First Monday

E-media in development: Combining multiple e-media types by Robin van Koert

E-media in development: Combining multiple e-media types by Robin van Koert
This paper, on electronic media's potential contribution to rural development in less-industrialized countries, builds on the content of two earlier First Monday papers: "The Impact of Democratic Deficits on Electronic Media in Rural Development" (April 2002) and "Providing Content and Facilitating Social Change: Electronic Media in Rural Development" (February 2000). The former provides a theoretical argumentation on the influence of democratic deficits on the role of E-media in rural development, supported by case material, whereas the latter presents case material from Peru on how the different types of E-media contribute to rural development in that country. This paper also introduced the "information traffic pattern (ITP)" and "media richness" concepts. The February 2000 paper ends with the conclusion that combinations of different types of E-media are more likely to be successful in contributing to rural development than the isolated use of a single E-media type. Recently, this approach of combining multiple E-media types has been labeled "mixing media" in a paper by Bruce Girard (2002) and the approach is also being used for the "Radio Reed Flute" initiative in Afghanistan, started by Bruce Girard and Jo van der Spek. In this paper, the case for the multiple E-media approach will be made from the perspective of a need for multiple information traffic patterns, a concept introduced and elaborated in the two previous First Monday papers. Based on this theoretical argumentation, the paper will provide suggestions for ways forward for the use of E-media in rural development in less-industrialized countries. Two of the main suggestions are to use existing local radio station as "anchors" in prospective E-media projects in rural development and to establish partnerships between local radio stations and local development NGOs, the latter aimed at stimulating the collection and dissemination of locally generated information.


Introduction: The obstacles to successful E-media contributions
Addressing the obstacles: Practical solutions
Combining E-media: The way forward?
Suggestions for E-media development projects
Final remarks





Apart from the more abstract impact of democratic deficits on the contribution by E-media to rural development, several more practical obstacles also have impeded E-media from making a much anticipated contribution to rural development in less-industrialized countries. Amongst these obstacles are (i) the limited accessibility of E-media to people in rural areas [1], (ii) the limited availability of local content and the difficulty of using non-local, mainly international, content for local purposes, (iii) the limited access to E-media in rural areas, and (iv) the organizational and economic sustainability of E-media in rural areas. The first two of these obstacles will be discussed in detail below.

Of these obstacles the accessibility issue presents, in my opinion, the most formidable practical obstacle to successful contributions by E-media to rural development efforts, closely followed by the related issue of available local content. One of the key aspects of accessibility is the trust that potential users of electronically mediated information have in the accuracy and positive value of the provided information. That trust is in turn influenced by the perceived authority and reliability of the information source. Particularly when the reproductive value of the newly received information is crucial to the daily life and survival chances of people, the level of trust in that information needs to be high.

In his book Knowledge in a Social World, Alvin Goldman discusses the issue of trust through what he labels his veritistic, or truth seeking [2], theory (Goldman, 1999). Individual testimony is one of the key concepts for the transfer of information in Goldman's veritistic theory [3]. According to Goldman, four stages of testimony-related activity are relevant to producing knowledge and to the ultimate level of socially distributed knowledge:

The first stage addresses the observation of facts and the second concerns "deciding whether, what, how, and to whom to communicate [the observed facts]" [4]. In that sense, the second stage refers to the issue of media and audience choice. The third stage assesses whether communication processes have been successful, in the sense that messages have been received and understood. However, the fourth and final stage is the one which holds the most interest. That stage addresses the issue of whether a receiver will "believe the reported proposition, reject it, withhold judgement, or assign some intermediate degree of belief" [5]. Acceptance of a message is expected to lead to increased knowledge, where knowledge is defined as the acceptance of a new belief, or an increase in degree of an existing belief. The acceptance of a message depends on the individual's interest in the topic and her perception of the reporter's competence, actual observance of a fact, honesty and sincerity. In Goldman's words, acceptance of a message, or testimony, hinges on testimonial belief.

Although Goldman's theory essentially addresses the various stages of a process of knowledge accumulation through the acceptance of messages, it is immediately clear from his conditions for acceptance that the content of the message is crucial. This inevitably leads to the second significant obstacle to a successful contribution of E-media to rural development: the lack, or shortage, of locally generated content and the difficulties in converting non-local content for use in specific situations in rural areas. Locally generated content logically originates with sources which are either well-known to potential users of that content or can be identified relatively easily, which should allow for a better informed assessment of the authority and reliability of the source by the potential users of the provided information. Furthermore, in his book Diffusion of Innovation (1995), Everett Rogers uses the concept of communication proximity to describe the structure of communication networks. The term refers to the degree to which individuals in a network have personal communication networks that overlap. High-proximity levels of interpersonal relations in networks indicate a high degree of network homogeneity and stimulate high levels of information flows. Therefore, if a continuous flow of local knowledge among individuals in a local network is preferred, a homogeneous network would be the best option.

However, according to Rogers, low-proximity levels stimulate innovative aspects of information flows in a network. Therefore, insertion of innovative knowledge into local rural networks would require some low-proximity levels of heterogeneous networks. Non-local information provided by E-media could qualify, according to Rogers' concept, as the provision of innovative information [6]. Nevertheless, apart from the problems linked with converting that type of information into knowledge that can be used in specific local conditions, Goldman's argumentation on testimonial belief emphasizes the difficulties of knowledge production under conditions of limited trust in a source of information.

Although I argue that accessibility and content are the key issues with respect to the provision of information for the purpose of rural development, the other aforementioned obstacles should not be disregarded. The limited access to E-media in rural areas of less-industrialized countries, particularly in remote regions, is an obstacle that has been elaborately discussed in the discourse on E-media and rural development. As Girard states in his paper, despite the serious attention to the issue surprisingly little progress has been made in increasing access to E-media. Part of the problem has been that, until relatively recently, the focus has been on the more cutting edge communication technologies. However, the more recent inclusion of radio stations as "information communication technologies", or ICT, has already broadened the definition of access to E-media. "Mixing media", as Girard suggests, could possibly reduce the importance of this obstacle.

Finally, as a result of the emphasis on "trade instead of aid" and "economically self-sustainable development", the issues of organizational and economic sustainability have come to the forefront with respect to E-media in development projects. The neo-liberal policies aimed at making the provision of development services pay for themselves have only enhanced the importance of this obstacle. Although the obstacles to a successful contribution by E-media to rural development efforts are formidable, the next section provides some suggestions for practical solutions to overcome those obstacles, predominantly, but not solely, based on the insights provided by the theories of Goldman and Rogers as discussed above.



Addressing the obstacles: Practical solutions

I have now identified limited accessibility, and in particular the aspect of trust, as the most significant obstacle for E-media to contribute to rural development. In addition, I have stated that authority and reliability of the information source, as well as origin and nature of the information content, are closely linked to the key issue of trust. By introducing a few case examples, I suggest that imaginatively addressing these main obstacles can also make, more or less implicitly, the other obstacles of the previous section become less of an impediment to success.

However, before elaborating on the case material, another theoretical concept has to be re-introduced from the 2000 First Monday paper: media richness. According to this concept, E-media all have different capabilities of conveying the content of messages. The idea is that all messages contain a certain level of ambiguity for the receiver and that some E-media are better suited than others to reduce ambiguity. According to the media richness theory, the following four factors determine the media richness, or the capability to reduce ambiguity, of E-media:

The more complicated and voluminous the message, the greater the chances are of ambiguous interpretations, thus a medium should be able to deploy more of the above mentioned factors [7]. The aspect of ambiguity of a message is, of course, relevant with respect to the issue of trust, but also if, as Girard suggests, E-media are to be "mixed" to convey information.

In order to get a better understanding of the issue of trust, the example of local radio stations in Peru may serve as an illuminating example. Despite the emphasis over the past decade on so-called "new media" such as the Internet, in rural areas of less-industrialized countries, radio still tends to be the E-medium with the widest reach and the largest potential audience. In terms of access and accessibility, radio continues to outperform television, telephone and computer mediated communication, even in the face of increasing numbers of Internet cafés and Internet access providing kiosks and communication centers. The main reason for this continued dominance of radio is the relatively low infrastructure costs needed for radio broadcasts. Another reason is obviously the relatively low economic threshold for a group of people, or a community, to acquire a radio receiver [8].

The case of Peru, however, serves as an example of the importance of making a distinction between locally owned and operated radio stations on the one hand, and national radio stations and their local subsidiaries on the other. The State-owned radio station Radio Nacional del Peru (RNP) has a wide reach, but does little or nothing in the sense of providing targeted information for the development needs of rural communities. The Amanecer Campesino (Peasant's Dawn) program of the popular, privately owned, Radio Programas del Peru (RPP) does provide general information for communities in rural areas and discusses topics which are relevant to farmers. However, the physical distance between the radio station, which is based in the capital Lima, and its rural audience makes it difficult to establish a two-way communication channel. The latter is crucial, since the examples of independent, local radio stations show that the creation of trust is based, to a large extent, on the possibility for broadcasters and audience to establish a communicative relationship. The media richness theory suggests that the opportunity of speedy, if not immediate, feedback may reduce the ambiguity of the provided messages. In addition, that theory points at the importance of being capable to adapt a message to specific local circumstances, which is something for which independent, local radio stations appear to be better equipped.

Independent local radio stations, therefore, could serve as a vanguard for the use of E-media to facilitate electronically mediated information provision for rural development. The examples of independent local radio stations in Peru, such as Radio Sicuani, close to Cuzco, Radio Onda Azul in Puno and members of the NGO Coordinadora Nacional de Radio (CNR), indicate that involvement in rural development by local radio stations increases the trust that is generated with local people. The fact that people come daily from the rural areas outside the towns, in which those radio stations are based, to have personal testimonies and messages transmitted serves as evidence of the local popularity of those radio stations. Furthermore, the local radio stations often broadcast programs in local languages, e.g. Quechua and Aymara, in addition to programs in the national language, i.e. Spanish. Since much of the information provided by the local radio stations is generated locally and, as a result, highly relevant for local people, the authority and credibility of the radio stations as a trustworthy source of information increases. As Girard points out in his paper, independent local radio stations, like the ones in Peru, do not merely function as conduits for content, but are part of the communities which they serve.

As for the obstacles of organizational and economic sustainability, which have often been identified in the discourse on E-media in rural development as significant obstacles with respect to the various advocated types of communication centers, it could be argued that the continued existence of local radio stations is a testimony to the organizational and economic viability of these E-media. Since independent local radio stations appear to address most, and perhaps even all, of the above mentioned obstacles, a practical solution to deploying other E-media in the process of information provision and knowledge accumulation for the benefit of rural development appears to be to incorporate other E-media types in the organizational structures of local radio stations. The next two sections provide suggestions for the types of E-media that could be incorporated, potential processes and potential benefits with respect to the obstacles mentioned in the introduction, as well with respect to the reduction of the ambiguity of messages.



Combining E-media: The way forward?

The previous section ended with the suggestion that other E-media could, or perhaps should, be incorporated into the organizational structure of local radio stations. What other E-media should be considered? Based on developments in the field over the past decade or so, it seems that the following E-media might be combined with radio [9]:

The media richness of these E-media varies, not only because of technological differences, but also because of the way they are used to convey information. A television broadcast offers limited direct feedback opportunities, but can use multiple types of signals, can be broadcast in the local language and contain locally generated and relevant information. A telephone conversation, on the other hand, offers the possibility of immediate feedback, but language difficulties and the lack of knowledge of each other's situation and needs may lead to a very low level of media richness. When combining E-media, therefore, it is important to attempt to reach the maximum level of media richness for the combination of E-media. At the same time, it is important to combine different ITPs. It may be instructive to re-consider some examples of combinations of E-media bearing the concepts of media richness and information traffic patterns in mind.

In Peru, an example of combining radio and television is provided by the Centro de Comunicacion Social Difusion Andina in Sicuani, which operates a television station next to the Radio Sicuani station. However, the broadcasting hours are fairly limited and due to the high infrastructure costs of television and the limited number of television sets in the rural areas outside the town of Sicuani, television appeared not to contribute significantly to the provision of information to rural areas. The fact that the radio station includes personal testimonies of people in the rural areas surrounding Sicuani and also broadcasts in the local language increases the media richness of the conveyed information. At the same time, the inclusion of personal testimonies softens the allocution patterns typical of radio.

The SLTP Terbuka distance education initiative, developed by the Ministry of Education in Indonesia, uses radio communication to allow the pupils in villages, located in the periphery of what is called a base school in a larger town, to communicate with their subject teachers in that base school on the four days that they are being taught in their own village by a general teacher. In addition, the initiative, to some extent, uses radio and television broadcasts to provide additional learning material. An important condition is obviously the presence of radio, or even television, receivers in the villages. The two-way communication process of radio communication increases the media richness of the information that is conveyed and the conversation pattern typically associated with this type of communication process hands some level of control to the pupils. The conversation pattern can also compensate in part for the lack of feedback opportunities in the allocution pattern of the radio and television broadcasts.

In Peru, a number of local radio stations use their access to the Internet to obtain relevant national and international news, which they subsequently broadcast to their audiences. In his paper, Girard also mentions the Agencia Informativa Pulsar initiative, which used its own Internet access to provide subscribing radio stations with daily news summaries of Latin American and other international newspapers. One of the important aspects of the initiative was that the news items were re-written for a radio format to facilitate broadcasting by the local radio stations. Broadcasting the news in the local language also increased the media richness.

Finally, my paper on the use of E-media in Peru provides the example of a project run by the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG-Peru) in the Cajamarca region. This NGO has set up a small network of information centers in the area, which collect local data for a communal database and provide information from that same database. ITDG-Peru is currently using radio communication to establish two-way communication links between information centers and ITDG's offices in Cajamarca. Again, the two-way communication link increases the media richness and adds a conversation pattern to the consultation pattern of using a database. A partnership between similar NGOs and local radio stations would have the capability of significantly increasing the audience which could benefit from this locally generated information and would make use of trusted intermediaries with a feeling for, and a stake in, local development issues.

The above mentioned examples serve as an indication of the possibility of combining different E-media, thereby also using the specific advantages (i.e. the varying levels of media richness and different ITPs) of the different E-media to decrease the ambiguity and enhance the value of the provided information. Additional examples could be provided, but synthesizing the lessons of these examples may be more important in order to provide a framework for combining E-media in development projects. Using local radio stations as a starting point, the next section provides suggestions for the potential use of E-media in development projects.



Suggestions for E-media development projects

In the first section of this paper I have identified accessibility to E-media and trust in the information source as the key aspects with respect to the use of E-media to disseminate information for the benefit of rural development. In addition, I have argued that local radio stations [10] appear to be best placed to address those two aspects. Furthermore, an independent study commissioned by the UNDP, Capacity for Development: New Solutions to Old Problems, suggest that development efforts should focus on existing local and national capacities rather than trying to construct new institutions on the basis of foreign blueprints. Therefore, common sense and research suggest a focus on local radio stations for projects aimed at using E-media in less-industrialized countries. Local radio stations could serve as what could be labeled "anchors" for E-media supported development projects.

First, like Centro de Comunicacion Social Difusion Andina in Sicuani, local radio stations could already be part of an organization that includes a local television station. However, if such a combination of radio and television does not exist, the radio station could be the starting point of the E-media project and the possibilities of adding a local television to the radio station set-up could be explored. The difficulties, such as the more limited reach of television and the significantly higher equipment and production costs of television broadcasts, are obvious, but the advantage would be a higher level of media richness of the information provision, leading to less ambiguous messages. Rather than trying to start up a television station from scratch, incorporating this E-medium in an existing and organizationally and economically viable organization may offer better chances of success. However, adding the complexities and financial implications of television may be beyond the capabilities of many local radio stations.

On the other hand, given the economic success of Internet cafés or kiosks incorporating an Internet access providing facility may be a more economically promising option. At the same time, people would have access to the services provided by the Internet, e.g., e-mail and the World Wide Web, in the trusted context of the local radio station. If the radio station also establishes a Web site, or another electronically accessible information source, personal testimonies and other information, in addition to broadcasting over the radio, could also be disseminated by means of the Internet, creating a source of locally generated information available to a much wider audience.

This leads to the next suggestion for E-media projects: involvement of local NGOs in the field of development and, perhaps, human rights. Many locally based development oriented NGOs are in close contact with people in the area on a daily basis. Through these contacts and their various projects they tend to collect a significant amount of local data and information. Although the representatives of the NGOs I interviewed in Peru, Indonesia and, to a much lesser extent, Vietnam organize meetings, seminars and other forums to disseminate data and information and to create information exchanges, adding electronically mediated information flows is likely to increase the reach and intensity of the information dissemination and exchanges. Successful local NGOs would likely add more trust and reliability to the information conveyed by the local radio station.

The opportunities for "mixing media" are numerous. The key issues of accessibility, trust in information sources and economic and organizational sustainability can be addressed by establishing partnerships, aimed at information gathering and dissemination, between local radio stations and local development NGOs. In that way, combinations of E-media may finally be able to contribute in a meaningful way to rural development in less-industrialized countries. Some options would exist then to

How the suggested partnerships between independent local radio stations and local development oriented NGOs should be organized will most likely depend on the specifics of the prospective partners involved, as well as on the situation the find themselves in and the conditions under which development has to take place in their area. Therefore, it seems inappropriate to provide any suggestions as to the nature of those partnerships. Nevertheless, it seems obvious that the partnerships should probably be aimed at enhancing information collection and dissemination for the benefit of local development efforts. One way of achieving such an objective could be through creating rural networks, existing, for example, of local radio stations, NGOs and other local organizations and associations, for electronically mediated information flows [12].

Typically, NGOs are engaged in various development projects and, as a result, collect a lot of information, which might be relevant for people outside those involved in the project. On the other hand, local radio stations often have relatively extensive networks of correspondents, which gather relevant local information. The networks of correspondents could also be of use to the NGOs and the radio stations could disseminate any information at the disposal of the NGOs. Therefore, it seems that the NGO/radio station partnerships have ample opportunities for synergy. The specifics of each potential partnership will have to determine how best to achieve those synergies for the benefit of an enhanced dissemination and exchange of information.

However, even the best designed and managed E-media project will have to take into account social, political and economic contexts of the less-industrialized country. Therefore, the last section of this paper provides some final remarks on that issue.



Final remarks

The central position allocated to local radio, and to a more limited extent television, stations in rural development projects using E-media to facilitate information flows and dissemination also brings to the forefront the importance of a conducive environment for such local E-media.

The political environment of a country (the constitution, legislation, regulation and policies) will have to be conducive to the free dissemination of information by independent E-media. Furthermore, the economic environment needs to be conducive to small scale, independent local E-media, so that they can operate in an economically sustainable way, despite the presence of large scale E-media conglomerates. Such an environment appears to be a condition for a successful use of E-media in rural development in less-industrialized countries.

Hence, international development may have to be directed partially at efforts towards creating conducive political and economic environments for small scale, independent local E-media. The international forums and development agencies seem to offer ample opportunity for activities to that effect. One example would be to help overarching organizations, such as Coordinadora Nacional de Radio (CNR) in Peru, to support independent local radio stations, both with respect to operational issues as in the area of lobbying the national government.

Finally, it is also time to acknowledge the link between the nature of the social, political and economic contexts of less-industrialized countries, with respect to free dissemination of information, and a successful contribution by E-media to rural development. In addition, it is necessary to work towards improving the above mentioned conduciveness of those contexts. Without such concerted efforts, progress in the field of E-media contributing to development in less-industrialized countries may remain limited to a few relatively isolated success stories. End of article


About the Author

After having obtained his Ph.D. degree in political science with the University of Amsterdam for his dissertation "Electronic Media in Rural Development", Robin van Koert has completed work on electronic surveillance related U.K. legislation, as well as an evaluation project on Intranet- and Internet-based work spaces for Amnesty International's International Secretariat in London. His dissertation addresses the relation between the intrinsic interactivity of electronic media and the extent to which the socio-political and economic context of a nation-state allows for that interactivity to be used to its full potential to freely disseminate information. For his Ph.D. he conducted field research in Indonesia, Vietnam and Peru. An industrial engineer by training he has worked in the textile industry in the Netherlands, as well as in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. A related article has been published in First Monday in February 2000. His dissertation and two more anecdotal articles on brief exploratory visits to Ghana and Mali in the first stages of his research project can be found at and on the CS Research page of his home page at



1. Access refers to the physical availability of E-media within a relatively short distance of an individual's residence, a distance for which the individual has the economic means and the time to cover, or the presence of an E-media receiver in the individual's community. At the same time, access presumes an economic capability of the individual to obtain services provided by the specific E-media. Accessibility, on the other hand, refers to an individual's non-economic capabilities to make use of the available physical access to, or presence of, E-media, including, for example, literacy, trust in the source of information and gender related issues.

2. This search for truth has been criticized, as Goldman points out, by stating that "appeals to truth are merely instruments of domination or repression" (Goldman, 1999, p. 33). In his book Encountering Development, Arturo Escobar states that reality is often no more than a representation of events by observers, who are influenced by the norms and values of their own culture. Escobar refers to ideas of the French philosopher Michel Foucault (as does Goldman) by claiming that the way discourse on a subject evolves is more relevant to actions than reality (Escobar, 1995, pp. 5-12). Therefore, I do not subscribe to Goldman's notion of the existence of truth, but restrict myself to the more basic aspects of his answer to the question: "Which practices [and conditions for those practices] have a comparatively favorable impact on knowledge as contrasted with error and ignorance?" (Goldman, 1999, p. 5).

3. Although Goldman's veritistic theory has strong quantitative aspects, including probability elements, in this paper, as in my dissertation, I focus on the more qualitative aspects of his theory.

4. Goldman, 1999, p. 104, italics in original.

5. Goldman, 1999, p. 105.

6. In his book, Rogers, a strong advocate of the diffusion theory, propagates the use of communication networks with low proximity-levels. In addition, he supports the notion that such networks preferably should be radial, meaning that those networks should consist of a focal individual, who is expected to introduce the innovative information to a peripheral group of people who do not necessarily have any interaction with each other. The opposite situation would be an interlocking network, in which all members communicate with each other. Such a network would not preclude individual members from acquiring non-local information, which subsequently could be spread through the network.

7. Trevino, Daft and Lengel, 1990, pp. 71-94.

8. In Indonesia, the government has provided radio and television reception equipment to small rural communities to support E-media based development programs, such as reader, listener and viewer groups (Kelompencapir) and learning groups (Paket Kejar). These programs are aimed at generating discussions between people, who tune in to broadcasts as a group, in order to increase the skills of people to receive and process information.

9. Although technically not a separate E-media, data broadcasting might also be taken into consideration when discussing electronically mediated information provision. Data broadcasting is a technology which uses the "free" space in radio and television signals to transmit data. A well-known example of this technology is teletext.

10. Local radio stations can be small scale commercial enterprises, not-for-profit organizations, community based organizations or any other organizational variety established to sustain a local radio station.

11. Many independent local radio stations perform three aspects of a social actor role:

I have abstracted this tentative definition of a social actor role for local radio stations from information provided by various independent radio stations in rural areas in Peru on their activities and perceived role in society.

12. My paper on electronic media in Peru, "Providing Content and Facilitating Social Change", contains the theoretical argumentation underlying the preference for such networks.

13. Bordewijk and Van Kaam, 1982, p. 32.



J. Bordewijk and B. van Kaam, 1982. Allocutie: Enkele gedachten over communicatievrijheid in een bekabeld land. Baarn: Bosch & Keunig.

A. Escobar, 1995. Encountering development: The making and unmaking of the third world. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

B. Girard, 2002. "Mixing media — the Internet's real next generation," at, accessed 1 February 2003.

B. Girard and J. van der Spek, 2002. "Radio Reed Flute Radio Naway-e Ney: A democratic communication project for Afghanistan,", accessed 1 February 2003.

A.I. Goldman, 1999. Knowledge in a social world. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

R.G. van Koert, 2002. "The Impact of democratic deficits on electronic media in rural development," First Monday, volume 7, number 4 (April), at, accessed 1 February 2003.

R.G. van Koert, 2000. "Providing content and facilitating social change: Electronic media in rural development based on case material from Peru," First Monday, volume 5, number 2 (February), at, accessed 1 February 2003.

E.M. Rogers, 1995. Diffusion of innovation. Fourth edition. New York: Free Press.

L. Trevino, R. Daft and R. Lengel, 1990, "Understanding manager's media choices: A symbolic interactionist perspective," In: J. Fulk and C. Steinfeld (editors). Organizations and communication technology. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.


Appendix: Information traffic patterns

The theoretical concept of information traffic patterns (ITPs) centers around control over communication (time, place, topic) and information (storage), in both cases either central or individual. Emphasizing the control aspect of information flows, it reveals the power structure underlying the flows of information, as well as the extent to which information flows reinforce, or possibly transform, the power structure. Four ITPs are distinguished (Bordewijk and Van Kaam, 1982). They are:

Information is distributed from a center to many peripheral receivers, a pattern that applies to mass media (radio and television). The topic and time of the communication process are controlled by the center, which typically also controls the information storage. This ITP tends to strengthen existing power structures.

An individual in the periphery searches for information from a central source. In principle, the individual has control over time, topic and often also place of the communication process, but the center retains control over the information storage. Consulting databases, libraries and information centers are examples of this ITP. By itself this ITP does not strengthen the existing power structure, but it does sustain, or create, dependencies.

Individuals in the periphery (through technical, for example, telephone and radio-communication, or social networks) interact directly with each other, bypassing a center. Control over all aspects of the communication process is with the individuals, who, amongst themselves, also control their own information storage. This ITP is, in principle, the only ITP with a tendency to challenge, and possibly change, the existing power structure in favor of decentralization of control over information and knowledge.

A center requests/collects information from the periphery, often without the total awareness of the individual in the periphery. Typically, the center controls time and subject and the information is added to the center's information storage. The most relevant aspect of this ITP is that the information collection supports the allocution pattern. At the same time, it reinforces the position of the center in the power structure.

  control over
information storage
central individual
control over
time, topic
and place of
central allocution registration
individual consultation conversation


Typology of ITPs [13]

If development is seen as a change in the balance of power in the power structure in favor of those seeking to bridge the development gap, it is important to realize the intrinsic contribution of the different E-media to changing, or strengthening, the existing power structure. Who or what controls the communication processes determines to a large extent the nature and content of the information flows and, with that, the benefits of the communication processes to the participants. For that reason, it is important to create a mixture of ITPs within each E-media project.

Editorial history

Paper received 3 October 2002; accepted 1 February 2003.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2003, First Monday

Copyright ©2003, Robin van Koert

E-media in development: Combining multiple e-media types by Robin van Koert
First Monday, volume 8, number 2 (February 2003),