Digital Divide and Application Development in Developing Countries: A Routine-Based Approach

The high growth rates in mobile phone ownership combined with relatively easy access to software development kits and application programming interfaces have made application development feasible even in the more underdeveloped areas of the globe. As a result, countries that traditionally have been identified as recipients of technology have had the opportunity to become technology producers themselves. Furthermore, these locally produced applications are believed to be more relevant and capture the local needs and wants better than technologies designed elsewhere. The question that follows is how do these applications then differ from the applications created elsewhere, i.e. what is the role of context in application development that occurs in a developing country and primarily targets local markets?

One way to answer the question is to approach the topic by using the concept of routines. Routines are defined as “repetitive, recognizable patterns of interdependent actions, carried out by multiple actors” (Feldman and Pentland, 2003, 95). In application development that targets local markets, the local everyday routines that people perform function as sources of ideas and rationales for the applications. The developers start the development of their applications by identifying a particular routine, the performance of which can be made somehow better by capturing it into an application, after which the application is created and introduced to the targeted users. By producing locally relevant content the likelihood of usage of digital technologies is also likely to rise, and at the same time reduce digital divide(s). However, what goes easily unnoticed is that these divides are already present in the routines that form the core of the applications.        

This can be explained by borrowing Dodge and Kitchin’s concepts of code/space and coded spaces (Dodge and Kitchin, 2005). They argue that the ideas, transactions and interactions that software captures and transcends have their counterparts and origins in the physical world and in its representations. The importance of software or code in these representations, and with it, in performing routines, however varies from one routine to another. The concept code/space refers to a situation where code is needed to perform a routine, and if the code does not function, the routine cannot be performed. The concept of coded space is different:  routines that are performed in coded space are not dependent on the code, and in case the code does not work as expected or at all, the routine can still be performed, although less efficiently or at additional cost.

Many of the routines in developing countries fall to the category of coded space but not code/space. The routines that the applications try to renew have traditionally been performed by resorting to little modern technology if any. Renewing them with a technologically mediated solution can be difficult, since not only does the technology itself introduce a significant change, but also reverting back to existing ways of performing the routine is relatively easy. Faced with this, the developers have to either de-technologize the performance of the technologized routine, or then retreat to areas of the society where more routines and their performances fall under code/space. Both have caveats: de-technologizing an application and with it the performance of the targeted routine risks making the application itself useless, while retreating to more technological areas might mean smaller user groups as the amount of people performing routines falling under code/space can be relatively low. As a result, the capability of these locally developed applications to diminish digital divide(s) is likely to be limited.



Dodge, M., Kitchin, R., 2005. Code and the Transduction of Space. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95, 162–180.

Feldman, M.S., Pentland, B.T., 2003. Reconceptualizing Organizational Routines as a Source of Flexibility and Change. Administrative Science Quarterly 48, 94–118.



Kari Koskinen
Kari Koskinen