The participatory web – new potentials for ICT in rural areas

1/11/2009 | Christian Kreutz

Cover publicationI had the honour to be the editor of a new cover publication by the Deutsche Gesellschaft for Technische Zusammenarbeit (German Technical Cooperation). This is one of many pieces the sector project "Knowledge System in Rural Areas" has published in recent years, which I can highly recommend. One is a bulletin on knowledge management in developing institutions and projects. With the recent publication we tried to summarize latest developments and what has happened since the web2fordev conference. We tried to get very different perspectives on the topic and I am glad we could win great authors. Once again thank you for your contributions!

Web 2.0 solutions offer people in rural areas a platform for networking and knowledge exchange. This brochure provides a systematic overview of Web 2.0 experiences made to date in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It serves as a practice-oriented introduction to the theme and discusses both the potentials and the possible limits to the participatory web.

Download publication

Table of Content

  • Participatory Web – New Potentials for ICT in Rural Areas (Annemarie Matthess, Christian Kreutz)
  • NABUUR: Effective Online Peer-to-Peer Knowledge Transfer (Rolf Kleef, Raul Caceres)
  • Innovation, Interaction, Information: Using the Social Web (Peter Ballantyne) in Agricultural Development
  • Empowering Farmers in India Using the Kisan Blog (Runa Sarkar, Debahsis Pattanaik)
  • Web 2.0 in Ecuador: Enhancing Citizenship (Paula Carrión)
  • Farmer-led Documentation (Dorine Rüter, Anne Piepenstock)
  • Potential of Mobile: Cambodian Farmers Turn to their Phones (Ken Banks, Christian Kreutz)
  • The Knowledge Sharing Kit: CGIAR's Wiki Approach (Gerry Toomey)

Rural areas in developing countries are confronted by many challenges when it comes to information access and participation in knowledge networks. Since its beginnings, the potential of knowledge sharing throughout the Internet has had high hopes, but it has not fulfilled its promises yet. Obvious challenges are low connectivity particularly in rural areas, low literacy rate, lack of media competence to use the web and well function models to provide and target information. Newer technologies such as interactive web tools and the mobile phone offer promising ways to achieve a more inclusive Internet and use the web to learn from each other. Throughout the last years organisations and projects have started experimenting with the "read and write web" and achieved new approaches to use information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D). Different to traditional ICT projects, this approach focuses on the users, it is their engagement and creativity that makes the networking and learning effort vibrant.

Two major questions persist: Where and under which conditions can these ICT's be best used for highest impact? And, how can ICT's really be used for a more effectively knowledge sharing and learning? One key lessons learnt of the sector project "knowledge systems in rural areas" was that ICT is one of many instruments to share knowledge particularly in the local context. There are various ways to exchange local or indigenous knowledge, so the instrument of selection has to be best fit in the respective local context. ICT might often not be the best choice and certainly can only be a mean and not the end itself, ideally embedded into an existent system of knowledge transfer according to identified needs and opportunities. In September 2007 GTZ held together with IICD, CTA, CGIAR and FAO the web2fordev conference to explore the potential of the participatory web and bring together some of these experiences. This publication attempts to describe these latest trends and experiences around newest technologies and the network effects for a new ingenuity to improve living conditions.

One such example is Nabuur, a global neighbourhood, which shows new grassroots networks for development presenting innovative models of cooperation worldwide. Rolf Kleef and Raul Caceres describe how solely webbased collaboration can work even with remotely villages in Africa and how they achieved an effective online peer-to-peer knowledge transfer impact. Peter Ballantyne takes in his article a greater look at new emerging forms of cooperation between development institutions worldwide. The social web helps to transcend organisations' boundaries, makes information resources transparent and gives spaces for innovation for better agricultural development. The social web can be described as people interlinked and interacting with engaging content in a conversational and participatory manner via the Internet (Wikipedia). Ballantyne also compiles a list of all the different examples from a number of organisations' developments using these interactive web tool impacts.

That is followed by pioneering examples from Asia, Africa and Latin America to use ICT's for rural development. The Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur describes its many year experiences to empower farmers through blogging. Debashis Pattanaik and Runa Sarkar describe their efforts to bridge the agriculture research in India with daily needs of farmers. The Kisan Blog has contributed in restoring experiences of rural farmers in India. Another such example is Radio La Luna, which uses different media forms to strengthen the collective memory of Ecuadorian society on key moments in its social struggle through rescuing, digitising, systematising and disseminating documents of various types about main events in recent Ecuadorian history. This engaging approach makes them one of the most visited websites in the country.

But not in any case the implementation and usage of Web 2.0 tools work that easily and might not be the appropriate solution. Dorine Rüter and Anne Piepenstock present a project around farmer-led documentation (FLD), which highlights an alternative way of sharing cultivation practices through digital media. FLD extends existing knowledge sharing forms through digital media to highlight local knowledge and make it explicit for a larger audience.

The last practical examples present the increasing potential of mobile phones on the example of decentralized SMS based information exchange. It shows how Cambodian farmers can benefit from such a free and open source solution to make their mobile tools for better transparency and, lastly, improve their incomes. Ken Banks also shows how local software and hardware solutions are particularly for mobile phones' key in the future, because theirs are developed around real needs and made to work in environments with little or no connectivity.