IV: What tomorrow may bring

Summary and discussions

Introduction

The collaborative premise of our social technology-enabled social knowledge management framework offers a promising alternative to empower rural masses by triggering effective and purposive virtual community formation. The resultant community formation, by facilitating easy and smooth knowledge exchange between rural—urban entities, has the potential to usher in holistic rural empowerment by mitigating the knowledge asymmetry of rural participants, to which they primarily owe their marginalization. While our empowering paradigm offers a respite from the stringencies of conventional developmental models, our decentralized framework is not easy to implement, specifically in the rural context of developing nations. Marginalized spaces of developing nations have their own orientation and operational dynamics with which it is mandatory to negotiate while implementing an empowering effort in the said context. An undertaken effort can only yield desired outcomes over time and once it has negotiated with the needs, orientation and specificities of the local context.

In this chapter we articulate our research journey by looking at operative hindrances, the prospective means to overcome them, and the ethical concerns, following which we have tried to practically implement our research proposition in the rural sectors of India. This chapter is divided into three sections:

  • • The first section narrates a brief and conclusive summary of our entire work.
  • • The second section highlights the hindrances we have faced while implementing our social knowledge management framework in the context of rural India and discusses the plausible ways to overcome the operative hindrances, which will ultimately help in practically realizing the potential of our proposed framework in generating desired results.
  • • The final section mentions the ethical concerns which we have addressed while implementing our research proposition.

Summary of work

In this book we have chalked out a holistic framework to usher in rural empowerment from within by facilitating effective community formation between rural—urban entities through our proposed social knowledge management framework. We conceptualize rural empowerment from a knowledge- theoretic perspective and demonstrate how the proposed social knowledge management platform can enhance the knowledge capabilities of rural actors by facilitating connection and collaboration among various rural—urban entities through the formation of purposive virtual communities using social technologies. The uniqueness of our research contribution rests in cultivating knowledge capability among rural members through effective community formation. Formation of effective community enables the members to freely participate in knowledge collaboration and exchange as active agents, thereby enhancing their knowledge-operating abilities in the process. An enhanced knowledge capability of rural members not only gets reflected in their enhanced agency. Endowed with such transactional capacities, knowledge capability positively influences rural members’ bridging and bonding social capital. It is knowledge collaboration, both within and across communities, that bears the prospects in enhancing rural members’ life and livelihood conditions. An enhanced bridging and bonding capital allows the rural mass to translate the activity of their knowledge exchange in pursuit of generating better opportunity scopes. It is the positive influence of enhanced knowledge capability on the agency, social capital and opportunity structure of rural target group that bears the prospect of mitigating overall knowledge asymmetry of rural participants. Amidst the backdrop of an enhanced agency, social capital and opportunity structure, the rural members are endowed with the capacity to exploit their knowledge-operating abilities in pursuit of generating concrete life and livelihood benefits. This helps to mitigate the knowledge asymmetry rural members face along multiple axes, thereby targeting attainment of rural empowerment on a holistic scale.

In this context, it needs to be iterated that our conceptualization of rural empowerment entails empowering rural mass from within. Such an endogenous empowering framework contradicts centralized developmental paradigms, which externally thrust welfare policies on target group. On the contrary, community formation happens to be the core of our endogenous paradigm, which we have attempted to cultivate through a decentralized, social technology-enabled social knowledge management framework. It is only the collaborative premise of contemporary social technologies that has the power to effectively deploy social knowledge management framework in pursuit of attaining holistic rural empowerment. While our empowering paradigm, by virtue of being endogenous, offers respite from the stringencies of conventional developmental paradigms, it does not imply that deploying the same will ensure immediate results. In the next section we will articulate the hindrances we have faced while trying to achieve rural empowerment through our social knowledge management framework.

Hindrances faced during the research journey and prospective solutions

Chalking out strategies to empower rural mass using the collaborative potential of social technologies is indeed promising. However, envisioning rural empowerment using ICT essentially entails several obstacles, which have to be addressed in order to expect the adhered strategy to yield desirable results. Our research experience shows that, while similar training and capacity building were provided to all members of our target group, only a few of them actually utilized these in enhancing their life and livelihood prospects. This proves that even though measures to empower the marginalized are adopted, local orientation and hindrances often get in the way of generating holistic benefits for all. Educating rural mass in digital usage and enabling them to utilize the same to conduct purposive collaborations is a processual activity, which cannot be achieved overnight. Specifically, in developing context, such an activity has to confront multiple social hindrances in order to generate desirable results. Some of our field insights can properly capture the issues at stake.

Literacy level. Most of the self-help group women with whom we interacted have very low literacy levels, making it difficult for them to use smartphones and other digital devices freely. Hence contextual digital literacy training is mandatory, which will not only introduce the rural mass to the digital medium but will generate avenues which will sustain their interest over the medium.

Gender bias. Second, a strong gender bias omnipresent in rural India often disallows women the privilege to participate freely in the digitized public medium (for example, social media). Although digital services offer such marginalized women the space to express themselves freely, introducing local women to the digital medium requires a lot of awareness at the local level. When we started the process of familiarizing rural women of Kandi to initiate virtual collaborations we faced several obstructions from the local authority, restricting the local women from taking part in our research activities freely. With time we won over the said authorities, who only gave permission for us to carry out our research activities with the women whom the local officials identified as fit to be in our target group. Hence it is only when the immediate surrounding is socially supportive that we can expect the rural marginalized to show an inclination towards unhindered digital usage.

Local dynamics. Third, extant collaborations with middlemen operative in rural India follow traditional transactional patterns, and virtual collaborations can often pose a threat to these patterns. If a direct virtual connectivity is established between rural women and urban entities it will not support the interests of the powerful middlemen, who generate profit by being an intermediary. A disj uncture can only be brought with time, where the power of virtual collaborations will urge the rural mass to abandon extant exploitative relations and embrace a much fairer knowledge acquisition and collaboration process supported by digital collaborations.

Cost of internet access. Almost three in five of the world’s people are still not connected to the internet. This digital divide hampers economic and social progress. Broadband markets that price internet access out of reach for the majority of people are neither socially nor economically efficient. Liberalizing the telecommunications industry is not enough; the state also has to facilitate strategic investments, subsidizing access for underserved communities and implementing effective and transparent regulations, including open access to subsidized infrastructure.

While introducing a digital solution, we need to remember that the concept of digital usage and virtual collaboration is quite new to extant rural context. This proves that having a holistic empowering plan for the marginalized is not enough to generate desirable results. We need to give time to the rural mass to familiarize themselves with the digital medium, coupled with negotiating with the immediate surroundings, and only then we can expect the digital path to make a difference for rural community.

In an attempt to overcome the hindrances and make our research strategy effective, it needs to be remembered that the marginalized rural spaces of developing nations happen to be our core research context. The rural sectors of developing nations are ridden with poverty, inequality, illiteracy and other socio-economic adversities, which have to be addressed prior to an attempt to overcome the marginalization of those spaces. While, in our research, we have analysed the socio-economic conditions of rural spaces of developing nations in a single lens, the practical execution of empowering parameters requires a serious consideration of local contexts, needs and specificities, which are intrinsic to any particular rural locale.

Our strategy to bring holistic rural empowerment is based on utilization of social technologies to trigger community formation among rural—urban entities. Although adhering to the digital path to provide empowering solutions that offer redemption from conventional developmental parameters, it is important to spell out that the digital medium, even today, is alien to most rural populations of developing nations. Thus contextual digital literacy training has to be provided to rural members before expecting them to make positive change using the medium. Contextual digital literacy training can only be provided once a detailed need analysis of the implementing zone, prior to research intervention, has been conducted. This requires an in-depth analysis of the local orientation so that the process of technological adaptation can be context specific. Once the need analysis has been conducted, it is mandatory to train the rural community in digital usage in accordance with their specific needs. Such an activity is required to sustain the interest of the rural mass towards the digital medium. While rural population can be sporadically introduced to the digital medium, such an intervention often fails to sustain their interest. If local mass is not adequately interested and drawn towards the medium, usage can never be sustained and the community is prevented from utilizing the medium to address daily needs and prospects.

Digital usage is an activity alien to the local orientation of the rural locales of developing countries. Hence, prior to the introduction of the rural community to the digital forum, it is necessary to familiarize them with the intricacies and working dynamics of the medium. This entails familiarizing the local community with how the digital medium works, the benefits it brings, how virtual collaborations are conducted and sustained and how to generate benefits from such collaborations. This guideline will eradicate the fear any alien medium attracts in native context. It will also help the community identify the benefits the digital medium offers by assuring them that the medium will not harm their local culture and operations. Such training must be context specific, thereby increasing the potential of reaping desirable results. However, even context specific digital training is unable to attain rural empowerment immediately. Familiarizing the rural mass to the digital forum and expecting them to benefit from the same is a processual activity, which can only be achieved with time and need-specific adaptation of technology. For example, if we are introducing rural craft practitioners to the digital medium it is better we show them YouTube videos on craft designing and production so that they can derive avenues to use the medium to further their artistic interests. Only then can we expect the rural community to have a sustained interest in utilizing the digital medium and voluntarily use it to address their daily concerns.

While in the earlier sections we addressed the hindrances faced and the prospective means to overcome the obstacles in the context of attaining holistic rural empowerment, an empowering strategy remains incomplete without addressing the ethical concerns intrinsic to any research. Welfare measures undertaken for the marginalized cannot be empowering if ethical parameters are not maintained. In the final section of this chapter we will talk about the ethical concerns we have addressed during the course of our research.

Ethical concerns addressed in the research

Any activity undertaken to empower marginalized groups inherently encounters ethical concerns. Overlooking these can restrict the scope and intention of empowering measures; ignoring them can also leave the loopholes that developmental initiatives suffer from. In our research we attempt to empower the marginalized rural groups, giving them the ability to participate in inter- and intra-group knowledge collaboration. Provision to exchange knowledge freely contributes to enhancing the agency, social capital and opportunity scopes of rural members, thereby making the role of external developmental agents redundant in the process of empowering community. However, empowerment will remain a far-fetched dream if ethical issues are not addressed during the course of empowering the marginalized.

Selection of the target group was done in consultation with the local authoritative body and operative NGO, to give our research the element of insider perspective. In cases where personal experiences from our target group have been given as research examples, we have done so without disclosing the identity of our respondents. By maintaining anonymity of the information shared by our respondents we have attempted to preserve the ethical grounds of our research. We also obtained consent from the local authoritative body and our respondents before involving them in our research study. Prior to conducting the study we told them in detail the objectives of our research, their role in it, how they could expect to benefit from the study and how we would utilize the information provided by them in our research. Finally, since in this study we could only include a few from the rural community of our selected locale, we proposed to undertake efforts to extend our research interventions to the entirety of the community. As our research bears positive outcomes, as highlighted in this work, it would be unethical to bar the rest of the intervened community from such empowering interventions. It is only by maintaining ethical parameters that our research can attempt to target holistic rural empowerment in the truest sense.

Conclusion

We conclude our book by affirming the effectivity of cultivating community formation among rural—urban entities using our social knowledge management framework in the context of attaining holistic rural empowerment. Different types of virtual communities and the effective inter- and intra-group collaboration they support is conducive to the process of achieving holistic rural empowerment by effectively mitigating rural-urban knowledge, information and opportunity divide. The credibility of the supported collaboration rests in positively influencing enhancement of agency, social capital and opportunity prospects of rural target group, thereby making our proposition crucial in the backdrop of achieving holistic rural empowerment. Capacity building for marginalized communities might be emergent (in endogenous community development) but it needs to be nurtured via external sources (by exogenous development) (Steiner &c Farmer, 2017). This calls for developing an empowering ecosystem to foster connection and collaboration between external agencies and rural communities, leading towards holistic development of the communities.

The following chapter focuses on the future prospects for our research. It endorses a vision towards building a developmental ecosystem that combines exogenous and endogenous development process by connecting billions of individuals all over the globe as external agents (the crowd capital) and including traditional development agencies for collaborative knowledge exchange. Democratization of science and technology, an increase in global connectivity using social technologies, and greater availability of data will facilitate a movement that will shift control away from centralized development through a handful of traditional development agencies to decentralized development involving crowd capital — billions of development agents (Dehgan, 2012). Effective community formation and facilitation of inter- and intra-group collaboration are crucial prerequisites in the process of building an inter-connected developmental ecosystem. Such an ecosystem can only be formed once every member is equipped with sufficient knowledge and its operating abilities, thereby creating value out of knowledge exchange. Amidst this backdrop lies the possibility of a mitigated rural—urban knowledge, information and opportunity divide.

References

Dehgan, A. (2012). Creating the New Development Ecosystem. Science, 336(6087), 1397-1398. doi: 10.1126/science. 1224530.

Steiner, A. & Farmer, J. (2017). Engage, Participate, Empower: Modelling Power Transfer in Disadvantaged Rural Communities. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 36(1), 118-138. doi:10.1177/2399654417701730.

 
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