Friday, 24 December 2010

Telecentres are dead?

This question was echoed in the corridors at University of London, during ICTD2010 (Dec. 2010).

Why?

  • None of the 55 research papers affiliated with telecentres. (though one captured Kiosk Operator)
  • None of the 20+ workshops affiliated with telecentres 
  • Progressive domain themes did include PC, mobile, video, radio, network etc. but not telecentres. 
  • There were several telecentre activists representing Africa, Middle East & South Asia, but none had a dedicated telecentre platform to share their voice and telecentre sector experience . 
  • Donors (IDRC, SDC, Microsoft etc.) who used to amplify the telecentre voices were not keen to take up telecentre topic, instead they were busy with emerging new topics.
Does this mean telecentres are dead? Probably sector is moving forward, and looking beyond (as one and only telecentre affiliated paper titled): Looking Beyond 'Information Provision': The Importance of Being a Kiosk Operator in the Sustainable Access in Rural India by Janaki Srinivasan (see my next blog for Sri Lanka experience).

7 comments:

  1. .

    Telecentres are dead?

    OR

    Telecentres were killed

    .

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi,
    no, I am sure telecentres are not dead! We estimate 100,000 in Europe, with 30,000 of them within our our network alone, while Telecentre.org estimates 200,000 globally. Microsoft are still strong supporters of telecentres across the world. Last year our Get Online Day campaign reach 68,000 people, this year we are hoping to target over 100,000.

    It depends who you talk to as to the answer you will get... but for me they are alive, kicking and performing an absolutely invaluable role in society

    Ian Clifford
    www.Telecentre-Europe.org

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Harsha , you raised an important point here. Let me add some comments about it.

    Some time ago, Kentaro Toyama, a very well respected researcher, published a rather sceptical article here http://www.bostonreview.net/BR35.6/toyama.php on the capacity of ICT4D, and in particular telecentres, to have impact in poverty reduction.
    Kentaro made some good points in terms of a techno centered optimism within a part of the international ICT4D community (if such a thing exists...) more focused on the devices that the effects. But I think he misses a couple of important points.
    The most advanced and accurate efforts on this field (and I have in mind many players, including IDRC ) have very little to do -at least during the last 5 years- with scaling up technologies or assuming those have the capacity "per se" to generate development and end poverty. On the contrary, most of the work has to do with exactly the opposite: interrogate political, cultural, legal and economic frameworks in order to better understand where and how impacts occur. This is not independent to the fact that most of the researchers and champions doesn't come from the side of informatics but social and economic sciences. I think to characterize ICT4D as field who believes on technology as a substitute of human capacity to achieve development is inaccurate and unfair, the same way it would be inexact to picture public health as a domain that looks at pills as the only way to end diseases.
    On the specific domain of public access and telecentres, that Kentaro particularly associates with the failure of the ICT4D field, I think IDRC shows a new direction assumed long time ago, since telecentre.org was launched in 2005. Not only because it assumed as a key element of the diagnostic that traditional telecentre approaches were not successful (socially nor financially), but also by focusing efforts in tackling key elements on Kentaro’ s "laundry list": building capacity among operators, redefine services, explore different sustainability models, create social capital locally and globally to support those efforts.
    Based on the reality of the ICT4D landscape, rather than in ideal, top down designed responses, a question could be: what would be the solution for the 200,000 + telecentres already existing out there? Would you close them, because they are underperforming? If so, would you do the same with underperforming schools? Or would you try to raise their game by leading the appropriate sort of interventions? At the end, I think all depends on how much do you believe on human capacity to lead their own changes and make the difference. May be because my experience is mostly related to Latin America, a more politicized environment in many ways, I strongly believe innovative social change can' t be the result of social engineering. You can intervene, but certainly not control the result nor dictate what is an appropriate use of technology in developing contexts. In other words, if young men and women in Iran needed to spend hours on youtube, playing games and texting as a way to be more prepared when it comes to use social medias to accuse electoral fraud, then welcome youtube kittens and Anngry Birds!

    Saludos

    Floro

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi harsha , you raised an important point here. Let me add some comments about it.

    Some time ago, Kentaro Toyama, a very well respected researcher, published a rather sceptical article here http://www.bostonreview.net/BR35.6/toyama.php on the capacity of ICT4D, and in particular telecentres, to have impact in poverty reduction.
    Kentaro made some good points in terms of a techno centered optimism within a part of the international ICT4D community (if such a thing exists...) more focused on the devices that the effects. But I think he misses a couple of important points.
    The most advanced and accurate efforts on this field (and I have in mind many players, including IDRC ) have very little to do -at least during the last 5 years- with scaling up technologies or assuming those have the capacity "per se" to generate development and end poverty. On the contrary, most of the work has to do with exactly the opposite: interrogate political, cultural, legal and economic frameworks in order to better understand where and how impacts occur. This is not independent to the fact that most of the researchers and champions doesn't come from the side of informatics but social and economic sciences. I think to characterize ICT4D as field who believes on technology as a substitute of human capacity to achieve development is inaccurate and unfair, the same way it would be inexact to picture public health as a domain that looks at pills as the only way to end diseases.
    On the specific domain of public access and telecentres, that Kentaro particularly associates with the failure of the ICT4D field, I think IDRC shows a new direction assumed long time ago, since telecentre.org was launched in 2005. Not only because it assumed as a key element of the diagnostic that traditional telecentre approaches were not successful (socially nor financially), but also by focusing efforts in tackling key elements on Kentaro’ s "laundry list": building capacity among operators, redefine services, explore different sustainability models, create social capital locally and globally to support those efforts.
    Based on the reality of the ICT4D landscape, rather than in ideal, top down designed responses, a question could be: what would be the solution for the 200,000 + telecentres already existing out there? Would you close them, because they are underperforming? If so, would you do the same with underperforming schools? Or would you try to raise their game by leading the appropriate sort of interventions? At the end, I think all depends on how much do you believe on human capacity to lead their own changes and make the difference. May be because my experience is mostly related to Latin America, a more politicized environment in many ways, I strongly believe innovative social change can' t be the result of social engineering. You can intervene, but certainly not control the result nor dictate what is an appropriate use of technology in developing contexts. In other words, if young men and women in Iran needed to spend hours on youtube, playing games and texting as a way to be more prepared when it comes to use social medias to accuse electoral fraud, then welcome youtube kittens and Anngry Birds!

    Saludos

    Floro

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Floro, Ian and Sameera,

    Very interesting comments, and I almost had a urge to jot down to say " telecentres are not dead".
    But then I understood that we have to face the reality. The reality of how people use technology. The cliched "mobile" has gone extra mile in the case of youth. In Sri Lanka, my experience from 2006, mostly involved youth. And at present they are vibrant with "mobiles" in hand. Frankly they inspired me to buy a iPOD, cos I felt I was getting outdated :)

    With that said, telecentres are sick. Yes, i would put like that. It needs some medication, specifically an entrepreneurial injection. This is the learning I ve had, and fusion is happy with its graduation from capacity building to "marketing training", services provision to " product development to telecentres". http://www.fusion.lk/?p=147

    I would envision supporting a entrepreneurial infrastructure for telecentres as the next step. I am afraid, with out it, telecentres will be dead.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi,

    Well,I think it hasn't dead yet but it will be as long as telecetre operators will not concern to be entrepreneurs.According to my experience in Sri lanka from 2008 to up to now, we are working with around 60 telecenters for Fusion education & what I see behind their sustainability is, entrepreneurship & the telecentres who will not concern about this seriously, will be dropping down.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you for all your comments. I am sure (from my own observations at Sri Lanka), they are there, as a product of the past investments (IDRC, World Bank and all the rest). Some (a little number, eg. less than 100 out of 600 in Sri Lanka) are vibrant. But, are we heading to the future (of ICT4D) or trying to live in the past? Can the traditional telecentre model be an incubator for the latest tools of ICT technology? I love to learn.....!

    ReplyDelete

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