Measuring digital development for policy-making: Models, stages, characteristics and causes


Work data:

ISBN: 978-84-695-2824-2

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Type of work: PhD Thesis


Digital Divide | e-Readiness | ICT & Information Society


With this work, our aim is to analyze how and why the different approaches to model and measure the Information Society have determined what is meant by the concept of access to Information and Communication Technologies and digital development. And, based on this first analysis, work on and propose a 360º digital framework that can serve policy-making while, at the same time, be able to state whether and why governments should seek to foster the development of the Information Society.

Thus, the goal of this research is to identify the relevant factors that promote digital development, to define and describe – on that basis – its different stages and to explain the causes why a particular country might therefore be classified as a digital leader or a laggard and, lastly, answer whether and why governments should foster the Information Society.

To address this goal we have split our research into three main areas:

  • Clarification of concepts and their importance;
  • Analyzing the available tools for measuring the digital economy; and
  • Defining the stages of digital development, their characteristics and their causes; in particular, isolating the role of the public sector.

In the first area of research we cover the impact of ICTs, the concepts of access and the digital divide and the need to foster digital development. Our research questions in this area are:

  • What is “access”? What are its components?
  • What are the main approaches to defining access and why?
  • Is there any evidence that access to ICTs has had a positive or negative impact on the general socio-economic development of a country?
  • Why may there be a lack of access in a particular country or region, or to use a more familiar term, a “digital divide”?
  • Is it worthwhile for governments to attempt to foster digital development to accelerate the positive impacts of access to ICTs?

The second research theme explores, broadly and in depth, the ways in which access, digital development and the digital divide have been measured over the years, in particular through the use of composite indices. The related research questions are as follows:

  • What are the main models that depict digital development?
  • What are the approaches that these models follow to describe digital development?
  • What are the consequences of the different approaches followed in defining digital development models?

The third and final research theme focuses on the different stages, or phases, of digital development, their main characteristics and the reasons why digital development at the country level might be unevenly distributed.

  • Can we group countries according to their different levels of digital development and thus define a comprehensive model for measuring it?
  • What are the characteristics that enable us to cluster together countries according to their specific level of digital development?
  • What are the characteristics that distinguish between different levels of digital development?
  • Why some countries are more digitally developed than others?

The findings and reflections arising from these research questions should enable us to test the general hypothesis that guides our research. We believe that narrow institutional interests and a lack of appropriate data have led to a biased or fragmented measurement of digital development that is often focused on specific purposes. But if digital development is conceived as a continuum and described by means of a comprehensive model, then, at the country level, it can be observed that digital development happens in stages. These stages can be characterized by common features and distinguished by the scores achieved on certain key indicators. The improvement of its general economic indicators – such as income and wealth – characterizes the progression of a country along this continuum depends mainly on. Besides these basic economic aspects, if there is an appropriate Economic Incentive Regime, strong Government prioritization of ICT and a high importance afforded to ICTs in the Government’s vision of the future, then digital development is much more likely to happen. In some cases, these policies may allow leapfrogging so that a country can progress faster in its digital development than would be predicted by its general level of economic development.