The over-aching objective of African Local Innovation Ecosystem (ALOIECO) project is to explore the above mentioned context for STI4D and ICT4D, and, through creation of new observational data and analysis of broader policy frameworks, to advance our understanding of appropriate programming practices and policy approaches for the use of STI and ICT in benefit of the under-privileged people in poor and rural contexts of Africa.

Within the broader background of innovation driven development, we propose to explore more highly focused and narrow sub-segment of research. Three key research questions constitute the structure of the proposed project are: What are:

  1. key components and dynamics of rural local innovation ecosystems in the Iringa region in Tanzania and in general in the rural areas of East Africa;

  2. relevant intervention logic for ICT / STI4D in rural Africa for donor and local national governments?;

  3. near-market and long-term ICT technologies of great potential for rural Africa and how they can be best supported through new forms of development cooperation (incl. public-private partnerships);

ALOIECO project will be launched in December 2010 and it will run approximately one year. It is funded as contract research by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.


The contribution of knowledge, in particular science, technology and innovation (STI) and information society, for long-term development is casual wisdom today, and gaining increasing momentum among development professionals and academics. Deservedly, policy frameworks and practices of harnessing knowledge, new technologies and ICT for the benefit of the world’s poor are being re-considered in the developing countries, donor governments, as well as academics and other stake-holders.

Knowledge and technologies are context dependent, goes one of the central observations of innovation studies. In the context of STI4D and ICT4D, it implies consequences for the practices of creating, disseminating and implementing knowledge. In short, whereas new technologies are wealth creating in the developed world, the primary function of STI4D and ICT4D is poverty reduction. This simplistic change of perspective leads to fundamental challenges for knowledge based development of the poorest regions of the world.

The over-aching objective of this project is to explore the above mentioned context for STI4D and ICT4D, and, through creation of new observational data and analysis of broader policy frameworks, to advance our understanding of appropriate programming practices and policy approaches for the use of STI and ICT in benefit of the under-privileged people in poor and rural contexts of Africa.

The STI4D/ICT4D movement increasingly recognizes that the insights, models, and policy prescriptions borrowed from advanced industrial economies fail to deliver on the immediate needs of countries struggling with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In addition, there is growing sense of failure to recognize how developing countries are building original, context specific and need-based, national models of science, technology and innovation and information society. At the heart of these new emerging models is the search for right balance between creating excellence science and technology, and providing enhanced access to technology and knowledge for the poor in a manner that increases equality.

While we share the conceptual framework developed within the “systems of innovation” framework, this proposal is not exploring the development of national systems or innovation policies or information society per se, but seeks to shed light on the potential and capacities of innovation in perhaps the most challenged areas of Africa, the rural Africa.

Our focus on rural Africa has been chosen in order to create a complementary bottom-up perspective on STI4D and ICT4D policy frameworks, which are often derived from government agenda or driven by donor needs. Another, even critical factor, is that so much of Africans live in the rural areas, as is the case of our focus country, Tanzania.

Moreover, rural African regions have proven to be especially difficult cases to deliver on the promises of ICT and STI for many reasons, such as: They do not fit the ready mass-market strategies tailored for concentrated urban populations and therefore do not attract private investments; lack of local infrastructures (energy, road, health, ICT) arrest high-minded innovation development programmes; complexities of local cultures and social fabrics frustrate top-down planned programming; and so forth.

This research proposal is an attempt to create new evidence on the nature and dynamics of knowledge society in the rural Africa, and thereby enhance our capacity to plan and implement STI4D/ICT4D projects in such regions. We propose to study the above listed challenges through the prism of the Iringa region in Tanzania, and to arrive at a set of observations and policy recommendations on more general level through analysis of broader policy frameworks and development practices.


Central objective of the proposed project is to contribute towards the development of conceptually sound and evidence based framework for employing science, technology and innovation, as well as information and communication technologies for poverty alleviation in developing countries, especially in the context of rural African regions.

Corresponding to the work package plan of the research, this over-aching objective is broken down in the more concrete sub-objectives as follows:

  • Map socio-economic and cultural factors shaping innovation adoption, co-creation in rural African context;

  • Develop methods of:

    • Assessing impact and effectiveness of innovation within local setting (rural Africa);

    • Develop innovation management perspectives for private and public organizations (within STI4D/ICT4D in rural Africa);

These objectives are achieved step-by-step according to the work plan, and by iterating policy insights throughout the project.

From practical point of view, the research seeks to carry out three intellectual tasks:

  1. Analyze the specificity of innovation and information society environment in rural Africa, in this case the Iringa region and its selected sub-region in Tanzania. This involves in particular examination of the needs, capacities and expectations for STI4D/ICT4D that are established by local conditions of poverty, gender issues, local economy development, as well as sustainable environmental development. These observations must be adapted into relevant insights and recommendations for the Finnish government development cooperation activities, both at project and programming level;

  2. Create broader contextual understanding of STI4D/ICT4D driven development in the word’s poorest rural regions. This is done by situating the case study of Iringa region into our broader theoretical and experience based understanding of how knowledge and innovation behaves in different circumstances, and by adapting this with our insights from the case study;

  3. Augment the efforts of African and donor governments to generate policy frameworks fostering innovation driven development especially among the poorest (bottom of the pyramid approach). This is done by summarizing insights from the two previous tasks into our analysis of broader African policy frameworks for STI/ICT.


The objective of the study is to understand the socio-economic and cultural factors that shape the co-creation, adoption and diffusion of innovation in rural context i.e. ICT in Iringa. To understand this process in a local context qualitative data is gathered in a field research in Iringa. The field research includes two shorter field research trips and one long-term expert trip. The data will consist of thematic interviews, descriptive field notes and audio/video recordings.

In the field research ethnographic method will be used and further developed. Ethnography is an anthropological method to make observations in the context of social reality. In addition to traditional anthropological studies ethnographic method has been used e.g. in science and technology studies (STS). Bruno Latour has described exactly in his book Laboratory life (1979) how ethnographic method can be applied when studying the activities of researcher scientist in the construction of a scientific fact. This micro level analysis of the co-creation of social and technical is still a valid methodological starting point for the field research in Iringa.

Certain characteristics are linked to ethnographic method. The basic idea is to learn through experience and to understand the object of study from inside. The researcher is typically living a certain period with the objects of the study. Some scholars even argue that the validity of the study is dependent on the duration of the visiting period. The focus is on the activities of the research objects and the careful description of the activities is a crucial part of the study. The data is mainly based on descriptive field notes and interviews and discussions with the object of the study. Recently video recordings of activities have been used as well.

This project foresees extended field research activities to be undertaken in Iringa and extensive interviews with Tanzanian stake-holders.


Project is lead by Dr. Hannes Toivanen. VTT is the main partner, but the project is undertaken in cooperation with Aalto University, Department of Communications and Networking.

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