telecentre.org is closely collaborating with the Center for Information & Society (CIS) at the University of Washington (UW) in managing a large global project that aims to assess systematically the impact of publicly accessible venues to ICTs in developing and emerging countries. This project, co-funded by IDRC and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recently completed its first phase in which the project generated an inventory and taxonomy of telecentre venues, as well as a series of findings based on an extensive literature review and exploratory field studies undertaken by country research teams in Bangladesh, Chile and Lithuania.
Developing the taxonomy system was a major activity during the first phase of the project. Subsequently, administrative data were collected in the three pilot countries to build an inventory of public access venues and an online data repository and visualization tool was created for storage of the research data, as well as to facilitate data accessibility for researchers. The other major component of the first phase, namely the literature review, provided some interesting findings. In general it was found that most of the literature leans toward formative (process) evaluation as opposed to summative (impact) evaluations. As well, several reports that claim to be examining impacts in reality present data and conclusions on venue access and use patterns. Most importantly, studies to date have not established a clear link between public access to ICTs and socioeconomic change/impacts. Thus, while researchers are beginning to go beyond anecdotal evidence of public access impacts on end-users, they are still limited in their ability to make definitive statements about impacts. There is a trend toward the view that the impacts of public access to ICTs are so highly tied to contexts that generalization may be impractical.
The second phase of the project, commencing in early 2009, represents a logical shift from planning to implementation mode. The objectives for this phase include generating evidence and a sound body of knowledge on the magnitude of social and economic benefits of public access ICT; developing a clear picture of the costs involved in providing public access; conducting outreach to governments and key decision-makers who are interested in maximizing the benefits of investments in public access to ICT; and establishing a dynamic network of researchers with greater capacity to carry forward research on questions raised by this project. In order to address these objectives the project will undertake national level surveys of public access facilities, local level venue and population surveys and will begin field research based around six in-depth probes. The probes will look at the effect of public access on: the local information ecology; the mobile nexus; end-user sharing of experience, space and expertise; the roles, impacts and services provided by info-mediaries; and the impact of non-instrumental uses on users’ technological skills. A final probe will study the life-cycle of public access venues.
The second phase of the project also includes a comprehensive capacity strengthening. In conjunction with IDRC the project team will develop mechanisms to facilitate linkages and knowledge exchange with the Global Library (GL) grantee impact assessment teams. The objective of this portion of the project is to exchange tools, methods and lessons from each initiative with all members of the project including field researchers in the case study countries. Additionally, greater cooperation between former Research Working Group members and the various research teams will contribute to research capacity strengthening within the research teams as well as the countries in which research activities are conducted. A final significant development in the project design is the exploration of an open research model. If this model is adopted it could possibly extend to the project data, instruments as well as the published findings.