Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
ICT Policy for Development
November 08, 2005
It is already widely accepted that by tackling the barriers of cost, time and distance, Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) provide efficiency gains, increased productivity and the opening up of new opportunities. Indeed in the information society where progress and power depends on information and knowledge, the role of ICT becomes even more critical.
ICT is certainly not an end in itself.
But after sinking massive resources into ICT many countries are not satisfied with the returns. To many ICT is a “paper tiger” – it is not having the desired effect on poverty reduction and wealth creation.
Globally the contradictions are even deeper. The great paradox is that with the amazing growth in computing and telecommunications – wireless technologies, mobile telephony, web services - the digital divide is still widening between the digital “haves” and the digital “have-nots”. “The digital are getting more digital, while the analogue are getting more analogue”.
Poverty, lack of leadership and commitment and the weird global structure result in unevenness in the exploitation and deployment of technologies.
Most countries therefore develop national ICT policies in recognition of the enormous potential of ICT. To avoid being left behind, several nations develop such ICT policies addressing several core issues for keying into the benefits of an ICT–driven world. The aim is to be a creator, a producer and not a consumer or mere passenger. It is usually a proactive indication of the seriousness government attaches to the role of ICT in society. A national ICT policy can be seen as an attempt to create and follow a pro-people ICT road map for the country. Lack of a coherent and comprehensive policy often leads to redundancy, waste of resources, ineffective ICT diffusion and development and an inability to tap into global ICT opportunities.
But an ICT policy is no guarantee
However, as many nations have found out, having an ICT policy is no guarantee that ICT will actually be an effective enabler. According to Ernest Hemingway "Never mistake motion for action." Practice is often different from theory.
How realistic are the goals of the ICT policy? What are the priorities? Is deployment effective? Is content relevant? Is leadership committed? How effectively are resources mobilized and deployed? Is the policy a government “show” or are other stakeholders involved? How well integrated and prioritized is the ICT policy within national development programs? There is a Survey on Nigeria’s ICT policy here: http://www.jidaw.com/nigeria/ictsurvey.html
Let’s look at what typical ICT policies and strategies should address:
- Development of ICT infrastructure
Public-Private-Partnership, telecom infrastructure, Internet connectivity, pro-poor Internet access, ICT networks, Computers and related equipment, etc.
It’s not just about provision of infrastructure but also quality, quantity and access issues. Access to infrastructure should lead to access to relevant content and services. Availability and reliability are important, but price is often the most critical factor that affects access.
- Enabling environment
An enabling environment is critical for the Information Society. Such an environment provides support for ICT empowerment while eliminating constraints.
Legal, institutional and regulatory framework is required to ensure fair competition; to attract investment; to develop ICT infrastructure, solutions and applications; to provide tax and other incentives for ICT industry and investors; to support transfer of technology; to meet the needs, priorities, aspirations of various stakeholders; to provide legal infrastructure for intellectual property protection, digital contracting, privacy and data protection, cybercrime, etc. Such an environment is key to mobilizing resources required for developing and exploiting opportunities of the information economy.
How will government provide leadership and direction? E-governance is for transparency in government operations, improving the quality of government’s service delivery, improving efficiency, accountability, financial management, information management, reducing bureaucracy, and delivery of public services in healthcare, education and environment. It also affects the enhancement of government ICT infrastructure, supporting an enabling environment as mentioned earlier and providing leadership by making ICT a national priority.
Often leadership can make the difference between failure and success. To provide the required leadership, governments need to appreciate the strategic opportunity provided by ICT.
- Development and growth of the ICT industry
How will the policy facilitate the development of a local ICT industry that will reduce import dependence and enhance export opportunities? How will the ICT industry enable employment generation and wealth creation through the production, manufacturing, development, delivery, and distribution of ICT products and services? How will ICT facilitate innovation?
For example, some policies may focus on encouraging application development to provide innovative technological solutions with relevant local content, while others may treat ICT hardware manufacture.
- ICT diffusion and increased ICT literacy
Ignorance is a monster retarding the growth and use of ICT. Policies should deal with ICT diffusion, and ICT literacy, and awareness of the benefits of ICT, the creation of new economic and social opportunities for poverty eradication, job creation and empowerment.
- Human resource development
The ability to translate ICT skills and knowledge to benefit for society are critical. A country’s future is determined by the size and quality of its human capital. ICT skills are required for empowerment to enhance value and create opportunity through new technologies. Human capital must be developed through training, research and capacity building. Organizations such as universities and institutions of higher learning, research centers, polytechnics and training centers are key in this area.
Fundamental ICT skills are needed especially for creative problem solving and innovative solutions. How will innovations in technology, as well as research and development be encouraged?
- E-business and E-commerce
Which policies will facilitate various aspects of e-business such as e-payments, e-banking, e-commerce, secure transactions and the appropriate legislation? How will the rapid development of business-to-consumer (B2C), business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-government (B2G) e-business be promoted? The need for promoting an e-business culture and development of human resources for e-business are critical. E-business is critical for Small and Medium size Enterprises (SMEs). E-business is particularly important for using ICTs in the promotion and development of SMEs.
- Role of the private sector
The private sector plays a vital role in the establishment of the knowledge economy. Policies should address how public-private partnership (PPP) initiatives can be effective. It is particularly important for PPP initiatives to provide, support and use the information infrastructure, to encourage the deployment and use of ICTs within the economy and society. Do the right linkages exist between the private sector and Research and Development (R&D) activities? The right environment for the private sector should promote innovation, fair competition, financing of ICT, opening up of new markets, global opportunities and the delivery of high quality products and services.
- Gender issues
There is a need for policies to address the issue of equal access of women to ICT. How can ICT be used to close the gender divide and the gender digital divide? How can the specific developmental needs of women be met? How gender sensitive are the policies?
- Impact analysis
Based on statistics, what is ICT doing for us? Is it making an impact? Where? Where is the policy falling short? What are the important indicators for assessment, decision-making, benchmarks or reviews? Monitoring the use of ICT and measuring the impact of ICT is necessary to evaluate the developmental impact of ICT programmes and projects.
ICT policies don’t exist in a vacuum. It’s really a question of identifying policies that state how ICT will facilitate growth and the achievement of development objectives – the effective deployment and use of ICT to meet national goals and aspirations.
Since ICT development is multidimensional, a creative, multi-stakeholder approach is required for the development of ICT policies and strategies - public institutions, private sector, civil society, academia, ICT industry, consumers, the public, SMEs must be involved. Creativity is key –what works or the successful approach in one country may not work in another country. A mufti-stakeholder approach ensures such strategies are grounded in reality. Such a holistic approach that recognizes and resolves conflicts, overlaps, gaps is needed. This meets the obvious need for close coordination and coherence among ICT-related activities and initiatives
And finally, it is absolutely critical that ICT and ICT policies are regarded as a priority and mainstreamed into national development programs (strategies, policies and implementation) – it should be based on precise goals and objectives that focus on priority needs and aspirations.
Jide Awe is the Founder of Jidaw.com (http://www.jidaw.com)
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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.