friday and Monday, meaning a 2-day lull sitting through plenary after plenary.  The Friday and Monday felt kind of tacked on, like they weren't really important (even though for most practitioners they are the only important bit!), they were even geographically separated, badly signposted, and in lecture theatres!  Who plans interactive sessions in a lecture theatre!!

I won't go on about the negatives (I posted on my personal blog while feeling particularly negative about it, you can read that here).

What has piqued my interest again however is reading a similarly dubious blog by a bunch of academics at OCSD Net and more recently a relatively positive one by from Caribou Digital.  This made me realise that its not just that the conference format doesn't work for practitioners, it doesn't work for academics either!

I was going to just let-it-go when I thought this was basically an academic conference that had lost its way and invited practitioners.  But it's supposed to be about connecting research and practice, it doesn't work for the practice-side and it seems it doesn't really even work for the research-side!

I've spoken to some of the organisers and at the moment I have high hopes that ICTD2016 will be different and better.  But speaking to some others, it seems that these hopes have been in circulation since 2010...

Why am I posting this?  ICTD2015 is a critical resource - a once a year opportunity to bring the sector together to learn from each other, to share the experiences of those researching the field and those working within it, to collaborate, to find opportunities to work together.  And currently it fulfils a tiny fraction of this promise.

It could be so much better.

It should be so much better.

Where to now..?  I don't know but please drop me a line (matth /a/ if you have ideas or want to help demonstrate to the organisers that there are different, better, ways to organise this in 2016 and beyond.