Heeks (2020) has argued that there is an emerging paradigm in the ICT4D landscape, termed the ‘digital-for-development’ paradigm. This paradigm marks the transition from ICT4D 2.0, where ICTs were often considered as one of the tools that enable development, to ICT4D 3.0, where ICTs are significantly being used as “platforms that mediate development” (Heeks 2020, 12). This new paradigm is partly fuelled by industry 4.0 technologies and the quest to attain the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Datafication, digitalisation and virtualization are seen as the emerging “roles” played by ICTs in relation to development in the new paradigm (Heeks, 2020: 8). Heeks (2020) proposes that the implications of this new paradigm need to be investigated in the context of the three tenets of development: transformation, inclusion and sustainability (Heeks 2020: 10).

In 2016, the United Nations Foundation’s Digital Impact Alliance (https://digitalprinciples.org/) endorsed nine principles for Digital Development (https://digitalprinciples.org/). These are: 1. design with the user, 2. understand the existing ecosystem, 3. design for scale, 4. build for sustainability, 5. be data-driven, 6. use Open Standards, open data, open-source, and open innovation, 7. reuse and improve, 8. address Privacy & Security, 9. be collaborative. From a general perspective, these nine principles can enable ICT-led transformation, inclusion and sustainability.

Heeks (2020) further purported that the emergence of the new paradigm has engendered two patterns towards development: competition and cooperation. The former is often exemplified by the competitive nature of digital technologies in developing countries, while the latter is cited as the opportunity afforded by the ‘digital-for-development’ paradigm. He further suggested that the effects of the new paradigm on the two patterns need to be investigated.

The current COVID 19 pandemic has led to a sudden shift to online platforms to manage the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. In this case, ICTs are increasingly being used as platforms for virtual collaboration, service delivery and business continuity, to name a few. However, although anecdotal, this sudden shift has exposed the lack of readiness to embrace service delivery facilitated by ICTs, especially in resource-limited countries. This could suggest that although many ICT-led innovative practices have been introduced, only those who can afford to connect to these platforms benefited from them. This then questions the extent to which these platforms enable transformation if they are not inclusive.

This further poses crucial questions about the paradigm shift in ICT4D described above: How can ICTs be used as ‘platforms that mediate development’ through a transformation that is inclusive and fosters sustainability? What evidence do we have that the new paradigm shift in ICT4D ‘digital for development’ can indeed be transformational, inclusive and bring about sustainable development? What are the relationships among the actors in the ‘digital for development ecosystems? How can we theorise ‘digital for development’ in the context of the three tenets: transformation, inclusion and sustainability?


The 12th International Development Informatics Association (IDIA) conference provides a platform for scholars, academics and IT practitioners to discuss new developments in the context of the paradigm shift from ICT4D to ‘digital-for-development’.

Heeks R. ICT4D 3.0? Part 1—The components of an emerging “digital-for-development” paradigm. Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries. 2020, 86: e12124. https://doi.org/10.1002/isd2.12124.

Heeks R. ICT4D 3.0? Part 2—The patterns of an emerging “digital-for-development” paradigm. Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries. 2020, 86:e12123. https://doi.org/10.1002/isd2.12123.

Principles of digital development. https://digitalprinciples.org/ (last accessed 30/01/2022).

The conference will be held at the University of Mpumalanga, South Africa.