Using ICT to Strengthen the Voices of the ‘Poor’ Without Asking Who Will Listen

Using ICT to Strengthen the Voices of the ‘Poor’ Without Asking Who Will Listen

Charlotte Scarf (University of Sydney, Australia)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/jep.2012070102
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This paper uses a case study of the ‘Open Knowledge Network’ to explore the political value of ‘information and communication technology for development’ (ICT4D) projects that promote the creation and exchange of ‘local content’ in poor communities. These initiatives are distinguishable from the vast majority of digital content initiatives that aggregate and adapt ‘global content,’ which project implementers consider relevant to the needs of target beneficiaries. They are guided by the assumption that active participation in the Information Society is a crucial component of human development, which is closely tied to citizenship and political agency. From this starting point, ICTs are seen as political vehicles for strengthening the voices of the poor, rather than positioning them as passive recipients of mediated messages from above. This paper argues that the political value of these projects will be limited if they focus too strongly on generating local content without addressing the question of demand.
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Visions Of An Inclusive Information Society

It is widely considered a methodological prerequisite and a critical determinant of success for the intended beneficiaries of development projects to participate in defining and resolving their own problems. The rhetorical emphasis on participation has been particularly strong in the ICT4D field, which emerged in the mid 1990s as a result of high-level commitments by multilateral institutions and donor agencies to support participation by ‘poor’ countries and ‘poor’ people in the Information Society. To support this goal, major donors initially embarked on a concerted effort to close the so-called ‘digital divide’ by increasing Internet accessibility and affordability in developing countries. This was initiated through the creation of telecommunications links, Internet service providers, and public access points or ‘telecenters’ where such facilities were thinly spread or absent. ICT4D projects of this nature still continue, alongside efforts to reform ICT policy environments that frustrate rollout in many countries. Of more interest to this paper however are ICT4D projects that aim to support participation in the Information Society through the creation and exchange of digital content. ‘Digital content initiatives’ are founded on the understanding that connectivity will be meaningless for the world’s poorest people who will find very little information of relevance to their lives and almost nothing in their own language in the absence of a complementary investment in digital content creation.

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