ICT Governance vs. Community Empowerment: Grassroots Evidence from Bangladesh
Author: Mizanur Rahman
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 11/28/2011
Year after year, the global budget on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) penetration is increasing with maximization of multi-dimensional benefits from the extraction of scarce resources. ICT is used as a catalyst to minimize activation time towards the community, as well as individual development, and hence, to strengthen community empowerment. The new ruling political party of the Bangladesh government is also committed to establishing “Digital Bangladesh” by the end of 2021. With the global trend, the Bangladesh government has also been increasing its national budget on ICT year after year based on the notion that it will enhance community empowerment and eventually eradicate the poverty. Under-developed and developing countries have been taking the same route. Therefore, it is very significant to analyze whether or not there is any correlation between ICT and community empowerment. As an influential network, D.Net (Development Research Network) has started a new research study titled, “Community Empowerment Through ICTs: Evidence from the Grassroots in Bangladesh and India”, which is funded by IdeaCorp and reported to the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), with a duration of two years. This article shows the analytical consequences, with raw research evidence drawn from the benchmark study in Bangladesh, related to ICT penetration, governance and community empowerment.
See Footnotes section for Literature Review and Methodology
The depth of the relationship between community empowerment and ICT-based information systems available in the community is one of the key investigation areas in this empirical research. There is no literature available to measure community empowerment through any unique set of principle-based standards. With this apprehension, the team revisited the theoretical underpinnings for understanding the relationship between ICT and community empowerment. They discussed the models offered by different stages of community empowerment through ICT, which was developed by Daniel Pimienta and a community engagement framework proposed by the Association of Ontario Health Centers (AOCH, 2006), as well as a combination explored through a new model. The new model articulates that the value of community empowerment is not only due to having access to and utilization of information, but rather it is directly and indirectly related with ICT. Therefore, the new model has two dimensions: 1) Community empowerment through access to and utilization of information which is comprised of seven layers: inform, consult, involve, collaborate, partner, delegate authority, and then autonomy and empowerment; and 2) Community empowerment through ICT, which consists of six layers: access, use, technological appropriation, carrier of meaning, social appropriation and empowerment.
When a community reaches the stage of delegating authority, following the achievement of access to and utilization of all of their required multidimensional information through the use of ICT, that same community crosses over from carrier of meaning stage and enters into the stage of “Social Appropriation”. At this stage, people of the community appreciate all technologies, not only at the individual level, but in all aspects of the social level. They consider themselves powerless without technology, which eventually leads the community toward acquiring autonomy and empowerment, where ICT governance has the highest impact.
Local Government of Bangladesh: Status of ICT Penetration and Community Empowerment
Basic Statistics of Local Government of Bangladesh
The country’s population is almost evenly distributed throughout its 64 districts, except for the three Hill Tracts districts, which are rather sparsely inhabited. On average, a district has a population of about 1.8 million; a Thana has 230,000, a union, 25,000 and a village, 2,000. There are 490 thanas, 4,451 unions and 59,990 villages in Bangladesh. The number of households is about 20 million. On average, a household consists of 5.6 persons. There are 4 metropolitan cities and 119 municipalities in the country.
Table 1: Division Wide Telecentre Distribution
The level of urbanization is low, at 20%. This leaves 80% of the country’s total population of about 120 million to live in the rural areas, which primarily depend on poorly developed agriculture for their people’s livelihoods. The annual growth rate of the population has dropped to 1.75%, with acceptance of family planning practices rising to 48.7%. The gender ratio is 106 males for every 100 females. The density of population per square kilometer is 800. Some 44.3% of the people are literate with about 5 million having passed secondary school level. The primary school enrollment rate has risen to 86%, and the rate for secondary school enrollment to 33%. According to 2007 statistics, there are 450,000 internet users in Bangladesh. There are 2165 Telecentres available in Bangladesh. Among them, Dhaka division has the highest number, with 615 Telecentres, and Barisal has lowest with 94 Telecentres. Local government and the Rural Development Ministry have initiated a project for infrastructural capacity building of the Local Government Unit, Union Parishad, in collaboration with UNDP. 30 UICs have already been set up and more than 100 UICs are going to be installed within the timeline of 2010-11. It has been established into the mindset of national policymakers and development activities that Telecentres have the highest impact on enhancing community empowerment and hence, contributing toward poverty reduction.
By 2020, all Union Parishads would belong to one UIC to ensure access to information for citizens. Recently, the Bangladesh government enacted four laws to strengthen decentralization of power and authority through local government activities. These include the Union Parishad Act 2009, Upazilla Parishad Act 2009, City Cooperation Act 2009 and Paurashava Act 2009. At the same time, the Right To Information Act 2009 also came into force. There are many provisions within these laws related to ICT. The national budget of 2009-10 also has emphasized ICT investment under public-private-partnership projects.
Status of ICT penetration in 11 selected UPs of Bangladesh
In this research study, two types of ICT have been identified: traditional or old ICT, like radio, television, and phone; and new ICTs like computers, internet, etc. To measure a community’s ICT penetration level in a very realistic manner, the types of ICT penetration have been detected initially in conjunction with different models of ICT penetration. For our purposes, the types of ICT penetration and their related models are the following:
1) None: it is really very difficult to find a UP where there is no existence of traditional ICT, and evidence from PRA also shows that this presumption is correctly identified. However, there are a great number of places where there is no existence of new ICT, such as computers or internet connectivity; those are noted as None for the type of ICT penetration experienced by the community;
2) Only Community: There are many UPs or communities with various types of traditional and new ICT but no ICT on the local government premises. Also, different models of ICT penetration have been detected; for example, few communities have only ICT but no Telecentre, few communities have only Telecentre but no ICT, and few communities have both Telecentre and ICT.
3) Only LG (Local Government): there are many UPs or communities where there is no existence of new ICT at the community level, but the local government possesses new ICT. Under this type, few LGs have only ICT but no Telecentre or UIC (Union Information Centre), few LGs have only a Telecentre but no other ICT at any branch of the office, and few LGs have both ICT at the office as well as a Telecentre.
4) Both in LG and Communities: there are also a few UPs where new ICT exists at both the community and local government levels, including different models of ICT penetration and accessibility.
Figure 1: ICT Penetration of 11 selected UPs
In addition to the conclusions listed above, Figure 1 also shows that at the community level, the presence of new ICT and Telecentres is very sound. This presents a picture of the most ICT penetrated community, where generally all types of ICT resources are available.
The ICT penetration level here has been divided into two broad virtual categories. One is private ICT penetration, where only household and individual access is guaranteed and public access is denied; and the second is public ICT penetration, where public access is welcomed, with a more comparative impact on community empowerment. The evidence of Figure 1 shows that public ICT penetration is greater than private ICT penetration. There are few UPs where public ICT penetration is zero. In the UPs where the community has only new ICT and a Telecentre, they experience good ICT penetration compared with new public ICT penetration. But generally, in UPs where new ICT penetration is high at both the LG and community levels, new ICT penetration is more visible in public as opposed to private places, which generally indicates that new ICTs are not yet cost-effective or cost friendly for poor citizens.
Table 2 shows the ICT penetration score of Hathazari UP, as an example of all other ICT penetration styles under this research study. Hathazari UP is located in Chittagong division, where the possession of old ICT is remarkable. The evidence shows that there is a 90% household use of mobile phones, whereas only 10% use internet on their mobile phones or in public places where all people of the community have access to ICT; 95% of public places possess mobile phones, but 0% of public places uses internet connection on their mobile phones, and 40% of public places use computers, but only 20% use the internet on those computers.
Table 2: ICT Penetration Score of Hathazari UP, Chittagong
The evidence also shows that 80% of public places use television, which is 5% more than private possession, as a catalytic factor to maximize their business outcomes. In this ICT penetration score, the weight of private access is given less concentration than the weight of public access. This is because private access to ICT is only concerned with individual empowerment, whereas public access to ICT is associated with community empowerment given the improved accessibility of a large population at a given point to enhance mass communication. Table 2 also shows all the scores of ICT penetration. The status of ICT penetration is detected by a relative scoring system in which 0 to 15 indicates Low, 16 to 30 indicates Medium, and above 30 indicates a High status.
Status of Community Empowerment in 11 Selected UPs of Bangladesh
During the benchmarking study, to measure the eight components of community empowerment, questionnaires were designed in relation to the core objectives of the research. The scoring rule of community empowerment is mentioned in Table 3. It was observed that seven stages of community empowerment were totally absent. Those components are described below:
Participatory Democracy vs. ICT: used to measure the appreciation level of participatory democracy in the community and the impact of ICT. Table 4 shows that Fathepur Union Parishad, where the LG has new ICT and the community has New ICT, as well as a Telecentre. PurbaCharbata Union Parishad, where the LG has new ICT including a Telecentre, but there is no new ICT at the community, has the highest score of 35, which indicates that they are both at the “consult” stage of community empowerment.
Rights based knowledge vs. ICT: to measure people’s knowledge regarding their entitlements and exercising their rights with particular regard to the role of ICT. Table 4 shows that Hathazari Union Parishad, where the LG and the community both have new ICT, scored 45, which demonstrates that they are at the “Involve” stage of community empowerment. And Balukhali Union Parishad, where there is no presence of new ICT, scored only 20, which indicates that they are at the “Inform” stage of community empowerment.
Social Violation vs. ICT: to identify the depth of social violation and how ICT affects these issues. Table 4 shows that Kohalong Union Parishad, where there is no new ICT, scored only 15, which says that still this community is at the “Inform” stage of community empowerment.
Table 3: Scoring Guidelines of Community Empowerment
PurbaBirgong Union Parishad, where there is no presence of new ICT but there is a Telecentre in the community despite there not being any ICT in the the LG, scored 30. At the same time, two other locations where ICT penetration is high in both the community and the LG, Hathazari Union Parishad and Shapara Union Parishad, but community empowerment remains at the “Consult” stage of community empowerment.
Community Involvement vs. ICT: to measure community involvement in the roles and responsibilities of the LG and the related role of ICT. Table 4 shows that Nila Union Parishad, where only the community has new ICT, scored 25, which indicates that they are at the “Consult” stage of community empowerment, with the same status of Shapara Union Parishad, where the community enjoys a high level of ICT penetration within both the community and LG premises.
Knowledge of Community vs. ICT: to measure the level of knowledge among the community about local, national and international issues and the related role of ICT. Table 4 shows that Kohalong Union Parishad, with a very low level of ICT penetration, scored 35, indicating that they are the “Consult” stage of community empowerment, whereas Shapara Union Parishad, with high ICT penetration, scored below Kohalong UP; and Hathazari UP, with the highest ICT penetration of the three has the same empowerment status as Kohalong UP.
Resource Mobilization vs. ICT: to measure community involvement in the annual activity plan and resource mobilization plan of the local government and the related role of ICT. Table 4 shows that the highly ICT-penetrated area of Shapara UP has the same status of empowerment as the poorly ICT-penetrated area of Joyga UP.
Good Governance vs. ICT: to measure the transparency and accountability of the LG towards the community and the related role of ICT. Table 4 shows that the highly ICT-penetrated UP of Hathazari has the same status of empowerment as the poorly ICT-penetrated area of Nila UP.
Public and Private Collaboration vs. ICT: to measure the presence collaboration between the local government institutions and local community organizations regarding access to information through ICT. Basically, this category focused on the presence of the Telecentre. If the Telecentre exists in the LG, it presumes that it can have the highest impact on empowerment, due to having mass access to required information within a friendly environment. Therefore, its weight was ranked highest, with a score of 80. Table 4 shows that only two UPs have Telecentre to maximize e-services to the citizens of the community. If the Telecentre exists only in the community, it is presumed that it also has a great impact on community empowerment, but not higher than when compared with the Telecentre of the LG due to public accessibility and cost efficiency.
Table 4: Status of Community Empowerment
Comparative Study of Status of Community Empowerment in 11 selected UPs of Bangladesh
The early evidence of the benchmarking study collectively produced the following general outcomes, as mentioned in Table 5:
· Where ICT penetration is low, the overall status of empowerment is at the “Inform” stage.
· Where ICT penetration is present only at the community level, the overall status of community empowerment is at the “Consult” stage.
Table 5: ICT Penetration and Community Empowerment Status
· Where ICT penetration is only present within the local government and there is no presence of new ICT at the community level, the overall status of community empowerment is at the “Consult” level, like the overall empowerment status of an ICT penetrated community. However, Purba Charbata UP is an exception where the overall empowerment status is at the “Involve” stage.
· Where the ICT penetration level is high at both the local government and community levels, the overall community empowerment is at the “Consult” level, which is the same status as when there is ICT penetration in either the local government OR the community.
Necessity to Apply Proper ICT Governance
The evidence from this study shows that the level of ICT Penetration is not proportionately related to community empowerment. High ICT penetration within a given UP does not necessarily correlate to a higher status of empowerment; rather, when there is either community or local government ICT penetration, the UP enjoys the same empowerment status as that of a highly penetrated area. At the same time, the evidence also expresses that a traditional ICT-penetrated UP has a lower status of empowerment. In comparison with other ICT-penetrated UPs, ICT has a very positive impact on a community’s overall empowerment status. During the benchmarking study, it was also noted that ICT penetrated areas face a very serious crisis due to a lack proper application of ICT governance. In maximum ICT-penetrated areas, there are many traditional and new ICT resources, but there is no proper application of ICT governance.
Early findings of the benchmarking study are as follows:
Figure 2: ICT Penetration and its Role in the Community
- 1. In the Participatory Democracy vs. ICT component of the empowerment measurement, it was observed that people highly appreciated ICT regarding dialogue correspondence related to elections. Figure 2 shows that 20% of people in Hathazari, which is the highest ICT-penetration UP, and the lowest being in Kohalong with 1.5%, which is the most poorly ICT-penetrated UP. It is also important to note that informed decision-making processes, sound pluralism and other important features of participatory democracy are not yet exercised through ICT; in other words, not a single UP informs its final decisions through ICT.
2. In the Good Governance vs. ICT component of community empowerment, the evidence shows that only the highest 7% of people are being informed about the annual budget of the local government in Joyga UP, where only the community has new ICT and a Telecentre. Comparatively, Only 0.5% people are informed of the annual budget in BaluKhali UP, where there is no presence of new ICT, neither in the LG nor in community. It is also important to note that the percentage of people who use ICT related to correspondence on the annual budgets of the LG, a maximum portion of them are connected to the leading political party. Therefore, this is a big threat to community empowerment.
3. In the Community Involvement vs. ICT component, evidence shows that only 3% of people in the Kholang UP, where there is no presence of new ICT or a Telecentre, use ICT to know about the government’s Social Safety Net Program (SSNP), which is run by the LG and is a part of the Annual Development Program nationwide. In Hathazari UP, 5% of people correspond about SSNP through ICT. However, the alarming reality is that only those people who use ICT communicate on the SSNP, and they are directly and indirectly connected to the leading political party.
4. In general, around 85% of people use traditional ICT to communicate with their relatives in order to maintain domestic relationships, more than 90% of people in politics use traditional ICT to achieve their personal and political goals, and around 90% of businesses use traditional ICT to maintain their business activities.
5. Where Telecentres exist, the following problems are detected according to grassroots input:
a) Local NGOs use Telecentres to promote their activities to national and international donor organizations.
b) The Infomediary Lady, also known as Mobile Lady or Info-Lady, does not work properly due to lack of finances.
c) ICT governance for Telecentres is not maintained by the Infomediary Lady. In a few cases, ICT governance for Telecentres is not realistic enough to encourage the infomediary to work with it.
6.In the case of Union Information Centres, there is no presence of ICT governance. While it may exist on paper, it is lacking in application.
Governance is a system of power within and by which organizations and other entities are controlled and directed, whereas “Corporate governance” is the wealth creation and distribution system of such power. It concerns a whole host of issues surrounding and emanating from the requirement of management to ensure that an organization or organizational unit is efficient and effective in carrying out its proper functions (Mingers & Willcocks 2004; Clark & Ziolkowski 2005). Initial evidence from the benchmarking study provides the following surrounding circumstances to detect why ICT governance is necessary in order to ensure that ICT penetration is both effective and efficient in regards to community empowerment:
· Lack of clearly understood responsibilities for ICT at all levels;
· Lack of having a plan to best support the local government and Telecentres where organizational ICT penetration is high.
· Lack of acquiring valid ICT by evaluating risks of the investment, making sure it adds value, and monitoring the extent to which it performs as proposed.
· Lack of required ICT quality for supplying adequate data, quality, security, privacy, etc.
· Lack of ICT performance when it is required.
· Lack of ICT usage without disrespect for human factors.
The above mentioned weaknesses prove a significant lack of efficient ICT governance. The evidence also proves that when ICT penetration is high, but with a low level of ICT governance, the status of empowerment is lower. On the other hand, when ICT penetration is high, with high a level of ICT governance, the status of empowerment is higher.
Bio: Mizanur Rahman is a Research Associate for the Development Research Network (D.Net), Bangladesh.