Fighting rural poverty: The role of ICTs
 

Fighting rural poverty. The role of ICTs

IFAD side event at the World Summit on the Information Society - Geneva , December 2003

Synthesis paper - Arabic | English - PDF version | French - PDF version | Spanish - PDF version

This paper was prepared by Helen Gillman, Manager of Editorial Services, IFAD, with the support of Maria Elisa Pinzon, Manager of Corporate Image, IFAD, and Roxanna Samii, Manager of Web Services, IFAD.

Table of contents

Context

What can information and communication technologies (ICTs) do for the world's 900 million extremely poor people who live in rural areas?

IFAD posed this question at a side event during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in December 2003.

Against the backdrop of the official proceedings of the WSIS, where the focus was firmly on how to ensure wider distribution of ICTs in developing countries, IFAD wanted to promote a discussion that instead centred on people and content.

The outcome of the side event was a strong agreement that ICT is a possible tool, not a solution. Development is not about technology and it is not about information - it is about economic, social and political empowerment.1

The clear message to emerge was: process is more important than access, and content is more important than machines.

Access relates to machines, communication tools and technologies, and information. Instead, process is about participation, communication and people - their needs, their content and their languages.

Therefore, when talking about information and communication technologies, the emphasis must be on communication, not technology. Communication implies participation, sharing of knowledge in a horizontal way, and respect for diversity and culture. In this sense it is key to social change, and is thus fundamental to IFAD's commitment to strengthen the capacity of rural poor people and their organizations to overcome poverty.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a synthesis of the panel discussion, as a contribution to the development of an IFAD communication for development strategy2. Based on the main outcomes of the discussion, the paper makes recommendations on future directions and focus in relation to the development of a strategy.

It is important that IFAD define its general approach to communication for development before defining specific approaches to use of ICTs in its projects and programmes. ICT should be seen as a means to enhance communication for development activities, not as a distinct sector - nor as an end in itself (Magic Box, FAO 2003). ICTs cannot be seen outside the context of communication as a process to support sustainable development.

Motivating IFAD's decision to organize a side event at the WSIS was the need to better understand how ICTs can contribute to rural poverty eradication. However, it is also important for IFAD to understand, as Phrang Roy noted in his opening remarks, how ICTs can be a tool to enable rural poor people to speak for themselves.

But, as Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron pointed out in his keynote speech, for ICTs to contribute to the development of rural poor people, certain conditions have to be met. These relate to ownership, local content, language, culture and appropriate technology. Access becomes important only once these conditions have been met.

In this respect, an IFAD communication for development strategy, including any approaches to use of ICTs, must focus on the project/programme level to facilitate community participation and strengthen communication processes. It will thus support IFAD's strategic objective to strengthen the capacity of rural poor people and their organizations.

And it must link with the policy (national/international) level to help bridge the disconnect between local realities and policy processes.

Back to Top

Definitions of terms

In this paper, participatory communication for development is defined as a process by which people can become leading actors in their own development. It is:

a planned activity, based on participatory processes and the use of different strategies (media, interpersonal communication) to help people become aware of and articulate their position, exchange knowledge and skills to take control of their lives, reach consensus and manage conflicts, and improve the effectiveness of their organizations. (Bessette, 2004; Ramirez & Quarry, 2004)

Communication for social change is:

an approach to participatory communication for development, defined as: a process of public and private dialogue through which people define who they are, what they want, what they need and how they can act collectively to meet those needs and improve their lives. (Communication for Social Change Consortium, 2003)

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are a range of electronic technologies that can include a wide range of media, such as telephone, fax, television and radio. New ICTs can include the Internet, e-mail, computers, mobile phones, digital cameras, databases and portals.

Back to Top

Background

The World Summit on the Information Society was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly, and is being held in two phases. The first phase took place in Geneva from 10 to 12 December 2003 and produced a Declaration of Principles, which outlines a common vision of an information society's values, and a Plan of Action which outlines how to build on that vision and to bring the benefits of ICTs to under-served economies.   The Geneva summit and related events were attended by more than 11,000 participants from 175 countries. The second phase will take place in Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005 .

IFAD organized a side-event on the theme, Six years of bridging the rural digital divide. Part of the purpose of the side event was to enable IFAD to share its experience with use of ICTs in rural development. However, the real value of the exercise was in the exchange of ideas, experience and learning that will enable the organization to build an understanding of how ICTs can contribute to eradication of rural poverty. This will be part of the process to develop an IFAD communication for development strategy and to build capacity within the organization to implement the strategy.

Members of the discussion panel were:

  • Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron, communication for development expert and Managing Director of the Communication for Social Change Consortium
  • Rodney Cooke, Director, Technical Advisory Division, IFAD
  • Djiby Diop, Portfolio Manager, United Nations Office for Project Services
  • Germán Escobar, Vice-President, International Farming Systems Research Methodology Network (RIMSIP)
  • Renald Lafond, Team Leader, Pan Asia Networking Program, International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
  • Shalini Kala, Coordinator, ENRAP, International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
  • Carl Greenidge, Director, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), ACP-EU Cotonou Agreement, The Netherlands
  • Chin Saik Yoon, Chief Editor of the Digital Review of Asia Pacific and Publisher and Managing Director of Southbound
  • Anton Mangstl, Director, Library and Documentation Systems Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
  • Dylan Winder, Rural Livelihoods Adviser, Information and Communication for Development Team, Information Division, United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID)
  • Michael Furminger, CISCO Education Specialist, CISCO Systems

IFAD Assistant President Phrang Roy opened the discussion and concluded it with a synthesis of the keys points and issues that emerged. IFAD Manager of Web Services Roxanna Samii chaired the discussion.

Back to Top

Summary of the discussion

IFAD posed four specific questions to provide a framework for the discussion:

  1. How can we ensure that ICTs are considered a tool and not a solution?
  2. How can rural poor people set the ICT agenda?
  3. How can partners respond?
  4. How do we balance investment in ICTs between technology and content development?

The following summary of key issues raised during panel presentations and discussion is based on Phrang Roy's concluding summary, with additions drawn from this synthesis paper.

Key issues to emerge in response to the four questions

  • How can we ensure that ICT is a tool and not considered a solution?
  • put people at the centre (ownership and appropriation of communication processes)
  • put decision-making in the hands of the people through participatory processes
  • recognize that process is more important than access
  • enhance the bargaining power of poor people
  • envision ICTs from the perspective of the users and through their active participation
  • combine traditional and modern technologies
  • develop local content
  • use local languages
  • meet local needs
  • ensure technologies are appropriate
  • provide on the ground services
  • be flexible, but ensure there is a structure
  • How can rural poor people set the ICT agenda?
  • empower rural poor people and communities to lead their own development
  • localize the WWW: each local initiative/community develops its own demand-driven content
  • abandon vertical development paradigms
  • respond to real needs of communities, not institutional needs
  • ensure content is determined by the needs of rural poor people
  • acknowledge that content in local languages is crucial
  • acknowledge cultural pertinence
  • ensure local ownership and appropriation of the communication process
  • take into account convergence and networking
  • use appropriate technology
  • build capacity of rural poor people and their organizations
  • share knowledge horizontally
  • see networking as more than information exchange - also as an opportunity to build capacity based on new experiences
  • focus on convergence - building on existing communication processes - not just a technology challenge. ICT projects must converge with local schools, local libraries, local development projects and local social organizations
  • How can partners respond to the ICT agenda?
  • link ICT "push" to existing development projects and existing communities
  • promote a more participatory, consultative approach in order to bridge the disconnect between local realities and the global/policy agenda
  • develop culturally sensitive networking that can build partnerships and promote capacity building and skills development
  • use knowledge networks to strengthen, not replace traditional methods of communication
  • encourage foundations and donors to invest in developing ICTs' multimedia capabilities to support the needs of communities with strong oral traditions
  • support internationalization of the Internet (multi-lingual)
  • encourage donors to work with partners - including civil society - to create an enabling environment for participation by civil society in policy processes - and to strengthen the capacity of civil society to work for itself
  • work with public and private sectors to develop better indicators to monitor the benefits of ICTs and their contribution to reaching the MDGs
  • introduce stronger monitoring and evaluation at both national and international levels to ensure communication is linked to other processes, especially policy processes
  • engage with civil society and the private sector for provision of infrastructure
  • promote coherence, collaboration and new partnerships
  • focus on networking at the grassroots and ensure that women are included
  • focus support on the ".org" community, as opposed to the ".com"
  • work in the context of the MDGs and use an evidence-based approach
  • ensure that technology is appropriate
  • acknowledge that technology is important, but it must be sustainable
  • acknowledge the importance of radio
  • promote open access to low cost technologies
  • How do we balance investment in ICT technology with investment in content development?
  • recognize that development is not about technology and not about information
  • recognize that technology is important, but must be appropriate - and sustainable for poor people
  • focus more on content and less on machines

Back to Top

The presentations

What can ICTs do for the rural poor? Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron

Keynote speaker Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron was critical of the position of the official representation at the WSIS, pointing out that the focus during the preparatory process was on how to ensure wider distribution of ICTs in developing countries.

This position, he said, is based on three wrong assumptions:

  • First wrong assumption: development is a matter of technology
  • Second wrong assumption: development is a matter of information
  • Third wrong assumption: information technologies are equal to development

The "digital divide" is less a "technological divide" than a social divide, an economic divide, a cultural divide and a political divide, Gumucio noted. In the end, the technological gap will be easily bridged because it is market driven.

"However, if we are looking at ICTs supporting sustainable social development, access to computers and Internet is far from being the answer." They cannot be seen outside the context of a process of communication, which is about people, needs, content, languages.

Discussing "over 50 years of failed attempts to promote development in Third World countries", he noted that development paradigms have gone through various phases to realize that people are poor because of social inequality, which embraces more than just access to information.

Information alone does not generate change, whereas communication - which implies participation, sharing of knowledge in a horizontal way, and respect for diversity and culture - is key to social change.

For Gumucio-Dagron, the synthesis of a participatory approach to communication is: process is more important than access, content is more important than machines.

He stressed that for ICTs to contribute to the development of rural poor people, certain conditions have to be met that relate to:

  • ownership and appropriation of the communication process
  • development of local content
  • language and cultural pertinence
  • convergence and networking
  • appropriate technology.

Access becomes important only once these conditions have been met.

As Gumucio-Dagron has said: " when we talk about technology we are only referring to the instrument, not to social, economic or cultural development. A knife is just a knife; it can be used to hurt someone or to carve a beautiful wooden sculpture. Content and utilisation is what makes the difference." (FAO 2003 (3): 11).

ICTs and socio-economic development - Chin Saik Yoon

Other speakers addressed these issues to varying degrees. Chin Saik Yoon spoke on the role of ICTs in socio-economic development, proposing approaches that could help refocus ICTs such as the Internet, to rediscover its participatory, interactive and inter-personal attributes.

"We all agree that communication is a process that is about content, ownership and local communication channels," he said.

ICTs such as the Internet are not necessarily bad, he said. It is more that they need to be rethought and refocused, so that their potential can also be realized by people who don't speak English and other dominant languages, or who cannot read, or who have no purchasing power, or who aren't mass media savvy.

Chin made the point that although ICTs might have influenced the flow of information and farmers might be getting online, ICTs are only one part of a complex communication system. For example, successful use of computers by farmers and extensionists has often been when their use is combined with other media, such as mobile telephones, or even with use of human intermediaries. In this way, information obtained from the Internet can be passed on to others who don't have access, or who are illiterate or don't speak the necessary languages.

But, despite these and other possibilities for indirect access, there are many roadblocks along the information highway, Chin said.

Language and literacy

Chin also focused on language - which he said was "a crucial and tough issue". The languages dominating the Internet restrict many people from getting on-line. English remains the predominant language. There is an urgent need to internationalize navigation by developing a multi-language script Internet - a truly global Internet that can process all languages, he said. This would require sophisticated translation and interpretation engines to facilitate true multi-cultural expression. The main problem is the lack of political will, he said.

But this is only part of the problem - the Internet is now designed only for literate users - which automatically excludes nearly one billion people. There is a need to develop and make available low-cost voice and audio-based technologies, Chin said. Foundations and donors should invest in developing ICTs' multimedia capabilities to support the needs of communities with strong oral traditions. These oral traditions could be extended online, to help communities use ICTs to conserve their traditional knowledge.

Abandon the business model

The commercialization of the Internet has shaped the priorities that are currently driving social communication processes on-line. There is a need to get rid of the "broadcasting and mass media mentality" which is based on a business model that has transformed dynamic, interactive communication channels into a top-down, sender-to-receiver mass medium - where only the media professionals have the opportunity for expression. Commercial considerations shape decision-making - and if you don't have purchasing power, you don't count. "Sustainability" is donor jargon for the same thing, Chin said. In fact, as stressed by Gumucio-Dagron, Chin said that communication processes are more important than media products.

The donor perspective - Dylan Winder

Outlining DFID's approach to Information and Communication for Development (ICD), Dylan Winder said that the British aid agency is trying to encourage other donors to be more pro-poor in their approaches to ICT, in the hope that improved communication will lead to economic growth. Information and Communication for Development, he said, is an emerging approach that takes into account the new development environment - PRSPs, participation, direct budgetary support - and the need to work across sectors.

DFID is encouraging investment in Information and Communication for Development not as an end in itself, but as a means to achieve the MDGs. During discussions following the presentations, Winder also stressed the need for better indicators to monitor the benefits of ICTs and their contribution to reaching the MDGs. In this respect, donors have a role to play in ensuring stronger monitoring and evaluation at both national and international levels to ensure communication is linked to other processes, especially policy processes. They should work with the public and private sectors, as well as civil society to develop better indicators, he said.

Reflection on emerging opportunities for IFAD

It is widely recognized that there is a need to develop better indicators to measure progress towards achievement of the MDG 8, which is to make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications". The two key indicators of progress focus only on quantitative measurement. The Executive Director of the Communication Initiative, Warren Feek, in a draft paper prepared for FAO, proposes a set of indicators that measure the benefits of new technologies, rather than their spread or availability. The aim is to measure the contribution of ICTs to development activities and trends, recognizing their potential as a tool to support communication and thus positioning them as cross-cutting the MDGs. In the longer term, in collaboration with its partners, IFAD could consider taking up the challenge of applying broader qualitative indicators to measure the benefits of ICTs as part of implementing a communication for development strategy.

In effect, DFID has taken the "T" out of ICT, removing the focus on technology.

Winder explained that Information and Communication for Development is an emerging approach that recognizes:

  • Access to information (such as through a free media) is a critical driver of change in poor policy environments
  • Improved content and participatory processes are crucial to relevant service delivery and accountability
  • Participatory and accountable policy-making requires improved information

The approach is consistent with the fundamentals of participatory communication, focusing on:

  • Promotion of local content
  • Building on and linking with existing media (traditional)
  • Ensuring technology is appropriate and realistic
  • Building capacity

Key issues include:

  • What are the characteristics of pro-poor information and knowledge systems, as well as information needs?
  • What are the institutional, economic, infrastructure and skills constraints - and how can development communication address them?
  • What are the roles of the public and private sectors, civil society and the media?
  • How can ICD lead to generic policy to improve rural and community-based networks, and how can it help communities contribute to generic policy?

Using the ICD approach, DFID will:

  • Improve delivery of government policy
  • Engage with civil society and the private sector for provision of infrastructure
  • Promote coherence, collaboration and new partnerships

Implementation of the approach is in the early stages, Winder said. DFID doesn't yet know what works and what doesn't with the ICD approach. It will therefore pioneer and learn from innovative pro-poor ICD approaches, and will gather, synthesise and share evidence-based good practice, based on real life experience.

Reflection on emerging opportunities for IFAD

IFAD could follow closely DFID's experience and learning with ICD, not only at the project level, but also as a means to support PRSP processes, in particular the participation of communities in policy processes. Winder stressed DFID's interest in working with partners in joint-funding initiatives, including with IFAD. This may represent a good opportunity for IFAD to gain experience and knowledge as it builds its own capacity to implement communication for development activities.

Influencing policy on information and communication for rural development - Anton Mangstl

The role of information and communication in supporting policy processes was the focus of the presentation by FAO's Anton Mangstl. According to Mangstl, IFAD has a role to play as an advocate of policy change. Along with FAO and other agencies, it can encourage participatory modes of policy formulation working with governments, NGOs, the private sector and other multilaterals and bilaterals.

Strategies for information in support of policymaking should focus primarily on enhancing the quality and quantity of information available to institutions responsible for making decisions that affect the poor, he said.

Effective policies must be grounded in real-life experience, in local circumstances and on real user needs. The local context has a significant impact on whether policy reforms are actually adopted and on the impact at local level. However, as Mangstl pointed out, there is a significant disconnect between on-the-ground efforts to address local information needs and policy processes. Information flow between the two is generally poor and must be improved if the potential development impact of both is to be improved, he said.

Reflection on emerging opportunities for IFAD

This is particularly relevant to IFAD, which has a strong "comparative advantage" in this area. IFAD's projects and programmes and its regional networks give it the potential to connect to and understand local realities.

FAO is an information provider - through its specialized information systems and tools. IFAD does not have the same capacity as FAO to deliver information and instead defines itself as a learning organization, synthesizing, analysing and making available learning and experience through tools such as the Rural Poverty Knowledge Base, and eventually the Rural Poverty Portal.

IFAD can go some way towards strengthening its role as a learning organization by:

  • better sharing learning from project experience both within the organization and externally
  • better integrating the regional networks, and better accessing and analysing their information, methodologies and learning

Mangstl also spoke of the particular need to increase capacity for more rapid flexible responses to the information needs of policymakers. This is partly a question of improved targeting of government information needs and partly of supporting and training governments in information management and analysis for policymaking, he said.

However, he also pointed out that information alone is not sufficient for improved policymaking: decision-making is a political process and stakeholder participation is crucially important. Enhancing the quality and quantity of information therefore also relies on attention to the flow of information, such as means of communication, format and content.

IFAD experience - Rodney Cooke

IFAD's presentation highlighted its strategic objectives and how it works to strengthen the capacity of rural poor people and their organizations, and increases access to natural resources, technologies, financial services and markets.

A key message is that IFAD links its efforts to bridge the digital divide to its fundamental focus on social, economic and political empowerment of rural communities and their organizations.

IFAD's experience with ICTs has been mainly through its three regional networks (see followign sections) and its work on the Rural Poverty Knowledge Base, which will eventually be incorporated into the Rural Poverty Portal. The Knowledge Base focuses on thematic websites, covering rural finance, household food security and nutrition, gender and targeting issues in rural development, community-based natural resource management, particularly a livestock and rangeland management database, and sustainable livelihoods approaches. These thematic website: illustrate IFAD policy, evolving approaches and regional programmes; provide tools and guidelines; and feature studies and learning notes based on project experience and research.

The regional networks use the Internet and email to support communication and exchange of learning and experience among IFAD projects and partners. Their early experience has shown that electronic communication is a tool that cannot replace face-to-face contact - social communication is vital for the networks to be successful. Experience in Asia has underlined the importance of making information accessible in local languages.

Rodney Cooke thanked Gumucio-Dagron for reminding the panel that ICTs are not development. IFAD has learned that for development to be successful, rural poor people must be the agents of change. Its focus on strengthening capacity and empowering the rural poor underlines the importance of appropriate technology, and the need to focus on people and partners.

He raised some questions that IFAD and its partners are confronting:

  • What can we do with ICTs to build on and best complement other media and therefore to advance community-based rural development?
  • How can the networks become more effective?
  • What content is more useful to our partners?

IFAD's electronic networks

FIDAMERICA - Germán Escobar

FIDAMERICA focused in its first phase on building capacity for connectivity (training, getting connected, learning to run e-conferences). Once major connectivity problems were solved, the focus shifted to determining the topics on which electronic exchange should be concentrated: IFAD's strategic topic areas formed the basis - including rural finance, dynamic markets, indigenous peoples, natural resource management, gender. In this phase, the focus continued to be on building connectivity capacity - with main targets still technicians, project managers and project partners.

How to involve small farmers in "e-communication" continues to be a major constraint. In Latin America , rural organizations and local NGOs with access to Internet and email remain the exception. As German Escobar pointed out, efforts to involve projects in the dissemination of information useful to producers were not successful - due to lack of continuity. However, in the past three years, FIDAMERICA has concentrated on developing a learning and knowledge management system with IFAD projects that combines face-face with electronic communication and other means of communication. The aim is to involve project participants, managers and partners in drawing out lessons through the systematic analysis of project interventions. These lessons are then shared with other projects in the region, further discussed and internalized. Two key mechanisms have been set up to target specific audiences and ensure broad involvement in this social learning process:

  • a regional network of rural organizations focused on access to dynamic markets
  • face-to-face meetings to share experiences and lessons

ENRAP - Shalini Kala

ENRAP has concentrated on building demand for ICTs as a development tool. It has invested time and money in connectivity - in strengthening infrastructure and capacity, as well as awareness raising, using local languages. ENRAP has learned important lessons:

  • ICTs are tools and connectivity does not guarantee access - people's attitudes determine how ICTs are used
  • electronic exchange cannot replace face-to-face contact
  • there is a need to carefully address cultural and linguistic diversity - content in local languages is important, particularly in Asia
  • investment in cost-effective technologies to connect rural communities may be essential

FIDAFRIQUE - Djiby Diop

This network started later than FIDAMERICA and ENRAP, and so has the advantage of being able to build on their experiences. In its first phase, FIDAFRIQUE has concentrated on connectivity. In its second phase it will also focus on content development, taking into account the need to:

  • clearly define who it can realistically reach through use of electronic communication tools
  • use a range of communication technologies, including traditional means of communication
  • develop content through a "learning by doing" approach, as opposed to identification of themes up-front

The role of ICTs in rural development in Africa - Carl Greenidge

CTA works to develop and provide services that improve access to information for agricultural and rural development in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. It also works to strengthen the capacity of those countries to produce, acquire, exchange and utilize information in agricultural and rural development.

One of its priorities is to integrate traditional and modern communication practices and technologies. In particular, CTA is supporting the use of intermediaries to help smallholder farmers get greater access to modern ICTs. An intermediary may be, for example, a local bus driver, who can carry messages and information back and forth from a village to a point where there is Internet access. The intermediary could send and receive emails, download information from the Internet and perform other tasks on behalf of other villagers. CTA also places great emphasis on networking as key to the success of such initiatives. Networking helps increase the opportunity for all stakeholders to participate in decision-making.

Role of the private sector in building local capacity to harness the potential of ICTs both in terms of technology and creating content - Michael Furminger

Furminger outlined a model of private sector support for ICTs in development. In partnership with the United Nations Development Program, the United States Agency for International Development and the International Telecommunication Union, Cisco has made its Networking Academy Program available to students in 33 Least Developed Countries, to help them build their country's economies.


The programme delivers Web-based content, online assessment, student performance tracking, hands-on-laboratories, instructor training and support, and preparation for industry standard certifications. Rather than acting as a donor, CISCO Systems builds a memorandum of understanding with partners. It provides equipment and intellectual capital, and partners also contribute. Everyone is trained, so it becomes self-supporting.

Back to Top

Debate

Questions from the floor emphasized concerns about the impact of paternalistic, culturally insensitive development paradigms. Communication for development requires participation, said o ne participant, but in some countries it has become institutional and vertical. Individual countries need to develop their own strategies, and each technology has to be appropriate to the specific social, economic and political context. Gumucio-Dagron agreed that communication for development must be about working with people, not for people. An overall model does not exist - each country should develop its own, he said.

Other important issues raised during the discussion that had not been explored by the panellists, included:

  • The crucial importance of community radio as a tool to support horizontal, participatory communication processes. New ICTs must converge with older technologies like radio, if they are to be appropriate for rural communities (the example of community radio in Latin America was discussed - there are more than 6000 stations in the region)
  • Communication networks that use ICTs need to respond to the specific needs of small communities
  • The use of human "intermediaries", who can share information obtained via Internet with people who don't have access can be of particular benefit to women in more isolated areas.
  • To avoid the problem of donors funding projects that push ICTs as a solution, donors must be encouraged to work with the private and public sectors to develop better indicators for measuring the benefits of ICTs.
  • Farmers' cooperatives need to work with service providers and the private sector to ensure that the end users are getting the information they need.
  • Access by farmers to market information is crucial and demand for market information systems is strong. Through its work with self-help groups, IFAD has seen that farmers are willing to pay for the information they need. However, we first need to focus on the development of pro-poor markets. Markets are the key - without access to markets there is no point in better farming systems or better organization of village groups.

Back to Top

Concluding remarks 

The panellists were asked to make very brief concluding remarks, which are summarized under the following categories: participation, local needs, funding, and a final word from the private sector.

Participation

Empowerment: many organizations misunderstand that communities are homogeneous. Instead, they are very diverse culturally and socially: there is a need to build the capacity of the people to participate democratically, and communication has an important role in this.

  • Communication is a process and not simply about access. It is a democratic, participatory process: any development project must be carried out in consultation with the community. We need to work with the communities.
  • We underestimate the challenges of participation. ICT is not the only tool. We need to facilitate information management, and in this respect horizontal networking is important.
  • Advocate for participation and local content, especially given that WSIS is focused on technology.

Local needs

  • Local content in local languages - respond to local needs
  • Different tools are needed for different "levels": for example, communication tools to influence policy are different from those needed to support farmer-to-farmer communication
  • ICTs are a tool. We need to hear the voices of the people, but we also need to build links between communities, extension workers and researchers.
  • ICTs can be an effective tool only if we involve rural poor people, include their perspectives and work through their organizations.

Funding

  • Donors must find new ways to fund and support participatory projects - this will require a dramatic change in the funding system. You cannot design a participatory project and expect designed outcomes - participatory projects don't work like that.
  • There is too much funding for technology and not enough for content creation. This is ridiculous when you consider that most people use computers to only five per cent of their capacity. When there is no content and no training, high technology is useless.
  • Co-funding is a good idea, but in such a way that recipients don't have to deal with the various donors.

Private sector perspective

  • Listen to the customers - find out what they want. High quality content and partnership lead to a good outcome. Don't leave access behind - but make sure it is appropriate.

Back to Top

Where to now?

The presentations and discussion during the side event have provided IFAD with a rich foundation on which to start developing a communication for development strategy, that will incorporate policies on and approaches to use of ICTs.

As discussed in the introduction to this paper, the main outcome was a strong agreement that ICT is a possible tool, not a solution. Development is not about technology and it is not about information - it is about economic, social and political empowerment.

The clear message to emerge from the side event is that process is more important than access, and content is more important than machines. At the same time, the setting of the side event, the first phase of the WSIS, was being driven by a somewhat different message: that there must be wider distribution of ICTs in developing countries.

As it moves forward on the development of a framework and policy on communication for development, IFAD will need to carefully balance these priorities. Perhaps more than any communication media before them, the Internet and digital media such as mobile phones and computers have the potential to transform the lives of poor people in developing countries. However, as the side event discussions highlighted, and as has been well-documented elsewhere (FAO, 2003; O'Farrell, Norrish and Scott, 1999; Richardson and Paisley, 1998) there is good reason to be concerned that the introduction of the new digital ICTs, could end up as just another example of failed technology transfer, where the focus is on the technology and externally defined information needs, rather than on the real-life situations and needs of poor communities.

As Chin Saik Yoon pointed out during the side event, ICTs such as the Internet are not necessarily bad. It is more that they need to be rethought and refocused, so that their potential can also be realized by people who don't speak English and other dominant languages, or who cannot read, or who have no purchasing power, or who aren't mass media savvy.

IFAD can focus on facilitating access to ICTs only once certain conditions have been met. As outlined by Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron, these relate to:

  • ownership and appropriation of the communication process
  • development of local content
  • language and cultural pertinence
  • convergence and networking
  • appropriate technology.

Access becomes important only once these conditions have been met.

Towards an IFAD communication for development strategy

IFAD will develop a framework and policy for communication for development that places the organization on the leading edge of the field. This has been outlined in the Discussion paper on Communication directions for IFAD 2004-2007: strategies and programmes. The Information and Communication Division will work with the Policy Division and the Programme Management Department, and will continue to draw on the expertise of global leaders in communication for development, to formulate an IFAD platform and action plan for communication for development.

A study will be conducted to review and analyse IFAD's past and present experience in communication for development. This study could include a literature review on the field of communication for development, in order to build the organization's knowledge and understanding of the discipline, its evolution over the past 50 years, and the state-of-the-art in current concepts, approaches and methods.

Experience will be drawn from communication for development pilots in IFAD projects. These pilots will be implemented in collaboration with partners to be identified.

IFAD also needs to develop its own knowledge and understanding of communication for development and its expertise to design and implement communication for development initiatives. Therefore, a dynamic learning process will accompany the other activities. This may involve organizing seminars, workshops and discussions in-house. It may also involve mentoring, drawing on the expertise of global leaders in the field of communication for development. Involvement in the pilot projects will be an important learning opportunity, as will participation in global and regional meetings on communication for development. The IFAD Information and Communication Division was represented at the 9 th United Nations Communication for Development Roundtable in September 2004. The first Roundtable was hosted by UNICEF in 1989 in New York . Since then Roundtable meetings have been organized every two years. The last Roundtable held in 2001 took place in Nicaragua and was hosted by UNFPA and the Rockefeller Foundation. This year it was hosted by FAO in Rome .

The Roundtable brought together UN agencies, bilateral and multilateral donors, foundations, NGOs, scholars and practitioners of communication for development from around the world. These bi-annual meetings provide strategic direction and input to development communication programmes for participants at the Roundtable and the larger development community.

The objective of the 2004 Roundtable was to examine, discuss and assess current trends in communication for development activities and to set priorities for future directions in this field. It also identified areas for potential collaboration. This was an excellent opportunity for IFAD to learn, to better understand current and future directions in communication for development, and to explore opportunities to form partnerships.

IFAD will also be a participant in the second phase of the WSIS.

Back to Top

Recommendations

  • IFAD should define its general approach to communication for development before defining specific approaches to use of ICTs in its projects and programmes.
  • The emphasis should be on communication, not technology - based on the premise that process is more important that access, and content is more important than machines.
  • An approach to use of ICTs in development projects and programmes should be based on the understanding that access to ICTs becomes important only once certain conditions have been met. These conditions relate to: ownership, local content, language, culture and appropriate technology.
  • An IFAD communication for development approach, including any approaches to use of ICTs, must support IFAD's strategic objective to strengthen the capacity of rural poor people and their organizations.
  • IFAD should use communication initiatives as a means to strengthen the capacity of rural poor people to participate in policy processes.
  • In the longer term, in collaboration with its partners, IFAD should consider taking up the challenge of applying broader qualitative indicators to measure the benefits of ICTs as part of its communication for development strategy.
  • IFAD should follow closely DFID's experiences and learning with information and communication for development and explore the potential for collaborative work in related initiatives, both with DFID and other like-minded resource organizations and donors.
  • IFAD should follow closely DFID's experience and learning with Information and Communication for Development, not only at the project level, but also as a means to support PRSP processes, in particular the participation of communities in policy processes.
  • IFAD can help to strengthen its role as a learning organization by:
    • better sharing learning from project experience both within the organization and externally
    • better integrating the regional networks, and better accessing and analysing their information, methodologies and learning

Back to Top

References

Bessette, G. 2004. Involving the community. A participatory guide to development communication, Southbound, Penang and International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Ottawa .

FAO, 2003. Revisiting the 'Magic Box': case studies in local appropriation of information and communication technologies (ICTs), FAO, Rome .

FAO, 2003. The one to watch. Radio, new ICTs and interactivity, FAO, Rome .

FAO, 2003. Communication and natural resource management, FAO, Rome .

Feek, W. (unpublished). 'Virtual change. Criteria and indicators for assessing the impact of information and communication technologies on development trends'. Paper prepared for the Extension, Education and Communication Service, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Girard, B. 2003. 'Radio and the Internet' in FAO, 2003, p 9.

Gumucio-Dagron, A., 2003. 'Take five. A handful of essentials for ICTs in development' in FAO 2003, pp 25-43

Michiels, S.I. and Crowder, L.V., 2001. 'Discovering the Magic Box: Local appropriation of information and communication technologies (ICTs)'. Paper prepared for the Extension, Education and Communication Service, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). http://www.fao.org/sd/2001/KN0602a_en.htm

O'Farrell, C., Norrish, P. and Scott, A. 1999. 'Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Sustainable Livelihoods: Preliminary study April - November 1999', Briefing document p repa red for the Department for International Development (DFID), United Kingdom . PDF downloaded from http://www.comminit.com/roundtable2

Ramirez, R. and Quarry, W. 2004. Communication for development. A medium for innovation in natural resource management, IDRC, Ottawa , and FAO, Rome .

Richardson , D. and Paisley, L. (eds) 1998, The first mile of connectivity. Advancing telecommunications for rural development through a participatory communication approach. FAO, Rome .

1/ "It is important to stress that the impact of ICTs will not be understood through peoples' access to technology alone, but on the impact of ICTs on the social, political and economic structures of communities - on people's livelihoods and on their perceptions of the role that technology can play in their lives." FAO, 2003. Revisiting the Magic Box.

2/ As outlined in the Discussion paper on Communication directions for IFAD 2004-2007: strategies and programmes, IFAD will develop a framework and policy for communication for development. Working with the Policy Division and the Programme Management Department, and drawing on the expertise of global leaders in communication for development, EC will develop an IFAD platform and action plan for communication for development during 2005. The plan will build on a study of IFAD's current and past experience in communication for development, and experience will be drawn from pilot communication for development components in IFAD projects.

Back