International Network for the Availability
of Scientific Publications


INASP Newsletter No. 20,  June 2002   ISSN: 1028-0790   
In this issue:

Guest Editor: Peter Ballantyne

Contributors to this issue: Helen Aitkin, Chris Armstrong, Peter Armstrong, Simon Batchelor, John Dada, Pablo Eyzaguirre, Galin Kora, Linda Martindale, Caroline Nyamai, Neil Pakenham-Walsh, Paul Quek, Ricardo Ramírez, Don Richardson, John Rose.

INASP would like to thank Peter Ballantyne for his invaluable support with the compilation of this special issue of the Newsletter.

Layout: Ard Jongsma

Editorial address: INASP P.O. Box 2564 London W5 1ZD UK Tel: + 44 (0)20 8997 3274 Fax: + 44 (0)20 8810 9795 Email: <[email protected]>
WWW: <>

© International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), 2002 No parts of this publication may be reproduced for commercial use. Reproduction of articles for educational purposes is permitted only with acknowledgement of the source.


Special issue: Creating and communicating local development content


Communities express their knowledge in many forms - through storytelling, drama, in conversations and meetings, as words on paper, as voices on the radio, through art and culture, in photographs and film, and digitally by email and the Internet. Such content is created and exchanged when the motives of community members are triggered, and when they have the opportunities as well as the necessary means and skills to do so.

Thus, when participants in a March 2002 workshop on 'eContent for eDevelopment' exchanged their knowledge on this topic, they borrowed an interactive method used by local people in Kenya's Kitui district to share traditional knowledge on the various uses of the bottle gourd (illustrated here).

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INASP is a co-operative network of partners whose aim is to enhance world-wide access to information and knowledge. It has three immediate objectives:

  • to map, support and strengthen existing activities promoting access to and dissemination of scientific and scholarly information and knowledge;
  • to identify, encourage and support new initiatives that will increase local publication and general access to high quality scientific and scholarly information;
  • to promote in-country capacity building in information production, organisation, access and dissemination.

INASP is a programme of the International Council for Science (ICSU).

Chairman: Kai-Inge Hillerud Director: Carol Priestley


Please note the change of domain and email addresses !

INASP 27 Park End Street Oxford OX1 1HU, UK Tel: + 44 (0)1865 249 909 Fax: + 44 (0)1865 251 060 Email: <[email protected]> WWW: <>

and also:

P.O. Box 2564 London W5 1ZD, UK Tel: + 44 (0)20 8997 3274 Fax: + 44 (0)20 8810 9795

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Introducing the issue

by Peter Ballantyne, International Institute for Communication and Development, the Netherlands

An oft-repeated mantra of the information and communication technologies (ICTs) world is the need for more focus on 'content' -as opposed to focus on access or connectivity. Content, it is argued, is what people really want from ICTs. When we talk about development, this notion is refined to be 'local content' - on the assumption that it needs to be somehow more location or development specific. It appears and re-appears in all kinds of international calls for action, most notably the Genoa Plan of Action of the G8's Digital Opportunities Task Force, or DOT Force.

In early 2002, IICD was commissioned by the UK Department for International Development to prepare a study of local development content - essentially examining how developing countries are using ICTs to create, adapt, and exchange local content.

Working closely with partners, such as INASP, four priorities are proposed: · first, to stimulate local content expression; · second, to stimulate eContent creation and communication; · third, to develop eContent exchange and broadcast systems; · fourth to strengthen local 'synthesis and adaptation' capacities.

Work in each of these priority areas is illustrated in the contributions to this special issue.

Don Richardson and his colleagues open by arguing that exchanges of 'content' are not critical at the local level. In their view, basic communication among individuals is the driving force that needs to be understood and promoted. Simon Batchelor looks at the processes by which people and communities develop and exchange ideas, and especially how creativity can be fostered. In his view, development and communication processes, in which people are empowered, are as important as any end results. Linda Martindale from South Africa takes a look at the language issue, introducing a project to translate computer programmes into all the official languages of South Africa.

Two contributions focus on ways to express local content. Paul Quek and Pablo Eyzaguirre show how indigenous biodiversity knowledge in several countries is being documented and disseminated for local and international use. Crucially, they are guarding the local ownership of this knowledge while also making it available to scientists. Also on this theme, Chris Armstrong describes how a community radio station in South Africa interacts with and depends on its local community to create and communicate its local content.

Three contributors from the health sector focus on the need to synthesize and adapt content for local use. Neil Pakenham-Walsh sees local intermediaries as having critical roles in bridging information divides between local and global pools of medical knowledge. Caroline Nyamai describes a Kenyan health network partnership, showing how it uses ICTs to bring content to rural areas. John Dada focuses on locally available traditional health knowledge in Nigeria and how this relates to medical science.

The two final contributions look at how local eContent can be aggregated and more widely exchanged. John Rose describes a 'digital anthologies' project by which African development materials were digitised and are now available to local communities on CD-ROM. Finally, Peter Armstrong explains how an Open Knowledge Network will help to stimulate the generation and exchange of local content worldwide.

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Collecting and propagating local development content

by Peter Ballantyne

According to the Digital Divide Network, the "issue of content is a major issue in the digital divide equation." Just how major an issue, at least to the international community, is revealed in the DOT Force 'Genoa Plan of Action' where an action point is devoted to it.

The ideas and experiences in this issue grew out of a study of local content commissioned by DFID from IICD. The study drew on more than sixty case 'stories' from different sectors and organisations. Ideas from these were bounced about at a workshop in Tanzania where the main findings were crystallised. Here, some of the study's findings and proposals are highlighted.

Defining local content

One major challenge was to define 'local content.' Depending on the perspective adopted, one person's 'local' content is another's 'global' content. Some people define it as content for people in a certain locality, or content for people speaking a language or from a certain culture. Others say it is content that is relevant to a given community. None of these suited our needs.

We found that we needed to adjust our perspective. Instead of seeing local content as content for local communities, we see it as content from local communities. In the workshop, participants used the following working definition:

Local content is the expression of the locally owned and adapted knowledge of a community - where the community is defined by its location, culture, language, or area of interest.

This means that local content is not something that is broadcast to people, although it can be. It is content of a community. It includes global content that has been transformed, adapted and assimilated into the community's knowledge base. Local content is exchanged and shared, locally or globally, in various formats, packages and media. The process of the Tanzania workshop itself is a good example of such local content creation and communication by a community using a variety of methods (see song on page 4). When it is disseminated using digital means, it can be termed 'eContent'.

Whose connectivity?

The cases, while skimming the surface, revealed the existence of a vast pool of content in developing countries, and many ways to create and communicate it. Often, the 'new' technologies are tape recorders, radio, television, newspapers, or telephones. ICTs and the Internet are rather small parts of the toolkit used to create and communicate local content.

It is therefore crucial to differentiate between 'local content' and local 'eContent'. Just because little eContent from developing countries is found on the Internet, it is wrong to conclude that there is a 'local content' problem. In a reversal of the usual 'connectivity' challenge, most local content is invisible to international audiences because they lack the necessary means to access local content channels (such as drama, storytelling, and anything in a local language). They are cut off from most local development knowledge.

Push me, pull you

The study suggests that much of the 'local content' problem in developing countries has little to do with ICTs. It is more about the way people value their own culture, traditions, and languages. It is also about local capacity limitations and the way global content is pushed. It is linked with local and global market forces.

Even in remote areas, the powers that 'push' global or just non-local content are often much stronger than those 'pushing' local content. This can be seen in television programming, in advertising, in the spread of global brands, in classrooms using imported curricula and examinations, in the use of foreign languages in schools and universities, in the lowly status of local languages, on the Internet, in research, in the dissemination of 'reliable' scientific information, and even in the reliance on foreign technical assistance. With a few exceptions (phones, community radio, or indigenous knowledge systems), most formal content and communication 'channels' in developing countries help to push 'external' content into local communities. Counter efforts to push local content on to global stages, such as African film, African research publications, 'southern voices' in the media, or the e-trading of crafts face an uphill struggle.

In other words, most content initiatives using ICTs tend to 'push' external content towards local people. The ICTs mainly provide 'access' to other people's knowledge. With a few exceptions, new technologies are hardly used to strengthen the 'push' of local content from local people.


What can be done? Four main areas of action are identified in the workshop report.

1. Stimulate local content expression for local application and use. Increase the 'pull' - or demand for local content - and introduce 'push' measures that enhance the supply of local content.

2. Stimulate eContent creation and communication for local and global use. Enhance the local 'push' for local eContent so it reaches potential local and external audiences.

3. Develop eContent exchange and broadcast systems. Improve the demand orientation of content 'pushers' so that local communities are not overwhelmed with indiscriminate content.

4. Strengthen the 'synthesis and adaptation' capacities of local organisations. Build local capacities to 'pull' external content into local shapes.

Peter Ballantyne Team Leader, Knowledge Sharing International Institute for Communication and Development PO Box 11586 2502 AN The Hague The Netherlands

Email: <[email protected]>  WWW: <

The kitete song

Words: Rachel Wamae Julius and Kyanika Adult Women Group (KAWG), Kenya Music: COSTECH/IICD Workshop participants*


Long live 'Kitete', our multipurpose plant; 
The narrow-necked 'Kinandu', the medicine container; 
The gourd box, 'Isanduku ya kwikia Ngua' in which our grandfathers kept their clothes; 
The half split 'Nzele' for porridge and food; 
The fresh 'Mongu' that we eat.

Long live 'Kitete', the hidden treasure; 
I see in you 'Kitete' a generous gift of nature; 
The discovery of our foreparents for us to use and to conserve for our posterity; 
The water gourd, the serving spoon, the gourd flask to store our milk; 
The gourd in which our grandfathers brewed beer.

Long live 'Kitete', your uses are innumerable; 
Who needs the plastic or the glass? So artificial! 
To pollute our environment, our cultural heritage must prevail; 
For all our utensil needs and many more 'Kitete' is the answer!

Note: * COSTECH/IICD Workshop 'eContent for eDevelopment': Supporting Local Knowledge Creation and Exchange in Developing Countries, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania 11-13 March 2002


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Sustaining ICTs for rural development

The communication process is much more important than the creation of communication products.

by Don Richardson, Ricardo Ramírez, Helen Aitkin and Galin Kora, Telecommons Development Group Canada

We see basic human communication as driving ICTs. This contrasts with information production, dissemination, or access in the sense normally thought of for ICTs. We view communication as a function of human social interaction, family relationships, relationships with friends/colleagues, etc.

The driving forces behind the introduction and use of different ICTs are, from the social point of view - the basic need for communication (family, friends, etc.) and, from the economic development point of view - the need for relevant information.

Our research reveals that rural phones are the financial basis for sustaining other rural information infrastructures (see < villagephone/index.html>  for an example). When people have access to a phone, they find innovative ways to access the information they need. With regard to the Internet, email is still the 'killer application' and functions in much the same way as the telephone for basic human communication.

'Local content' in the rural, developing country context, is primarily 'voice' content or text based email - people speaking to one another over the phone, friends communicating by email. It is difficult to track what is being said and to whom, difficult to point to in terms of visible success stories and fancy websites, and not very 'sexy' in a world of web portals and global development gateways. However, this is the reality of local ICT content in rural areas. A major accomplishment in terms of local cultural content appears in KNet's Legends website where oral history, modern technology, and local linguistic 'fonts' meet <>. However, local cultural content flows primarily via voice telephony and basic email. In the developing country context, while Internet access is improving quite dramatically, most users use email to communicate with family, peers, colleagues, and friends. Web access is very expensive - in Uganda, for example, many Internet users maintain email-only Internet accounts.

Thus, the most important developments regarding cultural renewal are technologies that reduce costs (e.g. Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol or wireless local loop telecommunications) and thus make basic ICTs more affordable and accessible, or those that provide accessible local linguistic fonts and keyboards.

In a nutshell - anything that lubricates the communication process (e.g. people speaking to together in their local dialect over an affordable and accessible phone) is far more important than producing an information artifact.

Our research points at the key role of 'mediating' organizations that link community needs, with technology, funding mechanisms and policy arenas. These are essentially community development organizations that harness ICTs; for them the technology is not the focus, what matters is how it helps bring people together to collaborate to achieve their goals. We have learned that it is not easy to document the impact of ICTs on communities as they influence and interact with many different dimensions. However, one lesson is clear: the users need to guide the process, as it is they who will ultimately decide what is worth sustaining.

For more information:

Don Richardson, Director Telecommons Development Group 361 Southgate Drive, Guelph, Ontario Canada N1G 3M5

Email: <[email protected]>  WWW: <

INASP Directory CoverINASP Directory 2002/2003

INASP has just published the 2002/2003 volume of its Directory . The INASP Directory is a reference resource for all those interested in library and book development. The publication is structured in three sections: Subject-specific programmes and activities, Organisations supporting library and book development and Organisations with some specific programme responsibility for library book development. Each entry includes full contact details and a descriptive profile.

Records can be accessed online on the INASP website at <>  Print copies can be ordered from the INASP secretariat (see inside cover for full address). Price: £30.00 for the print version, £10.00 for the CD-ROM version (incl postage & packing).


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Empowerment and creativity: Critical factors in content generation 

by Simon Batchelor, Gamos Ltd., UK

Two elements of ICT content creation need to be put high on the agenda.

We need to focus on processes, so that local groups are empowered and not undermined.

We need to foster creativity, to reach beyond the natural creators.

"Give a person a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a person to fish, you feed them until someone comes along with a better fishing technique, or until pollution wipes out all the fish, or until the government changes the law outlawing fishing or until war overtakes the family and they become refugees. Help a person to become a creative thinker and you feed them for life".

A sustainable livelihood strategy means adapting to new circumstances - an essential part of this adaptation is identifying essential information. This may be keeping an eye on new fishing techniques, finding the laws that will shut down the illegal polluters, finding other people in the same circumstances to band together to become a movement that will lobby the government, or re-training to fit a completely new livelihood context.

While ICTs are not set apart from any other development activity, they can be a tool to help create an informed livelihoods strategy.

If ICTs are to be used in such a way, they must be linked to best practice regarding process.

Local context

One of the main lessons of the last few decades is that the process of development change is as important as the end. The signs are that many ICT initiatives are ignoring lessons learned about basic communication and extension theory. There seems to be an assumption that the supply of information created by the global network of ICTs will be sufficient to enhance livelihoods of the poor - as long as the poor have access. However there is a strong need for content that is grounded in the reality of the local context.

One of the best ways to generate this content is to get members of the same community to create it. ICT use should, as much as possible, follow lessons learned regarding participatory development practices - content creation and communication processes should be empowering. By paying due diligence to the approach and processes involved, local content will be created as part of the wide range of development and livelihood strategies.

Creative thinking

However, the current discussion on participatory processes within the global development community misses a significant component that will particularly affect the creation of local content. Creative thinking is rarely purposely encouraged as part of development programmes. Creative thinking is a learnable skill, and yet it is rarely taught as part of planned development programmes. For most programme planners, participation means an expectation that participants will identify the resources and constraints (often through exercises like mapping or wealth ranking). This is a facet of critical thinking. Participants are then expected to identify new opportunities for livelihood strategies, perhaps using only the simplest of the creative thinking exercises such as brainstorming. Very few development programmes teach creativity as part of the participatory empowerment process.

If local (ICT) content is to be generated, then we will either have to rely on the natural creators found in each community, or we must embed the teaching of creativity as a learnable skill into project and programme plans.

These two aspects - processes that empower, and teaching creativity -are two high priority elements for successful ICT content programmes.

For more information:

Simon Batchelor Director Gamos Ltd. 231 Kings Road Reading RG1 4LS United Kingdom

Email: <[email protected]

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Crossing digital language barriers: Translating software into local languages

by Linda Martindale, Obsidian Systems, South Africa

Navigating the cyber world is daunting enough for first-time travellers, without having to do it in a language that isn't your own. The translation of computer programmes into South African languages such as Xhosa, was virtually uncharted territory until last year. But has now released the entire desktop experience in Xhosa covering desktop, web-browser, word processor, spreadsheet and mail applications. The programmes run on Linux, open source software that is rapidly gaining inroads into the IT world after ten years of varying levels of suspicion.

The great divide between the computer-literate and those whose circumstances have denied them access to technology is threatening to become wider as technology races on and leaves many South Africans in the dust. More especially, as Neville Alexander argues, IT systems that are mainly accessible in English "condemn most people ... to a permanent state of mediocrity, since people are unable to be spontaneous, creative and self-confident if they cannot use their first language."

Extract from web site To address this, has been set up by the Zuza Software Foundation to translate computer software into the eleven official languages of South Africa. "Translation does not remove all barriers to computer access", says Dwayne Bailey, founder and director of, "but it helps to eliminate one. This, together with low cost computers, open source software and low cost Internet access will go a long way to making a dramatic IT impact on South Africans, especially the poor."

Linux support and development company, Obsidian Systems, developed and sponsored this project. Director Evan Summers emphasises why: "Supporting this translation effort has been a way in which Obsidian Systems can make a big impact on the lives of fellow South Africans." The Shuttleworth Foundation is also committed to funding a project that has just begun to scratch the surface of endless opportunity in computer accessibility.

South Africa has eleven official languages and has so far released software in Xhosa, Zulu and Venda, with a view to tackling the others by midyear 2002. This is no 'mission impossible' as with open source software the sky is the limit. Being non-profit, the continuation of the project depends on the users and not on the software company. Even if other commercial word processors were translated, the licensing costs are likely to keep them out of the reach of most poor people. works closely with, which provides disadvantaged schools with refurbished computers and freely available software.

For Xhosa, Zulu or Venda speakers, conversing with computers in their own languages is an essential way for local communities to express their own knowledge and ideas, creating and communicating truly local content.

For more information:

Dwayne Bailey PO Box 13412 Mowbray 7705 Cape Town South Africa
Email: <[email protected]>  WWW: <

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Using ICTs to collect and propagate local biodiversity content

A synopsis of ICT projects in Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal and Yunnan

by Paul Quek and Pablo Eyzaguirre, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI)

Communities in many countries have their own storehouse of indigenous or traditional knowledge (IK) that has been handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. Few people outside the local communities are aware of such knowledge. Formal institutions tend to focus only on knowledge that leads to marketable products, modern technologies, and academic research.

A mix of ICTs is best, ranging from the tape recorder to the Internet.

Given past neglect and the rapid pace of social and cultural change, it is not surprising that this invaluable knowledge is fast disappearing. Much of the traditional knowledge at risk concerns the biodiversity that local peoples depend on for present and future survival. In response to this threat, a project has been set up to help local communities document their indigenous biodiversity knowledge, to give it due recognition, and to empower local communities to maintain and use this knowledge to help conserve plant diversity.

Innovative uses of ICTs enable IPGRI and its partners to help farmers promote the documentation and sharing of IK within and across local communities. As part of these efforts, an IK Journal concept was developed and introduced. This enables farmers to compile papers in collaboration with visiting scientists. The IK Journals provide a means to recognize the contributions of farmers through citation of their knowledge by scientists.

ICTs used in the projects include simple battery-operated tape recorders; video cameras to record traditional technologies; radio to disseminate knowledge within and outside the communities; computers to store and provide access to the local information; and the Internet to market their indigenous products and share their knowledge.

To complement these newer ICTs, social gatherings in the communities have been organized to exchange IK within and outside the communities. In remote places, where availability of ICTs is limited, local communities, farmers and visitors have organized diversity fairs - social gatherings where people meet, socialize, have discussions and exchange information. In Nepal, as in Kenya, these gatherings include organized activities for sharing information through poetry, song writing, drama performances, and competitions. In Yunnan, community members and visiting scientists collaborated in their quest for knowledge in plant biodiversity conservation. All this sharing and exchanging of ideas is recorded on audio/video tapes, or in writing and then later shared, via the radio, with the local communities and other farmers in remote places.

While emphasizing ICTs, we must not forget the importance of local languages in spreading new information. By promoting the local language, the scope of knowledge sharing is widened and the meanings of words in the local language context can be better understood and maintained. Women, with their knowledge of local plants, share ingredients and recipes and indirectly encourage the use and conservation of the plants indigenous to their region.

While traditional knowledge about biodiversity is under threat from economic, social and technological change, it is encouraging to see that some technologies like ICTs can actually be used to maintain traditional practices and knowledge that are essential to conserve the biological and cultural diversity that rural households use to improve their livelihoods.

The key to using ICTs effectively in biodiversity conservation is to link them to local cultural practices and languages, including to traditional forms of communication such as social gatherings and festivals.

For more information:

Paul Quek IPGRI PO Box 236 UPM Post Office, Serdang 43400 Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia Email: <[email protected]

Pablo Eyzaguirre IPGRI Via dei Tre Denari 472/a 00057 Maccarese, Rome, Italy Email: <[email protected]>  WWW: <

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Community radio; community content

by Chris Armstrong, NCRF, South Africa

Naledi Community Radio is a community radio station licenced under the broadcasting legislation and regulations of South Africa. To be licenced as a community radio station, the station must be: initiated by people living within the broadcast footprint; supported by the main community groups in the broadcast footprint; non-profit; owned by the community through a Board of Trustees; and run according to a programme schedule developed with community input.

Naledi station was awarded a four-year community radio licence in July 1999. It went on air in 2000, broadcasting 18 hours a day on 103.9 FM. The station's licence allows it to broadcast to a 'footprint' that is 64 kilometres in radius, but due to faulty transmitter installation the radius is currently only about 20 km.

Seventy per cent of the station's programming is in Sotho (Sesotho), with the rest in English. The station has committed itself, in its licence, to broadcasting 60 per cent talk and 40 per cent music. And it has committed itself to ensuring that not less than 30 percent of its music programming is local South African (the legislated minimum local music percentage is 20 percent.)

The station has five managers and about 20 producer-presenters. The managers are not paid salaries, and get only occasional stipends. The producer-presenters get no remuneration.

The station staff see themselves as empowering the people in the listening area to participate in the development of the community. They do this by generating empowering content (mostly local) in collaboration with community members and community groups; disseminating content to the listeners through radio broadcasts; and collecting feedback and inputs from the community. The station also entertains with its programming - through music programming, games, contests, storytelling, jokes, dedications.

Community content

The community itself is the main source of the content broadcast on air. The station managers, presenters, guests and information contributors are all members of the community.

Other content, mostly pre-packaged nationally-focused educational or public awareness content, is sent to the station on CD by national radio production houses - on topics such as democracy, labour, HIV-AIDS, local government, human rights, and racism/xenophobia. While this is not local content, the stations usually do their own extra programming on the topic to localise the issues. Often the programmes are in English, but sometimes translated versions in the most widely spoken languages - Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa - are provided. The items are usually current affairs features or dramas, of between 5 and 15 minutes in length.

The station also works with four other community stations to produce pre-recorded programmes on gender, disability, women, children, crime prevention and HIV/AIDS. These productions, sponsored by the national Department of Communications are mostly in Sotho. The station producers gather at one of the 5 stations to produce the items, and then stations further localise the content at the time of broadcast with local guests or interviews.

As a result, the station has a high degree of 'content sustainability'. The station's gathering and sharing of local content have become part of the structure of the community that owns the station. The station and its community are interdependent. Moreover, the station's role in reversing, for instance, the negative relationship between the police and the rest of the community helps to strengthen this interdependence.

The sustainability issue

It is often suggested that community ICT projects, to be 'sustainable', should cover all their costs (operational and capital) through income generated by their services. Since the station serves a community with very low employment and income levels, this would be unrealistic for Naledi Community Radio.

Instead, the station's 'sustainability' should be defined in terms of its social, cultural and environmental viability and the importance of the service it provides. The key to the station's success is that it provides a valuable service without sucking money out of the community. The station provides an essential public service -participatory, empowering, development information - that would not otherwise be available. By this definition, it is 'sustainable'. And thus, the station should continue to have its capital and other costs subsidised and covered by government and donors. The private sector must also be brought to the table (on terms that preserve the community empowerment mandate).

A key element of this sustainability has been the commitment of the community and the radio station staff to improving their own society. The volunteers at the radio station do not do what they do for financial gain. They work to create social gain. Each success they achieve improves life in the community they inhabit. The volunteers are the real implementers of change. Which is not to say that they should be kept in poverty to ensure that their motives remain 'pure.' However, anyone wanting to assist the station must not impose outside values. The community, which owns, governs and runs the station, must be allowed to continue deciding how it wants its station to be run. And the community must be allowed to continue to put social responsibility ahead of revenue generation in its effort to provide an essential public service.

For more information:

Chris Armstrong Manager, ICT Development National Community Radio Forum Private Bag X42 Braamfontein 2017, South Africa

Email: <[email protected]

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Relevance-based medical knowledge: Local creation and adaptation to meet local needs

"National and local players - ministries of health and education, local publishers, NGOs - are best placed to produce many types of materials. Their capacity needs to be supported as part of any long-term strategy to improve information access."

(WHO-Health Information Forum cooperation group, INASP Newsletter, February 2001)

by Neil Pakenham-Walsh, INASP

In the health sector, 'local content' refers not only to original research and the expression of local knowledge. It refers also to the complex process of access, interpretation, synthesis and repackaging of local and global knowledge.

In the first three months of 2002, INASP Health joined IICD in mobilising information on ways in which local content is created, adapted and communicated in the health sector. This brief note draws on the lessons emerging from 37 health case stories contributed to the study as well as from the discussion on the email list 'HIF-net at WHO'. Two of the cases are briefly reported in this issue - the full set of cases will soon be available from INASP and IICD.

Information for healthcare workers needs to be both reliable and relevant. The information must be based on research that is applicable to local circumstances and resources, and the findings of this research must be interpreted in relation to existing knowledge, both internationally and locally. The knowledge must then be packaged in a way that can be easily used by whoever needs it, whether he or she is a biomedical researcher, a health minister, a nurse, a doctor, a midwifery student, a traditional healer, a mother, or an individual. In reality, very few people in developing countries have access to the information they need to learn, to diagnose and to save lives.

Who is responsible for meeting the information needs of healthcare providers in any given country? This responsibility generally falls with the ministries of health and education, in collaboration with international agencies, national and local medical libraries, publishers, training institutions, and non-governmental organisations. In theory, they are best placed to synthesise and adapt information for local end users. They understand their information needs, use of language, educational level, and level of medical training. They can recognise the context in which the information will be used: socio-economic factors that affect healthcare interactions, levels of available resources (e.g. drugs, diagnostic equipment), local healthcare infrastructure and services, cultural factors, and local disease patterns.

In practice, however, these local 'health information providers' are often given very little support, making it impossible to fulfil their remit. Much progress is being made with respect to access to international electronic journals, as with INASP's PERI programme and WHO's HINARI initiative. The existence of such programmes, and the increasing availability of ICTs, paves the way ahead for the main challenge: To strengthen the creation and adaptation of local content.

Creation and adaptation of local content is resource-intensive and requires a wide range of skills, including medical knowledge, knowledge of end users, and writing and editorial skills. Local repackagers must themselves have access to the full range of reliable source information, both internationally and nationally. Where appropriate, such information should be made available in forms that not only permit adaptation, reproduction, translation and use of selected text and images, but positively encourage such activities. Local repackagers must have the resources to hire staff with the considerable skills required. And they must have opportunities to communicate and collaborate, and to exchange experience, publications and resources internationally.

Throughout, the key to success is local ownership. Initiatives are far more likely to succeed if they involve all stakeholders from the earliest stages in priority-setting, creative thinking, generation of action plans, monitoring, and evaluation.

For more information:

Neil Pakenham-Walsh Programme Manager INASP-Health, 27 Park End Street Oxford OX1 1HU United Kingdom

Email: <[email protected]>  WWW: <

Keeping up with health content

To keep abreast of ways to improve access to information for health professionals in developing countries, readers are invited to join the 'HIF-net at WHO' community and discussion list.

To join, email your name, organisation, country and professional interests to <[email protected]>


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Harnessing ICTs for community health - the AfriAfya initiative

by Caroline Nyamai, AfriAfya, Kenya

Modern ICTs have revolutionalised information management in the commercial sector, universities, research institutions and big hospitals, but they have done very little for rural communities in Africa. Such communities are neither aware of what they are missing nor have they the ability to access it.

AfriAfya is a consortium made up of seven larger health NGOs in Kenya plus the Ministry of Health. It was set up to explore practical ways to harness ICTs to improve access to relevant up-to-date health information for rural and other marginalised Kenyan communities. The project works through a small coordinating hub and seven field centres selected from existing community-based health intervention sites run by each of the partner agencies. The field centres are spread across the country and consist of different types of facilities in a range of settings: An urban slum healthcare project, a rural dispensary, a mission hospital, a rural community training centre, a community-based maternal and child health project, a primary school, and a District Medical Officer's office. Each centre is equipped with a computer, printer, modem, and WorldSpace receiver. Three to four staff in each centre are trained to use this equipment. One centre was equipped with a television and video. Solar panels are used to power equipment where there is no electricity.

Two-way communication has been set up between the hub, the partner agencies and the field centres. The field centres are being used to see how well modern ICTs integrate with traditional health communication. HIV/AIDS is being used as the pathfinder topic since it is a subject of high interest to all the partner agencies and their field sites. Later AfriAfya will respond to other local health information demands such as malaria and tuberculosis and to expand cover to more users.

AfriAfya has provided the partner agencies with an opportunity to share their own vast practical experiences in the area of HIV/AIDS, providing useful learning opportunities for one another. Health information is based on questions and requests for information from the field centres. These range from simple factual issues to social issues such as cultural practices that promote the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Responses are formulated using information collected from various local and international sources, which is then adapted to ensure it is relevant to practical issues in our setting, and then disseminated to the community-based health intervention sites.

Dissemination is by email, printed material, diskettes, telephone, fax and, shortly, CD-ROM. Plans are under way to share the content through the WorldSpace wireless satellite communication.

Some of the health information has been translated to Kiswahili, and some field centres have further translated this information into their local languages. Some have incorporated the information into songs, drama and poetry that they then use to communicate health messages. In one rural community with no electricity or telephone lines, it has been possible to use solar powered equipment to show health video shows, even under a tree.

Currently the project is developing a Knowledge Management Unit to be accessible over the Internet <> . Since most of the field centres do not yet have Internet access, the database will be downloaded locally and regularly updated through CD-ROM.

Notably, we have found that people with limited educational background including women living in rural areas have been able to acquire basic computer skills and to operate the equipment successfully. In a community such as ours where ICTs are considered the preserve of big institutions in the cities, this in itself is quite an achievement. A key lesson is that it is possible to have an effective ICT programme, even in isolated rural areas.

Cooperation with external partners and international organisations has contributed to the success of the project. Such interaction has been made possible through email lists such as 'HIF-net at WHO', through events such as the 'Universal Access to Health Information' videoconference (see INASP Newsletter, June 2001), and through face-to-face meetings such as the Health Information Forum (in January 2002, AfriAfya was presented at the British Medical Association).

Learning from others with relevant experience means that we do not have to reinvent the wheel. One of the most exciting early outcomes of AfriAfya is its effect on communication between the partner agencies. Andrew Chetley, Director of Exchange, facilitated a recent review of AfriAfya, and noted: "Interestingly, the CEOs [of each partner agency] are so pleased with what is happening in AfriAfya that they are advocating for closer cooperation in other areas.

This type of horizontal communication could have positive benefits for development work throughout the country. And, if a little horizontal communication happens in each of the agencies, the impact could spread to other countries, as most of the partner agencies have country offices elsewhere."

Vitally, a sense of ownership and achievement is emerging among those who work in the field centres. The last word goes to Rebecca Amimo, a school teacher in the Plan International field centre in Diemo Primary School in Kombewa: "This has been an eye opener for me. I have never handled a computer before. So, for me, it is a personal gain. I won't be left behind, even though I am teaching in the bush. I have a vision that AfriAfya is going to do something big and I think it is good that I am part of it."

For more information:

Caroline Nyamai Coordinator AfriAfya c/o AMREF PO Box 30125 Wilson Airport Nairobi Kenya

Email: <[email protected]>  WWW: <

AfriAfya partners

Aga Khan Health Services
African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF)
CARE International
Christian Health Association of Kenya (CHAK)
Ministry of Health
PLAN International
SatelLife Healthnet Kenya
World Vision International

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Starting where the people are

Community-based generation and dissemination of health content is a sustainable approach to community empowerment.

by John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation, Nigeria

Rural communities in Nigeria have little disposable income and the cost of hospital bills and medication is prohibitive. As a result, there has been increased use of traditional medicine. While this development initially looked like a setback to classic western-trained medical practitioners, it actually provided an opportunity to work with the traditional health knowledge possessed by the local people, especially the women.

Led by the Fantsuam Foundation, the 'Starting Where the People Are' project works with women in the rural communities to understand various traditional healthcare practices and to introduce 'best practice' and safer techniques in selected treatments. The project recognizes the role of traditional medicine, especially in communities where it is the only healthcare available. It also recognizes the often-ignored strategic roles of women as primary caregivers in these communities.

The project is entirely driven by the communities and its participatory approach has allayed suspicion of any attempt to undermine traditional medicine or bring it into disrepute. The project is a first attempt to document their traditional health knowledge and skills and to stimulate links between traditional local knowledge and established medical know-how.

The Foundation works with the communities to compile a catalogue of traditional treatments for common ailments. Invariably, we find that there are elements of western scientific knowledge that can be grafted to an indigenous health practice to make it safer and more efficient.

An example is the traditional use of the dried leaves of a particular plant as incense during childbirth. This is explained as helping to keep evil spirits away. A woman provided a clue as to its scientific basis when she says that the incense makes her feel more relaxed -the incense may be some form of inhalation anaesthetic.

Similarly, 'Jikko' is a traditional non-alcoholic stimulant extract of a common tree given to young men at the start of a long day on the farm. Communities have been encouraged to boil the water used for its preparation, and to add the mixture to their breakfast. This makes the preparation safer and more hygienic, and the dose is better regulated.

Finally, there is a saying in many rural Nigerian communities that if someone else steps on your sputum, you will get a sore throat. For these communities, where tuberculosis is endemic, this traditional knowledge provides an anchor for a public health campaign to emphasise that spitting in public places is a public health hazard.

Some of this traditional health information is generic and can be freely accessed in many rural communities, both by members and outsiders. Ordinary villagers are generally happy to share their knowledge. However, traditional healers are not so willing to share their knowledge. People consult them because they have specialist skills, advanced knowledge, and the ability to access supernatural sources of information to cure diseases as well as to solve social, political and economic problems. Great care must be taken to deal with these local issues of ownership and intellectual property so as not to undermine the content creators.

Our experience shows that community-based generation and dissemination of health content is a sustainable approach to community empowerment and collaboration in health promotion. Local health knowledge and social information systems are holistic and essentially deductive. They can be viable, and they can sustain a community-centred approach to information sharing. They can also be interfaced with evidence-based information generated through the more scientific tradition of medical science - the project is also helping local people to translate information from textbooks, newspapers, journals and the Internet into their local dialects.

For more information:

John Dada Director Fantsuam Foundation Bayanloco PO Box 58 Kafanchan Nigeria
Email: <[email protected]>  WWW: <

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Digital development anthologies from Africa

by John Rose, UNESCO, France

UNESCO, through its 'Information for All' Programme, strives to facilitate access to public information in developing countries. One element of this strategy is preparation of a Public@ series of CD-ROMs to disseminate representative collections of public domain information and other 'open access' information provided free of charge by copyright holders.

The purpose of this particular project was to help several African countries to collect, evaluate and disseminate development information to the grass roots level through digital libraries. Focusing on two sub-regions - the French-speaking Sahel (7 countries) and East Africa (3 countries) - the project assembled coalitions of national content producers, it built digital development anthologies of sub-regional interest for grass-roots use on CD-ROM, and it disseminated and exploiting this information through networks of intermediary institutions.

As well as UNESCO itself, the project involved information publishers at the national and international levels (ministries, universities, international organisations, publishers), local information distribution centres (public libraries, community telecentres, extension services, NGOs), the Human Info NGO from Belgium (digitisation and CD-ROM production), and the University of Waikato in New Zealand (Greenstone Digital Library Software). Working with existing content

The approach was not to generate new information but rather to collect, evaluate and make available existing local content. This includes extension type literature of government agencies and NGOs which are in the public domain or available free of charge as well as commercially published information provided by rights holders for free distribution in this project. Basic promotion and coordination by a national champion were sufficient to mobilize and empower concerned national actors to collect, select, share and disseminate public domain information for development. However, international partners carried out the ICT-based production support.

Thus, at the national level, a coordinator collected documents from national publishers in the public service or commercial sectors, selected the relevant documents and dispatched them to UNESCO in Paris. Rights holders were asked to sign a release authorizing free distribution according to negotiated conditions.

UNESCO, in consultation with producers and the national coordinators, made the final choice of documents. The final selection for the two CD-ROMs included: 729 documents on the Sahel (59,500 pages) including 421 documents from the national level; and 592 documents on East Africa (54,550 pages) including 270 documents (27,150 pages) from the national level. The Sahelian documents are all in French and the East African documents are in English or Kiswahili.

Human Info NGO digitised the documents and produced two CD-ROMs using the open source Greenstone digital library software.

Digitisation capacities are essential

While the project shows that it is feasible to cooperatively produce and share digital development anthologies of existing information on sub-Saharan Africa, further development requires that the participating countries and institutions obtain and master the technologies for digitisation and production of digital libraries. The latter is not a difficult problem with a tool such as Greenstone. The main issue is how to set up affordable facilities for scanning and digitisation of documents. This is especially important as it proved to be very difficult to obtain digital versions of the local content. Although most formal publications are produced today with computerized techniques, many if not most publishers of hard copy documents in developing countries are still unable to provide end-users with machine-readable copy. Thus, although the increasing use of desktop and Internet publishing will ultimately reduce the importance of digitisation, it is and will remain in the medium term a major bottleneck to be overcome.

Solutions could involve, for example, i) national policies and investment in digitisation and digital libraries, ii) cooperative digitisation facilities at national or regional levels, iii) international assistance to establish digitisation centres in developing countries, and iv) outsourcing the critical and time-consuming manual correction work to local institutions like telecentres.

For more information:

John Rose Information Society Division UNESCO 1 Rue Miollis 75732 Paris Cedex 15 France Email: <[email protected]>  WWW: <

More on Greenstone

UNESCO is working with the New Zealand Library Project and HumanInfo NGO to produce a trilingual (English, French, Spanish) version of the Greenstone Digital Library Software on CD-ROM for free worldwide distribution in the second half of 2002.

The CD-ROM will include user documentation, executable versions for Windows and Linux with user-friendly installers and model digital libraries, as well as open source code for the program.

Greenstone can handle any languages represented in the UNICODE standard, and new linguistic versions can easily be prepared.

It is expected that the Greenstone package will enable educational, scientific and cultural institutions worldwide to build and share compatible digital libraries of open access and public domain information. In awaiting the improved version, the present operational package can be tested and downloaded at <>. 

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The Open Knowledge Network

by Peter Armstrong, OneWorld International, United Kingdom

Photo by Peter Armstrong The G8 Dotforce process identified local content as a keystone in any bridge across the digital divide. Were the other parts of the bridge built without appropriate local content, users could arrive at community access points only to find little of relevance to their lives, and almost nothing in their own language. The Genoa Plan of Action therefore called for a "national and international effort to support local content and applications creation."

Out of this process a proposal has been developed to create a new network comprising existing knowledge centres in developing countries. Called the Open Knowledge Network (OKN), its aim is to promote the creation of local content and its exchange as widely as possible. It is based on five key approaches:

1. Connect to the Internet without going online

Imagine walking into a local public access point and search in your own language for relevant information on anything from family health and new agricultural techniques, to market prices and the latest virus protection software. You face no online connection cost, even though your information has come from the Net - because you are only connecting to a local PC or intranet. The telecentre itself connects to the Net twice a day, to upload or download information in short, inexpensive bursts. Special software has been designed to make this offline working possible. Even where a telecentre has no direct access to the Internet, it can get the same OKN information via intermediaries like the WorldSpace satellite system.

2. Incentivising local content creation

Phtoto by Peter Armstrong The OKN proposal looks at different ways to encourage a market for local information, while maintaining the principle that knowledge for development should where possible be free at the point of use in poor communities. Publishers and individual authors can receive fees for agreeing to put their material into the system. Telecentre entrepreneurs can grow their businesses by buying customised content feeds. And there are many examples of people finding the ideas, contacts and training they need to increase their opportunities. Making such success stories available as part of the OKN is a powerful way to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit that fosters wealth creation.

3. Agreeing standards for exchanging digital content worldwide

Knowledge comes in all shapes and sizes: from a Spanish map to a video in Chinese. This makes transporting it difficult, even when it is in digital form. To take an analogy, ships' cargoes used to be transported loose. Since the 1950s a revolution in cargo handling has come about, with goods transported and handled easily in standardised containers. In the same way, the OKN will use a standard metadata wrapper around each piece of digital information. This identifies everything from its creator and the language it uses, to the audiences for whom it is relevant. By this means, any piece of knowledge can be handled appropriately around the world by standardised software routines, facilitating exchange of the content.

4. Networking knowledge workers and translators across the South

Open Knowledge Network To create a system for knowledge exchange across the South, it is proposed that existing organisations with the necessary expertise form a network. This network would use a peer-to-peer architecture to connect their file-servers across the Net. Each regional hub would offer content services to a range of local access points0. A business model has been developed showing that, with initial seed funding support, this network could become self-sustaining in 20 countries after 5 years.

5. Licensing for the common good

Information cannot be shared internationally without careful attention to intellectual property rights. The OKN proposal relies on the work of the Harvard Law School and others in developing new forms of copyright licensing which protect the rights of content creators while also maximising the usefulness of their work for the public good.

For the full report and supporting papers, see: <>  Readers are also invited to share their comments and experiences by joining this workspace.

For more information:

Peter Armstrong Director 
OneWorld International 
17th Floor 89 Albert Embankment 
London SE1 7TP 
United Kingdom

Email: <[email protected]>  WWW: <>

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The next INASP Newsletter will be published in October 2002. If you would like to contribute to its contents, please write to the editorial address on the front page of this issue. 
Contributions must be received by 15 September 2002.
Please note the change of domain and email addresses !

International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications
58 St Aldates, Oxford OX1 1ST, UK.
Tel: + 44 (0)1865 249 909    Fax: + 44 (0)1865 251 060
E-mail: <[email protected]> Website: <>
and also:
P.O. Box 2564, London W5 1ZD, UK.
Tel: + 44 (0)20 8997 3274    Fax: + 44 (0)20 8810 9795
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