Documentation in a community informatics project. The creation and sharing of information by women in Bangladesh

Publication Date18 Dec 2019
AuthorViviane Frings-Hessami,Anindita Sarker,Gillian Oliver,Misita Anwar
subjectMatterLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Documentation in a
community informatics project
The creation and sharing of
information by women in Bangladesh
Viviane Frings-Hessami, Anindita Sarker, Gillian Oliver and
Misita Anwar
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to discuss the creation and sharing of information by Bangladeshi
women participants in a community informatics project and to assess to what extent the information
provided to them meets their short and longer-term needs.
Design/methodology/approach The analysis is based on data collected during a workshop with village
women in Dhaka and focus group discussions in rural Bangladesh in March and April 2019. The information
continuum model is used as a framework to analyse the data.
Findings The study shows that the wo men document their learning and share it wit h their families and
communities and that they ar e very conscious of the importa nce of keeping analogue back- ups of the
information provide d to them in digital format. They use notebooks to writ e down information that they
find useful and they copy information provided to them on brown paper sheets hung in the village
community houses.
Practical implications This paper raises questions about how information is communicated to village
women, organised and integrated in a community informatics project, and more generally about the
suitability and sustainability of providing information in digital formats in a developing country.
Originality/value The paper shows how village women participants in a community informatics project
in Bangladesh took the initiative to create and preserve the information that was useful to them in
analogue formats to remedy the limitations of the digital formats and to keep the information accessible in
the longer term.
Keywords Bangladesh, Analogue back-up, Information continuum model, Personal documentation
Paper type Research paper
This paper reports on the creation and sharing of information in the context of a community
informatics project, participatory research and ownership with technology, information
and change (PROTIC), which has been working with village women in remote parts of
Bangladesh since 2015. It focusses on the production and sharing of information by the
women themselves and is based on data collected by the authors during a workshop held in
Dhaka in March 2019 and subsequent focus group discussions in a Bangladeshi village, as
well as on previous observations of documentation practices in the PROTIC villages by two
of the authors.
The paper startswith an introduction on the contextof the project and on the methodology
used and a brief literature review, then presents an analysis of the Bangladeshi womens
documentation practices framed by the information continuum model (Upward, 2000). It
assessesto what extent the informationprovided to them mettheir short-term and longer-term
needs. The study shows that the village women captured the information that they found
useful and shared it with their families and communities and that they took the initiative to
create and preserve the information that was useful to them in analogue formats to remedy
the limitationsof the digital formats and to keepthe information accessiblein the longer term.
The paper describes the new documentation practices that the PROTIC women developed
during the course of the project. It raises questions about the ways in which information is
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 76 No. 2, 2020
pp. 552-570
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-08-2019-0167
Received 26 August 2019
Revised 10 November 2019
Accepted 30 November 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
communicated to villagewomen, organised andintegrated in a communityinformatics project,
and more generallyabout the suitability and sustainability of providing information in digital
formats in a developing country.
The PROTIC project
Bangladesh is the eighth most populated country in the world with more than 160m people
in 147,570 square kilometres. More than 65 per cent of the population live in the rural areas
(World Bank, 2018). Socially and culturally Bangladeshi women are marginalised and
disadvantaged because of their lower access to economic resources and limited participation
in the decision-making process (Guhathakurta and Banu, 2017). Agriculture is the main
source of livelihood for the rural population and women play a key role in agriculture, but
their efforts and hard work tend to be unacknowledged and underappreciated due to the
dominant social perception that sees women as housewives and does not recognise their
active involvement in agricultural production (Kabeer, 1991; Rahman, 2000, 2010).
Traditionally in Bangladeshi society, women are associated with the private sphere of
household activities rather than with the formal labour market (White, 1992). The cultural
importance accorded to female honour and seclusion (Kabeer, 1991) impacts on the activities
that rural Bangladeshi women can engage in and on their daily life. However, women
manage more than 50 per cent of the agricultural activities (FAO, 2011, p. 9). They
are involved in each and every step of agricultural production, but particularly in the
post-harvest processing which mainly happens in the home areas or courtyards (Rahman,
2010; Lewis, 2011).
The PROTIC project was set up in 2015 as a participatory action research project with
the aim of supporting and empowering Bangladeshi women in agriculture (
edu/it/protic/about). It is a collaboration between Monash University, Australia, Oxfam
Australia and Oxfam Bangladesh and is implemented with the assistance of three local
non-government organisations (NGOs) in three dif ferent geographical locations in
Bangladesh (Sarrica et al., 2019). The project started in 2015 with a pilot phase for one
year and will continue until the end of 2019. The objective of the project is to empower
women in agriculture through mobile phone technology by giving community voices a key
role in project design, implementation and further decision-making. As a participatory
action research project, it endeavours to use learning from the field to adjust the project to
better meet the needs of the recipients (Sarrica et al., 2019). In total, 300 women farmers
(100 in each region) were given smartphones and phone credits to enable them to access
information on agricultural topics. They were also provided with training and regular staff
assistance to learn and use the devices and understand the information they receive as part
of the project. A telecommunication company, Win Miaki, is working with OXFAM and its
local partners to design the agricultural information content that is provided in each area.
The agricultural information is provided by Win Miakis agronomists and validated by the
Bangladeshi government before being disseminated. It includes information about crops,
poultry, livestock, vegetable gardening, fish culture and crab culture, as well as weather-
related information which can help the participants to better plan their agricultural
production. Information is sent to them via SMS and outbound dialling on a regular
basis. Every week participants get three SMS, including two SMS related to seasonal
agricultural production and one weather-related SMS. A call centre that women can call to
get information on a need basis was also set up. In addition to this, two mobile phone apps,
one on maize production, the other on the government subsidies available to villagers, were
developed specifically for the project. The women were also shown how to use Facebook to
share various information related to agriculture, as well as to discuss other topics of interest
to them. In contrast with the digital information pushed by the project, the use of notebooks
and brown paper by the village women participants for documenting the information that

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