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Evaluation Report on UNESCO's Community Multimedia Centre Initiative

22-05-2006 (Paris)
UNESCO’s Community Multimedia Centre initiative is contributing “to improving quality of life through access to information” according to an independent evaluation report carried out by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).
UNESCO’s CMC initiative promotes sustainable local development through community-based facilities that combine traditional media like radio, television and print with new information communication technologies (ICTs) such as computers, the Internet, and mobile devices.

Since 2001, UNESCO has established more than 87 CMCs in over 22 developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean with major funding provided by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

The evaluation describes the initiative’s main achievement: “The CMCs are accepted by and fully integrated into the communities and can in many cases be sustained beyond the pilot phase without core operating grants. The effort and funding that UNESCO has channeled into this transformative initiative have been exceeded by the hard work and commitment of the CMC staff and the communities where they are based.”

Among other key findings, the evaluators clearly acknowledge the contribution of CMCs to local development, noting that “Longer term benefits are already being realized within individual communities, such as the gradual removal of barriers to social inclusion, the stimulation of poverty alleviation through access to knowledge of better health, resource management, agriculture practices and the creation of new livelihoods opportunities.”

CMCs are also recognized as critical tools for local communities to mediate changes brought on by globalization and the advent of new technologies: “The CMC role in fostering cultural resilience – the capacity of a community to retain critical knowledge and at the same time adapt to external influences and pressures - is particularly remarkable.”

In addition to an extensive review of documentation, the evaluation used field research, interviews, questionnaires, an online survey, and case studies to review the CMC initiative, a flagship activity of UNESCO’s Communication and Information Sector.

Equitable and expanded access to ICTs is promoted in many ways, such as subsidized training for those with special requirements and/or marginalized groups; close work with schools, small businesses and the independent sector; or the provision of information to more remote communities through radio, says the evaluation report.

The evaluation also points out challenges faced by the CMC initiative, including the strategic use of CMC networks as delivery mechanisms for development services, from projects and programmes of UN agencies and national governments to those of local civil society groups. Many challenges relate to sustainability of local facilities in low-income and least-developed localities. As CMCs depend on volunteers for the delivery of training, radio programming and other services, they face difficulties in finding appropriate incentives for volunteers and struggle with managing volunteer turnover.

Another challenge consists of opportunities for networking and staff development, which to date have been limited. Evaluators point out the need for CMCs to learn from and access expertise more easily and systematically from each other in order to be sustainable.

Enabling national policy environments are very important for the development and sustainability of CMCs. Sudden changes in national policies on connectivity charges can destabilize CMCs and broadcast licensing restrictions or restrictions on press freedom can prevent CMCs from being able to broadcast freely and to a broader constituency, says the report.

The evaluation has recognized the extent of success achieved over the years and the uniqueness of UNESCO’s CMC concept as a potential solution to mitigate the digital divide in marginalized communities. UNESCO is beginning a process of broad consultation with its partners and other stakeholders to formulate strategies for the future of the CMC initiatives.
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      · 2006
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