By Charlotte Gunnarsson
Participation of people in development programs as well as the use and design of information systems (IS) have been stressed both by development theorists and IS researchers to boost efficiency of development programs and IS projects, separately. The theme of partaking becomes gradually important in the modern situation where development projects in third world countries are being included with ICTs, information and communication technologies, for example in the domain of e-governance (Krishna & Walsham, 2005; Bhatnagar & Schware, 2000; Warschauer, 2003a). The growing use of ICTs in developmental contexts is motivated by the intentions of refining and simplifying governance, indoctrinating transparency, and eliminating the historically present legacy of ineffective and immoral systems and governmental controls (Goswami, 2002; Singh, 1999). However, there are numerous contextual alterations in implicating ICTs in development-related applications as compared to in organizational situations within Western countries. Some important points of leavings include the focus on marginalized rural communities as end-beneficiaries, the repeated involvement of public sector governments, insufficient human resources capability, and the being of infrastructural restrictions including finances and technology. Despite these contextual alterations, the theme of partaking is important in both fields although sometimes with dissimilar underlying motivations. While development projects may seek to inspire participation so as to empower communities, ICT projects may seek to do so to build more effective systems. While the theme of partaking has a central role in the dialogues within the domains of development theory and IS, it has changed in quite dissimilar historical and geographical contexts.
Who is it then that defines the participation agenda? Nonetheless the semantic nuances, the key matters in outlining the agenda of rural development pointed at poverty relief, and of IS design to get organizational efficiency and democratization of the workplace, relate to who chooses the participation agenda, its resolutions, and methods to application. Literature in both these fields mirrors a variety of agencies defining this agenda from the earlier accent on external agencies without community/user partaking to the current trend regarding users in mission of their emancipation. There are additional shades of partaking approaches situated within these two extremes, demonstrating a range of partaking that is now discussed.
A field study was initiated in 2001 in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh state of central India to explore the functioning of a project aptly called Gyandoot (meaning “messenger of knowledge”). Gyandoot is an intranet e-government system intended to enlist information technology to improve the lives of the poor.
The Gyandoot experiment was designed to use ICTs to empower local communities. It was initiated in Dhar 1999, one of the most underdeveloped tribal areas of India by the District Collector (DC is the head of the district administration hierarchy). In order to give people access to information in the rural areas they installed 38 information kiosks and that provided the villagers access to a variety of governmental services, amongst others registration of complaints and submission of applications for the issuance of loans and certificates. They could also get data on prices of agricultural crops in different markets. Before Gyandoot was established, villagers looked for information most often through personal networks or middlemen to make everyday decisions such as how to price their crops in different markets. To make direct contact with government institutions to seek remedial measures to their difficulties was very difficult and a frustrating proposition to make.
The Gyandoot experiment suggests that these participatory opportunities can be fa- cilitated using the capability of ICTs. In Dhar, the villagers could get access to cheaper services and sharing of information and knowledge is the most crucial instrument of power devolution and to enhance broader processes of social transformation. Growing power sharing will help to increase accountability and give the community a greater role in the decision making processes.
The project was considered a big success during the early years and was rewarded the Stockholm Challenge IT Award in 2000. However, activity has decreased and this had made the project and the long-term viability being questioned.
Inside a Gyandoot Telecentre (Dhar, Madhya Pradesh
The role of power in IS implementation and development is not always negative. Used sensibly, power can be enforced for more suitable allocation of resources or instituted rules to outline the conduct of a project.