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Conceptual Aspects of Digital Innovation for International Development

December 13, 2012
12:00PM - 01:30PM

Annenberg School for Communication, Room 300
3620 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

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Categories: Seminar

The notion of the topic has its theoretical roots in Schumpeterian innovation theory of social modernization through “creative destruction”. Based on these ideas, we will work through a three-dimensional conceptual framework that models the ongoing digital transformations as interplay between technologies, social change, and policy strategies. The diffusion of the underlying enabling technologies through social networks is not instantaneous and therefore inevitably creates a divide between those that are already included and those still marginalized. The arising “digital divide” can be conceptualized as the response to the questions of who, withwhich kinds of attributes, connects how to what. Different constellations in these four variables lead to a combinatorial array of choices to define the digital divide. Given this wide array of possible definitions, we show that the digital divide is best defined in terms of a desired impact. Since those are diverse, so are the definitions of the challenge. We will also review several traditional and more recent areas of social change through digital means, such as e-government, e-business, e-edutainment and the use of ICT for public diplomacy and counterterrorism actives. Last but not least, we have to remember that ICT do not automatically lead to “development” and that the application of the very same tools can also lead to counterproductive results. Like all technologies, ICT are normatively neutral (rejecting technological determinism). Making ICT work for development requires the social construction of their usage through carefully designed policy strategies. We will review the case of the eLAC Action Plan, the intergovernmental policy strategy of Latin America and the Caribbean that is already in its third successful generation (eLAC2007, eLAC2010, and eLAC2015). Digital policy strategies for development face a set of challenges unique to digital progress (e.g. its speed and high levels of uncertainty) and to developing countries (e.g. the exogenous nature of technological progress). We review some of the most common tools to confront such challenges. These structural choices of development strategies aim at designing digital development policies with tangible positive impacts.


 Before joining the University of Southern California (USC), Martin Hilbert coordinated the Information Society Program of United Nations’ Regional Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean for ten years, a program he created as a research a technological cooperation program of ICT-for-development (http://www.cepal.org/SocInfo). The program includes a team of 15 in-house professionals and over 250 research consultants. He personally provided hands-on technical assistance to Heads of States, government officials, legislators, diplomats, NGOs and civil society in over 20 countries. Policy makers from the highest political levels have officially recognized the impact of the resulting projects in public declarations. For example, the program spearheaded the creation and successful execution of the Latin American and Caribbean Action Plan for ICT4D (eLAC), and helped to design measurement indicators that have been officially adopted by the United Nations statistical system for permanent collection worldwide. He designed and teaches a Masters-level course on ICT4D at USC and published his findings in peer-reviewed Journal articles in the fields of communication, development, public policy, political science, forecasting and social change, and in four books about different aspects of ICT for development. His work has been featured in Scientific American, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NPR, BBC, Sueddeutsche, Die Welt, Correio Braziliense, La Repubblica, El Mercurio, El Pais, among others.