2 Conceptual Framework & Research Design

Conceptual framework

The research framework guiding this investigation starts from what is already known about the general impact of ICTs: in a wide range of social and economic domains, these technologies have transformed production and exchange processes, increasing their efficiency and reach. Public access venues, the focus of this study, are places where the public can use computers and the internet — either for free or for a fee — such as telecenters, connected libraries, and cybercafés. As they bring ICTs within the reach of a greater number of people, public access venues amplify these impacts and bring their benefits to larger populations. For people who do not have private access to personal computers and internet connections, public access venues provide a substitute for private access.

However, it would be misleading to simply extrapolate from known impacts of ICTs and assume that as they multiply access, public venues multiply impact accordingly. The populations using public access venues differ in many ways from those who have private access. They use ICTs under different conditions, may follow distinct practices, and their purposes may not necessarily be the same. The research framework therefore takes three important stances to account for who uses public venues, what for, and how (see Figure 2.1).

Definition of public access ICTs

In the context of the Global Impact Study, “public access” is defined as computer and internet services that are open to the general public. The term “public” here does not refer to the source of funding or the business model. Both privately and publicly owned ICT venues can be considered public access venues — as long as their services are open to the general public. A cybercafé is therefore a public access venue, while a school library that can only be used by students and staff is not.

Public versus private access

The study framework articulates the usage practices specific to public access venues and situates them in relation to private access practices. Again, public use cannot be properly understood as a simple extrapolation of private use, because many of the ways people use public venues are inherently different from private use practices. Accordingly, the mechanisms leading from use to impact may well be different.

While acknowledging that public access brings technology to people who otherwise would not have it, a pervasive view considers it inferior to private access. The assumption is that users would prefer private use of ICTs, but must rely on public facilities because they cannot afford their own computers and internet connections. Public access is considered an inferior substitute, due to factors such as the lack of privacy in public venues, distractions from other users, restrictions imposed on computer use, limited opening hours, and the need to travel to the venue. From this perspective, public use is seen as a transitory solution — a form of “substitution”: when private access becomes more affordable, thanks to price drops or income gains, it is assumed that users will purchase private access and stop using public venues. Alternatively, as more affordable connected devices (such as mobile phones) become available, people would be expected to prefer them to public venues.

The present research framework makes room for an alternative view of public access, as a “complement” to private access. In this view, public use can in fact be superior to private use: people may have reasons to prefer public venues even when they have private access to information technologies. The public venue may offer more powerful computers, faster connections, or complementary services such as printing, training, or assistance. Public venues may be preferable when users want to work together or learn from one another, or for applications (such as multiplayer games) that require the participation of other users. Or users may want access when they are away from their home or office. For these reasons, users may continue to use public access long after they have acquired private access. Public access venues can thus provide a long-term complement to private access, leading to different kinds of ICT uses and different impacts from those envisioned by the substitution view.

Figure 2.1: Global Impact Study conceptual framework
Figure 2.1: Global Impact Study conceptual framework

Figure 2.1 depicts the conceptual framework of this study. The blue arrows represent the direct “substitution” path. That is, the expanded availability of public access leads to increased ICT use and subsequently greater impact. The green arrows represent the alternative mechanisms by which public access can lead to impact, by reaching different users or by enabling different forms of use.

Who uses public venues?

An important characteristic of the framework is the particular emphasis it places on understanding the specific categories of users who gain access through public venues. Because the populations using public venues differ from those who enjoy private access, the link between access and impact is likely to be different. Public access venues typically aim to provide access for specific populations, including people of lower socioeconomic status, females, youth, older users, and rural residents — those too poor to afford private access, lacking technology literacy and skills, or excluded for some other reason.

There are strong reasons to believe that the mechanisms that lead from use to impact will be different for marginal users and for the general population. For example, internet access has positive educational impact for literate users by providing them access to a wealth of reading materials, but one cannot assume that illiterate users will benefit in the same way. Likewise, it is known that better access to information yields more efficient markets and positive economic impact, but this does not apply to those excluded from market participation in the first place.

Moreover, public access may reach non-users through users, extending the benefits of ICTs into the community. Non-users also include ex-users, for whom public access may have served a transitory purpose at particular times in their lives. It is important to acknowledge and capture the role of public access in the lives of these non-users in order to fully understand and assess the impact of public access venues.

Therefore, an important research goal is to quantify and characterize the increased ICT reach brought about by public access venues. Increasing access, both direct and indirect, and providing first access has potential impact on disadvantaged populations. This research framework thus pays particular attention to these priority user and non-user populations and to the impact public access has on the various aspects of their lives.

What do people do in public access venues?

The study framework includes the broad range of activity domains represented in public access venue usage, incorporating specifically the domains that typically constitute important priorities for international development: Culture & Language, Education, Employment & Income, Governance, and Health. These domains correspond to the goals of many development programs: to preserve and promote local culture and languages, improve education outcomes, help people gain employment and secure income, promote civic participation, or improve health. In public access venues, these domains are typically served through using computers and internet connections as productive tools — for example, using a word processor to prepare a resume or to do school homework, accessing a government website to register for services, or searching the web for health information.

The framework accounts for a number of ways in which people’s uses in public access venues may differ from those in private settings.

Better access: Public venues can offer faster computers and broadband connections, or extra peripherals such as printers.

Assisted and mediated use: Skilled assistance is critically important to many users. Infomediaries, who act as intermediaries between public venue users and information technology and services, offer a wide range of services and constitute an essential link to successful impact. Without them, some public venue users could not make effective use of information resources. Help comes in many forms, ranging from paid staff (such as librarians or cybercafé staff), to freelancers (such as the self-employed assistant found in some Bangladeshi cybercafés), to helpful strangers (whether directly helping or unintentionally modeling successful information use strategies), or helpful acquaintances, who may accompany a user to the public venue. These infomediaries provide a wide range of facilitation and intermediation services, usually for free.

Shared, co-present use: Some information technology activities are inherently social. Working side-by-side can help with collaborative tasks or in teaching a new skill, and some computer games work best when players are in the same room. Users at public access venues often work together, play together, and learn from one another. Public venue rules, however, may discourage such shared practices because they can be disruptive for other users.

In addition, it is important to account for computer and internet uses which may not always be considered productive, such as computer games, social networking, computer chat, and email. The project team knows from prior research and observation that, in most parts of the world, users often go to public access venues to play computer games, chat with friends and family, or update their Facebook or Orkut. In a number of public access venues, such “non-serious” uses may be discouraged if not outright forbidden. But are non-serious uses of information technology merely a distraction? The study framework allows for testing two related hypotheses. First, users may be initially attracted to using computers in public access venues to play games or use Facebook, but may then go beyond that initial use to engage in other ICT activities. Second, and perhaps most importantly, what may seem like frivolous uses of ICTs may turn out to have important impacts. For example, gamers may acquire valuable generic computer skills, while social networking may help maintain social capital or provide direct sources to information and assistance that proves important to users when faced with life challenges. Thus, the study includes Communications & Leisure as a top-level domain of interest and studies the impact of related uses on the lives of public access venue users.

A careful examination of these practices (who uses, what do they use, and how) helps identify specific conditions that lead to greater use and impact. Analysis of the data can yield important insights to inform venue placement, design, services, rules, and other facets of public access operations. Furthermore, the analysis can be targeted to specific domains and populations.

Gauging impact

It would be extremely difficult to measure accurately the impact of public access venues and to reliably attribute these impacts to ICT use in public access venues (see OECD, 2007). Short of conducting a controlled experiment, it is impossible to determine whether any changes in the lives of public access venue users are the result of their technology use in public access venues.

This study uses a combination of approaches to gauge the impacts of public access venues. A first-level of analysis examines how public access venues affect digital inclusion, by changing access to and use of information and communication technologies. Within the conceptual framework described above, better access and increased use constitute by themselves important impacts, with significant consequences for people’s lives. Beyond this first level, there is a second level of analysis that examines consequences in a range of domains: Communications & Leisure, Culture & Language, Education, Employment & Income, Governance, and Health.

A combination of several methodologies provided estimates of such second-order impacts. In most cases, the effective approach was to rely on self-reports by ICT users. The surveys asked respondents how actual technology use at public access venues had resulted in changes to their social and economic condition. Overall, evidence on the validity of self-reported data is mixed (Bowman, 2010). However, there are indications that self-reported data can provide valid approximations for objective data, despite the associated limitations of response bias. (For examples, see Crockett, Schulenberg, & Petersen, 1987; Junco, 2013.) To enhance the precision of data collected, in addition to asking respondents to report on the consequences (positive or negative) of public access use, survey questions also elicited more concrete perception information, asking for example about respondents’ experience with specific tasks that lead to specific outcomes, such as applying for a job or better managing an illness. Finally, certain cases allowed direct measurements of changes in outcome variables. One example is a focused study in Brazil that examined variations in technology skills by directly testing those skills, though still relying on self-reports to identify the contributing role of public access venue usage. A final approach was to use benefit cost analysis to estimate impacts, employing two types of measures of impact, characterized broadly as stated preference and revealed preference measures. In stated preference measures individuals respond to questions on how they value public access venues, while in revealed preference measures researchers observe actions and deduce the benefits to users. The survey data collected indicate both how individuals self-report the importance of public access, and how their actions reveal the importance they place on public access. Together, this combination of approaches provides a gauge of the kind and magnitude of social and economic impacts deriving from technology use in public access venues, focusing in particular on the impacts of public access for vulnerable or disadvantaged groups and the main domains covered in this study: Communications & Leisure, Culture & Language, Education, Employment & Income, Governance, and Health.

An original intention of the study was to adopt a longitudinal approach, to measure impacts over time. Owing to the lack of reliable historical data, and the impracticality of collecting meaningful time series data within the project timeline, the research was ultimately designed as a cross-sectional study. Considering the constant flux in the ICT ecosystem, the data present a portrait of public access to ICTs at a particular time period, with no assumption that the current trends will continue into the future. The research design addresses this limitation by incorporating multiple lenses and by collecting data that attempt to elicit from research respondents historical information on public access uses and impacts, providing a yardstick against which future developments can be compared.

Research design

The research presented in this report was conducted in multiple national contexts, using various complementary methodologies to examine the public access phenomenon at various levels of analysis. The core focus was on five countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Ghana, and the Philippines. These countries present a range of economic development levels and information technology penetration, a variety of public access histories and practices, and span three continents. That research is complemented by more limited studies in three other countries: Botswana, Lithuania, and South Africa. With the exception of Bangladesh, all the countries covered are officially classified as middle-income countries by the World Bank. However, this does not diminish their appropriateness as settings to investigate the impacts of ICTs on soci0economic development. Recent global poverty data has shown that the majority of the world’s poor now live in middle-income countries (70%–80% in 2008, according to Sumner, 2012). Research on poverty will continue to be relevant in these countries.

Although some of the results presented in this report analyze differences in the impacts of public access between countries, this research is structured to go beyond national comparisons to analyze variables across categories of user populations, domains of impact, and types of public access venues. This is a global study, and those who make use of this research need to be able to situate their own countries or interests within the range of contexts presented in this report.

The research approach rests on three main components.

  1. In each of the five core countries, the project team conducted an inventory of public access venues to establish the contours of the public access phenomenon.[1]
  2. Second, drawing a representative sample of venues from the inventory in each country, the research team conducted three kinds of surveys: a survey of venues operators; a survey of users in these venues; and a survey of non-users in the areas surrounding public access venues.
  3. Third, seven in-depth studies were designed to examine in detail salient or contested aspects of public access venues.

Each of these in-depth studies focused on a specific question. Two relate to the public character of these venues, probing the impact of infomediation available through public access venue staff (in Bangladesh, Chile, and Lithuania) and the impact of shared use among public access venue users (in Ghana). The next two studies look at the impact of uses that are often prohibited in connected libraries and telecenters, though generally allowed in cybercafés: gaming and non-instrumental uses (in Brazil), and interpersonal communication such as chat, conferencing, and social networking (in the Philippines). The fifth study investigates the relationship between public use of computers and private use of mobile internet (in South Africa), examining the claim that mobiles make public access redundant. Finally, two in-depth studies were designed with alternative impact methodologies. The one conducted in Chile applies a cost-benefit methodology to estimate the value of public access (see Chapter 8). The other, conducted in Botswana, estimates impacts within the sustainable livelihood framework.

Figure 2.2: Research design overview
Figure 2.2: Research design overview

1. The inventory assesses the magnitude and contours of the public access phenomenon.

A first step in understanding the impact of public access to ICTs is to know how widespread public access provision actually is. As the project team began work on the Global Impact Study, it quickly became clear that there are no reliable estimates of the number of public access venues, or of their distribution among diverse categories — telecenters, connected libraries, and cybercafés. This is important not only to assess the extent and the various forms of public access, but also as basis for constructing a representative sample of venues for surveys. This information could also provide a reference point to estimate the significance of impacts observed in individual cases.

2. Three surveys provide a detailed analysis of uses and impacts within and around public access venues.

In each country, three extensive surveys were administered within a representative sample of public access venues, derived from the inventory. The first targeted public access venue operators, the second targeted venue users, and the third targeted non-users — people who do not use public access venues, but may be affected through their relationships with users or their membership in the communities surrounding public access venues. Data from these surveys provide a comprehensive picture of the nature, use, and impact of public access. Based on the research framework, the surveys explore four complementary ways in which public access venues affect ICT usage: first, by providing improved access for existing ICT users; second, by providing access to new users and to non-users who benefit indirectly; third, by opening access to new applications and services; and fourth, by allowing different patterns of use than private access, including shared use or assisted use. The venue and user surveys probed the prevalence of these various mechanisms and asked respondents to report on their perceived impacts. While these measurements of self-reported impacts are obviously subjective, several questions were included that ask respondents to report objective benefits, such as a job application or participation in online courses. The surveys also asked for estimates of the costs of public access, from the perspective of both venue operators and users, including the costs users incur to avail themselves of the facilities.

Together, the inventory and surveys conducted in the five core countries provide answers to key questions about public access to ICTs: How much public access exists? What are the characteristics of different types of public access venues? Who are the users? What do they do? What impact do they report on their lives? What are some of the costs incurred in obtaining these benefits? These data are used to provide an estimation of the impact of public access provision on people’s lives. The methodology for the inventory and surveys is described in more detail below.

3. Seven in-depth studies explore impact mechanisms and contested issues.

Through exploratory work during the project’s formative year, the project team identified a number of aspects of public access provision that attract particular attention, in part because they generate controversy, and that seemed to be related to significant impact mechanisms. In-depth studies were designed to address a selection of these issues, to complement and enrich the survey data.

The first two studies examine two attributes of public access that derive directly from the venues’ public character: infomediation, as provided by public access venue staff; and the opportunities for shared use of information technology, derived from the presence of others in public access venues. The first study (Infomediaries: Brokers of public access) asks how the role of infomediaries affects the outcomes for public access venue users. Conducted in Bangladesh, Chile, and Lithuania, it draws on infomediary interviews, user focus groups, library manager interviews, field visits, and ethnographic studies. The second in-depth study (Sharing: Understanding and Rethinking Shared Access) seeks to better understand the forms of collaborative, co-present sharing in cybercafés, as well as the advantages and disadvantages associated with this sharing. It relies on a survey of users in two cybercafés in Accra, the capital of Ghana.

The next two studies examine gaming and interpersonal communication, as uses of information technology that are often discouraged in public access venues sponsored by public agencies or foundations. Such uses are often contrasted to “serious” applications, like word processing or creating spreadsheets, that enable public access venue users to perform such tasks as writing a report, producing a resume, or simulating financial outcomes for their small business. Yet a visit to any public access venue in most parts of the world would show that their users are often there to play computer games, chat with friends and family, or update their Facebook page — what are called “non-instrumental” uses. The third study (Non-Instrumental Use: Skills Acquisition, Self-Confidence, and Community-based Technology Teaching) interviewed users of LAN-houses (a form of cybercafés) in Brazil to assess their usage profile, and then tested their skills to measure whether there are objective differences in the generic computer skills of gamers as opposed to “serious” users. The fourth study (Interpersonal: The Impact of Cybercafés on the Connectedness of Children Left Behind by Overseas Filipino Workers) used a combination of surveys and focus group discussions to understand how cybercafés function as a means for maintaining familial connectedness, focusing in particular on the extent to which children use cybercafé internet access to communicate with their migrant parents, and how they may be monitored by their parents via internet communication.

The fifth in-depth study (Mobile: The Interplay of Shared Access and the Mobile internet for Teenagers in Cape Town) explores whether, if everyone carries a private information device in their pocket, there is still a need to provide public access to information technology. Mobile phones are now broadly available throughout the developing world, prompting some to wonder whether they might obviate the need for public access venues. This study explores mobile internet use in South Africa, focusing on older teenage public access venue users in low-income neighborhoods of Cape Town, to identify the roles of public access and mobile internet use in their educational, cultural, and health-related web use and in civic involvement. It uses semi-structured interviews with public access venue operators, detailed interviews, activity/drawing probes, and task analyses with teenage public access venue users, as well as a closed-end questionnaire administered to 280 public access venue users.

The last two in-depth studies apply alternative methodologies to explore impact through different and complementary lenses. The first (Perceptions of Value for Public Access to Information and Communication Technology in Five Countries: A Mixed Method Benefit-Cost Analysis Approach for Informing Policy) assesses the costs and benefits of public access venues, using the contingent valuation method to assess individual willingness to pay for public access (by venue type and demographic characteristics). To test hypotheses about predictors of willingness to pay, the study asked respondents about their usage history and demographic characteristics.

The second alternative methodology study (The Impact of Information and Communication Technologies at Libraries on Sustainable Livelihood Strategies and Outcomes in Botswana) uses the sustainable livelihoods framework, which focuses on the factors that make people vulnerable to poverty and those that promote resilience, such as the individual’s pool of assets (natural, physical, human, financial, and social) and the existence of an policy framework that enables the development of effective livelihood strategies. This study assesses the impact of ICT availability in public libraries on the livelihood strategies of public access users.[2]

These in-depth studies apply methodologies ranging from ethnographies and focus group discussions to interventions and experiments, in order to explore impact mechanisms in greater detail. Although these studies by necessity focus on a few specific sites, they derive greater value from an understanding gained through the inventory and the surveys about the prevalence of the particular observations. The combination of focused studies and broader findings provide the necessary background to make policy recommendations on important and controversial topics. Should gaming be banned or encouraged in public access venues? Are the benefits equal to the costs of providing staff assistance or infomediation? Are there possible arrangements of public access venues or configurations of ICT tools that foster productive sharing? While the inventory and surveys can assess existing arrangements, these in-depth studies provide a complementary avenue to determine whether changes to current arrangements might yield more significant impacts.

Theoretical approach

There is a range of theoretical perspectives in the ICT for development (ICTD) arena with relevance to this project (see Heeks & Molla, 2009 for an overview of ICTD frameworks). While allowing room for some overarching theoretical perspective (such as theories of development or change), considering the wide variety of issues to be investigated the project needed to accommodate multiple theoretical frameworks. The project team took a grounded approach, starting from an examination of existing trends in the target countries and applying specific theoretical perspectives or concepts appropriate to the particular aspects of the research. The theoretical perspectives addressed in the project include: inputs to impacts theory of change; stages of access to ICTs; social life of information; identity and agency; and digital habitus.

Data analysis

The three research components — inventory, surveys and in-depth case studies — were designed to stand alone and to complement each other. The inventory provided a rudimentary basis for estimating the prevalence of public access in the research countries and for describing the range and features of existing venues. Data from each of the surveys were primarily categorical in nature and were analyzed to identify basic trends within countries, as well as similarities and differences between countries and venue types. Chi-square tests were used when applicable to evaluate contingency tables and determine which of the many observed differences between categories were statistically significant.

In addition to the in-depth case study reports, the findings of the in-depth studies were compared to data on related topics in the surveys to identify areas of consistency or difference.

Strengths and limitations of the research design


  • Achieves both breadth and depth of analysis through use of multiple methods: multi-country surveys and country-specific case studies
  • Combines quantitative and qualitative methodologies, to complement detailed understanding of impact mechanisms with assessment of their prevalence
  • Utilizes multiple complementary theoretical approaches
  • Leverages local knowledge by involving local experts to adapt design to individual country context
  • Targets the outcomes of public access use as opposed to ICT use in general
  • Accounts for indirect uses and impacts, an often overlooked component of public access assessments


  • Complexity of design
  • Methodology is not applied uniformly across all countries, presenting some analytical challenges
  • Does not employ a common theoretical frame across the different methods
  • Depends primarily on self-reported impacts

Inventory and survey methodology

A basic overview of the methodology for the inventory and survey activities is provided in this section. More detailed descriptions are available in the survey methodology report (Survey Working Group, 2012) and on the Global Impact Study website (www.globalimpactstudy.org).

Inventories of public access venues

The national inventories provide a measure of the extensiveness of the public access ICT phenomenon, as the essential backdrop for interpreting the detailed Global Impact Study findings. The inventories enable analysis of the size, composition, and geographic distribution — and possibly the evolution — of public access venues within each country. They can also support cross-country comparisons to shed light on the diversity of public access modalities. The inventories were conducted in the five core research countries, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Ghana, and the Philippines, as well as Lithuania.

Research teams in each country compiled data on the number, types, and locations of public access venues, guided by a carefully designed taxonomy developed specifically to enable the categorization of public access venues in a consistent way across countries. Collection of this information was accomplished through an iterative process, designed to capture data for venues that were actually operating, not those planned for the future or those that had already closed. A general requirement was that data be collected from existing administrative data sources offering a high degree of confidence. The taxonomy accounted for all important modalities, such as distinguishing between private and public ownership, the availability of services for a fee or free, and type of venue.

For the venue type, the terms “telecenter” and “cybercafé” were deliberately omitted as sub-categories of venue type, due to the existence of varying definitions of these types of venue. Instead, a generic designation of “stand-alone facility” was used to classify such venues. The ownership and business mode taxonomy categories provide additional detail that distinguishes between the telecenter-type (public or NGO-owned, not-for-profit) and cybercafé-type (privately owned, for profit). Although this is not a perfect solution, it allows for greater control in data collection without assigning a rigorous definition that may be inappropriate or difficult to implement in some countries. For simplicity, however, this report refers to venues in the surveys using the standard labels of cybercafé, telecenter, or library.

Libraries in this study refer to connected public libraries, that is, those that offer public access to computers and the internet. The inventory and survey revealed that, despite the information in many administrative sources, the majority of public libraries in the core research countries did not in fact meet the Global Impact Study definition of public access: initial sources indicated a much larger number of connected libraries in the sample countries than found on the ground. (Telecenters and cybercafés are by definition equipped with public computers, and generally internet access as well.) Further details on the taxonomy are contained in Appendix 1.

For reference purposes, Table 2.1 shows the total number of public and community libraries in each country (including those that do not offer computer and internet access).

Table 2.1: Number of libraries, by country
Country Number of libraries
Brazil 5,097
Lithuania 1,335
Philippines 1,124
Chile 526
Ghana 257
Bangladesh 68
Total 8,407
Source: 2010 and 2007 IFLA World Reports


While they are deemed to be the best that exist in this area of research, the quality of the inventory data is limited by the following factors:

Dependence on administrative data sources

Limited data on cybercafés due to low official registration levels and high turnover

Based on their local knowledge, data collection teams provided estimations of their level of confidence in the data they submitted, as accurately representing the totality of public access ICT venues in their country. As explained in the methodology report (Survey Working Group, 2012), an average of 20% of cybercafés either did not exist or had closed at the time of the visit.

Similarly, since the definition of a rural or urban area varies in different countries and sources, the designation of a venue as rural or urban is based on the research teams’ knowledge of local definitions. (See Appendix 2 for country definitions.)[3]

The surveys

Covering five countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Ghana, and the Philippines), the surveys were designed to address 14 research questions:[4]

  1. What is the demographic profile of public access ICT users and non-users?
  2. Apart from public access ICTs, what other information and communication resources do public access ICT users and non-users have?
  3. What are the ICT skills and ICT use comfort levels of public access users?
  4. Why do people go to public access ICT venues?
  5. What are the reasons for non-use of public access ICT venues?
  6. What do people do at public access venues?
  7. How accessible are public access ICT venues and services to different types of populations?
  8. How do the design, services, and operations of public access ICTs affect usage patterns?
  9. What do public access users see as the impacts of using public access ICTs?
  10. What outcomes can be associated with public access ICT use in different domains?
  11. Are the outcomes non-users experience from use of non-public access information and communication resources similar to the outcomes experienced by users of public access ICTs?
  12. Does public access ICT use have indirect impacts?
  13. What is the value of public access ICTs to users?
  14. What is the cost of providing public access ICTs?

These questions were explored through three distinct surveys: 1) public access ICT venue operators; 2) public access ICT venue users; and 3) public access ICT non-users. The venue operator survey gathered information on the operational characteristics, design, services, and costs of providing public access to ICTs. The user survey gathered information on users’ characteristics, usage patterns, and perceived impacts of using public access ICTs. The non-user survey gathered information on the characteristics of non-users, reasons for not using public access ICTs, and perceptions of indirect impacts. All surveys took place between 2010 and 2011, conducted by research teams from research or academic institutions in each country. These teams also participated in the survey design and pilot testing of the questionnaires.

Venue survey methodology

A total of approximately 250 venue operators were surveyed in approximately 250 randomly-selected public access locations throughout each country. Selection of the venues to include in each sample was determined using the inventory of public access venues in the country along with input from the country research teams. The target population included all venues in the country, both urban and rural. Given that the primary purpose of the operator survey was to investigate venue characteristics (though a secondary aim was to understand respondent demographics), multiple operators were allowed to provide information for a single interview. All surveys were face-to face and researcher-administered.

While cybercafés are prevalent in all countries of the Global Impact Study, libraries that offer public access to ICTs were few and hard to find in all the countries except Chile. As noted above, even though administrative sources indicated the presence of public access computing, on-site visits to the libraries revealed that a large proportion did not in fact offer computer and internet access to the general public. Further, while administering the surveys in Bangladesh, researchers found that although rural community libraries often have computers, they are generally located in schools and are restricted to student use.

Chile, by contrast, has a well-known network of such libraries (Biblioredes) that offer public access to computers and the internet, and they represent almost 70% of the study’s total library sample (71 of 103). Therefore, many of the findings referring to public access from libraries are applicable primarily to Chile and cannot be generalized to the other countries of the study. Statements relating to other countries must be interpreted with the knowledge that such findings pertain to a very small total number — a handful of libraries in each country. While not as acute as for libraries, a similar situation exists for telecenters: the results on telecenters must be interpreted as largely reflecting the situation in Bangladesh.

For more detailed information on the venue survey methodology, see the survey methodology report (Survey Working Group, 2012).The final venue sample is provided in Table 2.2.

Table 2.2: Final venue sample
Country Libraries Cybercafés Telecenters Other Total
Bangladesh 4 99 148 0 251
Brazil 6 192 39 5 242
Chile 71 109 22 41 243
Ghana 4 220 14 12 250
Philippines 18 229 13 1 261
Total 103 849 236 59 1,247

User survey methodology

A total of approximately 1,000 users, over the age of 12, were surveyed in approximately 250 randomly-selected public access locations throughout each country (the goal was to sample four users per venue). Users were selected in each venue attempting to capture an equal number of males and females. The sample was also dispersed both by day of the week and time of day (morning, afternoon, evening/night). Age was not a stratification variable. Each country research team worked with the Survey Working Group to develop a locally relevant strategy for selecting individual users. The typical approach was to select every nth person observed using a computer in the venue. All surveys were face-to face and researcher-administered. For more detailed information on the user survey methodology, see the survey methodology report (Survey Working Group, 2012).

Non-user survey methodology

The non-user sample reflects a snapshot of non-users who live in areas with public access. A total of approximately 400 non-users in each country were identified through household surveys, administered in communities surrounding selected venues from the user and operator survey samples. The goal was to provide an analytical counterweight to public access users and to allow comparisons between the two groups in terms of their demographic and socioeconomic profiles. This also allowed collection of information relating to the reasons for non-use, when distance is not a factor. Therefore, even though the majority of individuals in the project countries are non-users, the sample of non-users does not necessarily reflect the national population, but rather the population in areas where public access venues are available. Communities for the household surveys were selected by the local research teams and stratified based on the relative density of venues in the area. The method for the actual selection of households and non-users varied on a country-by-country basis, to allow for variations in community features and customs.

The Survey Working Group assisted the country teams in developing their strategies, following a basic structure. In each household selected, interviewers asked the first available adult a series of questions, including: Which household members do not use public access ICT venues? The interviewer then selected one of the individuals identified to participate in the survey. This respondent selection was designed to maintain equal gender representation while allowing for age variation. A typical strategy employed was as follows:

  • Household 1: oldest male
  • Household 2: youngest male (over 12)
  • Household 3: oldest female
  • Household 4: youngest female (over 12)

The respondent was then asked a series of questions designed to 1) confirm that he/she was indeed a non-user and 2) determine the non-user type. (See Chapter 6 for more detail on non-user types.)

All surveys were face-to-face and researcher-administered. For more detailed information on the non-user survey methodology, see the survey methodology report (Survey Working Group, 2012). The final user and non-user sample is provided in Table 2.3.

Table 2.3: Final user and non-user samples
Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines Total
Users Male 786 587 540 754 572 3,239
Female 218 373 455 246 466 1,758
Missing 0 5 2 0 6 13
Total 1,004 965 997 1,000 1,044 5,010
Non-users Male 200 202 154 172 200 928
Female 200 197 245 223 200 1,065
Missing 0 1 1 5 0 7
Total 400 400 400 400 400 2,000

Summary of survey methodology

Venue operators: 1,247 public access venue operators or owners, sampled on the premises of public access venues

Users: 5,010 public access users, sampled on the premises of public access venues

Non-users: 2,000 non-users, sampled at their homes, in communities surrounding public access venues


Gender. It was not possible in all countries to get equal gender representation in the user survey. Chile and the Philippines came closest to the ideal distribution, but the overall pattern was that public access venues tend to be patronized a lot more by males than by females.

Results not truly national. In Chile and Bangladesh, the user surveys included every region of those countries and can thus be considered truly national. In the case of Brazil, Ghana, and the Philippines, the surveys were administered only in key regions, for a variety of reasons, and the results are applicable only to the regions covered by the survey. In addition, since the non-user survey was not implemented in areas without public access venues, it cannot be considered representative of all non-users nationally.

Inventory limitations. The inventories served as the starting point for generating the survey samples in each country. While the inventories are the most comprehensive available set of this type of data, they were nevertheless deemed incomplete to serve as exclusive survey frames, particularly in capturing cybercafés — for the reasons described above, in the inventory limitations section. Enumerators in the field quickly learned that many venues in the lists no longer existed, were temporarily closed, or were not truly public access venues as defined by the study (i.e., they had restrictions on who could use the venue, such as by gender). This was particularly true with public libraries in Brazil and Bangladesh. Because sampling regions were pre-determined, with resources allocated to those regions, expanding the survey coverage area to take into account lower-than-expected venue counts was not feasible.

Representation of different public access models. As already noted above, there is a disproportionate number of cybercafés in the sample, compared to libraries. This is not merely an artifact of the sampling method, however. In fact, except in Chile, the phenomenon of public libraries offering public access was embryonic at the time of the venue survey. This finding suggests that, although individual country findings stated in this report are reliably based on the data collected, these early observations cannot tell us how patterns of use may change, as public access in public libraries becomes more widespread.

Statistical testing. In relation to use of chi-square statistical tests, one caveat relates to the complex relationships that may exist between multiple variables: for example, in Bangladesh, users who are less skilled report lower perceived impacts, but they are also more likely to be rural telecenter users). Such relationships, while possibly influential, are not accounted for in the test. Another limitation of the test is that information beyond the basic P-value is not available (e.g., whether some categories have larger differences than others). The statistical significance of the observed differences is presented with these limitations in mind, and without attempting to address all the possible complexities.

Details of the survey methodology, including the survey design, sampling strategies, survey instruments, and challenges and limitations, are available in the survey methodology report (Survey Working Group, 2012).

ICT profile of project countries

The eight countries in the study represent diverse infrastructure and usage environments, with Lithuania being the best resourced and Bangladesh the least resourced in computer and internet access (Table 2.4).

Table 2.4: Computer and internet indicators (%)
Country Internet users Households w/ a computer Households w/ internet access
Lithuania 65 62 62
Chile 60 51 39
Brazil 45 45 38
Philippines 29 15 15
South Africa 21 20 10
Ghana 14 10 4
Botswana 7 7 6
Bangladesh 5 4 3
Source: ITU ICT Eye, www.itu.int

Chapters 3 to 7 present a selection of the inventory and survey results to create profiles of the public access environment, user and non-user behaviors, and perceived impacts in the five core countries (and, to a limited extent, Lithuania). The data in Chapter 3 are analyzed primarily along country lines. Other chapters of this report focus rather on trends that cut across countries.

  1. An inventory was also conducted in Lithuania.
  2. Data from this study was not available for this report and will be released separately.
  3. All venues in the inventory were geolocated, allowing for GIS and other analytical techniques. Raw data and maps can be accessed through the project’s inventory database, http://database.globalimpactstudy.org/.
  4. Lithuania was not included in the survey activity, as a similar survey occurring in libraries during the same time period raised concerns about survey fatigue at the venues.


Connecting people for development: Why public access ICTs matter Copyright © 2013 by Technology & Social Change Group, University of Washington Information School. All Rights Reserved.


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