Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) describes a general effort to overcome disconnectedness and to build up socio-economic capacity at the local level. It has tremendous potential for creating stable areas. Several years ago when I first started writing about the potential of ICT4D to deny sanctuary to extremism, a few pushed back suggested that keeping people in the dark and disconnected from any information was better lest the bad guys co-opt channels of communication to spread their hate, lies, and distortions.
Today, more people finally realize that connectivity is good. The argument that connectivity is bad because of the potential of co-option implies the good guys cannot compete on the ideological playing field so keep the people deaf, dumb, and blind. That is certainly a valid path when your policies should also be kept in the dark. However, being successful in the struggle for minds and wills means creating access to information, encouraging accountability and transparency and letting the policies of the bad guys be shown for what they really are as positive alternatives become available and within reach.
The subject of a conference at the National Defense University in June of 2008 was how to use science and technology to support strategic communication. Working groups were began their discussions with a scenario posed by one of the combatant commands. I was in the SOUTHCOM group. Instead of suggesting social media or other tool, I suggested encouraging, either directly or indirectly, ICT4D projects to propagate across their area of operation. The purpose is to lay the networks of connectivity through which information can flow, including and most importantly indigenous information from local media that will be easier to produce and access. I inserted the same type of suggestions into a recent Pentagon report I worked on inventorying proposed and in development strategic communication projects based on science and technology.
So what? Well, somebody at the Pentagon agrees with this. Instruction, 8220.02, titled “Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Capabilities for Support of Stabilization and Reconstruction, Disaster Relief, and Humanitarian and Civic Assistance Operations” (PDF, 125kb), establishes that it is DoD policy to support ICT:
information-sharing activities that facilitate coordination and cooperation between DoD and non-DoD partners will be established to enable common understanding of the stabilization and reconstruction, disaster relief, and humanitarian and civic assistance environment; and to support an integrated Whole-of-Government response capability.
Well done. Let’s now empower non-military components of Government to provide this capability directly, including USAID. This could be the Department of Non-State or the Department of Peace but make it without combat boots.