Irish researchers in Third World IT initiative

8 Jul 2005

A research lab at Waterford Institute of Technology is playing a leading role in a new Third World initiative involving millions of euro in government aid and corporate donations, which seeks to leverage technology development processes to improve the lives of thousands of Indian communities.

The Information Systems, Organisations and Learning Research Centre (ISOL) at the Waterford Institute of Technology is one of five partners in a recently established research and development project funded under the EU-India programme. This project involves more than 20 academic and industry partners in as many countries and represents a new departure for research in the field of technological innovation.

ISOL hosts a Usability Research Unit, headed up by Mary Lyng and one of its contributions to SRISTI is to find ways of presenting information on technological innovation to a wide variety of indigenous communities. In other words how information technologies can be made usable in such complex settings.

For example, software engineers in India have developed a kiosk which houses a computer that presents information on technological innovations through a touch screen interface. However, some users from remote areas had no concept of a ‘screen’ and found it very difficult to use the solution.

The ISOL Research Centre is setting up a usability study to investigate ways in which usable systems can be modified after they are implemented to take these kinds of difficulties into account.

ISOL is the Irish lead partner and the project also includes lead partners at the University of Versailles Centre d’Economique et Ethnique pour l’Environment et le Development (C3ED) under the leadership of Professor Martin O’Connor and the University of Wales Digital Media Research Group under the leadership of Professor David Smith.

The lead partners in India are the Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network lead by Dr Mahesh Patel and Professor Anil Gupta’s team at the Indian Academy of Management, widely recognised as a world leader in the area of technology management.

Dr Larry Stapleton, leader of the ISOL Centre, believes that traditional cultures have a lot to teach advanced systems engineers about how to develop really useful technologies. “Recent evidence gathered by ISOL and other international research groups suggests that systems development methodologies, as taught in many higher education institutes, bear little resemblance to the actual ways in which these technologies are developed and implemented in commercial organisations.”

As a leading researcher in technology design and development methodology as well as the accompanying education practices, Dr Stapleton explores how methodologies used to develop and implement new information technologies create major barriers to innovation and creativity. In recent field studies he conducted in traditional Indian communities, many of the barriers encountered by innovative technologists in Europe were just as real for the Indian innovators.

“This research theme seeks to understand how technologies like IT are actually developed in practise: what works and what does not work, and what barriers exist to the effective development and implementation of advanced systems,” he added.

By John Kennedy