Monday, November 21, 2005

SIAR: Putting Information Ahead of Technology

The 16th Century words of Sir Francis Bacon, "knowledge is power,” has gained unprecedented worldwide popularity since the late 1990s and mobilized a multitude of resources aimed at bridging the divide between those who have access to information and communication technologies (ICT) and those who don’t. However, several cautionary words need to be emphasized in this context. Firstly, the term “ICT,” in practice, has largely been degraded to refer to “new ICT,” which has furthermore been reduced to pinpoint the internet. This has resulted in projects focusing solely on the internet and little of anything else (such as television, radio, print media, traditional media, even cell phones) in efforts to empower the poor. Secondly, ICT is merely the media through which information passes. While content is constantly acknowledged as an important aspect, very little attention is actually given to content development, especially to that produced by marginalized communities.

The Saluran Informasi Akar Rumput (SIAR) initiative, currently co-facilitated by Combine Resource Institution and Voice of Human Rights with support from Tifa Foundation, strives to address the two concerns above by building a collective news-agency (content syndication) among nine community radio stations in West Java and Yogyakarta through wireless internet connection. The network is scheduled to grow wider to other areas as the project enters its second phase in early 2006. The three core components of the project are content development, community institution building, and information technology.

SIAR relies on community radios as the main subject simply because they are still undoubtedly the most effective means to cater to the information and communication needs of marginalized, often effectively illiterate, communities, especially those living in rural areas. Unlike the internet, a (community) radio is represented by voices (and faces) which are familiar to the listeners; many community radio announcers, just like their commercial counterparts, have “fans” and act as local role models. Community radios build interactivity and participation through talk-shows, phone-ins, live broadcasting from the place of event, and the highly popular “request cards.” In many areas, the latter serves also as community radios’ main source of revenue. Despite the advantages, challenges faced by community radios multi-faceted. Some of the most important ones lie in building 1] capacity (especially in terms of news production), 2] community institutional support, and 3] access to external parties, such as national media, peers in other locations, and relevant actors for the improvement of their constituents’ lives.

SIAR tries to answer these challenges by combining the middle-down reach of community radios with the middle-up access of the internet. News and features produced by the Angkringan community radio in rural Jogja currently can be read and re-broadcasted (via podcasting!) by the Cibangkong community radio in urban Bandung through 24-hour wireless internet. Members of the network regularly chat online with each other on topics of common interest. Other community members can post comments or request news on the SIAR website through their cell-phones. It is simply a matter of time before these local voices are accessed and incorporated by regional and national media (as in the case of blogs by international media) and the broadcasters acknowledged as local correspondents. The (national) government can also benefit from this network to gain insights and feedback regarding how a development policy is implemented at the local level.

By focusing on the information needs of already-acknowledged local information providers/ facilitators, SIAR puts information ahead of technology in an integrated effort to make-real Francis Bacon’s statement. As for telecenter aspects, many of SIAR’s participants are planning to serve warnet-like services in the near future. What better internet trainer would a villager have than the local celebrity whose voice he/she listens to everyday?

This was an abstract submitted for the National Telecenter Conference, UNDP/Bappenas, Jakarta, Dec. 2005.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Farmers, Children, Geography

Visiting Salatiga is always good. It gives me a sense of excitement, friendship, purpose, innovative thoughts, and voluntary drives.

First we didn’t really plan to come over to Bahrudin’s school. But I’m glad that we did. The SMP kids are awesome & adorable. Gue ge-er berat that they still remember my name! And they’re growing to be good looking kids. The kind of good looking that comes from the inside, from self-confidence, from ability to present one’s ideas, and from being spontaneous and real.

Pak Ahmad, Pak Jono, all greeted me with the kind of warm smiles that true friends give. The The topic of the day was geography. The previous day I led an “intro to GIS for social development purposes” discussion at the office. Isn’t GIS amazing? Just a couple of hours of discussion and new ideas are piling up. I told Bahrudin about Combine’s plan to develop the Federation’s database into a GIS-based format. All of a sudden we’re talking about teaching mapping to middle school kids. Bahrudin wanted the kids to take Kalibening as their main source of case study, so that in the future they’ll always contribute to the community. We’re going to make a model of the village. Ira said she’ll teach the kids model-making. Spatial awareness building for middle school kids; exciting!

Then we went to Ngawen, where the Farmer Federation office is located, to talk to Ruth & friends. Now, that is an organization with vision! As for their data, I’d bet they have more & data of members than any political party in Indonesia. Combine’s going to help them structure this data to their needs & dreams, and connect that to a GIS system. The output: a farmer federation with strategic information within easy reach of their fingertips!

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Shanghai Baby

Just finished reading Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui.
(Thanks UNDP, for the long flights to Makassar)

Damn, she is good.

First off, I like the bright yellow-red cover and the woman's serene face being portrayed. As I flipped through some pages, I immediately liked her writing style. And it's talking about a new generation of 'silver-lipsticked teenagers' and 'prostitutes turned wealthy socialites' in a changing China. A changing China! Who's not interested in that topic? The Americans & Europeans are seriously studying it as a threat to their supremacy. I want to study it because I want to know how to pose serious threats to supremacies. Hahaha... Anyway, the book's main character is a struggling writer who's determined to write a novel that will 'burst into fireworks over the city'.

Wei's done a great job in mixing party til you drop stories with deep penses on the ever-ambiguous meaning of love.

And yes, she's talking about a writer...
. . .

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Ever felt like a gun was pointed at your head?

Ever felt like a gun was pointed at your head, and the holder said, “If you learned ANYTHING at all from urban planning… let’s see it now!”

The quake & tsunami incidents happened just in time for the beginning of my one-month appointment at UNDP/UN-Habitat, Jakarta. I’m taking that post 1) to help out on a UNDP project, 2) because the current (and the one & only) UN-Habitat representative for Indonesia has to take a month-long leave. Suddenly I find myself under a pile of emails, entangled in phone calls, engaged in and facilitating meetings asking for updates on the disaster & seeking inputs for support.

It’s comforting to know that international agencies are mobilizing aid. I’m proud that the people are giving whatever they can for solidarity (although relief efforts are still in dire need to be better coordinated). But what do you do in a situation & place where money means nothing? “Please don’t send us cash!” cried the victims, “we can’t do anything with it.” What do you do in a situation where aid agencies wants to immediately rebuild cities that have lost considerably more than half of its residents, people which may NOT want to return there anyhow? What do you say in front of well-intentioned architects & government officials who yells, “We have to plan comprehensively: not just build houses, but the sewage system too!” and hadn’t thought at all about local economic/livelihood activities? What do you do when your sense of humanity calls you to go & help out now, but are afraid to pick up & bury week-old corpses?

I guess it’s true when they say the most valuable lesson one can learn from urban planning is that there’s “no simple answer,” and that a single planner is “very” (I won’t say “too”) small to make everything right. It’s valuable not only in the sense that it forces me to seek out, influence, learn from and collaborate with other actors, but also in the sense that it eases me of the psychological & emotional burden I may put on myself. Having said that, I’m now having a blast practicing (or at least trying to practice) what I’ve learned wholeheartedly in the past 2 years.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Contacting Muli


I've put this post so that people can contact me or comment on general matters that are not specific to any post, through the comments link below. Or, if your prefer, you can also send me electronic mail through mulya_74 /at/ yahoo /dot/ com.