RURAL KNOWLEDGE CENTRE / INFOKIOSKS 1. Introduction
Information Communication Technology (ICT) is a brilliant means to establish a platform of providing public and private information and services to millions of people in urban and rural areas. Numerous ICT projects were initiated to ensure the benefits of ICT reaches the entire population of the country. Rural Knowledge Centre (RKC) / info kiosks are one such project. These centres were to provide distant services from a single window point. State-of-the-art high-tech information and Communication Technologies such as WiMax/VSAT/leased line were to be used by the Rural Knowledge Centres (RKC) to reach the un-reached, un-served and the underserved communities and people.
The Rural Knowledge Centres (RKC) is a programme designed as a single window programme that provides knowledge to the rural people using space technology. Over the years knowledge has become a strategic national and organisational resource.
There has been a revolution and rapid strides have been taken in the application of space technology. Information and communication technology has been the sector which has adapted space technology the most. This has resulted in the national economy becoming more knowledge based where even production and manufacturing has become dependent on current information and knowledge.
Distinction between information and knowledge Information is “Know what” or “what is”.
Knowledge is “know how” or “what works”
In the context of Home Science when we look at the subject Family Resource Management – people are provided with information about government schemes in relation to insurance. They get information and “Know what” are the government schemes, they get information about “what is” insurance.
They gain knowledge when they develop an understanding of the concept of “How”
social security works. They learn that “what works” is the family and community
members contributing and building a system of social security which translates as a insurance programme.
The Rural knowledge centre is not just a source of information to the people in rural areas but is a source of knowledge. In order to provide information and knowledge to the people, receiving studios are setup in villages. They are connected to a central studio using Space and Communication technology. The central studio a high powered SATCOM centre which operates in collaboration with ISRO; it might also be provided with a computer centres with nodes on a LAN which will assist in training as well as developing programme material. Videoconferencing facilities with scope for linkage to the SATCOM centre may also be installed at the Rural Knowledge Centres.
This high powered delivery system will focus on converting information to knowledge. Any piece of information will become knowledge when people “Know how” to use information. Generic information will be converted into location and time specific information at this technology intense centre; and will also train community members to add value to information by making that piece of information “work” for themselves.
3. Goals &Objectives
The Goal visualised for the Rural Knowledge Centre was to establish a means of delivering need based education and services to the communities at the grassroots through the application of the benefits of Information Technology.
The Objectives were to:
Reduce the digital divide using technology especially telecommunication technology.
Create coalition or networks of relevant actors like National Informatics Centre Network.
Increase efficiency and productivity of existing cooperatives by setting up state of the art computer communication networks.
Create repertoires of local knowledge and enrich them by applying the benefits of information technology.
Provide solutions to local problems by adopting different technologies, placing problems in different contexts, introducing various kinds of relationships that can be pursued.
Setup booths and a network of booths that provide information combined with education to the local people.
Establish a Geographic Information System (GIS) of the surrounding communities and bring about greater transparency in administration especially in matters related to land.
The distinctive features of the RKC is that it uses the technology especially telecommunication to extend education to communities at the grassroots.
It operates on the principle of integrating and appropriate use of the Internet, cable TV, cell phone, community radio and the vernacular press.
Provides need based services through a single window.
Provides knowledge connectivity to grassroots communities.
Organise live interactive sessions in real time by a central speaker to audience in locations which are widespread and remote.
Creates a platform for interaction of community members and between communities thereby increasing all round awareness.
5. Organisations involved in RKC
In order to assist in the setting up and functioning of the RKC various organisations are involved. They are necessary to create knowledge from information and prepare educational modules and reports. They will support the RKC in being prepared and develop the ability to respond to the needs of the community and also provide reports to all concerned. Mentioned below are some of organisations and platforms which assisted in setting up of the RKC at various stages and in various levels of functioning.
The United Nations (UN) set up a forum called the “World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)’ which launched a programme titled “Connect the World by 2015".
o India's Mission 2007: Every Village a Knowledge Centre, as the flagship of the "Connect the World" movement.
A National Alliance for Mission 2007 was formed in 2003 to provide a platform for multi-stakeholder partnership.
The National Alliance currently includes 22 government organisations including the Department of Information Technology, SWAN (State Wide Area Network) infrastructure; community service centres will provide reliable broad-based connectivity to remote villages.
The Ministry of Panchayati Raj; establishment of Internet connected ICT centres in all the 240,000 panchayats and local bodies in the country by August 15, 2007.
Village resource centres at the block level by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) provides a wide range of services including tele- conferencing facilities.
o The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited; The rural information society initiative of BSNL which will aim to set up 100,000 VKCs each covering a population of 2,000 or more.
o Promotion of e-governance as a key component of the National Common Minimum Programme and the proposal to include knowledge connectivity as an essential component of the Bharat Nirman Programme.
94 civil society organisations; and 34 private sector information and communication technology (ICT) leaders such as NASSCOM, TCS, HCL, and Microsoft. Besides, 18 academic institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, and the Indira Gandhi National Open University; and 10 financial institutions such as the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and the State Bank of India are involved.
In addition, an international support group has been formed to provide technical and financial support to Mission 2007. The group is chaired by the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme. It has the active participation of the
o International development research centre o The canadian international development agency,
o The swiss agency for development and cooperation (sdc),
o the united kingdom's department for international development, o The world bank,
o The international crops research institute for the semi-arid tropics, o The united nations educational, scientific and cultural organisation, o The world health organisation,
o The food and agriculture organisation, o The world food programme,
o The international fund for agricultural development, o The mcarthur foundation,
o The jhai foundation, and
o the global knowledge partnership.
6. Organisational structure
There are numerous Information Communication Technology (ICT) projects operating in the country and typically it is organised in a three tier system consisting of the:
6 The Extension agency
Rural knowledge centre (RKC) Village Resource centre (VRC)
Extension agencies act as a bridge linking and networking the local communities.
They are involved in identifying and creating a core group of associates at the grassroots level, national and international level.
The Extension agencies initiate the project at the grassroots level by introducing the concept of the RKC and VRC to a select few who are provided with training to setup and operate the VRC and RKCs. This trained and capacitated group of functionaries acts as the project initiators, designers and coordinators at the grassroots level. They are different types of Extension agencies involved in operating ICT projects. They could be government agencies, non governmental agencies, academic institutes, private sector, public- private partnership projects, research and development institutions, women’s, institutions etc. An example is the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai.
The Extension agency is the ‘centre of operations’ of the complete project. Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) provides satellite link-ups to the Extension agency. INSAT-3A was used by an extension agency to connect RKC and VRC to the
‘centre of operations’ through video and audio links.
Rural Knowledge Centre (RKC) was designed to act as the nodal centre in ICT projects. They act as a repository for twenty to thirty communities spread over 50 to 60 km. They are provided with technical and administrative support by the Extension agency to create intersections with the local communities through the Village Resource Centres (VRC) with the ICT providers.
The RKC is equipped with the latest computing facilities, satellite linkups, solar backup and training rooms. They form the hub for all activities undertaken by the VRCs.
Data bases are created and maintained at the RKC, some examples are: Commodity prices, livestock health and welfare, medical data, governmental data, grants and aid availability from various agencies of the government, women's welfare-related data, etc.
At the RKC information and knowledge is translated and documented in local languages. They also record local knowledge. Internet publications are developed regularly.
Development and maintains of web portals is another activity undertaken so as to facilitate quick and easy transmission of information. Multimedia is used extensively providing easy access to information to both literate and illiterate members of the community. All material that is available at the RKC is regularly updated and local people access these updated information.
Village Resource centre (VRC) is located at the local community. It caters to a single village or community. It is also provide with basic ITC equipment and is linked to the RKC. The VRC is purely a disseminating centre. All required information is provided by the RKC in a ready format. Operators of the centre are involved in helping people access and utilise required information.
In addition the VRC is provide with numerous video material enabling local community members to play and watch videos on topics related to farming, health and other related and relevant topics.
7. Organisational processes
In order to be effective it is necessary to develop a process that would assist in reaching the organisational goal. When systems and process are developed in an organisation it becomes easy for all involved to contribute productively. The RKC has designed its own process which consists of the following steps:
i. Needs assessment ii. Mobilisation
8 iii. Capacity building
iv. Installation and incubation v. Operations and monitoring vi. Evaluation
These steps are undertaken by RKC in order to design and develop its functional systems.
i. Needs Assessment
The preliminary process of RKCs in any location begins with the Needs Assessment activity. RKCs have a designated agenda of providing solutions to the grassroots communities using technology. Grassroots communities have their own social dynamics and diversity of interests. The issues that emerge are decidedly local and extremely specific. This has been experienced in government projects like Rural E Seve, Eseva, Rajiv Internet Villages and Drishtee; ITC e-choupals for coffee and Aqua choupals. In order to identify local issues and to adapt the technological component into the programme a Needs Assessment process is undertaken.
“Need” is a discrepancy or gap between ‘what is” and “what should be”.
In the context of the RKC, a need indicates a local issue and not a universal need, a decision to provide micro finance to the BPL families is a universal issue and RKCs being involved in setting up SHGs is local.
A Needs Assessment is the systematic assessment of a population or local community with the intention of examine the current situation and the ways in which things can or should be along with identifying the means of filling the gap (e.g.: establish trainings )
A Needs Assessment is conducted to ensure that the programmes undertaken by RKCs are needed. It also determines the type of content to be included in the programme curriculum, for example: socio economic profile, do they have bank accounts, is there a bank close by, how to access government provisions.
The Needs Assessment process could include some of these steps like:
Collection of information of the community in which the RKCs is to function Deciding the needs that are met and the existing resources
Determining the needs to be addressed
A model which proposes Some guiding steps in conducting a Needs Assessment consists of a systematic approach that progress through a defined series of phases:
Phase I Explore what is
Phase II Gather and analyse data
Phase III Make decisions
This stage is to examine the needs expressed by the local community. During this phase the RKCs will attempt to establish the issues to be addressed during the Needs assessment process. Effort will be made to define the opportunities available to undertake the assessment. Finally a commitment will be gained from the local people for the conduct of all the phases of the assessment including the use of the findings for programme planning and implementation.
During this phase a document is created which will showcase the status of the concerns and issues of local communities. The document will make a comparison between the vision and the current status. The magnitude of the needs and their causes will also be determined. The most important function of this phase is to develop a tentative list of needs statements in order of priority and which is based on the criticality of the needs and its causes.
This is the phase of developing the action plan for the RKCs. Possible solutions will be identified and a clear decision will be made and a workable solution will be selected for implementation and a final report will be prepared at the end of Needs Assessment process.
10 ii. Mobilisation
Mobilisation is of two type’s community members and resources mobilisation. It is essential to ensure long term sustenance of the RKCs functioning. Mobilisation is about addressing the interest of the whole community. The RKCs takes into consideration the different experiences, needs and capabilities of the various groups in a community while developing its programme. It is about providing every member a chance to either directly or through representation participate in designing the activities of the RKCs, assist in implementation and monitoring of community programmes.
iii. Capacity building
Every individual, organisation or institution needs to perform tasks effectively. Tasks should be performed efficiently on a continued basis and with reduced dependence on external resources. The process of increasing abilities is known as capacity building. It involves human resource development (people), institutional development (local, government system) and the overall policy environment within which RKCs and its programme partners operate. The process of capacity assists in determining the efficient utilization and allocation of human resources when demands are competing. If it is to be defined capacity building consists of activities which strengthen knowledge, abilities, skills, and behaviour of individuals; enhance systems and structures of institutions to meet its goals in a sustained manner
Some of the areas for capacity building could include:
Organisational capacities Networking
Knowledge transfer ITC application
iv. Installation and incubation
Every RKC after completing the above process of need identification, mobilisation and capacity development and shall start the installation of equipment and services and introduce these services by creating awareness.
The period between installation of the programme and implementation activates beginning is call as incubation.
v. Operations and monitoring
At the beginning of every project, especially in the initial stages monitoring is required to focus on every aspect constantly. The RKCs are functioning and the way the services are being received by the local communities is very important for the sustained running of the RKCs.
The RKCs need to undertake evaluation studies at defined intervals.
Understanding the dynamics of the project and gaining insights into the efficacy of the RKCs operations is necessary. Another important element is that the feedback of each and every process right from setting up to completion has to be sent back into the system.
8. Activities of the RKC
The activities of the RKCs can be broadly clubbed into two main categories:
ii. Information sharing equipment iii. Education
iv. Networking v. Banking
vi. Capacity building vii. Provide online services
Information: depending on the focus of the RKCs a wide range of information is provided to local communities:
Market price information
News and updates about government sponsored schemes.
Rain water harvesting
Processing of fruits and vegetables
Agriculture, sericulture, veterinary related information (Sugarcane growth patterns, soil health, vermiculture, horticulture,etc)
Information sharing equipment : these activities consists of
Mixed media models
Education: the next step is to educate people about topics that are requested by the people after they receive information provided by the RKCs.
Preventive and curative aspects of health and hygiene
Study subjects like computer science
Networking: on gaining a thorough understanding the RKCs also link and develop local and regional networks.
Networks based on livelihood
Based on cultural activities
Forums of social and commercial entrepreneurship (local and global )
A range of models: Individual user models (PC), Tele centre models (upto a hundred computers for each community) Rural Information Services Commons (RISC- up to a hundred villages access)
Export of commodities Banking:
Kisan credit cards
Linked self help groups to financing schemes
Capacity building: based on local needs different aspects of improvement are identified and training provided.
Online services: Act as a venue through which local people can access online services.
Sale of properties
Registration and land records
High court cause lists.
Creation of data bases of local innovations, best practices
Cataloguing of local products
Access to bossiness news
Selling downloaded government forms
Local language interface
Low cost connectivity
Using computers (PC)
Digital peripheral devices( Webcam, LCD projectors, touch screen devices)
Wireless media ( Wifi, roaming, GSM networks, VSAT, WLL, world space, ISRO)