Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 131–150 | Cite as

The importance of capabilities in the sustainability of information and communications technology programs: the case of remote Indigenous Australian communities

  • Donna VaughanEmail author
Original Paper


The use of the capability approach as an evaluative tool for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) policy and programs in developing countries, in particular at a grass-roots community level, is an emerging field of application. However, one of the difficulties with ICT for development (ICT4D) evaluations is in linking what is often no more than a resource, for example basic access, to actual outcomes, or means to end. This article argues that the capability approach provides a framework for evaluating the strength of this linkage and that the latter is a key determinant of whether or not communities sustain ICT4D programs beyond the initial start-up phase. The argument is made by describing an evaluative application of the capabilities approach to community ICT4D programs using two Indigenous community case studies conducted in Cape York, in the far north-east of Australia. Key to the evaluative approach is the identification of community defined, context specific concepts of well-being and constitutive valued functionings and the derivation from this of required capabilities. This move away from normative definitions of capabilities or capability types to a definition that reflects the Indigenous culture, history, circumstances, and well-being aspirations of each community is intended to give a voice to the people and at the same time provide a deeper informational base—through narrative—for policy and program design than has previously been available. The article concludes that by operationalising the capability approach in a context and purpose specific way, policy and program design can be improved so as to include more communities on the margin and thereby achieve more socially inclusive ICT based development. A process is also outlined for using the evaluative application of the capability approach for community ICT4D within a policy feedback loop.


Capability approach Capabilities Collective Community development ICT ICT4D Indigenous Policy Well-being 



The author gratefully acknowledges the financial support received from the University of New South Wales, Kensington, Australia which allowed the fieldwork underpinning this article and the related wider research project to be carried out.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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