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What is ‘Smart’ About Smart Village? Emerging Discourses and Future Research Directions

  • Universitetet i Agder (UiA) and University of South-Eastern Norway (USN)

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This paper takes stock of how ‘smart’ is conceptualized in smart cities literature and how the concept is getting re-appropriated in different smart village initiatives across Europe and the Global South. Emerging discourses on smart village espouse the concept of ‘smart’ to strategically leverage ICTs to bring inclusive and sustainable rural development, however these visions are ambiguous about the nature of ICT artifacts and its interactions with rural community and people’s goals and abilities and how they can shape actions and outcomes of sustainable development. Finally, future research directions for ICT4D researchers are proposed to address the current shortcomings and to expand the knowledge and practice of smart village interventions.KeywordsSmart villageSmart citiesSmartSustainable rural developmentICT4D intervention
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What is ‘Smart’ About Smart Village? Emerging
Discourses and Future Research Directions
Pragyan Thapa1(B)and Devinder Thapa1,2
1University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway
2University of South-Eastern Norway, Hønefoss, Norway
Abstract. This paper takes stock of how ‘smart’ is conceptualized in smart cities
literature and how the concept is getting re-appropriated in different smart village
initiatives across Europe and the Global South. Emerging discourses on smart
village espouse the concept of ‘smart’ to strategically leverage ICTs to bring
inclusive and sustainable rural development, however these visions are ambiguous
about the nature of ICT artifacts and its interactions with rural community and
people’s goals and abilities and how they can shape actions and outcomes of
sustainable development. Finally, future research directions for ICT4D researchers
are proposed to address the current shortcomings and to expand the knowledge
and practice of smart village interventions.
Keywords: Smart village ·Smart cities ·Smart ·Sustainable rural
development ·ICT4D intervention
1 Introduction
There has been an emergence of ‘smart village’ interventions for strategic use of ICTs for
rural development across Europe [1] and in many parts of the Global South [2,3]. Many
of these interventions come as a response to appropriate and expand the concept of smart
cities in a rural context with the aim to facilitate the achievement of sustainable rural
development. Authors also highlight smart village as a nascent but potential research area
to address the shortcomings of extant smart cities literature [4]. They argue that since
smart village has a small scale and limited focus on specific village level communities
than large scale smart cities, it potentially offers better and manageable empirical focus
on local contextualization of problems and ICT based interventions, benefiting both
researchers and practitioners.
Interest in ICTs and rural development isn’t a recent trend. Historically, rural stud-
ies authors as well as ICT4D authors have explored the potential roles of information
technology for rural development [58]. For instance, what roles telecommunication
and publicly accessible IT infrastructures like telecentres play to diversify the local rural
economy and facilitate social change. Therefore, the novelty of smart village must be
weighed in a historical context of previous and existing rural ICT interventions.
© IFIP International Federation for Information Processing 2022
Published by Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022
Y. Zheng et al. (Eds.): ICT4D 2022, IFIP AICT 657, pp. 440–454, 2022.
What is ‘Smart’ About Smart Village? 441
However, the discourses on smart village are concurrently emerging in public sector
agendas, civil society initiatives, academic literature, and corporate efforts. This paper
argues that it is important to identify how these multiple interpretations of smart village
overlap and differ, and how this so-called new approach addresses rural issues, the idea of
‘development’ and the nature of information technology. Given that ‘smart’ has become
a buzzword, uncritically importing the smart agenda from the smart cities approach and
applying it to a novel area comes with its own set of drawbacks [9]. Therefore, this paper
aims to critically explore how the idea of smart gets re-appropriated in rural context and
how this context contributes in re-defining the discourses around smart itself.
This paper is conceptual in nature and bases its evidence on a selective review of exist-
ing smart cities and smart village literature, as well as smart village policy documents,
project reports, and project websites. Taking an ICT4D (Information and Communica-
tion Technology for Development) perspective, it critically questions how the concept
of ‘smart’ is shaped in the smart village discourse. An ICT4D perspective allows us to
conceptualize smart village as a socio-technical phenomenon and to discuss not only
its technological side but also the social processes and developmental implications [10,
11]. This complements the growing consensus in the related domain of smart cities
research that emphasizes a holistic view that crosscuts dimensions of technology, soci-
ety, economy, and environment [12]. On one hand, this perspective equips us to unpack
the underlying assumptions about technological artifact(s) and their interactions with
organizational structures, processes, and human agency [1315]. On the other hand,
it enriches our understanding of an ICT4D phenomenon by looking at the role of the
context in which it is embedded and by focusing on the phenomenon’s role in bringing
transformational change at societal level [16].
The paper is organized in the following way. First, it synthesizes how the conceptu-
alization of ‘smart’ has evolved within the smart cities literature. Second, it highlights
selected smart village interventions and smart based rural development literature to make
sense of emerging conceptualization of smart in the smart village discourse. Finally, it
proposes relevant future research directions to contribute to the practice and research of
smart village.
2 Evolution of ‘Smart’ in Smart Cities
A commonly agreed upon definition of smart cities is hard to find. Numerous survey
articles have come up with plethora of definitions. Ismagilova et al. [17] in their litera-
ture review note that smart cities are conceptualized with a major focus on technology
integrated with related themes of citizens, interaction, sustainability, and quality of life.
Another review article [12] found that a techno-centric view of smart cities is promoted
through the grey literature published by North American business companies, while a
holistic view of smart cities in terms of human, social, economic, environmental and
technological dimensions, is generated in peer-reviewed articles published by European
In a now influential paper, Hollands [18] claimed that smart cities initiatives were
driven by techno-deterministic values and pro-business and entrepreneurial ethos of high
tech corporate companies and municipal governments. He calls for a more progressive
442 P. Thapa and D. Thapa
conceptualization of smart cities that put people and human capital first and doesn’t
blindly put its trust solely on technology to drive change. More recent work has followed
his call and shifted towards conceptualizing smart cities by integrating the view of
sustainability [1921] and inclusiveness [2224].
Drawing on these conceptual debates, it can be argued that visions of ‘smart’ cross-
cuts four broad conceptualizations: (1) smart as technological (2) smart as entrepreneurial
(3) smart as sustainable (4) smart as inclusive (Table 1).
Table 1. Multiple conceptualizations of ‘smart’ in the smart cities discourse
Concepts of ‘smart’ in
smart cities
Technological system Social system Area of interest
Smart as technological High focus (supply
Low focus Supply side needs to build
smart systems
Smart as entrepreneurial Low focus High focus Entrepreneurial
collaborative business
Smart as sustainable Low focus High focus Social and environmental
values generated in
addition to economic
Smart as inclusive High focus (demand
High focus Citizen participation,
inclusion of marginalized
groups in design,
deployment, and
evaluation of projects and
2.1 Smart as Technological
The dominant imagination of ‘smart’ in the smart cities discourse connects the concept
primarily to the role of ICT infrastructures [25]. This vision of smart largely comes
from researchers working in the domains of computer science and engineering, as well
as corporate companies that develop, produce, and help municipal governments imple-
ment smart technologies and datafication processes like Internet of Things (IoT), cloud
computing and Big Data [12,17]. For instance, a highly cited paper by Zanella et al.
[26] on IoT sees the realization of smart city concept through exploitation of advanced
technologies for management and optimization of public services and for increasing the
transparency and evidence based strategizing of cities.
Angelidou [27] notes that such visions promote a smart city product economy where
ICT infrastructures are pushed in a market of smart city products and solutions to pull the
demand of cities seeking to address urban problems. For Zanella et al. [26], deployment
What is ‘Smart’ About Smart Village? 443
of IoT system is at the core of smart city initiatives and critical factors for successful
deployment are twofold: the technological complexities of integrating and standardizing
heterogenous systems to support a dynamic urban IoT system, and a sustainable market
mechanism that allows steady investment and commercial demand of smart technolog-
ical systems. Therefore, ‘smart as technological’ discourse is of top-down nature with
development and marketing of technological systems taking primary attention whereas
citizen centric and demand side social processes getting overlooked [18,24].
2.2 Smart as Entrepreneurial
Entrepreneurial spirit is a recurrent idea in smart cities initiatives that is also closely
interlinked with technocentric vision of smart cities [18]. Designated smart cities aim
at stimulating economic growth and job opportunities by providing seedbed conditions
not only for local enterprises and entrepreneurs to grow but also for attracting foreign
investors and expanding non-local markets [28]. Collaboration and innovation are two
interconnected themes when discussing about the entrepreneurial spirit of smart cities.
Barcelona, one of the pioneer smart cities, puts digital innovation at the fore of its
Barcelona Digital City Plan [29]. It claims to support entrepreneurs and businesses by
providing them with collaborative networking opportunities through digital hubs and
incubators, as well as funding opportunities for innovations with social impacts. Simi-
larly, business and management scholars have investigated the smart city phenomenon
as an opportunity to explore the role of smart cities in fostering entrepreneurship [30]
and to develop framework for collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystems [31].
Authors note that entrepreneurialism and techno-centrism are dual agendas of a cor-
porate model of smart city promoted by city governments and corporate tech suppliers
[9,24]. Much like the technological conceptualization of smart cities, the entrepreneurial
view favours a supply-driven focus and a dominant market logic to boost local economy.
Though the entrepreneurial discourse might seem to make up for the shortcomings of the
technology discourse by putting attention back to social systems and processes of col-
laboration and networks, we need to understand that underlying these social systems are
strong neo-liberal pursuits of profitmaking and economic growth rather than democratic
and pro-public values [32].
2.3 Smart as Sustainable
Recent scholarship has tried to question the holistic and ecological dimensions of smart
cities, thereby trying to move away from market-driven urban growth to people-centred
and urban ecology-centred concerns. They ask how is the smart city agenda improving
the citizen’s quality of life and making urban systems sustainable for the future [19]? The
integrated concept of ‘smart sustainable city’ is one such example. Höjer and Wangel
[20] define smart sustainable city as “a city that meets the needs of its present inhabitants
without compromising the ability for other people or future generations to meet their
needs, and thus, does not exceed local or planetary environmental limitations, and where
this is supported by ICT” (p. 347). This reorientation also emerges from critical studies
that find problems with non-ideological, pragmatic, and commonsensical views [33]
when imagining smart as “technological” and/or “entrepreneurial”. Authors emphasize
444 P. Thapa and D. Thapa
the political and non-neutral impacts of neo-liberal corporate management of cities and
the dangers of overlooking varying levels of contextual factors across regions when
drawing up a one-size-fits-all framework of smart city.
Limited but growing literature on smart cities and sustainable development suggests
that sustainability discourse within smart cities should espouse models, frameworks,
and indicators that explore and measure better sustainability targets and assessments of
impacts, and not just economic indicators and models of growth [19,21,34].
2.4 Smart as Inclusive
Closely related to the sustainable development agenda is the growing scholarship that
puts social justice and citizen centric agendas at the forefront of smart cities research.
They are interested in asking questions like how smart cities will benefit marginal com-
munities? [22], how initiatives may increase urban inequality? [23] and how to improve
the role of marginalized groups in conceiving, designing, implementing and evaluat-
ing smart cities projects? [35]. Here marginalized groups are any heterogenous groups
of people like migrant workers, slum dwellers, ageing population, and people with
Building their argument from a European context, Engelbert et al. [36] caution that
‘inclusiveness’ may be prevalent in the smart city rhetoric, but the underlying logics
benefit technologists and experts, de-socialize urban problems through business frames
and hold an unproblematic view of participation that in return leads to exclusion of
citizen participation and perspectives. It is pertinent to understand that normatively,
inclusiveness discourse demands integration of bottom-up approaches to ensure citizens
not only the right to use the technology as users but also the right to shape the city with
technological solutions for sustainable development as co-designers [24], thus taking
account of both technological and social system. Therefore, it can be argued that ‘smart
as inclusive’ discourse puts high focus on technological systems, but this focus is norma-
tively different from the high technological focus in ‘smart as technological’ discourse.
While ‘smart as technological’ discourse imagines businesses and experts driving and
designing technological systems without any input from citizens, ‘smart as inclusive’
imagines technological systems to emerge from democratic dialogues and deliberations
between citizens and technology producers.
In sum, the concept of ‘smart’ has dynamically evolved in smart cities literature.
From the knowledge generated in the last decade itself we can trace the shifting concep-
tualization of smart cities: from techno-centric values to holistic values of sustainable
and inclusive urban development. However, it is challenging to critically assess the dis-
courses around smart village, since the knowledge around the concept is still emerging
and not clearly understood. The next section highlights this emerging field of research
and practice.
3 Emerging Discourses of ‘Smart’ in Smart Village
Smart cities literature highlights municipal government and corporate sector as the two
main dominant drivers of the smart city initiatives [25,33], while civil society and
What is ‘Smart’ About Smart Village? 445
academia have recently become important drivers with the need to integrate sustainability
and inclusiveness in the conceptualization of smart cities [24]. For critically assessing
how ‘smart’ is operationalized in smart village, this paper therefore sought to present
how these different drivers like governments, civil society, private sector, and academic
literature were contributing to the ongoing discourses.
This paper takes a strategy to generate a variety of narratives from policy documents,
program and project reports, and academic articles to assess their views on technology,
people, processes, and rural development. This resulted in identification of five major
smart village interventions at a global level. These include two policy guided public sector
interventions, two civil society led interventions, and one corporate sector supported
intervention. In addition to these practice-based discourse, the paper also briefly presents
theoretical discourse of the concept of smart village in the extant academic literature.
3.1 Public Sector
European Union (EU) is one of the few governing bodies that has taken up ‘smart village’
as a wide scale policy intervention. It defines smart villages as “communities in rural
areas that use innovative solutions to improve their resilience, building on local strengths
and opportunities” [37]. EU imagines ICTs to play an important but not a defining role
in creating innovative solutions. Similarly, it considers smart village as a non-radical
strategy that builds upon existing interventions, strategic governance mechanisms and a
flexible funding modality that welcomes private and public partnerships. Multiple smart
village projects are running in many EU member countries [1]. For instance, innovation
in service delivery through community centres and business hubs and mobile clinics,
social innovation for rural development through rural hackathon events, crowdsourcing,
and co-working space. Some smart village projects are also offering flexible workspace
for professionals to telework from villages and make use of local resources. In all this,
the overarching purpose is to reconfigure local resources and knowledge primarily with
social entrepreneurship and ICTs.
Similarly, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations special-
ized agency for ICTs, and the government of Niger have piloted a multi-million dollars
smart village project in some villages in Niger with a long-term aim to expand the
project to cover all the villages of the country. The project draws upon Niger 2.0, a
national level policy to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs) by exploiting the
opportunities of digital economy [38]. As such, digital technologies play a prominent
role in ITU and Niger’s definition of smart village. They define smart village as “a com-
munity in rural areas that leverages digital connectivity, solutions and resources for its
own development and transformation towards the SDGs” [2]. They claim smart village
to be a radical departure from previous top-down approaches, focusing on networked
and integrated governance, and multi-stakeholder alliances that work to achieve holistic
goals, while sharing and reusing resources. The project is also very explicit about ICT
driven sustainable development by adopting the nine guiding principles of digital devel-
opment [39]. These principles advocate user-centric, scalable, and sustainable design,
data privacy, local contextualization, data driven decision-making and open standards.
While EU’s smart village policy ranges across rural areas of Europe and covers
variety of projects in member countries, ITU and Niger’s smart village strategy is a
446 P. Thapa and D. Thapa
developing country specific project that if successful will be spread across Africa and
Global South. They both differ in several other ways too. EU’s policy intervention is
incremental in the sense that it wants its already existing rural development policies to
work as building blocks for their smart village actions. In other words, smart village
projects do not begin from scratch and work at new set of problems, but they bring about
innovative “ways” and “means” to support ongoing processes of rural development
programs [40]. Thus, role of digital technologies is secondary, as in deriving from rural
development policies, and more broadly defined as “not a pre-condition to become
smart village” and “means to innovative solutions and not solutions” [37]. As such, EU’s
imagination of smart is closer to ‘smart as entrepreneurial’ iteration where technological
system’s interaction with social systems is reduced to a tool view [13], while the focus
is more on social interactions and processes to improve market and entrepreneurial
mechanisms for villages.
On the other hand, ITU and Niger’s version of smart village is radical in its ambition
and clear on the imperative role of ICTs in achieving sustainable development. As men-
tioned earlier, smart village is deemed as a complete restructuring of Niger’s governance
structure to bring a “whole-of-government-approach” that reforms the old governance
structure of fragmented policy interventions to move away from narrowly defined goals
that lead to duplication of programs and funding [2]. Unlike EU, smart village inter-
ventions don’t derive from existing policy governance structure, but these interventions
aim at reengineering a new “whole-of-government” policy structure with implications
to political will and leadership. Furthermore, if EU’s intervention can be argued to be
innovation-based, ITU and Niger’s intervention is more problem-based as it is driven
by the “ends” of achieving sustainable development goals [40]. ‘Smart as sustainable’
and ‘smart as inclusive’ agendas through combination of ICTs and structural change to
meet SDGs drive the vision of smart in ITU and Niger’s smart village.
3.2 Civil Society
Numerous smart village projects are spearheaded through civil society initiatives. Among
these, two initiatives will be highlighted here. First is the Smart Village Initiatives, funded
by Cambridge Malaysian Education and Development Trust and Templeton World Char-
ity Foundation. Second is the Smart Village IEEE, funded by the Institute of Electrical
and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Both initiatives share similarities in their focus for improving access to off-grid, sus-
tainable energy services to rural communities of Global South and actualizing overall
developmental benefits from energy access. They claim sustainable energy access to
be a prerequisite to connectivity possibilities offered by ICTs. They also share notable
differences. Smart Village Initiatives has so far mainly occupied itself with developing
a smart village framework to understand needs and problems of communities through
interactions with multiple stakeholders in different developing regions in the form of
workshops and capacity building events [3]. The smart village framework advocates
certain policy recommendations for governments and donors to create supportive con-
ditions for sustainable technological solutions with access to finance, gender inclusion,
capacity building and integrated collaboration as main policy imperatives.
What is ‘Smart’ About Smart Village? 447
Meanwhile, since 2010 Smart Village IEEE supports and collaborates with commu-
nity level entrepreneurs and activists. IEEE equips them with technologies to generate
sustainable energy, for instance solar panels, chargers, and batteries [41]. IEEE follows
an entrepreneurship model of sustainability whereby it looks at enhancing market mech-
anisms to create user demand for energy. For that it conducts activities and trainings for
local entrepreneurs so they can create innovative local services that make diverse use of
clean energy, thus increasing its demand and ensuring financial stability to maintain and
upgrade off-grid energy services [42].
The imagination of smart as sustainable, inclusive, and entrepreneurial is evident
in the two civil society-led smart village initiatives. Even though they don’t explicitly
discuss about digital technologies, they see technology through a holistic approach as
they are simply not looking at villages adopting sustainable energy services but how
communities take ownership of these energy services, how they activate their agency to
create new services from energy access and how their action benefits the community at
3.3 Private Sector
It was highlighted earlier that private and corporate sector have had prominent stake in
promoting and defining the smart city agenda. But in the case of smart village, corporate
sector’s presence is still very negligible. Nokia, a multinational telecommunications
company, is one rare example. The company has embraced smart village, albeit in the
capacity of corporate social responsibility. Its smart village project in India, named
Smartpur, claims, “The Smartpur model has been theorized in a way that redefines the
existing ideas of smart villages, by not only deploying digital infrastructures but also
integrating the use of the infrastructure into their daily lives thereby promoting socio-
economic growth” [43]. The project is still in early phase and spans across seven Indian
states and ten districts.
The central idea of Smartpur is to build a village ecosystem connecting a hub village
to nodal villages [44]. A hub village is where primary services are provided by rural
entrepreneurs and nodal villages are where these services will be redistributed through
local rural entrepreneurs of these nodal villages. Smartpur’s entrepreneurship model is
like Smart Village IEEE’s model with the underlying assumption that local entrepreneurs
will help create locally appropriate services and help sustain services, while donors will
facilitate conditions for entrepreneurial growth. As such, Smartpur too strongly links
entrepreneurship and sustainable development in its conception of ‘smart’. Nevertheless,
it should be pointed out, Smartpur’s position in broader Indian policy domains remains
unclear. Given its status as a corporate social responsibility initiative, it would be just
wishful thinking to expect Smartpur to engage in dialogues to reform or inform policy
3.4 Academia
Only limited academic deliberation about smart village has taken place so far. Excep-
tions include two edited volumes [45,46] that have tried to discuss the area at length.
Within and outside these volumes, we find variety of academic lens exploring the smart
448 P. Thapa and D. Thapa
village phenomenon. Some investigate the more computational side of smart technolo-
gies in rural contexts. Like studies on precision farming or smart farming with focus
on using IoT and Big Data to improve agricultural production and management [47].
Then there are scholars who argue to broaden the scope of smart technologies to non-
agricultural domains like healthcare, transportation, and waste management [48]. Mean-
while researchers from rural planning and development, and geography lead the aca-
demic discussion on smart village [4,45] investigating its implications for sustainable
development. IS and ICT4D have much to offer in the theoretical and empirical devel-
opment of smart village but so far IS and ICT4D researchers have given little explicit
attention to the phenomenon. This is same for smart cities as well. In their survey of
smart cities research in the IS domain, Ismagilova et al. [17] note smart cities research is
still at a nascent stage in IS. For instance, they found 43 IS journals publishing articles
on smart cities but more than half of the journals had published not more than one article,
while the remaining had published not more than three articles (Table 2).
Table 2. Emerging discourses of ‘smart’ in smart village across multiple levels
Sector Example(s) Smart as Area of interest
Public European Union’s Smart
ITU and Niger’s Smart
‘sustainable’ and
Rural entrepreneurship,
innovative services,
collaborative partnerships,
Digital development for
sustainable development,
integrated and networked
Civil society IEEE Smart Village
Smart Village Initiative
‘sustainable’ and
Accessing sustainable and
affordable energy and
generating socio-economic
returns from energy access
Private Nokia’s Smartpur ‘entrepreneurial’ and
Rural entrepreneurship
based and digital
innovation of rural services
Academia Visvizietal.[46]and
Patnaik et al. [45]
‘sustainable’ and
IoT based smart systems in
agriculture, rural
entrepreneurship, links
with sustainable rural
4 Implications and Future Research Directions
Visions of smart village across sectors share some commonalities, but also significant
differences. Sustainability and inclusiveness remain two intersecting agendas. Similarly,
What is ‘Smart’ About Smart Village? 449
role of ICTs, in general, is to facilitate broader sustainable development of villages and
rural areas. But the link between ICTs, sustainable development, and villages remains
unclear and contested. Moreover, relevant differences exist between smart village ini-
tiatives in terms of the strategic role of ICTs. As mentioned earlier, most smart village
policies and projects view technologies as “tools” or “means to an end” while setting
greater interest on social processes like building entrepreneurial capacity. They nar-
row smart village projects as opportunities to digitalize processes and project activities
within existing governance structure. Therefore, de-centering digital technologies, in
other words nominalizing their role.
To understand why digital technologies are de-centered in rural development think-
ing, we need to take a turn towards rural development scholars’ view of technology driven
development in general. Contemporary rural development thinking is highly critical of
the modernist model of rural development. In the modernist view, rural development
was equated to industrializing agriculture [49]. Farmers were expected to intensify their
agricultural production through highly specialized seeds, chemical fertilizers, and irri-
gation facilities. Technological determinism afflicted the planning strategies as hopes
for rural prosperity were hooked on genetically modified agricultural inputs and big
irrigation projects that didn’t pan out to bring expected economic benefits but worsened
the environmental impact of technology driven development projects [50].
The new rural development paradigm seeks to depart from the monopoly of agricul-
ture, individual entrepreneurial capacity, and economies of scale. The shift is towards
rural livelihood strategies that combine farm activities with non-farm activities, focus on
collective actions that emerge from networking and partnership and widen the economies
of scope [51]. In sum, the new rural development rectifies techno-determinism inherent
in the modernist view, but it does so through social determinism. Technology in rural
development gets refashioned into a monolithic, homogenous black box [52]. In other
words, technology is relegated as a backdrop in much of the rural development literature.
But when we reduce technologies to neutral artifacts or relegate them as nominal
entity of interest, we overlook the political nature of technologies [53], as in who designs
technologies and what values and purpose shape them. Also, considering technologies
as opportunities to automate, doesn’t fully explore the opportunities to redesign pro-
cesses and strategies [54]. It is thus important to understand the dynamic relationships
between technologies and multiple actors, and how they shape and not determine each
other. This socio-technical approach sits in the middle, neither techno-determinist nor
socio-determinist, and is suitable to explore the phenomenon of smart village, where the
meeting point is the notion of using ICTs for sustainable development of rural commu-
nities and villages. Future smart village research has opportunities to explore issues that
highlight how multiple stakeholders interact with ICT interventions and how do these
interactions enhance or can be enhanced to achieve sustainable rural development goals.
This is where the fields of information systems (IS) and particularly ICT4D has
relative potential to contribute to the theoretical development of the concept of ‘smart
village’ as a phenomenon mutually shaped by technological artifacts and social processes
and having developmental implications. We do not claim that an ICT4D approach is the
only and the right way to make theoretical contributions on smart village. We acknowl-
edge the prevalence of socio-determinist (studies that only theorize social processes and
450 P. Thapa and D. Thapa
development implications of interventions) trends and techno-determinist (studies that
are only interested in theorizing the design and adoption of ICT artefacts) trends within
ICT4D research itself [10,11]. However, we argue that an ICT4D framework offers smart
village researchers a socio-technical-developmental orientation and direction. Smart vil-
lage scholars can draw from a rich body ICT4D literature that is focused exists at the
intersection of rural development and ICTs. Secondly, the theoretical implications that
emerge from such smart village research can be fed back for further development and
refinement of the holistic ICT4D framework. Therefore, investigating the socio-technical
phenomenon of smart village not only uses an ICT4D framework but also contributes to
the theoretical development of an ICT4D approach that take account of all three elements
of ICTs, social processes, and developmental outcomes.
This article proposes three future research directions for ICT4D researchers and
smart village researchers to broaden scientific knowledge and practice of smart village.
4.1 Theorizing Smart Village as a Rural ICT4D Phenomenon
For long, ICT4D researchers have been interested in generating knowledge about
rural and community driven ICT interventions. Investigating smart village interventions
presents two opportunities for ICT4D researchers in this area. Firstly, relevant literature
on rural ICT4D interventions, for example research on telecentres and digital transfor-
mation of rural businesses, has significantly theorized lessons from past failures of rural
ICT4D projects. This knowledge can be used to critically appraise the promise and ‘new-
ness’ of existing smart village interventions and redress the past flaws in future smart
village interventions. Secondly, as smart village espouses values of inclusive and sus-
tainable development, ICT4D researchers can theoretically contribute new knowledge
about the interrelationship of ICTs and sustainable rural development.
As suggested earlier, ICT4D researchers need to bridge the divide between techno-
deterministic visions of ‘smart’ and the underlying social constructivism of many rural
and ICT4D empirical scholarship that fails to engage with the material agency of IT arti-
facts. Therefore, future theoretical contribution on smart village needs to better illustrate
how materiality of IT artifacts, goals and abilities of rural people and community, and
contextual conversion factors shape but do not determine future actions, practices, and
outcomes of sustainable development.
4.2 Conducting Interdisciplinary and Modest Scale Field-Based Studies
Kitchin [33] argues to move the academic debate around smart cities beyond analysis of
government and corporate documents, and to undertake fieldwork in cities and interview
stakeholders to reveal underlying power dynamics, multi-level effects, costs, and benefits
of initiatives. Similarly, he also urges more cross disciplinary collaborations between
social science researchers and technical researchers to produce critical scholarship within
technology driven initiatives.
These points are relevant to research in smart village as well. It is time for knowledge
around smart village to come from empirical and field-based evidence and not from
anecdotal and synoptic evidence reported in grey literature published by governments,
donors, and NGOs. Likewise, many authors have been arguing on behalf of more modest
What is ‘Smart’ About Smart Village? 451
and small size smart initiatives than large scale technological solutions [24]. Smart village
with its focus on specific rural and marginalized community has scope for researchers
to conduct such delimited and manageable empirical study that will also benefit from
rich local contextualization [4].
4.3 Adopting Action Research (AR) Methodology for Constructive Knowledge
Studies on rural ICT4D interventions, but ICT4D interventions in general, take an inter-
pretive stance to better understand and evaluate already established projects despite
several recent calls to diversify the discipline with more action and intervention driven
methods [11,55]. Based on his survey of ICT4D researchers, Harris [56] claims that
though ICT4D researchers express their desire to communicate and share their research
with policymakers, practitioners, and the general public, very rarely ICT4D researchers
get involved in engaged scholarship for collaborative action planning and problem solv-
ing. This finding contradicts with the most commonly understood knowledge within
ICT4D that it is imperative to collaborate and partner with local stakeholders for the
success and sustainability of ICT4D interventions [57].
Therefore, adopting an action research (AR) approach in studying and developing
smart village, future studies should address the gap within ICT4D research on collabo-
rative partnerships between researchers and local practitioners to build ICT4D interven-
tions. For instance, within an AR framework researchers and practitioners can engage
in dialogic communication where researchers bring in their theoretical understanding
of smart village based on academic literature whereas local practitioners bring in their
understanding of local contexts, knowledge, and lived experiences to define problems
and design actions for change [5860]. AR potentially enables researchers to generate
and make relevant the scientific knowledge about how to support local communities to
strategically leverage ICTs for sustainable development goals.
5 Conclusion
In this paper, we discussed how the framing of ‘smart’ in the smart cities literature has
evolved from a techno-deterministic view (smart as technological) to that of a holistic
view that takes into consideration the goals of social justice and sustainable development
of urban settings. As we turned to the discussion of smart village, we found out that the
emerging discourses tied the concept of ‘smart’ to sustainable and inclusive. However,
adopting an information systems perspective to assume smart village as an ICT4D phe-
nomenon, it was revealed smart village initiatives avoid techno-deterministic visions by
putting more emphasis on social processes. They nonetheless overlook the ways tech-
nological system interact with social system and how they are co-shaping each other.
Therefore, this paper urges future smart village researchers to take a holistic theoretical
lens to conceptualize smart village as a rural ICT4D phenomenon, while engaging in
more collaborative, field based empirical studies with local practitioners that are not only
limited to understanding the problems of smart village but are interested in generating
constructive and problem-solving actions.
452 P. Thapa and D. Thapa
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