Broken premises: towards an intercultural understanding of bilateral co-operation in ICTs for education in Burundi

Paolo Brunello

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

901 Downloads (Pure)


Despite their widely acknowledged potential, ICT for Education projects often fail to deliver on their promises. This thesis argues that such promises are based on a shared rhetoric, the technological imperative, that veils mismatching premises. It is an ethnographic case study concerning the introduction and use of computer laboratories in eight secondary vocational schools, within a five-year Belgo-Burundian cooperation project (2005-2010).
The epistemological approach is socio-constructionist. The theoretical perspective is ecological: it tackles both the relationship between stakeholders and between them and their habitat — physical and socio-cultural — especially at the school level (micro) and at the national level (meso), both conceptualised as ecosystems. This contrasts the dominant objectivist epistemology and technocentric approach pervading ICT for Development initiatives.
Data were co-generated through participant observation, ethnographic snapshots, interviews leveraging metaphorical thinking, and qualitative social network analysis (Net-Map). A Critical Incident Analysis (CIA) framework was developed to unearth the conflicting premises causing the incident and to spell out their consequences. This was extended in a second-order analysis developing the SBIZO (Stop, Breathe In, Zoom Out) interpretive framework, integrating the empirical work with Attribution Theory and studies of trust. It distinguishes between a dispositional route perpetuating the asymmetric co-dependency between developers and developees, and a situational route favouring intercultural understanding and trust by encompassing history, culture and the developers-developees relationship itself in its scope. It also suggests strategies to preserve or restore trust, such as pausing, meta-communicating, apologising and risk sharing.
This research shows that while Europeans intended computer labs only as a means to do something, Burundians privileged their value as a means to become someone — coherently with their distinct cultural matrices: Ubuntu and Relatio, both pivoted on interconnectedness. Ultimately, this research calls for greater consideration for the context and for enhanced intercultural communication awareness in ICTs for Development and Education initiatives.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Simon, David, Supervisor
  • Unwin, Tim, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Mar 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • ICT for Education
  • ICT for Development
  • Development studies
  • Burundi
  • Africa
  • Bilateral Cooperation
  • Intercultural communication
  • Capacity building
  • Capacity Development
  • Computer laboratories
  • Training
  • Vocational Education
  • attribution theory
  • trust

Cite this