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How can we best measure digital inclusion?

November 28, 2016 | Connected Society | Global | Madeleine Karlsson

The GSMA Mobile Connectivity Index measures the performance of 134 countries against key enablers of mobile internet connectivity and was launched only a few months back by our Connected Society programme and GSMA Intelligence. Looking at countries’ mobile internet infrastructure, affordability, consumer readiness and online content relevance, the index investigates each country’s progress in regards to digital inclusion and what it will take for them to overcome offline population-challenges. As we strive to create an index that is insightful and useful we continuously seek new perspectives and knowledge from actors in the connectivity space.
 

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During a recent visit to New York and Washington DC to present and seek feedback for the Mobile Connectivity Index, we had the opportunity to meet with a range of organisations in the international development sector who are working to accelerate digital inclusion for unconnected populations. UNICEF, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), UNDP and the World Bank were among the actors with whom we met, and as they all approach the challenge from different angles and are involved in innovative projects, our US engagements brought interesting insights for refining our index and understand how it can be utilised in practice.
 

Defining lack of connectivity access as ‘poverty’
UNICEF views the digital inclusion challenge as a question of enhancing children’s ability to fulfil their potential, anchored in the rights of the child. Being excluded from information and communication opportunities is defined as a form of child poverty. With this understanding, the Innovation Unit of UNICEF shared their ongoing work on an Information Poverty project, which seeks to understand how much and what type of information a child needs to consume (“Kilobytes per day”) to be information healthy. Such knowledge will contribute to better inform efforts for children to have equal access to relevant information, opportunities, and choices.

Under the Information Poverty project, UNICEF is developing a tool that will measure the amount of information accessed by children and youths, to map out information poverty globally. The aim is to identify the most information-deprived children and the factors that are causing the situation (barriers to information access). In contrast to the Mobile Connectivity Index’ country-level focus, the UNICEF tool will be granular, focussing on child-level, and the results from the project will help actors target their efforts to increase children’s information access more efficiently.
 

International collaboration for digital development

The World Bank’s ICT division is focussing efforts to create an enabling environment to support member states in progressing their digital development. Sharing this agenda, the GSMA and the Connected Society programme have entered the Digital Development Partnership (DDP) with the World Bank and Microsoft to escalate and coordinate our efforts on the international level. The World Bank is in discussions with additional potential DDP partners from the public and private sectors.

Through our US engagements, we discussed the World Bank’s progress on extending their existing Digital Adoption Index into a diagnostic toolkit to benchmark countries’ digital development. This project has clear synergies with our own Mobile Connectivity Index, and we had useful reflections on what type of data can be leveraged to improve the robustness of the indices’ indicators, such as using crowd-sourced data and taking a localised perspective for assessing the online content dimension. We will have productive exchanges of perspectives over the coming months to further develop and improve the methodologies and data of both tools.
 

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Screen shot of market comparison-function of the Mobile Connectivity Index.
 

Using connectivity indices in practice

We had the opportunity to discuss our work on the Mobile Connectivity Index and the topic of Digital Inclusion more broadly at a Technology Salon whilst in Washington DC. Although being a unique index – in its mobile-centred focus, and drawing on new data with indicators of availability of online content and varying types of infrastructure, combined with its global coverage accounting for more than 95% of the world’s population, our Mobile Connectivity Index is far from being the only tool out there aimed at monitoring digital inclusion. There is the ITU’s ICT Development Index, IDB’s regional Index of Broadband Development, and Alliance for Affordable Internet’s Affordability Drivers Index, to mention a few.

On the back of what can be experienced as “index fatigue”, during our discussions we questioned what the value of these metrics tools is and how development practitioners have use for them in their work? The idea driving the creation of the Mobile Connectivity Index, is to have a business development tool to help focus connectivity efforts on the right projects in the right markets, in order to make the most relevant and efficient contributions towards achieving universal access to the internet.

Another angle could be to shift the focus from connectivity per se, to thinking of ways of utilising connectivity for development purposes in the country. The indicators used for the index provide a good basis for conducting analysis within each digital inclusion-area, to understand where the opportunities lie in each market. Whether these may be found in for instance leveraging a rich digital content ecosystem in a country to spread public health advice, or addressing food insecurity by tapping into well-established connectivity systems to help improve food supply.

The various approaches and perspectives by actors in the ICT for Development-space of working to close the digital inclusion gap, provide valuable insights for us to improve our Mobile Connectivity Index and its usability, and for our connectivity work of the programme more broadly.

Please get in touch if you have any ideas about how we could do this.

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