This paper challenges conventional policy development and evaluation approaches that emphasize the instrumental side of technology. There is a growing gap between conventional planning and evaluation approaches for rural broadband ICTs that seek to demonstrate a direct link between investments and results on the one hand; and on the other, with evidence that the contribution of ICTs to rural economic, social and cultural wellbeing is increasingly difficult to demonstrate beyond short-term measurable indicators. The paper proposes an alternative paradigm based on socio-technical systems, stakeholder engagement, an acknowledgement of the multiple dimensions at play, and the growing evidence of unpredictability of ICTs. The paper emphasizes a perspective based on ‘contribution’, not attribution; policy-making that is both adaptive and inclusive of multiple perspectives; methodological testing of emerging evaluation methodologies, and projects as learning experiments. This alternative theoretical and policy making paradigm is encapsulated in a metaphor based on the management of natural resources where stakeholders track their own indicators of impact by reading how the system responds to a project intervention.
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