In my previous post, I defined ICTs broadly to include any type of means by which information and communication might be conveyed. This includes super low tech means such as paper and pencil, but also can include mobile phones or broadcast radio.
My point is that each technology has a set of affordances. Affordances refer to the qualities of the technology that make it useful for some things and not so useful for other things. Paper and pencil is cheap and easy to use. If you're literate. Mobile phones are cheap and easy to use, especially if you're not literate. They also reach across space more easily than paper and pencil. However, a handwritten note posted on a community bulletin board might be more effective in announcing a meeting or asking members of a community for some assistance. It all depends on the needs and social practices associated with the knowledge mobilization activity.
All this to say, that in our project when we talk about low cost ICTs and knowledge mobilization, we prefer to talk about ICT "enhancing" social practices rather than replacing them. Over time, social practices will evolve in conjunction with ICT use but at the introductory stage it is important to find ways to integrate them with social practices in a useful and relatively non-obtrusive way.
Suraya Hudson's observations from Kolli Hills are important in this regard. Many of the participants she has spoken with so far have said that they really value face to face meetings and contact with others. ICTs aren't regarded as something central to their livelihoods in this context. However, as I have mentioned in my comments to Suraya, we need to follow these remarks up with another question to the participants: would it be useful if your mobile phone could help you to organize your face to face meetings? Perhaps by allowing you to send one SMS and reach the whole group, rather than having to contact everyone separately?
Maybe it would. We won't know until we ask, but the point is simply that ICT in the form of a mobile phone and SMS, is an enabler of face to face communication not a substitute. That is what I mean when I refer to ICT "enhancing" social practices.
So what other practices might be enhanced? Wenger, White & Smith in their book Digital Habitats, identify a wide range of social practices that are part of knowledge mobilization. They classify these along two-related dimensions: (1) people learn from and with each other; (2) and people learn through formal as well as informal activities.
Let's look at a few of the practices mentioned by Wenger, et. al:
People learn from each other in a formal way when they organize a training workshop or undertake a systematic search for knowledge to solve a problem.
People learn with each other in a formal way when they develop and publish models of best practices based on peer knowledge.
People learn from each other in an informal way when they casually share stories or tips about how they solved a problem or discovered some new technique.
People learn with each other in an informal way when they share resources through casual exchanges, perhaps on a bulletin board or through activities that bring peers together in conversation (e.g., meals or community gatherings).
For many communities of practice, these activities are intimately bound to face to face gatherings. And often that is how it should be. However, we may find that some of them can be enhanced through a selective application of more advanced ICTs.
For example, farm radio broadcasting combined with SMS platform like FrontlineSMS, creates the potential for a hybrid practice to emerge that enables farmers to learn from experts in an informal way (casual listening) while creating an opportunity for them to learn with each other through the informal sharing of personal stories or tips in response to the expert knowledge. SMS creates a written history of the sharing that can then be posted online as an archive for others to learn from each other long after the broadcast has aired. That archive could then be curated by experts over time to create a formal learning artifact for the community.
In this example, the farm radio broadcasting as an existing practice has been enhanced with the addition of SMS platform. Peer-sharing of ideas would normally take place after a broadcast as farmers and farm families talked about the broadcast but the sphere of influence might be relatively constrained in terms of space and time. However, with the addition of SMS and the creation of an online database of listener comments provided by SMS, the potential reach of this knowledge is extended considerably--both geographically and over time.
The key here is being modest in what you ask of the community and tap into their intrinsic motivations to share. But you also need to design the process so that it enables collective value to emerge from the situated interactions that arise out of those everyday behaviours.
That is the theory anyway! We'll see how it plays in practice when we start doing our pilot studies.