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Best approaches for ICT in rural development PDF Print E-mail

 9th May 2007

Daily Monitor 

 

A concern for equity – a key principle required for any developing society, means that comprehensive, relevant and timely information should be accessible to all individuals in order to realise real social, economic and political development impact.

Indeed, all Ugandan communities need to set up strategies that enable them to collect, process, store and disseminate information that has potential to shake up hidden and untapped individual cognitive abilities.
 

Therefore, embracing Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) has become an important, unavoidable and urgent need for all Ugandan communities. Precisely because it is no longer a luxury.

However, the concept of ICT needs to be understood in its broadest context – going beyond modern physical computer equipment, software and networks that are often misunderstood to be designed for the elite and urban population, but also traditional and rural techniques of gathering, processing and disseminating information by established rural information centres that use oral sensitisation and distribution tools that include cinemas, public addresses, community radios and telephony.

I wish to say bravo to the current Uganda government that listened to our plea and formulated an ICT Policy Framework (October 2003) that realises ICT as a resource for sustainable development, emphasises setting up appropriate mechanisms for accessing information at the grass root level and viewing ICT as an industry in the country.
I must also proudly say that the establishment of the ICT Ministry was a golden political goal scored for us. We are only looking forward to see this new ministry availing strategies of implementing the policy.

For every civil society organisation, promoting the access and use of ICT in rural communities, I would suggest that it needs to be very keen on two core issues; appropriate access to ICT4D and the impact derived from this access to transform rural people’s lives positively. I suggest that any ideological and material support to civil society organisations ought to value these core issues.

Our ministry has to consider these issues carefully in any implementation strategy it proposes. The real access/real impact approach takes twelve interrelated criteria that have been developed by experts in ICT4D, and I will explain them briefly, one by one, up to the last.

First of all, ICT4D implementers need to consider whether basic infrastructure is available and physically accessible to individuals affected by the initiative in respective areas of their operation. In context, it may include the availability of hardware, software, communications networks, stations and Internet services.

Added to this, in rural communities, it is also advisable to think very broadly and consider geographic, environmental and contextual challenges that can affect physical access to ICTs. For example, electricity and roads, people with disabilities — such as the blind, deaf or physically handicapped — face particular barriers to infrastructural access, and inclusion of these groups requires deliberate attention.

Once physical access to ICTs is addressed, the technology used in the initiatives should be appropriate to local needs and status. Appropriateness can be gauged in terms of power requirements, security, environmental conditions, income levels of population and other aspects of the local community.

The technical specifications and usability of the ICTs targeted in the initiative should also be suitable to how individuals need to put technology to use. A wide variety of modern technologies are now available to supplement traditional ones, and it is important to think broadly about these options. More appropriate ICT options may include handheld computers and public access points or telecentres, as well as innovative uses of mobile phones, for Internet access, television, and radio.

Solar energy and other alternative power sources, together with battery-powered portable devices and wireless connectivity offer greater possibilities for rural access. In the next writing I will explain the remaining criteria.

The writer is Executive Director, Toro Development Network, Fort Portal.
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