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.


Fostering the Information Society for Development in the Web 2.0 framework: from push to pull strategies — the case of Spain


When framing all the impact of ICTs in society — and not only at the economic level — it is unavoidable to speak of Manuel Castells’s work, maybe the most acknowledged scholar in this field. Summing up and focusing on what is of interest here, Castells presents a society structured in three layers — relationships of production, experience and power — that by acting over matter (i.e. nature) — the former — and establishing relationships amongst them three layers, end up shaping a culture in a specific configuration of time and space. As technology plays and important role in both the relationships amongst layers and in the creation of culture, Castells theorizes on how ICTs are actually shaping nowadays culture in a very broad sense. His thesis is that the Informational Paradigm leads to a globalized Network Society that pervades each and every aspect of human life. Besides the effect on the Economy, it affects all the way the society shaped, thus the way we work, how culture and communication take place, a redefinition of politics, and even the concepts of time and space.

We can summarize the preceding ideas in the following figure, which presents the three layered society structure in a drastically simplified way:

Concerning development, Welzel et al. (2003) describe in their work a framework that, to our appeal, is very interesting as it goes beyond economic development, overcoming the usual focus on infrastructures.

Their three tier approach is based on the three main trends in development studies. The first one is socioeconomic development, mainly based in Economy issues (translated into indicators) plus some others mainly measuring Health or Education. Socioeconomic development ends up measuring the resources the individual actually has, thus enhancing his objective means of choice. The second one is value change shifting to emancipative values. In this case, what is enhanced is not the objective but the subjective ability towards human choice. The third one is democratization that, if accompanied – as it would be expected – by an increase of freedom rights, would actually make possible the objective and subjective power of choice that the two former development trends explained.

Again, next figure tries and pictures these ideas:

If we add both frameworks, on one hand Castells’s Network Society and on the other Welzel et al.’s, we come up with the following figure, a figure that I have already presented here:

The case of Spain

If we take Ferran Sabaté’s work (2007a, 2007b) after the World Economic Forum’s Networking Readiness Index 2006 for Spain, we clearly see that infrastructures are not the problem (they are undoubtedly and still a problem, but they are far from being the problem). As it it put clear in his two articles, as a quite e-developed country, Spain has reached a certain satisfactory degree of e-readiness based on a deep and wide development of infrastructures. What is lacking, and impedes a further e-development, is everything else that should accompany the deployment of infrastructures, namely a proper political strategy, digital literacy and, above all, a strong demand driven by private (mainly individual, but also corporate) interest — it is my opinion that, at the state we are in, lack of interest and digital illiteracy are almost the same thing and can be generalized as lack of e-Awareness.

What to do about it?

Let’s take the previous figure, let’s only keep the central column and let’s put two layers on top of it: first layer is how the web (we could actually speak of ICTs in general) has developed, from 1.0 — based on infrastructures and one-way information — to 2.0 — based on content and services and participation. Second layer is about two kinds of policies, one based on push strategies (wire cities, subsidize computer acquisition), the other one based on pull strategies (make people aware of their needs and how computers can help fulfill them, empower Administrations so citizens know they can ask for more public e-Services).

It is my opinion that Spain — as many other (almost) e-developed countries — is just at the hinge between an Information Society based on infrastructures and the creation of a strong ICT sector, and another one based on highly digitally literate people that demand high quality digital content and services in an adequate regulation framework (adequate not for incumbent carriers, but for digital content and services provision: privacy, intellectual property rights, cyberlaw, etc.).

Not to stay forever at that hinge, the transition from 1.0 to 2.0 must be boosted. And it is my believe that, after a successful push strategies to set up the basements of a first phase of the Information Society, what is needed is pull strategies so that the growth, both in depth and width, of the Information Society is made socially sustainable according to citizens’ needs and, at the same time, economically sustainable according to customers’ will to pay.

More about this

I have kindly been invited to speak about this at the conference Difundir las TIC en la época 2.0: nuevos formatos, nuevos interrogantes y nuevas perspectivas [ICT diffusion in 2.0 times: new formats, new questions and new perspectives] (the event on Facebook).

Update: slides for the presentation


Update: video of the presentation

More info