Exploring information ecologies in public access settings

by , July 23, 2008

Category: Community Information Ecology, News

We used an information ecology methodology to conduct exploratory research during the first phase of this study. This qualitative data collection tool allows a group to illustrate the networks of trust that exist in a geographic community. The tool works like a photograph of people’s personal networking experience. After developing several linkage maps, researchers can detect patterns in terms of trusted sources of information, or the information ecology around a focal point (a public access site in the context of the Global Impact Study project).


  • Study goals are presented to a convenor (someone respected in the community, a public access site manager, an organization that already brings people together, etc.)
  • The researchers and the convenor discuss criteria for selecting informants (homogeneous vs mixed group, in terms of age, sex, profession, wealth or income level, etc.)
  • The convenor(s) agree on a time and place for the gathering
  • When people gather, the convenor and researchers explain the purpose of the exercise and its duration (a half day); and they document who is there
  • The convenor and the researchers agree on a guiding question and time scale

Guiding question example in health with a one-year time scale:

Think back to the last year. Tell us: Who has brought you information on health? Think of people with similar problems, trusted experts, nurses, doctors, remedies, medical treatments or drugs, alternatives, insurance, rehabilitation, support organizations. Also think about where and through what information sources and media you acquired that information.

(If the group hesitates, ask: Think back when you or a loved one got sick, who did you contact first? And then next and after that person?)

  • Start an inventory on a flip chart. Draw an icon for each person or source, and add a name to each. You will find that important information intermediaries will be mentioned more than once. In that case add lines or bars to account for popular ones.
  • When all have spoken, and stories have run out, shift to the next step: begin transferring the inventory onto another flip chart along a hierarchy that is locally relevant. Ask them about it: village, sub-county, district, region, etc.
  • Copy each person or source, one by one, with the group. Those who are listed often can be drawn with a thick circle around them, or larger, or using another color.
  • As you draw, ask about the nature of the relationship or linkage. Did communication happen once or often? Is it a two-way or a one-way linkage? (Who initiates it?) Make lines thicker for permanent or regular linkages, and thinner or dashed for rare ones. Use arrows to indicate whether the linkage is one way, the other way, or two-way.
  • When you have listed all the persons or sources, ask the group whether the diagram is an accurate representation of the discussion. Ask them to comment on the pattern that emerges. If the groups want to keep the map, take a photo of it and leave it behind.
  • When you have several linkage maps, compare them and contrast them with representatives of the informants for each map.

About the author

Ricardo Ramirez is co-principal investigator of the Infomediary in-depth study together with Andy Gordon and Balaji Parthasarathy. He is a freelance consultant and researcher based in Canada. His work in the field of information and communication technology (ICT) emphasizes participatory action research. Ricardo has worked with communication as a component of rural and remote development projects with NGOs, universities, consulting firms, and the United Nations. He was associate professor of Capacity Development and Extension in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph (Ontario) where he remains as adjunct professor. He often collaborates with Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in applied research on the monitoring and evaluation of ICT projects. In particular, he has been exploring the role of developmental evaluation approaches including Utilization Focused Evaluation.

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2 Responses to “Exploring information ecologies in public access settings”


  1. […] next phase of the Global Impact Study project. The primary methodology employed for this purpose is information ecology mapping (also known as linkage or social […]

  2. […] next phase of the Global Impact Study project. The primary methodology employed for this purpose is information ecology mapping (also known as linkage or social mapping). A community in Bangladesh gathers to discuss trusted […]

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