Preliminary literature review reveals gaps in research & hard data

by , October 27, 2008

Category: Publications

Based on approximately 80 journal articles and reports, Public Access to ICTs: A Review of the Literature is a draft literature review that examines the type of research that has been conducted on public access to information and communication technologies.

It includes issues, methods, main findings, and gaps in the literature. This review does not include documents that only describe a specific project; that only discuss public access typologies, definitions, or policy; or that critically comment on public access strategies. Also excluded are documents that discuss the socioeconomic impact of ICTs in general.

The review focuses mainly on electronically accessible research articles and on research published after 1999. The documents were accessed via database searches as well as directly from members of the Global Impact Study community.

Main findings:

Most of the literature leans toward formative (process) evaluation as opposed to summative (impact) evaluations. Several reports that claim to be examining impacts in reality present data and conclusions on venue access and use patterns.

Studies have not established a clear link between public access to ICTs and socioeconomic change/impacts. Researchers are beginning to go beyond anecdotal evidence of public access impacts on end-users, but are still limited in their ability to make definitive statements about impacts. There is a trend toward the view that the impacts of public access to ICTs are so highly tied to contexts that generalizability may be impractical.

Research conclusions generally still speak to the potential rather than actual impact of public access to ICTs. Aside from the fact that impacts are difficult to measure and attribute, this could be linked to the tendency for most studies to find that public access is underperforming. Despite overall dissatisfaction with the performance of public access ICTs, the perception that they are an important means of bridging digital gaps remains strong.

Limited application or testing of theory and hypotheses. Very few studies are placed in the context of any theoretical framework (other than the general idea of ICTs for development). Some exceptions are:

  • Actor-Network (Ashraf, Swatman & Hanisch, 2007)
  • Diffusion of Innovation (Ashraf et al., 2007; Hudson, 2001; Rajendra Kumar & Best, 2006b; Simpson, 2005)
  • Ecology of Games (Qiu & Zhou, 2005)
  • Stakeholder Theory (Bailur, 2006)
  • Sustainable Livelihoods (Parkinson, 2005; Parkinson & Rami­rez, 2006; UNCTAD, 2008)
  • Sustainability/Failure Model (Rajendra Kumar & Best, 2006a)

Even fewer studies test specific hypotheses, and those that do don’t always fully report the statistics or the process. Studies that include some hypothesis testing (with varying degrees of rigor) are:

  • Gitta & Ikoja-Odongo (2003) — Reasons for using cybercafes, relationship between education and internet use
  • Miller (2004) — Statistical significance of findings on gender, occupation and location of infoplazas
  • Wahid, Furuholt, & Kristiansen (2004) — Several hypotheses about the characteristics of early adopters of internet cafes (users and investors)

Sey, Araba. 2008. Public Access to ICTs: A Review of the Literature. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Center for Information & Society (CIS)

About the author

These are project updates made by members of the Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington Information School. TASCHA is responsible for the implementation for the Global Impact Study.

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