|Understanding Telecentre evaluation frameworks through the Venezuelan Infocentros programme
There is considerable debate surrounding the situation in which the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) presents enormous opportunities for economic and social development. Generally defined as “physical spaces that provide public access to ICTs for educational, social, personal and economic development” telecentres constitute a new trend in international development, notwithstanding that when evaluating the impacts of these initiatives, academics and practitioners are only “scratching the surface”. While scarcely used in practice, a plethora of evaluation methodologies has been developed. Successful applications of telecentres remain rare, and due to the large investment requirement necessary to these initiatives, there is a growing need for better monitoring and evaluation. This paper examines the telecentre evaluation initiatives in the Venezuelan Infocentros programme, in order to establish the depth of the telecentre evaluation practices and experiences. The analysis uses a framework built from both earlier and more recent evaluation literature and then assesses the approaches followed in the different evaluations of the Infocentros programme carried out so far.
Developing Countries, Development, Evaluation, Telecentres, Venezuela.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
IS Evaluation 6
Evaluating Development 8
Telecentres Evaluation 9
Administrative Reform in Venezuela 19
The Genesis 20
Analysis The Genesis 22
Evaluation UNESCO 2002 24
Analysis Evaluation UNESCO 25
Evaluation IDC 2003 28
Analysis Evaluation IDC 29
Future Evaluation 2004 32
Analysis Future evaluation 32
how is infocentros evaluated? 35
1 - Internet Penetration in Venezuela 52
2 - Evolution of Infocentros usage 2000-2003 52
3 - Guiding Principles for telecentre evaluation 53
4 - Infocentros Evaluation Questionnaires 56
5 – Conclusions of UNESCO evaluation 58
6- UNESCO questionnaire 59
7 - IDC Recommendations 60
8 – Indicators used in evaluation IDC 61
9 - Suggested categories for the analysis in the 2004 evaluation 62
10 - IDC questionnaires 63
There is considerable debate surrounding the situation in which the proliferation, diffusion and appropriate use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) present enormous opportunities for economic and social development (Madon, 2000; Heeks and Kenny, 2002; Wade, 2002; Avgerou, 2003; Ciborra, 2003). The spread of ICTs brings hope that development in all its aspects can be achieved, and, indeed, officials everywhere are using technology to improve their countries.
ICTs, however, are not a shortcut to economic, social and political development (Madon, 2000; Wade, 2002). Development goals are frustrated in many cases by the realisation that uneven access and the inability to use ICTs pose serious threats as they may accentuate existing gaps between the “haves and have-nots”. These gaps are known in the aggregate as the ‘digital divide’ and since the formalisation of the phenomenon, academics have debated its definition, its global spread and its evolution.
One of the solutions commonly expounded to bridge existing divides is the implementation of telecentres. Telecentres can be broadly defined as places which offer public access to telecommunication services (Hudson, 1999). Other authors (Gómez et al., 1999a) place emphasis on the implementation and usage of telecentres as a support in the effort to achieve greater development. Since the 1990s, when Hungarian telecentres were built, incorporating the ideas of socio-economic development and the internet, numerous international organisations and governments have focused on the implementation of telecentres, particularly in developing countries. The International Development Research Centre (IDRC), for instance, states that “Telecentres are a new trend in international development” (Reilly et al, 2001). In Latin America for example, many kinds of telecentres have been implemented ranging from the most basic to multi-purpose technology centres which combine various advanced digital services.
In Venezuela, as with many other developing countries, there has been grave political, social and economic unrest. Recognising the potential impact of the use of ICTs for socio-economic development and being conscious of the existence of the digital divide, Venezuelan officials have been implementing efforts to reduce the gaps between Venezuela and other countries and between rural and urban Venezuelan populations. Since 1999, new policies have been created to aid the democratisation of internet access. The creation of the Ministry and Science and Technology, a new Telecommunications Plan and the definition of a model of community telecentres and the initiation of a pilots project in the last quarter of 2000 are key parts of this policy initiative.
Infocentros - the Venezuelan telecentres programme – was officially created in 2000 as a part of a state strategy which pursued extensive incorporation of technology in order to foster democratic internet access and to reduce inequalities which hinder the development of Venezuela. Infocentros is almost four years old and its vision, objectives and management strategy have changed several times. Although many of its original objectives have been retained, the project has been reformulated – as “Infocentros II” – alongside development programmes which introduce ICTs with developmental purposes and are complementary to Infocentros have been introduced.
With public funding at stake, the need for effective evaluation – an inherent part of human nature – becomes apparent. Evaluation, being broadly defined as the assessment of value or worth, in this case in social terms, is applied throughout social systems. This continual assessment may be justified here with regard to the large sums of investment funding in place, notwithstanding the absence of any international donor or agency involvement.
Given that telecentres are development projects which introduce ICTs pursuing development, they will be exposed to similar evaluation problems as with Information Systems. Subjectivity, assessment of intangibles and a plethora of evaluation frameworks with positivist approaches are some examples of these problems.
This paper offers an interpretive approach in the form of a case study into the problem of telecentre evaluation. The case of Venezuelan Infocentros is introduced as a means of studying the validity of the relevant literature. Additionally, the case will be used to answer the research question, which is concerned with the way in which evaluation of Infocentros is carried out in practice. Furthermore, an evaluation framework is constructed from the different evaluation literature reviewed, in an effort to analyse which approaches are used in the different evaluations of Infocentros carried out so far.
Additional questions this paper addresses are:
Have the current telecentre evaluation frameworks been taken into account when evaluation of Infocentros is considered?
How different are the evaluations carried out so far and how have they evolved in terms of the approach or methodology followed?
Research into telecentre evaluation is important firstly because of the vast sums of money currently spent on these projects. Secondly, academics and practitioners have developed a myriad of frameworks for this purpose but they are seldom used in practice. Moreover, telecentres can be used to support other ICT and development projects such as e-government, education, and health programmes. Finally, there are few successful cases of the implementation of telecentres which aid development; an illustration of the need for better monitoring and evaluation of these initiatives.
Given the inherent restrictions of this paper, this study begins by reviewing Information Systems evaluation, development project evaluation and telecentre evaluation literature. The following chapter presents the theoretical framework which has been created for this analysis. The methodological aspects of this work are then offered and these are followed by the presentation of the case study and the analysis of findings. Therefore the existing limitations in this work and its conclusions are set out in turn. An examination of the arguments together with future suggested research in the area completes the study.