A research handbook to assess the potential role of ICT in poverty reduction is now available as a UNESCO project publication. The handbook, entitled "Ethnographic Action Research" was produced through the experiences of nine project sites established by UNESCO in South Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka) under the project "Putting ICTs in the Hands of the Poor".
"A need for an effective research methodology based on actual project experiences of ICT usage has been a vital requirement to understand the potentials impact of ICT in poverty reduction efforts" says Wijayananda Jayaweera, Director of UNESCO's Communication Development Division.
Largely based on the field notes of local research workers, the methodology was developed with the expertise from the Creative Industries Research and Application Center of Queensland, University of Technology in Australia and the London School of Economics, UK.
The UNESCO established project sites cover a range of poor individuals and communities in a variety of technology mixes. Each one has a different social and technological access model that aim to addresses both the root cause of poverty and barriers to ICT usage by poor. A trained research worker in each site feeds the research findings regularly to the project to ensure the adaptability of the access model to suit the evolving usage needs. Working with parallel UNESCO initiatives, nine project sites are operated in partnership with NGOs, governments, universities, private companies, media and technology groups as well as poor women, youth and their families. Given below is a brief description of each project site whose unique experiences provided the basis for the ethnographic action research approach described in the handbook.
Namma Dhwani Local ICT Network (Budikote, Kolar District, Karnataka, India) combines a radio studio, an audio cable network that delivers radio to local households, and a telecentre with computers, internet connectivity and other multimedia tools. It is run by and centred on a network of women's self-help groups (SHG) and linked to a government school and a local development resource centre. Daily community radio programming addresses local information and communication needs, drawing on a variety of multimedia resources, like websites and CD-ROMs.
Empowering Resource Poor Women to Use ICT (Chennai, Kancheepuram and Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu, India) has put computers with internet connectivity into the homes of women's self-help group (SHG) members. In rural, urban and semi-urban areas, women and their SHG networks are using ICTs in familiar, empowering spaces with content developed specifically to meet their needs. Particular attention is given to income generating activities and the need for innovation product development and marketing.
ICT Learning Centre for Women (Seelampur, New Delhi, India) is an open learning centre for girls and women located at an innercity madarsa (Islamic school) in a high-density, low-income area of New Delhi. Interactive multimedia content is developed and used to support vocational and life-skills training, to provide rights-based information to poor girls and women and to build their awareness of health issues and livelihood opportunities.
Nabanna: Networking Rural Women and Knowledge (Baduria, North 24 Parganas District, West Bengal, India) ses grassroots processes to build information-sharing networks among low-income, rural women. Networking is done face-to-face through regular meetings as well as being web- and print-based, linking women and their groups from different parts of this geographically distinct municipality. Focus areas include agriculture, environment, health, sanitation, family planning, education, literacy and law.
Darjeeling Himalayan Internet Railway (Darjeeling, West Bengal, India) established community ICT centres at stations along the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR). The network offers secure, central and easy computers and internet access to people living below the poverty line in communities close to the railway. The DHR is a historical focal point for the area and is being promoted as a potential information highway and renewed stimulator for development.
Youth-Led Digital Opportunities (Sitakund, Chittagong District, Bangladesh) established a rural ICT centre and linked it to a grassroots youth development network that works to address root causes of poverty and key areas of social and economic development. It promotes the empowerment of marginalised youth through ICT skills training, access to computer, internet and other multimedia facilities.
Tansen Community Media Centre (Tansen, Palpa District, Nepal) works with local youth from poor families and marginalised groups, training them in TV production and the use of ICTs. The centre is made up of a TV production studio and an ICT access centre. A 'TV Browsing the Internet' show and other local programming is distributed through local cable TV networks to some 1000 households.
Jakar Community Multimedia Centre (Jakar, Bhutan) is part of a remote Bhutan Broadcasting Service production station in Jakar. Local TV and radio production feeds into the national broadcast system, allowing for increased level of content from isolated rural areas. High-speed connectivity offers the local population access to new online services, like e-mail and e-post, and new resources.
Uva Community Media Network (Uva Province, Sri Lanka) uses a combination of radio and new ICTs as a way to facilitate responsive development and governance on a province-wide basis. A series of ICT centres and a large network of grassroots knowledge societies feed into radio networks, including the new Uva community radio station.
This handbook was developed for the researchers attached to the nine projects and has been adapted and refined as a result of lessons learned through working with those researchers and through their valuable feedback. Examples and illustrations used throughout this handbook are drawn from the work of those researchers, and our efforts in training and supporting them. The methodology, while developed largely through its application in the UNESCO programme, is transferable. It is hoped that the handbook will enable other ICT projects to become more effective through the adoption of ethnographic action research.
The next project publication will be on interim findings based on "Ethnographic Action Research" , which will be discussed in a consultation meeting between the expert researchers and the project workers to be held in New Delhi, India, from 1-4 December.