Thinking through our information centres strategy: Avoiding 'capture'

From the beginning of our work with the women's collectives (sanghas) in Mysore district, we have been cognisant that our field intervention strategies must not lead to the creation of alternative power structures at the village level. Our field intervention has mainly followed a three-pronged ICT strategy of community radio, community video and community information centres. We have been especially cautious about the design of our community information centres which are run by sangha women in select villages through a young adolescent girl who acts as an information intermediary,locally known as sakhi (friend), trained by the sangha women and the project team. Therefore many checks and balances were included in the information centre design right from the outset – such as the monitoring of the sakhi by a Managing Committee constituted from among the sangha women in the village, and insisting on adequate representation of all caste groups in the Managing Committee.

Over the years, as our work has become more established, we find that there are different kinds of alternate power centres that tend to emerge, which we must always watch out for, to curb any excesses. In one of the centres ( We shall not provide further details in order to protect the women involved), we found that one of the Managing Committee members has a relative who is an elected member of the local government. This woman had been charging a 'fee' from other Managing Committee members, and other women in the sanghas, for processing entitlement claims through her relative. This parallel channel for entitlements, that existed alongside the information centre, was of course questioned by us. But this incident made us reflect on our goal of working towards complete sangha ownership and supervision of the centres– Can we ever say at a point that the centres can be run by Managing Committees in an unsupervised manner? Do community processes always need some mediation to ensure social justice agendas are not short-shifted? We have also realised that threats of 'capture' can be more insidious. In one of the centres, we noticed that the sakhi was using extra-official channels to process entitlement claims for people, as it produced faster results. It took a lot of explaining to enable her to understand why we felt that she should not use any channels other than the official ones. This experience helped us understand the need to re-inforce the normative values that the centres stand for, among the sakhis and the Managing Committee, constantly, so that the larger goals of enabling marginalised women to enhance their informational, associative and communicative power are not lost sight of.

However, some questions remain. The most important one being, what elements should we stress upon, in the design of the information centres, to ensure that they do not create new informational asymmetries, which would harm the interests of the most marginalised women, at the village level?

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IT for Change team