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Putting the internet in context in international development : a case of institutional networking in… Boyle, Grant 2001

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PUTTING THE I N T E R N E T IN CONTEXT IN I N T E R N A T I O N A L D E V E L O P M E N T -A CASE O F INSTITUTIONAL N E T W O R K I N G IN VIETNAM by G I A N T BOYLE B.A. The University of British Columbia, 1995 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF MIL REQL'iRENiiiNTS hOR iHE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS (Planning) in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (School of Community and Regional Planning) W e accept this thesis as conforming to th' rcqsureH stan-iarrf The University of British Columbia November 2001 ©Grant Jerome Boyle, 2001 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada \ DE -6 (2/88) Abstract This thesis is a critical case study of the deployment of new information and communications technologies such as the Internet in international development. The paper examines human incentives for information technology use in different social environments and the implications of this issue for how we plan, deploy and ultimately envision IT in cross-cultural development programs and organizational contexts. The paper is based primarily on a study of the constraints on the adoption of an Internet-based research network at several academic institutions in Vietnam. While there are a number of obvious constraints associated with providing access to IT (such as connectivity and computer skills), the field study at one institution revealed the social complexity of information technology transfer; highlighting, in particular, the impact of Vietnamese authority relations on the adoption of IT for networking purposes. The thesis recommends a balanced and self-reflective approach to the socio-cultural "constraints", greater emphasis on organizational design and evaluation in information technology transfer and ongoing critical examination of the technical language that shapes our perception of IT deployment in development contexts. i i Table of Contents ABSTRACT n T A B L E OF CONTENTS HI LIST OF TABLES ' V ACKNOWLEDGMENTS v CHAPTER I OVERVIEW 1 Introduction 1 Definitions 5 Introduction to the Case Study 8 Methods 9 CHAPTER II INFORMATION EXPLORED 12 CHAPTER III IT IN DEVELOPMENT AND IT TRANSFER 18 Information Technology and Development 18 Problematic Aspects in the Conception of IT Transfer 20 CHAPTER rv CASE STUDY 25 Background 25 Methods •. 27 Constraints on the Adoption of the Internet-Network in Dalat.... 28 CHAPTER V CONSTRAINTS AND THE VIETNAMESE SOCIAL CONTEXT 35 Introduction 35 Patron-Client Organizational Structures in Southeast Asia 37 The Confucian State 38 Family Relationships as Models of Social Organization 38 Communist Neo-Traditionalism 39 Questions Concerning "Information Access and Exchange" in Vietnam 41 Questions Concerning Expectations for "Information Access and Exchange" 42 CHAPTER VI RECOMMENDATIONS AND RISKS 44 The Challenge 44 Change in the Provision of Technology 45 Change and the Recipient Context 46 ICT Design Guidelines 47 Technological Pitfalls 50 CHAPTER VII CONCLUSION 54 BIBLIOGRAPHY 56 APPENDIX INFORMATION NEEDS ASSESSMENT WORKSHOP 60 iii List of Tables TABLE 1 GLOBAL AND ASIAN INTERNET USER GROWTH (JUNE 2001) TABLE 2 C P R COMPUTER SKILL SURVEY Acknowledgments The author acknowledges the contribution to the project by the Canadian International Development Agency, under its Innovative Research Award program and the Localized Poverty Reduction in Vietnam program. The views expressed here are the author's own, but he would also acknowledge the special assistance provided in writing this paper from Dr. Michael Leaf and Mr. Vincent Verlaan at the Centre for Human Settlements, University of British Columbia, and from Dr. Nguyen Tuan Tai, University of Dalat. This paper is dedicated to Bettina. Thank you for your support, patience and love. Chapter I Overview Introduction Since the middle 1990s there has been considerable discussion in international development circles over the potential of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as the Internet to facilitate access to information and opportunity in developing countries. The World Bank says, for example: "This new technology greatly facilitates the acquisition and absorption of knowledge, offering developing countries unprecedented opportunities to enhance educational systems, improve policy formation and execution, and widen the range of opportunities for business and the poor." (World Bank, 1998, p. 9) The UNDP says: "The ultimate objective is a knowledge and information society—one with the ability, capacity and skills to generate and capture new knowledge and to effectively access, absorb and use information, data and knowledge with the support of ICTs." (UNDP, 2000, p. 1) The purpose of this thesis is to take an exploratory study of the challenges implied in the aspiration of "connecting" developing countries, as demonstrated by the above quotations and conveyed in much of the popular writing on the Internet in international development. The specific intention is to investigate the potential divergence between the incentives such deployments are intended to garner among Third World constituents (for new forms of cooperation, innovation, learning and so forth) and the existing incentives characteristic of those constituents in their organizational and socio-cultural contexts. A discussion over the impact of incentives is really a look at how "society" affects "technology" rather than the reverse. If one accepts that the relationship between social structures and information technologies is interactive (Couch, 1996), where information technologies impact the nature of social relations and social relations impact the nature of information technologies, this paper has a distinct bias towards investigating the latter process. 1 It is important to engage such a study within the current discourse on ICTs in development, which according to some analysts is characterized by a high degree of technological determinism (Heeks, 1999). While the barriers here are often seen, for example, as "awareness," "skill," "language," "appropriate content" and other inhibitors to the use of ICTs (see Ballantyne, Labelle & Rudgard, 2000), I am more concerned in this paper with Internet deployments as larger organizational innovations and the shifts iri local social behaviours that are implied in technology transfer. In this regard, I am directly concerned with how the challenge of applying information technologies in developing country organizational contexts is perceived by the designers and providers of those technologies and the degree to which socio-cultural diversity is recognized and incorporated into design and analysis at a project level. As an avenue to these issues, the central question posed in this thesis is: What are the constraints on the adoption of the Internet in Third World institutional development contexts? While there are certainly a number of readily observable challenges in deploying Internet technologies to developing countries, such as deficiencies in telecommunications infrastructure, skills, equipment and so on, the constraints associated with cultural and organization behaviours, (such as the impact of authority relations) are less discernible and more problematic, but still critical in explaining the challenges associated with realizing the aspirations of Internet deployments. To put the issues of incentives in concrete terms, what is explored here are the barriers to adoption, where adoption means that an individual (in a socio-economic development capacity) is motivated and able to use a computer to search for and retrieve information, (using the Internet to "access information") or communicate with another person (using the Internet to "exchange 2 information"). In the case study in Vietnam to follow, I do not attempt a comprehensive analysis of human behaviour in this regard, but I assume that many complex social factors are mobilized when we seek answers to the question of constraints on Internet adoption. Below I attempt to elaborate the most apparent issues to emerge from the field study. At the same time, the problematic dimension of casting culture (understood as the norms, values and patterns of behaviour for a certain population) as a "barrier" is fully embraced here and, as such, forms a cornerstone of the arguments to follow. In fact, the notion of "cultural constraint" in this paper, is constituted by both the norms and social practices of the intended recipients of information technologies in Third World contexts, as well as the perceptions and expectations of the donors and practitioners guiding the deployment. In other words, the constraints on adoption are seen here as the obstacles involved in the local negotiation of effective applications of technology, not the barriers to the adoption of technology in some universal or ideal form. An essential challenge for those involved in this area of international development is negotiating the complex balance of fostering components of social change pertaining to information technologies, while at the same time, stressing compatibility and appropriateness in the larger backdrop of a given cultural context. Despite the general attention and increased spending on ICTs in the development sector1, there have been markedly few evaluations of cases where ICTs have been introduced for development purposes. As Crowder and Michiels point out: "On the one hand, there is a plethora of literature on the potential benefits of ICTs as tools for enhancing people's daily lives and reducing poverty by increasing access to information relevant to their economic livelihoods.... On the other hand, there is an ' In 1999 lending for ICTs by the World Bank grew at six times the growth rate of Bank lending overall, and was present in 90% of the Bank's lending projects (Harris & Davison, 1999). 3 alarming lack of empirical evidence, or analyses of actual experiences of applying ICTs locally and their impact upon poor people's economic and social livelihoods. The reality is that few projects pay attention to the monitoring and evaluation of ICT outcomes, especially the local impacts of ICTs, with the result that guidelines for effective ICT deployment and appropriation at a local level are missing." (2001, p. 3) Despite such criticisms, the importance of ICT transfer is often readily accepted in generalities such as the "need to close the digital divide" or engage the "information society" in the developing world. While the lack of evaluation at a project level may itself call for greater investigation, the generally poor historical record of information technology transfer to developing countries from western countries also suggests that greater scrutiny of current discussions and deployments is needed. The approach here will be to ground the analysis in the evaluation of the ICT component of a development project in Vietnam called the Localized Poverty Reduction in Vietnam Program (LPRV), where efforts tb deploy an Internet-based university research network have not met expectations for increased collaboration in research. While I am concerned with the specifics of the case, I do not attempt to evaluate the impact of the deployment in terms of say, increased learning or enhanced policy recommendations and so on. The analysis posed here precedes any larger evaluation and looks directly at the present challenge of translating the concept of "the network" to applied practice and analyzing the constraints in bringing that vision into reality. The paper is committed to better understanding the situation at one academic institution in the LPRV program, the University of Dalat, and interpreting the lessons that flow from the experience of working there for a summer on information technology issues. The thesis has several objectives: • To take a critical look at the widely discussed and purported benefits of ICTs in mainstream and popular development discourses by drawing on relevant theories and discussing the observations of one particular case. 4 • To examine an Internet deployment program as a social or organizational innovation. • To explore the constraints of a specific case in Vietnam and the socio-cultural dimensions that arise specifically in that study. • To point toward new ways of designing ICT projects and new ways of conceptualizing the role of ICTs in development. Definitions Development Contexts Here I use the term "Third World institutional development contexts" to mean organizations or user-communities in non-industrialized countries of the world, where Internet technology is being transferred and applied to some socio-economic development end. Madon (2000) has categorized such applications as follows: Economic Productivity: The Internet can allow private companies to develop closer ties with customers, business partners, suppliers and information sources, as well as allowing companies to market their products and services abroad and market their products at relatively inexpensive rates. Moreover, network connections promise improved regional collaboration and competitiveness in trade and research. Health: The Internet can facilitate health information networks between developing countries as well as between developed and developing countries. HealthNet, for example, links health care workers in Africa and Asia with each other and with colleagues and databases in developed countries. 5 Education: The Internet can facilitate research networks and allow academics to undertake joint projects effectively and carry out research between different sites inexpensively. The Internet can be used as a learning tool in primary and secondary schools and provide access to electronic libraries and help educate geographically dispersed populations. Poverty Alleviation: The Internet can help relieve poverty and help manage crises by facilitating better communications in crisis situations or famine relief by providing farmers and extension workers with required information. Empowerment of Marginalized Groups: The Internet offers the opportunity for communication between developing countries and activists in non-governmental organizations that share political goals. The Association for Progressive Communication, for example, links activists in over 133 countries. Democracy: The Internet can encourage democracy by providing people living under dictatorship with outside information and ideas and by enabling them to coordinate political activity. Policy Development: The Internet can be used to inform policymaking. The UNDP, for example, is currently involved in the Sustainable Development Networking Program, which aims to foster access to sustainable development information and coordinate policy-making bodies in a number of developing countries. Third World The term "Third World" is an ambiguous and contested term, originating at the onset of the Cold War to describe non-industrialized and non-communists countries, most of which were former European colonies. One problematic aspect of the term is the wide range of countries it subsumes; 6 including both socialist and non-socialist countries, as well as some of the poorest nations (Tanzania and Afghanistan) and some of the richest (United Arab Emirates) (Lewellen, 1995). Although the term "developing countries" is often employed as an alternative, this term could be seen as equally problematic. Not all poor nations are developing and not all notions of development are accepted or acted upon (ibid). Also, the notion of underdevelopment is associated less and less with national borders. Castells (1996), for example, uses the term "fourth world" to describe communities in some of America's inner cities, as well as Sub-Sahara Africa. The term Third World is used here to capture the group of countries typically associated with that term, while at the same time recognizing the term is nebulous and problematic. Throughout the thesis I will use the terms "developing countries" and "Third World" interchangeably. The Internet A distinction here between "ICTs" and the "Internet" may not be important. ICTs or "Information and Communications Technologies" are the more general category, described by Heeks (1999) as: "electronic means of capturing, processing, storing, and communicating information.. .based on digital information held as 1 s and Os, and [comprised of] computer hardware, software and networks". According to Heeks, ICTs themselves can be seen as part of a more general category of "information technologies", which include: 'intermediate' technology, based largely on analogue information held as electro-magnetic waves such as radio, television and telephone, 'literate' technology, based on information held in written form, such as books and newspapers, and 'organic' technology, based on the human body such as the brain and sound waves. The terms ICTs and Internet are often used interchangeably in popular discourses in development (see for example, Ballantyne, Labelle & Rudgard, 2000), and it is plausible that much of the current discussion over "ICTs" is likely a response to the rapid growth and ubiquity of the 7 Internet in particular. Here, the Internet is the focal point, although many of the discussions employing the term "ICTs" are relevant. The Internet, shorthand for "interconnecting networks", is considered a unique medium for its global reach and combination of publishing, broadcasting, and interactive features. According to Christiansen and Andersen (2000), the Internet can be classified as: 1. e-mail, 2. newsgroups and bulletin boards, 3. Internet relay chat and 4. World Wide Web (WWW/ the Web). The former three are mainly communications media, while the Web is typically used for accessing information or 'surfing' with the use of software known as a 'browser'. At the same time, the Web offers a number of different forms of computer mediated communication, such as Web-based mail. The Internet originated in 1969 with the US Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency network, which was divided into civil and military components in the 1980s and commercialized in the 1990s. With the rise of the personal computer and the introduction of Web software, the Internet became widely used in the middle 1990s. It is now estimated that there are 450 million users world wide, with the majority in Europe and North America (Vietnam Internet Network Information Center, 2001). Introduction to the Case Study The major empirical component of this thesis is a case study of an Internet-based research network in the Localized Poverty Reduction in Vietnam (LPRV) program, where I was affiliated as a graduate student at the University of British Columbia from 1999 to 2001. The LPRV is a university capacity building program between Canada and Vietnam, which creates and links five research centres (Centres for Poverty Reduction/CPRs) in Vietnam in a five-year program to 8 develop participatory public planning and policy assessment expertise.2 A significant component of the program is network development- the deployment of Internet tools to provide access to relevant information and literature and to help foster intellectual collaboration among researchers at the CPRs. Although the network is considered a project in progress, use among constituents at the five universities has been considerably lower than was expected since activation almost three years ago. In the summer of 2000,1 worked with one CPR, (Dalat University), in an exploratory study focused on raising awareness of the network and gaining insights into why the technology was used at considerably lower levels than was originally hoped for. As a window to the larger thesis question, the case study portion aims to address the following question: What are the constraints on the adoption of the LPRV network at the Dalat CPR? Methods Background I began the investigation by looking at current discussion papers and program documentation on ICTs in international development, as well as literature on information technology transfer to developing countries. I then focused on creating a research instrument for the field study that would serve as an organizational tool for the Dalat CPR, as well as permit hands-on observations of the organizational culture and patterns of information use. In addition to an information needs assessment workshop3, interviews and a small survey were held with researchers at the CPR. After the field study, I returned to a wider range of literature concerning information technology and organizations, social theories of information, and literature on Vietnamese social relations. 2 See program website for further details: 3 See Appendix for a description of the workshop and its development. 9 Thesis Structure I begin in Chapter 2 by investigating the concept of "information" in theoretical terms to suggest that our popular notion of information in development may sometimes exclude the role of human incentives in information use and information technology use. In Chapter 3 I make a short review of information technology in the field of international development and the problematic dimensions of information technology transfer to Third World countries. In Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 I present and discuss the various constraints on Internet adoption in the case of Dalat, and interpret those findings through a range of studies on authority relations in Vietnamese society. In Chapter 6 I make recommendations for guiding the design of Internet deployments in such development contexts and identify some risks of an overly technologically determinist approach to deployment. The Appendix describes in detail the theory and method of field research. General Approach This analysis could be seen as a grounded case study, as described by Strauss and Corbin, (1994). This is a reflexive and inductive methodology aimed at generating theory, which stems directly from substantive data. Theory evolves during actual research, and does this through continuous interplay between analysis and data collection. Grounded theory methodology explicitly involves generating theory and doing social research as two parts of the same process. "A major argument of this methodology is that multiple perspectives must be systematically sought during the research inquiry. This tenet contributes to building theory inclusive of lay conceptions....Coding procedures-including the important procedures of constant comparison, theoretical questioning, theoretical sampling, concept development, and their relationships help to protect the researcher from accepting any of those voices on their own terms, and to some extent forces the researcher's own voice to be questioning, questioned and provisional." (Glaser, 1987 cf. Strauss & Corbin, 1994, p. 280) 10 Taking a micro-level, inductive approach was seen as appropriate given my familiarity with the socio-cultural context where I was working, and the multi-disciplinary and emergent nature of the subject matter. Also, the interpretive case study is an accepted method in the study of information technology transfer to developing countries (Avgerou &Walsham, 2000; Mansell & Wehn, 1998). 11 Chapter II Information Explored Before investigating the more practical details of the case, I would like to begin with a look at the concept of "information" as often presented in many social science discussions, and in discussions aimed at justifying or explaining the importance of the Internet in international development. As will be argued in following chapters, an underlying constraint on the adoption of the Internet in Third World institutional contexts is likely the perception of what is involved in the delivery of the Internet across different social environments. For designers and planners, there is often a tendency to see IT transfer as a discrete and technical operation rather than a larger social innovation. What I would like to suggest here is that such a conception is given particular currency in the context of a universal and technical understanding of "information". Such theoretical treatment of the term "information" pervades many contemporary discussions and particularly those that subscribe to an "information age" or "information society". Despite the widespread use of the term and the value ascribed to it in current affairs, there is no real consensus in disciplinary or policy discourse on what information is (Balnaves, 1993). Information has been described as: "data," as a "piece of knowledge set in motion," as a "culturally codified body of knowledge" as "ubiquitous" as "propositions" as a "reduction of uncertainty" as a "commodity" as a "resource" as "that-which-occurs-in-the-mind-on-absorption-of-a-message" and so on. Although, as a social phenomenon, the concept has been elusive in general, what is particularly notable about many current uses of the term information is the non-semantic treatment of term (Webster, 1995). Information (as well as knowledge) is often portrayed as discrete, "out there", as 12 well as significant and abundant, but not necessarily having meaning, as the commonsensical notion of the term would have it. While I am not seeking a definitive social explanation of information here, I am concerned with drawing out the shortcomings of this dominant conception and the implications for questions concerning social context and human incentives in IT deployment programs in international development. Although we often accept the portrayal of information as inherently valuable and "out there", some have argued, on the other hand, for a conception of information as something intrinsically dependent on the social context in which it is used. Hobart and Schiffman (1998) argue that historically the idea of information is closely related to the act of abstraction. They suggest that information is essentially an abstraction and preservation from the "flux" of the real world. Information is new mental objects derived from experience, and manifest in some technology, which isolates human abstraction from human experience (ibid). Because information is tied to abstraction, the concept of information itself becomes dependent on the particular form and technology of abstraction that people engage. Consequently, the notion of information fluctuates based on the orientation and tool of analysis employed at a given time (i.e. literacy, numeracy, or computer technology). Hobart and Schiffman argue that the noted progression of information as a concept has been one directly related to a pattern of increased abstraction from the real world of experience; a pattern which originated somewhere in the transition from orality to literacy, and culminated, through increased technological abstraction, in the current electronic and meaningless form of the concept. "Our contemporary age is now rendered digitally as a coded sequence of zeros and ones, themselves without content." (ibid) 13 The current understanding of information as a non-semantic entity is often attributed to the theoretical work of communications theorists Shannon and Weaver, and Norbert Wiener's theory of cybernetics in the middle 1950s (Roszak, 1986; Boland, 1987). In the case of Shannon and Weaver, information was understood as a transmittable message in communications engineering. As for Wiener's cybernetics, information was seen as 'messages' or 'feedback' in systems, where both natural and social systems rely on feedback to be self-regulating and the general propensity, if information is free-flowing, is toward greater organization. "Information is a name for the content of which is exchanged with the outer world as we adjust to it, and make our adjustments felt upon it. The process of receiving and of using information is the process of our adjusting to the contingencies of the outer environment, and of our living effectively within that environment." (Wiener, 1950, p. 19) Such a notion of information is not inconsistent with current social theories of an "information society" in that information is seen as an instrumental entity in and of itself. Anthony Oettinger argues: "...every society is an information society and every organization an information organization, just as every organism is an information organism." Information is necessary to "organize and run everything from a cell to General Motors or the Pentagon." (cf., Robins & Webster, 1987. p. 97) And Castells (1996) describes a new information technology based economic paradigm in a "network society", centred around micro-electronic information technologies, where "information is raw material" and "technologies act on information."4 According to Hobart and Schiffman: "Today's scientists, engineers, and technicians, not to mention social scientists, scholars, and bureaucrats of all stripes, seek, and find information everywhere. From the movement of subatomic quarks to the evolution of the entire cosmos, many natural 4 Castells has recently withdrawn the emphasis on information in his work, focusing more on technology. He says: "In this sense what is characteristic of the network society is not the critical role of knowledge and information, because knowledge and information were central in all societies. Thus, we should abandon the notion of'Information Society', which I have myself used sometimes, as unspecific and misleading." (2000, p. 10) 14 systems are understood as governed by the information they receive and process. Social systems too, in what some pundits tout as the postindustrial age, are seen as structured by information, rather than say, production. Information is now commonly depicted as the general principle of organized phenomena..." (1998, p. 3) Critics of such notions of information are typically concerned with its meaning. Marvin contends, for example, that "information cannot be said to exist at all unless it has meaning, and meaning is established in social relationships with culture and value." (Marvin, 1987) "Our own ethnocentric and historically provincial notion of information has narrowed our analysis of it to forms of expression and transaction in which it becomes a self-contained series of autonomous products without context.. ..This conceptualization discourages the examination of information in a variety of information activities and transfers in our society, as well as in societies different from our own. There are communities where oral communications systems have been in place for centuries, but which count for little in any world that measures the value of information by the range and speed of its travels and the number of its packages." (ibid, p. 57) In a similar line, Jonas (1953) in a critique of cybernetics places the emphasis on social relations and purpose rather than 'information' as applied in Wiener's theory. He says that people may indeed appear to act "as i f they respond to ongoing feedback within a system, but the purpose that proceeds action is not based necessarily on received information or feedback per se, but rather on the contingents of human need and interest. "Sentience" and "motility" alone are not enough to explain action. "According to cybernetics, society is a communications network for the transmitting, exchanging, and pooling of information, and it is this that holds it together. No emptier notion of society has ever been propounded. Nothing is said on what the information is about, and why it should be relevant to have it. The scheme allows no room for such a question to be raised. Any theory of man's sociability, however, crude or distorted, that takes into account his being a creature of need and desire, and that looks for the vital concerns which bring men together, is more to the point." (ibid, p. 191) Moving back to the international development realm, critical analysis over the role of information as a developmental resource has taken a similar route. Menou says, for example, that proving information is an essential resource may not be "solvable in general terms." As a developmental resource, "it seems almost impossible to identify general benefits and their related indicators, as 15 the concept, nature, and goals of development may differ from one person to another, from one time to another, and from one situation to another." (1993, p.37) And Bates (1988) suggests that "information goods" may, in fact, be beyond the scope of economic analysis primarily because the value of information cannot be demonstrated prior to its use. He argues, the "indeterminacy" of the information good is fundamentally incompatible with the determinacy of economic models. Although, there are discussions about social contexts, user needs, and incentives in the current literature on the Internet and development, there appears to be an implicit endorsement of the dominant conception of information as outlined above as discrete and self-constitutive. Madon remarks: "Connecting countries is just the beginning and, though expensive, perhaps the easiest part. Individuals, organisations, even countries must have the incentives and capabilities to use information effectively. Especially for the poor and vulnerable, strengthening their capacity to receive and use knowledge will require special effort, and knowledge that comes from the outside will need to be adapted to fit local contexts and needs." (2000, p. 86) Perhaps such statements are necessary in order to speak of general policy aspirations, but there are questions regarding how such statements get interpreted at a project level. Most observers would likely agree that incentives for information-use are an important pre-cursor to the adoption of the Internet. In the popular literature, however, few are compelled to probe beyond this assumption to uncover what it means to "use information", what change in incentives this entails, or what particular type of information is at stake. Surely, for example, there are a vast array of processes regarding incentives and capabilities for information-use that already exist in developing countries. Does the above statement call for new incentives and capabilities? Which ones? What specifically does it mean "to receive and use knowledge"? What do we mean by information? Do we mean information that is used in the 16 creation of social policy or information that is used in the informal economy or information used by rural communities in farming? What processes of change (in social relations, organizational norms, forms of production...) are implied in such calls to action and how directly and explicitly are those processes of change dealt with or discussed? While there is common acceptance of the conception of information as an entity onto itself (which is likely shaped by disciplinary and lay conceptions of information in our computer age), there are questions about the ability of that conception to contain important ideas of value and purpose. In adopting the dominant theoretical position that information is "out there" and a constitutive force in society, calls to foster incentives for "information use" in developing countries or to "harness information" possess a certain currency. From the more critical perspective, where information is seen as being more the substance of human relations, where unique purpose and meaning necessarily factor, such calls are more questionable. As Menou has suggested, the general notion of information as a developmental resource has been difficult to mobilize in practice. A critical examination of information stresses that the value of information is dependent on the intentions of those using it, where those intentions, in turn, are going to be dependent on social context. Discussing the "incentives to use information" in a universal sense, then, may be a misguided construct, if given serious credence as such. In any case, a specific and meaningful discussion will depend on the particular subject and what his or her purpose is in using information. A sense of diversity concerning incentives for information use is potentially negated at a project level when we rely on an understanding of information as self-constitutive and instrumental. 17 Chapter III IT in Development and IT Transfer Information Technology and Development Since the middle 1990s there has been considerable discourse in the international development field over the potential role of ICTs. Mainstream development agencies have taken a particular interest in the potential of new technologies. A policy paper from the World Bank, Harnessing Information for Development, argues: "Revolutionary advances in information technology reinforce economic and social changes that are transforming business and society. A new kind of economy-the information economy- is emerging where trade and investment are global and firms compete with knowledge, networking and agility on a global basis." (Talero & Gaudette 1997, p. vi) Among other innovations, the authors recommend: "Widespread and equitable access to communication and information services through accelerated deployment of national information infrastructure and effective integration into international communications and information networks.... [And new] ways to use information technology to help solve the most pressing problems of human and economic development-education, heath, poverty alleviation, rural development, and care for the environment." (ibid) Technology has been an integral component of development since its inception. The traditional modernization paradigm represented by Rostow (1960), saw technologies from western society as key additives, required to facilitate the advancement of nations from one stage to the next along the path from traditional to modern society. Although alternative theories of development, such as dependency theory have adopted a varied stance under the banner of appropriate technology, it would appear that components of western technology are intimately related to the process and concept of development in general (Van Ryckeghem, 1992). 18 In the 1960s information technologies were seen as a key component of modernization. At that time the emphasis was on "communication" and mass media systems such as television, newsprint and radio and the goal was to build modern state institutions in developing societies. Schramm and Lerner say: "We shall be concerned with the use of communication as part of the most widespread and spectacular pattern of social change now visible in the world: the economic and social development of that we call the modernizing society. In this wave of change, the demands on communication are proportionately greater than at any other stage of social growth. Communications is asked to help survey a new environment, raise people's aspirations, guide and control dynamic processes, teach new skills, and socialize citizens to a new and different society that is still only in the process of becoming." (1967, p. 7) Much of the current discourse over ICTs in international development circles can be seen within the modernization paradigm, where information technology is seen as an additive to help developing countries advance economically or in some cases "leapfrog" stages of the development process (Van Audenhove, 2000). One of the current imperatives for information technology deployment is the aspiration of the information or knowledge society, which is often associated with Daniel Bell and subsequent writers on post-industrial society (see Webster, 1995). Here, advanced countries are seen to have entered the information age, where knowledge and a society's ability to acquire, use and adapt knowledge are the cornerstones of development. In recent years, some scholars have begun measuring the degree to which developing countries have achieved "knowledge societies", using indicators such as literacy levels, telecommunications infrastructures, electronics production levels, numbers of technical graduates and so on (Mansell & Wehn, 1998). A related imperative is the risk of exclusion from socio-economic processes of the information age, often referred to as the "digital divide." The G-8 Digital Opportunities Task Force defines the divide as "unequal possibilities to access and contribute to information, knowledge and 19 networks as well as to benefit from the development enhancing capabilities of ICT" (Draft Report of DOTForce 2000, cf. Crowder & Michiels, 2001, p. 4). The divide is seen to both establish and entrench existing marginalization across poor-rich, gender and rural-urban gaps. Both theories of a digital divide and an information society clearly place an emphasis on the i importance of information technologies in societal development and change. If not seen as the cause of social change, information technologies, in such theories, are seen as key enablers of change (see Castells, 1996). Problematic Aspects in the Conception of IT Transfer The record of information technology transfer to developing countries has been characterized generally by a lack of success (Avgerou, 2000; Mundy 1996; Vades, 1987). Typically there are a number of factors that make deployments difficult, including poor telecommunications infrastructure, lack of resources or supporting equipment, lack of skilled personnel, as well as social, organizational and cultural practices that differ from those where the technology originated. Bhatnagar and Heeks (1999) theorize information system failure in developing countries as a gap between expectations and realities. They contend that expectations are typically too high in the deployment of technologies and describe the archetypal "conception-reality gaps" in technology transfer to public institutions in the Third World along several dimensions as follows: (ibid, p. 70) Information: Formal, quantitative information is less valued in developing countries. Industrialized country assumptions about the perceived value of computerized information systems may not match the situation in developing countries. 20 Technology: The technological infrastructure is more limited and older in developing countries. Industrialized country assumptions, for example, about the availability of Internet connections may not match realities. Processes: Public sector work processes are more contingent in developing countries because of a more politicized and less stable environment. Assumptions about the viability to automate overt sets of processes may not match realities. Objectives and Values: Developing countries are reportedly more likely to have cultures that value kin loyalty, authority, holism, secrecy and risk aversion. So, for example, industrialized country assumptions about the value of an information system that will increase the capacity of public managers to share information may not match realities. Staffing and Skills: Developing countries have a more limited skill base in a variety of areas. This includes IT skills of systems analysis and design, implementation skills, and operational skills including computer literacy and familiarity with the western languages that dominate computing. Management and Structures: Developing country organizations are more hierarchical and more centralized. Thus, for example, industrialized country assumptions about the acceptability of reforms that disperse information and power may not match local realities. According to some authors, there has been a tendency among those involved in IT transfer to understand their work as a discrete deployment rather than a larger social innovation (Avgerou & Walsham, 2000; Bhatnagar & Odedra, 1992). Partly, this manifests in treating technology deployment as a development end in itself rather than as an application towards an organizational goal. Success becomes measured in technical completion rather than what the technology enables 21 people to accomplish as an organization.5 As Menou says: "The assessment of development efforts in information infrastructure and services has mainly relied upon measures of input and immediate output. Although information specialists point to internal developments and claim, for example, that a 5000-record data base is now operational, policy makers and decision-makers understandably look for a clear indication of its overall socio-economic benefits...." (1993, p. x) Planners may take an a-cultural understanding of information technology, treating IT as a neutral artifact or instrument, while many have stressed the socially embedded nature of technical information systems (Avgerou & Walsham, 2000; Orlikowsly & Robey, 1991). As Stamper says, for example: "An arrangement of computers linked by a telecommunications system does not constitute an information system. Such a technical system only processes information in the sense that it operates upon structures of symbols that are intrinsically meaningless....Meanings are only conferred upon the symbols manipulated by computers when they are interpreted by the social system within which the technical system is embedded." ( 1987, p. 44) While there is little disagreement in the academic literature over the salience of "socio-cultural factors" (Blaine & Roche, 1996; Bhatnagar & Odedra, 1992), there is considerable divergence, resting in epistemological or ideological positions, over what to do about those factors. Some analysts explicitly or implicitly portray the issue of culture as a barrier to IT adoption. Corea (2000), for example, argues that "ingrained" behaviours require modification before technologies such as IT will be adopted for development purposes. He argues that "social architectures" require adjustment in developing countries in order to trigger "morphogenic" and technologically driven societies. 5 This is a typical line of criticism in the general organizational information systems literature (Boland & Hirschheim, 1987). Swanson, for example, argues that the most important issues are organizational, "...beyond the conventional confines of system development methodology. And the implication, therefore, is that most MIS [Management Information Systems] is too narrowly focused at present to answer its own basic questions." (1987, p. 182) 22 Alternatively, Avgerou argues that while the typical position is to problematize culture, the more accurate and effective understanding is to examine the ends to which technology has been put forward. Using the term rationality rather than culture, she questions the 'modernizing' ends in which most failure is conceived. "But while in the context of developing countries the techno-economic rationality of western modernity is instrumental in defining a series of problems and determining their solutions, it is blatantly unsuccessful in streamlining people's behaviour to the achievement of such solutions.. ..This paper argues that IS professionals need to be attentive to the historically meaningful alternative course of rational action, often manifest in IS projects in developing countries, and to avoid interpreting them as "failures" due to irrational behaviour." (2000, p. 2) ".. .the issue is not that a particular rationality is embedded in a particular technology, which therefore is inherently inappropriate, but that particular technologies are transferred as part of transferring a particular way of organising economic and social affairs.. ..The resistance to the means represented by computerization that was manifested in these cases was resistance to the ends it was felt that such means were mobilised to convey." (ibid, p. 15) In following Avgerou's more post-modern approach, the problematic implication for those involved in development projects with ICT, is that considerable social change often constitutes the stated premise of such work. Where cultural differences are indeed recognized as factors in the IT transfer process, those same factors or portions thereof may, in fact, be the targets of desired change. As Van Ryckeghem suggests, however: ".. .the consequence is not that endogenous technologies can only work optimally within the corresponding culture or that uses are predetermined or unalterable. This would imply a rather static view of culture. The question at stake is not whether technology determines culture or culture determines technology but whether and to which extent a degree of mutual adaptation is possible and how eventually change can be monitored." (1992, p. 44) Where an ICT project takes heed of local values and social norms then, the challenge, it would appear, is a complex one, concerning the degree to which certain desired forms of social change 23 associated with the technology deployment can be induced or new incentives garnered, without construing the local context as problematic in general. 24 Chapter I V Case Study Background The LPRV is a development cooperation program between Canada and Vietnam, linking five Vietnamese universities and one Vietnamese research institute with two universities in Canada. As mentioned above, the goal is to assist in implementing policy in Vietnam aimed at making social planning and public policy making more decentralized and integrative. Specifically, the program aims to build domestic university capacity in participatory public planning techniques at five designated Centres for Poverty Reduction (CPRs) in Vietnam, by undertaking a series of "learn-by-doing" poverty reduction projects in local communities, and integrating lessons learnt into scholarship, curriculum, practice and policy. The program can be seen in the larger context of decentralization and institutional reform, which has been taking place in Vietnam since that country began restructuring in 1986 under the Doi Moi process.6 At the time of writing, the LPRV was entering its fourth year. The deployment of information technologies to the five universities in Vietnam has been viewed within the LPRV as a key component of the over-all capacity building program. Primarily, the technology was intended to service research and community planning efforts among local project members and lay the infrastructure for enhanced information resource access at the universities, as well as to solidify the cohesion of the project and provide lasting opportunities for decentralized, institutional networking in Vietnam.7 In keeping with the description of "Internet 6 Doi Moi involves "a comprehensive renovation of the whole country based on three fundamentals: shifting from a highly centralized planned economy based chiefly on public a multi-sector economy...; democratizing social life with the aim of developing the rule of law; implementing an open door policy and promoting [international] cooperation." ( L P R V , 1997) 7 As an indication of the relative absence of lateral institutional coordination in Vietnam, the Swiss sponsored Social Forestry Support Program, which aims to link forestry faculties throughout the country in a similar capacity-building framework to L P R V , reported that the five deans of forestry at the universities involved in that project had never met prior to the initiation of the project in 1993. 25 adoption" outlined in Chapter 1, there were essentially two main organizational aspirations in the network: the provision of opportunities to access information and the provision of opportunities to exchange information. As one Canadian planner reflected: "We assumed that there was a paucity of information available to our partners and that two steps: 1. supplying that information and 2. creating channels and opportunities for dialogue would result in a true functioning network of collaborating researchers." (Verlaan, 2001) Specific technology included: • PCs (two at each CPR) with Internet connections. • Internet and E-mail software. • Electronic libraries of community planning and poverty reduction literature from international sources. • Computer and software training. The use of these tools formed the backbone of what was called the "LPRV network". However network activities in general were not limited to the use of Internet technology. Other activities such as face to face meetings and the use of printed materials also fell under the banner of "network development issues" in LPRV. Here I am concerned specifically with the application of the Internet in the context of the project. Below the terms Internet and "network" are used interchangeably. Although no levels of use were specified at the time of deployment, it was hoped that communication between university partners would be "effective, deep, and regular". Lessons learnt, local project reports findings, and common research issues would to be shared and discussed using e-mail, program websites, electronic libraries and the Web. 26 As the deployment entered its third year these activities did not appear to be forthcoming. Although the tools were used for administrative purposes, general use of the Internet for program research was minimal. Over a two month period, I worked with one institute, the Dalat CPR, as a participant observer in an exploratory study focused on raising local awareness of the network and gaining insights into why the network was used at considerably lower levels than was originally hoped for.8 A mentioned above, the main question addressed in the case was: What are the constraints on adoption of the LPRV network at the Dalat CPR? Methods A number of techniques were used to identify and gage constraints, including literature review, participant observation, interviews, and a survey. As a forum for addressing the main concern of social and organizational issues, the central research technique was the development and implementation of an interpretive information needs workshop. The method, was an adaptation of Guidelines for Developing an Information Strategy (JISC Information Strategies Steering Group & Coopers & Lybrand, 1999), and involved: identifying a current organizational goal; generating questions (or information needs) related to that goal; identifying potential information sources; and evaluating sources on the basis of accessibility, language and quality.9 In Dalat, we focused on the goal of designing community development projects in three local communes. Observations were drawn from the process of creating, implementing and participating in the workshop, which was delivered in two separate sessions, and included students and professors from the CPR. The 8 It should be made clear that like ail components of the LPRV, the IT component was approached from a learn-by-doing perspective, where it is accepted and assumed that effective program direction flows from activity as well as planning and design. Those people engaged in network development are best not considered as Information Systems specialists. 9 See Appendix for a detailed description of the workshop. 27 meetings were co-facilitated by myself and a translator10, who was a local student at the CPR and closely involved in the conceptual development of the workshop. Constraints on the Adoption of the Internet-Network in Dalat Country Context Issues Vietnam is a one-party state with a population of nearly 80 million, 76% of which is in the agricultural sector. (UNDP, 2001) The country has developed economically at a considerable pace since it began opening to international trade and making market reforms in 1986. Although the rapid growth seen in the early 1990s has tapered off in recent years, annual average growth between 1990-2000 was 7.3%. By international standards, 37% of the population is considered poor and GDP per capita is approximately US$400. Adult literacy is notably high at 94% (ibid). The Internet became legal in Vietnam in November 1997. Since then, the number of subscribers has increased steadily and currently sits at approximately 132 thousand. However, relative to population, subscription remains low by regional standards (see Table 1). Where 0.17% of the population in Vietnam used the Internet in June 2001, the average for other ASEAN countries was 1.34%, while the global average was 7.25% (Vietnam Internet Network Information Center, 2001). Of the users in Vietnam, most are located in the urban centres of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. In 1998 (when the recorded number of Internet subscribers was 11,000), it was estimated that 48% of users were foreign organizations, 27% were in the private sector, 20% in the state sector and the remaining 5% in other sectors (Dang, 1999). 1 0 Although every effort was made to translate feedback and results effectively, the language barrier was a challenge to facilitating a workshop of this nature, and impacted the clarity and ease of communications. 28 Table 1 Global and Asian Internet User Growth (June 2001) Country Internet Users (1000s) Population Percentage of Country Users Global 446,573 6,156,787,462 7.25% US 181,398 276,807,963 65.53% China 22,014 1,267,459,340 1.74% Japan 47,350 126,660,770 37.38% South Korea 16,226 47,687,177 1.17% India 4,070 1,021,966,219 0.40% Singapore 2,893 4,225,415 68.49% Malaysia 2,399 22,010,088 10.90% Thailand 1,046 61,513,609 1.70% Philippines 475 81,996,269 0.58% Indonesia 223 226,603,676 0.10% Vietnam 132 79,354,305 0.17% (Vietnam Internet Network Information Center, 2001) Vietnam has placed significant restrictions on the Internet." Until recently, all access was controlled by one state-owned enterprise, Vietnam Data Communication Company, a subsidiary of the state telecommunications monopoly Vietnam Post and Telecom. Service is administered through five licensed Internet Service Providers (ISPs). There are also Internet Content Providers, which require a license to operate and include large government organizations such as the Ministry of Culture and Information or the Vietnamese Administration of Tourism. The government requires that all levels of Internet access, service, information provision as well as individual use be certified. Vietnam Data Communication Company administers a firewall to block sites that are considered unsuitable by the state (mainly of political nature), making the five ISPs route all traffic through a controlled network. The firewall is believed to cause bottlenecks, '' Other governments placing significant restrictions on the Internet include: Burma, Belarus, Tajikstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Cuba, China, Syria, Tunisa, Sudan, Libya, North Korea (Chepaitis, 2001). 29 access refusals and slow service. Regulations also make ISPs and Internet Content Providers liable for the content of websites, and require them to censor their services. Fees charged to ISPs to access the Internet have been as high as 20 times what it costs in Europe or North America for an access line (Dang, 1999). Program Issues There are a number of constraints on the adoption of the Internet within the general context of the LPRV program in Dalat, which need to be considered in addition to the social issues. The first obvious constraint is time. Accessing the Internet requires the professional time of those involved in the program. As in any university setting, researchers in Dalat and other partner institutions have multiple commitments and various roles they play in the institution. Evaluating efforts to access the Internet for various LPRV program purposes must be considered in the context of busy schedules and diverse responsibilities. In a number of interviews CPR members indicated they had many duties to attend to such as university meetings and examination marking. Another basic consideration is cost. Although each institute has a designated budget for communications, accessing the Internet costs money, and in an institutional context where resources are relatively scarce, costs incurred for Internet access are likely to inhibit use in some way. Also, the Dalat CPR is a new research organization that is under-developed both in terms of its use of information technologies and its research and community planning activities. The director of the CPR stressed on more than one occasion that the CPR was a young research institute. Technological Issues In working at the CPR over the course of the summer, the slow connections and unreliability of the Internet service in Vietnam stood out as an obvious barrier to the adoption of the network. 30 Due to poor telecommunications infrastructure, low bandwidth and firewall restrictions, certain information services were unavailable, available only sporadically or, in some cases, available only at almost prohibitively slow download times. Downloading e-mail on a Web-based service, for example, could take up to ten minutes during peak hours and in some cases the loss of connection was not uncommon. A number of CPR members spoke of the time and frustration involved in accessing the Internet due to these reasons. Skill-Level Issues The computer skill level in the CPR diverged among members considerably. Some of the students involved in the Centre had computer science backgrounds, while some faculty had difficulty typing. A survey was held to get an impression of the skill level. Four out of eight responded. Table 2 C P R Computer Skill Survey Question Member 1 Member 2 Member 3 Member 4 How often do you A couple of times Once per day Never Once per day use a computer? per week What do you use Writing documents Writing documents, Writing documents the computer for? Communications Do you know how Yes Yes No Yes to use Microsoft Word and save a file? Do you know how No Yes No Yes to send and receive e-mail messages? Do you know how No No No No to search for information on the Internet? Do you know how No No No No to attach a file to an e-mail message? From the survey results, the skill level required for basic e-mail and Internet manipulations was clearly quite low. At the time the survey was taken, none of the four respondents indicated they knew how to search for information on the Internet or attach a document to an e-mail message. Most people appeared to have the basic skills to access Internet based mail accounts such as 31 Yahoo or Hotmail. It should be noted that the more skillful members of the Centre, including students, did not participate in the survey. Language Issues While the information provided by Canadian partners through program websites and online libraries was seen as valuable and high-quality by CPR members (as indicated in the information needs workshop, see Appendix, p. 64), English language was a considerable barrier to accessing this information. This issue emerged in discussions on more than one occasion, although CPR members pointed out that language was less of an inhibitor for uses where only reading skills (as opposed to verbal skills) were required. Social and Organizational Issues • Inward Focus As an organization, the Dalat CPR appeared to be quite inwardly focused in regard to its academic work. Outside information resources did not seem to play a great role in the institute's activities, which tended to centre more on meetings and fieldwork, than on say, library research or theory development. Most of the information held in CPR databases and library collections was data that had been collected on local communes. Far fewer resources could be found that dealt with experiences, case studies, theories, or models of poverty reduction or community planning in different parts of Vietnam or Asia. This, of course, is partly due to the early stage of information resource development at the CPR. In preparing for the workshop, however, one CPR member, raising skepticism over the relevance of the proposed approach of the workshop, suggested that "case studies from other parts of Vietnam were not interesting to the CPR members". 32 During the workshop the pre-planned notion of brainstorming information needs or pertinent research questions did not prompt the robust, group brainstorming hoped for, but instead elicited primarily the input of the director and accompanying re-iterations from other senior people in the room. In light of expectations, participants, did not appear to have a set of pertinent research questions. A senior CPR member suggested that in addition to the readily solvable problems of cost and training, the main barrier to Internet use in Vietnam was that "people did not understand their own information needs". A local focus is clearly reflected in attitudes towards collaboration with LPRV partners in other parts of Vietnam. Significantly, in the workshop, other CPRs (the LPRV partners with whom Internet collaboration was to take place) were ranked a low 9th out of 10 as an "information source" (see Appendix, p. 64). According to participants, this low ranking was due to "distance" and "lack of relationship".12 Similarly, the issue of "relationships" emerged again when the accessibility of information sources was contemplated. Participants pointed out that the accessibility of local government, for example, would depend on "who you were and who you knew in the government." In sum, then, the CPR appeared to be quite locally focused without much practice in external activities or engagements. • Individual Volition In terms of activities such as e-mail discussion groups or other information exchange activities, the propensity of people to participate in such a role is questionable in that people did not appear 1 2 It should also be pointed out, however, that foreign information sources (International Institutions, Canadian Universities) were rated highly, showing that the CPR did have an interest in outside sources, at least as expressed within my study (see Appendix, p. 64). When asked why, people said that the quality of information was very high for these sources, especially compared to the quality of information at the general campus library in Dalat, which was considered very poor. The CPR library was ranked most highly due to its quality and close vicinity. 33 to have the sanctioned or felt agency to express ideas openly in professional settings. The workshop, for example, is best characterized by a sense of hesitancy to discuss ideas. Although breaking into groups was an effective way to include more CPR members in the discussion, the more junior participants seemed to take the role of a scribe rather than a collaborator. In one case, one junior participant refrained from voicing her ideas for project development, which I knew to exist from previous conversations. Similarly, students did not attempt to share their ideas openly when prompted. In debriefing after the workshop, one CPR member, commenting on the low level of participation, suggested that people did not have "the confidence to raise their ideas". And when questioned further, suggested that people were afraid to leave their "area of study", and added that "people could get in trouble ten years ago just for speaking English." In an interview with one Vietnamese network development worker in Hanoi, it was suggested that feedback in official or formal settings was uncommon and "gossip in the street" was the most significant channel for communicating opinions in Vietnam. Similarly, one foreign development worker stressed that the people with whom he worked were, in his eyes, "very afraid to make mistakes". It would appear that people in the CPR were hesitant to take independent action or openly express opinions in such settings as the workshop. 34 Chapter V Constraints and the Vietnamese Social Context Introduction Working with the CPR for the summer and undertaking the workshop in that setting highlighted the complexity of the network aspiration as a social innovation. While the "low use" of the network could be explained by the lack of local efficient Internet service delivery, low computing and English-language skill levels, as well as by the early stage of CPR development, it became clear through interviews and observations that larger social and organizational issues had a considerable bearing on adoption. This is not to say that the more readily identifiable constraints are not important issues that require attention. In LPRV there is an ongoing effort to streamline technologies, improve skills and develop resources that are in the Vietnamese language. Some technology issues are beyond LPRV control such as line-speed, (which since the time of the study has already improved in Vietnam). Training could likely be improved by ensuring that all members have access to training courses and not simply those who are sent to attend workshops. More resources could be applied to translating relevant and topical resources and perhaps less effort should be placed on collecting large volumes of information resources, without eliciting feedback on relevance and utility. Performing periodic information needs assessments, such as those conducted in the field study (see Appendix, p. 62), and then channeling those findings into the collection and provision of materials from the Canadian universities would be a good option here. These constraints, despite possessing their own range of challenges, however, are distinct from the socio-cultural issues, which are more complex, problematic and not as easily identified or categorized. At the same time the socio-cultural points are central to the issue of constraints on 35 adoption. In the above analysis, I have identified indicators of such issues in Dalat under the headings of inward focus and individual volition. How can we explain these observations in the larger context of Vietnamese culture and social relations? This, of course, is a very complex and difficult to answer question and can undeniably lead to generalizations and potentially myopic analysis. Certainly, the dimensions of organizational behaviour touched on in the observations above, such as fear to make mistakes or a local focus toward research, could apply (in some way) to most academic institutions or organizations, possibly making generalizations about Vietnamese society in this regard inappropriate. Nevertheless, denial of cross-cultural differences is equally inappropriate and the analyses to follow do represent components of real, albeit varying, influence within Vietnam's socio-cultural environment. Also, there is a multitude of overlapping issues that come to constitute a discussion concerning culture and the adoption of an information technology. Mailing (2000), for example, discusses a dynamic in Asian cultures where less emphasis is placed on making information and meaning explicit than in western cultures, and Van Rycheghem (1996) discusses the absence of larger processes of structural differentiation between economic and personal spheres in some developing country contexts as a factor to explain inhibitions on IT use. In LPRV we could draw upon the authoritative nature of the regime in Vietnam (and its regulations and censorship on the Internet, for example), as a macro-societal factor to explain reluctance or "fear" to use the Internet in the project. In this section I would like to explore one slice of the larger potential discussion by looking at the impact of micro-level authority relations in Vietnamese society and how such relations influence incentives to adopt technologies for research and collaboration in LPRV. This seemed to be a key 3 6 point of divergence between the organizational design implied in the deployment and the organizational reality of the participants in Dalat. What I would like to suggest is that the legacy of micro level, superior-subordinate organizational linkages in Vietnam is a salient factor to be considered in explaining low levels of use of the network for collaboration and research. I will now review four overlapping, theoretical dimensions of this organizational feature, which are likely relevant to Vietnam. Patron-Client Organizational Structures in Southeast Asia According to Scott (1977) the traditional pattern of interaction in political organizations in Southeast Asia is superior-subordinate exchange relationships, characterized by reciprocal and personal ties between people or groups who control unequal resources. According to Scott, "The basic pattern is an informal cluster consisting of a power figure who is in a position to give security, inducements, or both, and his personal followers who, in return for such benefits, contribute their loyalty and personal assistance to the patron's designs. Such vertical patterns of patron-client linkages represent an important structural principle of Southeast Asian politics." (ibid, p. 124) The reciprocal bond that constitutes the basis for patron-client structures, is characterized by an imbalance in exchange between the two partners, (where the client is unable to reciprocate in full and is thus bound to the patron), by a face-to-face relationship, (continued reciprocity establishes trust and affection among the pair), and by a diffuse or whole-person relationship, (covering a wide range of potential personal exchanges). According to Scott, the vitality of patron-client structures in traditional and contemporary Southeast Asian societies is a result of the persistence of inequalities in control of wealth, status, and power; the relative absence of firm, impersonal guarantees of security or status, and the inability of kinship units to facilitate personal security or advancement. 37 The Confucian State Neher (1987) suggests that deference to authority has been a central characteristic of Vietnamese political philosophy: "Historically, Vietnamese attitudes and beliefs were determined by Confucian philosophy, which pervaded Vietnam for centuries. Confucianism stressed principles of government under which political authority was centralized, with the emperor at the top and a mandarin bureaucracy administering the state according to its whims. The centralized mandarin state was crucial for building an extensive network of dikes for irrigation, for preserving national independence, especially against constant intervention of the Chinese, and for guarding against peasant revolts. To carry out these goals, the state had the capacity to mobilize fully the entire society. Two important values emerged from the traditional Confucianist state. First, traditional Vietnamese culture rested in the notions of duties of the lower to the higher: the ruled to the ruler, the son to the father, and the pupil to the teacher. Second, the individual did not view himself as an independent and isolated person, for he did not distinguish himself from his position in society. Obligations to superiors were the cement of the Confucian order. These obligations were translated into deferential and unquestioning behavior toward those in authority." (ibid, p. 144) Family Relationships as Models of Social Organization Drawing primarily on Vietnamese folklore, Jamieson (1995) identifies the hierarchical structure of the family as a defining archetype for greater social relations in pre-colonial Vietnam.13 "Family relationships were models of social organization. Both child-rearing practices and formal education emphasized learning to behave properly toward other family members. First and foremost, children were taught filial piety (hieu), to obey and respect and honor their parents. Children were made to feel keenly that they owed parents a moral debt (on) so immense as to be unpayable.. ..The parent child relationship was at the very core of Vietnamese culture, dominating everything else." (ibid, p. 16) Unlike most Western children, children growing up in traditional Vietnamese families learned dependence and nurturance, not independence. They learned the importance of hierarchy, not equality. They learned the rewards of submission to those in senior status, not assertiveness. The paradigmatic example for extending this basic family model to society was de. One was suppose to behave toward those senior to one, or of higher rank, or older, as if they were older brothers. 1 3 Jamieson qualifies his account of pre-colonial Vietnam as "oversimplified, somewhat idealized and selective." (1995, p. 15) 38 Younger brothers were supposed to be self-denying and docile in their relationships with older brothers. Yet in Vietnamese folk tales younger brothers prosper despite their meekness. They triumph precisely because they are true to the prescribed role behavior appropriate to the situation. They were supposed to be meek and compliant to older brothers, as toward parents, despite all provocation. In submitting even to unreasonable demands from an older brother, they were earning merit. Never does a younger brother triumph because of boldness, cleverness or assertiveness. The ideal role model provided by school and family and folklore is one of compliance with wishes of superordinate figures in a social hierarchy: child to parent, younger brother to older brother, and wife to husband." (ibid, p. 17) Communist Neo-Traditionalism Superior-subordinate relations in Vietnam can also be explained within the context of the single-party communist state and the legacy of the communist regime. Although he does not deal with Vietnam directly, Walder's (1986) discussion of "communist neo-traditionalism " in Chinese factories, as a form of vertical and clientelistic relations unique to communist societies, likely has relevance for the character of micro-level authority relations in Vietnam. He argues a form of authority relations unique to centrally planned regimes, and consequential of non-market-based employment relations and the role of the state in the activities and structure of the workplace. According to Walder, communist neo-traditionalism manifests in two main institutional features. The first is 'organized dependence' or the extent to which, and the ways in which, workers are dependent- economically on their enterprises, politically on the party and management, and personally on supervisors. "In communist economies workers are highly dependent on their enterprises, but in a different way. Despite the many nonwage benefits that may come with employment in some industrial sectors in market economies, the employment relation there is primarily a labor market relationship: a specific contractual exchange of efforts and skills for money and other compensation. In a communist economy, employment in the state enterprise is not primarily a market relationship. It is a position that establishes the worker's social identity and rights to specific distributions of welfare and entitlements provided by the state. Moreover, the enterprise exercises authority not only over one highly specialized role, but over the whole person: the state factory is a branch of government and, through the factory's party branch, exerts a measure of the state's political rule over the worker as citizen." (ibid, p. 16) 39 The second feature is the 'institutional culture' of the factory: the patterns of association between superior and subordinate, the patterns of association among workers, and the strategies employed by workers to advance their interests. "The central feature of this institutional culture is a network of patron-client relations that links party organization and shop management to a minority of loyal workers on the shop floor.... Yet this personal dimension is not the significant feature of these ties. Party-clientelism is created "from above"; it is an institutionally prescribed clientelist network that has both formal and informal, impersonal and personal aspects. This mixed character of party-clientelism is distinctively neo-traditional. It represents a mixture of ideological commitments and impersonal loyalties demanded by the Leninist party and the role expectations of modern industrial organization with the personal loyalties characteristic of traditional authority and patrimonialism. It is, therefore, distinct from traditional patron-client ties, built upon personal loyalties, and it is also distinct from cliques and factions that exist separately from formal organizational roles." (ibid, p. 25) ".. .[These] pervasive ties comprise a network that is officially sponsored and is part of the prescribed role structure of the organization. These clientelist ties are a central institution through which authority is exercised; they are not an incidental or supplemental aspect of official institutions." (ibid, p. 165) There are a number of overlapping perspectives that can be drawn on to show that micro-level vertical ties are a notable feature of social structures in Vietnam and likely have a particular resonance in Vietnamese organizations of various types. It is important to note that although we can likely make such a general claim, the historical production of those relations is obviously complex, and not adequately described as simply a high degree of hierarchy per se. Instead, authority relations appear to be a mix of factors based on economic, state-led and pre-colonial historical dimensions. In the context of the academic institutions involved in the LPRV program it is difficult to demonstrate explicitly how these various dimensions of authority relations manifest in the organizational behaviour of those groups. Although it is beyond the scope of this paper to engage a historical analysis of educational institutions in Vietnam or the production of certain authority 40 relations in the context of the CPRs, the institutes certainly exhibit characteristics of the features outlined by the above authors, including, for example, the dominant roles of CPR directors, the resilience of formal and hierarchical practices in activities in LPRV and the existence of institutional associations to the Communist Party in Hanoi. For my purposes, the above authors provide an adequate basis for presuming potentially strong and complex vertical ties at the Dalat CPR and other LPRV groups in Vietnam, which require better understanding. Questions Concerning "Information Access and Exchange" in Vietnam In theoretical terms, lateral information exchange or collaborative research across such academic institutions could be read as counterintuitive in a setting where social relations and organizational structures are built upon personal and vertical ties between superiors and subordinates. • In such a setting, does the introduction of the Internet as a tool to facilitate cooperation among geographically dispersed peers imply unlikely forms of social and organizational change? Does such an aspiration call for the formation of new professional relations where r normal professional interaction takes place within local superior-subordinate relations? • Can the apparent disinterest of the Dalat CPR in "Other CPRs" be explained by the persistence of strong vertical ties as portrayed by Scott, Neher, Jamieson, or Walder? • Can the felt "distance and lack of relationship" with the other CPRs be understood in this context? If so, what are the consequences for how we understand the constraints on adopting the Internet for collaborative research in LPRV? In theoretical terms, the incentives for retrieving and incorporating external information resources in institutional research and planning could also be seen as potentially counterintuitive. There may be greater incentives to respond to senior demands or requests, rather than to take on self-directed inquiry. Appearing to know too much may compromise status or position within certain 41 vital relationships and therefore preclude incentives for certain Internet based inquiries. Ultimately there are questions concerning the learning traditions and predominant epistemologies in the hierarchical social settings described by the authors above. • What are the pre-dispositions for information-seeking behaviors? • What are the attitudes toward "constructing" knowledge or amassing critical or challenging literature, when "answers" and knowledge are normatively tied to authority figures? Can the expressed disinterest in "outside case studies" be seen in this context? • Can the dominance of senior participation in the workshop, the lack of "confidence" mentioned or the "fear to make mistakes" observed in the study be explained within the context of superior-subordinate relations as depicted by Scott, Neher, Jamieson or Walder? If so, what are the consequences for how we understand the constraints on adoption of the Internet for individual research inquiries on the LPRV network? Questions Concerning Expectations for "Information Access and Exchange" What are the constraints on the adoption of the network in Dalat? From the "social incentives" perspective, there are indicators that the organizational ends to which the Internet is being applied in design and practice may contain elements that are counter intuitive in the context of the intended recipients. What emerged from observations, methods, and literature employed in this study was the probable significance of authority relations, in their various forms, as a factor to be considered further in explaining the constraints on network. Expected outcomes are, of course, a central issue in this discussion. Embedded in the expectations (and indeed the notions of "low use", "inward focus", "lack of volition" and so forth presented in this paper), is a certain set of aspirations and values with their own cultural and organizational background. The observations made above, of course, are based on the assumptions and 42 expectations held by this writer, as a Canadian graduate student and promoter of the LPRV network. Information access and exchange are likely familiar categories for Canadian researchers and practitioners who are perhaps more accustomed to horizontal and networked forms of formal organization, and may work as specialists in a series of professional engagements across geographic distances. In that context the need to perform an Internet search in support of personal work or to exchange an e-mail with a colleague in a different part of the country would correspond with the basic drivers and incentive structures in that organizational context. Where the historical socio-economic structures14 and epistemological traditions of western countries may make unlimited access to information resources a valued aspiration, and may render "communities of practice" and "networked organizations" as intuitive, the historical experience of countries such as Vietnam may be significantly different. 1 4 See for example Castells' (1996) discussion of organization and production. 43 Chapter VI Recommendations and Risks The Challenge When analysis of constraints moves beyond the more obvious technical barriers, we find far-reaching social questions. The main argument of this paper is that deeper discussion of these questions is needed in the transfer of ICTs in development. Furthermore, work needs to be done to develop theoretical and practical methods to incorporate these issues into deployment programs. In the deployment of new technology, however, the necessary discussion of different values and assumptions is often sidelined in favour of aspirations like " ICT use" or "enhanced information access and exchange." An uncritical conception of such processes, however, may not adequately include the diversity of historical, organizational, or program experience that comes to uniquely shape the nature of those processes. When technology is an icon of progress and novel and tangible instruments are seen as compelling in themselves, I believe there is a risk that technology can neutralize that necessary discussion before it can even begin. When the use of Internet technology is seen as an end in itself, the natural inclination is to see socio-cultural issues as nebulous and intractable barriers to that end. What is often neglected here is a necessary discussion over the implied organizational goals (eg. greater collaboration, greater independent research) and the relevance or nature of those goals in a given development context. This is not to say that the socio-cultural circumstances within such settings are static or that such an aspiration as the LPRV network is not a worthwhile or appropriate pursuit. It is important, however, to clarify these issues at an early stage if we intend to seek out attainable goals and accurate understandings of why we reach or miss them. Whereas there is a tendency to ask what the "barriers to the network are" or what the "barriers to Internet use are", the ends to which the technology has been deployed from the start require closer attention. 44 Change in the Provision of Technology Addressing the organizational ends to which technology is applied partly means reviewing the role of those deploying and designing the technology, which, in this case, has largely been a Canadian effort, although certainly not exclusively so. The key challenge for development practitioners becomes how to foster incentives for innovation and cooperation in locally appropriate ways. These types of "constraints" were identified in this case study as "lack of volition" and "inward focus", which can be explained to some degree by the legacy of different authority structures in the Vietnam. How could LPRV planners approach these constraints in a balanced way? This is a question for all of those involved in the program, not simply those involved in the information technology transfer. However, within the scope of network development, some thematic recommendations can be made. Better preparedness: Walsham (2000) suggests that information systems practitioners need to learn more about the cultures they are working in through conversation with program partners or through reading. People involved in the design and deployment of information technologies require some training in the theory of technology transfer and exposure to different views of Vietnamese history and culture. One question put forward by one Canadian designer after I returned from the fieldwork was: "How do our Vietnamese partners typically learn?" More research or collaborative design discussions on such fundamental issues would be a fruitful area to explore early in the development of an ICT strategy. Some of the questions put forward in this paper on pages 41 and 42 are good examples of other relevant questions. Efforts at "cultural compatibility": Van Ryckeghem (1992) argues that information technologies should be seen as malleable to the local context. Different network exercises and practices could be implemented to make this happen. For example, given the influence and official importance of CPR directors, initial e-mail discussion groups could be arranged for senior people, instead of 4 5 being left open for general participation. Senior people can then be encouraged to invite others to participate in subsequent, organized discussions. Or perhaps electronic collaboration could be facilitated by a senior UBC researcher, to give the activities a more authoritative and structured quality. Such activities or promotions should be designed in conjunction with a local Vietnamese partner to help ensure innovations are locally accepted. Change and the Recipient Context On the other side of the equation, as outside consultants and donors, we can recommend, guide, or try to prompt social changes that have been identified as desirable. If Vietnam has committed in some way to decentralization and the integration of policy making, and LPRV partners have expressed a desire for greater cross-university collaboration, what steps can be taken within the network development component of LPRV to foster such change? Perhaps incentive structures could be put into place that reward junior creativity and innovation in order to spur confidence and volition in a way that is compatible within that setting. At a theoretical or modular level, perhaps certain institutional adaptations can be made of organizational structures in regional societies, where authority relations have a related historical legacy (taking South Korea, for example, as a country with a Confucian legacy). Or perhaps certain components of micro-level authority relations (i.e. those depicted by Walder as the legacy of the communist state) can be discussed and disentangled from the larger backdrop of a "more intrinsic" social hierarchy, as newer institutions evolve. While it is not the intention here to detail the specific possibilities and tactics for institutional change in Vietnam, it appears that the effective deployment of technologies depends on the ability to engage such questions early on in the process. Although the approach can hardly be deductive, where certain behaviours are deemed favourable and then instituted from above or 46 from the outside, reflexive guideposts should be set out when approaching the complexities of social change in such settings. The information needs workshop undertaken as a method in this study is a step in the right direction, where attitudes, ideas and indicators flow from activity, engagement and open-ended learning. The Information Source evaluation, in particular, presented on page 64 in the Appendix, is an example of the type of forum that could be used to discuss assumptions and sets of mutually decided, practical targets for change. Again, such discussions should be incorporated into network development activity at an initial design and planning stage, not just at a post-implementation or evaluation stage. ICT Design Guidelines At a conceptual level, the deployment of ICTs should flow from the organizational goals of a certain program context, and should avoid becoming the goal itself or the reified manifestation of larger goals. ICTs in LPRV should been seen as one means among several to promote innovative and collaborative community planning research in Vietnam. One project in Vietnam, Mekonglnfo, ( en/home.nsf) has tried to structure the use of information technology as one option, among a "basket of options" for local partners. Further, it is important to reserve the possibility that information technologies may not be an appropriate option in certain development or organizational contexts. There may not be a role for ICTs in some situations, especially where high opportunity costs are a pressing issue or where other ways of meeting information needs exist at a lower cost and can be provided at a lower risk. ICTs should be monitored and evaluated in terms of what they help people to do at an organizational level. This does not mean that we should ignore the merits of the technical system. In fact, if the transfer of Internet technology can be justified as an end in itself, say for potential uses, or if computers and associated skills are structured as a separate area of capacity building, then we may want to measure the deployment simply in terms of technical efficiency and user 47 skill. This seems to be more the tack of the Social Forestry Support Program in Vietnam, (, which sees basic information technology transfer as a distinct and self-contained component of its capacity building activities. If, however, we intend to elicit certain organizational behaviours related to the use of the technology (as in LPRV and outlined in general by Madon (2000), see p. 5) or if we are interested in understanding the benefits or shortcomings of a particular deployment in a comprehensive way, then the issue becomes more complex. Here we require well-thought-out designs, which can be reflected upon meaningfully. Evaluation Indicators for Organizational Change. The identification of indicators that incorporate the larger organizational goals of the deployment (eg. greater collaborative research and enhanced individual research) need to flow from the expectations of recipients as well as from the providers of technology (and other stakeholders, including donors). Such planning needs to be participatory and involve the stakeholders in a way that engages not only their interest in technology, but what they see technology doing for them as researchers, teachers, policy analysts, health care practitioners and etc. This will engage an important learning process for both the providers and recipients of the technology at an early stage. Where new attitudes and incentives are sought for the recipients, such a dialogue would constitute a learning process that falls into program implementation as well as program design. In LPRV, for example, we may have discussed and developed an indicator for looking at the degree to which research among partner institutions has become more cognizant or reliant on outside information resources, or the degree to which IT contributes to greater integration across institutions. One apparent benefit of the deployment in LPRV, for example, has been increased ease of administration and operational planning across institutions. For future projects we should 4 8 ask how we can formalize and extend the analysis of such benefits or related shortcomings, and what forums we can hold to negotiate, detail and explicate related indicators. For ICTs in general, this level of design requires input from various stakeholders and analysts from different backgrounds. As examples, for programs involved in applying communications systems for the mitigation of floods or disasters, such indicators may be straightforward and involve measuring the change in speed with which information is available for disaster or flood relief etc. On the other hand, 'futures simulation' software programs that aim to educate publics on the future consequences of the their current consumption choices may require more complex and formative indicators stemming from education or environmental education. Again, this implies a discussion over values. Framework for ICT Indicators Because ICTs are technical systems, the larger organizational goals need to be considered with the other technical factors involved. Using the dimensions outlined by Bhatnagar and Heeks on page 20 as a basis for discussion could be useful here. Each category (information content, technology, work processes, skills and staffing, objectives and values, management and structures) could be analyzed to indicate: where we are, where we would like to go, and where we stand after a certain period of activity. While some categories would be straight forward and some less so, and while some categories may be more relevant than others for certain situations, such a framework would cover the bases in most ICT programs. In the case of LPRV, we have dealt with the categories of information content, technology, and staffing and skills. An analysis of "objectives'and values" would provide a useful avenue to the discussion over divergent concepts of organizational behaviour discussed in this thesis. It would be here where the indicator identification exercises called for above would need to take place. 49 Also, an analysis of categories like "work processes", or "management and structures" would draw attention to the managerial aspects. In the case of multi-disciplinary networking, for example, norms for participation, as well as coordination, management and facilitation of activity need to be arranged, and timelines need to be established in order to clarify expected outcomes and realistic and appropriate points for evaluation. (Some of these guidelines have recently been put in place.) For an elaboration of such measures in the context of multi-disciplinary, electronic research networks see Conseil Equilibrio Consulting, (1999). Technological Pitfalls New technologies can become unnecessarily dominant in the way that complex organizational change processes and interventions are understood and acted upon. This phenomenon has been explored by various critical theorists of technology.15 The collaboration and research envisioned 1 5 (See Flores & Winograd, 1986; Turkle, 1984; Weizenbaum, 1976.) Flores & Winograd (1986) for example, stress the instrumental rationality that accompanies computer design and attempt to illustrate the problematic nature of formulating computer systems for a complex world. They examine the design of systems in a number of disciplines such as artificial intelligence and management and conclude that the projection of human capacities onto computational systems is typically misleading. According to the authors, for example, the construction of "management," as "decision-making," in the design of computer applications for that task, is an inaccurate rendition of the subject. Management is rarely about rational decision-making in the sense that a series of alternatives can be generated and valued for structured problems. On the contrary, the authors argue that formulating the problem itself is the difficult part of management. Such scenarios, in reality, are best described as "situations of irresolution, in which we sense a conflict about an answer to the question: 'What needs to be done?'" (ibid, p. 147) Although computational systems can be devised for important tasks within management, it is misrepresentative to construe management, in general, as "decision-making". They contend that where an opportunity presents itself to apply new tools, there also exists the danger of a narrowing view towards the nature of the problem and the possible solutions. They suggest that within a given area of action we engage in a correspondent level of interpretation, which offers new possibilities but also creates a blindness. "As we work within the domain we have defined, we are blind to the context from which it was carved and open to new possibilities it generates." (ibid, p. 178) According to the authors, language reflects and fixes certain attitudes...."Words correspond to our intuition about 'reality' because our purposes in using them are closely aligned with our physical existence in the world and our actions within it." (ibid, p. 61) They say, however, that the "...domain in which people need to understand the operation of computers goes beyond the physical composition of their parts, into areas of structure and behavior for which naive views of objects and properties are clearly inadequate. The 'things' that make up 'software,' Footnote continued on next page. 5 0 through the application of ICTs in LPRV represents more complex change than was perhaps originally considered. Although the LPRV has heavily engaged tools other than ICTs, such as face to face workshops and the designation of information officers at each CPR, network development (particularly in the early stages) has followed a fairly technologically determinist path, in the opinion of this writer. The day to day activities experienced by project planning staff, technicians, and donors in LPRV is geared toward the practical and technical tasks of "building the network." Technical work in such areas as infrastructure, skill development and standard software protocols may be successful, but there is a risk that if network activity does not occur, the tendency is to return to the tasks of developing "better content," "more training," "easier-to-navigate interfaces" and so forth. This domain of opportunities and shortcomings, however, may not address the core problem of helping Vietnamese institutions perform research or collaborate over how to reduce poverty (although it may provide the tools for such activity in the future). The real issue thus becomes how to integrate the ICT deployment within the larger purpose it was intended to serve, as discussed above and elaborated in recommendations for design and evaluation. This is a common challenge for information systems in development, (Menou, 1993) and for organizational information systems generally (Boland & Hirschheim, 1987). Next, language, in the constructed sense, can put limitations on the development of a wider perspective. In the case of the LPRV, certain terms reflect attitudes that may be constraining. This writer's attempt to capture the human incentives associated with institutional networking by retrieving the substantive "information needs" of one CPR is a good example. 'interfaces,' and 'user interactions' are clear examples of entities whose existence and properties are generated in the language and commitment of those who build and discuss them." (ibid, p.69) 51 Treating "information needs" as discrete items could be seen to reflect a mechanical approach to fostering human cooperation. The term "information need," as revealed in the findings of the study, is really within the domain of something greater, pertaining to the unique incentives of actors in a certain social context. If indeed, the goal of our work is to stimulate new incentives for new forms of human association in that context, then to label those phenomena as "information needs" could give the impression those incentives are readily discernible, collectible or malleable objects that can be treated effectively as inputs for the network. The goals of "accessing information" and "exchanging information" are also potentially misleading and technocratic terms, used to denote what are really complex events in different processes of human interaction. It could be argued that people do not really access or exchange information. Instead, they choose to engage in solving a felt problem or in answering a question pertinent to their personal environment. There is a real risk that not-so-obvious forms or complementary forms of the processes in question, such as say, approaching a colleague to ask a question or checking on the status of a project by visiting a community, could be excluded when we use terms such as "accessing and exchanging information". Facilitating greater access to information, if this is the ultimate goal, may be better served by more regular face-to-face meetings or the translation of printed materials, before new technologies are considered. Encouraging information exchange may be better described as "joint problem solving" or some such. Of course, it is necessary to commit to aspirations as we work and describe them using the best terminology we can. However, we should be aware of the perspective implied in our terminology, the perspectives neglected by such terminology, and the type of commitments that are subsequently generated. (Flores & Winograd, 1986) 52 As the discussion of "information" in Chapter 2 has shown, we should also be aware of the limitations of our basic precepts, such as our perception of the value and nature of information. We should be explicit about the historical and ideological context out of which program and policy language emerges and the commitments generated there. A question for further research and practice is whether practitioners and analysts in this sector conceive of information as a universal and discrete object, and how this conception impacts the way we plan and deploy information technologies in development initiatives. 53 Chapter VII Conclusion Although there is much discussion in the literature about how the Internet can foster access to information and opportunity in different development contexts, the LPRV experience I have reviewed suggests there are many important questions that arise from practical efforts. The expectations and assumptions embedded in current efforts to deploy access to the Internet in development contexts need to be discussed more vigorously. How well are local incentive structures reflected in those expectations and assumptions? New information technologies certainly present new opportunities for socio-economic development. However, when concepts are put into action by imperfect practitioners in complex cross-cultural environments, the issue becomes more complex than providing access to the technology. One important question to ask is: Why would people choose to "access" that technology? This question draws us into a necessary discussion concerning incentives, the diversity of human experience and purpose among the specific actors involved, and the divergence or convergence between the intentions of the intended users and the intentions of those designing and deploying the technology. It would appear that this point of tension is central to the issue of technology transfer and adoption, and needs to be dealt with directly in projects in the planning stages. A larger question is whether the current discussion over bridging the "digital divide" or promoting the "information society" is orientated to embrace the diversity and complexity of the project such a discourse entertains. While the ability to "access and exchange information" has theoretical currency in such a discussion, and can serve to mobilize commitments to instruments 54 that nominally (or conceptually) facilitate those processes, the accuracy and adequacy of that assumption, as a universal aspiration, is questionable. In this case, the intentions of individuals, as constituted in their local relations with others, emerge with a greater resonance and require closer attention. What are the constraints on the adoption of Internet in Third World institutional development contexts? This study has identified several constraints in one particular case, but greater discussion is required at a meta level in this emerging discourse. One of the major constraints appears to be how we view the constraints themselves. Whereas much of the analysis tends to be constructed within the parameters of the technological means (i.e. connectivity, skills, appropriate content) an uncovering of the discussion over ends (i.e. greater collaboration and learning) points inescapably to larger questions, which have been linked to ongoing questions in both international development studies and organizational information systems studies. How do we initiate social change in cross-cultural, institutional development environments? How do we deploy information systems that incorporate organizational and human goals into design and evaluation? Such questions are, in fact, some of the pressing practical questions concerning the deployment of the Internet in Third World development contexts. Despite the novelty and tangibility of new technologies, the underlying questions necessarily implicated in their deployment are not necessarily new ones. 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Communist Neo-Traditionalism: Work and Authority in Chinese Industry. Berkeley: University of California Press. Walsham, G. (2000). IT, Globalisation and Diversity. In C. Avgerou & G. Walsham (Eds.), Information Technology in Context: Studies from the Perspective of Developing Countries (pp.291-303). Burlington, VT: Ashgate. Webster, Frank. (1995). Theories of Information Society. London: Routledge. Wiener, Norbert. (1950). The Human Use of Human Beings. London: Sphere Books. Weizenbaum, J. (1976). Computer Power and Human Reason. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company. World Bank. (1998). World Development Report. Washington: World Bank. 59 Appendix Information Needs Assessment Workshop Introduction and Plan The Dalat CPR and I developed the Information Needs Assessment Workshop in the summer of 2000. The purpose of the workshop was to help bridge the gap between the organizational information needs of CPR members and current efforts to deploy information and information technologies in LPRV through network development activities. The workshop involved: 1. identifying a current organizational goal, 2. generating questions (or information needs) related to that goal, 3. identifying potential information sources, 4. and evaluating sources on the basis of accessibility, language and quality. The overall aim was to make information resource development in LPRV (network development) valuable and useful for CPR members and to raise awareness and to encourage use of the resources as they were deployed. The methods themselves are best seen as experimental and in the spirit of learn-by-doing. The workshop was completed in two separate sessions. Session 1: Information Needs Assessment Planned Activities: At the start, an organizational goal was to be established. Time would be spent both in small groups and the larger group discussing and generating research or planning questions related to that goal. Planned Outputs: At the end of this session, the CPR would be left with a series of current and important research and planning questions. This exercise was to have a number of benefits or uses: • To help clarify current questions and challenges facing the CPR. • To identify opportunities where the CPR could work collaboratively with other CPRs. • To give UBC faculty and staff direction in helping select information resources that would be useful to the CPR. (library contributions, websites, and translation.) • To provide content for personalizing Internet training. Session 2: Information Source Evaluation and Strategy Planned Activities: Once a series of questions were identified, participants would then turn to brainstorming possible sources or services outside of the CPR, which could be consulted to help meet or answer those questions. Once all possible sources were listed, they would be grouped and evaluated on criteria of language, accessibility, and quality. Sources would then be given an overall ranking. Planned Outputs: At the end of this session the CPR would have a more clear understanding of what information resources were potentially valuable and what challenges existed in bringing those outside sources into the research and planning activities of the CPR. This exercise was to have a number of benefits or uses: 60 • To identify different opportunities for outside consultation and lay the groundwork for future action in this respect. • To generate greater and explicit awareness over new and existing opportunities for outward collaboration and consultation. • To give UBC faculty and staff direction in providing information sources that were considered valuable and helpful to the CPR members. • To provide a forum for dialogue between Canadian and Vietnamese partners over existing and anticipated information processes for the CPR. Theoretical Background of Workshop The method was an adaptation of Guidelines for Developing an Information Strategy (the JISC Information Strategy Steering Group/Coopers and Lybrand, 1999) This is a methodology aimed at strategizing the use of information for academic institutions. The essence of the Information Strategy is to promote a bottom-up approach to optimizing the use and management of information and information technology. Guidelines for developing such a strategy were assembled by the authors on the basis of consultation with universities in the UK and meant to assist academic institutions in responding effectively to opportunities presented by new information technologies. The strategy is intended to help mitigate the following risks: • fragmentation within the academic community, • failure to develop student-centred learning, • ill-conceived, wasteful investments in technology, • technological investment without necessary changes in working practices, attitudes and behaviour. The strategy itself is thought of as a "set of attitudes," rather than a report, in which: • any information that should be available for sharing is well defined and appropriately accessible • the quality of information is fit for its purpose • all staff know and exercise their responsibilities toward information • there is a mechanism by which priorities are clearly identified and then acted upon. The central method for developing such a strategy is categorizing the information needs of the institution through the identification of "information groups" that correspond to the functions and processes of the university (eg. course-preparation, institutional planning). The joint identification, evaluation, and discussion over such information groups is supposed to foster the new attitudes in the organization. According to the authors: "The process itself, designed to produce a set of attitudes, will be a learning process which evolves and changes-over time: it will be iterative, which means that the production of an Information Strategy is not a once-and-for-all task but will need 61 updating. In various ways, which we discuss, the process will need to involve all those concerned with information; thus the derivation of the Information Strategy will also put in place the means by which it is to be implemented." (1999, p. 34) Although the JISC method is intended for the internal use of information in large academic organizations, it was felt that the overall premise could be adapted toward the goal of helping establish new processes in the CPR for outside networking. In the same spirit of an iterative and bottom-up approach to optimizing internal "information groups" in the model, it was felt that identifying and discussing existing external "information groups" or "information sources" at the CPR could help to shift attitudes towards a more optimal use of technologies and help to better steer the deployment of technology. Findings Session One: Information Needs Assessment Session One was co-faciliated by myself and translator, Pham The Thuong and attended by six faculty members and several students. The organizational goal agreed upon by the participants was "to design commune projects" (development projects in local communities). In the case of the Dalat CPR there were three associate communes, which I will call x, y, and z communes. The CPR members responsible for work in each commune reviewed existing knowledge of the community and then agreed upon the best possible project to explore: Commune: Project: X Agricultural Diversification v Micro-Credit z Micro-Credit The next step was to identify the information needs regarding project design and planning. We started by brainstorming general thoughts as a group and then divided into groups of two to conduct interviews. Each individual was paired with someone who was responsible for a different aspect of the project design. Participants were encouraged to develop a picture of what was already known, and then, produce a list of questions or unknowns. After reconvening and discussing the results with the larger group, we were left with the following questions or information needs. (The micro-credit project teams y and z grouped their results together.) Commune: Information Needs: X Agricultural Diversification 1. What kind of crop should be selected? 2. What kind of livestock should we raise? 3. Do we invest in each household? How much? y and z Micro-Credit 1. What techniques are available for teaching local people to use a loan? 2. How can we make a micro-credit project sustainable? 3. What are example project designs used elsewhere? 62 Session 2: Information Source Evaluation and Strategy Session two was co-facilitated by myself and translator, Pham The Thuong and attended by the same six faculty members as the first but this time without the students due to availability. In the second workshop we brainstormed all the possible sources of information that could help the CPR answer the questions generated in the first workshop. Participants were encouraged to list as many sources as possible, both Vietnamese and other: • Local Government • Department of Agriculture • Local Commune Officials • World Bank • Other CPRs (Particularly HCMC, which is interested in Micro-credit) • HCMC Labour Association • World University Service if Canada Interns • Business Schools in Canada • Business Schools in Dalat • International NGOs: Oxfam, ENDA, UNDP • Internet • E-mail List and newsgroups on Micro-credit • Websites on Micro-credit • CPR Library Collections • UBC Library • LPRV Partners • Laval Library • Local State Bank • Vietnamese Farmer Association • Peoples Bank Fund • Women's Association We then categorized the sources into workable groups and arranged those groups against the criteria of access, quality, and language in a matrix and rated each source using a basic three-point scale, which reflected how well or how poorly the source met the three different criteria and then ranked each source for overall utility. (1= well and 3=not well.) We then discussed the responses and possible courses of action. See over. 63 Information Source Grouping Access Quality Language Overall Ranking Local Government (Agriculture Department) 2 (depends) 2 1 4 Local Labour Unions, Farmers and Women's Groups 1 (depends) 3 1 7 Local University Library 1 3(worsening) 1 10 Vietnamese LPRV Partner Universities (Other CPRs) 3 (improving) 2 1 9 International Institutions and NGOs 2 1 3 3 Canadian Universities and Libraries 3 1 3 2 State Bank 2 2 1 8 Dalat CPR Book Library 1 2 (improving) 3 1 Visiting Students 1 1 2 6 Internet Searches 2 2 2 5 Comments For a discussion of the observations noted in constructing this matrix, see the section: Social and Organizational Issues on page 31. As suggested in the thesis, such a model or an adaptation could be a useful component in the "pre-deployment" or design stage and used to help develop identifiable indicators of desired information seeking and sharing processes. For example, the low ranking of other CPRs above could help to adjust expectations for Canadian partners and mark a starting point for evaluating the development of academic linkages for the Dalat CPR. 64 


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