Towards a transformation of Telecentres into Social Innovation Centres

Last Friday, I assisted the first Expert Meeting about the Future of Telecenters held in Barcelona on May 13 & 14. For my tweets, please check Tweets in Spanish can be found through the hashtag #futurotelecentros.

The meeting was organized by Telecentre Europe's board member Juan Francisco Delgado, who is also the president of the Spanish Association of the Community of Telecentre Networks (Asociación Comunidad de Redes de Telecentros). The purpose was to elaborate a proposal that could serve for the transformation of telecenters towards "Social Innovation Centres".

Surrounded by Spanish experts from the Government of Catalonia & Andalusia, i2cat, Citilab, Fundación Esplai and from telecentre networks from the regions of Navarra, Basque Country and Asturias, the meeting couldn't but spark my interests, and that's what happened!

First expert meeting on the Future of Telecentres - picture by Rodrigo Zardoya

Telecentres & Open Social Innovation

"In times of crisis, it might be easier to create a job than to find one" is the slogan of Citilab's LaborLab project, aimed at encouraging innovation in employment strategies. The aim is to guide people in creating a 'Projectum vitae' instead of helping them to write a 'Curriculum vitae', which seems to be a waste of time in the situaton of high employment that is suffering a country like Spain today.

It's an example of a best practice that illustrates how telecenters could move to 'Social Innovation Centres', based on the model of Living Labs for technological innovation.

Just like in Open Source software, openess should be key for this new model of Social Innovation. In an video interview made by Citilab, Mitchell Baker, president of the Mozilla Foundation explains what Open Innovation means: "If you choose an Open Innovation model for your creation, you could make use of the things that are done before you, and create an outcome that makes innovation available to others in an easy way to use."

The idea of creating a 'projectum' instead of a 'curriculum' gained a lot of enthousiasm among the participants & the community that was following the tweets, but Isidre Bermudez raised if it is really realistic to think that planting a spirit of entrepreneurship can bring a solution for all the socially excluded that visit our telecentres today? What could for example be the 'Projectum' of a senior woman following a course in basic computer skills? LaborLab's director Jordi Coloborans replied: "We do not only concentrate on entrepreneurs that want to take a risk, also working class jobs can be created. A 'Projectum' answers the question: what is the job you would like to do? Maybe this woman might wish to become a telecentre facilitator herself?"

New challenges, new skills

In a society where innovation becomes that essential, having the skills to create your own job starts to become as essential as being able to read and write (literacy) and to use a computer (digital literacy). The term 'innovation literacy' is being launched and a new role for telecentres to become Social Innovation Centres that foster talent and educate in entrepreneurship and innovation techniques in early ages.

But moving towards social innovation centres should not only concentrate on innovation in employment strategies, also current jobs should make a shift. A new role for telecentres could be to help 'translating' the use of ICT to farmers, fishermen etc. and convert them into 'technofarmers', 'technofishermen' etc.

Another idea is to jump upon the growth of cultural tourism and create a merge of the local tourist infopoint with the local telecentre to create a cultural & knowledge exchange between (both national and international) tourists and the local community.

Those new roles of telecentres will ofcourse create new needs for capacity building of telecentre facilitators, especially because the new roles seem to move away from a purely technological epicenter towards roles that might be better performed by sociologists, anthropologists or philosophers than by ICT specialists. And we have to take into account that higher demands for on-the-job-training may encounter certain resistance from faciltators that already feel overloaded by the present combination of roles (identified as the facilitator as a superman/woman phenomenon).

Another important new role for telecentres is to become a supplier of candidates that fit new professional profiles that are emerging and for which companies do not find enough suitable candidates. Telecentres should help companies identify their needs and train people upon those needs. An example are new jobs that appear around web 2.0 in the fields of marketing, public relations and advertising (described by Cristina Aced in the spanish book "Professional profiles 2.0").

This is an item where I jumped in and shared the experience of my own organization (Eclectica DV), as through our courses in web 2.0 applications we encountered lots of freelancers, artists and small non profit organizations in high demand for training on how to use web 2.0 to become more efficient and to represent and promote themselves online.

Such a switch to 'web 2.0 literacy training' has already been taken up by Citilab too, in order to avoid loosing visitors that felt had now become 'digital literates'. The idea of training freelancers on new web 2.0 tools is important, as these are the people that could become key actors for innovation and the creation of employment. There also seems to be a missing link between small companies & telecentres: we need to work on this missing link, maybe offering on-demand-training or even services like for example fiscal advice.


Conclusions & the role of Telecentre Europe

We shouldn't separate social innovation from technological innovation, not leave innovation in the hands of experts in technological innovation only. The culture of innovation has to be opened through ICT tools, as they permit grassroots innovation instead of having a top-down approach only. That's why telecentres should move from community technology/learning centres towards Social Living Labs, following the European Commission model for Public-Private-People Partnerships (PPPP) for user-driven open innovation.

As the european network of telecentres, Telecentre Europe should take up the role to connect & share knowledge with the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL). We could also participate together with the four Spanish telecentre network managers that will participate and share methodologies with other Living Labs in Europe during the Living Lab Summer School 2011 that will take place at Barcelona's Citilab.

To conclude, some remarks that were raised at the end of the meeting:

- It's difficult to invent one model for the future of telecentres: lots of them adapt themselves like chameleons to their social environment
- Politicians continuously ask for the impact of telecentres - but what would be the cost for society of not having them?
- It's always the same political issue: why do telecentres exist if the market can solve what we offer there? The creation of equal opportunities should always be the answer here!

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Comment by Richard O'Farrell on June 11, 2011 at 9:38
Roger, saw the CBT site - a great idea and well executed too. I will explore it shortly.
Comment by Roger Harris on June 10, 2011 at 8:58
Rural telecentres can be a very effective marketing tool for community based tourism (CBT). Here in Asia, Asian Encounters provides a social netwrorking platform for anyone engaged in CBT, especiall the operators themselves with access to a Telecentre; see
Comment by Stéphanie Lucien-Brun on June 3, 2011 at 19:19

Hi everybody,

Always interesting to see that what is being "stirred" in one country comes in echo at what is happening in another one. Many of the issues raised in Spain are "hot topics" in the French networks of Telecentres.. And to continue on the discussion, what has become challenging for Telecentres (EPN - Espaces Publics Numériques in France) is that they have to do "the whole of it" at the same time ! Out of the 4.000 places where facilitators are indeed offering time, energy, activites, networking on their "local territory" to provide adequate answers to the wider spectrum possible of people, many of them are faced with the need to adapt to increasingly complex demands.

After 15 years of building a still needed "digital litteracy" approach, some Telecentres are looking for a model base on "Openess": OpenContent, OpenSpace, Cooperative tools, Digital commons, leverage for social innovation.

These issues will be extensively discussed during a conference organised in Corsica in Septembre. The name of the Conference is strange in English... but we have not coined the right terms in English yet !

You are most welcome to participate in the conference, either on line or by coming in Corsica ! Working language will be French..

Do not hesitate to contact me if you want to know more. And I will, anyhow, keep you posted on the outcomes ! Especially regarding social innovation

Comment by Ian Clifford on May 19, 2011 at 16:06

Hi all there are so many points, issues and opportunities in here. Thanks Lize for giving such a full and detailed commentary on the meeting (and all below for the comments). I will attempt to throw in further thoughts....


Telecentres are many of these things already. They evolve, and do so far quicker than policy makers can suggest. At the grass roots there are already people running telecentres who are helping their customers to be eFarmers, iFarmers, Technofarmers, Digital Farmers ... whatever you want to call them... but actually they are just Farmers, Farmers who use technology. The current technology is online, GPS weather forecasting, seed technology (and dozens of others). The technology of 50 years ago was the tractor, 100 years the horse-drawn plough. Communities then would have helped each other to learn about these new technologies. Communities (in telecentres) today help their farmers to evolve and use new technologies, but I'm not entirely sure that telecentres are run by "ICT specialists". They are more often run by community specialists. People specialists. I think that telecentres can and already do perform a myriad of developmental roles including: skills (I have taken the e- off, as ICT is just another essential skill and I don’t see much point in distinguishing any more, its just as important as interpersonal skills, communications skills, etc), confidence, access, community development, civic, etc. They do all the stuff they have always done, and in some countries they are starting to do different things. My experience across Europe is that there are a range of development stages in play, and globally the range is even wider. So its fine for some telecentre networks to be doing skills training(as that’s what is needed locally(as Loreta says below)), while others will be doing media literacy, and other health literacy, and others community literacy, and others civic literacy, and some all of the above. What’s most important to me is not to say everyone should do this. Everyone should do what they need in their country, but what’s fantastic is that through Telecentre Europe we can learn from each other when we are ready to do so. Ill be really interested to hear more about the models that evolve from this. Thanks again


Comment by Loreta Krizinauskiene on May 17, 2011 at 11:01

Hi, Lize, great to tackle this issue! Sooner or later we  come to the question What's next. If there are already good examples in practice it would be very useful to find out about this telecentre transformation. I do not think we can take a neat example and transfer it as innovation from one country to another. It should be adapted to the countrie's situation, needs, cultural surroundings. Here in Lithuanian we would be very much interested in telecentre transformation or change practice. Best regards from Vilnius. Loreta


Comment by Melissa Pailthorp on May 16, 2011 at 23:20
Many of the themes above strike me as consistent with the work TE has in progress on Employability Toolkit.  Perhaps worth promoting accordingly?
Comment by Rodrigo Zardoya on May 16, 2011 at 18:41

Hi again,


I was also in the Experts meeting about the future of Telecentres and we talked about some very interesting ideas:    

   - Telecentres as interpretation ICTs centres.

   - Foster the tourism of knowledge in these spaces.

   - Telecentres as talent incubators.

   - Professional profile of Telecentres facilitators and its inclusion in the curriculo of the formal training.

   - Potential growth of Green IT: binomy 'technology + renewable energies'.

   - Evolution of current clusters (too hermetic) towards open innovation model.


These are only some ideas or visions about how can evolve the Telecentres in the next few months and years. If you have new ideas about how Telecentres are going to change their services and activities in a medium term, please let us know your impressions.



Comment by Richard O'Farrell on May 16, 2011 at 18:38

Lize, that was a most thought provoking exchange - and great to see such emphasis on translating such insights into live action. There is little doubt now but that Telecentres are at the new frontier, leading local Community transformation into the new and vibrant era just ahead. As your quoted Citilabs' motto puts it: "In times of crisis, it might be easier to create a job than to find one". That's exactly what Communities do need, Jobs; self-generated Jobs no doubt, yet a big jump for the vast majority. Specifically these are most likely to be 'traded-services' and that's right up Telecentre street. But! I see the missing link as rotating Education for eSkills with Tutors, starting as it must with with Digital Access courses; all quite close but still a big step from where most Telecentres seem to be positioned just now. Perhaps its local (Village) collaboration that holds the key to the rapid progress that is needed? 

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