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Thursday, 17 January 2013 08:15

In Africa, young women are the most eager adopters of web2.0 and social media; a study by CTA reveals

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CTA’s web2.0 training programme has sparked enormous interest across ACP countries. Organisations and individuals have shown themselves hungry to learn about social tools and platforms which can support their collaborative work, and how social media can be adapted to their particular contexts and needs. But which groups are the most enthusiastic adopters of web2.0 tools, and what impact does that adoption have, in terms of personal development, institutional changes, and new opportunities for beneficiaries in the context of development?

In a bid to learn from three years of its web2.0 training programme (2008-2010), CTA commissioned an impact study to better understand the factors that influence adoption, as well as the outcomes. In this post we summarise what has been learned, as CTA seeks to fine-tune and upscale its work in this area. A subsequent blog post will summarise some of the main recommendations that emerged from the study which was carried out by Euforic Services Ltd.

Reaching out across ACP countries

Between 2008 and 2010, CTA delivered 20 web2.0 related capacity building events, reaching a total of 510 trainees from over 20 ACP countries, mainly in Africa. Most took part in the five-day Web2.0 Learning Opportunities courses, co-facilitated by local trainers with support and coaching from CTA. Other events included short, one to two day awareness raising courses, and courses targeting specific web 2.0 and social media applications. CTA also co-funded distance learning courses run by UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research).

The participants were very diverse in terms of age, gender, organisation and role, although the majority worked in education and research. Most had limited exposure to web2.0 applications before they joined the training, with some believing that the tools were only important for ICT experts. As a result of the training, nearly 80% developed an understanding of the tools, and became acquainted with applications previously unknown to them. At a general level, the most widely adopted tools were social networks, internet-based telephone calls (VoIP), and tools for remote collaboration, such as wikis or Google docs.

Patterns of web2.0 adoption by gender, age and workplace

In terms of age, it’s perhaps not surprising that trainees under 36 were found to be more likely to adopt web2.0 applications, except for online social networking, which interestingly was not affected by age. Also interesting is that females had higher adoption rates than males for almost every web2.0 application. While other studies have found men to be generally more familiar with ICT than women, in terms of this sub-set of women, mainly professionals, the pattern is different. When looking at specific tools, the women were found to more readily use tags and bookmarks, social networks and internet-based phone calling. This appears to fit with existing research that has found women to be more organised in the workplace than men: they are also more likely to adopt content-organising tools like tags and bookmarks.

In terms of organisations, those working for NGOs and national and international organisations were more likely to adopt web2.0 tools than those in educational and research institutions; this could be explained by the tendency for NGOs to have generally younger staff. Looking at specific jobs, 92% of community workers were found to use social network sites, compared to around 60% of researchers. Community workers and journalists had the highest adoption rate for blogs and e-lists. Journalists were also more likely to use wikis and Google docs than other groups, while around 60% of students used tags and bookmarks. Overall, younger Anglophone women had the highest adoption rates for web2.0 and social media tools, whatever their professional background. More informed, more connected, more efficient development professionals

So what difference has training on web2.0 applications made to the trainees? Nearly 90% of trainees believe they have improved their capacity to search for, access and share information, using their new tools to keep up-to-date with developments in their fields of interest. Well over half the participants say they have improved their information management skills.

The trainees have also become more connected, participating in online groups and communities, which CTA supports through the Web2forDev online groups it animates on LinkedIn, DGroups and Facebook. Some 45% report having become more efficient in online collaboration and conferencing, and one third have run their own web2.0 training to share the skills they have learned.

Web2.0 in the organisation

Sharing of skills among colleagues is the most common way by which trainees’ organisations have benefited from the web2.0 training. Most often, this is done by sharing the iMark module, a CD / online learning programme that individuals can work through independently. Bringing about systematic change in institutions, either at operational or strategic level is much more challenging; the extent to which this has occurred has depended on the individual initiative of trainees and their position within their organisation.

Where trainees have succeeded in mainstreaming the new applications within their institutions, the number of communication channels used in the organisation has increased. This has enabled some organisations to deliver up-to-date information to their beneficiaries, while others have gained visibility from being on the net. A few organisations have also started changing their information management and communication systems, leading to a reduction in communication costs for some.

The CTA capacity building programme has had a particularly strong impact on the institutions that hosted the training courses. Up to six staff members from each institution participated in the courses, and most have subsequently organised in-house training for other staff. Several lecturers have introduced web2.0 applications to their students, and have used them to improve their own communication and information sharing with students. Three host institutes have informally included web2.0 training in their teaching curriculum, or plan to introduce ICT frameworks within which use of web2.0 applications can be adopted.

Web2.0 on the ground

In some cases, outcomes from the training have also contributed to positive change among farmers and communities. In one case, farmers were introduced to web2.0 and social media tools, which they started using to research information on good agricultural practices. This has, in turn, led to the adoption of improved farming activities. In another example, scientists in one research organisation used Google docs and Skype to discuss and share information from different farm sites.

Farmers have also learned to use Skype and Facebook to connect with telecentres and to transfer pictures or word files online. One group is even using LinkedIn to share information and discuss new ideas and opportunities.

These examples, though anecdotal, illustrate the power of web2.0 and social media not only for sharing content online, but bringing positive changes to people’s lives and livelihoods. Gathering more evidence of this kind would help us to understand why this happens and how such processes can be fostered.

Article originally posted on the Web2forDev website: In Africa, young women are the most eager adopters of web2.0 and social media; a study by CTA reveals

Last modified on Thursday, 17 January 2013 09:31


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