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Themes and Issues in Telecentre Sustainability

Connectivity as the physical availability of information and communication technologies and access as the economic, sociological and psychological factors that influence persons’ opportunities to use the technologies..

Much of the attention regarding ICTs and telecentres deals with connectivity and claim that the sustainability of telecentres depends on recognizing the dimensions of access...

A telecentre as a public place where people can get a variety of communication services, and where a major part of the operators’ purpose is to benefit the community...

After a brief parenthesis on the history of telecentres they list the three assumptions underpinning the telecentre movement:

1.       Appropriate information can contribute significantly to development.

2.       ICTs provide an important and potentially economical way for people to access that information.

3.       Telecentres are a viable way to link communities with the information and communication technologies.

Then, they propone 10 themes to achieve sustainability:

  1. The power of a national commitment by policy-makers who recognize the value of connecting the people of the country through the modern tools of the Information Society, and follow that commitment with funding and organizational support for multi-year programs.
  2. The importance of partnerships in translating national policy into action through governmental and non-governmental bodies at the regional and local levels.
  3. The value of having local “champions” (innovators) who can mobilize others (early adopters, opinion leaders) to accept the vision of an ICT telecentre program.
  4. The significant value of community volunteers in operating telecentres.
  5. The advantages of clusters or networks of telecentres working together in a region to develop and share a variety of resources.
  6. The importance of raising awareness about information and ICTs as a valuable resource for individuals, families, organizations and communities.
  7. The role of research in creating a viable telecentre enterprise.
  8. Telecentres need long term sustainability and business plans that fit the culture of the community.
  9. Focusing on information services rather than on computers and the Internet alone to build a local institution more fully woven into the fabric of the community, with a larger base for generating income.
  10. Participation as an important goal that requires a strategic approach.

Going on, the paper present 7 major obstacles to access:

  1. Literacy
  2. Relevance
  3. The culture of information
  4. The cost of information
  5. Technophobia
  6. Complexity of ICT protocols
  7. Power

They, then, stress the role of appropriate staff training to face the access issue:  training for telecentre staff has, to a large extent, focused particularly on operating the hardware and software of computers and networks. Yet training is the key to reaching out to the community and strategically building a clientele that can make a telecentre demand-driven. Skills like needs analysis techniques, marketing, methods for training  the community, production of software and “value-added” practices address the kinds of access issues discussed earlier...

And, finally, they provide a systemic view of what a telecentre is:

Telecentres are systemic entities composed of interrelated elements, including: research (feasibility studies, needs analysis, evaluation), organisational planning (for example, clarification of telecentre goals and objectives), the challenges of sustainability, community social structure and demographics, capacity-building (regarding both the community and the telecentre), partnerships, participation and staffing, and various other elements. Each element is linked in some important way with each other element...

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