Given the recent hype over public information sharing on the Internet, and the outrage over PIPA and SOPA, I feel that profiling “The Global Impact of Public Access to Information and Communication Technologies”. The Global Impact Study (for short) is a five year long project, from 2007-2012, that worked to gather evidence about the “scale, character, and impacts of public access to information and communication technologies” (Global Impact Study, 2012). The Global Impact Study was implemented in 2007 by the University of Washington’s “Technology and Social Change Group” (TASCHA) as part of a larger research project under Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The IDRC’s project is focused on evaluating the social and economic impact of public access to communication and information technologies and supports both the Global Impact Study and “The Amy Mahan Research Fellowship Program” with CAD$7.9 million. Part of this funding was the result of a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Global Impact Study’s staff is divided into two separate working groups, a research working group, and a survey working group. Both groups have a range of members, but most are from the University of Washington. The research working group has ten active members, and is responsible for the research design and activities of the Study. The survey working group has four active members and is responsible for designing and implementing the Study’s surveys.
The Global Impact Study looks at libraries, telecenters and cybercafés to investigate the impact of technology sharing in a number of areas including communication and leisure, culture and language, education, employment and income, governance and health. The Study has identified 16 major topic areas that they would like to evaluate, however, due to capacity restraints, they have chosen eight of these points to publish in depth studies on. These eight include: infomediaries or brokers of public access sites, collaborative knowledge sharing at public access sites, the impact of non-instrumental use of ICTs on users’ ICT skills, mobile phones and public access ICTs, interpersonal communication, cost-benefit, sustainable livelihoods, as well as policy and regulation. An in depth reported has been published on each of these with the exception of policy and regulation, which is still an ongoing project. The other eight points are also listed on the Global Impact Study’s website, and the Study encourages others to step up and investigate these topics. They are: non-users, willingness to pay, institutional and stakeholder influence, the role of networks in the venue ecosystem, local content, venue architecture and design, IT skills, training and employment, life cycle of public access venues and community information ecology. In addition to the reports the Global Impact Study has published, their website contains a number of current articles regarding shared information, and all of the above discussed topics. It has become a great information sharing tool in of itself.
I feel that The Global Impact Study has undertaken a very warranted project in evaluating information sharing on the internet. We live in a time when facebook, Wikipedia, twitter, reddit and countless other user generated sites dominate the web. I don’t know what I would do without Wikipedia (which is now said to be about 78% as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica by the way) to help me answer almost every question I could ever have. PIPA and SOPA wanted to put an end to this information sharing in the interest of profit accumulation for the few… when will we learn that something’s value is not dependent on the profit it brings or the price tag it wears? The value of shared information on the internet cannot be quantified, and it shouldn’t have to be.