Information in the Public Domain for a Participative Society
03 / 2008
The history of the Centre for Education and Documentation goes back to the sixties and seventies when as part of students movements, and youth social work organisations, a few friends decided to work full time in social work. They formed an organisation called VISTAS, which worked in villages in Maharashtra, a state in India. At that time there were hardly any independent NGOs as such. Those that existed were either linked to the Church, religious organisations, or they were standard Associations like Lions Clubs set up by rich persons in their free time.
One of the felt needs of the organisation as soon as they started work in the villages was information, analysis, on the local and larger situation, as well as knowledge on what other groups were doing in the villages. These groups were influenced either by Gandhian thought (Sarvodaya), Marxism (including Naxalism) or by radical movements inspired by liberation theology.
As a part of VISTAS, John D’Souza, one of CED’s founders, was asked to set up an information centre in Bombay. The initial work in documentation in 1975 was informed by his work as a student volunteer at AICUF (All India Catholic University Federation). This was under the inspiration of Fr. Paul de la Gueriviere, whose main aim was to prepare notes, from various sources, for reading by students to help sharpen their understanding of the situations and of what the other actors were doing (political parties, left parties, and other organisations).
The documentation work was given a definite institutional form when within a year, other members of VISTAS joined in and Pradeep Guha took charge of the effort. Till then documentation centre was a collection of books, articles, and files on topics as and when a topic came up and the material was diffused by personal contact only during meetings and seminars with other social actors.
As soon as the emergency (1975-77) was lifted, the documentation centre became the centre-point for several civil liberties organisations, as well as other students organisations. The information collection work was often considered secondary to the other activist activity. Therefore like every other documentation centre, it suffered from lack of consistency and regular work. It was then that it was realised that documentation needs to be seen as a form of activism per se and not merely as a secondary activity. Thus, the Doc-Centre evolved towards more documentation identity.
In the late seventies, the work of the Doc-Centre covered the debates in which action-groups, that wanted to change society, needed ideological and methodological clarifications. Themes included modes of production, the nature of class struggles and class organisations (Unions), conscientisation (awareness building), anti-emergency movements, civil liberties, and broad left alliances.
On February 14th, 1978 Doc-Centre was registered separately as Centre for Education and Documentation with Ayesha Kagal as Chairperson. CED identified a pool of newspapers, magazines, journals and papers as regular sources of information. It also developed its classification on civil liberties, human rights, development issues, Operation Flood (rural development program on milk), Green Revolution, health and simple environmental issues. It also developed its first gender perspective and the women sections, starting separating out issues relating to reproductive rights and other issues being taken up by the women’s movement in India.
Anjum Rajabali joined CED as a documentalist and provided the much needed consistency to the documentation as well as respond to direct needs of users. This form the first user base of a few selected activists, journalists, academics, teachers, and other professionals like doctors started using the facilities regularly. Activists used it to bring out their newsletters and papers. Thus by 1985, CED developed its identity as a reliable information centre on all development issues. It was also involved in research and publications on several critical issues in India like Operation Flood, drug industry, Bhopal tragedy, textile strike, women’s and reproductive rights.
Towards institutionalisation and broadening of audience
From 1985, CED began an institutionalising phase, where its systems were standardised. It started charging for its photocopy services and established Docpost services (see below). It formed the network of Documentation Centres to share its systems with other documentation centres and worked towards systems of sharing information resources. It was also part of the Alternative Books Collective, where the emphasis was on distributing the already published NGO literature among wider audience rather than publishing its own.
CED also began developing its critique of the information order and defining its own structural role. This coincided with the larger movement among action groups, NGOs, and campaign fronts where the emphasis shifted from merely organizing struggles and agitation with the main purpose of bringing about a revolution, to developing institutions with current society which represented some of the ideals of their future vision.
By 1990, CED’s information base and classification systems became very popular as an information hub for alternative material. Its up-to-date, non-academic, social reality based collection of daily clippings, articles, NGO and Government reports provides a rich and consistent information to the public. The classification is thematic-wise, ordered by subjects people can easily relate to. Its categorization is unique and includes trees of issues that provides a first insights’ tool.
Since 1990, the main effort has been to enlarge its reach and go to scale. CED has enhanced its activities and the quality of its services so as to reach larger audiences outside Bombay, especially NGOs and activists. It was one of the first documentation centres to go on electronic documentation and communication. It sat up an electronic network, provided email services through dial up and developed an electronic databasing of its documentation which is now shared with other organisations.
In 1993, CED also opened a branch in Bangalore (State of Karnataka) where CED’s archives are kept. This inexpensive cloning of the Bombay Centre was targeted to the rich abundant NGO market. Moreover, CED’s involvement in various networks like Jan Vikas Andolan (People Development Movement), Southern Collective, India-Link reached its services and influence to larger audiences. KICS (Knowledge In Civil Society) is alo an important forum on the net which allows to diffuse information on issues relating to science, technology and democracy.
Finally, CED sees its institutional role in the long term as developing and bringing into currency open democratic information systems. The end objective is to ensure that such systems become part of the socialisation process in civil society and an inalienable instrument which enables thinking and democratic exposure to issues and concerns of the marginalised sections of society, development, human rights and self-assertion.
Mumbai and Bangalore centres are reading rooms and libraries, where the bulk of the visitor and users are from these two cities. The ‘tele-users’, through CED’s website, Docpost and Docsweb, are spread all over the country, and a few from even beyond.
Both centres provide development information to middle levels of agents of social change, particularly NGOs and Action Groups, but also to students, journalists and scholars. CED gives indications to these people on what seems important to be known on different issues. It gives back up service to other organisations to set out their sources for the general public. The Bangalore Centre also organizes film shows, networking, etc. with NGOs.
CED’s classification system covers all major issues of social, political and developmental importance. Apart from a regular review of all these themes, CED focused more particularly on currently important subjects (See Critical Concerns). Information is provided mainly in English and selectively in Tamil for local people.
Apart from the numerous books and documentation kept in its physical and electronic libraries (about 200,000 electronic documents), CED provides information and documentation through various supports:
Docpost are physical copies of clippings and articles organized subject wise mainly on the following topics: legal and human rights, habitat, disaster.
Critical Concerns is a monthly selection of articles and clippings from newspapers, journals and other sources on current trends’ topics. It provides critical update on development matters of justice, peace and sustainable futures, which are considered essential for NGOs, social activists and persons concerned with social change. Themes include: globalisation and alternate globalisation, society and change, economy and markets, gender and society, communalism, governance, food and agriculture, disasters, ecology and environment, human rights, health, children, media, urban issues, development and social change, survival and livelihood, civil society, alternative in action.
Development Digest is a state of the art series of carefully selected articles on issues of development, social justice and structural transformation, compiled from newspapers, journals, reports, newsletters, books, magazines and the Internet, put together because of their relevance and public importance. Each article is independent and is separately folded.
Docsweb (or E-Digest) are summarised collection of articles with links to the original texts to support an argument and explore an issue. They provide overviews and gleanings of important issues concerning development and social change. These webpages are continously updated and upgraded. Currently CED is mainly working on Climate Change, Habitat and Disaster. But it offers any interested person or group to make special and personalized Docsweb according to its needs.
CED also makes films and has its own publications. Recent themes are: water, post-disaster sanitation, new economics, secularism, communalism, and Panchayat Raj in Tribal Areas. After the tsunami, it has developped a partnership with the French NGO Architecture et Developpement, that led to the setting up of resources for habitat and disaster management, like posters, films, books, and Docpost.
While CED sees itself as an information organisation in civil society at large, its raison d’être is representing the interests of the marginalised as an NGO. And since its most significant target group is the NGO community and change agents, it doubles up as a support organisation. It can also be typified as an awareness generation organisation among its secondary, though numerically larger, target group of students, teachers, professionals, journalist etc.
Articles and files
John D’Souza, ‘Role of Documentation Centres in the Voluntary Sector for Social Change’, in The Indian Journal of Social Work, Special Issue. Social Work Knowledge Development and Dissemination, Volume 65, Issue 1, January 2004
CED’s presentation on the website of Karmayog, ‘resources for non-profits’
Interview of John D’Souza by RITIMO and Echanges & Partenariats, December 3rd, 2007
CED (Centre for Education and Documentation) - CED Mumbai: 3 Suleman Chambers, 4 Battery Street, Behind Regal Cinema, Mumbai - 400 001, INDIA - Phone: (022) 22020019 CED Bangalore: No. 7, 8th Main , 3rd phase, Domlur 2nd Stage, Bangalore - 560071, INDIA - Phone: (080) 25353397 - India - www.doccentre.net - email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org