Limited Skills & Participation (Barrier)

Limited stakeholder skills and participation formed communication-related barriers to meeting development goals. Interestingly, some participants described contexts in which technology access was less of a barrier than the skills to use technologies:

“I must confess that all the schools have computers. Having said that, we must create a method by which they know how to use the computers-- students and teachers. This is a major concern with ICT.” (Member of partner organization)

“Even though you may have the communication technology, still it has to be used by human resource. So that human resource itself was a very limiting factor. And to first of all train them and then for them to understand this whole idea and to be able to use it and then also to evaluate what are the impacts.” (Member of partner organization)

Although training sufficient numbers of stakeholders was a challenge in some projects, training was the most common strategy for mitigating the barrier of insufficient skills:

“We have a whole cadre of farmers called animators, so they had to be trained in handling the equipments, both playing the video as well as making the videos, and then the storyboards. Things like this they were trained in. But we had some issues of scaling it up.” (Member of partner organization)

“We were look at educating farmers on using Internet, but other partners are doing that. They focus on this part. We have some workshops in rural areas and meet farmers and tell about the project and how they can benefit and help them get familiar with the system.” (Team member)

“So all of it, almost all of it requires some element of customization, training, technical support, especially for these NGOs that don’t have in-house capacity.” (Project leader)

Other responses to the barrier of insufficient technology skills included

The above quote about designing technology that "can be used by any farmer" illustrates one way that the communication-related bridge appropriate technology can mitigate the barrier of human capacity.

Although limited skillsets impeded stakeholders from engaging in some technology-mediated communication, skills were not the only limiting human factor. Communication strategies also affected stakeholder participation, often posing a barrier to project development goals. For example, device-specific communication that required intended beneficiaries to travel to a particular location, such as an Internet kiosk, posed a barrier to participation for some stakeholders:

““[The] kiosk model will not work, so we have to bring information to the farmer itself. Very few people want to go there [to the Internet kiosk] and put it [i.e., post a question], we found in a survey.” (Team member)

Participation was also impeded when stakeholders did not find a particular communication approach to be engaging:

“There is a downside to the Pico projectors, which is that they’re not very bright. So they’re not entirely engaging to like a population that might have lots of TV penetration. So in an area like here in [Indian location] where there is higher TV penetration, then they’re going to compare the picture quality to what they watch regularly. They’re not going to be excited. So in that case where anyway you have the infrastructure, you can continue with the TV/DVD player. But in a place where people have maybe never seen a TV or cinema in the past, where this is like the first projection screen that’s been shown, then that case we’ve found that it’s highly useful.” (Project leader)

“As a teacher, I have 32 years in experience, but in a class I cannot convince them by my words, but I can use ICT to explain more convincingly. These photos will impress and be more memorable.” (Team member)

The quotes above show an interesting connection among participation, infrastructure, and appropriate technology. Technology is appropriate not only when it accommodates infrastructure gaps but also when it is engaging for stakeholders.

Stakeholder participation may also suffer when stakeholders are unsure whether they can trust the validity of the information they receive through a particular communication channel. For example, the participation of farmers in the technology-mediated agricultural projects required that that those farmers be able to judge the quality of the information they received:

“To ensure the quality of the answers, what we have done is when the certified experts answer, off to the side of the answers there is a logo saying this is an answer that is coming from a certified expert. So a farmer knows that this answer comes from an expert and this answer comes from a farmer. So it is up to him whether to accept someone’s suggestion or not. He is free to choose what he feels like choosing. Secondly, we feel that farmers also have their own indigenous source of knowledge. They have found some very local or simple ways of solving a particular problem in their own field. And there is no reason why we should not bring his particular wisdom and knowledge onto the portal... We said let everybody get a chance to share his own ideas, but farmers should be able to differentiate between advice given by an expert and by a farmer.” (Member of partner organization)

“We were thinking we would have the experts recorded in their own voice, with a mail attached to it, to help farmers see it as more credible.” (Project leader)

Because digital media amplified project reach (i.e., enabling large numbers of stakeholders to post and to answer questions) that digital media also complicated stakeholders’ ability to judge the validity of information. With non-digital communication like in-person conversations, farmers would have cues regarding an adviser’s credibility, cues that draw upon cultural, social, and contextual details that are masked or eliminated in online communication. For example, when engaging in face-to-face communication, farmers could gauge an adviser’s age and could make better judgments regarding their social standing and social network connections. In a collectivist society like India (Hofstede, 2001), these factors are particularly important for framing communication. But because online documents like web portals mask many of these cues, the project team members created new cues that would aid farmers in judging the credibility of advisers and, therefore, the advice they post.

A final point related to the effects of communication on participation is that stakeholders must find a particular communication strategy to be appropriate for the information context. The quotes below indicate the reluctance of some potential stakeholders to participate in projects because they do not find the communication strategy to be appropriate for the information context. For example, educational content developers hesitated to produce material for mobile platforms because they are not sure that mobile phones are suitable learning devices:

“I think the challenge is that a lot of these guys are targeting the desktop computer and not mobile phone because they have some reservations about trying to move to the mobile platform. That represents a major shift for them in terms of the expertise they need to develop for learning, and they are not even sure that mobile learning will work. For us the challenge is about trying to grow that whole ecosystem such that people actually see mobile learning as a viable space to be working in.” (Project leader)

Similarly, potential employers had little incentive to change their culturally ingrained way of seeking domestic help (i.e., through social networks) and did not find a website to be an appropriate or natural communication channel for achieving their aim:

“For an employer to get an employee, the part-time workers are got through a social network: the watchman, the neighbors. I will not go to a special site. In India we have a social network that is the way in which people get their workers.” (Member of partner organization)

This finding further complicates what "appropriate technology" means: not only usable by stakeholders and able to function in the physical environment but also supporting them in culturally appropriate ways to achieve their own aims.

Back button
Home | Framing | Methods_1 | Methods_2 | Findings | Conclusions | References