Psychosocial wellbeing of individuals in a society in transition: exploring the role of new technologies in Myanmar

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    Sammia Poveda

    While studies have shown that ICTs can be instrumental into accessing information and services, therefore improving individual’s wellbeing, studies have also showed that individuals also report improvements on their self-esteem, self-efficacy, and confidence, among others (Kleine 2013; Poveda 2015). These impacts indicate that ICT can be instrumental in improving individual’s psychological health. Research related to psychological health and ICT have focused on the impact of these new technologies on specific activities conducted by their users, for instance how ICT have affected their work, leisure or relationship activities, each independently (Danielsson and Öberg 2010; Thomée et al. 2007). On another hand, research has explored ways in which ICT can aid mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, through the provision of e-health services, for instance, apps providing metal health information (Breslau and Engel 2015; Cifre et al. 2004). The focus of this research differs from the above, as it aims to explore the relationship between the ICT and the individual’s psychosocial wellbeing, namely both the individual’s social and psychological wellbeing.

    Given the UNU-CS focus on Peace and inspired by the positive psychosocial impacts reported in the studies mentioned above, the motivation of this research is to find out whether ICT can be used specifically to improve psychosocial wellbeing of individuals as an alternative way of supporting peacebuilding efforts. ICTs are already being used for peacebuilding, for instance to improve health services affected by the conflict, to enable online education to distant or poor served locations, to motivate public engagement, to monitor behaviour and crisis outbreak, and to support reconciliation activities (Brantmeier and Richardson 2009; Kelly and Souter 2013). However, authors argue that addressing and transforming trauma is imperative for peacebuilding (Clancy and Hamber 2008; Kalayjian and Paloutzian 2009; Zehr 2008), and on this area, initial literature review indicates there are just a few studies in which ICTs are directly used for peacebuilding by addressing psychosocial wellbeing (Best et al. 2011).

    This research aims to contribute to this growing literature, focusing on Myanmar as an example. Myanmar has suffered from internal conflict for more than 60 years, and is currently experiencing a peaceful period and a newly implemented democracy. These changes, together with other economic, social and technological changes, mean Myanmar citizens face incredible opportunities in a very uncertain and changing environment. As ICT penetration grow and prices for hardware and services decline, more and more users will have the opportunity to gain benefits from ICT usage. However, as research has shown (Gigler 2015; Kleine 2013; Poveda 2015), benefits from ICT usage range in quality in quantity among users, and having access and using ICT is not directly related to development outcomes. Accordingly, various projects in Myanmar are focusing in helping citizens harness the benefits of ICT. This project will then analyse how different ICT project, specifically initiatives by MBAPF and UNDP, impact citizens’ psychosocial wellbeing. The first case study, the initiative by the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation (MBAPF), focuses on improving citizens Mobile Information Literacy skills. The second case study, the initiative by UNDP, focuses on improving women’s empowerment, motivation and self-esteem through training and a supportive App called iWomen. Using mix methods, this research project will explore how these two initiatives impact the psychosocial wellbeing of their participants, in particular on their psychological wellbeing (autonomy, self-acceptance, etc), social wellbeing (relations with others, material resources, etc) and digital skills. This analysis will help pinpoint best practices and opportunities for improvement, which will be the base for the second phase of the project, which aims to implement changes in MBAPF and UNDP to improve their practices.