1.2 Communicative Ecology

A basic principle of Ethnographic Action Research is that in order to understand the potential and real impacts of individual ICTs in any given situation, you need to place this experience within a broader understanding of the whole structure of communication and information in people's everyday lives.

It is important to understand that each instance of communication or information takes place within an existing 'communicative ecology' , and each place has its own unique communicative ecology that we need to understand.

What are 'Communicative Ecologies'?

Communicative ecologies are the everyday, complex network of information and communication in an individual's life. In any place, and among any group of people, there will be different ways in which communication and information flows. Some people use media like television and radio to learn about what is happening in their village, town, city, country or region, or in the wider world. Other people do not have access to these communication channels, and depend on face to face communication. Understanding and describing how information flows, and who uses what communication technologies and why, an EAR researcher builds up a clear picture of communication in his/her area that helps his/her ICT initiative to be relevant and effective.

If you were studying the ecology of a forest or desert, you would not look at one or two animals or plants in isolation. You would study how animals, plants, soil, climate and so on are interrelated because you would have to understand how the whole system or ecology works in order to understand any one part of it. The same principle applies to communications and information: there are many different people, media, activities, and relationships involved and none of these elements work in isolation; instead they form part of a system. We call the system of communication the 'communicative ecology'.

There are many ideas we can use to study communicative ecology. People do not use or think about an individual medium in isolation from other media or from how they are used and understood in their everyday lives.

Everyone has a mix or repertoire of communications skills and resources.

As you begin to understand the communicative ecology of your area, you will be able to understand people's media uses and communication needs and how your initiative might improve the situation.