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    Flipping the context: ICT4D, the next grand challenge for is research and practice

    Sahay, S, Sein, MK and Urquhart, C (2017) Flipping the context: ICT4D, the next grand challenge for is research and practice. Journal of the Association of Information Systems, 18 (12). pp. 837-847. ISSN 1536-9323


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    We often talk about a flipped classroom in online learning, which flips the traditional concept of learning on its head. As senior editors for this special issue on “Information and communication technology for development (ICT4D): the next grand challenge for information systems”, we asked ourselves: “What if we flipped the context of ICT4D research on its head? What if we reimagined ICT4D not simply as a niche area for IS, but as an opportunity for learning for mainstream IS?”. We sought not only to showcase high-quality ICT4D research but also to demonstrate that this area of research has come of age and can contribute to all IS research. Thus, this special issue focuses on 1) improving how we understand “development” as more than an arena for empirical research, and instead as a vehicle to substantively analyze how ICT can foster and 2) challenging authors to identify learning in their work in the ICT4D discipline that could inform and contribute to the evolution of the broader IS discipline. The first focus responds to various scholars’ calls (e.g., Orlikowski & Iacono, 2001; Davison & Martinsons, 2014) to be more precise about both the primary object and context of research in general. The second focus stands in stark contrast to earlier recommendations (Walsham, 2017) that the ICT4D discipline should engage with and learn from theoretical and methodological developments in mainstream IS. The emergence of “reverse innovations” from which mainstream IS can learn from ICT4D research not only reflects the steadily increasing maturity of the ICT4D discipline but also highlights the importance of development as a phenomenon, that concerns each and everyone in the world and not only those living in so-called “developing countries”. Thus, this special issue is timely given a global context that features great complexity, uncertainty, and new challenges (e.g., security, migration, and, climate change to name a few) and the IS discipline’s need to cumulatively evolve to better support these challenges. We hope we can inspire more IS researchers to consider this changing global context and join ICT4D researchers in a quest to achieve social impact beyond the traditional confines of IS research. By conveying this important message through this journal’s pages, we hope we can help to galvanize a larger community of researchers to contribute to both the research and practice of ICT4D. The paper proceeds as follows. In Section 2, we briefly trace the historical evolution of the two domains (ICT4D and mainstream IS), which, despite attempts to develop closer links between the two, many researchers see as following divergent paths. In Section 3, we argue that this is dichotomy is false and suggest that we adopt a more synergistic view that the IS research community take on ICT4D as a “grand challenge”. In Section 4, we describe the process of how this special issue came into being and introduce the four papers in the issue, which all focus on the conceptualization of development and the emerging reverse innovations. In Section 5, we discuss the systemic challenges that researchers in ICT4D experience and how we need to address them to make research contributions more relevant and insightful for the IS discipline as a whole.

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