The Global Impact Study of Public Access to Information & Communication Technologies was a five-year project (2007-2012) to generate evidence about the scale, character, and impacts of public access to information and communication technologies. Looking at libraries, telecenters, and cybercafes, the study investigated impact in a number of areas, including communication and leisure, culture and language, education, employment and income, governance, and health.

Implemented by the University of Washington’s Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA), the Global Impact Study was part of Investigating the Social & Economic Impact of Public Access to Information & Communication Technologies — a broader CAD$7.9 million research project supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and a grant to IDRC from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Managed by IDRC, this project includes the Global Impact Study of Public Access to Information & Communication Technologies (this project) and The Amy Mahan Research Fellowship Program, led by Universitat Pompeu Fabra, which aimed to deepen the capacity of emerging scholars with the goal of increasing the quality and quantity of research on public access to ICT produced in developing countries.

Why this research? Why now?

Over the last decade, governments, international development agencies, foundations, and corporations have made significant investments to increase public access to ICT, particularly in developing countries. As these investments continue to grow, questions are being raised about their impact, particularly:

  • What are the social, economic, and political impacts of public access to ICT?
  • What is the magnitude of these impacts and how can we measure them?
  • What is the relationship between costs and benefits of providing and using public access to ICT?

We investigated these questions using a range of survey, ethnographic, and experimental research approaches. Researchers examined the impact of shared, public access models, such as the provision of ICT in libraries and telecenters, as well as other models and innovations that emerge over the life of the project (2007–2012). The study examined both positive and negative impacts on the well-being of populations in the developing world.

Tapping research networks

Project researchers came from existing and new research networks, as well as from teams convened at both the global and regional/country level where field research was carried out. Part of the mandate of this project was to connect people and build a community of researchers working around these issues.

Improved capacity, better research methods & a common framework

Throughout the study’s five-year span, we built research capacity in developing and emerging economies. We also sought to advance methodological approaches for investigating the impact of ICT.

Better programs & policies

The Global Impact Study was important because it generated evidence to support policy and investment decisions and provided insights into how to develop better initiatives.