CED or DOCCENTRE as it is popularly known as, is about Development Information & Education with the objective of Structural Transformation in favour of the marginalised.
For over 30 years, the most effective research on development for the field worker and social activist was the systematic compilation of news clippings, organised issue wise providing a rich and readable contemporary history and analysis.
Over the years, CED has become a unique and accessible repository of contemporary development history and critique used by students, teachers, journalist, social work professionals, activists relating to development and social change.
Today, CED's theme is "slow knowledge" among the community of development actors. The emphasis is "mediated" communication, information sharing and analysis among those in the Long & Winding Road from Structural Change to Structural Transformation. This along with the development information archive, forms the nucleus of alternative research, documentation and educational infrastructure in critical areas particularly climate change, economic democracy, knowledge in civil society, new urbanism.
History of Centre for Education and Documentation goes back to the sixties and seventies, when as students involved in social issues and voluntary work, a few friends decided to work full time in the field. They formed an organisation called VISTAS, which worked in villages in Maharashtra. At that time there were hardly any independent NGOs as such. Those that existed were either linked to the Church, Religious or Gandhian organisations, or they were standard associations like Lions and Rotaries associations where member were involved in public activities 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, set up an information centre in Bombay. Aspi Mistry, a VISTAS founder wrote the first project proposal titled DARE: Documentation for Action & Radical Education.
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.
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. Thus 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. 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. 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, 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 set 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 and reference centre are housed. 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 also an important forum on the net which allows to diffuse information on issues relating to science, technology and democracy.
Today, with search engines being able to aggregate information with increasing sophistication, the curation of large volumes of development information in the old way has been rendered redundant and expensive. Mediation of development information however is still needed in the information overload age. CED has therefore focussed it energies in the recent years on creating interactive knowledge platforms for Organisations of organisations acting in networks around specific themes and concerns.