May 2003

ICT INNOVATIONS BY CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS IN RURAL INDIA

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    Following the G7 Conference on the In-formation Society hosted by the EU inBrussels in 1995 and the Midrand Con-ference held in 1996 in Midrand, SouthAfrica, building a global information so-ciety, and setting the priorities for its ad-vent have become a major agenda of manynational governments and internationalagencies.International Telecommunica-tions Union (ITU), WTO, OECD, UNESCO, WHO, Economic Commis-sion for Africa, New African Initiative, TheWorld Economic Forum, UN General As-sembly, and the World Bank are some ofthe forums in which the idea has beendeeply deliberated (CEC, 2001).Never-theless, it was soon realized that unevenaccess to information defeats the hopes ofbuilding a global information society.Fur-ther, given the fact that the budgets ofmany developing countries are limited theycannot find resources for building the nec-essary infrastructure for increasing accessto information.A global information so-ciety, without the participation of theworld majority cannot be truly global.Focused attention by donor agencies andnational governments on seeking meansto meet this challenge has given rise to arange of innovative projects and processesthat attempt to use Information and Com-munication Technologies (ICTs)for devel-opment.

Private, public and the third sectors areindependently and in partnerships in-volved in these projects in areas such astransport, planning and implementation, sustainable livelihood, governance, promo-tion of equitable access to social services, supporting macro economic policies andenvironment management.They are var-yingly intended to enable users to reducecosts, increase efficiency and competitive-ness, empower local communities, facili-tate social and economic initiatives, createemployment opportunities, adapt and dis-seminate knowledge that enhances pro-ductivity or reduce corruption and red-tapism in administration.As such theseprojects encompass a wide area of devel-opmental activities in developing coun-tries.The major role of ICT expansion in thedeveloping countries pertains to findingsolutions to the problems of unemploy-ment and poverty reduction.Massive in-vestments in the public and private sectorsand funding by donor agencies are justi-fied by the immense scope of ICTs in mit-igating developmental maladies and aidingdevelopment administration.ICTs, suchas the World Wide Web, e-mail, tele-phones, cellular phones and satellites cantransform drastically the way in whichcommunities interact, conduct their busi-nesses, compete in markets and shape theirdevelopment priorities.ICTs have enableda section of the rural communities to ac-cess, adapt and apply greater amounts ofinformation often creating opportunitiesfor enhancing productivity and efficien-cy.It has also to certain extent strength-ened democracy, increased socialparticipation and defined new models ofsustainable practices.While the opportu-nities for the use of ICTs in developmentappear to be enormous, a systematic ap-praisal of the major restrictive factors thatcontribute to inefficiencies and instabili-ties in the outcomes of ICT use has notbeen undertaken.The absence of a properframework for assessing the strategies, pol-icies and regulatory approaches as theyemerge in the context of ICT expansionin India have greatly affected the rectifica-tion processes and attempts to reformu-late appropriate and coherent strategies forusing ICTs for poverty reduction and em-ployment generation.This is more glar-ing in the case of initiatives undertakenby Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)with both Governmental and non-govern-mental financial support.Surprisingly, organizational and technological innova-tions by CSOs, a crucial component ofICT supported developmental initiativeshave not received the deserving attention.

Innovation and CSOs in Rural ICT interventions
Evolutionary theory in economic think-ing has been a major source of stimulat-ing debates in the literature on technicalchange and innovation (Witt.1991;Hodgson, 1993;Dosi, et all.(Eds.), 1988;Metcalfe, 1997).One of the major insightsof this approach has been the notion thatinnovation and diffusion are inseparableprocesses and that technical change andeconomic change are concomitant (Met-calfe, 1997).Technological changes andeconomic development is often problam-atised underscoring the importance ofprominent institutions that contribute toinnovation processes in a country or prov-ince.Understood as national or regionalinnovation systems, these approaches em-phasize the role of interaction of majorinstitutions such as the industry the Stateand research institutions (Lundvall, 1997;Freeman, 2000;Edquist, 2001;Johnson, 1997;Elam, 1997).Commonly known asthe triple Helix model, a new variant ofthe innovation systems approach hasbrought in the role of the academia as cen-tral to this modeling and provide immenseinsights into the complex network of sci-entific practices leading to innovationswith systemic features (Etzkowitz and Ley-desdorff, 1997;Etzkowitz and Ley-desdorff, 2000;Castro, Rodrigues, Estevesand Pires, 2000;Leydesdorff, 2000;Ben-ner and Sandstrom, 2000).Nevertheless, social process that shape feedback mecha-nisms underlying the complex intercon-nections are not often given their due inthis type of literature (Khan, 1998).

The emerging context of informationtechnology expansion in developing coun-tries provides an interesting backdrop forempirical and theoretical reflections oninnovation processes and economic devel-opment.The ways in which the discus-sion becomes significant in terms of ethicaland political economy questions of devel-opment has been discussed by us elsewhere(Sreekumar, 2001).We have to recognizethat there are several dimensions to theproblem of ICT expansion that requirescloser attention.Many countries of thedeveloping world, particularly countries ofSouth Asia, are now formulating policiesand strategies to generate scientific syner-gy and economic productivity through thedevelopment of information technology.These programs and policies have not re-ceived the scholarly attention it deserves.We notice that there are at least four ma-jor actors (See Figure 1)actively partici-pating in this process:the State, theindustry, the University and Civil SocietyOrganizations (CSOs).


Figure 1 Triple Helix Model

The CSOs have also come to play animportant role in facilitating ICT expan-sion in developing countries.Their rela-tionship with the basic actors of the triplehelix is particularly important.CSOs havebecome major vehicles in the implemen-tation of government programmes for gov-ernance and poverty alleviation.With theexpansion of ICTs, there are at least twomajor developments in this front that de-serves attention.One is that many CSOshave started using ICTs on a large scalecreating a new pattern of demand forthem.Secondly, many CSOs have emergedwhich use ICTs directly for developmentalactivities that they undertake.These ICTCSOs focus their attention on the dissemi-nation and use of ICTs in the rural sector.

There are several ways in which thisbecomes crucial in looking at innovationprocesses in developing countries.TheICT based CSOs have created a milieu ofinnovation where cost effective ICTs fordevelopmental activities are being gener-ated for catering to the rural demand forthese products.The case of Simputer de-veloped in India is a typical example.Thereare also a host of packages and services thatare created with the specific intention ofmaking rural developmental activitiesmore effective.The dynamism producedas a result of these activities could signalback demand impulses for more of suchtechnology.A positive feedback mecha-nism can come to operate reinforcing thistendency.

Further, the activities of CSOs in thearea of ICTs have another major catalyticrole in shaping government policies in thissector.In the triple helix model, innova-tion is essentially viewed as a technocraticphenomenon.It does not attempt to cap-ture the grassroots level dynamics of tech-nology diffusion and the feedbacks it cangenerate ultimately influencing the patternand direction of innovation processes.TheICT expansion, given the nature of infra-structure problems in developing countrieswere destined to remain an urban phe-nomena in the absence of effective agencythat can mediate and negotiate technolo-gy diffusion.With the massive prolifera-tion of CSOs in the area of rural ICTexpansion, rural connectivity has beenbrought into the governmental agendawith the urgency it deserves.

The State also requires CSOs activeparticipation and involvement in imple-menting ICT related projects such as e-governance.The state cannot on its ownundertake the massive task of familiariz-ing the illiterate and semi literate popu-lace of developing countries with the useof ICTs.Collaboration between State andCSOs on the one hand and CSOs anduniversities on the other become centrallyimportant in this process.Industry also hasan important role to play in this context.The new demand for specialized packagesand services created as result of grassrootslevel understanding of the real needs ofrural areas can be attended to only by in-volving the industry.But how the dynam-ics work out depends on the degree andscale of integration of CSOs into the tra-ditional structure of the triple helix mod-el.We have discussed the conflictingnature of State-CSO relations elsewhere(Sreekumar, 2002a, 2002b and 2003).

CSOs and the Triple Helix Model
The major pillar of argument that support-ed the innovation system approach was itscharacterization of innovation as a non-linear process based on analytical advanc-es in economic reasoning contributed bythe evolutionary theorists.Its point of de-parture from various theoretical schools ofthought such as classical political econo-my of Smith and Ricardo, Marxian eco-nomics, neo-classical economics andSchumpeterian development economicswas the primacy it attributed to the de-gree of interrelationships and linkages be-tween state and the private sector indetermining the growth direction and pat-terns of innovation in a national or region-al economy.The major actors in thenational system of innovation were theState and the industry with historicallyspecified roles and intermediation deliv-ering a collective system of projects andprocesses leading to scientific knowledgeproduction as well as innovations.Thenational innovation system approach com-prised of two different types of conceptu-alizations one strand hinging on anunderstanding of the innovation processwhere the lead role among the actors wasattributed to the State by while the otherascribed it to the industry.


ICTs enhancing learning opportunities for girl children

An implied concept of double helix, theanalytic of a co-evolution between twodynamics of State and industry in the na-tional innovation systems approach, hasbeen found unsatisfactory in the contextof diminishing role of the State and in-dustry 's increasing dependence on theacademia for powerful innovative inter-ventions leading to the emergence of whatis commonly termed as triple helix con-figuration of innovation.The new modelreconfigures the national system of inno-vation approach to integrate the role ofuniversities in shaping production, dissem-ination and use of new ideas and concepts.The three ways interaction envisaged inthe triple helix model adds to the descrip-tion of institutional arrangements andpolicy dynamics where the universitiesencompass a third mission of economicdevelopment in addition to the State andthe industry.

The new phase of globalization ismarked by changes in technological fix inthe case of information technology, bio-logical technology and materials technol-ogy had indirectly influenced a moreencompassing theorization of the innova-tion process in national and regional con-texts.The industrial era was characterizedby techniques of data storing in the ana-logue form using electricity and electron-ics.The new technology manipulates datain digital form with the aid of microelec-tronics, optronics and associated software.Biological technologies have been revolu-tionized.In the industrial era, industrialfermentation using enzymes and microor-ganisms formed the core of its technicalpackage while emerging technologies inthis field apply microbiological techniquesto microscopic engineering of living or-ganisms.Industrial transformation of ma-terials was the leading technology for theindustrial era in the case of materials tech-nology.The frontier know-how in the fieldconcentrates on the microscopic controlof structure of materials (Miles, 1997:30).These new generic technologies are con-ceived as priorities for national develop-ment, “with almost monotonousregularity ” ((Ibid:25).

The triple helix model captures thismoment of assent of new generic technol-ogies with their excessive dependence onuniversities in the creation of innovativeand entrepreneurial talent.The politicaleconomy of changes in the conditions ofknowledge production necessitated areconfiguration of State-industry relationsand State-university relations where, State 'swithdrawal from investment in projects forinnovations compelled both the industryand university to come closer looking moremeaningful associations.The major actorsseemed to have adapted to the new regimeof innovation protocols defined by theemergence of a triple helix of State-indus-try-university interaction with universitiestaking a central place in the overall con-figuration.The model has not only givena new dimension to the innovations sys-tem approach, it successfully incorporatesseveral institutional and structural aspectsof the process of technological changewhich a co-evolutionary model of State-industry relation was unable to compre-hend.A striking example of this analyticaladvance is reflected in the new focus onthe internal changes in these institutionsinteractions cross linkages and the cumu-lative and recursive effects of these chang-es.

Nevertheless, the extension of triplehelix model to the problems of innovationin developing countries is fraught with awelter of institutional and structural prob-lems.In the context of well-developed in-novation systems the specific inter-linkagesas well as the benefit stream that mightaccrue from it are far more clear and tan-gible.On the other hand, the usefulnessof the model is capturing the holistic di-mensions of innovation processes in de-veloping countries ostensibly look lessapparent.The dependent relations of theindustry with the international order, State 's financial limitations, quality of ed-ucation in universities etc are only aspectsthat appear at the surface.If one digs deep-er, one will be perplexed by the complexi-ties of institutional and organizationalrigidities that envelope the processes ofscientific research and innovation in de-veloping countries.

The state 's role remains fundamentalhaving close interaction with all the otherparticipants.Obviously the triple helix ofinnovation has a significant role to play inthe development of ICTs in developingcountries.There is a widespread belief thatinternational technology spillovers are be-coming increasingly transparent andsmoother with the new phase of globali-zation and liberalization of domestic econ-omies in the developing countries.But inreality, the 'digital divide ' as the gap be–tween developed in countries in ICTs issome times referred to, is widening.Thiscould be due to a re-enforcement of thepatterns of global economic processes, which historically and politically hinderedthe development of low-income countries;or the result of more deep-rooted struc-tural problems of domestic economies ininteraction with the rapid changes in theinternational technology market.The stra-tegic significance of these aspects is un-derscored by the differential progress madeby low-income countries in reaping thebenefits of global information economyexpansion.Consequently a developmentoriented interventionist State remains animportant element of the innovation sys-tems in developing countries modulatingand facilitating the activities of otheragents of change besides directly involv-ing in capacity generation and knowledgedissemination.

The industry has also a key role to per-form.The increasing visibility of the in-formation economy and the proliferationof techno-polis the world over are begin-ning to receive academic attention andconsequently a large corpus of analyticalstudies has been generated.Majority of thenew techno-poles is situated in the Unit-ed States, England, continental Europe, and newly industrialized countries inSoutheast and Japan.Castells and Hall(1994)argue that techno-poles exemplifythe reality that cities and regions are in-creasingly being modified in their struc-ture.They are also conditioned in theirgrowth dynamics by the interaction ofmajor global historical processes.Theseinclude a technological revolution basedon information technologies (includinggenetic engineering), the formation of aglobal economy that works as a unit in aworld wide space built for capital, man-agement, labor, technology, informationor markets and the emergence of newforms of economic production and man-agement where horizontal networks sub-stitute vertical bureaucracies and flexiblespecializations replaces standardized massproduction (ibid.).However, the strongdrive of many regions to become the “nextSilicon Valley ” has failed..They argue thatthe magic formula often worked out byopportunistic consultants:a small dose ofventure capital, a university or Technolo-gy Institute, fiscal and institutional incen-tives to attract high technology firms etc, wrapped in a glossed brochure and futur-istic name need not help build a new tech-no-polis.According to them “the world isnow littered with the ruins of all too manysuch dreams that have failed or have yield-ed meager results at far too high costs “(ibid:8).

The triple helix model, in a sense, re-sponds to this issue by bringing the cen-tral role of educational institutions increating a social space conducive for tech-nical change and innovation.There aretwo types of interaction involved in theprocess.On the one hand the historicalrelationship between the State and theuniversity is under siege.But, neverthe-less, it is still important in many develop-ing countries.On the other hand, theindustry-university relations had not beenparticularly strong and visible in develop-ing countries.But this scenario is gradu-ally changing leading to much greaterintegration between these two actors, forreasons we discussed earlier.See Figure 2

Field of Innovation for CSOs
It is against this backdrop that the role ofCSOs has become important.The issuesof economic development and technicalchange in developing countries have to beaddressed without ignoring the impact ofhuman agency in effecting these transfor-mations.In the case of ICTs we observethat a huge number of CSOs have becomemajor mediators of rural transformationleading to demand generation for ICTsand thereby acting as positive feed backloops in influencing innovation process-es.While the importance of the triple he-lix configuration is well recognized, theactivities of CSOs in the area of ICT re-lated activities demonstrates the grassrootslevel impacts of new technology and thefeedback mechanisms it generates to in-fluence policy priorities of The State, in-dustry and the university.The manner inwhich a field of innovation becomes op-erative in the case of a rural ICT interven-tion is captured in Figure 2.It shows thatprocess of innovation and diffusion is notbased on a simple linear model as is some-times assumed.


Figure 2 Field of Innovation

Diversity of Experiments and Some Assumptions
A rich variety of ICT interventions haveemerged in developing countries initiatedby CSOs.The Grameen Telecom in Bang-ladesh is a widely discussed example.In-terventions, which are similar to this, canbe found in many villages and regions inIndia.With the expansion of ICTs, thereare at least two major developments in thisfront that deserves attention.One relatesto the fact that CSOs have started usingICTs on a large scale creating a new pat-tern of demand for them.Secondly, manyCSOs have emerged which attempt to usediverse tools of ICTs directly for develop-mental activities that they undertake.These ICT-CSOs focus their attention onthe dissemination and use of ICTs in therural sector.Development Alternatives, aCSO in Bundlekhund have come up withTARAhaat.com, a portal designed speciallyfor rural communities and TARAkendras, multi-purpose kiosks with a thrust on e-education.It tries to provide a blue printfor inducing new dynamism into the vil-lage economies by helping them to leap-frog into the digital age.It attempts to useICTs for creating jobs, promoting sustain-able livelihoods and alter rural marketingsystems transforming the complexion ofthe rural economy.It believes in socialengineering.Its partners include JamesMartin &Co., an international manage-ment consultancy, HUGHES escortsCommunications, KLG Systel and Excel-sior Ventures Management LLC.Hindus-tan Liver, a monopoly industrial house, isbacking the portal.World Bank has en-tered the scene with a research grant un-der the Global Development Gatewayproject.Angel Investors in NEW York areconsidering collaboration with the CSO.The village Knowledge Centres run by theMSSRF in Pondichery undertakes activi-ties aimed at enskilling the rural farmersand fisher folk in using ICTs and also pro-vide information.The project uses CB ra-dios for data analogue voice transmissionsbetween a nodal center and its satellites.In Pondichery, the Foundation has select-ed a cluster of 12 villages to provide infor-mation and knowledge to the rural needy.It provides, for example, thermal wavemaps to fishermen to help them to snarebigger catches.This is a clear case of at-tempts to increases in productivity throughthe successful use of ICTs.Drishtee, a fastgrowing imitative, similar to GyanDoot, launches franchised kiosks to rural youthand supports them by providing a widerange of services and information.It hasmore than 200 centers across Hariyana, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Bihar, UP andHimachal Pradesh.One of the strengthsof Drushtee is that it tries to enroll gov-ernment agencies into its operationallogic, which greatly helps to fulfill its E-governance promises.Telecommunica-tion and Network Group a CSO inTamilnadu engages in a project to con-nect 1000villages.Its collaborators areMIT 's Media Labs and Harvard Centerfor International Development.It envis-ages to tap the existence of a sustainablemarket for information-based servicesand products in rural areas generated asresult of expansion of connectivity andknowledge skills.These and dozens ofother similar ventures in various partsof the country have created a new set ofinitiatives for catering to their require-ments.The concept of the 'iStation ' andSimputers are telling examples of inno-vative initiatives that sprang in responseto CSOs involvement in using ICTs fordevelopment.'iStation ' offers email con–nectivity at the plug of a phone linethrough appropriate software and alinked email service.This is priced aroundUS$150 enabling many rural users andNGOs to acquire it.Simputers are availa-ble for UD$200.This is a pocket devicethat can read a sim card simultaneouslypossessing advanced audio and textprocessing capacity in several Indian lan-guages.The Center for the Developmentof Advanced Computing (C-DAC)devel-ops Indian language fonts and software, which cater basically to the CSOs in en-skilling rural people to use ICTs.TheAnusaraka Project in Hyderabad haslaunched a machine language translationproject that supports cross translation ofIndian languages.


Figure 3 Hype Cycle Model
Source:Adapted from Linden &Finn (2002)

Nevertheless, not much attention hasbeen given to the practices and experienc-es of these organizations in India and else-where even though their efforts andachievements are widely publicized nation-ally as well as internationally.The interestof the public sphere in the working of theCSOs in general and ICT based CSOs inparticular has resulted in the creation of aset of impressions about their practices, promises and potential.First and foremostamongst them is the view that they arerooted in the resources of the local econo-my and even if this is not so in the begin-ning, they have the prospects of evolvinginto a structural mould capable of draw-ing on local community resources for theirsustenance.The second impression is re-lated to their ability to contribute to localeconomic regeneration and there by con-tributing significantly to the national econ-omy through creation of jobs, developinglocal services and markets and providingtraining for enskillment and entrepreneur-ship, and building social capital.Povertyalleviation through creation of entitle-ments and capabilities has, hence, becomea sloganeered objective of ICT-CSOs.Thirdly, it is also believed that they formreplicable models that would deliver uni-versally, provided similar conditions arereproduced through the involvement ofState and non-State agencies both nation-ally and locally, in a continuum of mutualsharing of resources and experience.Final-ly, it is also widely held that these ICTbased CSOs are harbingers of social trans-formation and they are often credited withachievements that decades of social andpolitical interventions and struggles havebeen unable to deliver such as reducinggender inequalities and mitigating casteoppression.These assumptions and pre-sumptions have been found to be gross-ly exaggerated (Sreekumar, 2002a, 2002, b, 2003).Perhaps an impassionedappraisal of the apocryphal elements inthese impressions would help us to under-stand the art of the possible as regards thepromises of these organizations.It is in thiscontext that a hype cycle model appearsto be useful in explaining the emergingscenario.

The hype cycle model and CSO Interventions
The hype

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