The on-going research cooperation between Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH) and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M) in Chennai was initiated in January 2007. It is co-funded by the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) via the Swedish Research Links Asia program.
In May 2008 this India-Blekinge R&D cooperation became part of our regional India project. The main focus within our R&D cooperation is on user participation in design and development of mobile e-services for citizens, and how user experience of service quality can be measured and enhanced once the services are in use. Method development and evolving good practices concerning continuing "design-in-use" of mobile e-services are important aspects in this context.
It is the interdisciplinary TeNeT Group at IIT-M, headed by professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala, with which BTH is cooperating in R&D. TeNeT stands for Telecommunications and Computer Networking Group. The TeNeT Group has an explicit mission: to provide people living in rural areas in India with robust, affordable and easily accessible internet access and e-services which can contribute to good quality of life for individuals and sustainable development and growth for India and the rest of the world.
There are a number or researchers at BTH who are collaborating across disciplines around issues concerning participatory design and development of e-services, and quality of user experience of e-services. Thanks to the R&D cooperation with IIT-M, we have the opportunity to "think globally" about our research and what it might mean to be doing research on applied technology and sustainable development and growth - on the one hand from a local, regional and national perspective, and on the other hand in comparison with research and development in these areas in a country like India.
Conditions in rural areas in India are in many ways extremely different from conditions in rural areas in Sweden. In India, more than 70% of the total population live outside large cities, and thus are classified as rural inhabitants. But rural areas in India are densely populated compared to rural areas in Sweden. Many villages and towns still have problems concerning power supply, and lack tele¬com¬munication infrastructure. It is a huge challenge for India to improve the infrastructure and accessibility to the Internet, public e-services and other public services throughout the country, and not just in urban areas.
It is obvious that, in general, the Swedish rural population is extremely privileged compared to the Indian rural population when it comes to power supply, transport and communication infrastructure and access to public services. However, upon closer scrutiny, it becomes visible that people living in rural areas in Sweden, too, are living in the wind shadow of urban areas. This seems to be partly perpe-tuated and reinforced through a strong planning tradition within which a focus on urban planning and urban areas as centres of innovation has evolved in parallel with and come to compete with a tradition of rural development initiatives focused mainly on defensive support measures.
In comparing the Swedish situation with the situation in India, we thus become aware, not only of tremendous differences, but also of certain similarities and shared problems, which may force us to question our own habits and practices concerning methods, figures of thought and speech, and goals. What, actually, is good quality of life and sustainable development in rural Sweden?
And how can IT contribute to both? Is that where we are currently heading, in R&D?
Striving towards globalization of our research at BTH can thus also involve acquiring new perspectives concerning the seemingly well-known, "close-to-home".