Communities, Technology, and Participation Workshop Summary

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The March 2011 TGC workshop, Communities, Technology, and Participation addressed some important questions about how we use, develop, implement and evaluate information technologies and their place in our communities. For a full list of speakers, the workshop program is available here.

One of the key themes that emerged from both the introduction and the e-governance panel on the first day of the workshop was the need to question narratives of efficiency and transparency and look closely at how projects actually work in practice. There was considerable debate about the frameworks that we use for understanding and evaluating e-governance projects, including issues around how we see the role of the state and of the private sector. There was also lively debate about whether or not specific e-governance projects, including Bhoomi and Nemmadi have positive impacts on local communities, and marginalised minorities within those communities.

The latter half of the first day took quite a different direction, with speakers addressing diverse issues around how we collate, organise, and represent information. Gautam John covered Akshara’s research into school effectiveness, Thejesh GN spoke on the challenges of using government data effectively, Bill Thies gave an overview of the CGNet Swara project, Gabriel Harp talked about how to use data to spur on social change, Ram Bhatt talked about the importance of maintaining community control of media channels, and Ritajyothi Bandopadhyay examined the politics of archiving.

The second day began with a panel on costs and scale, with each presentation raising new areas of discussion. Aina Dalentoft’s overview of the Swedish government’s work on creating accessible online services started with a line: In Sweden we trust our government which led to discussions on difference between the Swedish and Indian governments and societies. Participants began heated debate around the models and language (commodity software versus premium value software) used in Kiran Jonnalagadda’s talk on different ways of understanding open source software. Finally, Sumandro’s presentation on the challenges of urban design for rapidly-growing cities raised questions about the extent to which physical and online scaling issues are related.

The final panel looked at research methodologies and paradigms. Anja Kovacs and Sky Croeser looked at issues surrounding how and why social movements do and don’t use information technologies, and how researchers can understand these choices. Kavita Philip argued that the perceived gulf between the humanities and the sciences has not always existed, and that researchers in the humanities and sciences will benefit from working together. Finally, Nishant Shah summarised recent work by CIS on ‘digital natives’ and their potential to create social change. After tea, Annapurna Garimella presented her study of blogs by middle class house wives in the US who are blog about Dasara dolls.

This brief overview hardly does justice to the research and arguments presented at Communities, Technology, and Participation, so we are hoping to publish the proceedings of the workshop in coming weeks.

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