Understanding Telecenters

Telecenters are acknowledged as – the facilities that offer community members the ability to use ICTs in a publicly shared manner. However, the concept of telecenters in the ICT for Development domain has remained a mystery. Mystery – because the concept has been evolving ever since its articulation, and therefore the exact nature of its constructs have remained hard to pinpoint. So much so that because of its ambiguous characterization, the measurement of its impact, to a certain extent, has also been misplaced and contributed to the original suspicion on ICT led development.

For instance, on the sustainability front, some telecenters were subjected to the rigours of being economically viable – i.e. revenues earned through usage must meet or surpass the cost of running the telecenters, and some were treated as ‘public services’ like government-run hospitals or schools, in which case the questions of monetary sustainability fall through. In such contrasting situations, analyzing successes and development impacts posed great challenges – and the need to have an innovative and comprehensive framework to accomplish that was conspicuously felt.

It appears that the implementation of telecenters continued across developing countries without taking much into consideration the past experiences and cumulative learning in setting up and running of telecenters – which were widespread in the development field in the early 1990s – resulting in a mixed bag of successes and failures later.

Failures in meeting the development goals through telecenters also rest with the notion of addressing the issues of the digital divide by just ‘having IT there’. In contrast, the aspects of ‘access’, ‘awareness’, and ‘interface’, which underpins the concept of ‘getting IT used’, have demonstrated to be of critical importance in cases of successes in ICT for Development field in general and in telecenters in particular.

On the whole, there was an undeniable void of a solid conceptual framework to analyze various experiences in telecenter projects and then build on it.

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