2016 was, needless to say for all in the development field, a challenging year. As such, we welcome 2017 with open arms. Panoply Digital has been hard at work on a series of projects: training sessions on Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E), digital security and more with our partner the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and within their partner network afield; facilitating evaluation work of various mobile utilities grants involving accessible solar power, water, and more; developing an immersive online course in using more gender disaggregated data in development programming. Individually, I am working on even more: open courses on Korea’s development model through the WBG and edX; a NERC-ESRC-AHRC funded project at the University of Edinburgh on earthquake forecasting in Nepal and beyond. My colleagues in Panoply Digital are infinitely more energetic than I am so I suspect their list is longer.
But developing capacity and expertise isn’t always about doing; reading and research need to be a part of the equation. I outlined a few of the reports we were reading in a previous post. Recently I was reviewing the Measuring the Information Society Report 2016 from ITU (ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for ICTs). I read it every year it is published as it provides some good macro trends in terms of ICT adoption as well as some good statistics to use as evidence in areas where adoption is less than expected. They even have their own metric that provides some accessibility to those new to the field: the ICT Development Index (IDI). The results tend to be positive (just on the respectable side of optimistic) with this year’s results show that nearly all of the 175 countries covered by the index improved their IDI values between 2015 and 2016. The IDI itself is a combination of a fairly robust set of indicators across 11 categories: some normal indicators like fixed-telephone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, mobile-cellular telephone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, and international Internet bandwidth (bit/s) per Internet user (total used capacity of international Internet bandwidth, in Mbit/s) and a smattering of other metrics: mean years of schooling, and gross enrollment ratio (secondary and tertiary level), etc.
Some relevant, if not altogether surprising, findings include the following. Don’t take my word for it, however. ITU publishes the data as well.
Do invest time in developing mobile solutions: although tailing off as saturation approaches, there is a steep rise in mobile-cellular subscriptions worldwide as the global penetration rate approaches 100 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (caveat: because some people have multiple subscriptions, the proportion of unique mobile cellular subscribers is significantly lower (GSMA, 2016c).
Don’t invest in fixed telephone line subscriptions. They have decreased practically every year since 2006 in both developed and developing nations. This sounds obvious but don't neglect these seemingly older technologies in developing development programs. Just ask radio.
Perhaps not surprisingly these overall statistics mask some considerable regional differences, although surprisingly little evidence of backsliding due to conflict or instability. Syria moved their IDI score from 3.21 in 2015 to 3.32 in 2016 (good for 122nd place). Many of the countries in which we work (Nepal 142nd place at 2.50; Bangladesh at 145th place at 2.35; Madagascar at 166th place at 1.69; etc.) rank near the very bottom so the digital divide is alive and well.
The range of IDI values is greater suggesting the need for carving up some regions: “The Americas region includes high-income countries in North America as well as developing countries to the south. The Arab States region includes oil-rich countries belonging to the Gulf Cooperation Council but also several least developed countries (LDCs). The Asia-Pacific region includes a number of top performers in the Index, such as the Republic of Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong (China), alongside least connected countries (LCCs) in South Asia.” My take is that placing Korea (1st) and Pakistan (146th) in the same category is not doing Pakistan any good.
Individuals accessing the internet still have a long way to go. From 51% to 81% in the developed world since 2006; from 7.8% to 40% in the developing world (although that latter number does seem a bit high; need to investigate), there are some marked differences between developed and developing world on this individual level.
Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have some capacity in mobile cellular, not surprisingly; not a lot of capacity elsewhere. I will let the chart below demonstrate that.
On a personal note, this data should serve to remind me of the skewed context in which I live and do some of my work. I currently live in Korea which ranks first in the world in IDI and I am moving to the UK in the next few weeks, which ranks fifth. It is easy to let this slip unnoticed into your decision making and program planning, this level of technological capacity. I must be vigilant in keeping this always near the surface of my awareness as it can easily slip into my working assumptions, my projects, my evaluations. These regional differences are stark and Korea and the UK are not the world.