Fusing the Social and the Technical: A Technology Assessment of FEWSNet and Positive Social Externalities in Burkina Faso


Focusing on the process of technological diffusion in participatory development, and studying it in practice, is fundamental to understanding how technology can improve development. Rogers identifies five elements in determining the rate of adoption of innovations: perceived attributes of innovations, type of innovation decision, communication channels, nature of the social system, and extent of the change agents’ promotion efforts (Rogers, 1998, p. 207). All of these elements interact, yet in the case of FEWSNet, the Famine Early Warning System Network (www.fews.net), the communication channels and the nature of the social system are inadequately assessed. Considering that FEWSNet has yet to meet its mandate for predicting the possibility of famine — and preventing it — the system would benefit from understanding the social context within which it operates and the communication channels it uses to effect change.
The main concern of this paper is how FEWSNet can serve development in a participatory mode and infuse its network with positive social network externalities. How can we use network effects theory — considering the factors of institutions, economy, technology, politics, and culture in Burkina Faso — to come to a holistic understanding of FEWSNet, using context-rich, participatory models?

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