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Concept Note for TGC, Bangalore, March 2011

Zainab Bawa, Dr. Bhuvaneswari Raman, Megha Vishwanath, T. B. Dinesh

Theme: Communities, Technology and Participation

Concept: This workshop follows from our recently concluded research on “communities, technology and participation” where we analyzed each of these three concepts independently and in relation with each other. Interventions such as e-governance, open government data, websites, databases, telecentres, in general the organization, representation and presentation of information to different groups in society, stem from specific beliefs and imaginations about development, democracy, state-citizen relationships and empowerment. Our research interrogated each of these ideals, the role that technology plays in their realization and how each of these ideals manifests in different socio-economic and political contexts. We wrestled with questions pertaining to abstraction and customization of technologies, especially if technologies have to be used by different communities, and the implications that varying degrees of abstraction and customization have for the use and costs of technology and the scales at which such technologies are implemented. We deliberated over technological determinism versus ground-level complexities and how, given our own backgrounds, training and institutional and socio-economic positioning in society, we imagine and use technology.

This workshop is an endeavour to extend some of the discussions we have had with you, to think through and sharpen some of the questions that have emerged in the course of this research along with you, and to expand our thought horizons on issues and questions that are emerging in the broad field of information technologies and governance. Our research team consisted of social scientists, technologists and academics trained in computer sciences. This added a degree of richness and depth to our probing as we thought through and deliberated our research questions and findings by attempting to cross the disciplinary boundaries and analyze how things appear from the other side. We would like to continue with this format in this workshop. Our attempt is to invite a mix of social scientists, technologists, practitioners and computer scientists on each of the panels for the themes that have emerged from our research. We also hope that this workshop will bridge into the current project on Web Accessibility for Inclusion of non-literate communities.


1. Collation, Organization, Representation and Presentation of Information: One of the fundamental motivations underlying the introduction of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is to provide information to citizens and to make information more accessible for them. A number of actors ranging from state agencies to NGOs, think tanks, corporations, banks and other financial institutions and civil society actors are vociferously advocating and/or are involved in collecting, organizing, presenting and representing data, either in collaboration with government institutions or on their own. We are interested in case studies and/or experiments regarding how data/information is collected, organized and presented via websites, databases, maps and through other means involving ICTs. Some of the questions which interest us are: a. What imaginations underlie the use of technology for opening up and presenting data through ICTs? b. What is the nature and content of information that is being gathered and presented via websites, databases, maps and other ICTs? What are the challenges involved in representing data through such means? How are issues such as costs of collating data, archiving, storing and updating and retrieving the data being dealt with? c. What are the repercussions of collecting and opening up various kinds of information to different publics? d. What imaginations of communities, citizenship and empowerment fuel such interventions?

2. Costs and Scale of Technology: Most of the empirical and conceptual literature on ICTs and their application in contexts of governance, information management and accessibility rarely considers issues of costs and scale of applying technologies in different contexts. Financial costs of deploying ICTs is an important factor that fundamentally affects the design of technologies and how these technologies will be implemented and operated. Financial costs also pertain to maintaining technologies and updating them from time to time. Related to financial costs is the issue of scale i.e., do technologies have to be designed in overarching, abstract formats for them to be applicable in wider contexts or, considering that communities are heterogeneous and complex, do we need very specific, customized technologies for every situation? Scale therefore pertains to questions about how, where and in what manner technology is designed and implemented in different contexts and institutions and how do these scale decisions affect representation of information, access to information, and delivery of government services to different communities? Are non-proprietary technologies better suited to tackle cost and scale issues? How are technologists and practitioners confronting issues of scale and costs when designing technologies?

3. E-governance: E-governance is directly linked with the two themes we have mentioned above. We are specifically interested in e-governance because it is an emerging arena of practice and a large part of research on this area rarely interrogates the claims of accountability, transparency, efficiency and improved state-citizen interfaces in a nuanced manner. In this panel, we are interested in discussing questions and issues related with the manner in which e-governance initiatives are being implemented in India and other parts of the world and how are governments and private parties (which include NGOs and civil society organizations) negotiating with each other, on what issues, in the implementation and running of e-governance projects under Public Private Partnership (PPP) models. We are also interested in understanding: a. What factors propel governments to implement e-governance? b. What kind of institutional changes in terms of reorganization of hierarchies, roles, processes and laws accompany the implementation of technology under e-governance? c. How are government officials and agencies involved in the design of technologies, websites and databases that will be applied under e-governance? d. How are issues of costs, scale and ownership of data considered, deliberated and resolved in the context of e-governance? e. What are the factors impeding/facilitating the operation of e-governance initiatives? f. What happens when technology is introduced to make the state more responsive and accessible to its citizens? How do citizens encounter/mark the state when interacting with it through technological interfaces? g. For who is governance made efficient, transparent and accountable through e-governance and in what ways? Who loses and who gains through the application of e-governance? How are losses and gains analyzed and assessed?

4. Technology and Society – research methods, questions, paradigms: In this generic session, we are keen to explore the paradigms that guide the formulation of questions and methods to research state, technology and society. We are interested in discussions that emerge from the different disciplinary standpoints in social and natural sciences. We believe that this generic discussion is critical to begin a dialogue, or for that matter a confrontation and debate, on how we can move beyond standpoints of technological determinism and social complexities to ask more useful questions of technology and society.

Dates of the Workshop: 18th - 19th March, 2011

Venues: 1 Shanthi road, Off KH ("Double") Road, Bangalore