Richard Heeks, in his ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track? article, brought up the example of Gyandoot, an initiative of computer kiosks in rural India. He states that at least one-third of projects that apply ICTs to the MDG agenda are total failures and one-half are partial failures. Gyandoot, he mentions, is a prime example of this.
Why was Gyandoot such a failure?
This article goes in depth about what Gyandoot was, why it failed, and lessons learned from its failure. Gyandoot was placed in the region of Dhar. It began aiming to make government services more accessible to villagers in rural India. Before this initiative, villagers would have to travel long distances to try to reach someone that may or may not have been there. They may have also faced discomfort, harassment, and corruption from public officials. So, Gyandoot was created, computerizing the front-end of government services in 38 kiosks across the region.
For any poor rural area, this kind of project comes with its challenges. Electric power is sporadic in Dhar; solar-powered cells, which would offer telekiosks backup for 8-10 hours, are expensive. The tele-communication infrastructure in the district is poor and most use dial-up connections which prove to be slow and unreliable. CorDECT was installed in 7 out of the 38 kiosks for faster connections, but when there were technical issues, only the CorDECT company could fix them. Also, one of the biggest problems that Gyandoot had was the simple fact that hardly anyone was using it. Out of the 38 telekiosks across Dhar, 10 were not operational and the rest only served a handful of people each day. Over time there was actually a deterioration of usage. Distance was still a problem; in areas with very remote telekiosks, confusion about services was widespread, and 30% of people still did not know of the existence of Gyandoot. The very rural poor as well as women and lower caste society did not participate because they were not comfortable using such technology, they were confined to their homes, and they simply did not know about it. And these few issues listed here are not even the bulk of them.
How could this have been better?
- Appropriate Technology
- Community Participation and Ownership
- Intermediaries and Incentives
- Pro-poor Services versus Financial Sustainabiliy
- Campaigns to Raise Awareness
The solutions to failed projects like Gyandoot are exactly what we have been discussing in class. Services need to be molded to be appropriate for the area in which they are being established – government services on kiosks are not helpful if half of the population of a certain area is not comfortable with that technology. Publicity is necessary and location is important. Gyandoot certainly taught the ICT4D community some good lessons.