How we count things to assess our progress towards universal access to ICT will continue to be challenging, especially for the future. As noted in the Introduction, we are no longer only counting the number of business and residential subscriptions to a monopoly service to arrive at a snapshot of the sector. There are different kinds of users and subscribers, and there are multiple access channels to a wide and always increasing array of applications and services. Further, we need to know much more about this dynamic terrain than mere information about access to technology. And, as illustrated in the previous sections, there are different perspectives and interests involved in how ICT markets, use, adoption, etc., are depicted. This concluding section focuses on ways that civil society can mobilise indicators in service of its own advocacy agenda and also to measure progress towards achieving this agenda.
The first way to contribute to the design of appropriate indicators is to participate in mainstream processes, such as the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, emerging from the WSIS events. These are extremely important venues for voicing alternative perspectives and agendas. The participation of civil society in international forums is increasingly necessary for the processes to be viewed as legitimate.
Another good way to achieve an intrinsic understanding of indicators is to use them. As with most good practices, it is useful to begin at home. Implementing proper evaluation practices for projects and programmes requires the same steps used for indicator design, which are to identify 1) what needs to be known or made explicit; 2) where that information resides; 3) a strategy for sampling the data or collecting information; 4) establishing parameters for ongoing monitoring; and 5) a presentation method to effectively depict the needed information. Much work has already been undertaken to help users develop and apply evaluation practices that rely on developing evaluation type indicators for advocacy activities. Resources such as the Gender Evaluation Methodology (GEM) set out to explain and demystify processes around how to collect data and use it effectively. There are numerous guides on project evaluation, but because of the lack of significant stocks of information from a gendered perspective, it is perhaps useful as a general rule to begin with GEM and only deviate from this if a clear case is made that a different approach is more effective. Through establishing agendas in our own practices, new norms are created for quality of data stocks and indicators.
To achieve clarity about our own use of data and indicators, agreement on definitions and priorities must occur across the organisation and/or network. Initiatives such as this publication require that priorities for evaluation are agreed upon. Evidence allocated to these categories across different case study countries provides an opportunity to work towards standardisation of findings and resources, and to agree upon acceptable sources of indicators.
Drafting strategic documents – such as the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) Internet Rights Charter, or the APC Recommendations to the WSIS on Internet Governance – require a vision of how to measure progress. For the latter document, one of five areas of concern is dedicated to the brief to ensure that internet access is “universal and affordable” (APC, 2005 and 2006) We need indicators to illustrate where to exert efforts and pressure, and a way of measuring progress towards these goals. Asserting aspirations of affordable and universal internet access implies that there are definitions of “affordable” and “universal” in order to assess progress towards achieving these goals. Affordability in itself is a highly relative term, as illustrated by Milne’s (2006) Affordability Toolkit. Affordability is contingent on willingness and ability to pay for services, access to currency, definitions of poverty and baskets of goods to assess disposable income, and income, among other factors. Universal merely means ubiquitous, but as discussed above, ubiquitous access to a signal is a very different concept than meaningful integration of new ICT services and applications into everyday lives. Indeed, as we write our vision statements, we must simultaneously be devising a vision of evidence that will be marshalled for advocacy and to celebrate successes.
At the end of the day, it may simply be important to know how many people have access to a telephone. This is an important question – and even more so if we take the time to unpack it.
This report was originally published as part of a larger compilation: “Global Information Society watch 2007: Participation ” which can be downloaded from https://www.giswatch.org/en/2007
Published by APC and ITem
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