Article. Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia

Article cover of Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia

Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia

In June 2016 four friends gathered around a table. Ricard was working on his PhD thesis, which I supervised, and summoned the help of a data expert, Toni, and someone knowledgeable on analysing networks of people, Oriol — later on Núria Vega would join the team to improve the whole project and, specifically, bring brains and muscle to the field work.

At that time we believed that ICTs were having an impact on agriculture and people working in agroecology and cooperatives. But we suspected that there was something else. In Catalonia, cooperatives were changing the shape of the agriculture sector in the XIX century. After a long hiatus during the Spanish dictatorship (1939-1978), the agriculture cooperative sector (with quite republican ideas attached) kept on being dormant… until the breakout of the World Wide Web in the mid 1990s.

That was more than a coincidence to us, so we decided to analyze it — it was Ricard’s idea: the rest just followed. But soon we saw that there seemed to be much more than just a rebirth of cooperatives: what was being deployed before our eyes was something new. Beyond using ICTs to improve management and/or make sustainable non-mainstream models that can barely compete with the big behemoths of the food industry, what we saw whas that ICTs seem to be configuring a brand new ecosystem of food production and consumption, including new ways to understand food as a public infrastructure.

Almost three years after comes this article of us, with these reflections formerly put and rigorously analyzed. The result is Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia, just published at Agricultural Economics (AGRICECON).

While we waited for the paper to be published, Oriol left us forever. As we stated in the paper, Oriol, it was fun working with you while you were among us. Now you are gone, but the good work remains. So long, friend. Ricard, Ismael, Núria and Toni.

Article abstract and download

In Catalonia, agroecological cooperativism is part of a set of alternatives that appeared as a response to the current hegemonic food consumption model, controlled by large commercial establishments. It is defined by its promotion of short food supply chains (SFSCs), operates under the values of the social and solidarity economy (SSE) and holds a strong political commitment. This article, on the one hand, studies the setup of agroecological cooperativism understood as the outcome of a network of producers, intermediaries and consumers and, on the other hand, examines the impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the development of this consumption model. The data has been obtained through on-site interviews and online research on the 56 consumer groups and cooperatives present in Barcelona. Descriptive statistics and correlation analysis have been used to study them. The results prove the salient role that ICT has as a facilitator in the relational network established between the agents that take part in it, thus becoming a key characteristic element of the new agroecological consumer cooperativism.

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Full article:
Espelt Rodrigo, R., Peña-López, I., Miralbell Izard, O., Martín, T. & Vega Rodríguez, N. (2019). “Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia”. In Agricultural Economics, 65 (2), 59-66. Praga: Czech Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

Ana Rivoir: National Strategies for the Information Society in Latin America, 2000-2010. The case of Uruguay

Notes from the PhD Dissertation defence by Ana Rivoir entitled Estrategias Nacionales para la Solciedad de la Información y el Conocimiento en América Latina, 2000-2010. El caso de Uruguay (National Strategies for the Information and Knowledge Society in Latin America, 2000-2010. The case of Uruguay), directed by Mila Gascó.

Defence of the thesis: National Strategies for the Information and Knowledge Society in Latin America, 2000-2010. The case of Uruguay.

Despite the revolution of the Information Society, its impact is meagre in Latin America, due to the digital divide, to meaningful use, to social appropriation, etc. How have public policies responded to that?

After year 2000 we see the flourishing of the so-called “digital agendas” in several countries in Latin America. Initially, they are criticised for too much focusing on infrastructures. Besides the technological approach, there is, though, a more complex approach where ICTs are seen as a driver of development, having a role in social change, and where policies have a more comprehensive approach focusing on inclusion, and articulated with other public policies. In the complex approach, indeed, the issue at stake is not the “telecommunication market” but many other actors converge in the arena.

This research deals with the transition from one (technological) approach to another (complex) one in Uruguay during the decade 2000-2010. Specifically, it is stated that Uruguay did that transition because it adopted, in 2005, a more human development-centred approach.

There is a powerful international context, with several summits in the region (Latin America and the Caribbean) either directly related with the Information Society or with Human Development (e.g. Millennium Goals).

The first agenda, Uruguay En Red (UER), is not achieved due to contradictory design, lack of leadership, an environment of economic crisis. The strategy for the Information Society in Uruguay 2005-2010 or Agenda Digital Uruguay is very different to the former one. There is a deep influence of the Millennium goals; goals are simpler, though more focused on technology; difficult to measure; new bias towards a “complex approach”. That is, despite the agenda being simplified and seemingly technological, its development is of the complex kind.

In general, the new strategy goes in line with the rest of the region and the international context, with technological goals but complex achievements. These achievements especially relevant in the field of e-Government but partly leaving aside participation and empowerment.

The complex approach, though not in the design, is effectively achieved in the implementation of the different policies. This is due to the different design from the former UER to the later ADU, which makes it easier to execute digital policies. An important observation to be made is that the complex approach is fostered by broad participation of actors, but it is not a necessary pre-requisite.

It is evidenced by this research that two models (technological, complex) do exist and it would be advisable that international organisms (e.g. ECLAC) made it explicit in their handbooks and reports on how to design and assess Information Society policies.

Discussion

Tamyko Ysa: are we using a policy-network approach or a issue-network approach in this research? are we seeing two approaches of public policies, or the difficulties to carry on a given policy, are we measuring policy designs or are we measuring outcomes? how are outputs and outcomes related? How do we know that policies in Uruguay were affected by the regional or the international arena, and not the other way round?

Jacint Jordana: Despite the thesis having a multidisciplinary approach, it maybe lacked a “core” theoretical framework. Some statements should have been put in context in relationship with other macro indicators (changes of government, GNP, etc.). More “dialogue” between the many indicators gathered in the thesis would have been a rich improvement.

Joan Subirats: The thesis is initiated in 2000 where we used to speak about “strategies” to foster the Information Society, but do we need such strategies 13 years after? Is there a real capability to design such a comprehensive policy that can span all the related issues of the (immense) Information Society? What kind of debate nurtured or accompanied the design of policies and strategies to foster the Information Society? Would it be possible to replace technological/complex with instrumental/systemic? Another analysis that could have been made is not only the degree of change in Uruguay, but also in neighbour countries, and to compare the different degrees of change and the reason for these differences (if any). Why, for instance, is human development so absent in e.g. Europe, especially in comparison with Latin America.

Ana Rivoir: The always changing topic of analysis made the theoretical framework also a changing issue. That is one of the reasons why a solid framework was very difficult to weave. Notwithstanding, it is very likely that a multidisciplinary approach should be replaced by a disciplinary one, to avoid the continuous changes of the matter of analysis.

About the possibility that the concept “strategy for the Information Society” might be outdated, we are just now witnessing the debate around “broadband agendas”, which is but the same thing with a different name. Thus, it still makes a lot of sense to speak about policies or strategies to foster the Information Society, with this name or with another one.

Concerning the different authors, it can be stated that at the beginning of the period 2000-2010, there was not much acknowledgement or even awareness about the relationship between Information Society and Human Development. This changed later, and even a good amount of literature is written to explain not only that there is such a relationship but also how it does happen.

Oriol Miralbell: Social networking sites and exchange of knowledge

Notes from the PhD Dissertation defence by Oriol Miralbell entitled Webs de xarxes socials i intercanvi de coneixement. Anàlisi de l’adopció i ús dels membres de les comunitats virtuals professionals del turisme (Social networking sites and exchange of knowledge. Analysis of the adoption and usage of members of tourism professional virtual communities), directed by Francesc González and Jaume Guia.

Defence of the thesis: Social networking sites and exchange of knowledge. Analysis of the adoption and usage of members of tourism professional virtual communities.

The thesis aims at analyzing how knowledge is exchanged in social networking sites, with a focus on professional virtual networks in the field of tourism.

Main topics of the thesis or theoretical framework:

  • Social virtual networks: Barry Wellman makes the difference between open and diffuse networks, and dense and limited groups. The former ones usually imply freedom of participation, while the later are more centralized and hierarchic, with stronger and fixer relationships.
  • Knowledge transfer: that happens in virtual communities and communities of practice. In the later, the existence of a leader is important, as is the inclusion of the “periphery” of the network. Knowledge transfer is also related with informal learning and personal learning environments. Downes and Siemens base connective knowledge networks in openness, autonomy, diversity and interaction.
  • Social networking sites. O’reilly defines the web 2.0 as a way to leverage the collective wisdom and where the user takes control of their own information. Social networking sites enable the exchange of knowledge, managing one’s relationships (interactivity), creating a public profile by articulating a list of contacts (autonomy), or sharing lists of contacts with other users (openness, diversity).
  • Exchange of knowledge in virtual communities: confidence, loyalty, emotional identification, reciprocity and commitment are fundamental for the exchange of knowledge in virtual communities.
  • Usage and adoption of social networking sites: there are several aspects (cognitive, contextual, etc.) that explain how people adopt technology. Davis, Bagozzi and Warshaw developed the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), which is what based this research.

A model was designed to see what was the utility of social networking sites for knowledge exchange, based on the TAM model.

Social networking sites help in solving some barriers usually found in the field of tourism: high competition and lack of collaboration, atomization of the sector, lack of knowledge, etc.

More than 80,000 virtual communities [1] members out of 28 communities in several social networking sites (Linkedin, Facebook, Ning) were identified and a sample of users was selected to be surveyed about usage and perceived utility. The main characteristics of the sample is higher education, a majority of people in the 30-44 y.o. range, professionals of the tourism or knowledge sector, not very high earnings, proficiency in the use of ICTs. Facebook is the SNS more used, followed by Twitter and Linkedin, though Linkedin was much more used in relationship with the average SNS user, that is, tourism professionals use linkedin more than the average population. More than half of the users had friends as their contacts, but besides this, the level of trust in the network is very high. It is believed that SNS are adequate for sharing knowledge but not as good for creating new knowledge.

We can state that autonomy, diversity and openness favours interactivity among members and thus increase the usage of SNS. SNS are perceived more as places to get in through with people and share knowledge, rather than spaces for collaborative learning. There is a low perception of generation of new knowledge. Thus, features of SNS should be improved in terms of generation of knowledge (if that was their purpose). Notwithstanding, there is a positive perception of SNS often times based in high rates of trust in these platforms. Hence, SNS could be used for collaborative work between members of the tourist sector.

Discussion

Some questions from the committee:

  • Agustí Canals: was there any validation of the questionnaire?
  • Agustí Canals: what is the relationship of the model and demographic data?
  • Agustí Canals: is this research representative of other fields or, at least, other knowledge-intensive fields?
  • José Luis Molina: how does the model relate to personal knowledge management?
  • José Luis Molina: how does the model would vary taking into account only specific regions of the globe?
  • Esther Pérez: what are the reasons behind the choice of the model of acceptance of technology?
  • Q: does the model fit better in some specific geographic areas rather and other ones? what about different ages?
  • Q: how should the model evolve to fit the pace of change in reality?

The questionnaire was validated: there was a pre-survey with a very small sample, the questionnaire was corrected and then the new questionnaire was used in the final survey.

The direct interaction of the researcher with many of the surveyed networks leads him to believe that there are not many differences in the usage and perception of utility of SNS for tourism professionals in different regions of the world… but language. Indeed, problems are shared, attitudes are similar and practices do not differ much from different SNS and/or social networks.

It is worth noting that the personal relationships factor is crucial in the usage of SNS. Knowledge is defined very different and is thus difficult to measure, but personal relationships have common structures and this is what usually shapes social networks.

TAM was adopted because of its wider use in many other researches.

People of different ages may end up using SNS in different ways, but the core of professional virtual communities, which is knowledge and relationships would still be the same. That is, forms may vary, but content would still be the same.

Generation of knowledge not only happens when it is actively pursued, but also serendipitously, in sharing ideas, information or other knowledge.