ICT Based Interventions Can Help Reducing Poverty UNESCO Research Report Says
Findings of a comparative research of local initiatives in the use of ICTs for poverty reduction spread across a range of communities in South Asia, including Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and India are now available in a UNESCO publication entitled "Research on ICT Innovations for Poverty Reduction".
"ICT centres are not schools but they are widely understood in relation to and in contrast to school. They are different in approach and learning style, the technologies involve quite different activities and learning processes, and the range of activities and social connections frame ideas of knowledge and information very differently from school contexts. It is precisely this tension which allows them to reconfigure participants' experiences of learning and education." This is one of the many significant findings made in a the study. The publication is an outcome of about two years of rigorous innovation and research.
"When we began this work, we asked ourselves "If technology is the answer, what was the question?" Our investigation has been framed around assessing whether and in what ways and under what circumstances ICTs are a useful tool for poor. As we complete two years of this initiative, the learnings from the research have been many."- says W. Jayaweera, Director of UNESCO's Communication Development Division, in the preface to the book.
"Research on ICT Innovations for Poverty Reduction" presents comparative research findings of local initiatives spread across a series of sites in South Asia. The sites include a range of community media and ICT applications from Uva in Sri Lanka, Tansen in Nepal, Sitakund in Bangaldesh, Baduria and Darjeeling (West Bengal), Seelampur (New Delhi), Budikote (Karnataka) and Chennai, Cuddalore and Kancheepuram (Tamil Nadu) in India.
The initiatives are part of a regional pilot initiative, "ICTs in the Hands of the Poor" supported by UNESCO. They were led by different institutions including NGOs, universities, private companies, media and technology groups in addition to well over a thousand people from host communities.
Ethnographic action research as an approach has been integrated into the project from the outset. The approach seeks out insights into many of the complex issues that surround questions of using ICT to reduce poverty. While the importance of information and communication for poverty reduction is strongly felt, there is little evidence as to how ICT can be used to respond to the needs of the poor in their specific communicative ecologies. This project tries to address this gap with research inputs from all the project sites.
"This kind of responsive and locally relevant research and project development requires considerable investment of time and energy, and required considerable training and support over the past year in order to develop a specific kind of research culture...We have all, in fact, learned an incalculable amount that will feed our future work for many years to come."- say Don Slater and Jo Tacchi, the authors of this book.
The research findings in the book are organised in the following chapters: Introduction; Media Content, Innovation and Use; Poverty; Learning and Education; Empowerment; Social Networks; Embedding ICT Projects in Communities and Conclusion.
Since the issues involved are complex and the research is an ongoing process, it would be too early to have any final say on the solutions. Yet, the findings presented here do provide substantial insights to the relevance of ICTs based interventions for poverty reduction. It discusses the use of ICTs in varied socio-economic contexts, the roles it can play towards reducing poverty and impact it can have on a more overarching process of empowerment.
The publication also makes specific contributions towards understanding the particular cultural and developmental context of South Asia. For instance, there are findings related to how ICTs can be of critical importance - in a context of low education levels and high dropouts from the formal system, in the socio-economic mobility of families and in communities where the patriarchal value system seems to persist. The book is also a very good resource for individuals and projects to attempt this research approach for any other development projects.
As part of a crosscutting theme on the eradication of poverty, especially extreme poverty, UNESCO has lunched a number of pilot initiatives in different locations of South Asia, to innovate and research social and technological strategies to put ICTs to work in the hands of the poor.
Don Slater, Jo Tacchi: Research in ICT Innovations for Poverty Reduction (Editors: Ian Pringle, Savithri Subramanian). - UNESCO: New Delhi, 2004 ISBN-81-89218-01-8
Article contributed by Savithri Subramanian (Sociologist and research coordinator with UNESCO, New Delhi)