Development of the Information Society: After Infrastructures, Pull Strategies

In a seminar I imparted in January — Fostering the Information Society for Development in the Web 2.0 framework: from push to pull strategies — the case of Spain — I suggested that the most developed countries had reached sort of a threshold of installed infrastructures. Of course, this threshold could be pushed up and more infrastructures (or better and cheaper ones) could be installed, but the development of the Information Society would barely rely on that.

According to the data available, I wondered whether the solution might be shifting from push to pull strategies, parallel to the shift that we’ve been living in the web landscape towards the so-called Web 2.0.

This is the chart I then presented:

Now, with data from the World Bank we can draw another picture that seems to back my ideas — or, at least, I’ll make it fit to them.

Finland and Ireland have usually been examples of best practices in benefiting from ICTs to foster their respective economies and welfare. Even with different cultural frameworks, development models and economic approaches, they are both doing well and are a recurrent example. Spain, on the other hand, is the typical example of the “wannabe”: is doing quite well at the economic level, but the development level of its Information Society seem never to take off.

Let’s compare their respective indicators:

The right side of the chart — including the indicators at the top and bottom — could be considered as infrastructures. All three countries do more or less equally, though Ireland performs sligtly better and the availability of bandwidth is worse in Spain. We could consider also “infrastructures” (human capital) TVs and newpapers, and I guess the inequalities and preferences of each country are quite correlated with their respective educational levels: more newpapers, better education; more TVs, worse education.

But the interesting part is the left part of the chart.

First difference is intensity of use, were Finland does better, though it has worse prices, so affordability, in these cases, does not seem to be the explanation.

What about the other three indicators? Investment (one dare think of R&D to create content and services), intensity of use at businesses (maybe related with possibilities of e-commerce, e-business, B2B, B2C, etc.) and availability of e-Government Services. In other words: demand generating initiatives.

So, it seems that with similar infrastructures, it is demand driven strategies the ones that seem to foster the development of the Information Society. The analysis is quite simple and is not flawless, but all evidences seem to be slowly converging towards the same conclusion.

Announcement: 4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress

For the fourth time — see here some notes about last year’s congress — at the School of Law and Political Science, Open University of Catalonia, we organize our Internet, Law and Politics Congress, this year’s tagline quite an appealing one: Social Software and Web 2.0: Legal and Political Implications.

Programme (abridged)

Monday, 2 June 2008

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

More information

  • 2-3 June 2008
  • Venue: Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Av. Tibidabo 39-43, Barcelona
  • Registration is free
  • Official Website

Analogue Teachers vs. Digital Students

(notes from the homonimous session at the bdigital Global Congress)

Moderator: Begoña Gros

Three main reports issued in 2007 in Spain about ICTs at Schools. The conclusions are more or less the same: everyone uses ICTs (teachers and students) but not at school.

Ismael Peña-López
Digital students, analogue institutions, teachers in extinction

(click here for Spanish version of the presentation and presentation downloads)

Jordi Vivancos
Knowledge and Learning Technologies, a transforming vision of ICT in Education

The Educational sector (i.e. teachers) is one of the sectors with highest penetration in the use of ICTs. So, teachers are not analogue anymore.

The design of the traditional syllabus did not make possible the introduction of ICTs in the educational programmes, especially the acquisition of digital competencies. This was solved (in Catalonia) in year 2006, where such capabilities where included in new syllabuses.

Copernican change in Education (K-12): shift from “memorizing the capitals of the world” towards “learning how to use a map”.

Three stages of tech education:

  • Learning about technology
  • Learning from technology (i.e. instructional technology)
  • Learning along with technology: technology as a context

And especially the last stage requires huge amounts of investment to achieve total capilarity of ICTs at school.

But, computers per student, without data about its use, is a useless indicator: it is intensity and not density what counts. So investment in computers is not (only) the issue. So, how educators and schools should and could appropriate technology for teaching purposes? How to improve, through ICTs, the learning processes?

Antoni Zabala
Computer sciences at school or PC at school?

The ICT adoption problems comes not from the Education professionals, but from school policies and design. We’ve been putting computers in the schools and this has not happened anywhere else: in other sectors of the Economy, there’s been no “pc installation” but “computer-based strategies”.

We use to relate ICTs with educational innovation, in quite a Freinetian approach. But ICTs might not solve each and every problem educators have.

As long as ICTs help educators solve their problems and move ahead, ICTs will be successful. The inverse (ICTs will be successful as long as they change the way educators act) is completely wrong.

Thus, we should analyse what the necessities are, both the educators’ and the students’ in the whole educational process. And leaps are no solution, but tiny and smooth evolutions.

In this train of thought, specific tools and software are better than computers. For instance: there are plenty of handooks from which the educator can choose to impart their courses, but there’s not such a thing in the instructional technology landscape: not a real choice, not competence.

Manuel de la Fuente
ICTs and Education: A Vision from the Classrooms

Not ICTs, but KLTs: knowledge and learning technologies.

SWOT Analysis on several schools:

Opportunities
  • Plenty of digital content
  • Good educational free software
  • Virtual communities of practice
  • New syllabuses include digital competencies
  • Global acknowledgement that digital competencies is a priority goal
Menaces
  • Lack of infrastructures inside the classroom, and lack of resources (e.g. maintenance) in general
  • Based on goodwill not on incentives or general strategies
  • Self-taught people, not formal training
  • Lack of strategies
Strengths
  • Highly motivated educators
  • High potential of KLTs
  • Existing intensity of use
  • Some infrastructures already installed
  • Some pioneers setting up interesting best practices
  • General agreement that sharing is the new scenario
Weaknesses
  • Lack of time to lead and coordinate
  • Lack of training
  • High dependency from the leader or the coordinator
  • Existing material is but an adaptation of traditional methodologies, it’s not designed from a technological paradigm.
  • Increasing loss of confidence because “the future never comes”
Way forward
  • Hardware
  • Resources
  • Training

Comments from the audience

  • Stress on media literacy, not only informational and technological literacy
  • How to bring back value to content, content creation and authorship, and fight not only plagiarism, but devaluation of knowledge and reflection.

Keys to the Success of Digitally Advanced Societies

(notes from the homonimous session at the bdigital Global Congress)

Moderator: Miquel Mateu

Tim Kelly
Success factors for national ICT strategies: Case studies from global leaders

How do we recognise and measure success in ICTs?

Universal service:

  • Availability
  • Accessibility
  • Affordability

But new concerns or challenges that should be included in ICT measuring:

  • Participation
  • Quality and intensity of access
  • Lifestyle enhancement

Ubiquity of access: At anytime, by anyone, anywhere, to anything

Different perceptions of what quality is: reliability? time of response? depending on user and use.

For instance, in terms of proportion of Internet users, the digital divide is shrinking, but new types of digital divide are appearing, the most important of all, the broadband divide: broadband costs are 10 times higher in low income countries than in hight income countries. The cost of broadband access is nowadays a good indicator to prospect about the present and future health of one country’s Information Society.

Chart: Internet Access Inequality (Lorenz curve)Internet Access Inequality (Lorenz curve) (source)
Successful economies

Not only important their rank in the DOI, but also how many rank places they gained along the years.

Republic of Korea: DSL technologies, cable modem, appartment LANs, Wireless LANs, mobile broadband, low prices, active public-private partnerships.

Hong Kong: highest mobile penetration rate, multiple service providers and spreading over many different platforms.

Keys for success:

  • market competition
  • public-private parterships
  • independent regulation

One of the goals an Information Society should address is the “dematerialization” of the society, so commuting, material spending, etc. is reduced so a deep impact is done to stop climate change.

Amadeu Jensana
China, Japan, Korea and India: Asia and the Digital Societies

The importance of the cultural fact as a difference to be taken into account before trying to draw “generic solutions” for everyone.

Japan

The structure of big japanese corporations made it difficult to be flexible and face innovation as the new times required. It took some time until start-ups — and their “aggressive sharks” — find their place in japanese society. Of course, language is way an issue.

Homogeneity and the relative small geographical extension of the country have played an important role for standarization and spread of new technologies policies.

People from Japan are eager to experiment and adapt new things.

Long run R&D strategies (5 or 10 years ahead) are possible in Japan, which enables some developments that require some time to develop or to bring results.

Portable or mobile devices, with high number of features, have had great success because of the way of living in Japan (lot of commuting time, lack of physical space, etc.)

Korea

Huge importance of public-private partnerships.

China and India

Great infrastructures (India somewhat behind), though still low acquisition power.

Huge economies of scale that enable them to create their own standards.

Sebastián Muriel
The role of red.es is to help Spain to become a networked society as soon as possible

In Spain: increase in both the share of budget spending and number of ICS services/devices in households.

Broadband subscribers have multiplied by four, coverage is at 98% and more than half the population are Internet users. Benefits of scale can be developed, indeed, by the fact that the Spanish speaking community is bigger than just Spaniards.

Goal: not access, but participation and content.

To enable the development of the Information Society, the DNIe (electronic ID) is crucial, so e-Administration and e-Government (among many other e-Services) can be made possible.

Concern in how new generations adopt ICTs: Chavales.

Jordi Bosch
Government of Catalonia: Vision and Strategy of the Information Society

We’re still far from having the solution to how to foster the Information Society. Benchmarking best practices seems to be a second best, though localization and keeping in mind the cultural differences is a must before copying-and-pasting others’ solutions.

Education is determinant for e-Readiness. So does intensity of use.

The key to the “Irish Miracle” is 1921: independence. Being able to define one’s own strategy is very important for a Public Administration (note: Mr. Bosch is speaking on behalf of the Catalan “regional” government, a second level administration depending on many issues from the Spanish “state” Government). If there is no coordination, collusion takes place. Thus, digital cohesion should be a goal.

Pilar Conesa
Barcelona, ICTs at the Service of the Citizens

u-bcn: ubiquitous Barcelona. Inspired in Seoul’s u-city: u-card, u-street, u-traffic, u-office, u-home, etc. Huge deployment of wire and wireless broadband. Goal: enable access anytime, anywhere and using anything.

Infrastructures: deployment infrastructures, with emphasis on Wi-Fi access for city services. All services should be integrated in mesh networks to provide real-time information.

Integrated interaction with the citizen. A big barrier being the zillions of solutions and providers existing… most time not following standards.

22@ Barcelona: transformation of a district based in obsolete technology industry towards a knowledge intensive district.

Blogs for e-Government: sufficient condition, but not necessary

In my conference about Digital Citizens vs. Analogue Institutions I spoke — among other things — about the importance of blogging for democracy, human rights and the development of the Information Society. And I stated that, even if we could not draw a direct relationship between all these variables — which we cannot so far —, we could set up a path where all these concepts formed part of the same equation.

Now Víctor R. Ruiz asks me to elaborate this idea.

First things first: with the data available at the moment (in this case from UNPAN — UN e-Government Survey 2008. From e-Government to Connected Governance — and Universal McCann — Wave 3 —) we cannot state that there is a close or strong relationship between blogging and the development of e-Government. In the figure that follows UNPAN’s e-Government index is compared with Universal McCann data about creation of blogs. The figure speaks (or, actually, does not speak at all) for itself:

So, what is the relationship then between blogs and e-Government? I’ll try and draw here two lines of thought, schematically for clarity’s sake (see below for references where to dig for some evidence about the following statements). Please keep in mind that when I say things like “there is a relationship” or “there is a correlation”, no explanation for causality is intended: variables seem to have a parallel evolution, but we (still) do not know whether one determines the other, the contrary or not at all. The argument is better followed by browsing through the slides I used at my conference:

Information Society, e-Governenment and Human Rights

  • Economic development is tied to the development of the Information Society (slide 3 and references below).
  • And not only economic development, but human progress at large (slide 3).
  • Part of this human progress is human rights: the maturity of the Information Society seems closely related to the maturity in human rights issues in one society or region as measured, for instance, by the degree of democracy, freedom of speech or civil liberties (slide 4).
  • The index of e-Government is correlated with ICT infrastructures, in particular, and with e-Readiness in general (slide 7).
  • And the index of e-Government is, again, related to other human rights as gender development, which, at its turn, is related to self-expression, identity, etc. (slide 8)

Conclusion? The triangle formed by e-Readiness (development degree of the Information Society), e-Government and Human Rights (especially those about freedom of speech and thought in general) is formed by three variables that seem to evolve in parallel: when one of them scores high, so do the other two.

Information Society, e-Government and Digital Literacy

  • Progress in Education is tied to the development of the Information Society (slide 5).
  • We even find that there is a general acknowledgment that the presence of computers in the classroom and teaching quality are related one to the other — we can understand this as digital literacy being a critical component of a good education (slide 6).
  • Digital literacy (e.g. being able to perform web searches or to chat online with other people) is quite related with the index of e-Government readiness (slides 9 & 10).
  • Indeed, participation itself and e-Government depends on the online experience of the user: the more they’ve been online (which should mean a more digitally literate user), the more they participate (a key for e-Government) (slide 12).

Conclusion? The triangle formed by e-Readiness (development degree of the Information Society), e-Government and Digital Literacy is formed by three variables that seem to evolve in parallel: when one of them scores high, so do the other two.

Blogs for e-Government

So, even if the direct correlation between the e-Government readiness index and the creation of blogs brings poor results (maybe because of poor data too), I wonder if we can establish an indirect relationship.

On one hand, there is plenty of evidence (see the valuable work of the OpenNet Initiative or Reporters Without Borders) that democracy and blogs make good friends, and that authoritarianism systematically persecute bloggers or, at least, try and block the access to their sites.

On the other hand (and again, the Pew Internet & American Life Project or Digital Natives project are bringing more and more evidence about it), it is my opinion that blogging is strongly related to a higher level of digital literacy, not because of blogging itself, but because of all the accompanying activities around blogging that we usually dub as the Web 2.0: editing photos and video, podcasting, uploading and sharing multimedia files, social networking sites, etc.

Summing up. On one side, e-Readiness, e-Government, Human Rights and Digital Literacy are correlated: not a development of the Information Society and e-Government without a certain degree of Human rihts and Digital Literacy. On the other side, blogging might not be enough to foster e-Government, but blogging does need a high degree of freedom of speech and political liberties (i.e. Human Rights) and quite a degree of Digital Literacy. So, in my opinion, blogging is a good proxy for both e-Readiness and e-Government. Why necessary and not sufficient? Sufficient because the existence of blogging implies that there are no barriers to the evolution of Human Rights and Digital Literacy, conditions related to the achievevent of high levels of e-Government development and a healthy Information Society. But not necessary because there might be no barriers and, actually, people not feel the need to blog, but express their freedom of thought and digital literacy in other ways (i.e. people might be digitally literate and free, but hate blogging). This could explain while there is no correlation between e-Government and a complex thing like blogging.

Further reading

Digital students, analogue institutions, teachers in extinction

Next 20, 21 and 22 May 2008 takes place the bdigital Global Congress, one of the major events about the Information Society in Spain.

Our University has been asked to organize the Education track, that will be chair by our Innovation Vicerector Begoña Gros. I have been invited to impart the opening speech for the track, and

give an overview of the relationship between the development of the Society and economic development, and how both questions are closely related to the acquisition of digital competences by the citizens. In this matter, the situation of ICTs at school and their use by teachers and students will be analyzed, proposing some strategies to foster ICTs in the educational framework.

I here advance the material I prepared for that session as a request for comments. Feel free to send any feedback about it. Thank you in advance.

Slides

English version follows. Please click here for the original version in Spanish and the downloadable version for both languages.

Bibliography

Castells, M. (2000). “Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society”. In British Journal of Sociology, Jan-Mar 2000, 51(1), 5-24. London: Routledge.
Castells, M. (2004). “Informationalism, Networks, And The Network Society: A Theoretical Blueprint”. In Castells, M. (Ed.),
The Network Society: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.
Dutta, S., López-Claros, A. & Mia, I. (Eds.) (2006). Global Information Technology Report 2005-2006: Leveraging ICT for Development. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dutta, S. & Mia, I. (Eds.) (2007). Global Information Technology Report 2006-2007: Connecting to the Networked Economy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dutta, S., López-Claros, A. & Mia, I. (Eds.) (2008). Global Information Technology Report 2007-2008: Fostering Innovation through Networked Readiness. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Eurostat Information society statistics. [online]: European Commission.
Mominó de la Iglesia, J. M., Sigalés Conde, C. & Meneses Naranjo, J. (2008a). L’Escola a la Societat Xarxa: Internet a l’Educació Primària i Secundària. Barcelona: Ariel.
Mominó de la Iglesia, J. M., Sigalés Conde, C. & Meneses Naranjo, J. (2008b). L’Escola a la Societat Xarxa: Internet a l’Educació Primària i Secundària (Volum I). Informe Final de Recerca. Barcelona: UOC.
Mominó de la Iglesia, J. M., Sigalés Conde, C. & Meneses Naranjo, J. (2008c). L’Escola a la Societat Xarxa: Internet a l’Educació Primària i Secundària (Volum II). Informe Final de Recerca. Barcelona: UOC.
OECD (2007). PISA 2006: Science Competencies for Tomorrow’s World. Volume 1: Analysis. Paris: OECD.
Peña-López, I. (2007). El papel de las TIC y la Web 2.0 en el desarrollo: de las estrategias push a las estrategias pull. Seminar and round table imparted in Cornellà de Llobregat, January 25th, 2008 at the Difundir las TIC en la época 2.0 conference, Observatorio de la Cibersociedad. Cornellà de Llobregat: ICTlogy.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to Julio Meneses for so kindly sharing some graphic materials. Thanks also to Begoña Gros and Jaume Moregó for counting me in.