ICT4D => ICT4X: Mitigating the Impact of Cognitive Heuristics and Biases in Ethnographic Business Practice

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With more than five billion people, large corporations have expressed non-trivial interest in “emerging markets” as potential future sources of revenue. We in this community of ethnographic praxis, are privileged to move with some ease between corporate board rooms and people’s living rooms around the world. Yet, our messages and meanings that might lead to positive action are hampered by both our own language – that of development – and the ways in which people hear our language through specific cognitive heuristics and biases. In this paper, we specifically unpack the prevalent business interest concerning the “digital divide”. We discuss how that particular framing, i.e., digital, divide, essentializes upwards of 85-90% of the global population as simply poor and living in developing countries limiting business engagement. We argue that these predilections are further magnified by specific cognitive heuristics and biases we all posses but which are especially powerful amongst the business elite and which must be overcome to be effective. In response, we introduce an alternative scaffolding based on exchange rather than development, a view grounded in Simmel’s simple and powerful notion of “exchange”. In the example of development, which we use in this paper, we argue to reposition ICT4D (ICT for Development) to ICT4X (ICT for Exchange). We suggest this repositioning reshapes the possible actions for business possibilities and opportunities, shifting the conversation from hand-outs to business ventures, an otherwise well understood construct.

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