Year

2010

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Information Systems and Technology

Abstract

Community Technology Centres (CTCs) represent a popular approach in addressing disparities that arise from the digital divide. This research uses a major government CTC program in the Australian state of New South Wales, called the NSW CTC Program, to address questions that relate to the effectiveness of CTCs in addressing social needs and in the generation of sufficient income to support their ongoing operations. The desire by program planners for CTCs to become fully-fledged businesses by the time government funding had ceased in June 2005 provides an opportunity to analyse an underlying philosophy that relied on community autonomy and private sector enterprise to facilitate social development. These two themes were strongly represented in official accounts of the NSW CTC Program where it was found that CTCs were generally judged as being ‘successful social enterprises’ that struggled to earn sufficient income.

In developing a framework in which the CTCs from the NSW CTC Program could be studied, Hall and Midgley’s work in Social Development Theory is used to identify three primary actors: community, private sector and government. The decision to focus on innovation within CTCs was derived from a suggestion by Gurstein to investigate the community-based technology centres as a source of local innovation that can ultimately be coordinated with innovation at the regional and national level.

Using this foundation the thesis pursues a line of enquiry that seeks to understand the extent to which innovation within CTCs contributed to perceptions of their success, on the one hand, and income generation on the other. An analytical framework based on Nonaka and Takeuchi’s Knowledge Creating Theory is developed to guide the collection and analysis of research data from three case studies.

The focus of the research was on the members of the Community Technology Centre Association (CTCA) established to champion the affairs of CTCs after the cessation of government funding. Data from the CTCA was used in conjunction with 17 cases to provide a detailed account of CTCs subsequent to the cessation of government fundingin July 2005 until June 2008.

From these cases, three in-depth studies were undertaken to determine the efficacy of analytical constructs derived from Nonaka and Takeuchi’s Knowledge Creating Theory. These analytical constructs highlight four aspects of their theory: Paradox, Epistemology, Ontology and Knowledge Spiral. These three cases were analysed to reveal and compare knowledge creating activities, their relevance to the community’s needs and their income-generating potential.

On this basis it was possible to link the propensity for income generation to the degree of codification of newly generated knowledge within the CTC. The relative level of uncertainty of problems place varying demands on knowledge creation where the need for tacit and explicit knowledge also varies. Complex problems characterised by high levels of uncertainty appear more reliant on the development of tacit knowledge than problems characterised by greater certainty that were more readily satisfied by explicit knowledge. Activities leading to the creation of explicit knowledge, as a precursor to codification, were found to be more amenable to income generation than activities dominated by tacit knowledge creation.

Based on Nonaka and Takeuchi’s Knowledge Creating Theory the thesis is able to assist CTCs to maintain their success as social enterprises in contexts of limited income support by delineating a clear division between worthwhile initiatives on the basis of their commercial viability. Being able to separate initiatives on this basis enables discrimination to be applied in the application of policies where commercial initiatives are left for the private sector to undertake while non-commercial initiatives, found to be unsuitable for private sector support, are identified for subsidised support from a benefactor such as government. Given the need for government to promote efficient economic practices, the identification of non-commercial initiatives enables government support to be appropriately targeted without upsetting the ‘level playing field’ of local economies.

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