Network Society course (II). Irene Mia: State of development of the Networked Society

Notes from the course Network Society: Social Changes, Organizations and Citizens, Barcelona, 15-17 October, 2008.

State of development of the Networked Society
Irene Mia, World Economic Forum

The Global Competitiveness Report and The Global Information Technology Report

The Global Competitiveness Report

A network of experts that reports the state of the economy in most countries of the World (covering circa 98% of the World’s GDP). The network works also on tourism, technology, private investment, etc.

The main goal is seeing why, given different countries with very different frameworks and socioeconomic backgrounds, why some of them behave similarly. It seems that there is a high correlation between competitiveness and e-readiness: ICTs are a general purpose technology that impacts all levels, thus why its relationship with competitiveness.

The Global Information Technology Report and the Networked Readiness Index

To see how countries can benefit from ICTs, how ready are they to enter the Information Society. To do so:

  • A proper environment: business environment, government environment, individual environment
  • A joint action between all the social actors to work together and share a common vision towards the Information Society
  • Readiness, to make usage possible.

A composed index of three subindices:

  • Environment: Market, Political/Regulatory, Infrastructure
  • Readiness: Individual, Business, Government
  • Usage: Individual, Business, Government

Data come from two different kind of sources: hard data, coming from national statistics; soft data, coming from experts that note down their perceptions. There is criticism on this last kind of data, dubbed as subjective; but perceptions, in the Economy, do play an important role, so despite the bias that might arise, it is also a way to gather all subjectiveness from a country’s reality.

Denmark — and other Scandinavian countries — are normally on top of the rankings. They are countries that are very innovative, competitive and wide open to international trade and a way of understanding the World as a global arena. On the other hand, some small Asia-Pacific countries have transformed their economies from having poor natural resources to be able to export hi-tech products and services. Last, some Arabic countries are also quickly scaling up the rankings, the reason being the diversification of their economies beyond oil.

Evidence shows that when there is an acknowledged strategy and philosophy to foster the Information Society (especially between businesses and governments), results are much better at achieving higher e-development goals.

The role of Governments in e-Readiness

The level of government readiness and usage is crucial, as it is a vector that dynamizes the introduction of new technology, the supply of services, the activation of the demand for those digital services, etc.

The case of Estonia

The shift from a planned (soviet) economy towards an open market one.

A huge effort was made to make government more efficient and to provide an appropriate environment so that the digital economy could develop: high usage, computers and Internet at home and at school, high level of e-government, etc.

  • Leadership from the top
  • Holistic national ICT Policy
  • An inclusive information society
  • Public-private partnerships
The case of Israel

Strong bet on software and exporting software — coming from a traditional economy based on exports of citrus.

How to create the appropriate environment? The government acted as an “ICT powerhouse”: investment in infrastructures, in R&D, in capacity and skills, in enterprise-university partnerships, firm incubators and venture capital, etc. Even this government “intervention”, it was always seen as “market friendly” and contributing to its dynamization without crowding it out.

The case of Taiwan

Incredible economic development based on hi-tech exports, with a highest share of ICT products worldwide.

Again, the strong role of the government and its vision and leadership. An emphasis on education, high quality training; innovation and investment, fostered through incubation programmes and parks.

Other countries that had high positive changes in their Networked Readiness Raking were China, Guatemala, India, Jamaica, Lithuania, Romania, the Russian Federation, Ukraine or Vietnam. Reasons for success being similar to the ones afore mentioned, including many important changes in education too. On the other hand, Africa or the Western Hemisphere showed poor change, normally due not (only) to lack of infrastructures, but to more fundamental reasons like being able to make change happen, the educational and socioeconomic framework, etc.

Q&A

Q: What does it take to shift one point upwards in the index/rankings? A: We don’t know, because the problem is that each country’s reality is too complex to draw a single model.

Q: In the case of Spain, how will it impact the law of access to the e-Administration or the electronic ID? How ambitious is the year 2010 deadline? A: It surely would, but it will not be in the short run. On the other hand, rankings are comparative, so it not only depends on your own performance but on your neighbours’. Of course, accomplishing deadlines also depend on the complexity of specific countries, so it is difficult to tell.

Q: Why e-readiness and usage measured apart? How it is that usage can be higher than readiness? A: Usage is more about e-government (public services, content, etc.), e-readiness more about strategy and policies.

Q: Are there rankings amongst countries with similar populations? Where’s France? Are there any countries going backwards? A: There are no rankings amongst similar populations, but it does make sense as implementation quite often depends on the total population (both positively and negatively).

Q: Is there any repository of best practices? A: The World Economic Forum publishes their case studies — based on successful practices —, as do some other organizations, but normally not as repositories but within reports, etc.

Q: Andalousia (southern Spain) has implemented telecenters and put computers+Internet in the classroom… but it looks like teachers are not ready to (efficiently) use them in teaching. Have other countries (e.g. Denmark) found the way to (efficiently) promote the use of ICTs in education? A: More than ICT policies, it is about education policies. Finland, for instance, invested highly in teachers and their skills (but also in wages). [see also “more info” below]

Q: Why is the civil society scared of the government having an important intervention? A: Public intervention is a need, and it should be better explained why, but there also is a need to protect the individuals in front of some violations of rights like privacy, security, freedom of expression, etc.

Q: What’s the role of web 2.0 apps in e-Readiness? A: It is especially about the role of the citizenry, the relationship of individuals with organizations, etc. And it will have a positive impact on usage, availability of information, etc.

Q: Intellectual property rights… are a barrier or a protection? A: It surely is a double-edged instrument, and there are reasons to and against having IP rights, and there is no clear positioning about them. What it is clear, is that governments should have a criterion about it and act according to it, coherently and consistently.

Demand or supply policies, push or pull strategies? A: In the case of developed countries (e.g. Spain) that already have some amount of infrastructures and skills, most probably the bet should be on demand-based policies and pull strategies to put the user actively in the equation.

More info

Dutta, S., López-Claros, A. & Mia, I. (Eds.) (2008). Global Information Technology Report 2007-2008: Fostering Innovation through Networked Readiness. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dutta, S. & Mia, I. (Eds.) (2007). Global Information Technology Report 2006-2007: Connecting to the Networked Economy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dutta, S., López-Claros, A. & Mia, I. (Eds.) (2006). Global Information Technology Report 2005-2006: Leveraging ICT for Development. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dutta, S. & López-Claros, A. (Eds.) (2005). Global Information Technology Report 2004-2005: Efficiency in an Increasing Connected World. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dutta, S., Paua, F. & Lanvin, B. (Eds.) (2004). Global Information Technology Report 2003-2004: Towards an Equitable Information Society. New York: Oxford University Press.
Dutta, S., Lanvin, B. & Paua, F. (Eds.) (2003). Global Information Technology Report 2002-2003: Readiness for the Networked World. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kirkman, G., Cornelius, P. K., Sachs, J. D. & Schwab, K. (Eds.) (2002). Global Information Technology Report 2001-2002: Readiness for the Networked World. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mominó de la Iglesia, J. M., Sigalés Conde, C. & Meneses Naranjo, J. (2008). L’Escola a la Societat Xarxa: Internet a l’Educació Primària i Secundària. Barcelona: Ariel.
Mominó de la Iglesia, J. M., Sigalés Conde, C. & Meneses Naranjo, J. (2008). L’Escola a la Societat Xarxa: Internet a l’Educació Primària i Secundària (Volum I). Informe Final de Recerca. Barcelona: UOC.
Mominó de la Iglesia, J. M., Sigalés Conde, C. & Meneses Naranjo, J. (2008). L’Escola a la Societat Xarxa: Internet a l’Educació Primària i Secundària (Volum II). Informe Final de Recerca. Barcelona: UOC.

Network Society: Social Changes, Organizations and Citizens (2008)

Internet Access in Schools and Quality of the Educational System

The World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2007-2008 is out. In my opinion, it does not bring any surprises, but reinforces some trends that we’ve been seeing lately:

  • The increasing strength and importance of wireless technologies to get connected to the Network
  • A gradual shift of the research focus from quantitative/economic impact analysis towards more qualitative/social impact analysis
  • Hence, the realization that ICTs are much more than (information) productivity tools, and they have a role in socialization (through communication), mediated by digital literacy

Part of the Global Information Technology Report gets its data from the World Economic Forum’s Executive Opinion Survey, which, conducted annually, captures the perceptions of the leading business and investment decision-makers worldwide (many of whom represent the Forum’s member companies). As a qualitative survey, and based on perceptions, all conclusions arising from it might be taken with tons of caution. Nevertheless, there are some findings that, even if taken with caution, are worth deserving a thoughtspan:

As the chart shows, there is a clear relationship between quality of an educational system (at the aggregate country level) and the existence of not computers but Internet access in schools. As said, while Internet access in schools is measured quantitatively after surveys sent to sample schools in every country, the Quality of the Educational System is a variable measured through a qualitative, subjective indicator after asking the 8,000 interviewees of the Executive Opinion Survey. In the survey, the respondents range the educational system from 0 to 7 whether the Educational system
[serves the] needs of competitive economy
.

Depending on how you agree with the definition of “quality” for a national educational system, and how you’d like the reality to fit your beliefs, different interpretations arise:

  • The more straightforward: Internet access increases the quality of the educational system. The more Internet access, the better education.
  • Inversely, we can say that high quality educational systems are more eager to introduce the Internet in schools than lower quality ones. The more quality of the system, the more (awareness in) the use of Internet.
  • There’s a relationship between educational quality (as understood by the Executive Opinion Survey) and Internet access in schools, but we do not know which is the cause and which the consequence: they just happen to go hand in hand.
  • Even if some of the previous statements are sweet music for cyberoptimists (like me), I wouldn’t strongly stand for any of it: there are too many loose ends to be axiomatic.

    But one thing is absolutely clear: even if we cannot establish (yet) any causality between quality and educational Internet access, the perception is that some degree of relationship does exist. And if this perception is widely shared at both the decision-taker and policy-maker levels, some consequences in the short run would be likely to be expected:

    1. Firms would be more likely to hire candidates with strong digital competences, as it looks like Internet and quality go together, and quality means a more competitive economy (i.e. firm).
    2. Stress would then be put in teaching digital skills in the design of educational strategies, along with the introduction of the Internet in the school
    3. If the Internet — this huge information silo — enters the classroom, the role of the educator should change, and shift from an information holder to a knowledge acquisition enabler or facilitator
    4. Open educational resources should be coming in and out of the classroom both as input and output
    5. This abundance of (educational) material would require more and better reputation systems and information assessment systems, all of them based in more and better digital skills
    6. And back to #1

    In the most conservative scenario, I see this as the perception of inflation: regardless whether there is not the slightest chance for inflation to happen, if citizens believe so, there’ll be inflation. The sensation is now that digital skills matter and that we are going to evaluate education under this light. Schools must not just let themselves go along with the current (i.e. the cyberhype), but neither swimming against it.