This is a call to join a new listserv, which focuses on public-private partnership initiatives in the field of information and communication technologies, with a particular emphasis on the economic and political dynamic usually referred to as ‘development’.
Following the growth of private-sector involvement in public infrastructure projects across the globe, corporate investments have often become a substitute for public funding formerly provided by intergovernmental agencies, international aid organizations, and governments. Usually considered in terms of a pooling of private and public resources, public-private partnerships aim at a cooperative provision of services and products to exploit synergy effects. Public institutions are expected to become more ‘proactive’ in terms of their engagement with private actors, the development process as a whole more equitable and sustainable.
Such official pronouncements aside, assessments from the ground tend to give the relatively new tool of PPP a much more ambivalent review. While major info-corporations are indeed offering themselves as “partners in development” and support ICT development as vehicles for “effective service delivery” and “e-governance”, they also take advantage of the newfound enthusiasm for Public-Private Partnerships to stake out their own commercial claims, crowd out public-sector alternatives, and actively discourage alternative forms of development cooperation.
The idea of this list arose during a two-day conference, Incommunicado 05: From Info-Development to Info-Politics, held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in June 2005. Incommunicado 05 attempted to offer a critical survey of the current state of ‘info-development’, generally known by its catchy acronym ‘ICT4D’ (Information and Communication Technologies for Development), but also created an interest in more focused follow-up projects that would engage specific dimensions of the info-development process. After PPP in ICT had already became a topic of debate during the conference, members of the incommunicado network suggested that PPP-in-ICT should be one of these projects.
What we envision is a lively exchange of research and reports from the ground, a sharing of experiences both via a mailing list and – later on – a collaborative weblog.
Given that PPPs in ICT involve a complex set of actors – including intergovernmental institutions, states, local authorities, transnational corporations, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – the scope is both specific – PPP in ICT – yet broad enough to address related developments and processes. To be taken up at a later time, we also propose the joint development of a code of conduct for PPP that addresses the specificity of ICT, including the current imbalance in PPP projects that privilege transnational corporations over local small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and community organizations.
A great deal of ‘research’ is done outside the institutional loops of the academy, NGOs, or development consulting, so we hope that the framing of this topic will be of interest to whoever wants to engage in a substantial PPP-in-ICT exchange, regardless of whether or not they consider themselves a researcher, community and/or media activists, etc.
On PPP-in-ICT and PPP-Watch
The domain used for this project is pppwatch.org. In the context of software, ‘pppwatch’ refers to a small demon used to monitor the PPP connection. In the more general context of info-political efforts, the idea of a ‘watch’ also suggest common cause with other ‘watch’ projects that attempt to create a modicum of transparency in processes – regardless of whether they involve public or private actors – where there is none. Both offer apt metaphors for a project that intends to keep an eye on the evolving dynamic of ‘partnerships’ in the field of ICT.
We are hoping that you will participate in this project. The listserv will “go live” once an initial threshold of 50 subscribers has been reached. To subscribe (online subscription will be enabled once the list has gone live), please contact Soenke Zehle (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Lisa McLaughlin (email@example.com).