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Global event on measuring the information society

The importance of reliable data on ICT

Without reliable data on information and communication technologies (ICT) that can be compared from country to country, it is impossible to monitor progress towards achieving the connectivity targets set for 2015 by the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). A new report, “The Global Information Society: a statistical view 2008”, shows that there has been an increase in the collection of ICT data by developing countries, although the data remain limited and major gaps persist.

Members of the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development

International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and
Development (OECD)

UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

Institute for Statistics of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)

Economic and Social Commission for the Asia-Pacific (ESCAP)

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)

Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)

Statistical Office of the European Communities (Eurostat)

World Bank

More developing nations need to incorporate ICT statistics into their regular surveys, since this information is vital for making effective decisions on linking national economies into global information networks. And while the inclusion of ICT indicators in the Millennium Development Goals shows that the importance of these technologies has been recognized, more work is needed on measuring not only the presence of ICT, but also its impact on reducing poverty.

The report was released at the 2008 Global Event on Measuring the Information Society, held in Geneva on 27–29 May. The event was organized by the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development (see box), which was launched in 2004 to improve the availability and quality of internationally comparable data on ICT. It promotes the worldwide use of a core list of indicators that it has developed on ICT infrastructure, access and usage, as well as on the production and trade of ICT goods.

The event was co-chaired by Maral Tutelian, Director General of Lebanon’s Central Administration of Statistics, and Tony Clayton, Director of Economic Analysis at the United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics. Among the 151 participants were representatives of government agencies concerned with ICT statistics, telecommunication regulatory authorities, and international, non-governmental and civil society organizations.

At the opening ceremony, ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré highlighted the growing need for reliable, comprehensive and comparable statistical information. “ITU has repeatedly emphasized that, to appropriately tackle the digital divide, it is crucial to overcome the statistical divide. This is important on a national level to help governments assess their progress, their strengths and their weaknesses, so as to tackle and finally overcome barriers to wider and better access to ICT.”

Lakshmi Puri, Acting Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that the event would “further advance the ICT measurement agenda by addressing important issues, such as improving the core list of indicators and extending it to include indicators on the use of ICT in education; by discussing how to measure security and trust in an online environment, and how to measure e-government and the gender digital divide.”

Martine Dirven, Director of the Division of Production, Productivity and Management, at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), explained that the regional action plan views ICT as tools of economic development and social inclusion, and has a long-term vision in line with the Millennium Development Goals and those of WSIS. It has also set concrete, qualitative and quantitative targets to be achieved.

Ralf Becker, Chief, Economic Statistics and Classifications Section, UN Statistics Division (UNSD), noted that while changes caused by the widening use of ICT (such as increases in productivity) are recorded in mainstream statistics, these changes are not always traced back to their source in ICT advances. He noted that the UN Statistical Commission has endorsed the Partnership’s core list of ICT indicators and encourages countries to use it in their data collection programmes.

The impact of ICT

The Internet in Brazil

In Brazil, 59 per cent of people have never accessed the Internet, and 47 per cent have never even used a computer, said Mariana Balboni, of Comitê Gestor da Internet (GGI), Brazil. In 2006, the country opened a Centre of Studies on ICT that collects and disseminates national data on Internet use in households and businesses. These data reveal interesting facts on, for example, why people do or do not like using e-government services, and signpost ways to expand connectivity.

Vincenzo Spiezia, Senior Economist and Head of the ICT Unit at the OECD’s Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry, talked about recent findings in measuring the impact of ICT on growth. In OECD countries, he said, “communications have been the fastest growing household expenditure item since 1995” and ICT is an important component in improved productivity. Mr Spiezia compared ICT’s contribution to economic growth in a number of countries during 2001–2006. In the United Kingdom, for example, ICT accounted for 3.1 per cent of growth from a total of 4.7 per cent. Similar figures of more than half the total growth were contributed by ICT in Finland and in Sweden, while in the United States, it represented just over a third of the total.

Mr Spiezia also pointed out that ICT accounted for 35 per cent of patents filed in OECD countries in 2005, and in China the percentage more than doubled between 1996 and 2005. Most of these patents relate to ICT industries themselves, but they also represent large shares of the totals in other sectors.

The meeting noted that the impact of ICT depends on a wide range of factors, from the input side (such as people’s computing skills, or the regulatory environment), and in its output affecting other sectors. Often, these factors are intangible or hard to measure. Despite these difficulties, recent research has shown that a minimum set of ICT impact indicators could be established. The Partnership was asked to advise countries on how to study the economic impact of ICT, including standardizing analytical methods to allow international comparability.

Participants at the meeting highlighted the importance of collecting separate data on ICT access and use by men and women. The gender gap can be wide in both developing and developed countries, independent of whether there is widespread access to the Internet. Better data would help efforts to close that gap. Another important topic of discussion was the measurement of security and trust in an online environment.

Revising the indicators

ICT-powered Singapore

In Singapore, the centralized National Statistical Authority receives ICT data from ministries and agencies, including the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA). Ng Cher Keng, Director of IDA’s Strategic Planning Division, said that cultivating a vibrant and competitive ICT industry and an ICT-savvy workforce and society is a key national goal. Among the aims of Singapore’s plan Intelligent Nation 2015 are 80 000 extra jobs in the sector and 90 per cent of homes with broadband by 2015.

The meeting looked at proposals for revising the Partnership’s core list of ICT indicators, to improve accuracy and avoid duplication between sets of figures. The addition of new indicators was discussed, including for ICT expenditure by households and businesses, ICT investment by governments, and cost of services measured against quality.

The field of education was seen as particularly important, given the increasing sophistication of skills demanded in the labour market. Nine new core indicators were recommended for inclusion in the Partnership’s list, measuring the percentage of schools with electricity, education based on radio and television, telecommunication infrastructure and Internet connection, student-to-computer ratios, the percentage of students enrolled by gender at the tertiary level in ICT-related fields, and the number of ICT-qualified teachers in schools.

Strategies for the future

Representatives of national governments at the meeting expressed their appreciation of capacity-building initiatives being carried out by members of the Partnership.

Participants noted that follow-up activities of WSIS benefit from the Partnership’s work, but it was also stressed that the global gaps in ICT data remain a major challenge to assessing progress towards the information society. A number of strategies must be examined to enhance the availability of ICT statistics, at the national, regional and international levels. In particular, developing countries that lack resources to improve their ICT statistical programmes will need assistance. The international donor community is encouraged to provide the necessary support.



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