Literature Review on the Impact of Public Access to Information and Communication Technologies
Type of work: Working Paper
Categories:ICT Infrastructure | ICT4D
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are widely acknowledged as important resources for socioeconomic development. Due to resource constraints, shared access forms the dominant mode of access to these technologies in most developing countries. Governments, non‐governmental institutions and business entrepreneurs have invested significant amounts of human and financial resources in public libraries, telecenters, internet cafés and other forms of public access, without clear evidence on what the ultimate outcomes will be and the actual costs. This report presents a review of empirical research on the impacts of public access to ICTs in order to document what is known about this approach to ICT service delivery.
The results show that there is limited conclusive evidence on downstream impacts of public access to ICTs. The evidence that does exist suggests that the public access ICT model is not living up to the expectations placed on it. This is not necessarily because public access has had no impacts, but because its impact is particularly difficult to identify and measure. As a model, public access to ICTs has experienced success and failure, leading to both reinforcement of the belief that the model should be expanded and strengthened; as well as claims that public access ICTs are ultimately ineffective or even counter‐productive from the development perspective.
Four main types of evidence are identified – evidence on venue performance and sustainability, users, usage patterns and downstream impacts. Assessment of this evidence indicates that trends are most apparent in the first three areas, while evidence of downstream impacts remains elusive. Most studies show that sustainability is a critical challenge especially in low resource, low income environments where commercial services are not viable. They also show that users are primarily young males with relatively high socio‐economic status and prior access to the Internet. Users tend to engage in social and personal activities as opposed to economic activities, for example. Findings on downstream impacts fall on both sides of the equation – some studies conclude that impacts are high in a variety of areas – development of ICT skills, job creation, civic engagement etc; others find limited impacts.
Ultimately there is as yet no definitive evidence‐based statement on the impacts of public access to ICTs. A research agenda is required that shifts from individual case studies and nominal level impact claims, to lines of enquiry that not only cut across contexts, but also utilize methodologies that (whether quantitative or qualitative) enable some quantification of identified impacts.