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Please help me update what “telecentre” means for ICT4D

By Guest Writer on August 22, 2012


I am Christine Prefontaine and I’m writing a brief for Beyond Access: Libraries Powering Development – on different innovation spaces.

In it, I start by defining a range of innovation spaces: telecentre, hackerspace, coworking, fablab. (I’m working open: see and comment on messy work process.)

The definition of a telecentre wasn’t working for me. It missed some crucial aspects:

  1. Access to support: people (formal and informal infomediaries) and services, such as training.
  2. The fact that “telecentre” is a high-level, catch-all term to describe a type of space, stand-alone or embedded into an existing organization. So folks this means that you can be/run a telecentre even if you hate the word or don’t think of yourself that way.
  3. Highlighting the diversity of business / organizational models.
  4. Highlighting the focus on advancing well-being and development at all levels (individual, community). I decided good to leave this broad and not start enumerating different kinds of development (social, cultural, economic), or specific domains, such as health, democracy and governance, the environment, or education.

You can go look up the old definition on Wikipedia. Here’s my update to make the term “telecentre” more holistic:

“Telecentre” is catch-all term for a public place where people can access digital technologies and the Internet, information, and support and services that enable them to create, learn, play, and work – while building skills and connecting with others. Telecentres go by many different names (community multimedia/knowledge/ technology centre, public Internet access point, etc.), operate under a range of business models, and are sometimes embedded into existing institutions, including libraries, community organizations, nonprofits, and businesses. The common denominator is a commitment to advance well-being and development – of individuals and communities – which often includes efforts to support groups facing social and economic challenges, including youth, the elderly, people with disabilities, immigrants, and displaced workers.

I expect it will change a bit. The last part is still clunky. But you get the idea. And I welcome your feedback on my new definition.

Christine originally published this as Re-defining “telecentre” and its reposted here with her permission


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5 Comments to “Please help me update what “telecentre” means for ICT4D”

  1. John Hawker says:

    I’d only disagree with the term public, some telecentres operate in prisons, not exactly “public” places 🙂 some in schools, some aren’t for a number of reasons aren’t open to the general [ublic but offer all of the range of services described.

    So they are still a Telecentre, but just not open to the public.

  2. Matt Schofield says:

    Here in Argentina, there is plenty of public WiFi, typically laid on by one of the regional utility companies to cover the main public spaces (town square, river front). Libraries are few and far between. Here the “telecentre” term would be a Red Herring – its not about telephony (but rather about internet access to digital services, not voice) and there is no centre.

  3. Ari says:

    What if the term is just outdated? Do we still have to use the word “telecenter” even if it’s no longer applicable? Maybe we’ve just moved on, and there is no ‘catch-all’ term for every type of institution providing digital services. Just a thought…

  4. Theophilus Van Rensburg Lindzter says:

    Hi Christine,

    Thank you so much for opening this dialogue in this bold manner, itself very characteristic of what learning spaces should have as its core nature.

    Ari, in his post, is touching a nerve, because the strata of needs on the ground are so varied, challenging even the definition of innovation.

    For example, in 2011 our work in mobile learning at a High School in rural South Africa, forced us to address the fact that the media center needed to be cleaned up. There were loads of books (traditional technology) that were piled up in heaps. Those who were checking out the books from the library were courageous as it was not an appealing place, or space, to come to.

    We simply modified our plans and built the first media center that combines mobile learning with existing needs.

    Students checked out 3 times more books from the library in the first academic quarter of 2012 than they did in the entire 2011.

    I hope this perspective helps,


  5. Silvia says:

    This is a great discussion. As we were discussing yesterday when you asked me “what is the difference between a library and telecentre?” and I said, the difference depends on the who is asking the question: if it is a user. Well then, it still depends. If I go into a public area and it has books, computers and a safe space for human interaction, this could be considered a telecentre, a library or a community space, where social innovation could take place. As as user, I need access to such spaces and the label may come as a result of the use I make of it.

    On other hand, if the person asking is a politician or a policy maker, then the perspective will be different. For a policy maker the library may be conceptualized a space where people can find books, and perhaps information and thus policy to support such pre-conceive use will be formulated accordingly.

    For a Minister, for instance, a distinctive label means ensuring the allocation of potential budget for her/his portfolio or watching go to somebody else’s. And therefore it could have financial implications for programming and career advancement.

    All to say that the definitions have implications and these perspectives and discourses have to be managed by telecentre leaders as they move to other areas of work.

    – also posted as a reply in Facing Change blog.