Review: Long-term Sustainability of Tele-Centers: Comparing Model Cases

In this paper Andrea Kavanaugh of HCI Center Virginia Tech, USA, compares the two main telecenter models for government support and establishment, and their abilities to provide long term sustainability in the provision of universal access. These are the Stand-alone and Embedded telecenter models. The paper also provides summary findings of other telecenter studies drawing on case studies in Iran and Appalachia in the US.

 

Hudson (1995, 2006), and a host of others have already established the benefits that ICTs bring to a country however, the majority of population in developing nations and some sections of the developed countries lackproper access to ICT’s and therefore, the benefits.

 

In the paper, Andrea notes that on the one hand, the “sole activity and raison d’etre” in the Stand-alone model is “providing access to (and training in) computers and computer networks” with no self-sustaining mechanism.  On the other hand, the Embedded model has built-in sustainability features that enables it to “provide outside support” (“funds to purchase computers and internet access” the paper noted) to keep access available.  Some examples noted in the paper of the embedded model were in a school, library and community center.

 

In evaluating the designs of the models, the paper discussed using mixed methods of quantitative and qualitative techniques which included participants’ questionnaires and registration data for the quantitative approach, and interviews, review of records and reports for the qualitative.

 

In examining the two models in Iran, the paper observed the case of Zahedan Information Technology Center (Stand-alone) and “Math House” (Embedded). Zahedan Information Technology Center a community organization is located in Zahedan the provincial capital of Sistan and Baluchestan Province in southeastern Iran that primarily provides technology, training and networking facilities (Kavanaugh, 2005). The second Math House was established by local public schools in Neyshabur, a city North-East of Iran. Although the setup was initially for students with interest in learning mathematics, it has grown to have a large network infrastructure with computers connected to the internet. A key characteristic of the Math house that makes it an Embedded model is the intrinsic maintenance of the computers and related facilities being part of the “duties and responsibilities of teachers and staff of Math House as they help the planning of learning activities for participating students”.  

 

Also in the case study of Appalachia, USA, the embedded model was observed. Here three of the local chapters located in the New River Valley (NRV) southwest Virginia namely, the New River Community Action Agency (NRCA) and Smyth County, Virginia, the public health district of the New River Valley (PHD NRV), and the Appalachian Women’s Alliance (AWA) with support from the US Department of Commerce assisted the NRCA in “purchasing and setting up of public access computer, printer, and overhead projector” at four different NRCA localities in several counties. The system ensured through agreed financial support “each locality was integrated and upgraded to their local area network and the computer network connected to broadband connection”. Through this approach the NRCA was able to donate “computer, printer, and projector package” to the local Goodwill Industries workforce training facility” which provided on demand basis continuing education programs for low-income adults.

 

From the case studies presented, we can agree to the fact that implementation of development projects should first fundamentally get the buy-in of the community it is intended for if it should be sustained.  In this way, the community sees it as theirs and will assist in sustaining the existence of the facility.  Again, governments should take into consideration the long term sustainability of projects when seeking to improve the access to training and technologies since most often these projects lack the ability to support their continuation after grant funding ends.  A careful blend of the two models should provide communities, especially those in developing countries, a continuous and reliable access to the internet and other technologies.

 

The paper concluded that long term sustainability is much more feasible through the Embedded model than the Stand-alone. This was because in the long run Stand-alone telecentres were “difficult to sustain” mainly because of lack of funding and management support. It also noted that the attempts to develop other funding sources to sustain these telecenters no longer serve the original purpose of providing universal access to population that cannot afford access and training there.  However, unlike the stand-alone, the Embedded Telecenters model turn out to be sustainable in the long run, since they are supported and maintained by the organization hosting them and do not “depend of completely new revenue streams”.  A critical point the paper examined was the need for “existing community organizations like schools to consider integrating mobile telephone service which offer greater alternatives for individuals to gain access to computing and Internet resources especially in rural areas” where infrastructure (“electricity supply and telecommunications”) is poor.  It noted the various advantages that the mobile phone technology offers and the fact that more people in developing countries now own more mobile phones than personal computers mainly because it is more affordable and easier to use then the mobile phones. This technology has recently been preached to have the potential to help bridge the learning curve for people, especially in developing countries with low computer literacy.

 

References

1. Andrea K, 2009. Long-term Sustainability of Tele-Centers: Comparing Model Cases. CHI’09, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

2. Hudson, H. 2006. From Rural Village to Global Village: Telecommunications for development in the information age. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

3. Kavanaugh, A. 2005. “Evaluation of the ICT Center in Zahedan, Iran: Training & entrepreneurship for women and youth” External Evaluation. InfoDev Program, Global Information and Communication Technologies Department, The World Bank

4. http://www.imaginar.org/its2008/286.pdf

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Review: Long-term Sustainability of Tele-Centers: Comparing Model Cases
was published on 23.04.2009 by Worlali Senyo. It files under global
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