Themes and Issues in Telecentre Sustainability

Raul Roman and Royal D. Colle


The initiation, diffusion and adoption of the telecentre idea has been an enormously eclectic process, largely devoid of systematic research and planning. The approach has generally been one of pilot projects - trying out models to see what works to achieve a diversity of objectives. In some cases the approach has been simply entrepreneurial, with enterprising business people exploring new opportunities for profit-making.

A range of important issues is linked to the operation and success of telecentres. These include: sustainability, community relevance, government policy, information and communication technology (ICT), research, community partnerships and participation, telecentre objectives, and business planning. Often mentioned but largely undeveloped is the training associated with telecentre management, an issue that relates to all of the issues mentioned.

While each of the issues deserves systematic analysis, this chapter concentrates on sustainability and training. Based on data collected from Australia and South Africa to Hungary and Canada - and from various project documents - we describe some of the strategies being used to sustain telecentres. We put this discussion especially in the context of developing nations because of the intense interest in the early 21st century in incubating telecentres in places where individual connectivity to information access is most problematic.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. What is a telecentre? [part A]
  2. In your own words, summarise the ten themes around telecentre sustainability. [part B]
  3. What are the main obstacles to ICT access in telecentres? What role can training play in addressing these obstacles? [part C]
  4. More than just ICT connectivity needs to be provided if telecentres and similar units are to have a beneficial effect on communities.  What more needs to be provided? [parts A-C] 

Development questions

  1. You live in a small rural community:
    • How could telecentres make life better?
    • How could telecentres make life worse?
    • What aspects of life would they be likely to leave unaffected?
  2. If you had to select just three of the ten themes for telecentre sustainability as the most critical factors, which would you select, and why?
  3. What matters more in sustaining a community ICT initiative: a) national-level factors or community-level factors; b) technology-related factors or people-related factors?
  4. You are planning a community telecentre.  How would you persuade local people to participate in the planning, implementation and operation of that telecentre?
  5. Other than training, how could you address the ICT obstacles described in part C of the paper?