Communication for development Knowledge

Posted April 1999

Special: The first mile of connectivity

Rural telecommunication services and stakeholder participation

by Don Richardson

Department of Rural Extension Studies
University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada


Foreword
1. Introduction

  • Why the first mile?
  • Telecommunication services and stakeholders
    2. Lessons learned
  • Communication for sustainable development
  • Eyes see; ears hear
  • Participatory rural communications appraisal
  • Radio and video
  • State media for democratic development
    3. Technologies
  • Telecommunications for sustainable development
  • Rural telecommunications in Africa
  • Integrated rural development through telecommunications
    4. Applications
  • Internet and rural development
  • Participatory approaches to rural connectivity
  • Empowering communities
  • Rural telecentres
  • Training community animators
  • Video conferencing
  • Connecting with the unconnected
    5. Policies
  • Global information infrastructure
  • Rural networking cooperatives
  • Public and private interests
    Editors, contributors

  • This contribution is designed to help bridge the gap between practices of the communication for development practitioners and telecommunication experts who provide services to rural areas. Improvements in technology and reductions in costs have focused new attention on the provision of rural telecommunication services, particularly in developing countries. Until very recently, communication for development practitioners have seldom looked at rural telecommunication services as development tools. Likewise, telecommunication experts have only recently begun to look at the synergy between communication for development practices and the spread of rural telecommunication systems. Working together, these two groups of practitioners can better understand the potentials, limitations and challenges of telecommunication systems for rural development.

    The most important benefit of rural telecommunication systems lies in their use as tools for interpersonal communication, which is the foundation of communication for development. The term "communication for development" is used to describe processes of two-way dialogue and expression that encourage sharing of feelings, desires, beliefs and experiences, together with problem analysis, exploration of solutions, and bottom-up communication that raises the awareness of decision-makers to those problems (Bessette, 1996). The basic tenet of communication for development is that the communication process is more important than the production of media products or content. Communication for development practitioners, then, are people with skill and experience in facilitating social and organizational interventions, and using various media to catalyse two-way communication, dialogue and problem-solving (Richardson, 1997).

    All development efforts, whether focused on technology diffusion or not, draw our attention to issues of participation, capacity building, power and control. In planning, implementing, using and evaluating telecommunication applications we must bridge the technical with the social, political, cultural and economic dimensions of development. In over five decades of development practice, communication for development practitioners have come to understand that interventions of a social or organizational nature, designed to catalyse the participation of stakeholders are of key importance in achieving development goals (Melkote, 1991).

    Rural telecommunication systems can add new mechanisms for enabling and enhancing such participation, and for achieving a variety of other communication, information sharing and problem-solving applications that can assist development efforts. Communication for development practitioners, of course, do not normally possess the technical expertise required to establish rural telecommunication systems and are thus dependent on the knowledge and skills of telecommunication experts to help establish these new mechanisms for enabling and enhancing participation.

    Collaboration between telecommunication experts and development practitioners can do much more than establish new information and communication technologies (ICTs) for enabling and enhancing participation. When added to the technical knowledge of rural telecommunication experts, the knowledge and skills of communication for development practitioners - particularly in the areas of stakeholder participation, training and organizational capacity building - can help ensure that technologies are developed appropriately and can achieve sustainability and revenue generation. Sustainability and revenue generation tend to be key goals in the establishment of rural telecommunication systems; however, telecommunication experts may not always possess the knowledge and skill necessary to facilitate the participatory processes that can help achieve these goals. Partnerships between our fields of knowledge and expertise are necessary.

    A recent assessment of a new rural telephone system in Northwest Region of Ghana sheds light on the value of rural stakeholder participation. Technically, the Ghanaian system is operating extremely well, but telephone use in some areas is much lower than initially predicted, while in other areas demand for telephone calls exceed the limited supply provided by a single payphone. Future rural telephone systems in the North East and Northern Regions of Ghana will likely be operated by private sector partnerships, making it particularly important to insure that these systems are planned with rural stakeholder involvement to insure financial sustainability and profitability.

    The assessment in the Northwest Region revealed that the technical and political criteria for locating and installing lines and payphones had taken precedence over a rural client-centred approach. Most payphone users had excellent suggestions for improving the design of the payphone booths themselves. Almost all of the payphone booths were installed without doors and many users had strong worries about the privacy of their telephone use and were quite vocal about the need for the booths to have simple doors. Given the local tendency for highly competitive market businesses, and a cultural propensity toward multipartner romantic liaisons, especially among traders, the need for privacy is great. Similarly, many payphone users expressed a desire to be consulted about the locations of future payphones to insure they would be located in socially appropriate areas rather than technically determined locations. As more and more rural telephone system operators establish themselves as private sector, for-profit agencies, stakeholder assessments and a rural client-oriented approach will be critical.

    In general, our use of rural telecommunication systems for development purposes is limited by a lack of concerted action, dialogue and planning among groups of rural development stakeholders. Stakeholders include rural users themselves, private sector telecommunication companies, telecommunication equipment manufacturers and vendors, telecommunication regulatory agencies, non-governmental organizations working in sectors such as health, education, business improvement, credit and agriculture, educational institutions, and government agencies involved in rural development efforts. Rural telecommunication systems, where they exist at all, are typically planned, designed and installed by technicians and engineers who rarely consult with rural stakeholders. As a result, systems are installed with little imagination, creativity or opportunity to envision how they might help achieve developmental objectives.

    Like the irrigation systems and mechanized agricultural tools of the Green Revolution, telecommunication services are often "dumped" into rural areas. The results, in terms of efficiency of use, revenue generation for rural telecommunication operators, and benefits to rural stakeholders, can be minimal. Phones may work for a while, but may be poorly maintained or made inaccessible by local operators who have little incentive to provide good service. Rural people may want to use phones, but have no idea who to call to gain access to specific information because simple telephone directories for agriculture, health and education contacts are unavailable. Friends and relatives, as well as urban organizations needing to contact rural fieldworkers, may want to call rural people, but because rural telephone kiosk numbers are not clearly posted or available, no one will know what number to dial. The development of creative applications of rural telecommunication systems, such as agricultural marketing information services, or health care worker assistance services, may be ignored by technicians who see telephones as simple voice communication tools.

    Ian Smillie in his book, Mastering the machine: poverty, aid and technology, notes that

    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 organization, processes and people. The cultural, historical and organizational context in which technology is developed and applied is the key to its success or failure. (emphasis added)
    - Smillie, 1991, p.3

    As with other methods and tools used to facilitate development, telecommunication services work best when development stakeholders participate fully in planning, implementation, use and evaluation of those services. The following key elements can facilitate or retard stakeholder participation (adapted from UNDP, 1996):

    The challenge we face with telecommunication systems is how to convert the ideal of full stakeholder participation into reality, and ensure that these key elements favour and facilitate stakeholder participation.

    The importance of bridging the gap

    Whether we like it or not, processes of globalization and the influence of global market forces are affecting virtually everyone in the world. Access to telephone systems, fax machines and Internet services currently provide the world's "information haves" with the means to participate in, influence and counter global market forces and the processes of globalization. Meanwhile, the world's "information have-nots" continue to find only erratic and difficult means for such participation: in many regions, participation may be impossible.

    Rapid advances in telecommunication and computer technologies, together with lower costs for these tools and related services, are making it possible for ever more people to have access to telephones, faxes and Internet systems. Poor rural areas that have never seen telephones are beginning to have access to advanced digital and microwave telephone systems and pay phones that are low cost and efficient (c.f. the work of SR Telecom - http://www.srtelecom.com). Such systems are now widespread in countries such as Chile, Ghana, Mexico, Peru and the Philippines, and are providing rural stakeholder organizations with a variety of new participatory communication applications and opportunities (Ramirez and Richardson, 1997).

    Any development project that might include rural telecommunication systems ought to begin with assessments of the real needs of participants and use methodologies that catalyse participation and stakeholder engagement. This will help ensure that if rural telecommunication systems possess communication and information sharing characteristics that are attractive and relevant to intended participants, then those participants will be enabled to define and direct the development of applications that serve their needs. Ideally, local rural telecommunication applications for development purposes will be managed and maintained directly by the participants involved in the development effort in question.

    Despite these participatory prescriptions, and despite very similar methodological prescriptions in the reports of some telecommunication analysts (c.f. Ernberg or Barr in this book), efforts to catalyse participation and stakeholder engagement in development projects involving rural telecommunication systems are not the norm. It is too easy for the use of rural telecommunication systems to be driven by the technology, rather than by those who would supposedly benefit from its applications. A variety of tools from the fields of communication for development, participatory action research, and rapid knowledge systems appraisal and action can be used to catalyse participation and stakeholder engagement. These tools are seldom, if ever, applied, perhaps because the technical advocates of rural telecommunication systems rarely cross paths with people who work in the field of communication for development.

    Finding opportunities for collaboration between communication for development practitioners and rural telecommunication advocates is of critical importance. The facilitation of the design and implementation of rural telecommunication applications for development requires the involvement of people experienced in fields such as community development, rural development, extension, gender and development, and communication for development.

    What are rural telecommunication systems?

    Rural telecommunication systems are powerful communication and knowledge sharing tools. They can bring new information resources and open up new communication channels to facilitate dialogue and the flow of information between rural people and their organizations, institutions and governments. Rural telecommunication systems are a means through which people can access new options to help make their lives more secure, prosperous and meaningful. By providing a relatively open and uncontrolled means for interaction, dialogue and information sharing, simple rural telephone kiosks and pay phones offer intriguing opportunities for adding value to sustainable development efforts. For example, they can enable the bottom-up articulation and sharing of information on local needs and local knowledge through providing a new and cost-effective means of communication.

    Rural telecommunication systems can range from very basic pay telephones on the walls of village stores, to digital wireless cellular telephones and sophisticated community Internet systems. Transmission of voice and data can use a variety of tools, including wooden telephone poles and copper telephone lines, analogue radio transmitters and receivers, low earth orbit satellite systems (LEOS), digital point-to-point microwave transmitters, towers and receivers, wireless local loops, fibre optic cables, or even local infrared light transmission and reception devices.

    In recent years, we have seen the rapid spread of rural "telecentres" in developing countries. Telecentres are a grassroots business phenomenon. They are generally small shops providing pay phone telephone service, together with fax, photocopying and sometimes Internet services. They tend to be operated by local entrepreneurs and provide very useful and appropriate service to rural communities. Whatever their form, rural telecommunication systems are best described by their uses which enable rural people and their organizations to communicate and share information:

    Unfortunately, in today's knowledge-based economies there are those who are "information haves" and those who are "information have-nots," and there is a large gap between them. Often rural telephone systems will provide telephone lines and equipment only to local elites, government offices and homes of the police and local officials. Unless we can make tools like rural telephones more widely available, especially to the rural poor, then the expanded use of rural telecommunication systems among the "information haves" will further enlarge the gap with the "information have-nots." The source of the appeal of rural telecommunication systems as tools for development "isn't technology or information, but people," and their ability to share knowledge with one another. (Smolan, 1996).

    The processes of globalization and the transformation of industrial and agricultural economies into economies increasingly based on information and knowledge infrastructure require us to devote considerable energy to enabling the information have-nots to gain access to telecommunication infrastructure that enables knowledge sharing. Without this access, the information have-nots will be at the mercy of external forces, with little or no ability to understand, respond or direct the forces that affect their lives.

    With regard to rural telecommunication systems, it is imperative to find ways to put these systems within reach of the rural poor in concert with efforts to enable them to establish communication linkages with intermediary peoples' organizations, NGOs and government agencies that serve the poor. It is also imperative to find ways to enhance telecommunication linkages between the rural poor and their urban family members and friends who are attempting to help families and communities to achieve prosperity and better lives. When a rural person wants to start a business, find money to repair a village well or gain assistance with medical expenses, it is often an urban family member or friend who is the first contact for support and capital. Access to a simple village pay phone can make a world of difference.

    Rural telecommunication systems open up entirely new channels and options for people to stay in touch with friends, family and peers. They enable rural people to instantaneously, inexpensively, reliably and globally communicate. Primary development benefits include increased efficiency in the use of development resources, opportunities to reduce duplication of activities and promote collaboration, reduction of communication costs, reduction in transportation costs, and global access to information and human resources used for planning, consultation decision-making and action. The biggest drawbacks of rural telecommunication systems are dependency on largely urban-centred telecommunication infrastructure, dependency on urban-centred telecommunication regulations and legislation governing ownership and operation, and generally low levels of telecommunication service standards in countries (developed and developing) with monopolistic, expensive, state-run telecommunication systems.

    Despite the drawbacks of rural telecommunication systems, there has been a rapid increase in the spread of these systems in developing countries. The spread can be quite dramatic, especially as rural people in developing countries gain access to digital telecommunication services that are still far out of the reach of many rural people in North America. However, none of the potential developmental benefits of rural telecommunication systems will be fully realized by the technology of rural telecommunication systems alone. Potential development benefits are realized only when people, including development planners, development beneficiaries, private sector telecommunication providers, technical experts and other stakeholders, work together to plan, implement, use and evaluate both technical infrastructure and the human, organizational and developmental applications of the technology.

    Rural stakeholder engagement

    Current evidence suggests that to achieve sustainability and success, rural telecommunication projects designed to achieve development goals must begin with the real needs of intended beneficiaries (Richardson, 1997). As well, projects that fully involve intended beneficiaries in planning, design and implementation tend to focus less on telecommunication infrastructure and gadgets, and more on basic communication and information applications that meet peoples' needs. This kind of planning approach also yields improvements in the management of telecommunication operations and is directly related to improvement in the revenue received from the rural and urban users of rural telecommunication systems.

    International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reports indicate that if people working in economic and social sectors who have a stake in rural areas (for example, agriculture, health, education and tourism) are partners in supporting rural telecommunication services, then there is a greater likelihood that those services will be profitable and sustainable (Zeitoun, 1997). Engaging rural stakeholders with an interest in rural development (including urban-based non-governmental organizations, government agencies, private sector, churches, the communities themselves, international donor organizations, etc.) in matching development objectives with rural telecommunication opportunities can enable stakeholders to develop specific information and communication applications that serve development objectives. These same telecommunication applications that serve development objectives will increase telecommunication traffic and revenue. "Partnering across sectors at both national and international levels is the wave of the future" (Zeitoun, 1997).

    Rural stakeholders can also provide a means for insuring that telecommunication operators receive support, encouragement and incentives for managing rural telecentres effectively. Where telecentres are managed poorly, rural stakeholders who have been partners in supporting rural telecommunication initiatives will be well placed to report operational and maintenance problems to telecommunication operators and government authorities. Thus, rural stakeholders can become both supporters and informal monitors of system operations. Influential citizens and politicians who have a stake in rural development can provide significant support and informal management advice to help enable telecommunication operators to sustain high levels of rural telecentre service.

    Rural telecommunication initiatives can facilitate stakeholder engagement by providing opportunities for dialogue, exchange of ideas and problem solving prior to the implementation of a telecommunication infrastructure project. An example of such an opportunity would be, a series of simple workshops to assist rural stakeholders in understanding the potential of rural telecentres to support social and economic development. In particular, officials from existing national and regional development projects (government, non-government and international) would be invited to participate in workshops designed to identify specific telecommunication applications that can assist planners, decision-makers, projects officers and rural people in achieving their social development and rural economic development objectives. Ideally, rural telecommunication initiatives will establish an ongoing rural stakeholder advisory group that can assist telecommunication operators to upgrade and enhance rural telecommunication services.

    Ultimately, rural stakeholder engagement helps achieve both development goals and profitability for telecommunication operators: a win-win situation. One component of stakeholder engagement is to enable telecommunication operators to better identify opportunities to target specific client groups with services and marketing initiatives that will increase telecommunication traffic between rural telecentres and national and international callers. For example, at least 70 percent of Teleco Haiti's net revenue is generated from international telecommunication traffic, much of which represents calls between family and friends who are now living in cities such as Montreal, Miami, New York and Paris. International traffic reaching rural telephone centres can be increased by informing international callers of creative methods for enabling them to contact friends and family in rural areas (e.g., "call-me" cards and other forms of calling cards or collect-calling methods). These friends and family members are a key source of capital for village development initiatives in poor countries like Haiti.

    National telecommunication traffic between rural areas and major urban centres can likewise be increased through stakeholder engagement efforts that enable telecommunication providers to inform urban client groups of creative methods for contacting rural areas and vice versa. At the local level, telecentre operators, franchises and their clients can be provided with strategic marketing workshops to enable them to develop marketing plans and follow-through with marketing initiatives that serve the needs of rural clients. This, of course, helps to generate the revenue necessary to sustain and continuously upgrade local telecommunication services. Such workshops will also enable telecommunication operators to clarify procedures to ensure that rural telecentre operators are capable of managing local services effectively.

    Rural telecommunication service operators are usually provided with rather dry technical training, but get little or no training on ways of facilitating and enhancing stakeholder participation. Simple participatory training sessions in collaboration with rural stakeholders can go a long way in sensitizing operators to the needs of their local client groups. This can not only improve service, but can also improve the revenue streams that will sustain the local operator and their equipment. Technical training itself can be improved through the knowledge gained through stakeholder input. Stakeholder participation in the development of technical and service training materials can add a client-centred focus to training programmes. Creative use of participatory video training tools, which include testimonials from rural users and leaders, and involve rural stakeholders in articulating their concerns about proper maintenance and client satisfaction, will help operators to recognize the vital community role they play. Training videos developed using participatory techniques can help generate linguistically and culturally appropriate training content.

    In a project that the author is helping to facilitate in Haiti, for example, rural telecentre maintenance and operation training videos will be developed in the local Creole dialect. These videos will use "star" telecentre operators who have good stakeholder relationships, together with local musicians and other local talent to help ensure audience attention and understanding. Training workbooks will be developed with the assumption that rural telecentre operators have low literacy skills and will include local photographs, graphics, easy-to-understand graphical flow charts and icons. All of these visually oriented training tools will be pre-tested with operators and stakeholders to ensure cultural appropriateness, efficacy and relevance. These same visual aids can be used in developing operation and reporting tools for telecentre management.

    While there is currently a great deal of international donor and government attention and funds focused on the use of rural telecommunication systems for development purposes, the jury is still out on the potential developmental impact of these services. Today, we really have very little available evidence to unequivocally support claims for rural telecommunication systems' developmental benefits. At best, we have many compelling anecdotal reports on specific cases of farmers, health workers, people's organizations, and non-governmental organizations gaining benefits from such services (c.f. Black, 1996).

    We also have far too many stories of donor agencies supporting telecommunication services, especially Internet services, that benefit only elite researchers and institutional officials in developing countries, with little, if any evidence indicating that these services are actually improving the delivery of development programmes or enhancing research that has direct impact on development objectives. The need for research and evaluation of rural telecommunication services for development initiatives is abundantly clear and donor organizations appear to be recognizing this in increasing numbers (c.f. the Bellanet Secretariat (http://www.bellanet.org), but the call for critical research and evaluation must continue. Rural stakeholder input within research and evaluation efforts is of paramount importance.

    Facilitating participation within rural telecommunication initiatives for development

    The value of a stakeholder participation within rural telecommunication systems may be difficult to understand until a person has an opportunity to participate in such an initiative. Telecommunication organizations that do not already have strong community communication and outreach orientations, are prone to scepticism and dismissal of stakeholder participation because they may feel fear(often justifiably) about greater contact with the public and public criticism. This attitude can spell disaster for telecommunication operators that are moving from monopoly service contexts to liberalized and competitive contexts where a client-centred focus makes the difference between profit and bankruptcy.

    If a telecommunication organization is not already functioning with participatory management styles, and a client-centred perspective, there may be little value in introducing stakeholder participation as a communication tool that can optimize communication flow. In liberalized and competitive contexts, new and more nimble operators with client-centred orientations may quickly move in to take the place of old "top-down" and inefficient telecom bureaucracies, no matter how hard those bureaucracies might resist. This is an important factor for facilitators of stakeholder participation to understand. It is necessary for facilitators to spend time in the early days of an initiative in order to get a better understanding of the complex nature of community, organizational and stakeholder politics, as well as leadership personalities and political manoeuvring. If resistance to stakeholder participation is too strong within a particular telecommunication organization, it may be necessary to generate this participation first among stakeholders who can then assist in drawing client-centred telecommunication operators and individual managers into the process.

    The keenest participants in stakeholder engagement processes involving rural telecommunication systems are people and organizations that are pre-disposed to participatory communication and participatory management styles. This conclusion was reached by facilitators during the community organizing effort to establish a low-cost community access Internet system, Wellington County FreeSpace (http://www2.freespace.net), in a rural area of Canada. The facilitators, based at a university, were prompting a vision of a community owned and managed network that would neither be owned nor controlled by the university, but by community organizations. After experiencing frustrations with the lack of leadership, commitment and understanding among telecommunication operators, county government, libraries and school board officials, the facilitators found themselves evaluating prospective partners based not on the extent of their profile in the community, but based on prospective partners' existing record for participatory communication, openness and information sharing within the community.

    The FreeSpace facilitators began holding community information sessions to introduce the community network vision to stakeholders from all corners of the county. Very quickly they noticed that the people and organizations with the most interest and commitment were organizations that were already deeply involved in various aspects of local community development, or providing meaningful local services. Eventually, three key leaders of community organizations came forward to publicly champion the project.

    The champions of the FreeSpace project were people who required only a minimal introduction to community networking, or the technology involved, before determining that such a network would be a tremendous resource for enhancing their work and helping to solve problems in county communication, outreach and information sharing. Their strong commitments to community development and continuous communication with their clients and members was the primary factor in engaging their support. The legitimacy that they brought to the project did what countless hours of "preaching" to county government officials could not. Their profile helped foster broad public attention and bring hesitant community organizations (including county government once the community network began service) in to support the project.

    Experience with FreeSpace and with several other initiatives involving stakeholder participation in establishing and advocating for rural telecommunication systems in developing countries has generated a number of "lessons learned" regarding the facilitation of stakeholder participation. Tracking these "lessons learned" enables us to share these lessons with other advocates and facilitators of rural telecommunication services. The list of "lessons learned" continues to grow and is presented here in its current state - it will continue to grow with experience and continued sharing with others:

    Lesson 1: Start working with community organization leaders who instantly see the benefits of rural telecommunication services. Work with organizational leaders who are pre-disposed to collaborative, open and participatory communication approaches to community development. Do not expend too much time and energy attempting to convince organizational leaders who are pre-disposed to "turf wars," "empire building," and who demonstrate little regard for public participation processes. Their participation will follow, in due time, as rural telecommunication services gain popularity.

    Lesson 2: Real, risk-taking community leadership and advocacy for rural telecommunication systems is not necessarily found within elected bodies, telecommunication operator management and local government bureaucracies where one might normally expect to start looking. We should expect rural telecommunication champions to come from unexpected sectors of local, national and operator leadership.

    Lesson 3: Provide many opportunities for women and young people to actively participate and volunteer their time and energy for practical and identifiable tasks that support rural telecommunication systems. Recognize and reward their efforts at every opportunity, and provide mechanisms to ensure that they can participate in key management or advisory roles.

    Lesson 4: Provide human resource development support for rural telecommunication project management in the areas of project planning, evaluation, monitoring, facilitation of stakeholder participation, and leadership skills.

    Lesson 5: Continuously remind all involved that, at its core, a rural telecommunication service has the dual goals of sustaining itself through revenue generation and supporting rural development.

    Lesson 6: Rural telecommunication systems are unique and should be planned and implemented in unique ways, in consultation with rural stakeholders who best understand local contexts. Large, government initiated, top-down telecommunication systems that provide rural telecommunication services as an afterthought have a high failure rate, are generally unsustainable and can cost large amounts of money.

    Lesson 7: Build an energetic steering committee to assist in infrastructure deployment and stakeholder engagement. Rural telecommunication systems are ultimately about people, not technology. Build a team of enthusiastic proponents who come from diverse backgrounds. Do not stack a steering committee with "techies," or "urban elites." Actively seek people who know more about rural communities than telecommunication systems.

    Lesson 8: Always try to work with people who work with community-minded organizations or community development agencies. Their experience and contacts in the community will help ensure that you will find the resources and support you need. Good organizations with which to begin working include: service clubs, health clinics, churches, educational institutions involved with outreach and continuing education initiatives, libraries and non-governmental organizations involved in economic development. When linked together through improved communication systems, the power of such grassroots organizations can be multiplied by a hundred. At the same time they can use their telecommunication connections to enhance inter-agency collaboration, joint service offerings and joint planning.

    Lesson 9: Use local technical and human resource development expertise whenever possible, and provide necessary training and capacity building where the expertise does not currently exist. The ability to access local technical expertise and local training services will significantly enhance sustainability.

    Lesson 10: Take sustainability seriously rural telecommunication services must find creative ways to generate revenue. Advertising, value-added services, and reselling of network services to government bodies and large organizations are some ways to create the revenue needed to keep the network running. It is also important to recognize that it may be more important to address the sustainability of the improved relationships that rural telecommunication systems help establish, as opposed enhancing only the sustainability of the service itself. By encouraging stakeholders to use rural telecommunication systems to enhance relationships, those relationships will provide the foundations for the sustainability of the system.

    Lesson 11: Community ownership, management and involvement is important. Centralized telecommunication operators would be wise to decentralize rural service and enable the resale or franchise of service areas to local operators, cooperatives or municipal organizations. The more local the operator, the more likely the system will be responsive to user needs and facilitate sustainable revenues.

    Lesson 12: Participatory community management will help a network thrive. Community members need mechanisms for influencing network management, system design, and the development of creative and beneficial applications. Local advisory councils can provide a great deal of support and advice to enable local operators to provide beneficial and profitable services.

    Lesson 13: Provide opportunities for students and young people to learn about the technology and the community development potential of rural telecommunication systems. This too will enhance sustainability and the ability of the rural service to grow to meet needs, while creating new employment opportunities for young people, especially young people living in rural areas.

    Lesson 14: Strategic marketing brings higher revenues, better service and helps reach rural development objectives. Operators that make an effort to understand specific clients and market services that meet their needs will be rewarded with profits.

    Lesson 15: Train volunteers to train new users. Those of us who are used to using telephones may think that using a telephone requires no training. On the contrary, rural people who have had few chances to use a telephone, or a more sophisticated telecommunication application, will very likely require an orientation period to become comfortable with the tool. Community volunteers can assist in training and orienting those who are least comfortable with the tools.

    Lesson 16: Share resources, ideas and lessons learned with other rural telecommunication operators, advocates and supporters. Sharing lessons learned will help other rural telecommunication initiatives to find their feet faster.

    Lesson 17: Enlist the support of "respectable wired elders." Within many nations, regions and organizations, there often exist telecommunication enthusiasts with influence or decision-making authority who, by virtue of age, wisdom and established credibility can lend significant support to specific development initiatives. These are the "respectable wired elders," because, unlike many of their younger peers, their voices and visions can capture the imaginations of "unwired" politicians, funding agency bureaucrats and private sector benefactors. They are often an untapped resource, but their support can add a fantastic boost to a project.

    Lesson 18: Enlist the support of organizations with existing outreach networks and presence in rural communities. These organizations might include agricultural extension services, rural health services, rural and agricultural cooperatives and credit banks, farmers' organizations, rural library systems, rural women's organizations and rural youth organizations.

    Lesson 19: Collaborate with radio, newspapers, and television services, both locally and nationally in order to build momentum and support for rural telecommunication initiatives and rural stakeholder awareness and engagement.

    Lesson 20: Recognize that telecommunication policies seldom contain the elements that actively and effectively enable the creative conditions, ownership models, interconnection agreements, and pricing arrangements that foster rural telecommunication services. Stakeholder engagement is one strategy to help change this if stakeholders can assume policy advocacy roles.

    Conclusion

    Around the world people are working hard to build rural telecommunication systems. We are witnessing a remarkable convergence of private sector and public sector interests. Rural telecommunication ought to be a win-win situation for all involved. Few rural development projects are able to combine private sector profitability with the achievement of rural development objectives. Few rural development projects have the immense communication and knowledge sharing potential of simple telephone services. Communication for development practitioners and rural telecommunication companies and experts have common interests in facilitating rural development. By working together, they can help achieve both profitable and developmentally appropriate rural telecommunication systems.


    References

    Bessette, Guy. 1996. 'Development communication in west and central Africa: toward a research and intervention agenda'. In G .Bessette & C.V. Rajasunderam. "Participatory Communication: A West African Agenda". Ottawa, Canada: Southbound, Penang, Malaysia and the International Development Research Centre. Melkote, S.R. 1991. "Communication for development in the third world: theory and practice". New Delhi. Sage Publications.

    Ramirez, Ricardo and Richardson, Don. 1997. "The global barangay of the 21st century: Philippine barangays (villages) pole-vaulting towards the global village of the 21st. century". Concept paper prepared by the Municipal Telephone Project Office, Department of Transportation and Communication, Government of the Philippines. Manila, Philippines.

    Richardson, Don. 1997. "The Internet and rural and agricultural development: an integrated approach". Communication for development publication series. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    Smillie, Ian. 1991. "Mastering the machine: poverty, aid and technology". London: Intermediate Publications.

    Smolan, R. 1996. "24 hours in cyberspace: painting on the walls of the digital cave". Toronto: Somerville House Publishers (http://www.cyber24.com).

    UNDP. 1996. "Capacity development: lessons of experience and guiding principles". New York: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

    Zeitoun T. 1997. "Development strategies for the use of information and communication technologies in rural and remote areas". Report to the 8th TDAB Meeting, International Telecommunication Union, Geneva.


    To Lessons learned: Communication for sustainable development



    SD Homepage Back to Top FAO Homepage