Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are crucial in improving access to health and education services and creating new sources of income and employment for the poor. Being able to access and use ICTs has become a major factor in driving competitiveness, economic growth and social development. In particular, mobile phones are opening up new channels for the free flow of ideas and opinions.
But there are substantial discrepancies in access to ICTs between countries, particularly at the North-South level, but also within countries, depending on key factors such as gender, rural coverage, skills and educational levels.
Policy Coherence in the Application of ICT4D: Challenges and Best Practices
On 10-11 September, infoDev joined forces with OECD to hold a workshop on the issues surrounding policy coherence in ICT for Development (see www.oecd.org/ict/4d). The workshop examined some of the main challenges in closing the discrepancies in access to ICTs and use of ICTs between countries. It also suggested best practices in more coherent and collaborative approaches in support of poverty reduction and in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. There is much work to be done on improving policy coherence and there is a need to engage more actively with partner countries. Taking full benefit from ICTs requires that they are seen as part of innovation for development, rather than just any other development tool.
Some interesting papers presented at the event included the keynote presentation by Richard Heeks (University of Manchester, UK) on the ICT4D 2.0 Manifesto, from Prof Rohan Samarajiva (LirneAsia, Sri Lanka) on how the developing world may participate in the global Internet economy and by Tim Kelly (infoDev) on the role of government in broadband development.
The workshop had six main sessions:
1. Access to the ICTs and the Internet: Access is a precondition for the use of ICTs. Lack of capacity is the major constraint in promoting the use of ICTs for development. There is also a need to improve the coherence of different sectoral policies, such as taxation and competition, to promote wider access.
2. Broadband policy development: There is a need to update definitions of universal service to take account of market trends towards broadband connections and to avoid distorting the operation of the market when crafting government interventions through stimulus packages. A practical suggestion would be to develop a “toolkit” for developing countries on what is needed to build a sustainable broadband ecosystem. OECD and the Work Bank could consider joint work on this issue.
3. Mobile payments: Real banking transactions (mBanking) should be distinguished from pure money transfers (mPayments), the latter accounting for the majority of mobile payments. There is a need to reconcile the needs to regulate international money transactions while promoting the use of mobiles for affordable access to money for the poor. Collecting existing best practices would be a useful way to address the real challenges.
4. Security considerations: The security problems related to Internet and ICTs are the same in both developed and developing countries. The key challenge lies with a lack of implementation and cross-border cooperation. In addition awareness-raising and capacity-building is needed, as well as striking an appropriate balance between security and privacy concerns. The sequence of priorities should be prevention, followed by mitigation and then prosecution.
5. ICTs for the environment: The opportunities for green ICTs lie both inside and outside the sector, by not only reducing the direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that ICTs generate but also by using ICTs to achieve GHG emissions in other sectors. Addressing the issue of Intellectual Property Rights and transfer of technology is part of the solution. Developing a template for green ICT strategies would be useful and it is a possible area for future infoDev/OECD collaboration, especially in areas like clean technology and smart grids.
6. ICTs for education: The focus should be on improving learning and education and improving ICT skills/resources available for teachers as much as for students. There is a need for better information about what is happening at the national level, but also for a better understanding of technological and pedagogical trends. There is a need for better evidence on the outcomes of investment in ICT4E and its broader impact on society.
For infoDev, the workshop also presented the opportunity to present some recent and ongoing work, including on broadband policy development in developing countries as well as preliminary results from the Survey of ICTs for Education in India and South Asia.