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Global Development Institute

Deconstructing Community Participation in Telecentre Projects

Savita Bailur

Abstract

This paper critiques the assumed link that telecentre literature makes between community participation and telecentre success.  Several authors (Colle, 2005; Colle and Roman, 2001; Kanungo, 2003, 2004; Whyte, 1999, 2000) call for community participation in telecentre projects, stating that this will make the telecentre more sustainable, but with no further detail on what is meant by the terms “community” or “participation”.  The emphasis on participation is traced back to stakeholder involvement as a measure of a successful project in the fields of both information systems and international development.

However, critics in both fields also emphasize that there is no simple causality between participation and success.  This paper finds that a) the notion of a “community” in telecentre literature is problematic, b) stakeholder analysis may be suggested as a part of an interpretive evaluation but is difficult to enact, and c) if these stakeholders are identified, there is no hard evidence that their participation will lead to greater telecentre success.  The paper therefore calls for more research on the notion of community participation and telecentres, and asks that telecentre policy-makers and implementers treat this causality in more complex terms than at present.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. What are the main perspectives on the impact of telecentres? [Part A]
  2. What are the complexities/challenges underlying key concepts such as "community" [Part B], " evaluation" [Part C], "stakeholder" [Part D], "participation" [Part E] [plus Part F for all]

Development questions

  1. How would you define participation in telecentre projects?
  2. Do you think community participation leads to telecentre success? Can you find any examples to support your argument?
  3. Is participation a paradoxical notion? That is, participation implies someone else “owns” the project. Should we be talking about ownership instead of participation? Or is participation a worthwhile and more realistic notion, given that telecentre implementers are likely to have more technical and managerial expertise than community members?
  4. Imagine you are in charge of a proposed telecentre project. How would you try to ensure its success?