Proyecto OLISTICA

ASSESSING ICT EFFORTS IN MARGINALIZED REGIONS FROM A CRITICAL SOCIAL VIEWPOINT

 LEARNING FROM THE CASE OF LINCOS

 

 
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ABSTRACT

 

Information and communication technologies have become major players on the development arena. ICT strategies are now incorporated into the programs of most foreign aid agencies and a large quantity of NGO’s is focusing on the issue of information technology. Governments of economically weak countries who do not wish to appear as lagging behind are readily joining in and so, with the help of development banks and multinational companies in the lookout for new markets, the new technologies are spread to all corners of the world.

 

In the intellectual arena, many are those who want to contribute with a critical understanding of what this technological “revolution” brings to the population of the world, not least to its marginalized regions and inhabitants, and not seldom in terms of neocolonialism, techno-imperialism and new forms of oppression and dependence. Dominating the discourse in the field, however, and mainly representing business and financial institutes, or governments and organizations in cooperation with these, are the technocrats, preaching the gospel of information technology and the healing powers of the computer. It is also out of the modernist and technologically determinist approach of these forces that most existing models for the assessment of ICT activities in economically weak regions spring. Left behind is the creation of tools and agendas for marginalized people to evaluate and respond to the current developings, and build a concept of what they mean to them.

 

This study presents an introductory contribution to the creation of a framework for the assessment of ICT efforts in marginalized regions from a critical social viewpoint. The study departs in an examination of typical approaches to ICT in the development context. This discussion proposes a critical approach that expands the concept of social aspects of technology, aiming at an interpretation that goes beyond not only the dominant understanding but also that of many alternative forces. In the light of this discussion, traditional ways of assessing ICT efforts in economically weak regions are taken into critical examination. It is argued that the dominant way of viewing and appreciating ICT in the development context, as represented by existing assessment models, is neglecting aspects of fundamental social relevance and the need to create an alternative framework is recognized. In order to give support to such a critical approach, a theoretical discussion follows, which treats the social dimensions of technology, focusing particularly on the development context, and draws on critical thinking from relevant fields. During the course of this discussion, attention is drawn to suggested investigational “themes” to be included in critical assessment models. A case study of an actual “ICT-for-development” effort – the Lincos Project in the Dominican Republic – follows, in which the applicability and relevance of the suggested themes is investigated and illustrated. The expectation of the author is that this work can serve as a platform for further elaboration of a framework for ICT assessment from a critical social viewpoint, eventually resulting in assessment models to be used in the field.


A CRITICAL APPROACH

 

-        QUESTIONS THE CONVENTIONAL

-        POLITICIZES THE SEEMINGLY UNPOLITICAL

-        REVEALS CONFLICTS

-        UNMASKS OPPRESIVE PRACTICE

-        SEEKS AN OPEN DISCOURSE

-        AVOIDS AUTHORITARIAN “TRUTHS”

-        TRACES BROADER STRUCTURES IN THE LOCAL SITUATION

-        CAN NEVER BE “OBJECTIVE SCIENCE”

-        IS GUIDED BY A TRANSFORMATIVE VISION

-        CREATES NEW CONCEPTS, STIMULATES NEW PRACTICE

-        EMBRACES AUTONOMY, COOPERATION, SOLIDARITY, STIMULATION, DEMOCRACY AND FREEDOM

 

SOME CRITICAL INFLUENCES OF THIS STUDY:

RAWNEHMA & BAWTREE: THE POST-DEVELOPMENT READER -- ARTURO ESCOBAR: ENCOUNTERING DEVELOPMENT & WELCOME TO CYBERIA -- DAHMS & RAMOS: DEVELOPMENT FROM WITHIN: ON COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT, GENDER & ICT -- PELLE EHN: WORK-ORIENTED DESIGN OF COMPUTER ARTIFACTS -- ANDREW FEENBERG: TRANSFORMING TECHNOLOGY -- BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: TECHNOLOGICAL DRAMAS -- HERBERT MARCUSE: SOME SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY

 

THE PROBLEM

ICTs ARE SPREADING TO MARGINALIZED REGIONS AT HIGH PACE. TOOLS FOR ANALYZING THE PROCESSES INVOLVED SPRING OUT OF BUSINESS & AUTHORITIES, AND ARE STRUCK BY A MODERNIST WORLDVIEW AND TECHNOLOGICAL DETERMINISM.

 

THE APPROACHES TO ICT-FOR-DEVELOPMENT

THE DOMINANT ONE: IS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY & THE MACHINES, NEGLECTS SOCIAL ISSUES

THE ALTERNATIVE ONE: HAS A SOCIAL FOCUS BUT LACKS POLITICAL INSIGHT, ON DEVELOPMENT AS WELL AS TECHNOLOGY

THE CRITICAL ONE: IS VERY MARGINAL, BUT CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON DEVELOPMENT AND CRITICAL TRADITIONS OF TECHNOLOGY PROVIDE A PLAUSIBLE PLATFORM

 

THE MISSION

BUILD A FRAMEWORK FOR THE ASSESSMENT OF ICT EFFORTS IN MARGINALIZED REGIONS FROM A CRITICAL SOCIAL VIEWPOINT. DEMONSTRATE ITS RELEVANCE IN AN ACTUAL ICT-FOR-DEVELOPMENT SITUATION.

 

THE LIMITATIONS

THE FRAMEWORK WILL NOT BE A STRUCTURED ASSESSMENT MODEL, BUT AN ENTRY POINT FOR THE ELABORATION OF SUCH MODELS.


 

SUPPORTING THE CRITICAL FRAMEWORK – A MODEL OF THE SOCIAL DIMENSIONS OF TECHNOLOGY (NOT TO DEPICT “REALITY” BUT TO ENABLE REFLECTION & DISCUSSION)

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CASE OF LINCOS

 

 

-         A PROJECT INITIATED BY ENTEBBE, A COSTA RICAN BUSINESS-ORIENTED NGO IN COOPERATION WITH, AMONG OTHERS, MICROSOFT, HP, MIT & HARVARD UNIVERSITY

-         THE IDEA IS TO DISTRIBUTE MULTI-APPLICATION ICT CENTERS TO MARGINALIZED REGIONS

-         THE CONCEPT IS TO ACCOMMODATE THE CENTERS IN INDUSTRIAL CONTAINERS

-         THE GOVERNMENT OF THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC HAVE SIGNED A CONTRACT FOR 30 UNITS. AFTER BUILDING FIVE, THEY ABANDONED THE CONTAINER CONCEPT FOR ORDINARY BUILDINGS, TEN ARE BUILT SO FAR

-         EACH CENTER HAS A HOST OF TECHNOLOGIES; COMPUTERS, CAMERAS, TELEPHONES, A FAX MACHINE, A RADIO TRANSMITTER, A TELEMEDICINE KIT, A TOOL FOR WATER & SOIL ANALYSIS, TELEVISION SETS, PLUS MORE

-        ACCORDING TO THE LINCOS WEB PAGE, THE PROJECT IS NOT ONLY PIONEERING BUT ALSO HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL

 

 

LINCOS FROM A CRITICAL SOCIAL VIEWPOINT

Some examples of how the critical framework may be applied

 

 The Lincos container is the obvious example of how a design solution imposes certain social behavior on its users. The limited space offered by these containers prevents people from accessing them, and in some cases causes the technology to be left entirely unused. Its material and its lack of a/c and ventilation have similar effects (producing an unbearable heat) and the same goes for the inadequate electricity solution. For the people of the communities, the design is disastrous. For other persons, the same design may be conceived as suc-cessful, particularly for the Lincos officials who view it as a valuable marketing concept, signaling modernity and innova-tiveness. “They have their reality, we have ours”, one of the staff members currently on strike commented appositely, referring to those responsible of the design of the container.

The design of the container and its consequent social implications for users may be interpreted in political terms. One understanding is that the interest of the Lincos officials, eager to accomplish a marketable product, has taken precedence over the interest of the community members. As the dominant force in the development of the project and its tech-nologies, the visions of Entebbe and the government have been favored, at the cost of the interests of the community.

The organization of the Lincos project has not only excluded users from participating on any level of the design process, it has also disallowed them to take part in the planning and introduction of the project, failed to provide a structure for evaluation and totally neglected the local knowledge and situation. To the limited extent that community members have been involved, membership has been biased towards the already powerful and users have not been included. The design team, practicing in another country – not paying visits to the communities at all, let alone sharing their everyday life – has had the sole right in both defining the problems and working out the solutions, which have been of similar appearance and subsequently applied in an equal fashion in all the communities. The social consequences of these conditions are at the same time both obvious and serious. Out of a host of expensive technologies, only a handful are used to a reasonable extent. Since the development of the technology has not formed part of strategies in line with community members own visions, and since decision making has taken place above their heads, people in general do not feel affiliated with the project and express indifference or, as in the case of some staff members, even frustration towards the project. One of many issues regarding usage is the level of community autonomy. My impress-sion from the Lincos case is that the Lincos management tends to give responsibility to the individual centers while at the same time restraining their potential for self-reliance. Lincos marketing stresses that it is up to the community to make the most of their Linco, yet they are hardly given any resources to do so. After salaries have been paid, there is seldom anything left of the monthly-allocated amount. Lincos staff members testified that they sometimes had to wait up to two weeks before being able to purchase such things as paper. Money is not the main trouble however. Most of the sites I visited experienced problems with their technologies. At one center, the Internet connection had been gone for a month, at another one the tele-phone had never worked and at several of them there were problems with the computers. When faced with broken machines, the Lincos staff is often helpless because of the malfunctioning communication between them and the central office. When I paid a visit to one of the centers, they had not had any contact with the Lincos officials for three months. One of the staff members told me that “[the computers] all have problems[…]. But we don’t have any resources to fix them and we can’t get a technician to come here and fix them[...]”

 

 

 

SO WHAT?

 

-        THIS IS A FRAMEWORK, NOT A STRUCTURED ASSESSMENT MODEL

 

-        HOPEFULLY, THIS FRAMEWORK CAN SERVE AS A FOUNDATION FOR THE ELABORATION OF ASSESSMENT MODELS BASED ON A CRITICAL SOCIAL PERSPECTIVE

 

-        CRITICAL ASSESSMENT MODELS WOULD BE AN ALTERNATIVE TO CONVENTIONAL ONES

 

-        THE PURPOSE OF SUCH MODELS: TO ASSIST CRITICALLY MINDED ACTORS IN DISCUSSING, REFLECTING UPON AND COMPREHENDING THE SOCIAL DIMENSIONS INVOLVED IN ANY ICT EXPERIENCE

 

-        NOT WELL-ORDERED PROTOCOLS FOR SCHEMATIC JUDGMENT, BUT ORIENTATION MAPS TO BE CONSULTED FOR A MORE THOROUGH, YET STRUCTURED, APPREHENSION


PHOTOGRAPHIES:

 

1.              LINCOS CONTAINER, EL LIMÓN

2.              LINCOS CONTAINER, OVIEDO

3.              YOUNG MAN IN LINCOS CONTAINER, OVIEDO

4.              TRANSMITTING RADIO FROM CONTAINER, OVIEDO

5.              WORKER ON STRIKE DEMONSTRATES CONTAINER, BOHECHÍO

6.              INSIDE LINCOS BUILDING, RESTAURACIÓN

7.              GIVING CLASSES TO HEALTH PROMOTERS, RESTAURACIÓN

8.              LINCOS BUILDING, RIO LIMPIO

9.              LINCOS BUILDING, RESTAURACIÓN

WATCHING RECORDED WEDDING, RESTAURACIÓN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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http://www.funredes.org/olistica/documentos/manne/
Creado: 27/06/2003
Actualizado: 27/06/2003
Contacto: webolistica@funredes.org