UNESCO and NIC originally worked together to develop eNRICH, a generic yet customisable browser that enables rural users of computers to build their own gateway website for the sharing of knowledge resources. The tool enables access behaviour analysis, personalisation, and message handling systems (peer-to-peer, user-to-intermediary, community-to-community, and so on). Through its customisable, multi-lingual interface, eNRICH includes features that are intended to enable communities to identify, build, organise, and exchange relevant information. The framework encourages collection, preservation, and sharing of indigenous knowledge. Organisers say that, "With the ultimate aim of empowering communities through a collaborative approach, eNRICH acts as a platform for voicing the thoughts and feelings of the poor. eNRICH also facilitates research and analysis of its usage pattern to understand the impact of social and technological strategies in order to further innovate and align ICT [information and communication technology] solutions as a tool for poverty reduction."
Many national and international organisations have used the tool in their village-level community ICT initiaves to manage local information. The details of these projects are provided in the "Case Studies section of the eNRICH website. One example in particular highlights eNRICH's applicability to e-government initiatives. In brief, a person called the Manager is chosen either from the local people or from the staff of a local non-government organisation (NGO) to work in close cooperation with the local people. In contexts in which rural people are not well equipped to use ICTs to access the Internet directly, the Manager builds a web portal for the community (which may be hosted locally or remotely). Drawing on this process, eNRICH was implemented in 9 sites involved in UNESCO's ICT for Poverty Reduction (ictPR) project. Here, whenever any need to access government-related information/services is articulated by the local villagers, the Manager surfs the Internet to find the relevant government links. If the project site is well connected to the Internet, the community portal is directly linked to the government website. (If Internet connectivity in the project site is intermittent or not available, then the government information is saved as a local file and the portal is linked to the local file. Similarly, if the required government information is not available on the Internet (which is often the case), the information is collected from the government department, packaged in a local file, and the portal linked to the local file.)
Drawing on these experiences, NIC continued to develop eNRICH, and further versions are now in use in the North Eastern States of India, the World Health Organisation's Health InterNetwork Project, UNESCO's INFOYOUTH project, in the Akshaya Project of Kerala, India and in the District Rural Development Agencies of the state governments of India. OKN's partners in four countries - Kenya, India, Senegal, and Zimbabwe - are using the software to create local content in 7 languages. Content is exchanged using a variety of appropriate technologies including the WorldSpace satellite, dial-up landlines, and mobile phones.
NIC, UNESCO, and OKN are combining forces to develop a new, open source, version of the software - Open eNRICH. The focus of this project is on an open design that will facilitate exchange of content with other information sources, networks, and communication media so that OKN can participate in a global "network of networks" for the world's economically poor. Due to be made available in October 2005, Open eNRICH 4.0 will include the following features:
- User Features: tools for content creation, viewing, searching, translating, editing, managing, and feedback.
- System Customisation Features: enable configuring of the structure, behaviour, and appearance of the Open eNRICH sites. These features include defining and managing workspaces, creating portal pages, adding language support, creating and managing user groups, and creating communication channels for exchange of items.
- Content Exchange Features: support interfaces based on open protocols and open metadata standards to allow exchange of content within the Open eNRICH network and also outside of it.
In addition to having joined forces to develop the Open eNRICH software, the three collaborating organisations are pooling resources and approaches to develop training, support, and project evaluation for Open eNRICH. This process will support the sharing of content between all of their project sites around the world (e.g., between OKN Africa's programme and UNESCO's Community Multimedia Centre in Africa).
Organisers believe that "Effective communication within and among community is a necessary ingredient for empowering the communities. However, these web sites invariably focus more on information retrieval and less on providing facilities for community communication and participation. Searching for relevant information on the Internet is time consuming, costly, requires knowledge of English language and also requires special skill set. Even when information has been gathered, its relevancy and authenticity cannot be judged immediately. This problem is further compounded by the low standard of living and low literacy of the underprivileged section of the society. Last but not the least, research data on access habits of community members is severely lacking. Such data, if made available, can greatly enhance the effectiveness of ICTs in improving the lot of the underprivileged."
NIC, OKN, and UNESCO.
Posting from Ken Kitson to the bytesforall_readers list server on January 13 2005 (click here to access the message); eNRICH website; "A community software solution framework", by D.C. Misra and Rama Hariharan, id4online, March 2004; email from D. C. Misra (Senior Technical Director & Head, Rural Development Informatics Systems Division, NIC) to The Communication Initiative on February 8 2005; email from Rama Hariharan (Principal Systems Analyst, Computerized Rural Information Systems Project, NIC) to The Communication Initiative on February 9 2005; and email from Ian Pringle to The Communication Initiative on September 21 2005.