The Impact of ICTs on Democratization and Good Governance

On June 5th, 2003, DOT-COM and InterAction co-hosted the first session in its speaker series on ICTs and Development, on the Impact of ICTs on Democratization and Good Governance. Over 60 participants attended the session held at AED's conference center in Washington, DC.

George Sadowsky, Global Internet Policy Initiative (GIPI) & dot-GOV, Ari Schwartz, Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), and Michael Hudson, School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University presented from their particular experiences related to how ICT interact with democratization efforts around the world. Eric Rusten of dot-ORG moderated the session and kicked off the discussion portion of the presentations.

George Sadowsky: Changing Internet Policy: Experience from 17+ Countries
Dr. Sadowsky opened the session by describing the legal and regulatory reforms and the policy framework necessary to the development of an open and democratic Internet in developing countries.

Based on his experiences with GIPI and dot-GOV, he reviewed the history of the growth of the Internet over the past 15 years, documenting the tremendous increase in penetration in developing countries.

Key challenges remain, however, to further growth:
  • Rural areas still pose significant connectivity problems.
  • No country has enough trained people yet.
  • Governments lag in understanding, innovation and its potential. Many fear of revenue loss, loss of power, and control.
  • The classical telephony model is entrenched, based on significant regulation and this model is being extended to the Internet.
  • Restrictive policy now may be the most important factor inhibiting the spread of the Internet.
To address these challenges, Dr.Sadowsky outlined the work that GIPI and dot-GOV have been performing, working with Governments to reform the policy environment for telecommunications. Some of the key policies Dr. Sadowsky mentioned that allow Internet growth are:
  • Reliance on free market forces.
  • Support for entrepreneurial activities.
  • No special licensing of ISPs.
  • Transparent and open regulatory and legislative processes.
  • Low telecomm prices through competition.
  • Strongly implies telecomm liberalization.
  • Independent regulatory authority.
Dr. Sadowsky warned the audience that this is a "work in progress" - some of the programs have been in place less than two years, and governments are often slow to change. However, so far, some of lessons have been learned about how to best effect policy reform for telecommunications. The following is a small selection from Dr. Sadowsky's presentation:
  • Working from within the system seems to offer good possibilities of success.
  • Internet policy depends critically on telecomm policy - can¬ít reform one without reforming the other.
  • Insert the wedge for change in place anywhere there is an opportunity.
  • Governments are not monolithic; many inside want change also - Be there when the balance starts to tip.
  • One full time person can accomplish a great deal.
A full copy of his presentation "Changing Internet Policy: Experience from 17+ Countries" can be downloaded by clicking the following link. GS_InternetPolicy.ppt MS PPT 251K.

Ari Schwartz: E-Government Toolkit for Developing Nations
Mr. Schwartz spoke on the effects of e-government on democratization and good governance, and described the E-government tool-kit developed by CDT to create effective e-government programs.

During his presentation, Mr. Schwartz reviewed the three phases of e-government programs - Publish, Interact, and Transact.

Examples of E-government information publication are:
  • Portals
  • Pending Legislation
  • Pricing and economic transparency projects
Some of the lessons learned about how to make E-government publishing more effective and efficient are:
  • Post information of value to people in their daily lives.
  • Emphasize local language content.
  • Seek attainable results using available resources.
  • Sustain funding to ensure that information is updated regularly.
Examples of Interaction between government and citizens via IT are:
  • Parliamentary Websites (South Africa)
  • Relevant Voting Projects (Ace Project)
  • Government Access Points (Gobierno en Linea)
Some of the lessons learned about how to make interactions between the public and government more effective and efficient are:
  • Break down complex issues into easy-to-understand components.
  • Be proactive about soliciting participation - use traditional media to publicize online consultations.
  • Work with NGOs in designing interactive systems.
  • Show citizens that their engagement matters by informing them of the outcomes of their online consultations.
Examples of Transactions between the government and citizens are:
  • Procurement Sites (Chile)
  • Land/Property Registration (Andhra Pradesh)
  • Tax Collection (Mauritius)
Some of the lessons learned about how to make these transactions more effective and efficient are:
  • Target audience that will have immediate use for the online services.
  • Recognize that initial investments in ICT can pay off in terms of cost savings and increased revenue.
  • Enlist the support of those who will be using the site and address concerns of government workers whose roles will change as a result of innovation.
Mr. Schwartz also identified five major ways E-governance can be transformative for government: Process Reform, Leadership, Strategic Investment, Collaboration, and Civic Engagement. However E-government does not come without challenges and opportunities. He listed some key ones to keep in mind (the following is a small selection of what he presented):
  • Infrastructure Development
  • Public Policy and Law
  • E-Literacy
  • Accessibility
  • Digital Divide
  • Privacy
  • Security
His full presentation "E-Government Toolkit for Developing Nations" can be downloaded by clicking the following link. AS_e-gov.ppt MS PPT 94K

You can also learn more about the CDT/infoDEV E-Government Handbook at

Michael Hudson: Impact of IT on Civil society and Democratization in the Middle East
Dr. Hudson shared his expertise in the Middle East to discuss the impact of IT on civil society and democratization in the region, and give us some hints for development in the future. Dr. Hudson started out by giving the audience the current political context in the Middle East. Two authoritarian political systems have emerged after the end of colonial rule: monarchies/sheikhdoms (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco) and revolutionary socialists that tried to establish progressive military regimes.

In the past 20 years there has been a gradual challenge to both models, a transformation from those authoritarian systems to two alterative models: liberal, open political systems or Islamist regimes. In addition to this transformation, the region has suffered economic stagnation, despite its oil wealth. He mentioned the example of Iraq in particular to illustrate the political pivot point many countries are currently balancing on.

Dr. Hudson then sketched out the history of information and communication technology in relation to political mobilization in the Middle East, Starting with the long history of coffee houses and trade routes, he traced the use of television, fax machines, cassettes, cell phones, and web based journalism as methods for political advocacy by a variety of different groups.

The political networking effect of new ICTs in Arab world today has been accelerated by these new technologies, and spilled over to civil society impacts. For example, Al Jezeera and other such journalism has broken the culture of deference and enabled speech within authoritarian regimes, putting them on the defensive, and connecting people with a global society.

Internet connectivity is a window to outside world for Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, gender roles have traditionally prevented women's ability to communicate, but the Internet has really affected how women see themselves and expect to be treated.

The Internet revolution is breaking the state's information monopoly. It is socializing the children of elite, who are learning subversive information that's not censored. It is also creating new information networks, encouraged by the state, top down with censorship. However, business communities are pushing e-business and driving Internet development.

Islamists have also developed effective uses of the Internet with a leavening effect. However, effective and ingenious utilization of Internet might spillover to terrorism.

Dr. Hudson's full presentation "Impact of IT on Civil society and Democratization in the Middle East" can found by clicking the following link.

Audience Discussion
After the three presenters spoke, the discussion was opened up to the audience to ask questions, such as
  • What is the role of universal access policies?
  • What are some of the most significant results and some of the incentives for governments?
  • What role might public access have in the Middle East?
  • Is it a good idea for government to take the lead in automation of E-government due to the social development constraints of lack of skilled users, technology, and infrastructure?
To learn the presenters' responses to these questions and to see a full transcript of the discussion, click on the following link.

DOT-COM/InterAction ICT Speaker Series Background
The DOT-COM/InterAction ICT Speaker Series, funded by USAID (DOT-COM) and the Markle Foundation (InterAction ICT Working Group), is intended to explore ways in which Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) impact development efforts.

The main goals of the speaker series include sharing information about innovative and effective uses of technology in development efforts, building a community around a broad spectrum of information technology interests, and exploring gaps and challenges to effective implementation and use of technologies in our work.

For More Information, Contact:
Barbara Fillip
Evaluation & Communication Specialist, DOT-COM
Academy for Educational Development
Tel: 202 884-8003

Brian King
ICT Working Group Coordinator, InterAction
Tel: 202 667-8227

George Sadowsky
Senior Technical Advisor, dot-GOV
Internews Network
Tel: 202 833 5740 x 200

Related Resource Partners
Click on USAID's logo to visit USAID
Click on Internews Network logo, to visit Internews
Click on Academy for Educational Development (AED) logo to visit AED
Click on Educational Development Center (EDC) logo to visit EDC
Core funding for the DOT-COM Alliance is provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade, Office of Infrastructure and Engineering (EGAT/OI&E), Office of Education (EGAT/ED), and Office of Women in Development (EGAT/WID), under the terms of Award numbers: GDG-A-00-01-00009-00, dot-GOV; GDG-A-00-01-00014-00, dot-ORG; GDG-A-00-01-00011-00, dot-EDU.
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