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Inclusion in the Information Age

December 11, 2001: This message was distributed by Papyrus News. Feel free to forward this message to others, preferably with this introduction. For info on Papyrus News, including how to (un)subscribe or access archives, see <>.

This message is forwarded from the Global Knowledge for Development list (info at The report looks quite interesting, and very much mirrors the perspective I'm taking in my own new book (which I'm just finishing up :-)).

Happy Ramadan, Hannukah, and Christmas to all--


From: Kenan Jarboe <>
Subject: Inclusion in the Information Age

There have been a number of comments recently on this list concerning the nature (and cost) of the "digital divide." I have always taken the position that in the emerging information economy, inclusion -- not just access to technology -- is critical for individuals, firms and communities to shape positive economic futures, especially for communities-left-behind and communities-at-risk.

I thought I would share with you a recent report that explores these issues. The report 'Inclusion in the Information Age--Reframing the Debate', is now available on our web site at <>. A printed version is available on request.

It is based on a conference Athena Alliance hosted on "New IT--New Equity--New Economy." The conference drew together diverse participants from a broad range of economic sectors, to discuss the barriers to full inclusion in the Information Age. Athena Alliance is a non-profit organization dedicated to public education and research on the emerging global information economy and the networked society.

The report covers a number of issues. It begins with understanding: understanding the nature of the change occurring in our economy and society to as a perquisite to comprehending the nature and consequences of what we have come to call the "digital divide." To broaden our understanding, the report addresses three basic issues. How new and different is the "New Economy?" Are the new technologies fundamentally different in their impact on society from existing information and communications technologies? Is the "digital divide" something new, or is it simply another manifestation of the existing socio-economic divides within America and around the world? The report then explores the issues of access, governance and economic development.

It concludes with eight points of consideration concerning the technological, economic and social aspects of the revolution in IT and the rise of a new economy. The following is a summary of the points:

Point one: Focus on the transformation, not the technology. The issue of concern is the transformation to the Information Age. It is not simply a question of technological deployment. The end purpose is not to narrow some gap, but to ensure that everyone has access to the expanded opportunities. Our framework should be one of inclusion for all in the broader activities that make up society and the economy.

Point two: Review and coordinate efforts. The problem has aspects of main policy areas, including telecommunications, technology (policy delete), training and workforce development, education, economic development, housing and community development, human services and trade. Reaching our goal requires a coordinated approach in the private, public and non-governmental sectors that combines the various elements of providing opportunity and inclusion in the information age.

Point three: Work to ensure that everyone has access to the technological infrastructure. Barriers to access to the infrastructure are many. Ways of overcoming those barriers are also varied, including public access facilities that can combine access with training and other activities, as well as home access. But, it is not enough to simply provide access. We must work to weave information technology into the operations of community groups in a way that will both help individuals use the technology and will make those groups more efficient and effective in their core mission.

Point four: Encourage and facilitate participation and involvement by all in the digital economy and information society. To foster participation and involvement, the technology must meet people's needs not define those needs. A one-size-fits-all may help some and increase their participation and involvement but will block others. By focusing on "demand-pull," rather than "technology-push," we can better tailor the technology to meet individual needs. One area of special importance is the development of meaningful content, including more locally-based content. But, we must also insure that those who are not on-line are not left behind. Services and information should not be removed or dramatically cut back from traditional means of dissemination in favor of electronic dissemination until and unless all members of the community have access to that electronic means as easily as they have to the traditional means.

Point five: Focus economic development on the Information Economy, not the Internet Economy. The information age will require a new approach to economic development. Key to the process is using and developing assets: financial, social, skill-based, and information assets. We must focus on building the local economy's vitality and ability to compete in the age of globalization and help people make the switch to the new economy.

Point six: We need a better understanding of what is going on. We need to re-look at the data needed for economic development in the information economy. The problem of data extends beyond the scope of local economic data. We need both better data and expanded analysis of the socioeconomic aspects of the information technology

Point seven: The decision making process must be open. True inclusion and opportunity can only occur if the process of decision making is open and transparent. Information technology has a tremendous potential for opening and maintaining channels for general input and advocacy. However, decisions made about the technology can have the effect of closing off the process rather than opening it up. We must ensure that all parties are at the table when decisions, including issues such as standard setting, are made.

Point eight: Innovate and experiment. We are in a time of transformation and change. The speed of that change and the pace of economic activity will vary. Yet the change is real and will continue. In such a time, we must often invent new ways of coping with our problems and new policies for guiding our economy and society. Our goal should be to facilitate learning the hallmark of the Information Age. Our public policy process must embrace that concept as tightly as the rest of our economy and society already have.

It is our hope that the report will serve as a guide for those involved in framing public policy, and shaping public opinion, on issues of broader, fair and equitable inclusion in the Information Age. We believe that it will help identify and break down barriers to full participation in the Information Age. I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Ken Jarboe

Kenan Patrick Jarboe, Ph.D.
Athena Alliance
711 10th Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 547-7064

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Last updated: December 12, 2001 in Hot Metal Pro 6.0