Sunday, October 30, 2005
Technology: ICT, poverty and development
In July I was in Ghana to work with a network on ICT for development called GINKS) and met Janet Kwami, an interesting researcher for the London School of Economics and Political Science. She was involved in an ethnographic study in one urban and one rural location in Ghana, part of a larger research in four countries (Ghana, South Africa, Jamaica and India). I haven't got a hold of the full research, but found one article based upon the research
It talks about the 'communicative ecology', defined as all processes of communication and information flow in a community in Ghana. She found that the most important ICTs in the region are trotros (busses), cars and human bodies, communication flows are channeled by trade (market gatherings), business and family ties. There is considerable expertise in coordinating movements and information by passing along information from person to person (followed by telephone, radio, film and DVD). Introduction of computers and internet should be integrated with the existing local communicative ecology. Eg. radio browsing (where an announcer surfs the net in response to listeners), or teachers sending requests for teaching materials to a computer center by travelling along the road, or laptops which are mobile. So roads, photocopiers and audio-cassettes can become part of the ICT mix. The point is to work with the existing structure rather than trying to restructure communications in terms of a new ICT.
Dr. Don Slater has written about this research in
Sociology Research News He points out that development work is looking for direct impacts and causal links between ICTs and poverty reduction, but he concludes that the most important relations between ICTs and poverty are indirect, contingent, unpredictable and long term.
The most important lesson I draw from this research is the importance of looking at existing patterns of communication, and link/add/build on the existing pattern rather than introduce some new alien media. This is true for CoPs as well as ICT projects. Actually similar to looking for existing informal networks. That means investing sufficient time for analysis before starting to support any CoP.