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Community and Communications Workshop

Date: Saturday 15 November 2008
Time: 9:30 am – 4:30 pm
Location: Royal Holloway, University of London, Geography Department (Queens Building) in Egham, Surrey.

Registration Form - to be returned by 10th November

Outlines of workshop presentations


The use (and abuse) of the term “community” is nothing new in the development sector. However, the availability of ICT tools and solutions for use in developing countries has contributed to a new wave of attention and emphasis on community and communities.This renewed interest is visible in the work of researchers worldwide. There is an interest in studying the role of ICT when applied to specific “communities” of users – no matter how defined. The use of the word “community” associated with “ICT” rarely questions about what is truly new in the relationship between the ICT sector and the grassroots development dimension of the “community perspective”.

Workshop Themes

The aim of this workshop is to explore new meanings of the term “community” in relation to ICT4D research, and new opportunities and challenges for community-based development through the employment of ICT.
The workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners from very different backgrounds, ranging from sociology, development studies, and computer science. It will provide an opportunity for researchers and ICT solution providers to discuss and debate different views on challenges and the opportunity for the role of ICT in fostering sustainable communities.

The questions and topics that will be addressed in the workshop include:

From community to communities
• How does the concept of “community” change with the introduction of ICT?
• Does it still make sense to define communities based on place, work or ethnic- affiliation in the era of online social networking and digital communities? Rural communities are generally referred to (or idealised) as homogeneous entities, getting together and co-operating for common goals.
• How do new communication technologies and patterns affect community participation, cohesion and identity, when compared to “old” ICTs such us radio and print media?

Inclusion vs. Exclusion
• What do we mean when we talk about community-based introduction of ICT?
• Is there any concrete gain in the level of inclusion and participation facilitated by the introduction of ICT?
• Are ICT agents of social change at community level, or do they mostly reflect (or reinforce) previous power distribution and information/knowledge divide within a community?
Communication patterns across networked communities
• Does the introduction of ICTs in rural communities contribute to creating new horizontal flows of information and knowledge sharing between communities?
• Does this translate into new patterns of communication and collaboration challenging the urban-rural dualism?

What solutions for which communities?
• Beyond the generalisations of ICT4D and community lie questions about the appropriate communication and technological solutions in support of community development. Does community development require a specific set of ICT tools and solutions?
• Is the rush for mobile applications inspired by specific community needs or rather by the ambitions of ‘techie’ developers?

Exploitation vs. Independence
• The provision of ICT services to marginalised communities is a contested territory. While mobile operators are progressively extending their coverage into rural areas, most rural communities are still not connected to voice and data communication services. Different approaches and business models are currently debated, from micro-credit for village phones to local franchising of mobile operators, to community-owned co-operatives for the provision of non-profit ICT services. One of the most interesting aspects of this debate is the issue of creation of community economic growth through the provision of local and data services within a rural area. Do low-cost ICT solutions offer a chance for a bottom-up independent telecommunication development, or do they facilitate a new level of dependence on corporate, top-down business strategies?


The workshop is divided into two sessions highlighting the main questions. Each panel will include practitioners and academics providing the context for fruitful discussions. Each session starts with introducing the panel’s expertise in individual presentations and concludes with a discussion between the panel and the audience.


A free sandwich lunch, as well as tea and coffee during the day will be provided.


For details of how to find the Queen’s Building at Royal Holloway, please see http://www.gg.rhul.ac.uk/ict4d/contact.html.


The workshop is being organised by Niels Peter Nielsen (n.p.nielsen(at)rhul.ac.uk), Ugo Vallauri (u.vallauri(at)rhul.ac.uk) and Uduak Akpan-Okon (U.Akpan-Okon(at)rhul.ac.uk). Correspondence can be directed to any of the organisers.We are most grateful to Cisco Systems for their financial support of this workshop

Draft Programme for Community and Communications workshop

09.30 Arrival (Tea & Coffee)
10.00 Welcome – Tim Unwin

First Panel Chair: Niels Peter Nielsen
10.05 Shirin Madon – Impact of rural e-governance projects in India
10.30 Marek Tuszynski – Tactical Tech’s mobile-in-a-box tool

10.55 Josh Underwood – Progress and challenges of VeSEL
11.20 Discussion

12.00 Informal lunch provided

Second Panel Chair: Ugo Vallauri
13.00 Richard Duncombe – ICTs and livelihoods in Uganda
13.25 Murali Shanmugavelan – PANOS’ work
13.50 Uduak Akpan-Okon – Sustainable Communities in the Niger Delta
14.15 Avril McIntyre & Partner – LifeLine’s work in the UK and ZA

14.50 Tea & Coffee
15.05 Discussion

16.15 Close – Tim Unwin
16.30 Finish and departure

For those who wish to stay on, there will be an opportunity to visit a local hostelry in the evening to continue the discussions

We are most grateful to Cisco Systems for their financial support for the workshop

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Last updated 4th November2008

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