Telecenter 2.0 and Community Building

On November 5th, 2008, I attended the V Encuentro de e-Inclusión [V e-Inclusion Conference], a meeting of telecenter administrators from all around Spain organized by Fundación Esplai.

If last year’s edition looked at the Web 2.0 as something new — I imparted then a seminar entitled What do they say the Social Web is? —, this year’s general belief was that not only the Web 2.0 is here to stay but that it’s impact on the way the Internet is used and on how communities go online has altered the whole landscape. Thus, telecenters should reflect on their own activity and, above all, their own role in this new participatory web. The session debated around three main questions, put down below.

The paragraphs that follow freely report the opening session of the Encuentro, featuring three conferences, Q & A to the conferences, two showcases and, lastly, some personal reflections on the whole session.

Telecenters 2.0 and community building
Ismael Peña-López (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)

More information:


Training in ICTs and community building
Ricard Faura (Generalitat de Catalunya)

Telecenters achieving maturity: extensive geographical presence and intensively enhanced by new social technologies, the threat being long-term sustainability, both at the economical level and the conceptual (i.e. is there still a need for telecenters?).

1.- The evolution of the telecentre towards v2.0 and community building: utopy or reality?

The telecenter has to work in a network of telecenters, working and collaborating together.

The telecenter as a living lab: a place where tools are put at the citizen disposal, so that the citizenry can innovate, can take part in innovation.

The telecenter has to train and empower the citizen to benefit from social networks, by taking part in the community.

2.- How to build community through digital literacy?

Find and engage the social connector, the person that has to be activated to trigger a multiplicator effect.

3.- Challenges of community building from social initiatives?

Once the first milestones of an inclusion project have been reached, the public sector has to step aside and let the civil society lead. Community leaders – “shakers” – have to be the ones that drive inclusion projects.


Centros comunitarios de aprendizaje
Ernesto Benavides (Tecnológico de Monterrey)

1.- The evolution of the telecentre towards v2.0 and community building: utopy or reality?

Reality, not utopy: the Tec de Monterrey has 33 campuses, 37 campuses + 25 corporate universities in the Universidad TecMilenio framework, a virtual university present in 17 countries and the Instituto para el desarrollo sostenible with 26 social incubators and 1709 Learning Community Centers. Comunity building can thus be understood at many and different levels, the important thing being to act at al levels and in a networked way, sharing principles and resources, and adapting the procedures to the target population.

2.- How to build community through digital literacy?

Engagement is the answer. Let people take part into the whole deployment of projects, from design to evaluation.

Planting solid roots and setting a slow (but steady) path, with easy to reach milestones that report small successes.

3.- Challenges of community building from social initiatives?

Impact in the civil society:

  • infrastructures are a must, but not enough
  • open software and content are the next required step, but not enough
  • empowerment: the telecenter as a window to generate identity and build community

Impact in public policies: try and keep long run strategies (despite of political changes) and try and bring grassroots initiatives into macro policies.

Centros comunitarios de aprendizaje:

  • cut down poverty and marginalization throug social inclusion
  • bring alternatives of access to education, information and communication
  • promote productive projects for a sustainable community development


Q & A

Cesk Gasulla: Facebook is really successful, but is it useful for community building?

Ismael Peña-López: Facebook has been perfect to get people together, and there are plenty of interesting uses of Facebook, but it lacks the possibility (or makes it really difficult) to draw guidelines, schedules, milestones and goals or, in other words, to design, manage and implement a project, as it is difficult to separate one community from another, or different interests, as they live together under the same roof. There is too much “noise” in Facebook to engage in a quiet conversation led by an engaged coordinator without the danger of passerbys peeping inside the project. Probably, Ning is the answer to this need of a closed room for community building. Indeed, as Ning requires more effort to be set up and customized than i.e. an event or group on Facebook, it might probably be taken more seriously by their own promoters, that will commit more as they’d be expecting a return of their higher investment (of time, resources, etc.)

Ricard Faura: while agreeing with the former, we should not forget that Facebook’s main success has been popularizing and making easy to understand what social networking sites are, how do they work, etc. And this is something that other platforms have been having toughest and longest time to achieve.
María Eugenia Moreno (COGNOTEC (Red TIC Bolivia))

In Bolivia telcenters are (often) located inside schools so that they can supply the techonolgycal training that schools do (or can) not. Telecenters are also place in rural areas in order to provide access to these remote areas.

Two main areas of speciality of telecenters in Bolivia:

  • education: digital literacy, formal and long-life learning. Portals, community wikis where to upload any kind of content.
  • agriculture: e-commerce, etc.

How can web 2.0 contribute to telecenter development and community development? What’s the utility of social networking sites?


Milvia Rastrelli (Arci)

How to find the usefulness of ICTs, as a means, not as a goal?

Work with the youth, that have found clear uses of ICTs, in community building though these ICTs in the way they use them. By attracting youngsters with ICT applications that they are asking for (e.g. music sharing, video editing and publishing, etc.), next step (inclusion) comes naturally (or, at least, easily).

Work with immigrants, that again have mastered some ICT applications (e.g. radioweb) for their own benefit. But this has provided free information and in plural ways and approaches. Telecenters promote these actions to foster democracy, information, etc.

One of the most urgent needs for a telecenter is to identify who the dinamizator will be… and engage them in doing it.


Some reflections

I pick one of Cesk Gasulla’s quotes as the summary of the whole session: We should quit dynamizing technology, and dynamize people instead.

The reflections telecenters are making these days — and the Encuentro not only featured direct representatives form circa 200 telecenters in Spain, but somehow reflected also the philosophy of the whole network, which gathers thousands of them — are not about setting up some guidelines for the nearest future to come, but reflecting on the essence itself of the role and even need of the telecenter. This reflection is threefold:

  • Is there still a need for such a thing as a telecenter, when technology is made more affordable every day, and access is being incorporated in public policies at all political levels?
  • If yes, what is the role of the telecenter: does it still has to supply access to infrastructures? should it shift towards digital literacy and capacity building? should it instead switch towards community building and focus on the personal and social networks?
  • If yes, how should this be done? and what’s the role of technology in the whole (new) landscape?

There was quite a consensus that access is no more the primary goal of telecenters (though it still is a very important goal in many and many places around the globe).

And there was quite an acknowledgement that capacity building is neither the primary goal. Firstly, because the new 2.0 tools have made things easier to learn and build things on the Internet. Secondly, because there are several examples where newly digitally literate people saw no changes at all in their lives. What’s the purpose, then, in being digitally literate?

So it seems that, besides access and capacity building (remember: no one said it was not a need), telecenters should now focus on community building. There’s increasing evidence that after a first geeky wave of early adopters, the Internet is empowering already settled communities, strengthening their ties and broadening their scope and reach. The Internet has become a catalyst and multiplier of the social inclusion goodnesses of the community, the social and “real” network.

But, being a network as it is (made out of connected individual nodes), the only way to help the individual to weave their own network (offline and online… and back offline again) is being a part of the network too. No hierarchies, no top-down approaches will work for the telecenters to approach the community networks, but their own and sheer participation in them.

This is were the Telecenter 2.0 comes to place: how to be part of the network, speaking their own language, engaging in a conversation; how to find and trigger the community leaders; how to approach the excluded and get them inside the conversation, the network, the community. This is the real challenge of the Telecenter (2.0): the switch from a public service to being another citizen, another neighbour.


Challenging the digital divide: the role of telecenters in e-inclusion practices

Daniela de Carvalho Matielo presents a PhD seminar at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, UOC.

Challenging the digital divide: the role of telecenters in e-inclusion practices.

First, Daniela brings a short introduction to the concept of the Digital Divide as lack of access to ICTs.

Digital Inclusion is then the effort to guarantee everyone has access to the Information Society.

The problem is that there is not only one digital divide, but many: geographical, etc.

These efforts have, hence, many designs, from fiscal incentives to direct provision of Internet access from physical places: telecenters, places people can go to use telecommunication services. The main difference with a cyber cafe is profit — in the latter case — or bridging the digital divide — in the fomer case —.

Three moments of digital inclusion (according to Warschauer):

  • Device model: physical access
  • Connexion model: access to the Network
  • Literacy model: uses and contexts

A shift is now taking place towards a more social-aspects focused strategy:

  • What are the main competences to use the computer: digital literacy
  • What are the uses that certain communities can give to computers and the Internet: technology appropriation

But it seems that this shift has gone from “technological determinism” to “social determinism”, from an approach where technology would solve each and every problem (cyberoptimism) where just everything can be solved inside the “black box” of the community.

But, technologies are not neutral and the actor-network theory (ANT) can bring some light to the issue.

What do we have so far?

  • Official reports about telecenter use and users
  • Scientific studies, both qualitative and quantitative

“Community Informatics” is a field whose goal is to analyze the uses of ICTs in communities.

Research Questions / Hypotheses
  • Technology plays an important role. This role is usually neglected at higher levels.
  • There is a big differnetce between practice and goals in telecenters as stated in their official discourses

Following the ANT, there’s an interaction — chains of association — between users and technologies so, after passing through a “black box”, become from digital illiterate to literate, and from technologies to properly appropriated technologies.

The methodology to be used in this research will be, based on the ANT, do an ethnography in a telecenter to disclose the relationships of technology appropriation by users.


  • Several persons in the audience state that ANT might not be the best approach, as it takes for granted that there is a role performed by technologies, and a relationship technology-user, which is exactly what the research wants to find.
  • I state that this could be balanced (theory vs. practice, positivism vs. normativism) by balancing ANT with a participatory action research instead of performing an ethnography.
  • Somebody also points that it would be interesting to see how digital literacy (strictly personal) can be complemented with technology socialization, so a social framework is created through technology, so the digital literate can then interact “technologically” with others, and socialize.


Development Cooperation 2.0 (V): Communications

Lady Virginia Mugarra Velarde
Education for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases prevention

The role of ICTs to educate about sexually transmitted diseases prevention, especially to educate educators.

An important aspect of such education is to ease the communication between the physicists and their patients.


  • Train educators about these diseases… and how to educate about them
  • Sensitize youngsters about prevention
  • Mobilize policy makers

The main successes are, above all, the speed and spread of information and training, with a strong focus on prevention, which is where information can actually make a difference.

Tools: a platform with three axes (1) content (2) spaces for debate (3) online assistance

María Jesús Medina
Cybervolunteering at Iníci@te Programme

[note: in this session, cybervolunteer = ICT volunteer, not online volunteer. See my Online Volunteering Taxonomy for more details]

Volunteers experts in ICTs to help users in telecenters.

Volunteers are trained about attitudes, techniques, the environment they are going to work in, the target beneficiaries of the several activities, etc.

The public-private partnership between the regional administration (coordinating the project) and the local administrations and telecenters a must for success.

Olga Fernández Berrios
Reflections, tools and experiences about cooperation 2.0

Training for nonprofits about technology for nonprofits, with a strong use of Web 2.0 applications, such as feed aggregation, metablogs, wikis, instant messaging, VoIP, microblogging, online volunteering, etc.

Blogs in the field: use of blogs to raise advocacy and transparency by writing within and from a development project.

Blogs at the headquarters: same, but from the nonprofit headquarters (no need to be really there, but the focus)

Directories of projects and institutions.

Metablogs: Global Voices Online

Planets: feed aggregators, automatically updated once have been set up. The information comes to you.

Wikis: Where nonprofits share their information, handbooks, procedures… and with the possibility that this information can be updated/build collaboratively.

Caveat: some of these initiatives are not top-down, not institutional, but raised by individuals, sometimes as a personal answer (critique?) to the bureaucratic slowness and lack of flexible response of some organizations.

Social networks: some of them using richest media, such as The Hub.

We should shift from talking about technology to talking about the uses of it. The Web 2.0 allows this shift, as technological solutions come more and more irrelevant.

Free flow of information: RSS, copyleft or open licensing, syndication


Vicente Carlos Domingo González

To enable media diffusion, especially video, for nonprofits and development issues.

Their role is to act as a new information agency to cover events, projects from nonprofits. It runs on a volunteering basis coming from the media sector + a technological platform to broadcast video.

The goal is not only to broadcast, but have audience too, thus the commitment with high-quality low-band requisites of the portal.

José Manrique López de la Fuente
Opportunities of Mobile Web in developing countries

Success bridging the digital divide

  • The will, motivation to access the Net
  • Material access
  • Personal capacity, competences
  • Access to advanced uses

The importance to generate local business possibilities based on ICTs.

Part of the material access and personal capacity interaction is about the ease of use, that should be kept clear in all ICT4D projects.

Mobile Solutions

  • Specific applications for mobile phones: maximum integration with the device, but device diversity can generate incompatibilities
  • Voice and/or SMS based solutions: simple and working, interoperability could be a pro or a con
  • The Web as platform: rich, standards are mainstream

Mobile Web

  • Advantage: Integration of existing solutions
  • Advantage: Technologies based on open standards
  • Problem: user experience, diversity and cost in some places
  • Problem: low-tech devices that cannot access the web, mobile carriers not providing access

Carolina Moreno Asenjo
Global Networks and social engagement: ICT integration strategies at Entreculturas


  • Improve quality in education, at a global level
  • Foster advocacy through ICTs
  • Fight the “loneliness” of the teacher in his classroom
  • Cut down costs in training and knowledge sharing
  • Create a link to catalyze network building

Leverage communities of practice and communities of learning with ICTs.


  • engagement of the beneficiaries
  • funding
  • logistics when setting up the hardware and technological platform
  • motoring, coordination
  • sustainability

Communication in Alegría Activity

Mobile (connected) classrooms.

Eduardo Pérez Gutiérrez
Geographic Information Systems in Educational Centers for Regional Development

Goals: Develop web-based GISs for diagnose and monitoring of educational centers for regional development.

To fight lack of education in remote, rural areas, governments supply these regions with instructors, that are not actually teachers but have a broader profile, socially speaking, but a lower profile as an educator. So, their social profile is good to interact with the community but the quality of teaching might not be as good as expected.

The GIS should help cross data about the reach of an instructor’s activity, the profile of the population reached by this instructor, etc. and then help the decision-making about the instructor, his activity, the way he spends his budget, etc.

Benefits: focused investments, allows centralized administration, transparency and monitoring, enables confidence, provides context and helps strategy design.


Development Cooperation 2.0 (2008)

Development Cooperation 2.0 (III): Florencio Ceballos: IDRC: Learnings, limitations and challenges from the experience

Florencio Ceballos
IDRC: Learnings, limitations and challenges from the experience

Crisis of performance, effectiveness, results, etc. in development cooperation, despite the increasing amount of resources devoted to it.


  • Industrial way of thinking, not post-industrial. The actual development paradigm is old and not valid. We need a new, up-to-date paradigm.
  • Focus on pilot projects that are not maintained after the pilot phase, so they die in the medium- or long-run.
  • Short-sightedness of asymmetric internationalism: there’s more and more knowledge in the South about south issues than in the north, so don’t (you northern developed country) look at your local environment, because it does not mirror the southern reality.
  • Money is an issue, but not the issue.


  • Try a new networked, collaborative way of designing and implementing projects
  • Forget about old ways of accountability and reporting mainly focused to satisfy the “needs” of the funding institution’s bureaucracy: instead, public accountability through the institutional web site, blogs, etc.
  • Boost (local) leaders, people that can enable (social) changes. Horizontal leadership and social capital, again enhancing networks and (symmetric) networking

Development and ICT4D are blurring concepts that are becoming indivisible aspects of Development in general.

We’ve much focused in access to infrastructures that we didn’t realize that mobile telephony was closing the digital divide at our backs. So, how does the telecenter has to adapt to this trend and make of (a) the PC+Internet a (still) valuable tool and (b) the mobile phone a more powerful tool (as the PC+Internet is)

New cooperation models: from charity to collaborative business strategies where both partners (northern, southern) benefit/profit from ICT4D projects.

More on horizontal leadership

The assumption that you (the North) can change the world, with just one project, designed in the framework of your office, is absolutely wrong. It’s better to empower, boost the leaders that are already operating this change through their daily work, so they can have a wider and deeper reach and impact, so the social change truly happens and at a higher level.

It’s not that we have to forget about all we’ve learned through the years about development, but just forget about the asymmetry that now rules development cooperation.


Development Cooperation 2.0 (2008)

Universities and Telecenters: perfect partners

Royal D. Colle wrote in 2005 an article that I now recovered: Building ICT4D capacity in and by African universities and that reminds me of my last experience with telecenters.

Colle’s thesis is quite simple, which does not mean that it is hence less true: reflection and practice, practice and reflection, must go hand in hand. Colle states that telecenters can function in at least three ways for universities:

  • A means for reaching beyond their “ivory tower” to extend their knowledge and learning resources
  • A laboratory for faculty and researchers
  • A learning environment for students

The first point is interestingly ambiguous: on one hand, it means that universities should open their output, content, knowledge outside of their academic environments and revert or bring back the investment that society makes in universities. On the other hand, it also means that faculty should open their minds and realize there’s a real world outside and not just statistics and survey reports.

Reversely, telecenters could benefit from universities in many ways:

  • Research about ICTs and information needs
  • Local and relevant content, especially tailored for telecenters’ users
  • Training and Learning resources — obvious
  • ICT skilled human resources

Again, the corollary for the University is that it should (once more) get out of the ivory tower, disclose its practices and, over all, open its outputs, in the line of what open access, open science, open content initiatives promote.

My own conclusion is twofold: engage in the conversation, in the projects and in reality and, to do so, open and disclose your procedures, your findings, your networks to the limit.

Straightforward? Not really. In a world of web 2.0 philosophy and applications, it took 13 pages to David Beer and Roger Burrows to state (demostrate?) that you have to run your own blog, or have 100 friends in Facebook, to be able to write — with grounded arguments and evidence — about blogging or social networks. And I wonder if they succeeded in convincing anyone but the already convinced.