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Revisiting Digital Inclusion: A Survey of Theory, Measurement and Recent Research (2022)

Posted on:
December 12, 2022

Abstract

"As it becomes increasingly clear how central digital transformation is to development, the need for accurately  measuring digital inclusion and understanding its relationship to socio-economic factors, becomes more urgent.

Focusing on the internet as a foundational technology, this paper begins by summarising recent developments in digital inclusion theory, particularly as this relates to developing countries. It sets out a framework of core components of digital inclusion - including access/use, quality of access/use, affordability, and digital skills - and briefly considers policy implications.

The paper then surveys the ways these components are currently measured in household and firm surveys and by international organisations, highlighting some of the often-overlooked weaknesses of current measures, and suggesting possible improvements. The paper also reflects on potential applications of (and risks associated with) new ways of measuring digital inclusion using big data.

Lastly, building on the framework developed, the paper reviews the empirical literature on ‘digital divides’ in developing countries, and makes suggestions for how future research could become more rigorous and useful."

Factors affecting digital inclusion

  • Gender
  • Education
  • Income
  • Location

"Clearly, thinking of digital inclusion only in terms of access is insufficient, and important theoretical contributions have been made to extend this concept to consider additional barriers to meaningful usage, and outcomes as well as opportunities. For the purposes of goal-setting and policy-making to tackle digital divides, it is necessary to focus on certain core indicators of digital inclusion, and efforts should be made to improve their sophistication and reliability, and to disaggregate them. While there have been many commentators who have questioned the importance of the internet in developing countries, there is now wide acceptance of the internet being a key enabler for development, which has been aided by recent robust economics research on the topic."

Some conclusions

"Related to digital skills, current measurement efforts take an outdated approach that focuses on computer skills, which is not suitable for measuring digital skills in developing countries. Also questionable is the usefulness of basic proxies that equate attainment of education with attainment of digital skills. International organisations should develop survey questions which focus on digital skills related to mobile phones, and reassess their proxy measures...

Digital inclusion indices, which sacrifice important detail for arbitrarily defined summary measures, are of limited value. Digital inclusion is multi-faceted, and a plethora of indicators cannot be aggregated to form a clear conclusion."

Revisiting Digital Inclusion - A Survey of Theory, Measurement and Recent Research (2022)

Summary

This paper sets out a framework of core components of digital inclusion - including access/use, quality of access/use, affordability, and digital skills - and briefly considers policy implications.
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