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More Information: How rapid, easy, access and new media contribute to the public access to ICT

More : How rapid, easy, access and new media contribute to the public access to ICT Dr. Ricardo Gomez and PhD Student Juan-Carlos Chavez University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, United States Abstract
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More : How rapid, easy, access and new media contribute to the public access to ICT Dr. Ricardo Gomez and PhD Student Juan-Carlos Chavez University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, United States Abstract This paper presents results of a mixed-methods investigation of users perceived benefits of Public Access Computing (PAC) located in libraries, telecenters and cybercafés in the South American country of Colombia. As part of a larger study, this paper focuses on the benefit of having more access to information, faster and cheaper sources of information and communication, and access to new media. According to a survey of 1,182 PAC users in Colombia, 41% of them made comments related to more information. We explore the role that gender, age, education levels, frequency of use, employment occupation and venue type played in the use of PAC. These findings are derived from a complete ecosystem of public access to information and communication technologies (ICT) through libraries, telecenters and cybercafés, and they are based on a representative sample of the broader population of Colombia. This analysis can position future research that may explore other ways in which access to more information actually help users meet their information needs and contribute to improving their lives. Keywords: Public, Access, Computing,, Communication, Technology, Ecosystem Introduction Coverage of services and access to information, before I only consulted books in libraries today I do it through virtual library media. Many research intervention projects have sought unique ways to solve hindered societal development due to poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, corruption and malfeasance by putting in action information and communication technologies (ICT) (Warschauer 2003; Mehra, Merkel et al. 2004; Gurstein 2008; Unwin 2009). Recently, ICT initiatives have explored ways to strengthen a community at the individual and collective levels (e.g., Mehra, Merkel et al. 2004; Pigg and Crank 2004; Steinmueller 2004; Yang, Lee et al. 2007; Díaz Andrade and Urquhart 2009; Mignone and Henley 2010). The impact of ICT on society and its economy is difficult to measure. Many researchers have studied telecenters for development, some have studied computers in libraries in developing countries, and a few have studied cybercafés, and their contributions to community development. Very few have studied the whole ecosystem of PAC, which in this case is inclusive of libraries, telecenters and cybercafés. Furthermore, there was a period of euphoria about ICT and telecenters around the turn of the century, followed by much cynicism after the realization that it was difficult to assess PAC s impact on development. Current results of ICT impacts on society and its economy are generally construed as bias towards an action and not towards knowledge. Furthermore, according to Heeks, there tends to be a preference for a narrowly descriptive analysis in a field that is not analytical enough: results of ICT impact projects have been anecdotal or case-study driven 1 that measured activities, processes, outputs and outcomes, with a strong bias toward positive results or desired outcomes, while negative impacts and results are often underreported. Tangible impacts such as improved jobs, income, health and education have been elusive, and it is difficult to establish ICT interventions or the access to PAC as their cause. The PAC ecosystem in Colombia is comprised of different types of venues that offer public access to computers and the Internet: public libraries, telecenters (non-profit centers set up by government or nongovernmental organizations to PAC as a tool for community development), and Internet cafes or cybercafés (for-profit centers set up as small businesses to offer use of computers and related services). Studying all three types of venues offers a comprehensive understanding of PAC in a way that the study of any single type of venue cannot do. All PAC venues provide marginalized and/or underserved communities opportunities to interact with computers and the Internet, especially when they do not otherwise have access to a personal computer. Measurement of the social and economic impacts of ICT in public access environments continues to be elusive. In this paper we emphasize the importance of understanding users perceptions of impact of PAC, seeking to understand their experience of using computers and the Internet in public places throughout the South American country of Colombia. Using a mixed methods approach, we conducted interviews, surveys, and focus groups in different regions of the country to better understand the uses and perceived impacts of libraries, telecenters and cybercafés. This paper presents the findings related to the notion of more information as a key perceived benefit of PAC among its users in Colombia. The remainder of the paper is organized as follows: we first present a brief review of relevant literature of ICT impact and PAC, along with their environmental presence in Colombia. We then describe the methods used in this study, followed by the key findings and a discussion of the implications of more information as a perceived benefit of PAC. We conclude with some future research directions to further explore this topic. Context and Literature Review It is important to understand the political environment in which PAC operates in the country. Regardless of historical and recent internal armed conflicts in Colombia, the country shows extraordinary economic stability and steady human-capital growth, which places it amongst the lead countries of regional development. Located at South-America s northwestern corner, and in a tropical zone that touches the Equator, as well as being half way between both continental poles, Colombia s location is geostrategic and favors commerce and communications. In addition to an incalculable natural diversity, as well as a wide range in climate and ecosystems, Colombia has resources for commercial development because of its proximity to the Panama Canal and long coastlines that give access to the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Atlantic Ocean through the Caribbean Sea. All of these factors position Colombia as an entrance gate to South America and facilitates development of vessel-docking ports that face the rest of the Americas, Europe, and Pacific Rim countries. In spite of important human developments in the last decade, poverty, exclusion, and political implications are still issues for this South-American country. Those issues critically affect the way that 2 people communicate and access information. Furthermore, those issues characterize the way in which Colombians acquire information through public access information communication technologies (ICTs). The progressive nature of government public policy and investment in the communication, education, and cultural fields has favored public access venues in Colombia. Nevertheless, it is the decision and commitment of social organizations and community-based actions that have been the real development axis of public access venues in the country. This situation has been helped because many people have also found in ICT an essential tool for individual and social development. PAC Ecosystem in Colombia Three types of venues make up the public access ecosystem in the country: Public libraries are increasingly offering (or planning to offer) access to computers and the Internet. There are 1,563 libraries affiliated with the National Network of Public Libraries 1, and about 16% of them offer PAC, with plans to dramatically extend this to all public libraries by Community telecenters are non-profit centers that offer PAC as part of a development program or other community activities such as health, agriculture or education activities. There are today 1,062 telecenters operated by non-government organizations, and 1,490 operated by government-sponsored programs, primarily the national government s Compartel program, for a total estimate of 2,550 telecenters (Casasbuenas 2007). Cybercafés are for-profit centers that offer PAC as a business, frequently coupled with other services such as food, beverages, photocopies, etc. Our extrapolation of data from official reports suggests there were 14,166 cybercafés in the country at the beginning of Based on user surveys from the National Department of Statistics, a recent study found that the most frequent type of access to the Internet was through public access venues, especially paid venues (47.2%), followed by access at home (43.8%), at school (26.6%), at work (24.6%), or at someone else s home (16.3%). Free PAC was least used (only 4.1%) (Colnodo, APC et al. 2007). In sum, PAC is a key player in use of computers and the Internet in Colombia (almost half the Internet use in the country is through PAC venues). PAC is an important player in the use of computers and the Internet in Colombia (almost half the Internet use in the country is through PAC venues), is an important component of the National ICT Development Plan of 2007, and a central piece of the Public Libraries Act of While both the National ICT Development Plan and the Public Libraries Act rely on libraries and telecenters for the implementation of their programs, neither of them includes cybercafés in their plans, even though cybercafés are three times more numerous than libraries and cybercafés combined. Public libraries, telecenters, and cybercafés, still constitute the best training and ICT access opportunity for marginalized and vulnerable populations that still make up a high percentage of all Colombians. These public access venues represent opportunities for communication, information, education, and are leisure information alternatives. These locations are also gathering and socializing spaces that may change relationships between the State and citizens. These venues are also spaces that help enhance users daily lives. The public access venues are also important alternatives for employment search, entrepreneurship, and personal and professional development Based on Quarterly report of Ministry of ICT, first quarter of 2010 (http://www.mintic.gov.co/mincom/faces/index.jsp?id=14580), which cites number of broadband connections to the Internet for shared access, separate from home and business access, and subtracting the know totals for libraries and telecenters. 3 Research Methods We examined public libraries, telecenters, and cybercafés as the principal points of access to ICT in Colombia. Under telecenters we included both community telecenters (supported by non-governmental organizations) and governmental telecenters (supported by the government s Compartel program among others), as described above. Cybercafés were also included; they are commercial, for-profit businesses that offer access to computers connected to the Internet and other related services in towns and cities (sometimes they offer food or beverages, connectivity services like telephone calls, scanning, printing, photocopying, and disc burning, or diverse services, such as hair salons, gym, or video games). We included cybercafés in the study in order to have a more holistic picture of the public access computing ecosystem in the country. We used the Access, Capacity & Environment (ACE) framework developed in the Landscape study mentioned above (Gomez 2010), which helps to establish a comprehensive understanding of public access computing in the country, not just access to computers and the Internet. To better reflect the diversity of the population in the country, we adopted the regional distribution criteria used in the National Survey of Community Television (Angel 1998), which divides the country into five regions based on cultural and demographic characteristics: the Caribbean coast, Santanderes, Antioquia and coffee-growing region (Eje Cafetero), Central region, and Southwest region. In each of these regions we studied a capital city with high population density and a town with medium population density (called pueblos or municipios, or municipalities, in Colombia). This regional distribution model allowed us to have national coverage and to distribute the aggregate sample proportionally and statistically in the selected regions, based on the 2005 Census. In each of the five regions we drew the sample from the capital city and a small town in order to reflect the diversity and variety of both urban and non-urban experiences in different cultural settings around the country. Fieldwork conducted in Colombia during the first half of 2010 by researchers from University of Washington, Universidad Icesi and Fundación Colombia Multicolor with a team of local allies. Several tools were used in this research: 3 a survey to scan users of public access venues, in-depth interviews with experts, semi-structured interviews with users of public access venues, structured interviews with public-access-venue users 4, and focus groups with users and users in six different localities in the country. 1,182 surveys were applied to ICT public-access venue users nationwide, paying attention to genderequity criteria, inclusion of different ages, and inclusion of different ethnic groups (indigenous and African-Colombian). Local enumerators from libraries, telecenters, and cybercafés administered surveys at different times and on different days. There were ten interviews of experts, which were organized in two groups: six ICT scholars linked to universities, government organizations and NGO s (most of them lived in big cities: Bogota, Medellin, Cali), and four opinion leaders involved with activities linked to communication and information in a community in each region. One hundred structured interviews were also applied to users: twenty in each region, with a balance between capital cities and municipalities and the three types of public access venues libraries, 3 Data collection instruments are available at 4 In this research, user is the person in charge of helping people and providing support to users in public libraries, telecenters, and cybercafés. 4 telecenters, and cybercafés. Questions around gender equity, different generation representation, and ethnic diversity were a key part of these structured interviews. In the ten personal interviews with users, questions were asked about approaches, focus, and use of ICTs, paying special attention to personal experiences when learning about and using ICTs. The users were also asked about and about the ability of ICT to be transformative, as well as their motivation for use, or vision of ICT for development. We held six focus group workshops: one in each region of the country. Approximately twelve community members participated in each workshop, which included users and users or actors of public access ICT in the community. Special attention was paid to gender equity, different ages, educational levels, and socioeconomic strata, as well as to questions around the inclusion of people with disabilities and from ethnic minorities. The main purpose of these workshops was to facilitate structured conversations that would help understand the community information and communication requirements and practices, with a particular focus on the role played by ICT public access venues in community development. Another goal was to help understand interactions between different public access venues, mobile telephones, and community radio, as well as local perspectives on their benefits and impacts. All data was collected in Spanish by native Spanish speakers. Detailed field notes were prepared after each focus group workshop, interviews were transcribed and anonymized, and all data was coded using Atlas TI, a qualitative software analysis package. Data from survey results was entered and analyzed using statistical analysis software as well as excel. Responses to open-ended question in the user survey were transcribed and grouped in an iterative process of clustering for emerging themes. Twelve themes were identified, and all responses were then assigned to as many as three non-exclusive themes for further analysis. Findings: Perceived Benefits of PAC The national survey of PAC users included an open-ended question about how the use of PAC changed their lives. The responses to that query yielded twelve themes, which were grouped into four broad categories: more information (41%), relationships (25%), learning (20%), and transactions (10%). All of those themes may have potential negative consequences as well and were identified by 3% of the respondents. The negative consequences reported were commonly related to increased dependency or addiction, less time available, more superficial interactions or knowledge, more expensive (new costs), problems with virus or hackers, and lack of privacy. Analysis of the data showed that the most salient user perceived benefit of PAC is related to having access to more information. There are three components to the notion of more information resources available through PAC; they are as follows: a) More Access (18%): users most frequently report having more options, more sources and more current or updated information through PAC; both local information and information about places and events are mentioned b) Fast and Easy (15%): use of PAC is perceived to offer faster, easier, cheaper access to information and communication resources; it helps to reduce or eliminate travel, and makes people more productive by helping them accomplish more things in less time. Respondents also indicate that they used to have to pay for content (newspapers and books in particular) and now they find them online at no personal cost. 5 c) (9%): PAC has transformed the traditional media used to get information and entertainment. Users report that before they went to the library, read books and newspapers, watched TV or listened to the radio, wrote letters and spoke over the phone, and now they can do all of these online (online books, newspapers, radio and TV stations, or Facebook instead of letters and phone, etc.). The distribution of responses regarding the perceived benefits of PAC, with the detailed components of the More category, is summarized in the following figure: Figure 1: Perceived Benefits of PAC: More These are some examples of user comments that illustrate the notions of More described in the above graphic, which are described in more detail below: Technology has changed my life in that I can access more information, I can be more up to date about events, about what is happening in the environment where I live (Survey, ybercaf, asto ithout Internet I did not have as much nowledge as we have now at any time you can go to any page and find out about any news, or about any difficulty you have (Survey, ybercaf, Santander de Quilichao). My life has changed because in my city it is difficult to go to a library because there are no means for that In uibd, hoc, it is difficult to access a library so the Internet makes it more accessible to do research, to communicate and all that (Survey, Library, Medellin) hen there was no Internet, I had to go to my school library, spend long hours searching in books for the information that I needed, and there was not a lot of information that was recent. But now with the Internet I have recent information and it is a lot easier to get it (Survey, ybercaf, Santander de Quilichao). As reflected in user survey culled and the above qualitative comments, the perceived benefits of public access were its fast and easy access to more and cheaper information. 6 This article delves deeper into the three main themes derived from the more information category in order to report possible interactions between the themes and: age, education levels, frequency of use, employment occupation, and venue type. Data Identification and Selection Logic: The More variable for this analysis is defined as users you
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