Digital Technologies For Development: The Role Of Social And Cultural Structures In Influencing Experiences Of Low-Income Communities With Internet Kiosks In Uganda

Mohamud, Khadija Amal (2022). Digital Technologies For Development: The Role Of Social And Cultural Structures In Influencing Experiences Of Low-Income Communities With Internet Kiosks In Uganda. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00014d54

Abstract

This PhD explores the complexities of the establishment and use of Internet Kiosks, a Community Technology Centre (CTC) intervention in two urban low-income communities in Uganda. The past twenty-five years have seen a rapid proliferation of CTCs as a way to bridge the digital divide in low-income communities in Africa. However, research shows that a significant gap between male and female access to ICT still exists where CTCs have been established due to the contextual issues within the social and cultural setting. To understand why this gap still exists, I investigate the complexities within the social and cultural context that influenced the access and utilisation of Internet Kiosks in urban low-income communities in Uganda, encompassing enablers and barriers.

Additionally, although many studies have reported on CTCs, the literature has focused on their role in bridging the digital divide and the tangible impacts such as the return on education and financial gain with little focus on intangible influences such as their role in facilitating soft skills development such as leadership skills, collaboration skills, communication skills and social elements. In this study, I present a case study account of the experiences of two urban low-income communities using Internet Kiosks in Uganda and demonstrate their impact on learning and influence on the quality of life.

Finally, CTC expansion and their relevance, the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICTD) literature has indicated these centres cannot continuously operate due to the mismatch between their design and the reality of the context. Thus, in this study, I demonstrate how power imbalance between different stakeholders, gender and age aspects influence sustainability and report on two crucial dimensions to understanding how CTC sustainability could be promoted: stakeholder engagement and technological design.

This PhD utilised a sociocultural perspective to understand participants’ lives and a qualitative multiple case study research design was used. The data generated was thematically analysed using an inductive approach.

The first key finding related to the access and utilisation of the Kiosks shows that complexities associated with age, gender and social structures within the social and cultural context determined who accessed the Kiosks and how they were accessed.

The second key finding related to the impact of the Kiosks shows that the Kiosks created numerous opportunities that afforded users in these urban low-income communities new learning opportunities, better communication, new income possibilities and soft skills development. The data also shows the Kiosks became social spaces that nurtured a sense of belonging within their communities. However, the data also indicates that some limitations were associated with them, in particular the possibility of children being exposed to unsuitable content for their age and young people encountering bullying and harassment at the Kiosks.

The third finding related to the sustainability of the Kiosks is that the asymmetrical power relations between different stakeholders influenced stakeholder engagement and technological design, which led to a mismatch between the design and the reality of the context, thereby affecting sustainability. In summary, this thesis illustrates how the specific social and cultural contexts within these two urban low-income communities in Uganda influences CTC access, impact, and sustainability.

The findings in this thesis also led to the development of a proposed framework, Context Complexities, a tool to guide CTC design, implementation, and evaluation in low-income communities in Uganda and similar low-income communities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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