Wednesday, April 30, 2003


Science and Culture
This is an essay by Maurizio Iaccarino, the Secretary General of the UNESCO/ICSU World Conference on Science, in EMBO Reports, an official journal of the European Molecular Biology Organization. There have been few articles that I have seen recently so pertenant to the theme of Knowledge for Development. Iaccarino focuses on cultural approaches to knowledge, citing more tradional knowledge systems as possibly holding the remedy for the problems that reductionist Western science has encountered.

The International Food Policy Research Institute is, in my experience, a great outfit. It has lead for many years in the utilization of computers to apply knowledge to the making of food policy in developing nations. Here are a couple of great resource pages that IRPRI has created.

Microcomputers in Policy Research Series
This is a series of reports that seeks to promote the use of microcomputers in agricultural policy analysis in developing countries. The materials can be downloaded without charge. They include specific manuals on use of the GAMS system for General Equilibrium Models as more general materials. As PCs have become ever more powerful, this kind of analysis has become possible on quite modestly priced equipment, and a possibility for poor nations to carry out locally.

TRAINING MATERIALS: Computer Applications
The International Food Policy Research Institute has made these training materials available online, supporting the applications of computers in food policy research in developing nations.

ATIP Reports
ATIP is a non-profit program seeking to make information on Asian technology efforts more widely available. Reports less than 18 months old are for sale; older reports can be downloaded free. Reports recently made available free include: "Scientific Computing in Vietnam," "Indian High Performance Computing Status," "Intelligent Transportation Systems, Applications," "Singapore ONE" (dealing with Singapore's national broadband network), "Linux in Russia," "Mobile Communications/Computing in Japan," "IC (integrated circuit) Packaging in Taiwan," "HPC Around Asia," "HPC in China," and "Electronic Information Industry in China (II)".

I suspect that policies make a difference in the rate of growth of connectivity to the Internet, and to the development of ICT infrastructure in general.

The Leland Initiative identified several policies that it would consider critical to the extension of the Internet, including the existence of an international portal open to private ISPs, Cost Based pricing, and some degree of openness for content. I did a study some time ago showing that African countries accepted by Leland on the basis of these policies did have more Internet connectivity:

I love the map of ICT policies in Africa.

One might look at NICI for some useful tips on the topic.

Here are a couple of good African Information Society Initiative resources:

Towards an Information Society in Africa: The Case for National Policies

Status of Information and Communication Technologies in Africa: the changing regulatory environment

From 1999 and available on Mike Jensen's website:

Status of Telecommunications Privatization and Sector Reform in Sub-Saharan Africa

He also provides this site, which includes things like information on countries with independent regulators.

Of course the ITU has a lot of material on this topic

Notice especially its World Telecommunications Policy Forum,

The complementary World Dialog on Regulation

And the Telecommunications Regulatory Handbook.

Monday, April 28, 2003


Education at a Glonce, 2002
This is a great annual report by the OECD, summarising educational indicators for the member nations of the OECD.

World Education Indicators
This is the UNESCO site for education indicators worldwide.

While I'm at it, here are a couple of good sites on education:

Education and the World Bank

Global Distance Education Net

Wednesday, April 23, 2003


I hope I am wrong, but I sometimes feel that a lot of my colleagues say “information and communication technologies” (ICT) but mean “telephones, computers and the Internet”. I have also seen some references to the “Old” ICT (telephone, radio and TV) versus the “New” ICT (Internet and computers). Are computers new? Babbage started working on the Difference Engine in 1821!

Of course, telephones are not “your plain, old telephone” anymore. The term would seem to include not only wire telephone, but also cellular phones, and satellite phones. But behind the phone system there are technologies of satellite communications, microwave transmission, fiber optic cables, etc. The system of networked computers that manage telephone traffic is perhaps the most complex, single, man-made device in the world. We find phone handsets now having sufficient computer power to support computer games, including sensors such as video cameras, and including display screens. Moreover, automated telephone based systems using voice mail and computer technologies are only beginning to be explored in the context of social and economic development. See for example, the Voxiva system.

The term “communications” in ICT must include broadcast communications – radio and television. New forms of these household media are coming, such as digital radio, high-definition TV, Internet radio, and satellite radio. Moreover, advances in electronics makes it possible to produce micro-radio station transmitters that are small and affordable, making community radio a realistic possibility for even poor communities. Behind the broadcast, there is also a wealth of technology in the form of recording devices and Internet media services.

The wealth of “consumer electronics” also includes tape recorders, video cassette recording, CDs, DVDs, TiVo, etc. These technologies too have potentially important applications in areas such as education, health (education), and public awareness that have only begun to be explored, and should be more fully exploited.

The personal computer is so often treated as a black box that we fail to recognize its data processing power, and its information storage capacity. Used as a word processor, we fail to recognize the data processing that is going on in spell checking, grammar checking, and the like. When we have better language translation, we will probably also forget that it too takes analytic power. The information storage and retrieval functions of the computer underlie the power of the World Wide Web to make huge libraries available on hundreds of millions of desktops, but even CD-ROMs libraries for stand-alone PCs can make large libraries available where books never existed in the past.

But I wanted to go beyond these examples, to talk more about other functions such as computing, data gathering and control. Bio-computing, for example, has made possible the decoding of the human genome, and its exploration for the purpose of development of new pharmaceuticals. Medical imaging and medical instrumentation represent important areas of capital investment in health service facilities, as well as major advances in biomedical technology.

Electronic sensors are pervasive: from those embedded in the control of household heating and air conditioning, to those embedded in automobiles engine and brake systems, to those used in monitoring industrial processes, to those in weather stations and ocean buoy systems monitoring currents and surface temperatures, to satellite remote sensing. I would suggest that the environmental movement would not have occurred, and issues such as climate change, deforestation, desertification, and coastal zone destruction would not be understood without the deployment and use of networks of environmental sensors.

The use of computer power has been of great importance, and there are huge networks of supercomputers grinding away 24/7, out of sight and apparently out of mind for most of us. They predict the weather, design our high performance aircraft and plain, old motor vehicles. Simulation programs draw their accuracy from finer and finer disaggregation of models, and thus ever more computer power. Language processors, from speech recognition to automated translators, also draw on the power of computer processing.

Electronic control provides higher speed, tireless, highly accurate responses. We fail to see it in the black boxes of our toasters and microwave ovens, automobile engines, and other every day items. It also make possible the newest generation of high performance aircraft and space vehicles. More important perhaps for our economic life, it is the basis of industrial control – managing oil refineries, chemical processing plants, food processing lines, industrial metallurgy, and a host of other processes. Robotics, while still limited to a few manufacturing applications, is in my opinion a major application of control technology in the future.

There are many other applications of the technology. Financial institutions have been revolutionized by ICTs, that automated the processing of checks using bar code readers, introduced ATMs, and perhaps more importantly automated clearing house functions and the inter-bank transfers of funds. The study of human, animal and plant diseases and their distribution and history, epidemiology in the broad sense, has been revolutionized by hand held survey instruments, telecommunications, computer processing of data, automated laboratory analyses, GIS, and remote sensing.

ICT for Development includes each and all of the applications discussed above. When we talk about the Digital Divide, we are not simply talking about the availability of telephone services, but the divide in industrial control technology, or remote sensing, or satellite communications.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003


ICT & Intellectual Property Rights
A new highlight on Intellectual property rights and information and communications technology has been posted on the Development Gateway Portal.

infoDev Phasing Out Core Grants Program

Since 1996 infoDev has funded more than 100 projects promoting information and communications technology applications for social and economic development, and especially for poverty reduction. The core infoDev program was open to all, providing grants competitively to innovative ICT projects. It funded projects in many sectors, including projects that piloted or demonstrated ICT applications, projects that promoted improved ICT related policies and strategies, and projects that networked ICT innovators. This program has now been discontinued, in favor of "flagship programs" that seek to promote ICTs in several defined flagship areas, such as: Incubators of ICT based enterprises, African Connectivity, ICT Infrastructure and e-Readiness, Regulation for the Networked Economy, and e-Government.

I acted as Work Program Administrator for infoDev for almost two years, and enjoyed the experience. I valued the core program, that I hope filled a need during the period that saw the Internet begin to diffuse into poor nations.

I have been thinking of the effects of ICT on institutions in developing nations.

Definitions of “Institution”:
· “A pattern of social interaction, having a relatively stable structure, that persists over time. Institutions have structural properties - they are organized - and they are shaped by cultural values. Thus, for example, the ‘institution of marriage’, in western societies, is structurally located in a cohabiting couple and regulated by norms about sexual exclusiveness, love, sharing, etc. There is not full agreement about the number or designation of social institutions in a society but the following would typically be included: family, economy, politics, education, health care, media.” Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences
· “A collection of organizations, groups and associations along with their corresponding values and rules which collectively perform an essential function for some larger social entity such as a community, province, nation or region. Common institutions include an economy, a polity, some reproductive institution (family form) as well as some organizations mandated to socialize younger members of the group and pass on accumulated knowledge and cognitive skills (schools).” Lawrence F. Felt
· “Significant practice, relationship, or organization in a society or culture “the institution of marriage”; also : something or someone firmly associated with a place or thing “she has become an institution in the theater”: an established organization or corporation (as a college or university) especially of a public character. Merriam Webster’s College Dictionary

There is a wealth of information on ICT in business, government, and private voluntary organizations. The primary focus of such discussion is on the effect of ICT on large scale organizations – corporations, government bureaus and agencies, and NGOs. ICTs provide an information infrastructure for such organizations. As the technology changes, so does the infrastructure. Organizational processes and structures are changed to accommodate and better utilize the technology and infrastructure. Indeed, functions are externalized or internalized in organizations, and correspondingly, linkages between the organizations and their social and economic surround are modified.

Similarly, schools, hospitals and courts are everywhere institutionalized as formal organizations. The large literature on ICTs in health, educational, and legal organizations is part of the general literature on ICT in formal organizations, with aspects that are adapted to the nature of these specialized facilities.

Markets perhaps were once simply spaces where buyers and sellers could meet to conduct transactions; no longer. The enthusiasm for e-commerce has focused attention on the effect of ICT on more complicated markets built on ICT infrastructures, including B2B and B2C markets. Even earlier, the computerization of stock and commodity markets changed those institutions; large amounts were spent of hardware and software, and the speed and accuracy of transactions were increased. It seems clear, however, that markets exist in the minds of buyers and sellers as well as in the hardware and software of their information infrastructure. Sellers have to learn how to sell into the market, buyers to buy from the market. Services, like market research, stock traders, and trader finance, are institutionalized.

Markets are institutions which allow transactions between buyers and sellers to take place. I would suggest that it may be useful to consider as institutions that allow transactions between government and citizens to take place. In the past, that may simply have been a space in which government employees could meet with citizens to conduct transactions. No longer!. Since I just filed my income taxes, let me use that as an example. I prepared the taxes via the Internet with the help of software hosted on a distant computer, and the forms were filed automatically and electronically. In order to interact with the government in paying taxes, I had received a number of forms, prepared by clients and others who also submitted the same information to the government. I obtained tax advice from the newspaper, and have acquired a body of knowledge about taxes over a period of years through books, reports, and the services of lawyers and other financial advisors. Thus we see a variety of institutionalized functions between me, the taxpayer, and the government, and these have been significantly modified in recent years to utilize and accommodate the computer and the Internet.

Societies form associations of all kinds: chambers of commerce, professional societies, sports clubs, trade associations, neighborhood associations, cooperatives, etc. Americans are supposed to be especially fond of such organizations, and especially fond of joining and participating in them. Some are institutionalized as formal organizations, but others are much less formal. It has been suggested that these institutions are weakening due largely to the impact of radio, television, and the Internet. On the other hand, I would suggest that new associations and association like institutions are also being created by means of the technology and infrastructure. It is surely the case that associations are adopting ICT and changing to utilize the technology. Thus professional associations use the Internet extensively to plan and publicize professional meetings; they are increasingly publishing professional literature online; they computerize back office functions such as collection of membership dues; and they create virtual discussion spaces in cyberspace for their members.

As the social sciences generally accept “polity” as an institution, so too is there a literature on the effect of ICT on the political process. The new information infrastructure not only replaces the agora as a place for political discourse, but it introduces whole new realms of poling, modeling of voter behavior, targeting of political messages, etc. Not only do politicians, parties and legislators have web sites, but there are businesses that advise on the look and feel, content and message of the sites, and other organizations that have been set up to evaluate those sites.

In each of these examples, I think there is a common element, consisting of the use of an ICT based information infrastructure by the institution; in each case, institutions modify structure, process or boundaries because of the new technology. Generally, for institutions that involve large numbers of people who may be spread over some considerable geographic area, the costs of the infrastructure, related human and physical capital investments to utilize the infrastructure, and of reengineering and restructuring related to the technology are large. I would suggest that other institutions also share these characteristics, and that it is important to consider the role of ICT in all such institutions when considering ICT and Development.

I spent some time a few years ago looking at foundations, and was surprised to find institutionalized intermediation facilitating grant transactions between grant-making organizations and grant seekers. There are after all tens of thousands of Foundations, and even more civil society organizations seeking grants. Some organizations, such as the Foundation Center in the U.S., provide computerized data bases of foundations which provide data on foundation interests, size, and requirements. There are media devoted to philanthropy, associations of grant makers, organizations which specialize in helping civil society organizations (CSOs) to write grant proposals, and associations of different professions working in this field.

While the Catholic Church is a prototypical formal organization (and, of course, uses ICTs in ways similar to those of many other formal organizations), other religions are less formally institutionalized. Yet their institutions have opportunities to utilize new ICTs, and face threats from failure to do so, or from doing so badly. Large scale religions involve communications and other transactions among congregants, and between congregants and others; where done in the past face-to-face or through traditional media, the new ICT changes the situation, as has been shown by radio evangelists, and the Ayatollah’s use of tape recording to prepare for a return to Iran.

Communities are also institutions reinventing themselves via the Internet and other ICTs. Small villages in Latin America and Africa are now in frequent Internet and electronic contact with members who have moved to the United States and Europe; remittances are transferred, and indeed the expatriates now sometimes remain involved in community deliberations and decision making. Community networking has evolved to the point that there are major conferences on the topic. And indeed, communities of interest and practice are forming around Internet portals.

There is considerable interest in “clusters” – groups of businesses in limited geographic areas such as ICT companies in Silicon Valley and Bangalore, entertainment businesses in Hollywood and Bollywood, or clothing firms in Florence or Paris. Of course these clusters also depend on specialized financial and other services, on markets for intermediate goods, etc. Indeed, one might well consider such a cluster as institutionalized, and ask how ICTs can be used by, and how they affect the institutionalized cluster.

As noted above, marriage and the (nuclear and extended) family are usually seen by social scientists to be institutions. And indeed, the Internet is changing these institutions. As I write this, my wife and son are in their home offices, working on their computers. We three communicate frequently within our house by email! Moreover, I find myself much more frequently communicating with cousins in Ireland and Australia now that we are all connected to the Internet, and there is a Daly clan website targeting tens of thousands of the extended clan’s members. International marriages have been celebrated via the Internet. More significantly for development perhaps, the new Global Information Infrastructure has greatly facilitated communications among friends and among family members, even when they live in different countries or on different continents; as a result, migration to work in other cities, countries or continents is less threatening in the past, facilitating urban migration and rural assignments of development workers, as well the emigration of people from developing nations and the assignment of foreigners to work in poor nations.

In summary, most development workers focus on the role of ICT in formal organizations and markets, and theirs is (of course) important work. There is an extensive literature on ICT and these institutions which makes clear that the benefits of ICTs will not be reaped simply by building the physical infrastructure; major institution building efforts (including human resource investments) are also needed. However, there are other institutions that also can be transformed through investment in ICT and institutional investments to accommodate to the ICT. Some of these institutions are common in the social science literature (e.g. religions, families) and others less so (e.g. those at the interface between government and citizen, associations, communities, clusters). Working consciously with these other institutions may be a great way to work toward social and economic development, and toward poverty reduction. But the best practices for doing so are far from obvious.

Monday, April 21, 2003


How Does TFP Growth Fuel Development

Some observers have estimated that the increase in the growth of total factor productivity in the U.S. was 0.8 percent in the late 1990’s. They have attributed that growth to the effect of new technologies, or to the development of a new knowledge based society.

How important is that? It seems that for millennia, many societies saw little if any growth in per capita GDP. Say you have a growth of 0.2 percent per year; then per capita GDP will increase by about 5 percent per quarter century, 22 percent per century. If, however, you increase the rate of growth of per capita GDP to one percent per year, the improvement will be 27 percent per 25 years, 168 percent per century. With an annual rate of improvement of 1.8 percent per year, growth is more than 50 percent per 25 years, 485 percent per century. The miracle of compounding makes the difference.

If one extends the analysis to 200 years, a period comparable to that from the beginning of the industrial revolution until now, the differences are even more extreme. Growing at 0.2 percent per year, one sees 49 percent improvement in per capita GDP in 200 years; at one percent per annum, one sees 624 percent overall improvement; at 1.8 percent per year, 3,381 percent improvement in overall per capita GDP.

Note that even if the acceleration of TFP is transitory, the long term effect can be quite significant. If for example, one increases the growth rate from one percent per year to 1.8 percent per year for a decade at the beginning of every half century, the growth over two centuries goes from 624 percent to 885 percent. Thus growth effects from improved technology and knowledge can be large if compounded over long periods of time, and indeed could be large enough to alone account for much of the economic difference between rich and poor countries that has developed over the last couple of centuries.

Can Poor Countries Catch Up All at Once?

When I worked as a health planner decades ago, U.S. health economists were very concerned with the effects of the introduction of Medicaid and Medicare. Basically the legislation had made a lot more money available to buy health services because of the subsidies for services for the poor and elderly. The construction of new health facilities and the training of new health workers took longer than the increase in financial availability. Indeed, there were forces that limited the rate of production of trained doctors and nurses. If demand increases faster than supply, prices tend to go up, and that was what happened in the U.S. health sector. Some, perhaps a lot, of the subsidies that were intended to make health care more affordable for the poor and elderly, resulted in higher costs of health care for all, increased income for key health professionals, and increased returns to investments in health facilities.

I wonder what the absorptive capacity of developing nations is for increases in funding of research and experimental development, scientific and technological education, and information and communications infrastructure. Will efforts to encourage the development of knowledge economies in poor countries lead to inflationary pressures in their knowledge systems?

I was surprised to find the large number of Blogs linked by Yahoo as dealing with the war in Iraq. Weblogs, as many others have noted, are a way of publishing without subjecting copy to the filtering of editors and publishers. They seem to be a new source of information, and in this case very interesting information on a topic of international importance.

Sunday, April 20, 2003


According to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) information, in 1999 there were 1,151,000 people in the world living on less than $1 per day, 2,777,000 on less than $2 per day. (This was out of a global population of about 6 billion.) It is hard to imagine living on less than $1/day, and it is quite appropriate to prioritize humanitarian assistance for these people.

If one-sixth of the worlds poverty is living in extreme poverty (<$1/person/day), about one-third is living in severe poverty ($1/person/day to $2/person/day). I suggest that any reasonably person would see alleviating their poverty as also worthy of high priority. And indeed, there may be more possibility of doing so. The lower income is really subsistence; at $2 per person per day, there may be some resources to invest.

I would point out, however, that any development strategy that leaves out half the population, and the most affluent, educated, informed and influential part at that, seems to have a pretty dim likelihood of success. While concessionary “development assistance” may be based on eleemosynary motives, and focused on the very poor, development must be a more inclusive.


This is part of the first of the MDGs. I want to think for a bit how information and communication technologies can be used to achieve this goal. I have read several discussions recently on ICT and the MDGs, and I fear that they were not very good. Perhaps this discussion might serve to help improve such discussions.

First, nutrition levels differ from place to place, and the causes of malnutrition in one place or in one group of people may be quite different than in another. If one wants to develop a program to reduce malnutrition and hunger, one really ought to start with an understanding of the nature and magnitude of the problem. ICTs have a very important role in the survey work to obtain and analyze the data on which such an understanding can be based, in modeling the situation, and in planning the approach to reducing hunger and malnutrition.

Malnutrition is most common in young children. For infants, if there is a serious problem, one might look first at maternal nutrition, fertility rates, and breast feeding practices. ICTs could be useful in managing pre-natal nutrition and family planning programs, and in changing knowledge, attitudes and practices of pregnant women and mothers with regard to nutrition, family planning, breast feeding, and hygiene.

For children in the one to five age bracket, the situation is somewhat different. One often sees a cycle in which kids have frequent respiratory and diarrheal disease episodes, each of which depresses appetite. Kids don’t thrive under these circumstances, failing to gain weight while they are sick, and becoming malnourished (or more malnourished) over time. It is believed that the poor nutritional status also leads to impaired immune response, and thus to more frequent episodes of infectious diseases, and longer lasting episodes. These kids especially need high nutrient density foods (e.g. milk, eggs, meat), and in poor families are less likely to obtain them. Add in lack of primary health care, lack of medications, increased exposure to disease due to crowding and large family size, poor hygiene and housing that lacks hygienic facilities (e.g. piped, potable water; insect proofing; flooring), and the cycle becomes even more vicious.

How does one break this cycle? One seeks to educate mothers, generally and specifically about child care. Increasing family income leads to improvements in food availability, water supplies, housing quality, and access to medicines. Primary health care services focusing on children seem helpful. Of course, improving the average education for mothers, improving family incomes, and improving housing and the utilities infrastructure are not “quick fixes”, but they are probably the best long run solution to the problem of pre-school child malnutrition. As I have discussed earlier in this blog, there are many ways that ICT can contribute to improving average family incomes. So too, there are many ways that ICT can help in increasing the productivity and availability of educational services, and indeed in convincing parents to send girls to school. There are also ways in which ICT can help improving the efficiency and quality of primary health care services and the availability of medications to the poor.

It seems to me that the problem of hunger for the poor must be subdivided also. In rural areas, it is often a problem of lack of agricultural productivity of small farms. Subsistence farmers will eat more when they produce more; market farmers will eat more when their farm earnings will buy more.

For non-farm families, the root problem is not being able to buy enough food, which is solved by getting more money or lowering the price of food. Again, increasing family income involves a complex, multi-sectoral effort, and again, this blog has discussed how ICT can be used in many ways in such an effort.

How does one make food cheaper? One can increase the productivity of agriculture and/or one can improve the efficiency of food storage and distribution. A lot of food is lost post harvest, and these losses can be reduced by better food storage and processing – lots of ICT applications here. Similarly, food distribution can be improved by improving market information and efficiency, improving the efficiency of the transportation system, and improving the distribution system (wholesaling and retailing) – again, lots of ICT applications spring to mind.

There is a whole field of development devoted to improving agricultural productivity, and I can’t begin to do justice to it here. Efforts include:
· Improving agricultural and food policy;
· Improving markets for farm inputs, such as fertilizer and pesticides;
· Building irrigation infrastructure, and operating it efficiently;
· Better Educating Farmers;
· Improving on-farm technology – better crop varieties and improved breeds of livestock through research, development, and dissemination efforts;
· Improving soil fertility, including efforts to provide fertilizer of types and in amounts specific to the needs of the specific area of application;
· Maintaining soil fertility, avoiding problems of salination, disease infestation, etc,;
· Improving control of crop and livestock diseases;
· Improving pest control;
· Cadastral system improvements, allowing people to own land, and ideally to capitalize the land they do possess;
· Improving agricultural finance, including micro-credit, farm loan financing, crop insurance, crop futures markets, etc.
· Improving markets for farm outputs;
· Improving farm mechanization and machinery;
· Improving the infrastructure serving farm communities (roads, electrification, communications);
· Improving weather forecasting (and in the face of global warming, climate forecasting);
· Improving local institutions serving farmers, such as cooperatives, community institutions, etc.;
· Improving farm extension services.
ICT can be used in multiple ways in each of these efforts.

It has been suggested that hunger is often misperceived as a failure of food production, when in fact the world always has enough food to feed all its people. It seems surely true that a part of the problem is that food is available but not where the hungry people need it. One of my favorite applications of ICT is in warning systems that monitor food production shortfalls, and provide advance notice enabling timely importation of food. The rich seldom go hungry; when food is scarce, prices go up. By timely intervention to prevent scarcity from developing, food prices can be held down.

It has been recognized that lack of specific micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) can cause significant health problems, even when protein-calorie supplies are adequate. The problem can be approached by recognizing vulnerable groups, educating them, and assuring that adequate foods are available and affordable. Again, such efforts are complex, and offer many, varied points for the application of ICT.

In the past I was involved in programs which explored the use of biotechnology in improving farm productivity. I should probably address this topic more fully in another blog, since it is so infuriating that the fear of some unknown consequence from eating food produced with recombinant crop plants outweighs the very real risks of hunger, malnutrition, starvation and their consequences from lack of food production. But suffice it to say, I am convinced that biotechnology offers great opportunities to improve agriculture and food production. Yet in a seminar I helped organize at the National Academy of Sciences some years ago, it was concluded that great as the potential is in biotech, that from the appropriate application of information technology is even greater.

Friday, April 18, 2003


Market Economies and Rule of Law
As has been remarked before, the U.S. economy is becoming lighter, with less weight of product per unit GDP. Alan Greenspan, in this presentation, characterizes the economy as becoming more “conceptual”. He states, “as a result of the increasing conceptualization of our GDP over the decades, the protection of intellectual property has become an important element in the ongoing deliberations of both economists and jurists. Of particular current relevance to our economy overall is the application of property right protection to information technology…….If our objective is to maximize economic growth, are we striking the right balance in our protection of intellectual property rights? Are the protections sufficiently broad to encourage innovation but not so broad as to shut down follow-on innovation? Are such protections so vague that they produce uncertainties that raise risk premiums and the cost of capital? How appropriate is our current system--developed for a world in which physical assets predominated--for an economy in which value increasingly is embodied in ideas rather than tangible capital? If the form of protection afforded to intellectual property rights affects economic growth, it must do so by increasing the underlying pace of productivity growth. The bulk of this increase should show up as multifactor productivity, that is, the segment of labor productivity that reflects the impact of conceptualization--ideas generally--on economic growth and standards of living. Finding a way to isolate the effect of, say, the length of patents on overall economic growth poses a formidable challenge. The more general challenge is to develop a framework that fosters the growth of an economy increasingly dominated by conceptual products.” Remarks by Alan Greenspan at the 2003 Financial Markets Conference of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Sea Island, Georgia (via satellite), April 4, 2003.

Thursday, April 17, 2003


THE EVER-SHIFTING INTERNET POPULATION: A new look at Internet access and the digital divide

From the Summary of Findings: “While 42% of Americans say they don’t use the Internet, many of them either have been Internet users at one time or have a once-removed relationship with the Internet through family or household members. This report focuses on several new findings about those who say they do not use the Internet:
•Net Evaders: 20% of non-Internet users live with someone who uses the Internet from home. Some of these self-described non-users exploit workarounds that allow them to “use” the Internet by having email sent and received by online family members and by having others in their home do online searches for information they want. Others proudly reject the Internet and proclaim their independence from the online world.
•Net Dropouts: 17% of non-Internet users were once users. Most of them are dropouts because of technical problems such as broken computers or problems with their Internet Service Provider. This number of “Net Dropouts” has increased from the last time the Pew Internet & American Life Project asked about dropouts in April 2000. At that time, 13% of non-users were Net Dropouts.
•Truly Disconnected: Some 24% of Americans are truly offline; they have no direct or indirect experience with the Internet.
Internet access is also fluid for another reason. Between a quarter and half of current Internet users say they have dropped offline for an extended period at one point or another in their online life……..Pew Internet Project tracking data show a flattening of the overall growth of the Internet population since late 2001. Internet penetration rates have hovered between 57% and 61% since October 2001, rather than pursuing the steady climb that they had showed in prior years. One possible explanation for this leveling trend is that the number of people dropping offline roughly equals the number of newcomers who come online each month.” Principal author: AMANDA LENHART; APRIL 16, 2003.

The Development Gateway ICT for Development Topic has posted a new discussion on this topic, that makes available several new papers, plus more than 100 online resources.

ICT, Economic Development and Poverty Reduction

In editing the materials I was struck by the difference between the macro-economic approaches and the project level approaches. In the 1970’s there was a lot of concern for “trickle down” theories of development. The concern was occasioned by the recognition that poverty was continuing in countries in spite of efforts to improve rates of growth of per capita income. I think the concern led to some very positive outcomes. For example, I think it led to more attention to primary education, primary health services for the poor, micro-finance programming, and focus on small and medium enterprises – all targeting assistance to the multidimensional aspects of poverty. Eventually it led to the realization that pro-poor policies were as necessary to poverty reduction as pro-growth policies to economic growth.

At the time, U.S. foreign assistance was in some peril. It became apparent that while there was considerable U.S. public support for helping the poor, and especially for humanitarian relief, helping kids, and preventing communicable diseases, there was less willingness to support foreign nations that might become competitors to the U.S. in international markets. While there is reason to believe that the reconstruction of Europe and Japan were “economic motors” that helped fuel the growth of the U.S. in the post World War II period, that argument was not recognized by the public; the visibility of Japanese consumer electronics and European automobiles was more vivid. The U.S. had not won the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese, and the Congress was well into the long term process of reducing foreign assistance budgets.

Since that time, an entire industry has been created around development projects intended to intervene directly in the battle to reduce poverty. Many ICT for development efforts are conceptualized within such a conceptual framework. From such a view, concern for the macro-economic impacts of ICT on developing nations might seem a throwback to “trickle down” theories.

I would point out that the work of David Dollar and others (cf “Growth Is Good for the Poor”) has demonstrated that increase in per capita GDP is indeed highly correlated with the reduction of poverty. Moreover, major international donors such as the World Bank can argue persuasively for pro-growth policies, and indeed make such policies conditions for resource mobilization and concessional financing of poverty reduction projects and programs.

Moreover, in the case of the technological revolution that is occurring around ICT, it is important to understand the macro-economic implications, and the policies that may help lagging nations to benefit economically, and that may ease the potential effects of skewing income distribution toward those most prepared to appropriate the technology to their own needs. In short, macro-economic analysis of the effects of ICT is an important activity, as is policy dialog for pro-growth and pro-poor technological policies.

The experience of preparing for and editing the Development Gateway highlight identified above left some impressions. One is that the macro-economic effects of ICT are still controversial; some of the hype of the boom seems to have been deflated. The confidence that the rate of total factor productivity had increased is tempered by new appreciation for the business cycle and the difficulties of accounting for ICT in productivity figures. Secondly, some expectations for developing nations still seem inflated; a country with $1,000 per capita GNP, that is spending two percent of that GNP on ICT, is spending $20 per person per year on the technology. That doesn’t buy many telephones, faxes, computers, and the like. Developing countries with good policies and institutions generally already show high rates of economic growth, and high rates of return to capital investment. Even if one increases per capita ICT spending by $5 or even $10 per year (25 to 50 percent) what difference will it make? How much of an increase in the rate of economic growth can one really expect from that level of investment? In poverty reduction?

Don't get me wrong. I am an aficianado of ICT, and I think it has an important contribution to make. But excess expectations are probably not helpful to our efforts.

Friday, April 11, 2003


It seems to me that many leaders are needed to step forth if developing nations are to adequately benefit over the long term future from the potential inherent in information and communications technologies.

Technological Leadership:

There is a gap in appropriate ICT for developing nations. Technology that is:
· Affordable;
· Accessible, e.g. using spoken language and images rather than written language, communicating in languages of developing nations;
· Rugged;
· With software built to meet national legal, financial, personnel information, and other standards and needs.
· That is user friendly within their cultural contexts.
Poor countries have been importing technology created for other nations, and often not adapting it well to their own needs. Without leadership to ameliorate the situation, they will continue to do so.

Innovators (who become leaders when their innovations are replicated) are needed to apply the available appropriate technology much more creatively in development. Radio, television, and tape recorders could be used much more effectively.

ICTs are going to be much more pervasive in the future. Micro-chips are of course now embedded in lots of machines, from motor vehicles, to laboratory instruments, to household appliances, as well as pets and livestock. In the future they may be embedded in packages you buy from the supermarket and in your clothing. Where are the developing country technological leaders stepping forward to see that this technology is applied to the most critical social and economic issues?

The world is going to be much more networked. Telephone connectivity is growing rapidly. Wireless connectivity is going to provide much more pervasive Internet connectivity. Many (most?) of the embedded chips described above are going to be linked to the Internet. Again, technological leaders are needed to assure that networking technology is developed appropriate to poor nations, and innovators are needed to assure that the technology is applied in farming, business, health service, education, and many other sectors.

Capacity Building

Some things take so long to do, that leadership is urgently needed to start doing them now! And to keep doing them actively, efficiently and effectively for years to come.
· The national information infrastructure of developing nations has to be radically expanded;
· Human resources have to be trained for ICT work, the institutions to train them have to be expanded, and the ancillary institutions to finance the training, provide training materials, support the trainees after graduation, etc. have to be expanded;
· The financial capacity to support greatly increased ICT investment has to be created;
· Organizations have to be reengineered to build their capacities to utilize ICTs;
· Markets and other institutions have to be restructured, again to build social capacity to utilize the technology.

Institution Building

There has been a lot of interest in e-government and e-commerce. It seems to me that leadership is needed now, if these developments are to be successful in poor countries.

E-commerce depends on markets being created or expanded utilizing new ICTs. This of course involves having computers that process transactions, and telecommunications infrastructure that allows buyers and sellers to interact. But institutionalizing a market involves very widespread knowledge in the buyers and sellers in how to participate in the market. It requires the institutionalization of trust by the participants in the marketplace. Developing country sellers may have to reengineer to meet quality standards demanded in the North. Financial institutions may have to be created to enable financial transfers from buyer to seller. Standards, fair business practices and other systems may have to be expanded and modified.

E-government similarly depends on a culture of government service, and a culture of trust in government institutions that must be built in many developing nations. Citizens must learn of the range of government services available, where to find them, and how to utilize them. Government must learn of the range of citizen service needs, and how to satisfy them. Again, if financial transactions are to take place via the e-government portals, then there need to be financial institutions to support them. Quality control of both the offerings of government and the information provided by citizens has to be institutionalized.


There are key policy issues that should be addressed now, before they become moot. Policy leadership should be especially admirable, since one would hope the leaders would be wise in the ways of their nations, informed about the implications of the policy alternatives before them, public spirited, and seen as exercising legitimate authority by those within and outside their countries.

How will countries draw the line between that which is to be a “commonsversus that which is to be private property? What will be free, gratis (as in the sense of free software) and what will be purchase in the marketplace. What will be free, (in the sense of open source software) and what protected? What will be placed in public domain, treated as a public good, and what will be private?

How open or closed will the society be? Will different political views be encouraged or discouraged, welcomed or prohibited? Will rapid technological change, (and the economic and social changes it involves) be encouraged or will the society seek to moderate the pace of changes? How open will the society be to alternative views in key areas, such as gender roles and religion?

Societies that were formed by the “Enlightenment” have an ideological preference for rational decision making. Indeed that preference is so culturally defined that it may not be apparent to Western Europeans and Americans that there are other views. Yet, it is possible to prefer decisions that are validated by accepted institutional processes. Appeals courts don’t judge whether the lower court decision was rational, but whether the process was acceptable. Democracies don’t second guess whether the population made the most rational choice in an election, but whether the election was fair. It is not only in monarchies that people assume that the head of state is chosen by divine will, not by a rational choice of the people. While the proponents of ICT usually advocate a cultural shift toward more rational decision making, conservative voices question what would be lost by that shift. Clearly leaders can affect such choices by a nation.

Understand the Social and Economic Effects of ICT

I see a critical leadership role for the scholarly community. Technological revolutions in the past have occurred with very little understanding of what was going on, and why it was happening. The industrial revolution, for example, resulted in great economic progress, but it also was accompanied by great disruptions and suffering. The social sciences and humanities have unprecedented potential to improve our understanding of the processes of the information revolution and their consequences. Leaders equipped with such knowledge may increase the rate of progress, and ameliorate the undesired consequences. We need a cadre of scholars in developing nations to work on these issues; we need stronger institutions to network these scholars, to disseminate their findings, and to help them influence decision makers; we need institutions to train and support the scholars. And I would suggest that given the time delays involved, the most urgently needed leadership is in the creation of those training programs.

Thursday, April 10, 2003


This Center at the University of Bonn has published a number of interesting working papers online.

The Role of ICT for the Performance of SMEs in East Africa: Empirical Evidence from Kenya and Tanzania
From the Abstract: "Our sample of 300 SMEs in East Africa shows that the use of ICT by SMEs in Kenya as well as in Tanzania is increasing over time. The usage of fixed phone lines nearly reaches the saturation point but is still lower in Tanzania than in Kenya. The percentage of firms that uses mobile phones is increasing fast in both countries. Especially in Tanzania, despite its late start only in 1994 it has already outgrown the usage of fax machines. Those enterprises that use different forms of ICT rate their effects mostly positive. On top are computer applications that are assumed by 88 % and 76 % of users to considerably increase management efficiency and competitiveness respectively. Mobile phones are considered to contribute significantly to regional market expansion by most enterprises, followed by fixed phones and faxes. For all sectors in both countries the average size of enterprises is generally bigger for users of more advanced ICTs. The average years of schooling also increase with the use of advanced ICTs with only small differences between sectors. Also with respect to exporting the relation with ICT is positive and similar for all sectors. By regressing a Cobb-Douglas production function on a dataset of Kenyan and Tanzanian enterprises we analyse determinants of productivity. Our main empirical findings are that investment in ICT has a negative sign in different specifications of the regression but is never significant. However, the use of fax machines that gives managers access to formal information has a significant positive relationship with productivity in both countries." By Francis Matambalya and Susanna Wolf, December 2001. (PDF, 35 pages.)

Willingness to Pay for the Rural Telephone Service in Bangladesh
Abstract: This paper measures the rural households’ willingness to pay (WTP) for access to public telephone services in Bangladesh and Peru through contingent valuation methods. The development of contingent valuation methods together with the econometric expansion of qualitative response models has permitted an approximation to the consumer surplus in the presence of externalities, public good and information asymmetries. The paper utilizes both parametric and nonparametric estimations that are commonly observed in the literature concerned with the estimation of WTP. The main result of the paper suggest that rural telecommunications projects are welfare enhancing, since households’ WTP are higher than the prevailing tariff rates. For Peru, households’ currently pay US$0.14 for local calls and US$ 0.29 for national long distance calls (LDN), while their WTP for a local call varies from US$0.25 to US$0.35, and for a LDN call varies from US$0.33 to US$0.45. For Bangladesh, households’ WTP for a local call varies from US$0.10 to US$0.26, for a LDN call from US$0.23 to US$0.50, and for an international call from US$0.93 to US$1.35. Meanwhile, they are currently paying US$ 0.03, US$ 0.06 and US$ 0.46 respectively. Despite the fact that the monetary measures of WTP vary depending on measurement methods, the results are consistent for all the parametric and non-parametric measures utilized suggesting that the rural telecommunications projects in Bangladesh and Peru are directly contributing to the improvement of welfare of rural households.” By Maximo Torero, Shyamal K Chowdhury, and Virgilio Galdo, October 2002. (PDF, 51 pages.)

The Access and Welfare Impacts of Telecommunications Technology in PeruFrom the Abstract: “This paper attempts to assess three main issues on Peruvian telecommunications technology: what are the main variables that explain the demand for access to telephone services; how important is access to telephone services in explaining the transition out of poverty, and what are the consumption and welfare impacts of the significant increase in the supply of telephone lines since the divestiture in 1994 of the Peruvian telephone services.” By Maximo Torero, July 2000. (PDF, 38 pages.)

Information Technology and Exports: A Case Study of Indian Garments Manufacturing Enterprises
Abstract: “This study identifies and analyses the factors that influence the export performance of Indian garments manufacturing firms. The data come from a sample of seventy-four firms located in Okhla. The results show that intensity of adoption of Information Technology (IT) was the most significant variable that influenced the export performance of firms. The other variables that played an important role in augmenting the export intensity were quality of raw material and the wage rate. The results show that Managing Directors of export- oriented firms assigned more importance to flexibility in product designs. The study suggests that a higher degree of adoption of IT by Indian firms is crucial to remain internationally competitive. The use of advanced IT tools will be even more relevant once the WTO recommendations are in place.” By K. Lal, August 1999. (PDF, 29 pages.)

The Role of Information and Communication Technologies in Economic Development - A Partial Survey
Abstract: “The diffusion of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their potential as a development tool have generated a wide array of views. The variety of views suggests that the role and impact of these technologies are still obscure and that the debate regarding them suffers from a lack of unambiguous evidence. Recognizing the need for clarity, the author endeavors in this paper to answer three questions: first, what features distinguish these technologies from those invented in the past; second, what are the channels through which ICTs are expected to promote development, and finally, what justifies the confidence placed in ICTs as a development tool, that is, is there empirical evidence supporting the claims made for or against the use and spread of these technologies? By A. Bedi, May 1999. (PDF. 45 pages.)

Wednesday, April 09, 2003


My colleague Charles Kenny (and his collaborator, Carsten Fink) pointed out to me that while the numbers of fixed and mobile telephone lines per capita have diverged between developed and developing nations, as have the numbers of internet users per capita, the rates of growth of both kinds of connectivity are larger in developing than developed countries. How can this be? Easy, the developed countries started with larger numbers. Ten percent of 50 is more than 20 percent of five. Still if developed and developing country connectivities keep growing at the same rates as in recent past, developing country connectivity will soon equal that of developed countries.

Of course it may not be the case that the recent trends will continue. The market for fixed phone lines and mobile phones may saturate in the rich countries. When the available computers with phone lines are all linked to the Internet in Africa, the growth of the Internet may slow? But supposing that the growth trends do continue, how are we to interpret them?

Kenny also points out that people in developing countries tend to spend more of their income on telephone services than do people in developed. (There is a countervailing trend for rich countries to spend more of their GDP on ICT than do poor countries). Again, how are we to interpret this information.

I suspect that there is a limited need for personal telephone service, at least measured in fixed lines per person. If so, the market can be saturated, and the growth in connectivity reduced.

(I also suspect that the use of communications by things will soon eclipse that by people, and it may be that the rate of growth of connections to the Internet will grow exponentially for a far longer period than one might suspect. What if our homes and cars have Internet links? Our refrigerators and home appliances? Every item of clothing? All the individually wrapped packages in retail trade? All of these possibilities are already discussed. One implication, is that I don’t think Internet connectivity of a can of beans in the supermarket should count as much as of a person.)

Returning closer to the point, I would point out that poor people (who are not going hungry) often spend a larger portion of their incomes on food staples than do rich. How much bread, or rice, or beans can you eat, or do you want to eat. As people’s income increases, they spend a greater portion on “luxuries”, and the basic necessities come to represent a smaller portion of income. It could be that, similarly, telephone use (where it is available) is a basic consumer service that everyone uses, but that the marginal propensity to consume phone service declines with income.

Clearly people in the business of building the ICT infrastructure should be counting how many people it serves. Connectivity measures are important. Indeed, so are issues of cost, availability, accessibility, and utilization.

The Digital Divide is often discussed in terms of connectivity. Indeed, there is a divide in connectivity now. But I think that is not the Divide that we in international development should emphasize.

Ideally, perhaps we should focus on the divide in benefits accruing to people as a result of the information revolution. I feel sure that the world’s richest man, Bill Gates?, is benefiting much more from the Internet than I do, and this is true whether or not he is personally connected or whether he personally surfs the net. The indirect benefits that result from all his investments and all of his staff are clearly greater than mine. Ideal maybe, but impractical to try to measure such benefits.

Kenny and Fink point out that the air conditioning divide between the US and India is about 74 fold, or the same magnitude as the Internet connectivity divide. They do so to make the (valid) point that the Digital Divide is a slogan rather than a policy principle, and that there is little more evidence that bridging the gap in Internet connectivity is important for development and poverty reduction, than there is that bridging the air conditioning gap would be important.

But they may have it exactly wrong. Thomas Hughes suggested that it is best to think of electricity in terms of a technological system. The economic benefits from Edison’s inventions only really became visible in the economic statistics when electric motors had been connected to the electrical grid in addition to lights, and when those motors began to be used in trollies, factories, refrigerators, etc. I would point out that computers can be seen as representing a further extension of that system.

The value of electricity is not measured in terms of the number of buildings connected to the grid, but rather in terms of the number of appliances. Better, it is measured in terms of the economic value of the activities made possible or more efficient by those appliances. So it may be that value of the air conditioners, personal computers, refrigerators, electric stoves, radios, TVs, and other appliances better measure the “electricity divide” than do the number of electrical connections to houses.

It may well be that the Digital Divide will best be measured in terms of the differences of economic value of the activities made possible or more efficient by the national information infrastructures – e-commerce, e-government, telemedicine, distance education, etc.

In my previous posting on “common” versus “uncommon” knowledge, I tried to point out that our common experience is a poor guide to the nature of some of the more important ICT applications to society. The satellite remote sensing that helps predict weather and agriculture productivity is an example, as are the supercomputers that are used to design high performance aircraft or automobiles, and the computerized tomography devices used in teaching hospitals. Again, the total value of such technology might well be a better measure of the digital divide, than the numbers of household telephones.

I suspect further that advanced rich countries will add value in these ways faster than most poor countries, and that the Digital Divide measured in these ways is real and will be with us for a while!

Tuesday, April 08, 2003


I made a blog entry on Sunday, April 5, on the future of ICT. To assume that the future of ICT determined the future impact of the technology would, I think, smack of a single factor theory of development. I have made the case elsewhere "Studying the Impacts of the Internet Without Assuming Technological Determinism) that multi factor theories are best suited to explain development; that a host of social and economic factors interact with the technological to affect the social and economic outcomes. Thus, the leadership we need to affect the future impact of ICT in developing countries may be at least as much focused on the social and economic environment in which the technology innovations take place, are diffused, and disseminated, as on the development of the technologies as such.

Amartya Sen, in an essay in the 1999 book titled “Predictions: 30 Great Minds on the Future”, provides a shopping list of two things he wants for the future: “more spread and consolidation of democracy” and “a fuller use of reasoning in social matters”. Intellectual leadership to empower the people and make them more rational seems very important in improving the future impact of ICT.

Where is leadership most urgently needed? There are probably critical paths in reducing poverty using ICT. Thus one has to have technology, people, finance and institutions combine for many purposes. The longest development for any of these inputs sets the pace for the combination. In the preparation of people to utilize ICT, one has to develop training institutions; one has to train people to work in those institutions; the trainers should embody the rational spirit Sen seeks; for the higher level skills, years of education may be needed; the primary and secondary education systems that feed students to the ICT training schools have to be adequate; then you need to train enough people that they form a critical mass. This may well be the critical path for many ICT applications in development. And thus, leadership in the development of the training institutions may be among the most urgent needs for the future impact of ICT.

I may be wrong about either or both of these examples, but I think the general point is valid. The most important and urgently needed leadership to maximize the future benefits of information and communication technology may well be social and economic, rather than technological.

Monday, April 07, 2003


Still more online resources on the topics of our discussion:

Are Poor Countries Losing the Information Revolution?
infoDev description: “Are Information and Communications Technologies contributing to widening the gap between poor and rich countries? Are these countries converging in terms of ICT outputs and inputs? Are ICTs helping to lower the gap between the poor and the rich within economies? What is the relationship between the gap in GDP per capita and the gap in ICTs? Francisco Rodriguez and Ernie Wilson attempt to answer these questions with summary cross-country indicators of ICTs. Their main indicator is an Index of Technological Progress (ITP) built through principal components analysis using data on several indicators of ICT progress. They find that the gaps in ICT are increasing, but that there are a number of policies and institutional changes that can help poor countries catch up with the rich in terms of technology.” May, 2000. (MS Word format 349K) Also available in PDF format.

This is a very nice set of publications by one of my mentors and his colleagues:

National IT Policy Publications
This website provides papers from a project of the Center for Research on Information Technology in Organizations (CRITO) at the University of California, Irvine.


Information Technology in Southeast Asia: Engine of Growth or Digital Divide?
This paper reviews evidence on the introduction of ICTs utilizing econometric techniques, and concludes that while there is evidence the ICTs do increase firm and country productivity, Asian countries have been relatively slow to adopt the technology, and have benefited less than some others. By Kenneth Kraemer and Jason Dedrick, 2002. (PDF, 26 pages.)

IT and Productivity: Evidence from Country-Level Data
Abstract: "This paper studies a key driver of the demand for the products and services of the global IT industry --- returns from IT investments. We estimate an inter-country production function relating IT and non-IT inputs to GDP output, on panel data from 36 countries over 1985-1993. We find significant differences between developed and developing countries with respect to their structure of returns from capital investments. For the developed countries in the sample, returns to IT capital investments are estimated to be positive and significant, while returns to non-IT capital investments are not commensurate with relative factor shares. The situation is reversed for the developing countries subsample, where returns to non-IT capital are quite substantial, but those from IT capital investments are not statistically significant. We estimate output growth contributions of IT and non-IT capital and discuss the contrasting policy implications for capital investment by developed and developing economies." By Sanjeev Dewan and Kenneth L. Kraemer, 1998. (PDF, 33 pages.)

International Dimensions of the Productivity Paradox
From the final paragraph of the paper: “While the slowdown is potentially explained by several different factors (for example, the overstatement of inflation), our results clearly indicate that IT is not to be blamed for the slowdown. On the contrary, IT investments are contributing to output and productivity at a rate that is disproportionate to their factor share in production. For the countries in our sample, IT capital constitutes 1/20 of GDP, but accounts for one-third to one-half of growth in output (and productivity). As IT continues to displace labor, factory, and equipment throughout the production system (from suppliers to producers to customers), its share of the total inputs to the economy will continue to increase. As this occurs, and IT investments approach 10–15% of GDP, the economic contributions
of IT will be more visible and the productivity issue will no longer be a matter of debate.” By Sanjeev Dewan and Kenneth Kraemer, 1999. (PDF, 7 pages.)

And a related paper from another part of the CRITO website:

"Japanese Innovation Reform in the Light of Past Dialogue: Conceptions of Convergence as Perspectives for Comparative System Assessment."
Abstract: "As the Japanese economy continues on its sluggish growth trajectory, economists in and out of Japan are pointing to the Japanese innovation system as a drag on growth. In particular, they argue that, as opposed to the innovation-based growth Japan experienced in the postwar period, the engine of innovation today requires not only substantial sector-by-sector investments but an institutional matrix supportive of active linkages between these sectors as well. This perspective follows directly from observations of a large university role in the American economy via patenting and licensure, firm formation, academic consultancy, and research contracting. There are fundamental differences between the university-industry linkage policy models in Japan and the United States, however. The different historical trajectories and resulting disparate policy frameworks in the two countries pose challenges to mutual learning in the innovation policy formulation process. This research addresses the challenge by drawing on the experience of industry and trade dialogues held over the past two decades under the auspices of the U.S. National Research Council and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. The lessons garnered through this experience enable a more robust assessment of university-industry linkage systems in support of policy formulation in both countries." By Kenneth Pechter, 2001. (PDF, 93 pages.)

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Joint OECD/UN/World Bank Global Forum: Integrating ICT in Development Programmes

The forum's objective was better co-ordination and integration of ICT for development in Official Development Assistance programmes as a strategic, cross-cutting theme in support of countries' own strategic plans. The organizers sought to "improve understanding of the policy challenges and opportunities of ICT for development;" highlight best practices to share the benefits of ICT as a tool for development and to link the seizing of digital opportunities to the attainment of development objectives; "and clarify the roles of the various stakeholders; including partnerships between them." The website includes papers on ICT in Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers of the World Bank, Examples of ICT in National Development Plans, International Initiatives Concerning ICTs and Development, How ICTs can help achieve the Milleniium Development Goals, Donor Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Strategies, Resources on Evaluation of ICT-Related Programmes & Projects, and "Knowledge makes the difference between Poverty & Wealth". The meeting was held March, 2003, and was seen as preparatory for the WSIS.

Saturday, April 05, 2003


The four UK higher education funding bodies, in collaboration with the British Library and the national libraries of Wales and Scotland, in 2001 established a strategic advisory group to advise on the development of a national strategy to ensure that UK researchers in all disciplines have access to world class information resources. The action was in response to a concern “about the long-term viability of the current pattern of provision in the face of growing external pressures, notably the challenge of electronic delivery of material directly to the desk top along with the rising cost and volume of published research material. These changes fundamentally alter how research information will be provided in the future.” A report has been issued by the advisory group, calling among other things for the creation of a Research Libraries Network. The website also has several responses to the report.

Time moves so fast that the future is almost here. I have seen changes in information and communication technologies that were simply unimaginable when I was in engineering school in the 1950’s. So perhaps I have been thinking too much about ICTs as they are now, and not enough about how they will be in the foreseeable future. Things that are on the design tables and the university labs will be here very, very soon. Here are some links to online resources that help in thinking about ICT in the future.

Some Thoughts on How ICTs Could Really Change the World
John Gage, at the World Economic Forum, 2002.

One interesting new direction is the Grid, as described by Ian Forster.

What is the Grid? A Three Point Checklist
Ian Foster, July 20, 2002. (PDF, 4 pages.)

and for those interested in more detail.

The Physiology of the Grid: An Open Grid Services Architecture for Distributed Systems Integration
Abstract: “In both e-business and e-science, we often need to integrate services across distributed, heterogeneous, dynamic “virtual organizations” formed from the disparate resources within a single enterprise and/or from external resource sharing and service provider relationships. This integration can be technically challenging because of the need to achieve various qualities of service when running on top of different native platforms. We present an Open Grid Services Architecture that addresses these challenges. Building on concepts and technologies from the Grid and Web services communities, this architecture defines a uniform exposed service semantics (the Grid service); defines standard mechanisms for creating, naming, and discovering transient Grid service instances; provides location transparency and multiple protocol bindings for service instances; and supports integration with underlying native platform facilities. The Open Grid Services Architecture also defines, in terms of Web Services Description Language (WSDL) interfaces and associated conventions, mechanisms required for creating and composing sophisticated distributed systems, including lifetime management, change management, and notification. Service bindings can support reliable invocation, authentication, authorization, and delegation, if required. Our presentation complements an earlier foundational article, “The Anatomy of the Grid,” by describing how Grid mechanisms can implement a service-oriented architecture, explaining how Grid functionality can be incorporated into a Web services framework, and illustrating how our architecture can be applied within commercial computing as a basis for distributed system integration—within and across organizational domains.” By Ian Foster, Carl Kesselman, Jeffrey M. Nick and Steven Tuecke, June, 2002. (PDF, 31 pages.)

How about intelligent rooms?

The Intelligent Room Project at MIT

Rather than thinking about the technology per se, these deal with using technology to change the way people learn.

Using Information Technology to Transform the Way We Learn

This is an innovative way to present the results of a meeting online:

Symposium on Improving Learning with Information Technology
Charts from David Sibbet's Facilitation of Sessions at the ILIT Symposium

A more general overview, albeit one that is several years old, is:

Information Technology Research: Investing in Our Future
The report encourages more support for IT research by government, and defines priorities in several areas: Software, Scalable Information Infrastructure, High-End Computing, and Socioeconomic Impacts. President's Information Technology Advisory Committee Report to the President, February 24, 1999.

This is one of a number of interesting reports online at:

The U.S. National Coordinating Office for Information Technology Research and Development


Workshop on New Visions for Software Design and Productivity: Research and Applications
U.S. Government Interagency Working Group on Information Technology Research and Development, Released February 2002.

New Visions for Large Scale Networks: Research and Applications

Transforming Health Care Through Information Technology

Developing Open Source Software for High End Computing

Resolving the Digital Divide: Information, Access, and Opportunity

High Confidence Software and Systems Research Needs

Digital Libraries: Universal Access to Human Knowledge

Transforming Access to Government

And ICT publications from the National Academy of Science:

Preparing for the Revolution: Information Technology and the Future of the Research University
Panel on the Impact of Information Technology on the Future of the Research University, National Research Council. 97 pages, 2002.

Information Technology Research, Innovation, and E-Government
Committee on Computing and Communications Research to Enable Better Use of Information Technology in Government, National Research Council. 168 pages, 2002.

Global Networks and Local Values: A Comparative Look at Germany and the United States
Committee to Study Global Netoworks and Local Values, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Reseach Council. 260 pages, 2001.

Embedded, Everywhere: A Research Agenda for Networked Systems of Embedded Computers
Committee on Networked Systems of Embedded Computers, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board , National Research Council. 236 pages, 2001.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003


There are a lot of things we all know, or at least things that someone we know knows. Where I live, these things include how to drive a car, or use a personal computer, or deal with a fast-food restaurant. There are also a lot of things that only a few people know, like how to develop a new vaccine, or predict the weather accurately, or modify the source code of Windows, or make policy for the Federal Reserve Bank to help stabilize inflation.

In developing countries, the pattern of common knowledge may be different than where I live, but there is still such a pattern. For example, a lot more people in poor countries are farmers than in rich countries, and so there is a lot of widely shared common knowledge about growing crops and raising livestock. Of course the common farmer knowledge in the highlands of Peru might be quite different than that in China’s river basins or Niger’s Sahelian fringe. But overall, more people in developing countries probably share the same common knowledge than in developed countries.

I suggest that there is a lot less of the uncommon, specialized, highly technical and scientific knowledge in poor countries than in rich countries. Building this "uncommon" knowledge capacity is a key issue in the field of Knowledge for Development.

In developed countries, a lot of different people have different kinds of specialized knowledge. But knowledge systems work because of the way knowledge has been institutionalized. Organizations have been created to develop, organize and utilize knowledge in specialized fields: vaccine research laboratories, weather bureaus, software firms, or Federal Reserve Banks, to keep with the examples above. A variety of specialized links between such organizations and the rest of society have been institutionalized: between laboratory and manufacturing firm; between weather bureaus, the media and public; between programmers, software production facilities, and the market; between the Fed and banks, the legislature and the executive branch of government, the media and the stock market. Moreover, the legitimacy of these organizations as sources of authoritative knowledge in their fields has been institutionalized.

Thus, building knowledge capacity in a developing nation is not simply training lots of knowledge specialists, but also involves developing the specialized knowledge organizations, and the (even less fully understood) task of building the other institutions that interconnect organizations and legitimize knowledge as authoritative.

Unfortunately, the most important bodies of uncommon, specialized, highly technical and scientific knowledge tend to be complex, difficult to learn, requiring of a specialized vocabulary to fully master or communicate, perceived as arcane by others than their gurus, and “out of sight and out of mind” of most people most of the time.

The knowledge work of the kind I am describing is also highly analytic. Its analytic demands are beyond the experience of any but experts in terms of measurement quality, amounts of data gathered, data processing, and modeling. The analytic infrastructure that they require -- of supercomputers, high speed Internet, costly scientific instruments and the like -- are also beyond our common experience.

Reporters and development professionals share in not fully appreciating such knowledge. The science and technology news seldom really covers science and technology broadly, but is more often focused on “newsworthy,” emotionally-charged stories. It more often covers events than trends, and more often those likely to be easily appreciated by large numbers of people than those representing important scientific or technological changes.

In agriculture and health, donor programs often focus on core science and technologies for those sectors, but many of the key scientific and technological sectors do not enjoy adequate, or indeed any donor support. Even in agriculture and health, many of the ancillary and supportive technologies and scientific fields are ignored.

I think a part of the problem is that very few reporters or development professionals in donor agencies have ever professionally mastered a scientific or technological field. Few have worked as senior professional meteorologists, engineers, applied chemists or physicists. Nor has their education prepared them to properly appreciate the role and importance of specialized scientific and technological knowledge in society, much less the role in social and economic development. And indeed the exceptional sectors may further illustrate the point, for in these fields many of the development professionals have indeed worked as technologically trained professionals: as agricultural researchers in the agriculture sector or as physicians or public health experts in health.

I think, this situation results in ICT for Development projects focusing almost entirely on telephones, personal computers and the basic Internet of email and the World Wide Web -- the applications that are common knowledge in developed countries and donor agencies. These are important, but where are the projects that focus on complex applications of ICTs to support the highly specialized knowledge workers playing vital parts in their societies? Few and far between!

The knowledge economy leaders in the donor agencies have done a service directing attention to the problems of industrial innovation in developing nations. However, it seems likely that they too have failed to recognize the importance of a variety of “uncommon” knowledge organizations and institutions. Again, development projects that seek to develop the broad capacity in nations to institutionalize scientific and technological knowledge activities of these specialized kinds are few and far between.

This situation is especially unfortunate in that donor assistance and media attention are desperately needed to help and encourage developing countries to build these scientific and technological capacities. In the field of ICTs for example, the high-end computers and data links, the remote sensing facilities, and other elements of the S&T information infrastructure are expensive, and are hard for developing nation leaders to justify to their peoples. That is why I have made entries in this blog from time to time featuring elements of the needed uncommon knowledge capacity and the S&T information infrastructure in developing nations.