Ana Rivoir: National Strategies for the Information Society in Latin America, 2000-2010. The case of Uruguay

Notes from the PhD Dissertation defence by Ana Rivoir entitled Estrategias Nacionales para la Solciedad de la Información y el Conocimiento en América Latina, 2000-2010. El caso de Uruguay (National Strategies for the Information and Knowledge Society in Latin America, 2000-2010. The case of Uruguay), directed by Mila Gascó.

Defence of the thesis: National Strategies for the Information and Knowledge Society in Latin America, 2000-2010. The case of Uruguay.

Despite the revolution of the Information Society, its impact is meagre in Latin America, due to the digital divide, to meaningful use, to social appropriation, etc. How have public policies responded to that?

After year 2000 we see the flourishing of the so-called “digital agendas” in several countries in Latin America. Initially, they are criticised for too much focusing on infrastructures. Besides the technological approach, there is, though, a more complex approach where ICTs are seen as a driver of development, having a role in social change, and where policies have a more comprehensive approach focusing on inclusion, and articulated with other public policies. In the complex approach, indeed, the issue at stake is not the “telecommunication market” but many other actors converge in the arena.

This research deals with the transition from one (technological) approach to another (complex) one in Uruguay during the decade 2000-2010. Specifically, it is stated that Uruguay did that transition because it adopted, in 2005, a more human development-centred approach.

There is a powerful international context, with several summits in the region (Latin America and the Caribbean) either directly related with the Information Society or with Human Development (e.g. Millennium Goals).

The first agenda, Uruguay En Red (UER), is not achieved due to contradictory design, lack of leadership, an environment of economic crisis. The strategy for the Information Society in Uruguay 2005-2010 or Agenda Digital Uruguay is very different to the former one. There is a deep influence of the Millennium goals; goals are simpler, though more focused on technology; difficult to measure; new bias towards a “complex approach”. That is, despite the agenda being simplified and seemingly technological, its development is of the complex kind.

In general, the new strategy goes in line with the rest of the region and the international context, with technological goals but complex achievements. These achievements especially relevant in the field of e-Government but partly leaving aside participation and empowerment.

The complex approach, though not in the design, is effectively achieved in the implementation of the different policies. This is due to the different design from the former UER to the later ADU, which makes it easier to execute digital policies. An important observation to be made is that the complex approach is fostered by broad participation of actors, but it is not a necessary pre-requisite.

It is evidenced by this research that two models (technological, complex) do exist and it would be advisable that international organisms (e.g. ECLAC) made it explicit in their handbooks and reports on how to design and assess Information Society policies.


Tamyko Ysa: are we using a policy-network approach or a issue-network approach in this research? are we seeing two approaches of public policies, or the difficulties to carry on a given policy, are we measuring policy designs or are we measuring outcomes? how are outputs and outcomes related? How do we know that policies in Uruguay were affected by the regional or the international arena, and not the other way round?

Jacint Jordana: Despite the thesis having a multidisciplinary approach, it maybe lacked a “core” theoretical framework. Some statements should have been put in context in relationship with other macro indicators (changes of government, GNP, etc.). More “dialogue” between the many indicators gathered in the thesis would have been a rich improvement.

Joan Subirats: The thesis is initiated in 2000 where we used to speak about “strategies” to foster the Information Society, but do we need such strategies 13 years after? Is there a real capability to design such a comprehensive policy that can span all the related issues of the (immense) Information Society? What kind of debate nurtured or accompanied the design of policies and strategies to foster the Information Society? Would it be possible to replace technological/complex with instrumental/systemic? Another analysis that could have been made is not only the degree of change in Uruguay, but also in neighbour countries, and to compare the different degrees of change and the reason for these differences (if any). Why, for instance, is human development so absent in e.g. Europe, especially in comparison with Latin America.

Ana Rivoir: The always changing topic of analysis made the theoretical framework also a changing issue. That is one of the reasons why a solid framework was very difficult to weave. Notwithstanding, it is very likely that a multidisciplinary approach should be replaced by a disciplinary one, to avoid the continuous changes of the matter of analysis.

About the possibility that the concept “strategy for the Information Society” might be outdated, we are just now witnessing the debate around “broadband agendas”, which is but the same thing with a different name. Thus, it still makes a lot of sense to speak about policies or strategies to foster the Information Society, with this name or with another one.

Concerning the different authors, it can be stated that at the beginning of the period 2000-2010, there was not much acknowledgement or even awareness about the relationship between Information Society and Human Development. This changed later, and even a good amount of literature is written to explain not only that there is such a relationship but also how it does happen.


Designing institutions that foster the Information Society

Fundació puntCAT — the organization behind the .cat “country” code top-level domain (ccTLD) — is going through a process of strategic reflection on what should its mission be in the following years. As a part of its Advisory Council, I have been invited to provide my insights. Here comes what could be called my “position paper” on the matter. Some of the ideas have been enriched with the dialogue with other members of the Advisory Council, which actually shared most of my points of view.

The need for a transversal, independent institution to foster the Information Society

There are two main issues to be raised about the nature of an institution that has in their mission fostering the Information Society.

The first one is that it has to have a transversal, multidisciplinary approach to the topic. This is rarely found in governments, where such an institution is placed in the organizational chart of a another vertical institution, that is, a given ministry or department. In practice, this means that if the institution is e.g. the Ministry of Industry, the approach when fostering the Information Society will definitely be biased towards infrastructures and the ICT/telecommunications industry — which is the most common example indeed. A solution to this problem is placing our institution that fosters the Information Society up in the department/ministry/cabinet/secretariat of the President or similar. This will work only under two premises: (1) there is no coalition of different parties within the government, so that the government is not split in practice in sub-governments among parties; (2) there are no different factions within the party in the government that fight among them for power — this will rarely happen if ever. Another solution is placing our institution outside of the Government and in hands of the civil society.

The second aspect is that this institution has to be independent. Some of the reasons have already been stated above: only an independent institution can provide advice to policy-makers in matters of Health, Education or Democratic Quality without the risks of being interpreted as a party issue (and not a technical one). But independent does not only means in political terms, but economic ones. A major strength that some institutions of this kind have — like Fundació puntCAT or ICANN itself — is that they have revenues that sustain their activity besides the political colour in the government or the interests of the lobbies.

Functions of an institution to foster the Information Society

There are two sides of the same coin when talking about the functions that can be carried on by institutions to foster the Information Society.

On the one hand, these institutions can provide services in order to assure economic (and political) independence and sustainability. Of course these services will be related with the institution’s mission (e.g. managing a ccTLD). This is the “revenue” side of the institution, especially if it is independent as we defined it before. On the other hand — and this is the point that I would like to stress —, these institutions have an “expenditure” side which focuses on policy-making, on lobbying. Both sides are complementary and essential.

Concerning the part of policy-making and lobbying, I think it is worth mentioning that it is the demand side what is of more concern, especially where a good amount of infrastructures have already been deployed, thus shifting from push to pull strategies.

In this demand-side, pull-strategy approach, there are three issues that are worth being mentioned, and in this specific order:

  1. Measuring and analysing the state of development of the Information Society. That is, knowing what is happening and, even more important, why. So, it is not only about the raw measurement and putting data in rows in a table, but putting it in context with other socio-economic indicators, infer the causes of this state of development, its consequences, comparing it with other social or economic realities, etc. Most of the times, data on ICTs come in a much aggregated and sector-centred manner: there is a need to disaggregate, contextualize and characterize these data so that they become knowledge.
  2. Provide policy advice on what should be done, in what fields, with what priorities, and adjusting to the available resources. And not only providing advice, but also pointing at the ways to monitor the evolution and measure the impact of applying such policies, what results could be expected and, again, why. Providing policy advice can be made in a lot of ways. The usual one is reports or white papers. But consultancy (which can be pro-bono, of course) and lobbying should also be included in the agenda. And, of course, advice can be provided at different levels: at the state/government level, or at the organization (e.g. SMEs) or individual levels.
  3. Directly setting up and carrying on programmes for the development of the Information Society. In other words, designing programmes and executing projects in the field of e-Health, ICT and education, electronic and open government, etc. These programmes and projects, of course, should be very much in line of the two previous points: heavily relying on the evidence raised in the measuring and analysis part, and putting in practice what the policy-advice stage suggested. Deploying protocols and procedures, measuring tools and indicators for monitoring would be the nicest way to close the (virtuous) circle of intervention.

It goes without saying that, in a Network Society, it is not expected that an institution will (a) directly perform all of the aforementioned tasks or functions and (b) do it on its own. I believe there is an opportunity for a new institutional design, more based on enabling that on leading, more based on networking and partnering rather than on competing. I would expect of an institution designed to foster the Information Society to be the visible core of a network of professionals, scholars and policy-makers that work towards the same goal. And the main role of this institution would just be generating the sufficient resources to create, maintain and fuel this network.


Oriol Miralbell: Social networking sites and exchange of knowledge

Notes from the PhD Dissertation defence by Oriol Miralbell entitled Webs de xarxes socials i intercanvi de coneixement. Anàlisi de l’adopció i ús dels membres de les comunitats virtuals professionals del turisme (Social networking sites and exchange of knowledge. Analysis of the adoption and usage of members of tourism professional virtual communities), directed by Francesc González and Jaume Guia.

Defence of the thesis: Social networking sites and exchange of knowledge. Analysis of the adoption and usage of members of tourism professional virtual communities.

The thesis aims at analyzing how knowledge is exchanged in social networking sites, with a focus on professional virtual networks in the field of tourism.

Main topics of the thesis or theoretical framework:

  • Social virtual networks: Barry Wellman makes the difference between open and diffuse networks, and dense and limited groups. The former ones usually imply freedom of participation, while the later are more centralized and hierarchic, with stronger and fixer relationships.
  • Knowledge transfer: that happens in virtual communities and communities of practice. In the later, the existence of a leader is important, as is the inclusion of the “periphery” of the network. Knowledge transfer is also related with informal learning and personal learning environments. Downes and Siemens base connective knowledge networks in openness, autonomy, diversity and interaction.
  • Social networking sites. O’reilly defines the web 2.0 as a way to leverage the collective wisdom and where the user takes control of their own information. Social networking sites enable the exchange of knowledge, managing one’s relationships (interactivity), creating a public profile by articulating a list of contacts (autonomy), or sharing lists of contacts with other users (openness, diversity).
  • Exchange of knowledge in virtual communities: confidence, loyalty, emotional identification, reciprocity and commitment are fundamental for the exchange of knowledge in virtual communities.
  • Usage and adoption of social networking sites: there are several aspects (cognitive, contextual, etc.) that explain how people adopt technology. Davis, Bagozzi and Warshaw developed the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), which is what based this research.

A model was designed to see what was the utility of social networking sites for knowledge exchange, based on the TAM model.

Social networking sites help in solving some barriers usually found in the field of tourism: high competition and lack of collaboration, atomization of the sector, lack of knowledge, etc.

More than 80,000 virtual communities [1] members out of 28 communities in several social networking sites (Linkedin, Facebook, Ning) were identified and a sample of users was selected to be surveyed about usage and perceived utility. The main characteristics of the sample is higher education, a majority of people in the 30-44 y.o. range, professionals of the tourism or knowledge sector, not very high earnings, proficiency in the use of ICTs. Facebook is the SNS more used, followed by Twitter and Linkedin, though Linkedin was much more used in relationship with the average SNS user, that is, tourism professionals use linkedin more than the average population. More than half of the users had friends as their contacts, but besides this, the level of trust in the network is very high. It is believed that SNS are adequate for sharing knowledge but not as good for creating new knowledge.

We can state that autonomy, diversity and openness favours interactivity among members and thus increase the usage of SNS. SNS are perceived more as places to get in through with people and share knowledge, rather than spaces for collaborative learning. There is a low perception of generation of new knowledge. Thus, features of SNS should be improved in terms of generation of knowledge (if that was their purpose). Notwithstanding, there is a positive perception of SNS often times based in high rates of trust in these platforms. Hence, SNS could be used for collaborative work between members of the tourist sector.


Some questions from the committee:

  • Agustí Canals: was there any validation of the questionnaire?
  • Agustí Canals: what is the relationship of the model and demographic data?
  • Agustí Canals: is this research representative of other fields or, at least, other knowledge-intensive fields?
  • José Luis Molina: how does the model relate to personal knowledge management?
  • José Luis Molina: how does the model would vary taking into account only specific regions of the globe?
  • Esther Pérez: what are the reasons behind the choice of the model of acceptance of technology?
  • Q: does the model fit better in some specific geographic areas rather and other ones? what about different ages?
  • Q: how should the model evolve to fit the pace of change in reality?

The questionnaire was validated: there was a pre-survey with a very small sample, the questionnaire was corrected and then the new questionnaire was used in the final survey.

The direct interaction of the researcher with many of the surveyed networks leads him to believe that there are not many differences in the usage and perception of utility of SNS for tourism professionals in different regions of the world… but language. Indeed, problems are shared, attitudes are similar and practices do not differ much from different SNS and/or social networks.

It is worth noting that the personal relationships factor is crucial in the usage of SNS. Knowledge is defined very different and is thus difficult to measure, but personal relationships have common structures and this is what usually shapes social networks.

TAM was adopted because of its wider use in many other researches.

People of different ages may end up using SNS in different ways, but the core of professional virtual communities, which is knowledge and relationships would still be the same. That is, forms may vary, but content would still be the same.

Generation of knowledge not only happens when it is actively pursued, but also serendipitously, in sharing ideas, information or other knowledge.


More than wires: measuring the Information Society

On May 2, 2012, I was at UOC headquarters in Seville, Spain, speaking on the [sic] Debating the trends on the Information and Knowledge Society.

The idea of my speech in the session — which I shared with Marc Bogdanowicz — was to perform a quick overview of how the development of the Information Society has been measured in the last 20 years and how the design of these measurements inevitably conditions (or just determines) the design of policies that would come after measurement.

In a nutshell, what was presented is that governments, in general, have focused on infrastructures and what is related to them (infrastructure level of usage, the ICT sector and some regulation of the ICT sector market). And, on the other hand, citizens (in fact, customers) demand a sufficient supply of content and services at affordable cost.

But, it does seem that the long term is missing in both approaches. Besides daily usage or investment, it looks that especially policies focusing in the long term and the strategic level are totally non existent and, thus, we are riding the change but not levering the transforming potential of ICTs. And digital skills might be the what could fill the gap between simple adoption to sheer transformation.

Some examples in the context of Spanish politics/policies were provided at the end in the field of institutional design, education and ICT, open government and teleworking.

More than wires: measuring the Information Society

Some bibliography on the topic

Peña-López, I. (2010). “Towards a comprehensive model of the digital economy”. In
Proceedings of ICTD 2010. 4th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development. London: IEEE.
Peña-López, I. (2009). “Hacia un modelo integral de la Economía Digital”. In
Libro de Comunicaciones de la II Conferencia Internacional Brecha Digital e Inclusión Social. Comunicación presentada en la II Conferencia Internacional Brecha Digital e Inclusión Social, 28-30 de Octubre de 2009. Leganés: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.

Information Society: where to? with whom? by Marc Bogdanowicz



The needed shift in policies to foster the Information Society: skills and refuseniks

In early 2010, the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued Digital Nation: 21st Century America’s Progress Towards Universal Broadband Internet Access which, amongst other things, provided data on why people did not use the Internet. Two years later, the Pew Internet & American Life Project provides similar data in Digital Differences. It is very interesting comparing how the reasons for not using the Internet have evolved.

Before entering the analysis, please note that the NTIA actually provided the reasons for not using broadband at home, while PIP measures the reasons for not using the Internet in general. As the difference between broadband and dial-up at that time (October 2009) was circa 5%, and now (August 2011) being 3%, we believe that comparisons, though inaccurate, do indeed provide good enough insights for a quick analysis.

The first chart shows the reasons that non-users state for not using the Internet, measured in percent of non-users. Thus, the chart pictures the share or weight that each reason has in relationship with other reasons for not using the Internet:

Graphic: Reasons for not using the Internet (% of non-users)

Bearing in mind the caveat on the slightly different variables measured by the indicators, we can easily see that the barriers to access (usually lack of infrastructure, affordability and personal disabilities or lack of appropriate/adapted infrastructure) have decreased drastically in less than two years (Oct 2009 to Aug 2011). Yes, there still is an important 30% of non-users that state that the reason for not using the Internet is infrastructures, but the reason has decreased. More competitive markets, the deployment of infrastructures in remote areas and public access points sure are the main causes for this decrease.

On the contrary, lack of skills has sky-rocketed and multiplied its weight by 13%. It is possible that this figure is not actually true, and that the 3% in 2009 is not gathering non-users because of capability reasons (this is most likely — more on that later).

The interesting thing to notice, though, are the steady “Lack of interest” and “Other” reasons, which almost add up to 50% of the people that do not use the Internet. Besides their high share, it is worth stressing their steadiness or even slight increase. There is a constant share of refuseniks that will not use the Internet whatever the government, the market or their peers do to convince them to do otherwise.

The second chart shows again the reasons that non-users state for not using the Internet, but this time measured in percent of the total of the population. Thus, the chart pictures the share or weight that each reason has in relationship with the whole, then giving us an idea of the aggregate number of people that state a specific reason for not using the Internet:

Graphic: Reasons for not using the Internet (% of all population)

The good thing to note here is that most reasons are decreasing. This is just natural as the overall adoption of the Internet is increasing. So, by construction, one would expect just that.

The not so good thing to note is that the amount of people stating they are not skilled enough to use the Internet does increase. Even if this figure can be (or is) distorted by the different things that data are depicting, it is consistent with other data and observations around, namely (1) the increase of a second-level digital divide caused by different levels of digital skills and (2) the increase of the amount of people that access public access points (telecentres, libraries, cybercafes) not because of the infrastructures — which most have at home — but in seek of advice or help.

Before this scenario, which is not new, a change or shift of public policies to foster the Information Society should take place. Not that policies aimed at more, better and cheaper infrastructures should be abandoned (or yes, that is another debate), but the provision of digital competences to the citizens should be having an increased if not a major role in public policies.

And, of course, it is about much more than putting computers in the classroom.


Celedón, A., Pequeño, A., Garrido, M. & Patin, B. (2012). El Rol de los Telecentros y las Bibliotecas en Situación de Catástrofe: El Caso Chileno. Seattle: Technology & Social Change Group, University of Washington Information School.
DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Celeste, C. & Shafer, S. (2004). “From Unequal Access to Differentiated Use: A Literature Review and Agenda for Research on Digital Inequality”. In Neckerman, K. (Ed.), Social Inequality, 355-400. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Hargittai, E. (2002). “Second-Level Digital Divide: Differences in People’s Online Skills”. In First Monday, April 2002, 7 (4)
Min, S. (2010). “From the Digital Divide to the Democratic Divide: Internet Skills, Political Interest, and the Second-Level Digital Divide in Political Internet Use”. In Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 7 (1), 22-35. London: Routledge.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration (2010). Digital Nation: 21st Century America’s Progress Towards Universal Broadband Internet Access. Washington, DC: National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Peña-López, I. (2010). “Policy-making for digital development: the role of the government”. In Proceedings of ICTD 2010. 4th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development. London: IEEE.
Sciadas, G., Lyons, H., Rothschild, C. & Sey, A. (2012). Public access to ICTs: Sculpting the profile of users. Seattle: Technology & Social Change Group, University of Washington Information School.
Zickuhr, K. & Smith, A. (2012). Digital differences. Washington, D.C.: Pew Internet & American Life Project.


Conference series on trends in the Information and Knowledge Society

Logo of the [SIC] conference series

(crossposted from Debates sobre tendencias de la Sociedad de la Información y el Conocimiento).

With the goal to analyse and propose a debate on the nature and depth of this new framework of social relationships, the challenges it entails, for example, from the point of view of social inclusion, or opportunities from the perspective of health systems, social participation and education a series of conferences has been planned in Seville (Spain): [sic]*: Conference series on trends in the Information and Knowledge Society

The conferences are made up by six debates, and I am taking part in two of them:

1. Introductory session. 18 april 2012.

  • Topics: information society, network society and technological revolution, how ICTs have penetrated into European, Spanish and Andalousian societies, and what are or what should be the public policies in this area.
  • Participants: Eva Piñar, General Director of Technological and Information Society services at the Andalousian government; Ramón Compañó, programme coordinator at IPTS-JCR; Josep Lladós, director of the PhD on Information and Knowledge Society at UOC.

2. Progressing towards the Information Society. 2 may 2012.

  • Topics: present of the implementation of ICT at different levels: infrastructure, knowledge economy, legal framework, content and services. And delving into the economic dimension of the information society: business, resources, innovation, etc..
  • Participants: Ismael Peña-López, professor a the School of Law and Political Science at UOC; Marc Bogdanowic, leader of the Information Society Unit at IPTS-JCR.

3. Technological prospective. 16 may 2012.

  • Topics: what will be the future technologies, usage standards, protocols, etc..
  • Participants: César Córcoles, professor at the School of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunication at UOC; a TBC representative from IPTS.

4. ICT and Education. 6 june 2012.

  • Topics: aspects of the relationship between training and ICT, how educational technology is already helping to change the way it delivers training, how can ICT help in shaping tomorrow’s education.
  • Participants: Magí Almirall, director of the Office of Learning Technologies at UOC; Yves Punie, senior scientist at the Information Society Unit at IPTS-JCR.

5. ICT for Health. 20 june 2012.

6. ICT and citizen participation. 4 july 2012.

  • Topics: how ICT have changed the relationship between citizens and the government, what are the new forms of participation based on the use of ICT, Transparency, e-government, etc.
  • Participants: Ismael Peña-López, professor a the School of Law and Political Science at UOC; Gianluca Misuraca, researcher at the IPTS-JCR.

The [sic]*: Conference series on trends in the Information and Knowledge Society is organized by the General directorate of Technological and Information Society services of the Andalousian Government, the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies of the European Commission, and the office in Seville of the Open University of Catalonia (UOC).

I want to thank Eva Piñar and Alfredo Charques both for the initiative to organize the conference — when reflecting on what kind of Information Society we want is so necessary — and, of course, for inviting me to take part in it.