Technology's role in fighting poverty is still ripe for discussion

I'm rarely one for predictions, so I shied away from the usual scramble to make a few at the start of the year. Looking back on events, however, is another thing, and for me 2010 has been a particularly interesting year on a number of fronts.

If I were to make one key observation, I'd say that the "D" in ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development) resembled more "debate" than "development" during 2010. The ICT4D field has always been ripe for fierce discussion – perhaps a sign that all is not well, or that the discipline continues to mature, or that the rampant advance of technology continues to catch practitioners and academics off-guard. Where, for example, does the advance of the iPad fit into ICT4D, if at all?

I've witnessed debate around the promise of high-speed internet since the landing of the new cable off the east coast of Africa almost 18 months ago. There was much hype and excitement when the connection was made – yet the promise of faster, cheaper broadband is yet to reach the masses. It was always going to be a battle of expectation versus reality, and maybe 2011 will be the year that accelerated progress is finally made.

There has also been debate surrounding "the cloud", and whether internet-based services are useful and relevant to many members of the grassroots non-profit community who find themselves working in more remote, challenging environments.

And post-Haiti, debate continues on the value of crowd sourcing in humanitarian response following the lead taken by Ushahidi in responding to the crisis. As ever, technology blazes a trail leaving policy and procedure playing catch-up. And Boston Review published a range of essays at the end of the year challenging the very notion that technology is a solution to poverty. All of this represents rich pickings for academics, bloggers and book authors, but for practitioners trying to run projects on the ground this kind of confusion and debate is often problematic.

On the positive side, I'm beginning to sense a continuing shift towards a better understanding and appreciation of appropriate technology in the ICT4D field. People are beginning to make the right noises – local ownership of technologies and tools, local content, and projects where end-users drive the process among them – and as new projects emerge over the next year, I hope we'll see actions speaking louder than words.

There's also growing realisation that the mobiles-for-development (M4D) community in particular needs to get a better understanding of the impact of their work, something that continues to remain elusive for many.

And at ICTD2010 – hosted by Royal Holloway in December – the historic "gap" between ICT4D practitioners and academics continued to be closed, and I hope we will begin to find the two disciplines working more closely together in the coming months.

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