View Thread > Development and the Internet > Architecture, Question 1 > Knowledge is Power; 'Access' Alone isn't Enough
First listen to Andrew’s argument regarding the digital divide. (Or read the transcript.)
Then read the ITUs “Istanbul Declaration” from the World Telecommunication Development Conference 2002.
What are your views on the “universal access” debate? Is connecting everyone to the Internet a pressing and immediate priority, especially in developing countries? What are the other legitimate competing concerns that we ought to consider? Are the benefits of achieving universal access worth the costs?
I would say that connecting everyone to the Internet is a pressing and immediate priority. First of all, I think no one argues against the idea that "universal access" is necessary (from different points of view). The question is only when. But, by failing to push it forward, we risk that by the time at which developing countries would enjoy access it would be of no use. One reason is the lack of education in using this technology (some authors call this "second level digital divide"). Another reason is the fact that in order to be useful Internet must provide value to the users. With no access in the developing countries there is no incentive in local content to be created. There is a vicious circle which must be broken. And providing access is the best way to start.
The author unfortunately does not make out his case but proceeds on a presumption. It would have been better if he had made out his case based on more solid grounds.While the lack of intent to push it forward is a commendable observation the author has cared to identify the causes, though it may be debated that education and content canot be treated as part of architecture as the are more or less software needed for functioning of the net. The diagnosis relating to content is commendable .
After the rupture of the Internet bubble—and after serious assessments of ICT program effectiveness by major donor and development organizations, ICT technologies are sensibly no longer assumed to be a magic potion, enabling all countries to leap frog over development barriers in a single bound. (Apologies to Superman.)
Yet there remain areas where practical applications of relatively simple technologies, coupled with thoughtful planning, can be a part of successful programs to both solve pressing development problems such as meeting health and education needs— and foster more widely distributed local employment and income, even for the poorest countries. (Private sector development is increasingly seen as a key to successful development.)
Think of some simple projects that have been successful in the last year or so:
-a program that allowed nurses in S.A. villages access to patient test results, thereby saving one day's travel by the only nurse...
-a program that allowed S. E. Asian women to get rice prices in local markets, allowing them to decide where and whether to go to market
And of course there are other examples...(One good source for research in this area is the www.Development Gateway.org)
What these examples have in common was that the access was provided to DO something that was a means to a valued end (food, health, etc) as determined by the locals rather than being provided as end in and of itself.
Knowledge IS power —and access to the Internet increases access to knowledge.
So I'd argue the following:
-access to the internet by members of a community, with 'community' defined as the smallest local group with which people naturally affiliate, is important; individual access isn't necessarily important
-provision of simple access alone is less likely to bring benefits or be sustainable; access must (at least initially) be presented for a purpose: to solve locally felt problems; to put it more simple, the access must be context-driven.
-access to the Internet, where it is for a locally valuable purpose, will drive people to learn and use technology. (This is a guiding principle of adult learning and has been proven by various development projects.)
-this contextual access often creates that very same virtuous circle of use/new ideas/use that has been a hallmark of innovation worldwide
Now to go a bit further, I also want to argue that results-focused projects that provide a more swift return on investment can --and should-- be twinned with longer term efforts (e-gov, e-commerce, etc). It should not be a case of choosing one type of effort over another.
By implementing initiatives in both long-term and short-term ICT projects, governments, businesses and NGOs can see a more immediate validation for the significant time and dollars that they have invested in building the ICT infrastructure.
In addition, successes as a result of near-term efforts are morale boosting models of local success to which others can aspire. And these efforts can be a source of inspiration as well—providing valuable feedback to citizens and government about the rewards and possibilities inherent in ICT, thereby perhaps encouraging people and organizations to participate more fully in long-term projects that will help them develop their society.
So yes: access now to internet know-how! ; -)
But projects need to be well-though out and developed contextually; otherwise they can result in expenditures that enrich consultants but do nothing to assist impoverished locals.
Hello, I think this is very interesting -- better late than never I hope (for my joining and for internet access).
The observation that "access to the internet by members of a community, with 'community' defined as the smallest local group with which people naturally affiliate, is important; individual access isn't necessarily important" is a key insight with a double impact: it will encourage equitable access and promote durability of the resource.
Encouraging equitable access is very difficult for an outsider in a development situation. There are internal politics in any group that are by definition opaque to other people. This is true especially of communities in developing world where the culture may be vastly different, the people have been living together for their whole lives, and the standards of living are much different from the "developers".
Equitable access is essentially equivalent to giving access to the people who are most likely to want access, and the people who are most likely to benefit from the access. Yet due to the opaque politics it would be rash to assume that an outsider can determine who these people are.
It is a basic principle of democracy that mass decisions are better than individual decisions, however flawed they may be in individual situations. The same situation is true here. The people who can best make that judgment of access are all the people in the community.
Not only will a community make better decisions about who to give access too, it will also be more likely to make sustainable or durable use of the access resources. With a community a multitude of uses of the access will emerge due to the many people involved in it's use. There can be specialization in the community into different aspects of use - maintenance of the equipment, production of content, browsing of news in different fields of interest, communicating with different groups in the outside world. The internet is a multifaceted resource, that no one person can make full use of. Many individuals will each approach it in a different way. With all of these different motivations there is an increased likelihood that when the time comes for the resource to be repaired, improved, maintained, in other words, sustained, there will be more people who are invested in sustaining it. This will dramatically increase both the chance it will be sustained as well as the diversity of improvements that may even build on the resources.