Right to Information (RTI) in the context of ICTs is not just about the “right to” and the “availability of” information, as it is often misunderstood. RTI is a much broader concept and has several important components that are crucial for establishing and implementing the Right to Information. Affordable access to an adequate technical infrastructure and the availability of the information in a form and language that are accessible to the recipient of the information are just two of them.
One crucial component is often overlooked and even more often ignored in the conceptualization of RTI and the implementation of RTI initiatives – Training in the Strategic Uses of Information. The RTI and the information itself in the context of ICTs are without value if they are not implemented with training and support in the strategic uses of the available information. What is meant by this is that it is not sufficient to have information available and accessible, but the important next step is that those who access the information have the abilities and the skills to translate this information into a tool for their individual and their respective community development.
Right to Information in the context of ICTs is not just about the “right to” and the “availability of” information. One crucial component often overlooked in the RTI initiatives is the training in the strategic uses of information. The problem is that they offer only a one-size-fits-all training component, which is not adjusted to the needs of the respective communities
Any information available and accessible that cannot be translated by those who receive it into positive action and impact is as useless as if this information was not available in the first place. What impact has the availability of a land register when those who are affected by irregularities and corruption have no skills to interpret the available data and then don’t know what to do in order to denounce and rectify the situation? What impact has the availability of uptodate market prices when farmers don’t have access to these markets and are forced to deal with unfair middlemen? What good is it to the same farmers to know which will be the next high price gropes to plant when they don’t have the skills to grow it?
But before we can come to the strategic uses of Information we have to overcome one more basic obstacle – Sensibilisation. Information has only value if there are recipients of this information that are open to receive and put to use this information. In order to demonstrate the value of the information, the recipient has to be convinced that this information has some value for him and his community and this value can only be demonstrated by demonstrating a practical use of the information. Not only is it important to demonstrate where certain information can be accessed but also even more important is to demonstrate how this information can be put to good use. Not only what are the current environmental laws in my country but also how can I use the ICT tools available to enforce them and to stop those who break the law. Not only what are the current market prices but also how do I get my goods to the market and how can I use the available ICT tools in such a way that I avoid the middleman.
Having demonstrated the value of Information and strategic use and having opened up the potential users to receive the information is just the first step in the dynamic that must be followed by a second step of training the potential recipients and users of information in the strategic uses of this information.
But what kind of training? Making basic training available in the use of Computers and the Internet is just a small part of the process. Every community is different; every community is living different realities and has different strength and needs. That’s why beyond a basic skills training which is common to all communities, those who want to support the strategic uses of information need to work together with the communities to identify the communities needs and strength and to identify and implement together with the community the training content that is needed.
A community that is situated in an area which is under environmental pressure needs skills to make their blight known and skills to arrange for outside support in order to rectify the situation and it will not be a priority in the community to receive training in how to use accounting software. On the other hand, a community that has a strong product but limited access to the markets needs administration, business and marketing skills and might not be very interested in the skills needed to alert at the same time a very specific audience to a problem. Although the skills needed for both might be very similar, they must be made relevant, taught and implemented according to the specific circumstances.
The use of an Excel sheet can be demonstrated either by showing how it helps to keep accounts uptodate or by demonstrating how it can help to organize and compare vital environmental data. The chances that the environmentalist adopts the use of this tool are much greater when he is taught to use it by organizing environmental data and not how to keep accounts.
It is not sufficient to have information available and accessible, but the important next step is that those who access the information have the abilities and the skills to translate this information into a tool for their individual and their respective community development
The problem with many RTI initiatives is that even if they have a strong strategic use component they offer only a one-size-fits-all training component, which is not adjusted to the needs of the respective communities. On the other hand, it is quite understandable why working with the communities is often not implemented because it is simply a time consuming and expensive process that requires a lot of resources and working hours. If done properly this process will at the end represent the biggest item of the overall budget.
Relevance and Sustainability
By just looking at the questions of relevance and sustainability in the context of RTI it can be demonstrated that this in the medium turn might be a rather costly mistake.
Sustainability: By demonstrating the value of the information to the recipient, the recipient is also becoming the caretaker of this information and the information becomes sustainable in the holistic sense of cultural, social, political, technological and financial sustainability. The information is adapted and interpreted by the recipient and user according to his cultural needs and serves the social development. The recipient and user of the information are prepared to defend the information against political manipulations and influences because this affects the value of the information to him. The recipient and user of the information will maintain the physical infrastructure needed to access the information and will pay for the running costs of access to the information as long as the investment into the information is smaller than the perceived benefits of the information.
It might be therefore shortsighted to avoid working with the communities directly in identifying and implementing their training needs because even though those who implement a RTI initiative might have the best intentions by doing so but their efforts will simply not be valued, used and sustained by the community and when the promoters of the initiative move on the initiative dies a quick death because it was not sustainable.
Relevance: The Right to Information and the Right Information. Sensibilisation and training transforms information into the right information to the recipient and user because it results in positive impact. As a key effect, the Right to Information which was for the user of information before just an abstract concept is now for him a vital and important concept, worthy to protect and defend.
RTI initiatives will fail if they don’t take training in the strategic uses of information into account. Training in the strategic uses of information is often neglected in RTI initiatives because either it is conceptual not seen as an integral part of RTI or because the necessary investment in time and resources but as we have seen training in the strategic uses of information does not only make information relevant for its users but also strengthens the Right to Information itself because it has become treasured and valued.