Thesis Defence. Sara Vannini: Social Representations of Community Multimedia Centres in Mozambique

Thesis defence by Sara Vannini entitled Social Representations of Community Multimedia Centres in Mozambique, in Lugano at the of the Università della Svizzera italiana. June 6, 2014.

Sara Vannini: Social Representations of Community Multimedia Centres in Mozambique

UNESCO creates in 2001 the concept of community multimedia centres (CMC), a kind of public access points to the Internet, which Mozambique applies to fight against poverty. These centres have since their inception been in the debate of schoolars, who find on them both successes and failures.

Key issues:

  • Sustainability: financial, political, ethical, social…
  • Impact: social, economical…
  • They represent huge investments.

There are huge design-reality gaps between what happens in the lab, or the design of the intervention, and what is at last implemented. There is more need for context, and here the concept of social representation comes very handy.

  • Enables individuals to orientate themselves and interpret their (new) world.
  • It is a relationship between one’s ego, the others and objects (or the object of their relationship): there is inter-subjectivity. And this relationship happens in a context.
  • As realities change along time, so do relationships and thus the social representations that people have.

Applications of social representation theory:

  • Inclusion of context.
  • Participatory action research, design-oriented approach.
  • Used to inform policy-makers and to find drivers for individual actions.

Field work

10 CMC out of 34 centres in Mozambique, chosen by kind of ownership, who was managing them, what kind of services were they providing, location. Most of them provide community radio, computers and connectivity; some of them did not offer Internet connection and two of them had only the community radio working.

Qualitative interviews were carried on, including photo-elicitation, as it fosters the reflection, empowers the interviewee, decreases the risk of pre-conceived responses, offers richer data to the researcher, etc. Photo-elicitation was participant-driven: participants were asked to provide their own pictures as an answer to the questions produced by the interviewer.

Data analysis

Photo-taxonomy; deductive content analysis on photos-related text; inductive content analysis; automatic analysis of the reciprocal relationships among textual units.


CMC are perceived as two parts: community radio and a telecentre.

Community radio is about information and having political role. It also has a strong role in building community, both at the local level as at the national level, establishing a link with the rest of the country. Community radio is also related with edutainment: education and entertainment.

The telecentre is about learning, and learning how to use a computer, basic software packages, etc. It is not perceived as a communication space but, on the contrary, as a business centre where one can carry one different tasks as photocopying, etc. The telecentre is also a financial resources centre, as it provides income after some services.

As seen, with social representation theory, de design-reality gap is addressed and the methodology can be used for policy-making. It can provide insights on appropriation and reinvention of a (new) social object.

Telecentres do not offer contextualized services, as the community radio does. There is a need for more advanced services.


Erkki Sutinen: does the name CMS still carry too much meaning? Cannot we use a name that is not a definition on itself? Does this make any different in the usage or the appropriation of the venue, because it is artificial? Or does the definition constrains the evolution of the service? Vannini: What the research tells is that the definition is needed for people to understand and to appropriate a new object/venue/service. Of course we do not have to be slaves of our definitions and these have to be flexible.

Erkki Sutinen: can we develop schools in other means, e.g. merging with telecentres, and create a new kind of institution? Can we get rid of CMS and build instead new kind of services that put together many needs with many solutions? Vannini: Agreed. That is exactly the role of the community radio, that goes beyond a “mere radio”. There are many things that telecentres could copy from community radios, especially in what relates to everything else that a community radio represents.

Ismael Peña-López: how can we “simplify” this methodology and embed it in the usual e-readiness indicators? Vannini: there are methods of social representation that can be scaled, but nevertheless people should be asked and participate and tell what is happening at their level, and inform indicators.

Ismael Peña-López: could we use big data analysis and content analysis to infer what people is thinking of CMC and the use they are doing? Vannini: sure, but we may risk excluding important people from our analysis that are using the centres but not participating in these social netorking sites.

Erkki Sutinen: is there any feeling of status embedded in the technology, of proudness of having the telecentre in their community? Where there technical issues or fears that people did not take into account because of the aforementioned “proudness”? Vannini: yes, there was some status-factor, but it did not seem very important. Indeed, there were technical issues but generally related with macro-level issues like power outages, etc. At the micro level, there sure is room for improvement when it comes to educating and training telecentre managers: this would definitely make a difference.

Erkki Sutinen: can we measure not only representation but attitudes after this methodology? Vannini: this analysis was not done, but we can tell, from the interviews, that many people did not have the attitudes related with creativity, or challenging how things are.

Ismael Peña-López: can this research identify developmental outcomes due to CMC? could they go a step beyond, from empowerment to governance? Vannini: the research was a snapshot of a given reality, not the analysis of an evolution. But, during interviews many people stated how they had gained empowerment, how they could no make some decisions about their lives that they could not before. This was especially relevant with connected centres.

Erkki Sutinen: why this methodology? why not? Vannini: maybe more time with less centres would have been better. But this methodology was very useful given the time available and space to be covered.

Ismael Peña-López: we now have telecenters, hubs, co-working spaces, libraries, fab-labs, etc. You have 20 billion Meticals, or half a billion Swiss Francs, what do you do? Do you create more CMC? Both in Mozambique and Switzerland? Vannini: would invest on education of the operators and in the community at large.

Erkki Sutinen: is the idea of an ICT4D discipline over? what is the agenda of the research on ICT4D? Vannini: won’t get obsolete until all differences are reduced to their minimum expression. It is true that a middle class is emerging, but still poorer communities exist, and not only in Africa but everywhere, and are somewhat becoming more important indeed in some areas.

Lorenzo Cantoni: how would a research be designed to measure the impact of mobile technologies on CMC in particular and in developing areas in general? Vannini: first of all, not only individual or isolated appropriation should be measured, but how different technologies are being integrated among themselves.

PS: congratulations, doctor Vannini!

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2014) “Thesis Defence. Sara Vannini: Social Representations of Community Multimedia Centres in Mozambique” In ICTlogy, #129, June 2014. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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About Me

    I am Ismael Peña-López.

    I am professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Open University of Catalonia, and researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute and the eLearn Center of that university. During 2014 I am also the director of the Open Innovation project at Fundació Jaume Bofill.