|| Change Initiatives
||US - US Dollar 9.016
||01/07/2004 to 01/07/2005
||Change Initiatives wants to explore the scope of raising awareness and promoting the use of Web content among the poor women of West Bengal, through k-yan, a novel computing device built in India.
This is part of the work that Change Initiatives and UNESCO will be doing in the second phase of their award-winning ICT project Nabanna, which is a web-based information system to address gender concerns. The work is intended to ensure greater access of poor, uneducated women to the contents of a web-enabled database. It will reinforce Nabanna's existing off-line information dissemination structures for the project's online contents.
With non-users of computers getting to interact with Web contents after the project, a major hurdle before Nabanna's implementation will be removed.
The focal point of our work will be research. A global team of researchers have developed the Ethnographic Action Research Methodology that will be used integrate k-yan within Nabanna's activities. After a year we expect our research to reveal innovative processes through which 165 poor women improve their health condition and livelihood situation. The results will be replicated among 500 more poor women in the subsequent phase of the project.
The processes fit in with our overall aim to build a web-enabled database of localised best practices that will support local women to solve local problems.
||The problem relates to disseminating website content to those among the poor who do not know computers, especially the uneducated. Of primary concern to Change Initiatives in Nabanna, our solution was to develop the "human interface" model: women accessing electronic information and setting up information groups, comprising 10 non-users, to disseminate the content. (The women accessing information are the information group leaders) We also publish a community newspaper for efficient circulation of contents in off-line format.
Though an off-line infrastructure for information delivery was built with the models, the desired impact among non-users of computers did not materialise. This was for two reasons: a) inability among one group of poor women to put the available information to applied use and b) indifference among another group to the utility of information.
Further research revealed some interesting observations: while acknowledging the importance of human interfaces, non-users still wanted a first-hand experience of computers. The issue boiled down to one of trust, and the demand was to enable greater comprehension of the mechanisms of an electronic database.
The answer lay in building procedures to enable greater interaction with the hardware by the non-users. The immediate response was to use laptops and Pocket PCs. It ensured broader coverage in the short-term, but ultimately turned out to be inadequate, as small screen-size excluded the possibility of shared learning, while limited battery time restricted its use in places without electricity.
The experiments were useful as we turned our attention to a mobile computing device called k-yan. Developed by ILFS Education and Technological Services and Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, k-yan is a computer without a monitor. The hard-drive is equipped with a display mechanism that allows one to project text and graphics on any solid surface, in a size considerably larger than a PC monitor and with resolutions strong enough for images to be seen in daylight. In addition to electricity, k-yan also operates on car batteries, enabling it to be taken in areas where there is no electricity. (For more details see http://www.k-yan.com)
In Nabanna, Change Initiatives is setting up a web portal for the poor women of the Baduria Municipality, a remote region in North-24 Parganas district in the Indian state of West Bengal. In the project, which started in February 2003, five ICT centres are being set up in five regions of the Municipality to facilitate information sharing through a web-enabled database, called eNRICH.
Project beneficiaries are the 660 poor women involved with Nabanna. They live in the five regions of the Municipality which have the ICT centres: Arbelia, Baduria, Punda, Rudrapur and Taragunia. The plan is to discover procedures for k-yan use among 165 of the 660 women in the next one year, for replication among rest of the beneficiaries.
Direct beneficiaries vis-à-vis k-yan are 15 information groups - six groups per region - which are our research targets. The information groups comprise 15 leaders who come to the ICT centres to inculcate knowledge management basics and members of their group, each of size 10.
||Our aim is to establish conditions for effective adaption of k-yan in five remote rural communities of West Bengal, to reinforce Nabanna's off-line foundations.
Project objectives are to determine the criteria for k-yan's assimilation into communities, that have only recently been exposed modern information and communication technologies. The objectives are research driven and they are:
a) Assess impact of k-yan contents in health and livelihood on users: issues for study include awareness generation and use of information to seek health and livelihood solutions
b) Integrating k-yan within the framework of Nabanna: examine the frequency of requests to group leaders to visit the ICT centres for more details on k-yan contents in eNRICH.
c) Fixing training components of k-yan and capacity of the local community to undertake such learning initiatives
d) Explore sustainability issues with an emphasis on user charges.
e) Implanting k-yan within the environment of users such as the time of the day to operate the device, the duration of use, the optimum number of viewers.
f) Ascertaining the response of the local community to the device
|Setup and activities
||The group leaders are either housewives or students. The average age of students is 23, while the average age of housewives are 35. The average income of their families is Rs 1500 ($30) per month. While most of students are involved in tuition, the housewives supplement their husband's income by indulging in activities such as sewing, knitting, weaving and binding bidis (local cigarette).
The information group members, are almost all housewives, many of them uneducated. The direct beneficiaries meet their information group members once a week. The purpose is to disseminate contents from eNRICH - the web-enabled database -and seek information and feedback from them. The average age of indirect beneficiaries is around 45 and the average income of their families is Rs 1,500 ($30). Some of the information group members possess skills and participate in activities surrounding knitting, weaving etc.
Sustainability regarding continued use of k-yan beyond the project period rests on establishing a principle of user charges, which is one of the objectives of our programme. Beyond this, k-yan's sustainability is intrinsically related to the sustainability structures being established for Nabanna in the second phase.
For Nabanna, sustainability issues are not restricted to financial concerns. They also encompass challenges to build structures of self-management and the need to ensure steady supply of local personnel trained in knowledge management basics.
Principles of user charges have already been implemented in Nabanna, after a limited period of free access and use of services in the first year: the community newspaper, that has a circulation of 1,000, is available for Rs 1 while the facilities at ICT centres (computer, printing and internet access) are treated as income-generators, beyond their use for project purposes. Perceiving a huge demand, we will start computer training courses using Nabanna's ICT facilities for the relatively well-off women and girls of the community. To take place beyond Nabanna's working hours, participants to these training courses will be charged at market rates.
We feel these strategies will cover Nabanna's running costs. Issues of fixed costs are not crucial for now, as the equipment is sponsored by UNESCO, including maintenance responsibility, while the ICT centres are located on properties belonging to the local community. Our Baduria ICT centre is located within Municipality premises, while our Arbelia centre is housed inside a school. Basic facilities like rooms, electricity etc have been provided free of cost.
From the very beginning of Nabanna, we have placed great emphasis on computer training of the 60 information group leaders. Since these information group leaders will ultimately operate the ICT centres, we wanted to avoid a situation where there is a dearth of human capital on account of departure of key personnel. To promote the principles of self-management, our Arbelia ICT centre is being run by one of the information group leaders, who is simultaneously taking advanced training at the Baduria ICT centre.
To augment Nabanna's human capital stock, our strategy of asking the group leaders to write diaries on their lives have paid rich dividends. We have a cadre of 60 beneficiaries who are imbued with the principles of research ethics and voluntary service for the community.
Content creation is the essence of Nabanna. Our goal is to devise an electronic repository of local knowledge for the poor women who are enriched by participation from both outside and within. The emphasis is on building mechanisms and tools for a knowledge network, for it is only by transforming information into knowledge can we ensure repetitive and regular use of Nabanna's systems.
In the second phase, we will also turn our ICT centres into independent registered entities having well-defined laws and a governing body comprising mainly local women. This will give us a framework under which Nabanna's structures and processes will acquire the capacity to operate over a long period of time.
The focal point of our activities vis-a-vis k-yan and in the context of Nabanna is research.
Under UNESCO's aegis, a research team comprising representatives of London School of Economics and Queensland University of Technology has developed an Ethnographic Action Research methodology (EAR) which will be the central platform for the project.
The ethnographic action research approach is based on combining two research approaches: ethnography and action research. Ethnography is a research approach that has been traditionally been used to understand different cultures. Action research is used to bring about new activities through new understanding of situations. We use ethnography to guide the research process, while we use action research to link the research back to the project's plans and activities.
Key premises of our work will be:
a) Contrary to the practice of baseline research at the start of a project and evaluation report at the end, our work will be characterized by informed reflection throughout the life of a project. Research is integrated into our project's continuous cycle of planning and acting . The benefits are that the organization can change, adapt and respond on the basis of informed reflection and that instead of simply measuring impact it continuously thinks about and produces knowledge about how it conducts its business.
b) As projects involve and affect many people, we need to understand many viewpoints in order to formulate plans and track progress. A key feature that distinguishes our work is that it involves people in all four stages of planning, doing, observing and reflecting. Research is focused on how problems and opportunities are defined by people locally. This allows research methods and our project itself to be creatively adapted to the local situation.
c) We try to make sense of each feature of a place and a project in relation to the bigger picture and not in isolation. Instead of focusing on individual ICTs and their "impacts" an ethnographic action research approach will look at the whole structure of communication and information in a people's way of life. What kind of communication and information activities do they carry out (or would like to)? What communication resources are available to them - media content, technologies and skills? How do they understand these resources can be used? Who do they communicate with and why? Once we have built up this bigger picture it is far easier to understand the impacts and possibilities of a particular medium, and how communications fit into other things that people are doing. The concept we use in ethnographic action research is "communicative ecology". (If you are studying the ecology of a forest or desert you do not look at one or two animals or plants in isolation. You study how animals, plants, soil and so on are inter-related, and may have impacts on many things simultaneously. The same applies to communication and information: there are many different people, media, activities and relationships involved. )
Again we will rarely talk about, for example, "the impact of internet on empowerment": It is too abstract, and treats "internet" as one isolated medium and empowerment as another isolated indicator. Instead we look at particular uses of internet and particular meanings of empowerment. This also means that we focus more on actual processes - e.g., how does internet fit into the many different ways that people pass along information about health and livelihood. (by word of mouth, through health systems, alongside rituals and "superstitions")
Our research process will be constantly repeated throughout the life of the project. We think about it in the following circular terms: Planning research - Conducting research (collecting and documenting data) - Organising coding and analysing data - Planning and action.
Focusing on both qualitative and quantitative changes, we will be using the following tools for conducting ethnographic research:
* Questionnaire-based sample surveys
* Observation and participant observation
* Field notes
* In-depth interviews
* Group interviews
* Workshops, brainstorming and information sharing sessions
* ICT/Media content analysis
* Documentary materials - published statistics, reports , media coverage and so on.
* Diary writing
* Mind mapping
For Nabanna, Change Initiatives had developed a novel participatory rural appraisal tool (PRA). We have asked the candidates to maintain diaries on their lives. The diaries were an effective tool for needs assessment, in addition to being a vehicle for self-expression since the contents were published in our community newsletters. Besides the diary writings inculcated a research mentality into our candidates, enabling them to effectively note important points when they got into informal discussions with community women.
Project activity comprises hosting k-yan shows and assessing community impact through ethnographic action research. The plan is to gradually build up the number of shows, and in the last seven months 15 shows per months will take place, with each of the five regions hosting 3 shows. Each of the shows will be attended by 3 information groups.
Particular focus will be on relationship between information group members and group leaders and on requests made to group leaders to access eNRICH at the ICT centres for details on k-yan contents. (A significant work to be carried out outside the current grant request is content development in eNRICH based on user feedback to eNRICH synopsis in k-yan.)
a) Meeting stakeholders on k-yan
b) Procuring k-yan and commence training to information group leaders
c) Assess compatibility of local conditions with k-yan, especially issues on timing, the size of participants, the appropriate place to host shows
d) Conduct two trial shows
e) Prepare weekly preliminary report and one monthly report
a) Incorporate monthly report findings in Month 2's work
b) Complete training of information group leaders
c) Organise five shows this month
d) eNRICH information synopsis in health and livelihood to be the content of the shows
e) Review work done so far: especially assess reaction of information group members to contents, interaction of members with group leaders and community reaction. (1 weekly preliminary report and one monthly report).
a) Incorporate monthly report findings in work.
b) Organise 10 shows a month, on k-yan
c) Review work done so far. (1 weekly preliminary report and one monthly report)
a) Prepare report on work done from Months 1-4.
b) Incorporate monthly report findings in work.
c) Organise 10 shows per month.
d) Review work. (1 weekly preliminary report and one monthly report)
e) Implement user charges to explore the sustainability principle
a) Incorporate monthly report findings in work.
b) Organise 15 shows per month
c) Information group leaders to conduct shows.
d) Review work through weekly and monthly reports. Special attention to reaction to user charges.
e) A review report to be published in Month 8.
a) Incorporate monthly report findings in work.
b) Organise 15 shows a month
c) Prepare final report
Outputs are the results of applied research on 165 poor women using k-yan. Detailed reports on processes - emphasis being on what works and what not works - are expected in the following areas:
a) Interactions of 150 poor women who are non-users of computers and mostly uneducated with a ICT hardware
b) Awareness generation on health and livelihood among the 150 poor women
c) Adoption of better health practices by the 150 women.
d) Use of information to explore livelihood opportunities by the 150
e) Access of contents by 150 poor women on health and livelihood from a web-enabled electronic database
f) Training of 15 poor women in ICT hardware
g) Strengthening off-line information delivery structure of online contents, through re-enforcement of systems of interaction between 15 information group members and group leaders via a new ICT hardware
h) Principle of user charges for a ICT hardware
i) Formats and procedures established for replication of an experiment on 165 poor women among 500 more poor women.
j) Implanting an ICT device in rural communities.
Our ethnographic action research work will be monitored UNESCO's regional research team from New Delhi. Research is integrated with project development feeding directly into documentation and analysis as well as reporting, strategy and decision-making along with monitoring and evaluation.
Local researchers of Nabanna, along with the lead researcher and assistant researcher to be recruited exclusively for k-yan impact, will run group discussions, observe and write field notes on the process of information transfer and skills development. The researchers will be directly involved in the application of solutions to achieve the prescribed outcomes; they in effect simultaneously measure the impact. The researchers will feed their "data" to the Change Initiatives team who will analyse and reflect on it before sharing it within UNESCO's regional research team.
Interactions with UNESCO's regional research team and Change Initiatives take place through the research website www.cirac.qut.edu.au/ictpr. The website facilitates quick interactions of preliminary findings between Change Initiatives and the UNESCO research team, allowing rapid assimilation of experiences in subsequent project work.
Project best practices and learning milestones are documented and shared on monthly basis with the UNESCO regional research team. UNESCO is documenting our experiences and is publishing the Ethnographic Research Handbook, every six months that contains in detail the learning milestones of Nabanna. The Handbook is available as mimeographs and can also be downloaded from the website, www.cirac.qut.edu.au/ictpr