In an exchange of e-mails some weeks ago with Mark Graham from the Oxford Internet Institute, I ended up drafting the outline of what an introduction to e-readiness and to measuring the Information Society could look like.
It has become usual to criticise (and I agree with that) the lack of monitoring and evaluation practices in ICT4D projects — see e.g. the latest example I’ve read about it in the interesting Worst practice in ICT use in education by Michael Trucano — and, notwithstanding, little attention is given in ICT4D courses to the macro indicators related with development and the Information Society, that is:
- What are the different concepts of e-readiness and the digital divide;
- what are the different models that are addressing this question at the quantitative level (Gillwald, Sciadas, ITU, UNCTAD, the World Economic Forum, the Economist Intelligence Unit, The World Bank, Waverman, etc.) and
- what are the main tools that “everyone” is using to measure infrastructures, usage, etc. related to the digital economy.
According to this, now follow what I think would be the basics in an introduction to the concepts and tools around the measurement of the Information Society.
In my opinion, I think there’s a huge revolution in the way the Information Society is measured in 2003 with George Sciadas‘s work Monitoring the Digital Divide… and Beyond that ended up in his acclaimed report From the Digital Divide to Digital Opportunities, being this second reference a perfect starting point for this whole subject.
An adaptation of this methodology (and an interesting reflection) for the case of Africa can be found in Towards an African ICT e-Index: Towards evidence based ICT policy in Africa by Alison Gillwald and Christoph Stork.
Sciadas‘s methodology became somewhat mainstream when was adopted by the International Telecommunication Union to build their ICT Development Index (IDI), which is a merger of two previous indices: ITU’s Digital Opportunity Index (an infrastructure-biased index) and UNCTAD’s ICT Opportunity Index (the first adaptation of Sciadas’s).
Information about the ICT Development Index can be mainly found in:
Besides ITU’s index (which we can assume as to have become the “official” United Nations’ Index), I think it would be very good worth mentioning other international and well reputed indices/tools like:
To end up this introducion, four more recommendations:
Notes from the 4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress.
Government on the Web
A shift of paradigm in Government
Dunleavy, Margetts (2006) Digital Era Governance: the dominant paradigm of public governance reform (new public management) is dead. The digital-era governance is nigh… or just happening.
What happened during the New Public Management?
- Disaggregation, into tiny decentralized government and quasi-government agencies
- Competition within the daily tasks of government, its relationships with suppliers, outsourcing, financing, etc.
- Incentivization: via privatization, performance related pay, charging, etc.
What are we likely to see during the Digital-era governance?
- Reintegration, going the way back of atomization that the New Public Management achieved adn that showed not being always efficient
- Needs-based Holism, focusing on the client and client structures, including co-creation and co-production. This can lead to government doing less and citizens doing more.
- Digitalization, of documents, of deliveries, of processes, of communications, etc.
But things are happening slowly: e-government lags behind e-commerce, web-based provision still weak, low interaction at the G2B and G2C levels.
Government on the Web
While most government sites are roughly steady in the amount of visitors they have, Directgov, the global, cross-level, cross-government, portal for e-Government in the UK has a huge increase, which brings interesting reflections both about the successful strategies and also the related threats. Directgov, for instance, as an impressive amount of inbound links, even if outbound links are not much higher than other Government sites. Reasons are many, but an accuracy to define a profile and links from other countries and initiatives are two of the most important. On the other hand, Directgov is one of the smallest (in number of pages and documents) sites of all, being the tax agency and the education department on the other end. A correct strategy would be for these heavy sites to bring their content — or links — to Directgov, acting the latter as a hub and the former ones as the store.
Generally, the cross-government site got and retained more users looking for specific content (15 questions on a survey) than search engines.
- Sites are well rated and quality has improved, but the design and heavy-text makes can make them being near obsolete in the short run
- Despite the amount of money spent, more should be put in improving the existing information
- Centralization strategy seems to be working
Digital Era Governance
- Risk: adding up to the creation of a super-state that the New Public Management began
- Risk: setting up a chaotic, poorly designed, digital strategy that is built on the run
- Use of pervasive information
- De-coupling information analysis from control
- Customer orientation and segmentation
- Isocratic government: help citizens do it themselves
- Co-production: the government sets the frame, the citizen fills it
- Co-creation: government provides capacity or facility, citizens design own projects using it
- Peer production: government benefits from social production
- The change of the public management regime increases the autonomy of the citizen and the level of social problem-solving.
- If the government does not provide the information and services, people would find it anyway
- Rich information and content
- Highly specific “deep” search
- Giving information back to the users about their own use of the service
- Creating part-finished products
- Co-production leading to co-creation
- Customer segmentation
- Broadening the amount of stakeholders implied
- Para-organizations can blossom, where users are into front office
- Performance data freely available
- Managers can be customer oriented
- Direct voice for patients
- Co-production, co-creation
- Patient input replaces controls
Risks of remaining in e-Government 1.0
- Ignore young people
- Text-only communications is under-investment
- People go where they want to go
- Loss of visibility, loss of nodality for not being there
Me: Does Web 2.0 poses a threat to representative democracy? Why should I be engaged if it is really comfortable, efficient, to be represented? HM: Engagement has now less costs, and the impact of being engaged is now higher, so the net balance of engagement is much higher, as costs are lower and benefits are higher.
Eduard Aibar: What happens if all skills and human capital is placed at the private sector? where is the limit of outsourcing public services? HM: Is is a threat to the enforcement of the social contract. The Government has a need for public-private partnerships, but should leverage the learnings in its own benefit and also be aware of imbalances.
Eben Moglen: what happens with data security, citizen privacy, spending on privative software, etc.? What happens with the politics of public services? Maybe Google will always be superior to any e-strategy from the UK Government. HM: Incompetence adds to politics in this case, and sometimes personal agendas — Eben Moglen absolutely disagrees.
Mònica Vilasau: is the citizen more concerned about security or privacy when he addresses a government website than when he uses e-commerce? HM: Normally yet, people are more concerned of giving their data away to governments than to private services, maybe because they’re unaware of the benefits of the public service and the government (cleverly, responsibly) using their data.
Michael Jensen: Implications of the process of co-production and co-creation. HM: The citizenry are creating with their searches, with their comments… they are whatever they do. So the Government should not permit himself being set aside from this conversation.
Me: what’s the risk of mashups and websites run by para-governmental organizations? who’s liable for the quality of the information? who’s to assess its accuracy? HM: Of course there’s a risk, but if the Government is publishing the right, correct, needed, information for the citizen, good practices will be more than the bad ones. And these sites put pressure on the Government to issue its official and original information to the wide public in an easy, quick and accessible way. On the other hand, we should distinguish about websites with low level of identification with high level ones, where more “important” transactions take place.
Rosa Borge: What makes Directgov so different? How can these metrics be developed?. HM: Metrics were gathered by coding brand new free software for the research project. The big difference of Directgov it is that it was brand new in many ways, especially the concept. But its main problem is that it is really centralized, and that central office could not now everything about the UK Government. This is being corrected, and is shifting towards a more Web 2.0 approach.
David Osimo: Quite often we see “cool but useless” sites from governments, that are reluctant to give away their information or “power”. What to do about this? HM: There’s a need for a cultural change inside institutions, where they realize that they have to innovate in this area, and begin to listen, and aim towards (an unwanted) change.
4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (2008)