Designing for Development: Understanding One Laptop Per Child in Its Historical Context

Innovation and Economic Growth, Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing and Internet

Article Snapshot


Mike Ananny and Niall Winters


Proceedings of IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, Bangalore, India, 2007


Authors propose viewing the OLPC project in a way that accounts for design, motivation, impact and historical context.

Policy Relevance

The importance of ICT4D is more than either ideological or apolitical. New technologies must be evaluated as both adaptable and supporting our intentions, or purely mechanisms for delivering an ideology.

Main Points

  • One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is an initiative that helps children in the developing world learn by using their innate ability to learn, share, and create on their own. A laptop computer facilitates this learning.
  • OLPC is a computerization movement in the long line of technology supported development communication.
  • Communication theory has moved from relying on transmission models to transfer western knowledge to practice-focused research where societal context and institutional agendas are prominent.
  • Two rationales for computerization movements are those of Ithiel de Sola Pool and Herbert Shiller. These competing ideologies are useful for creating a structure through which to look at OLPC.
  • Looking at OLPC as a computerization movement helps to focus attention on the low-level guidelines and design instructions that are intended for engineers and designers. This is were the ideologies, practices and values come together.
  • Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) projects should be understood as historically situated computerization movements that achieve ideological goals through their design and use.
  • This paper aims to start a conversation about what is the OLPC program and why does it matter? This will allow the program to be critiqued and supported when there are reasons and opportunities to do so.


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