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USAID administrator Raj Shah has promised to increase the focus on technology as a key part of his reform agenda for the agency, which is much to be applauded. But the role for aid agencies in accelerating the development and rollout of technology is complex.

This essay uses the tablet computer, one of the technologies that Shah has highlighted as a potentially transformative device, as a case study in both the promises and perils of technology in development.

The focus on technology will require humility about what any aid agency can accomplish in this area, as well as strong monitoring and evaluation. Early recipients of funding from USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures programs include strong examples of following such an approach.

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