Local Content Local Voices

...connecting the first mile

A key challenge in using ICTs for development is directly reaching poor people themselves rather than through some kind of intermediary.   This is not simply a problem of providing access, rather it is about ensuring that information provision is in an appropriate format that helps people solve their own problems.   This challenge has been articluated as "Connecting the First Mile".  Our approach has focussed on knowledge sharing rather than information provision.   We have engaged in a number of projects over the past few years that collectively provide some evidence for drawing lessons about how to overcome the first mile challenge.

During the 1995 - 2002 period Practical Action engaged in a number of projects that established telecentres as a way of providing access to information.   One such initiative, funded by the World Bank InfoDev, is a series of eight telecentres in rural Peru.  

Telecentre in Chanta Alta This is a picture of the telecentre in Chanta Alta, a remote rural location in the Cajamarca province of Peru.  On a busy market day observations in the telecentre revealed a constant queue to use the telephone, rather than the Internet.   People in the market also listened to radio programmes.   The importance of voice as a medium of communication and knowledge sharing was evident.   The evidence about the use of telecentres in Peru was collected during a research project which is outlined below.

In 2003, Practical Action initiated a research project in association with Cranfield School of Management, funded by the DTI's Knowledge Transfer Partnership scheme, to research how ICTs can be used for knowledge sharing in development. 

Connecting the First Mile The final report from this research, Connecting the First Mile, outlines the challenges involved in sharing information with people who have little experience of ICTs, low levels of literacy, little time or money, and very specific knowledge and language requirements. It offers a detailed case study from an ICT project in Peru and  provides a best practice framework for practitioners.

The full report can be ordered from www.developmentbookshop.com

Voice communications via radio has long been acknowledged as a media that reaches grassroots groups.   Until recently, however, it has been relatively expensive to start-up and has various regulatory issues to overcome.   New technology, in the form of podcasting offers a low-cost way of broadcasting audio to defined groups of people.

Podcasting is a method of publishing audio files via the Internet, allowing users to subscribe to a feed to receive new files automatically. Any digital audio player or computer with audio-playing software can play podcasts, or burn them to CD. Local radio stations can then re-broadcast the podcast to traditional radio receivers, or computers at community infocentres can be used to create audio CDs of the podcasts.

Practical Action Latin America conducted a pilot project in the rural region of Cajamarca, northern Peru, to analyse the viability of podcasting for the generation and diffusion of knowledge in poor areas of Peru.  The programme content was tailored to local needs and interests in the different areas of Cajamarca. In Chanta Alta, for instance, the programmes provide information about cattle raising and dairy production, while in Chiliete they concentrate on growing grapes and beans. The language is kept simple, to make the broadcasts more accessible than technical leaflets.

You can listen to the podcasts (in Spanish) via the SIRU website.

  • This pilot project was recently featured on the BBC's Go Digital programme, which itself is available as a podcast.
  • More from the BBC News website.

The trial was successful and local people asked to be trained in the making of their own podcasts.   Whilst purists might argue that pure podcasting was not used, the blending of new technology (podcasting) with old technology (CD) has worked well in providing an appropriate solution.

In contrast to the approach in Peru, in Sri Lanka a "pure podcast" approach has been followed.   Podcasts are available on energy and fishery topics.   These are available in audio downloads from the web site: Janathakshan.

Our current work on this theme of "local content, local voices" is continuing in Zimbabwe, with the additional challenge of working in a location that has no electricity, no cell phone coverage and no radio.

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