Practical research: mobile telephony and development
Project to analyze mobile telephone usage in Latin America. Diffussion or mobile penetration, though not as high as higher-income countries, it does have a certain level of penetration that sometimes almost reaches 100% (higher-income countries reach up to 120%). Penetration is though unevenly distributed.
Research question: does mobile communication affects (impacts on) socio-economic development in Latin America? That was a new question in the region of Latin America, and it was relevant and ambitious, and wide, as a whole research network of several people and institutions worked together to answer the research question.
The levels of analysis: macro (economics, econometrics, context), meso-organizational (institutions, markets) and micro. It was very important too to maintain a multidisciplinary focus to gather all the shades of meaning of such a complex topic.
Case study: micro perspective
Case in Puno, poor rural region in Peru, where mobile telephony had been recently introduced, with very low fixed line coverage.
Does the diffusion of mobile communications affects welfare? and what is welfare? how are we going to measure it, what indicators are we going to use? Final consumption was used as main indicator, and a comparison was made amongst mobile users vs. non-users. Data were gathered using a survey were the respondents listed their goods or their assets (e.g. “I got a TV set”). Of course income does not equal consumption, but it is easier to trick on income than on consumption. On the other hand, it is true that welfare is not welfare (what about health?) but it was considered as a good proxy.
The target communities were articulated through weekly street markets, so people going to the markets were surveyed, using both ethnography and structured surveys. Ethnographic research helped in knowing what was happening, who were the people, how did they think. The structured survey provided the quantitative data to complete the qualitative approach.
Results show that mobile phones increased welfare (as measured in the research) in those households where the household head had been using a mobile phone for one year or more. The mobile phone is something that is not extraordinary, it is embedded in everyday’s life and it thus has an impact. Having more information helps you in making better decisions (e.g. go and sell your cheese in another market where prices are higher), but you have to be used to the device, have to be literate in the platform, be using it naturally so that it naturally enters your business, your economic sphere, etc.
Social networks are managed through the mobile phone, including both familiar and commercial networks. It is an appropriation process that improves well-established habits.
Fifth Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (2010)
If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:
Peña-López, I. (2010) “Fifth Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (V). Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol: Practical research: mobile telephony and development” In ICTlogy,
#84, September 2010. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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