To operationalize the research problem, we developed three research questions, six broad areas of inquiry (impact factors), and six development domains, outlined below. These guide our research activities, which include national-level inventories, venue and population surveys, and in-depth studies.
The Global Impact study examines three questions related to public access to information and communication technologies:
- What are the social, economic, and political impacts of public access to information and communication technologies?
- What is the magnitude of these impacts and how can we measure them?
- What is the relationship between the costs and benefits of providing and using public access to information and communication technologies?
Our general hypothesis is that there is a relationship between these six factors and the impact of public access technologies, either directly through use of public access facilities or because they influence the way public access ICTs are used.
- Reach — What is the reach of public access venues, geographically and socially? What are the mechanisms by which public access ICT services are accessed and used directly and indirectly? How does this translate into impacts? What costs are associated with these impacts?
- Use — What different types of uses occur at public access ICT venues (e.g. individual or collective uses, instrumental or not, etc.)? What is the impact of different types of usage? How do users make decisions about when and how to use what type of public access ICT facilities? What do their usage patterns indicate about the value they place on public access ICT in particular and ICT access in general?
- Physical Design & Location — What are the different designs of public access ICT venues? How does the physical design/architecture and location of public access ICT venues affect their accessibility, use, long-term sustainability and impacts? What factors shape the design of public access ICT venues?
- Venue Services & Operations — How do public access ICT venues operate? What services do they offer and in what form (e.g., staff assistance, infomediary services, IT training, childcare)? What rules govern their use? How does the design of public access ICT services and operations affect their accessibility, use, long-term sustainability and impacts? What factors shape the design of public access ICT services and operations? What is the relationship between the provision of ancillary services and the use as well as the degree of impact of public access ICTs? Under what conditions is it cost effective to provide these services?
- Information Ecologies — What is the socio-cultural context of public access ICT provision and use? What information and communication resources do users have or need, and is this factored into public access ICT design? How does this explain usage patterns and associated impacts?
- Policy & Regulatory Context — How do policy and regulatory environments affect the provision, design, use, and impact of public access ICTs? To what extent is policymaking based on research evidence?
Information and communication technologies can influence lives in a variety of ways. The Global Impact Study is focusing its efforts on the six domains described below. While these six areas are central to exploring the impacts of public access ICTs, the study allows for, and welcomes, discoveries beyond these domains.
- Communication & Leisure: People often use computers in public venues for their own personal enjoyment. Development gains (or losses) from playing computer games or using social media might not be immediate, but these types of uses can support development outcomes in the long run. For example, leisurely exploring interests online may build potential skills or knowledge that lead to positive outcomes later, and using ICTs for personal communication, through email and chatting, can help people maintain or expand valuable social networks.
- Culture & Language: Many people use ICTs to share cultural information, both traditional and popular. Some might do this by organizing or attending events. Others may create websites or blogs in local languages or benefit from reading such content. Can we say that technology in libraries, telecenters, and cybercafes has helped users maintain or express cultural identity, preserve languages, or support cultural practices or experiences in other ways?
- Education: Through computers and Internet availability, people can gain access to information and tools that support learning. Students can use software to complete homework and improve their performance at school. Adolescents and adults might seek out admissions or financial aid information for new educational opportunities or to participate in online workshops. Such uses can support positive educational outcomes that may lead to a range development goals, from economic impacts to enhancing quality of life.
- Employment & Income: People can use ICTs to find jobs, prepare resumes, or improve their skills and enhance their employability. Entrepreneurs can use the Internet to sell products and services or expand customer bases. Others use online information to support their lines or work, whether through pricing decisions, discovering new production techniques, or exploring new ways to earn income. Additionally, using ICTs might help people send or receive remittances. To what extent do people use public access ICTs to support such activities and what are the impacts?
- Governance: National, regional, and local governments are increasingly creating and maintaining a web presence to share and solicit information from their constituents. Are people using public access computers to contact officials, improve their access to public services, or hold the government more accountable? Are people connecting with NGOs, political parties, or other groups to increase civic participation? Effectively using ICTs for these purposes can have a significant impact on people’s lives and the communities they live in.
- Health: Increasingly, information about health is provided online. The Internet can provide people with better access to information about illnesses, disease prevention and treatment, medical conditions, diet and nutrition, or health care providers. To what extent have people used public access ICTs to obtain information that resulted in better health outcomes for themselves, their families, or others in their communities?