9 May 2009

Sustaining Telecenters : Are we on right track ?

Sustaining Telecenters : Are we on right track ?

I have been asking this question from my team mates for several months again and again as We had been working on following M & E strategies to help sustain 60 Nenasala Telecenters in Uva province.

1. Capacity Building
2. Technical Support
3. Content & Services Deployment
4. Evaluation and Advocacy

These strategies deployment were based on a needs assessment done by us. We were confined to available resources within our access to build a Telecenter network; It required study of Telecenter behaviors to design appropriate strategies aiming a social change within Telecenters.

Telecenter research find lack of knowledge, lack of resources, and lack marketing as common issues of sustainability. However, we haven't really researched and discussed how human behavioral issues effect Telecenter sustainability which are wide open for research. We need discussion centered around the social change within Telecenter Echo System. This paradigm Includes culture and values of those who serve, mange, develop, operate and use Telecenters).

In a social change for sustainability scenario we are challenged with people, cultures, processes, communications, and personal behaviors more than infrastructure and resource issues. Solutions we offer requires behavior modification of people, initiate dialog, innovative communications, collaborative strategies, learning from mistakes and collaborative efforts in making and executing top to bottom Telecenter decisions.

Planners aim their strategies to achive 80% - 100% desired results; but ground conditions are quite varied, especially in telecenter organization and culture. When 60 Uva Telecenters are considered, it's hard to find two Telecenters alike; one of the biggest obstacles a Telecenter developers like us face is creating a common ground for a Telecenter network to evolve. A telecenter network is a living network only if members take part in the network; It is not enough to have members in the network.

If you read books of peter drucker, the master of management, you will find a Telecenter Network is similar to a large loosely bound distributed organization with many entities, which are independent and unique nodes. Our challange is to create interdependency, synergy, proactivity. This requires change in overall telecenter management phylosophy from "Boss" centered thinking to team player to unleash talents in the network through inspirational motivation comes from inside of each self motivated team member.
To achive this we need to solve horizontal and vertical conflicts in the Network. Thesee conflicts are not problems, but can become problems if not properly managed.

Horizontal conflicts are conflicts between Telecenters, related to organization culture as well as economy related competition, personality clashes; zonal and regional leaderhip dilemmas; technology and resource differences of telecenters.

Vertical conflicts are issues related to hierarchy of management and leadership links to sharing of power and delegation, varied knowledge levels, financial benefits and opportunities and gender empowerment.

The critical issues faced by Telecenter Networks are mainly two types.

1. Telecenter Specific Issues
2. Network wide issues

A Telecenter Network developer has to tackle these issues as none can be left a side on inclusion theory. E3 is the framework we use for Telecenter sustainability to find solutions for these issues which are established on a cultural footing, open communications, MSPs and sustainable development.

Before we jump guns into solutions; we try to understand underlying causes of issues which are in our fundamentals. The learning we make is based on stumulas and responses after interacting with grass roots. The interpretations of real world situations are quite different to imaginary judgments made from thousand miles away from the scenario.

Telecenter Specific Issues are more concerned with their daily survival and mainly two types.

1. Internal Issues
2. External Issue

1. Internal Issues are horizontal and vertical in form. In Telecenters services, technology and finances managed by multiple leaders, horizontal conflicts can exist. Horizontal issues are less likely in Telecenters run on a pyramid like a hierarchy with a single leader and followers.

The vertical conflicts contribute more to critical issues of Telecenter sustainability. Vertical conflicts exist in sharing of power and delegation, unbalanced knowledge transfer, financial benefits and opportunities, gender empowerment effecting Telecenters performance and growth.

Internal issues can cause a good staff member or a volunteer to suddenly leave the Telecenter, then start acting as an external threat effecting operations. Some Telecenters managers don't allow subordinates to take part in telecenter gatherings, which are important to build relationships for the network; There are instances of staff being not allowed to take part in worshop even conducted in house. In another case a national recognition and honor causes an operator to loose the job. The non formal structure of Telecenters keeps the power at the top rather than delegated to bottom of the pyramid. This clearly constrains collaborative team efforts , synergy to develop champions lead the network for sustainability.

2. External Issues are related to day to day interactions with external entities like Service Providers, Policy Makers, Donors, Customers, Suppliers and Partners and peer Telecenters. The issues are mainly resources or policy related. A service provider not honoring the service agreements or not attending to a motherboard replacement under warranty, or doesn’t restore a down internet connection quickly, could make lot of trouble for a Telecenter to maintain it's programs. A donor who does not keep a promised milestone payment, a partner dropping a telecenter, a customer defaulting a payment or an M & E officer faultily reporting Telecenter performance can make Telecenters de-motivate and make disbelief on the movement.

Issues from peer Telecenters are acting to damage the image of a fellow Telecenters for business; encroaching fellow home markets, trying to grab customers introduced on a supportive visiting lecture are moral issues questioning telecenter ethics. Our challenge is to make Telecenters co-operate.

These are some case examples we have experienced which require consideration in deploying our strategies and it's important that we incorporate human behavioral issues in to our research to develop sustainable Telecenter networks

The Network wide issues are again internal and external to the network needing extra focus in managerial, policy and social contexts needing innovative answers, adequate time and may need changes in structure and modifications in our fundamental beliefs. It may be time for us to focus on ground zero to understand real issues and answers that will solve issues.

My question still remain as “Are we on right track ?“ for sustaining Telecenters.

Niranjan Meegammana
Sri Lanka Telecenter Community

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