Global Poverty Research Group

Information, Health-Related Wellbeing and Social Networks of the Poor in Developing Countries

The research question

The project as initially proposed was to look at the way in which social capital varies in the lives of the poor depending on whether they are, or are not, digitally connected. A short period of initial fieldwork was undertaken in India in May 2002; meetings were held with practitioner-researchers on information systems and development at two international conferences in 2002; and discussions were held with others looking specifically at information and poverty, and at social capital in development.

From these discussions and related literature review, three main findings emerged:
• The greater overt value to wellbeing emerges from the resources accessed via social capital (such as information) rather than social capital per se.
• This value emerges most in the lives of the poor in relation to particular events (shocks such as deaths, floods, illness) and particular issues (employment, health).
• At present, so few of the poor in developing countries are digitally connected that it would be very hard to make that element central to the proposed project. Those who are most clearly digitally connected in relation to development are those working in development agencies.

On the basis of these findings, the project was divided into two components: a minor and a major component. In the first and minor component, a brief study was undertaken during 2002/3 in collaboration with researchers at the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) in Amsterdam, focusing on social capital and digital connection in networks of development agencies. To date, this has reviewed three different approaches to social capital in online networks and communities. Elements of these approaches, into which development-related aspects are incorporated, have then been combined to produce a framework which aims to facilitate the analysis of social capital in online networks in a development context.

The second and major component is looking at information as a resource for wellbeing in the lives of the poor. It is focusing particularly on health-related information and, within health, on public/reproductive health information related to HIV/AIDS because this is so critical to wellbeing of the poor in developing countries. Although information technology and social networks remain important parts of the work, the focus has been modified somewhat to reflect findings of the earlier review.

An initial literature review has been completed, which has identified three different methodological approaches that are to be used:
• An economic approach that builds on past work with colleagues in the World Bank.
• A psycho-social approach that builds on past work on information and poor livelihoods in IDPM.
• An ethnographic approach that builds on Mananga's (2002) work on HIV/AIDS-related information in poor communities.
This project has now moved to the main literature review stage.

Reseachers to contact for this project

Richard Heeks