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 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!


Fifth Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (VI). Online Communities

Notes from the Fifth IPID ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium 2010, held at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain, on September 9-10th, 2010. More notes on this event: ipid2010.

RE-ACT: Social REpresentations of Community Multimedia Centres and ACTion for Improvement
Sara Vannini

Telecentres should fulfil the communication and information needs of the communities where they are located.

Some research states that sometimes telecentres do not work, but there’s increasing evidence that the reason might be of a cultural or social nature, thus not directly related with the telecentre and the technology it provides, but its usage, the context.

Social representation: social psychological phenomena can only be understood if they are seen as being embedded in the socio-cultural context. The function of a social representation is to establish how people interpret their world, and to enable people to communicate with the other members of the community.

Actions for improvement:

  • The use of mobile phones as an instrument of empowerment.
  • The use of ICTs to develop cultural content that reflect the nature and the vision of local communities.
  • Make this content available for visitors, offering chances for cultural exchange and understanding.


Matti Tedre raises the point of telecentre vs. Internet café, and public/universal access vs. profit and sustainability. I would like to bring back a previous writing of mine: Public Internet Access Points: impact vs. sustainability.

Citizens’ Understanding and Definitions of Democracy during Internet Campaigns
Amara Thiha

Authoritarian states usually moraliza and define democracy in their own particular way. Why moralized? Intentions to practice and implement democracy collide with some interpretations of the third way of democratization / of liberal democracy. How do authoritarian states take up the web 2.0 and politics 2.0?

The research consists on the comparison of three authoritarian states: Myanmar (dictatorship), Iran (multy-party authoritarian state) and China (single party authoritarian state). A case is developed analysing the political blogosphere.

Web crawling analysis provided data to perform both quantitative and qualitative analysis. Ethnography also provided a good qualitative insight.


Matti Tedre: is the blogging community representative of the whole population?

Mazhar Ali: how do you define an authoritarian regime? A: there are objective/established definitions that take into account the number of parties, the political freedom and citizen rights, etc.

Vanessa Frías: how are data extracted? A: some blogs are read, all of them are treated with text analysis tools. Vanessa Frías: natural language processing is a methodology.

Ismael Peña-López: did you include in your sample pro-government (i.e. hired by the government) bloggers? A: yes, definitely.

Online networking for Development: an exploration of
Sharon Mc Lennan aims at gathering Honduras available human capital by means of ICTs, aims at harnessing resources and knowledges across international boundaries. provides space for introductions, encouragement, coordination, sharing, teaching and learning… It is done through Yahoo! Groups, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

But online activity is clearly low. Why is it so? Difficulties of physical access, design of the website, attempted migrations to Facebook, language issues, lack of digital skills, lack of interest and/or time, organizations and individuals up skill, philosophical issues…

And nevertheless people keep saying that the site is interesting/important.

One of the reasons is that has three layers: the website, the network and the community. The last one, enhanced by the former two, is invisible, private and unmediated, so difficult to measure but where outcome happens. This layer will be the target of this research.


Ugo Vallauri: has the analysis been done online or offline? A: both of them.

Ismael Peña-López: could it be that — like Pippa Norris or Howard Rheinghold say — that people gather around actions and not principles/projects, and that would explain the short term relationsihps or the online diaspora? A: what is really happening is that people neither gather around principles/projects nor actions: they just get in touch personally, offline, at the “invisible” level to get things done. They do not bother going online or going “visible” unless their needs require asking for collective wisdom.


Fifth Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (2010)