The case studies included in this 179-page volume illustrate various applications of information and communication technology (ICT) that have made a difference in the delivery of services or products in rural areas in India. Each case is authored by the administrators who have piloted and implemented the projects and who describe both the opportunities and challenges in the diffusion of ICT. In compiling these experiences, editors Subash Bhatnagar and Robert Schware hope to highlight successful strategies for using ICT to create a developmental impact, and to provide recommendations - from the point of view of actual practitioners - for implementing various ICT applications in rural sectors in India.
Because, according to the editors, a considerable number of ICT applications have been implemented and well-documented in India at the district level, the focus of this book is on applications where there is much greater contact with citizens - that is, at the Taluka level. ICT applications in rural development are classified here as those that: provide decision support to public administrators for improving planning and monitoring of developmental programmes; improve services to citizens and bring in transparency; empower citizens through access to information and knowledge; and expand private sector development. To enable some assessment of impact, all of the applications featured in these case studies had been ongoing for at least a 6-month period (although some of the papers were based on small-scale and/or pilot projects).
The case studies detail a number of different motivations for, strategies behind, and impacts of ICT applications in the rural context in India. Here are just a few examples, categorised by development issue being addressed:
- Health: An ICT pilot application in Rajasthan sought to empower village health care workers, burdened by demanding data-collection and paperwork responsibilities, to provide timely care and information. Organisers substituted manual registers with client data stored on hand-held computers accessible through a variety of icons.
- Risk management: One chapter describes implementation of a geographic information system (GIS)-based Disaster Management Information System designed to ensure better resource mobilisation, faster decision-making, cost reduction, and effective use of common information.
- Agriculture: Information technology (IT)-based machines at milk collection centres are being used in cooperatives to measure butterfat content of milk, test the quality of milk, and make prompt payments to farmers. "This has resulted in the removal of incentives to cut the milk by adding water, reduced time for payments from 10 days to less than five minutes, and has thus instilled confidence in farmers in the cooperative set up."
- Good governance: One case explores Computer-aided Administration of Registration Department (CARD), which the Government of Andhra Pradesh (AP) implemented in an effort to improve the efficiency of its administrative offices and to become more responsive to its citizenry. CARD is described here as "a transparent system of property valuation which is easily accessible to citizens....[that required] extensive re-engineering of a conventional system within a conservative and traditional government department. AP has also designed a state-wide computerisation programme to be used at the mandal level; its first software application (the issuing of various types of certificates) is described in this document, as are preliminary results from a 6-month pilot project that installed a Computerized Universal Postal System and a Centralised Accounting and Reporting System in 3 AP post offices.
- Access to knowledge: The Honey-Bee knowledge network is being used to augment grassroots inventors and overcome language, literacy, and localism barriers, and the Warana Wired Village Project is designed to provide agricultural, medical, and education information to villagers by establishing networked "facilitation booths" in the villages. Also, the results of recent field tests in rural Gujarat in literacy skill development through "Same Language Subtitling" of film songs and television are presented (Chapter 13).
- Women: Women, Panchayati Raj elected officials, primary school teachers, and child development workers spread over large distances have been trained in use of one-way video, two-way audio teleconferencing interactive networks. An end-user perspective of this kind of training for rural women managers at SEWA, the Self Employed Women's Association, is presented.
- Disability: The scope for adapting and using ICT to enhance functional capacity and improve employment potential of disabled people - e.g., through speech synthesisers, Braille Embossers, and talking computers - is demonstrated in Chapter 12.
- Economic development: Entreprenuership in electronics and information technology maintenance, repair, and user training is illustrated by the case of All India Society for Electronics and Computer Technology (AISECT) centres, which provide direct employment to technicians and trainers.
- Digital divide: A DoT-Inmarsat pilot project that involved installation of village public telephones in rural areas is discussed, including call pattern analyses, costs and benefits of the project, and a framework proposed.
Reflecting on these and other experiences included in the book, the editors conclude that implementing ICT in rural development projects will require paying attention to 3 key factors of success:
- For whom: "A detailed understanding of the work environment of end users, needs of the beneficiaries, and specific benefits proposed to be delivered leads to well-planned and executed projects..."
- What bundle of services: "In terms of income and employment generation, and improving skills,...rural ICT centers must be multipurpose in order to be economically viable..."
- How well they are managed: "The empirical record revealed that all the projects took longer than expected. They required adjustment to underlying, unfavorable implementation conditions..." Strategies discussed here for enhancing chances of success with regard to management/sustainability include: ensuring private-sector involvement, implementing built-in reviews, timing investments well, enhancing existing programmes, ensuring multipurpose and multifunctionality, defining outcome indicators, and realistically replicating pilot projects.
World Bank website; and direct submission to The Communication Initiative by Patrick Kalas, August 26 2008.