Sabine Isabel Michiels
and L.Van Crowder
Communication for Development Group
Extension, Education and Communication Service (SDRE)
Research, Extension and Training Division
Part 1 of 2
Drawing from the Cyberpop home page: www.enda.sn/cyberpop
"Appropriation (of Information and Communication Technologies or ICTs) meaning: people adapting the technology to fit their needs. It is more likely that they adapted their lifestyle to fit the technology."
(Clare O'Farrell, personal communication, April, 2001)
"From the beginning of time, technology has been a key element in the growth and development of societies … But technology is more than jets and computers; it is the combination of knowledge, techniques and concepts; it is tools and machines, farms and factories. It is organisation, processes and people." The cultural, historical and organisational context in which technology is developed and applied is the key to its success or failure.
(Smilie, 1991; emphasis added by Don Richardson, 1998)
This paper was compiled as a desk study on the appropriation of the new information communication technologies (ICTs) by local communities and groups in developing countries. It is a contribution by FAO to the work undertaken by the Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP)1 to provide inputs to the ongoing Dotforce2 Consultations.
The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions to this paper by members of the SDRE Communication for Development Group. A special thanks goes to Francois Fortier, ICT Consultant, for his valuable comments and to Ester Zulberti, Chief, SDRE, for her suggestions for improving the paper.
This paper is a draft for discussion. Comments are welcome, including corrections and clarifications to the ICT cases cited. Comments should be sent to L. Van Crowder, Senior Officer, Communication for Development, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This paper has the following objectives:
Given the time frame (2 months) and the desk-based nature of the study, the information was obtained primarily through Internet searches, email, personal contacts and literature review. No visits were undertaken to any of the projects identified. FAO has plans, however, to pursue the topic of local appropriation of ICTs as part of the SDRE 2002-2003 regular programme, including analysis of field experiences. This paper is mainly descriptive, and does not pretend to be an analytical assessment of the outcomes, impacts, benefits, etc. of the ICT cases that were reviewed. As discussed below, there is a serious lack of monitoring and evaluation and beneficiary impact assessments of ICT projects and initiatives. Much of the documentation on ICT projects is anecdotal in nature and only describes intended impacts.
The aim was to select projects and initiatives that are representative of "local appropriation" (i.e. that are community-driven and therefore have a strong component of community participation and ownership). However, this criterion had to be revisited along the way since most of the projects tend to have some degree of support (technical and/or funding) from national and international development organisations.
It was also difficult to maintain a balanced representation between the various regions (Africa, Asia, etc.) since ICT projects in some regions tend to be under-documented and difficult to discover. There are well-known differences in connectivity between regions of the world, and countries within regions as well as between urban and rural areas, that affect access to ICTs, especially access by local communities. As noted in a World Bank report (World Development Indicators, 2000) roughly two-thirds of the Internet population resides in the USA and Canada. By comparison, South East Asia is home to 23% of the world's population, but to only 1% of Internet users (Netwizards, Internet domain survey 2000, www.isc.org/dsWWW-2000/report.html).
Finally, the information obtained on local ICT projects and initiatives tends to be narrative/descriptive rather than analytical/critical (e.g. impact assessments, evaluations). With a few exceptions, there is a tendency by members of the donor community to promote their ICT efforts without the benefit of beneficiary assessments and cost-benefit analyses. As noted by Delgadillo and Borja with respect to telecentres (Learning Lessons from Telecentres in Latin America and the Caribbean, 1999, www.idrc.ca/telecentre/evaluation/nn/16_Lea.html), some evaluations carried out by international donors were more for "surgery" than as "diagnosis". These authors state that the evaluations have been "invaluable, above all for the external players in the projects, rather than for the people involved in implementing the telecentres themselves".
Digital Divide: "... the global gap between those who share in the digital revolution - and the increased productivity and wealth that it creates - and those who live on the other side of the digital divide, including the more than half of the world's population who have never even made a phone call. The Internet may be changing everything for those who use it, but it is doing nothing for the 19 out of 20 people who still lack access"
(Allen Hammond, Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2001).
The main findings of the study are:
"Current trends indicate that ICTs are being co-opted for dominant discourses such as those conveyed by mainstream media and media oligopolies...Although alternative sources exist, they are considerably less visible...This assessment calls for caution in the deployment of ICTs and urgent consolidation and promotion of alternative strategies...Positive experiences, notably among grass-roots sectors, show that such strategies must focus on technological appropriation" (Francois Fortier, Rebooting the Net: Towards Alternative Strategies for Information and Communication Technologies in the Context of ICPD Advocacy, International Seminar on ICPD Advocacy in the Global Information and Knowledge Management Age, UNFPA Technical Report No. 47, 1999).
Shankarlal does not know how the system works, or what it is called. But he knows the power of the "Magic Box". Every morning, together with his fellow farmers, he talks to the Magic Box, as they check the price for potatoes at all major markets in the state. Accordingly, they decide where to take their produce. No more cheating middlemen, no more high prices.
(Village user of the Gyandoot Information Kiosk in India)
Information and Communication Technologies5 (ICTs) are rapidly consolidating global communication networks and international trade with inevitable implications for people in developing countries. Locally grown organisations that have a community development focus are burgeoning across the globe, and in some instances embracing the new ICTs. At first glance the new ICTs seem to offer potentially promising opportunities.
The information available about the effects of such a wide-ranging transformation on the way people communicate and share information and knowledge is contradictory. On one hand, there is a plethora of literature on the potential benefits of ICTs as tools for enhancing peoples daily lives and reducing poverty by increasing access to information relevant to their economic livelihoods, including information sources such as healthcare, transport, education and markets. On the other hand, there is an alarming lack of empirical evidence, or analyses, of actual experiences of applying ICTs locally and their impact upon poor people's economic and social livelihoods. The reality is that few projects pay attention to monitoring and evaluation of ICT outcomes, especially the local impacts of ICTs, with the result that guidelines for effective ICT deployment and appropriation at the local level are missing.
"Much of the debate surrounding the new ICTs is clearly hype. Travel 25 miles from most African capitals and check out the ICT infrastructure because this is pretty revealing. But we need to be careful not to let the hype blind us to real opportunities for poverty reduction and information inclusion that new, old and combinations of ICTs bring." (Andrew Skuse, Social Development Department, DFID, White Paper on International Development 2000, Media in Development)
Some observers see advantages in combining the new ICTs with conventional information and communication technologies, especially with those that are popular and widely diffused such as radio, as a way to begin to close the digital divide. Radio is particular is a promising medium to be linked to the Internet since in recent years there has been evidence of a new "radio landscape" in many developing countries - i.e., privatised, deregulated, decentralised and community-based. When radio broadcasters are trained to effectively browse the Internet and integrate relevant global information with local information, radio, and especially rural radio, potentially can improve local people's access to global knowledge and information. The fact is that radio is local - in Latin America, for example, while almost all radio content is produced locally or nationally, only 30% of television programming is from the region; 62% is produced in the United States (Girard, 2001).
ICTs, and the implications of their local applications, have highlighted the need to improve the processes of knowledge and information access, with a view towards equity and empowerment of communities in their choice, deployment and management of ICTs. There is a growing consensus that training and appropriate contents are as important as the new technologies themselves. ICTs have triggered the growth of local and regional knowledge and information networks, thus contributing significantly to South-to-South, as well as South-to-North information and communication flows. At the same time, the new digital technologies are rapidly becoming user-friendlier, thus making both the technology and the software more accessible to a wider spectrum of users.
And as noted above, there is a convergence between the new technologies and conventional media that may have important implications for helping to close the digital divide. Girard (2001), discussing "next generation radio", states that there have been various experiments in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the USA and Europe using ICTs to support low-cost independent radio networks and using radio stations as community intermediaries, or gateways, to the Internet (B. Girard, "The Challenges of ICTs and Rural Radio", Keynote paper at the FAO First International Workshop on Farm Radio Broadcasting ICTs Servicing Farm Radio: New Contents, New Partnerships, Rome, February, 2001).
The digital divide has been broadly defined as "unequal possibilities to access and contribute to information, knowledge and networks as well as to benefit from the development enhancing capabilities of ICT" (Draft report of the DOTForce, 1-2 March 2001,South Africa). It has recently been highlighted as one of the most visible components of the "development divide". For developing countries, this has several potentially harmful consequences, including further marginalisation (increased gender, rural-urban and poor-rich gaps) as access to opportunities for wealth creation is reduced or polarised and potential losses of considerable development opportunities as productivity and efficiency gains are not transmitted from rich to poor countries.
A combination of inadequate national communication policies, especially the lack of an enabling telecom policy and regulatory environment; insufficient infrastructure, connectivity access and high costs; a scarcity of skilled "ICT labour force"6 ; and a lack of local content creation and applications (language and software) hinder ICT appropriation by poor nations and by poor regions within nations, and especially by isolated rural communities. The result is that while "there are undoubtedly good reasons for the widespread belief that the Internet is a potent social and economic force...many observers caution that the new 'information marketplace' will increase the gap between rich and poor countries and rich and poor people" (Crowder et al., Knowledge and Information for Food Security in Africa: From Traditional Media to the Internet, FAO, 1998).
Finally, the reality is that the impact of ICT applications on local communities is quite difficult to foresee, or even assess. Until people start to capitalise on the various experiences in experimenting with, adapting, and "transforming" the new technologies, community-based ICT projects may not be seen to offer any real or direct benefits. Benefits are even more difficult to reap given that ICTs are found mainly in urban centres and thus are largely out of reach of people living in rural areas. Moreover, due to lower rates of literacy, women (and marginalised groups in general) are not given equal access to the benefits of ICTs.7
"The diminishing costs of computers and Internet access would seem to make knowledge and information more widely available, but poor nations face organisational, training and costs constraints." (Avinash Persuad, Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2001).
ICTs offer opportunities for two-way and horizontal communication and for opening up new communication channels for rural communities and the intermediaries and development organisations that support them. Once mastered, they potentially allow every user to be a sender, receiver, narrow-caster and broadcaster. The Internet, for example, has been described as a "people's network" that allows every user to be an information producer and knowledge sharer (D. Richardson, The Internet and Rural and Agricultural Development, FAO, 1997).
ICTs can support bottom-up articulation of development needs and perceptions and facilitate the merging of global and local knowledge and information.8
ICTs can support, create and strengthen interactive and collaborative networks that enable information to flow to and from rural communities, facilitate dialogue between communities, intermediaries and development organisations, foster co-ordination of national and local development efforts and overcome physical barriers to knowledge and information sharing. ICTs can also enhance the capacity of grassroots organisations for their voices to be heard. This is especially true of ICT projects that are managed by local communities, such as community-owned media and community telecentres.
"A FarmNet is a network of rural people and supporting intermediary organisations, such as extension services, using ICTs and conventional communication media to facilitate the generating, gathering and exchanging of knowledge and information. Operated by farmers and their organisations, a FarmNet links farmers to each other and to the resources and services they need to improve their livelihoods.... Design of a FarmNet with the Uganda National Farmers' Association found that the best approach was to enhance existing communication efforts (face-to-face, local radio, publications) with the use of a simple e-mail based communication system...for information on markets, improved agricultural technologies and weather conditions"
(FAO, FarmNet brochure, 2000).
ICTs can support policy and advocacy by meeting the information needs of elected officials, decision-makers, interest groups and grass roots advocacy organisations. They can be activated for social networking and mobilisation, to build up public awareness around development issues and for upward pressure on policy decisions.
ICTs can help build consensus through the provision of information on government programmes, policies, decisions and issues to advocates. Many governments are putting such information on-line . On the other hand, opponents can also seize the same tools for Internet campaigns to support their own agendas. Such on-line "checks and balances" of political agendas potentially can contribute to political debate and democratic processes.
ICTs can enhance partnership with the media. They are particularly relevant for community media that have limited human and financial resources (see for example Pulsar, a Latin American case of innovative use of Internet to supply community-based radio stations with information).
So, are individuals and groups in communities appropriating the new ICTs? If yes, for what purposes? Are they informed, or "convinced", about the potential benefits of ICTs? Are they in fact benefiting? Can ICTs alone improve their social and economic livelihoods, or are other inputs required? What are the community information and communication systems in place already, how do they operate and how could ICTs be part of or integrated with them? These are just some of the important questions that need to be addressed, and in many cases they require further and in-depth examination.
"When I think about appropriation, I think of it in terms of how people appropriate the TOOLS of communication to express and share ideas that would otherwise go unnoticed by their peers, families, communities and societies. Community radio, home grown web sites, participatory video, locally produced newsletters, etc. are great examples of this." (Don Richardson, contribution to the FAO e-forum "The appropriation of traditional and new media for development - Whose reality counts", December 2001)
The concept of media appropriation has roots in communication theory beginning in the 1970s. It evolved in reaction to mass media theory that posited that people are basically "duped and controlled" by the mass media. Researchers doing cultural studies decided to conduct practical participant observation research on how people interact with the media in their daily lives. They found that rather than being duped by the mass media, people integrated media within their lives and made sense out of it in locally specific ways. Some researchers and theorists took appropriation further - seeing it as a sign that people consciously or unconsciously resist the "hegemony" of the mass media through simple everyday practices of ignoring, modifying and appropriating media messages. Another trend was to look at how people, in everyday life, use the media tools at hand to appropriate not only messages, but the means of media production; graffiti, community radio, small format video, local art and popular theatre and song are all examples of such practices.
"People take IT only when they are convinced that IT serves some purpose in their lives." (CSE Down To Earth Magazine Vol 9, No 18, February 15, 2001)
Local appropriation of ICTs is about communities and groups selecting and adopting communication tools according to the different information and communication needs identified by them and then adapting the technologies so that they become rooted in their own social, economic and cultural processes. It is about creativity and freedom of expression and in some cases about resistance to political and cultural dominance and to global media markets that are dominated by a handful of transnational companies. Appropriation is about power - power over the tools and content of communication.
"...it is difficult to see how market-driven internet development can go beyond the small groups that constitute the professional classes. Do we need to take care that the internet revolution does not create a knowledge caste system? Such a system could further widen the gap between the well-educated elite and the poorly educated masses..."(Linda Main, "The global information infrastructure: empowerment or imperialism?" Third World Quarterly, Vol 22. No 1, pp 83-97, 2001).
This paper looks at different cases of ICT appropriation to see how people and communities have approached the challenge of increasing access to information and communication resources. Special emphasis is given to participatory approaches because participation is one of the key issues surrounding equitable access to and empowerment through ICTs.
Several "good practise" criteria were developed to assess the case examples identified during the study. The criteria were whether a project is:
It became evident during the study that there were few if any cases that fulfilled all, or even a majority, of the criteria. In most cases, sufficient information was not available to assess how the various projects and initiatives scored on the criteria. Rather than listing the ways in that each case fits or doesn't fit the criteria, this section provides a brief overview of the some of the different thematic fields in the appropriation of ICTs for sustainable development. These good practise criteria are expected to be useful for future field studies of local ICT appropriation planned by FAO. More information on the projects and initiatives examined in this study is provided in the Annex.
The new economy of buying and selling on-line is revolutionizing the way people do business. Gurstein (2000) notes that e-commerce9 has become "… a significant element in commercial activities globally, particularly in the developed countries where suitable infrastructure support is available."
Communities are likely to embrace the new information technology only when they are able to see immediate results. An ICT project in Peru, Tortas Peru shows how communities are able to see relatively immediate benefits as their incomes increased by selling goods over the Internet. In the case of Tortas Peru, Peruvians can purchase on-line traditional cakes made by Peruvian women and have them delivered to their homes. The service has been especially popular with expatriate Peruvian, who buy the tortas for their relatives back home in Peru. This type of initiative has a double benefit: on the one hand the women baking the cakes have increased their incomes. On the other hand, cakes combined with computers are helping Peruvians maintain contact with relatives.
The e-commerce cases reviewed showed that most initiatives need technical and financial support from donors to help the communities implement their businesses and provide the users with the necessary skills and training to sustain e-commerce activities. The immediacy of the benefits reaped from such activities make e-commerce in developing countries a potentially enticing venture.
"At the local level, IT can be used to alleviate poverty both directly and indirectly. Here, IT often follows existing opportunities. For instance, the farmer who uses IT to get information about prices is already buying and selling from the market; the technology simply allows to diversify his or her activities - the farmer can now choose to sell to one or another market instead of being forced to accept the middle-man's offer, for example. Local opportunities may be aggregated to create scale to 'feed' a larger national market" (G. Accascina, Information Technology and Poverty Alleviation, FAO First Consultation on Agricultural Information Management. 2000 www.fao.org/sd/CDdirect/CDre0055h.htm)
Telecenters, or "Information Kiosks", are shared information and communication facilities that provide communities with telephone, fax and Internet services as well as access to equipment such as cassette and video players, photocopiers and computers. They are intended to make ICTs accessible to communities, and/or the intermediary organizations that provide services to these communities, many of which often are remote and lack connectivity. Telecentres can provide communities with knowledge and information from outside sources, which can then be integrated with local knowledge. They can also be used by training institutes to obtain distance learning materials for supplementing courses offered locally or to share information with other communities.
In the cases reviewed, the telecentres were usually in schools or libraries where information services can be more easily offered. In some cases, they were centers on their own, but almost all of them were run by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The cases do not specify if these centers are frequently used and if they are actually contributing to community development. At some centres, services such as telephone, fax, and photocopying are more popular than the Internet.
The Cyberpop Community Resource Center in Senegal is currently undertaking participatory action research, engaging local people in dialogue and decision making and identifying the ICTs that best fit their needs. Similarly, in Niger the Bankilare experience demonstrates a scenario where local people decided they needed more than just radio access in their community and that establishing a Community Information Centre could help the community meet their local information and development needs.
One example of convergence of new and conventional communication technology, and an initiative aiming to reduce the digital divide, is the Kothmale Internet Community Radio. It offers ordinary people a gateway to the global knowledge society by combining local radio and locally produced content in local languages with ICT applications in a wide range of social, economic and cultural areas.
The Kothmale community radio is an efficient way to promote active and continuous community participation within small target areas. Both the Kothmale Radio browsing programme and the Internet access facilities have demonstrated the potential for overcoming language barriers to accessing information available on the Internet. Moreover, being a participatory radio programme, radio browsing of the Internet has taken into account the needs of rural communities to assimilate knowledge collectively, in contrast to the prevailing mode of individual access to the Internet. The project has a web site www.kothmale.net to develop a database with useful information for the rural community, provide a portal for the community broadcaster, and give a means of expression for the community to reach out to the cyber community through web publishing.
Although many ICT projects report youth as a priority, very few actually target youth specifically. Two cases are identified in this paper where ICTs are used to help underprivileged youth attain computer and Internet skills in order to increase their prospects of having a better future. Nairobits is a project working with young people from the slum of Mathare in Nairobi. The project provides youth with skills in web designing and web mastering. The Street Children Telecentre works with troubled youth in the Esmeraldas, Ecuador, and gives them a place to share their experiences. The Telecentre is exploring how the Internet can be used to help these young people find solutions to their problems and learn technical skills to create opportunities for a better life.
The Sapphire AIDS Victims Fund uses the Internet to sell local handicrafts from Uganda in order to get money and help women who have AIDS. The funds are then used to support AIDS children and orphans. Its main mission is to ease the suffering of children orphaned by AIDS. The organisation tries to not only meet their physical needs like clothing and food, but also their emotional and psychological needs.
The Sapphire Women engage in traditional basket making, a tradition that has been handed down through generations, and then sell the products on-line through PeopLink (USA), a non-profit organisation helping producers in remote communities all over the world to market their products on the Internet. PeopLink is also building a global network of Trading Partners (TPs) that in turn provide services to several community-based artisan producer groups. PeopLink equips the TPs with digital cameras and trains them to capture images and edit them in a compressed format suitable for transmission via the Internet. They then place images of the crafts and promote them to retail and wholesale buyers in the industrialised countries.
ICTs are transformative tools that can increase the reach and impact of advocacy by grassroots organizations in support of sustainable development. Alternative uses of ICTs can facilitate civil society's greater role in making and monitoring policies, and promote appropriation by and capacity building of women, adolescents and marginalised groups.
Advocacy is one of the most vital contributions made by organisations to help identify and promote ideas and activities that have a public benefit and positively engage individuals in society. ICTs allow global access to campaigns and awareness strategies for advocacy activities and how they impact local communities. The research shows that most ICT projects on advocacy are information web sites to facilitate dialogue among civil society organisations, with the main focus on democracy and social change. External donors fund many of the projects reviewed. One such case study is the Chapter 2 Network in South Africa. It is an information and communication clearinghouse that combines ICTs and traditional media to support social justice advocacy. It offers services to its members such as newsletters, research, campaign support and lobbying training.
In reviewing local appropriation of ICTs, it was found that many projects are able to use radio because it is highly diffused, but very few are able to use telephones because of lack of infrastructure. The projects that involve telecommunications are either donor-driven or engage the private sector telecoms since they are able to provide the necessary equipment, such as satellite services. The Grameen Bank's Village Pay Phone program in Bangladesh provides cellular phone services to communities so they are able to enhance their social and economic development by communicating with the outside world. Prior to the presence of cellular phone operators in the village, many of who are poor women, local people would have to lose one day's work to go to an urban center in order to get in contact with either family members or perform business transactions.
The ILO's World Employment Report 2001 "Life at Work in the Information Economy", suggests that ICTs offer many new opportunities for women. But unless these are supported by deliberate policies to ensure participation, ownership, education and ICT training for women- as well as family-friendly policies in the information economy workplace - traditional gender biases will persist.
On a rather optimistic note, ILO states that "ICTs have created new types of work that favour women because the technology enables work to be brought to homes and allows for better accommodation of work and family schedules."
The case studies show that women who are involved in meaningful ICT projects achieve results for improved economic or social well being in the community. Several projects combined empowerment through ICT skills training, access to relevant and timely information with e-commerce, such as the Centre for Mayan Women Communicators in Guatemala. In this project, women use a variety of communication tools to promote Mayan culture but also to sell locally made handicrafts on-line, thus providing additional income for their families.
ZaWoN was created in September 1999 during a workshop organized and sponsored by Women on the Net and Sustainable Advancement of Zanzibar. Twenty-six women attended the workshop from all walks of life, including housewives and media professionals from both rural and urban areas. ZaWon's major objective is to have a strong network of women and women groups so that they can be empowered through the use of information technology.
ASAFE (Association pour le Soutien et l'Appui à la Femme Entrepreneur) was created in 1989 and has a strategic alliance with Networked Intelligence for Development (NID). The organisation is based in Douala, Cameroon and offers women entrepreneurs who live and trade in Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Guinea and Benin various business services and support for their businesses. It has focused its attention on the needs of women entrepreneurs, through awareness raising, counselling and the provision of specific business training programmes. Over the last few years, ASAFE has been consistently applying ICTs to all its functions and activities. The organisation is a one-stop information location accessible to the public for general inquiries and information, a "cyber-hub" with its own web site www.networkedintelligence.com , access to 30 computers and training rooms. ASAFE focuses on assimilating and adapting technology to meet community needs and give women ownership of both content and methodology. By offering e-commerce and technology training to women entrepreneurs the users have saved time and money in selling their products, invoicing and communicating with suppliers and customers. ASAFE women have benefited from having reduced service and administrative costs, better service quality (marketing, sales, support and procurement processes), increased revenue by being able to reach a wider market share and get business transactions done faster.
The Association for Progressive Communications Women's Networking Support Programme uses ICTs to help build social networks and contribute towards progressive, social change. The network consists of women from more than 20 countries all working in the field of gender and ICT. Through training, organisational support, participatory research, policy and advocacy in gender and information technology, the network aims to respond to the inequities affecting women, especially in developing countries. The network promotes gender equity in the design, implementation and use of information and communication technologies, initiates and implements research activities in the field of gender and ICTs, advances gender and ICTs knowledge, understanding and skills and facilitates access to information resources on the topic of gender and ICTs.
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