Business Information Systems Cluster seminar paper: Viswanath Venkatesh
The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals viewed infant mortality rates as a major problem in developing countries, especially in rural areas. The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has been seen as a key to combatting the problem due to their powerful information dissemination capabilities. We examine how the use of one ICT intervention—specifically, eHealth kiosks to disseminate authenticated and accessible medical information—can alleviate the infant mortality problem in rural India. We investigate how specific psychosocial mechanisms that emerge from the mothers’ social networks affect their use of eHealth kiosks, seeking professional medical care and ultimately, infant mortality. Drawing on social epidemiology and social networks literature, we focus on social influence and differentiate between advice and hindrance ties to capture the complex nature of the societal problem in the study context. Our study of 6,710 mothers over a seven-year period in 10 villages where the kiosk was implemented along with the support resources for proxy use revealed that (1) kiosk use promotes seeking professional medical care and reduces infant mortality, (2) mothers are especially vulnerable to hindrance ties as they choose to maintain the status quo of traditional infant healthcare practices (e.g., reliance on untrained personnel, superstitions, fatalism) in the villages, and (3) advice ties offer the potential to break down misplaced beliefs about infant healthcare practices and develop literacy on seeking professional medical care. In contrast, in a control group of 10 neighboring villages, the reduction in infant mortality rates over time was not as pronounced and the effect of professional medical care in reducing infant mortality was lower. Our findings suggest that an ICT intervention can effectively address one of society’s most basic and important problems—i.e., infant mortality—even in those parts of the world with limited resources and deep suspicion of technology and change. Ultimately, favorable outcomes are garnered when a holistic socio-technical view is taken that places the ICT intervention in the context of social network ties that enable positive behaviors without being drowned in the constraints posed by hindrance ties. Such a socio-technical view of the solution will complement other investments being made including the facilitation of use (proxy use) and provision of medical facilities to produce favorable outcomes, such as reduced infant mortality.