ICT in a developing context
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CTA. 2002. ICT in a developing context. ICT Update Issue 9. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57602
by Marjon Hagenaars Study the meaning of ´information´ to make ICT meaningful
Study the meaning of ´information´ to make ICT meaningful Information and Communication Technology (ICT) became the backbone of a new era: the information-age. This technology influenced practically all walks of Western life. Developing countries should not stay behind in the adoption of ICT. However, if it is to be implemented as a vehicle in development cooperation, the most legitimate question is how ICT actually will be perceived at the grass root level in less developed countries. Due to socio-cultural aspects like traditions, values, political system, economical developments and institutional relationships, the meaning of a technology can differ from one region to another and even amongst groups of people. Therefore the local context should be studied in order to make ICT work for local people in less developed regions. Case studies in IT: Jamaica and Tanzania Eight months of fieldwork in Jamaica and Tanzania were carried out to analyse the contexts of small-scale farmers in three development projects of the International Institute of Communication and Development (IICD). The projects concern the introduction of ICT in the form of an information-service made available through tele-centres or extension services. ICT supports the provision of marketing and agricultural information by which farmers would become able to improve their social situation. The aim of the fieldwork was to gain insights in the socio-cultural aspects that influence the meaning of ICT for local farmers. Several units of analysis can be differentiated where socio-cultural aspects make ICT adoption everything but a straightforward process. An illustrative example touches the essence of ICT, namely the deconstruction of the notion of ´information´. The different meanings of information In Western societies information has connotations to ´learning´, ´knowledge being power´ and ´development´ or ´progress´. Information contains some kind of value in itself. Reliable information sources in professional terms relate to science, valued thinkers and respected institutions. ICT perfectly thrives in a modern breeding ground in which information needs to be timely, transparent and adequate. The technology matches a mentality in which one is eager to learn and business-oriented. Though in the developing regions under study barely any of those notions referred to the situation in the farming communities. Small-scale farmers in the Jamaican and Tanzanian contexts mainly practice subsistence farming. They do not treat agriculture as a business in Western terms, which reflects on their information-practices. Long-term planning, bookkeeping, time-management and training are not as timely or prioritised. When it comes to information sources a Jamaican farmer tends to rely on an Almanac that directs planting activities by the position of the moon and Tanzanian farmers can consult a witchdoctor for the explanation of a low yield. The local value of certain types of information and ways of retrieving it, result in an attitude of farmers that does not necessarily support the use of ICT according to a Western frame of mind. Due to past extension initiatives and development projects that were tangible-oriented, many Jamaican and Tanzanian farmers are disappointed when they hear that ICT is just about the provision of information. In a tribe where it can even be a disadvantage to have much information, and the use of it for personal progress can lead to social exclusion, it will be problematic for an information technology in a Western format to be adopted. To make ICT valuable for potential users it is necessary to fine-tune the technology and its content to the local context. ICT in less developed countries, as indeed IICD acknowledges, needs to be based in local culture. An understanding of the socio-cultural aspects that influence the meaning of ICT and integration of the local dimensions of information in the project design avoids the introduction of a technology that does not meet the existing practices and reality. Marjon Hagenaars is Research Fellow at the International Institute of Infonomics (http://www.infonomics.nl/ MERIT). She currently carries out a long-term research for http://www.iicd.org IICD.