World Development Indicators 2009: a commentary (part I)

The World Bank has published the World Development Indicators 2009. The indicators and the report that accompanies the updated version of the indicators are, arguably, one of the best comprehensive snapshots on the state of the question of development worldwide.

Concerning Information and Communication Technologies, the report devotes 5 pages to comment the subject (see chapter 5, States and Markets, pp.265-269, PDF file 92.5 KB). The main statements of this section are as the following, which I’ll be commenting one by one.

ICTs used in e-government projects can reduce corruption

This is a statement I fully agree with. I already wrote about this in my article entitled The end of paper, open gates to on-time democracy (not about journalism) and there is plenty more evidence about what ICTs can do for transparency, accountability, democracy and human rights; and and efficiency and efficacy in the provision of public services.

Some ICTs, such as broadband, can contribute to economic growth

Again, see Economic Benefits of ICTs.

We must not, nevertheless, forget how broadband is unevenly adopted in the world:

Graphic: Broadband access in developed and developing economies

The problem is not, actually, that broadband distribution is unbalanced, but that the trend seems to reinforce this fact. As the International Telecommunication Union report Measuring the Information Society – The ICT Development Index 2009 shows, the broadband divide in the World has increased and the irruption of the mobile broadband has only worsened this unequality:

Graphic: Fixed broadband users

Graphic: Mobile access in developed and developing economies
Good government policies and regulations are creating competitive ICT markets, increasing access to ICT services for people everywhere […] Many countries that have created a competitive market environment for ICTs have more people using ICT services

This is, to my understanding, where long term and broad impact ICT4D strategies should be headed. Thus, there is an urgent need to change the socioeconomic and political frameworks regarding ICTs and the Information Society in general.

My own research shows (more about this soon) that the role of the government has a huge impact in the probability (that is: it is a cause) of achieving higher levels of digital development. To be more specific, the following aspects highly determine digital development several orders of magnitude higher than other issues:

The well known success of mobile telephony worldwide has been achieved through high demand, low-cost technologies, and market liberalization

Complementary to what has already been said, macro-level policies have to be accompanied by grassroots and micro-level strategies and projects. The first one that comes to my mind is the — in my opinion — successful FrontlineSMS:Medic, building on the acknowledged flagship of SMS for development projects Frontline SMS. In a recent — and most insightful — talk I had with the promoter of Kiwanja, Ken Banks, we both agreed that “scalability” in the developing world might not mean the same thing as in developed countries, which follow market-led rules, but could be closer to the concept of “copy-and-spread”. In his own words in Time to eat our own dog food?: we need to think about low-end, simple, appropriate mobile technology solutions which are easy to obtain, affordable, require as little technical expertise as possible, and are easy to copy and replicate.

(continues in World Development Indicators 2009: a commentary (part II))

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2009) “World Development Indicators 2009: a commentary (part I)” In ICTlogy, #67, April 2009. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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About Me

    I am Ismael Peña-López.

    I am professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Open University of Catalonia, and researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute and the eLearn Center of that university. I am also the director of the Open Innovation project at Fundació Jaume Bofill.