This study examines the extent to which participatory communication within telecentre projects contributes to farmer empowerment. It investigates two telecentre initiatives in Indonesia: the Pabelan telecentre in Central Java and the Muneng telecentre in East Java from 2005 to 2007. To investigate these cases, this study adopts a comparative case study as its research strategy. This study applies qualitative data collection methods from document reviews, direct observations, in-depth interviews, and focus group discussions. In addition, it applies theoretical thematic analysis to its data analysis.
This study uses actor-network theory (ANT), specifically, its key notion of translation, to examine the practice of participatory communication for empowerment in telecentre projects. The ANT perspective views participatory communication in development as a network-building process through translation, in which the initiating actors must negotiate with other actors to align their interests with their own, and enrol and keep them in the network. The use of ANT in this study will contribute to the development of theory in the field of participatory communication.
This study demonstrates that the formation of strong network determines the success of participatory communication in the telecentre project to achieve empowerment. A strong network indicates that facilitators conduct translation effectively and the actors remain enrolled in the network because their alignment with it enables them to futher their interests. In contrast, in a weak network, the actors do not remain aligned with the network because their alignment with it does not enable them to further their interests. Although the telecentre networks in Indonesia were established and remained stable over a period, these networks finally declined. The facilitators failed to build strong telecentre networks and maintain their stability over a period. Many actors left the networks because their alignment with them to further their interests was ineffective.
This study finds that the farmers’ participation in the telecentre projects did not have significant impact on farmer empowerment. The farmers acquired capabilities such as enhanced individual and collective agency, new skills, and knowledge. To achieve economic empowerment, however, these capabilities must combine with available resources. Most farmers participating in the telecentre projects were smallholders and lack of sufficient resources. Consequently, only few of them achieved economic empowerment.
The practice of participatory communication failed to significantly impact on farmer empowerment because of the nature of the participatory process that facilitators implemented in the telecentre projects. Participation in both telecentres was functional and consultative. Although the farmers were involved in participatory exercises to identify their local circumstances, the facilitator directed decision-making and constructed the telecentre projects as the main solution for the problem of information poverty. As this study shows, information poverty was not the “real” problem the farmers had. Information was important for the farmers for improving agricultural activities. However, information only enhanced the farmers’ knowledge and skills. The underlying problem that contributed to disempowerment, such as lack of resources, remained untouched by the project. The facilitator reshuffled the “real” problems the farmers had with the “fake” ones through the participatory process to justify the telecentre project delivery.