Digging deeper into the phenomenon of public access

TASCHA’s Global Impact Study of Public Access ICTs wrapped up last year with the publication of the final research report, Connecting people for development: Why public access ICTs matter. In addition to the final report, we have also released research reports and summaries of the Global Impact Study’s in-depth studies, which were designed to answer more specific questions about the public access phenomenon, such as whether we even need public access ICTs anymore since everyone has a mobile phone (spoiler alert: yes, we do!).

Is there value in playing games and Facebooking on public access ICTs?

The Non-instrumental Uses in-depth study focused on whether non-serious uses of ICTs, like playing games and chatting on Facebook, lead to development of technical skills that are critical to employment in today’s digital world. The study found that yes, there is indeed instrumental value in “playing” on public access ICTs and that embracing gaming and other leisure activities will allow public access users to acquire the experience necessary to build a range of computer competencies.


Is there value to sharing computers in public access venues?

The Collaborative Knowledge Sharing in-depth study explored the practice of sharing computers and collaboration in public access venues. The study found that users share computers for a multitude of reasons, least of them being financial. Public access can support forms of collaboration and knowledge sharing that enhance learning and productivity and offer rich opportunities for interaction and co-work. Public shared access is not necessarily second-best to individualized connection, but may be a preferred access method.


What roles, if any, do venue staff play in the experience of public access venue users?

The Infomediaries in-depth study examined what the role of venue staff, such as librarians, cybercafe managers, and telecenter employees, is in shaping the outcomes for and impact on public access venue users. The study found that infomediaries provide the human face for the information age by taking on the functions of facilitation, coaching, referral and teaching and assuming the role of a trusted gatekeeper. In the absence of infomediaries, those left behind will face additional, perhaps insurmountable, barriers.


How effective are public access venues in keeping families connected?

The Interpersonal Communication in-depth study investigated how people use public access ICTs to stay connected to family members working overseas and the impact of this communication on their connectedness. The study found that many users rely on public access as they creatively mix technologies and venues to communicate with overseas family members. Additionally, those who make use of public access technology to communicate with their family members working abroad are more connected than those families who do not.


Do mobile phones replace public access computers?

The Mobile Internet in-depth study delved into a question asked by pretty much everyone in the ICT4D and international development communities: with the rise of mobile phones, are public access venues needed, or relevant, anymore? The study found that, indeed, public access venues are still relevant and very much needed, particularly to those who are resource-constrained. Public access and private mobiles offer different affordances, and users have developed complex, fine-grained practices which help them to negotiate the respective strengths and weaknesses of the affordances.