THE FUTURE IS NOW

Infomediaries: Public access brokers

from The Global Impact Study by Michelle Fellows

What is the role of a librarian, cybercafé manager, or telecenter employee? How do people working in public-access venues such as these act as infomediaries — influencing which services people learn, use, and value? The Infomediaries: Brokers of Public Access Study, part of our series of in-depth studies, will examine how infomediaries bring people and ICT together, both as service providers (offering advice, training, and content) and mediators (empowering individuals for whom services would otherwise appear unfathomable.

Led by Ricardo Ramirez, with Balaji Parthasarathy and Andy Gordon, this study asks four main questions:

  1. What are the practices, skills, and attitudes exhibited by infomediaries across different types of public access venues (libraries, telecentres, and cybercafes) and job descriptions (formal versus informal)?
  2. What outcomes do patrons provide as evidence of a positive experience from using a public access venue (across sectors like health, education, finance, job, democratic engagement)?
  3. To what extent do users point at infomediaries’ practices, roles, skills, attitudes as contributors to their positive or negative experiences, outcomes, and motivation to use public access venues (and how do they vary across sectors)?
  4. Under what conditions are infomediaries most able to contribute to positive impact in terms of effective use and improved information ecologies?

Through focus groups and semi-structured interviews, the research team will identify specific mechanisms, contexts, and conditions that allow infomediaries to broker the needs of users. Fieldwork in Bangladesh, Chile, and Lithuania starts on October 1, 2009, and will continue through 2011. The study’s hypotheses:

  • The different practices and roles played by infomediaries will influence the impact of public access venues on users. This includes infomediaries’ skills and attitudes, the extent to which their jobs are formalized, the type of venue they work in, and the rules they improvise as gatekeepers.
  • The context and type of public access venue where infomediaries perform their work will influence the reach and effectiveness of the services.  The context includes: information ecology, policies, pricing of services, and trust issues across the different types of public access venues.
  • The impact of the infomediaries will vary across patrons’ different livelihood priorities, including health, education, finances, jobs, democratic engagement, etc.   The Infomediaries study’s findings will be helpful to governments, donors, and investors involved in policy debates about the merits of public access venues. For the library community, the findings will provide insights into staff attributes, training, motivation, working conditions, and support needs.

Fellows, M. (2011). Infomediaries: Public impact studies . Global impact study.

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