Grants:PEG/Examining and Facilitating Global Network Sovereignty
The public, educational, and intellectual contributions of this project shall help shape understandings of how network technologies can best deliver on associated promises of supporting economic and political equality and opportunity and the diverse ways by which cultures and communities articulate their knowledges, values and voices in relation to new technology. This in turn can contribute to scholarship and public understanding around cultural and community-based values that shape technology design, development, and sustainable appropriation and adoption.
Today, the term ‘last billion’ has surfaced to describe those who lack mobile and Internet connectivity (David, 2015) across the world, a population that tends to be primarily non-western in its demographic. It has been widely documented that despite technical innovations and a shift away from monopolized state-run technology initiatives toward the end of the last century (Musiani, 2015), that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) networks and services have not been effective at reaching the poor, nor have they been successful at supporting the voices and perspectives of such users (ITU 2006; Galperin and Bar, 2007, Wallsten and Clarke, 2002; Sterne 2006). Even private telecommunication and Internet network providers have been unable to or disinterested in reaching these groups. The lack of steady income by rural and poor community users, low population density, lack of reliable information about users, lack of credit assessment mechanisms, and lack of complementary infrastructure have all been seen as roadblocks in providing access (Tremolet 2002). Moreover, the increasingly technologically ‘advanced’ services being provided by private operators (such as 5G mobile service) may not be suitable or easily implemented within such contexts.
Yet when we speak of ‘last billion’ new ICT users, ranging from anywhere between 20-40% of the world’s population (David, 2015), we may not think of how network technologies may be best designed, evaluated, or imagined in ways that support economic, political, social and cultural values and voices that emerge from the ground-up. We may not think of how agency and sovereignty, or claims of value, meaning, and belief, may be most effectively articulated by new user communities in terms of how they may develop, appropriate, or associate themselves with new network technology.
This proposal asks for the generous support of the Wikimedia Foundation to fund a comparative study of three culturally diverse cases of network sovereignty located across the world. In proposing these cases we wish to explore our hypotheses, as listed below, and uncover key conditions and factors that shape the development and sustainability of community network infrastructures. In so doing, we wish not to place such community network efforts on a pedestal or naively praise them but use them as points of departure to ask a number of critical and comparative questions that in turn help researchers and the larger public uncover important conditions and characteristics by which ICT-facilitated networks can support the visions and aspirations of diverse and traditionally marginalized users.
Our management plan, methodology, and timeline will explore two international cases and then tie their analyses to consider domestic Native American communities, through a case based in the United States. The first, located in the Serengeti region of Tanzania, is a study of how rural village communities are attempting to gain Internet access based on their appropriation of tourist industries and the arrival of the new ‘Serengeti broadband’ fiber optic cable. This case is an example of how communities may choose to brand their identities and practices in relation to emerging network infrastructure, and considers what space there is for local agency versus external cooptation in such efforts. Our second case, located across the Oaxaca region of Mexico, features a number of Zapotec and Mixtec indigenous communities working with external NGO partners to develop ‘autonomous’ mobile phone networks. Our third and final case is a partnership with the Salish Kootenai Native American college (SKC) of Montana will explore how our insights from these two international cases may best inform this community’s engagement with network technology infrastructures. Through this college and community, we intend to consider how the results from our comparative international studies may be best applied to support Native American populations in the United States, typically left most marginalized of any cultural demographic with the nation in terms of their access to and benefit from network technology (Bissell, 2004). This will occur through a course we shall teach with college instructors involving Native American participants from across the nation via SKC’s online education program. At the core of each of these case studies is the deep respect and goal of learning from the diverse ways by which each community is attempting to articulate its sovereignty and agency.
Our target readership for this project includes the larger public interested in how the internet can support all, and particularly culturally and geographically diverse new users across the world. The public also involves scholars in the fields of information, communication, new media, science and technology studies, and related fields, as well as Internet and technology policy makers, designers, and general technology users, especially those most marginalized in technology access and use. Our chosen methodology of ethnography and mixed-method interviews based on case studies at three separate community locations across the globe reflects this envisioned audience in terms of the potential impact and reach our project will ideally have. It is a reminder that the challenges of lack of access occur across the world, including North and Latin America.
This project will be of use primarily to the Wikitech community, in particular those involved with Tools, as the findings from our project will help inform the design and engineering practices of the community based tools used as part of Wikitech. The description of Wikitech notes the importance of understanding infrastructure as crucial to this community. Specifically, the sub-groups of Wikitech address areas of documentation, communication between developers, cloud computing infrastructure, and other related systems. These areas all relate to the technological practices we will observe as part of this proposed project. Our proposal draws heavily from work being conducted around the understanding and maintenance of infrastructure and the role it plays in the lives of its users, which will inform the system of support that Wikitech and Tools seeks to provide to Wikimedia volunteers and users. In particular we inform our research approach and specific socio-technical elements of study from the growing body of work on infrastructures in the field of Science and Technology Studies and related fields (DeNardis, 2012; Muisiani, 2015; Musiani et. al., 2016, Star and Rulehder, 1996; Star, 1999). This area of study seeks to uncover the often invisible social elements of infrastructure creation, dissemination, and use through empirical analysis, and will serve as an important tool for framing this project. The outcomes of this project will most strongly affect the strategic priorities of reach and participation, through an observation and analysis of the practices used in international communities for increased reach and quality of information and communication technology use.
Fit with strategy
We see this project as aligning best with Wikimedia's strategic priority of increasing reach, through the impact our findings on alternative community methods of Internet and mobile phone use can have on Wikimedia's goal of increasing the reach of the Wikimedia movement to individuals and groups in developing countries as well as communities still currently offline. This proposal can also fit into the strategic priority area of increased participation, as ideally increased participation would arise as a consequence of increased reach. The project will particularly address the increased participation goals of "enhanc[ing] the quality of the core user experience regardless of geography" and "invest[ing] in mobile products to broaden the movement’s reach to connected populations" through the extensive community engagement elements of the work we will undertake, for example the proposed community course, and the associated local technology development partnerships that work to increase the user experience and will may serve as valuable resources to Wikimedia communities.
Measures of success
- Numerical increase in number of community participants who have access to and use Wikimedia tools and platforms after the conclusion of this project.
- Increased number of global institutional collaborations for Wikimedia development and use.
- Increased Internet and Wikimedia use agency among community members participating in the project.
- Improved quality of access to Internet and mobile phone use.
- Increased understanding of global developing communities and their design needs among the Wikitech community.
Resources and risks
- Dr. Ramesh Srinivasan, UCLA
- Dr. Lisa Parks, MIT
- University of California, Los Angeles
- University of California, Los Angeles Department of Information Studies
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Comparative Media Studies
Both professors have extensive histories of previous research success, demonstrated through past funding from the National Science Foundation, the US State Department, Google, and others, as well as a substantial list of publications in top tier journals such as New Media and Society, the Journal of Association of Information Science and Technology, the International Journal of Cultural Studies, and many more. Additionally, their work has been featured in various public media venues including The Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, and NPR. As principal investigators leading the project, they and their home institutions will serve as integral resources for the successful and timely completion of the project.
Two primary risk concerns we will face for this project include the projected timeline, as well as the difficulty in articulating particularly quantitative measures of success. As we are working with specific community groups, gaining their consistent participation and collaboration may contribute to a longer process and potential delays in the project. We will try as best we can to remedy through building flexibility into the research planning process, as well as establishing and maintaining open communication about the importance of the timeline among all members involved. We will work closely with the WMF Learning and Evaluation Team to help combat the risks faced in establishing an appropriate measurement and evaluation plan to ensure a proper balance of quantitative and qualitative measures of assessment.
As shown in the table below, the costs of our project are relatively straightforward, and consist primarily of the cost for travel, personnel, and research supplies. Dr. Ramesh Srinivasan, the lead Personal Investigator (PI) of this project will use travel funds to cover trips to each of the sites mentioned in the proposal to conduct ethnographic research and collect data to be used to inform Wikimedia practices. Personnel costs are required to hire one Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) to aid with data analysis during the second stage of the project. Lastly, supplies such as books, computer related items, and software and infrastructure fees will contribute to the cost of supplies. This last sector is yet to be decided absolutely concretely, so they are described relatively broadly here.
Project budget table
Please see budget table located to the right.
Total cost of project
We expect the total cost of our project to be approximately $20,000 to cover the expenses detailed above in addition to the expenses of our second PI, and subsequent other portions of the research project less affiliated with the Wikimedia piece.
Total amount requested
In this proposal we are requesting $10,000 to cover all expenses for this portion of the project detailed above.
Additional sources of revenue
We do not expect to receive any additional sources of revenue.
We do not require any additional non-financial requirements.
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