Connecting Rural Masses to the Information Superhighways: An assessment of Union Digital Centres (UDC) in Bangladesh

Author: Md Gofran Faroqi

Faroqi, Md Gofran, 2016 Connecting Rural Masses to the Information Superhighways: An assessment of Union Digital Centres (UDC) in Bangladesh, Flinders University, School of Social and Policy Studies

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The Union Digital Centre (UDC) is one of the e-government innovations in Bangladesh that aims to serve as a one-stop delivery point for information and services in rural areas. Developed under the public-private-people’s partnership (PPPP) model, it has been operating in all 4551 unions for the last five years. This thesis evaluates the operations of UDC with a particular focus on its role in connecting rural masses to digital information and services. In doing so, it has identified three critical aspects for detailed investigation: roles and significance from a beneficiary perspective; participation of major stakeholders; and issues of its sustainability. Since the UDC is a new scheme to provide people with a shared access to information, the study uses ‘The Diffusion of Innovation’ theory as a framework to understand its impacts on users and to project future use by non-users. It also uses the ‘Stakeholder Theory’ to identify the stakeholders and discuss their roles in operations and management and their contributions to sustainability. A pluralistic research approach combined with mixed method has been adopted. Data were collected through surveys of 538 entrepreneurs across the country and 154 users from 16 UDCs of 4 districts. Interviews were conducted among 43 respondents including management officials, UP representatives and entrepreneurs from 4 districts and the project management

The findings show that the UDC has made modest inroads in providing users with access to information, comparative advantages and bridging the digital divide. However, it is yet to have significant impacts on broader development goals through improvement of livelihood. The study has explored roles of stakeholders to current progress and found an imbalance in their contributions in terms of overdependence on government’s supports. Inadequate engagement of entrepreneurs is linked to weak involvement of other stakeholders.

One of the key objectives of the study was to assess the issues of sustainability. It has identified the strengths and opportunities emanating from the partnership ecosystem to predict sustainability. It finds that both financial and social outcomes of the project are dependent on partnership components such as infrastructure and service inputs from government and entrepreneur’s investment. In the light of this, the study recommends more effective engagement of relevant stakeholders with an increase of these factors.

Although the overall record of the UDC is not impressive, as a new initiative it holds a promise to redefine the nature of service delivery and broaden people’s access in the future. One of the contributions of the present study is that it has considered the UDC as an innovation showing how the attributes of innovation can help it for wider diffusion. Given the lack of previous studies, this work has developed a model of contribution from each stakeholder in a telecentre project of a developing country, where the private sector is weak. The models for financial and social sustainability demonstrate pathways with collaborative involvement of all stakeholders.

Keywords: Telecentre, Innovation, Digital Divide, Stakeholders, E-government, Sustainability

Subject: Policy and Administration thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2016
School: School of Social and Policy Studies
Supervisor: Noore Alam Siddiquee