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Abstract -- Measuring and Comparing the Return on Investment on Network-Related Empowerment Policy Track
P9: Industrial Policy

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Measuring and Comparing the Return on Investment on Network-Related Empowerment

Ruth, Stephen ( ruth@gmu.edu)


While few disagree that network services can have a positive effect on developing nations it has been very difficult to determine predictor variables that make it possible to anticipate the results of investments in telecommunications hardware, software, infrastructure and education. The developing nations constitute about four fifths of the world's population but only about one hundredth of the global Internet hosts. In many of the most populous developing nations like China, Pakistan, Brazil, Bangladesh and Russia, budgets are necessarily concerned with survival, and large investments in networking infrastructure are out of the question. Yet it is vital to rationalize the networking cost-benefit evaluation process so that countries can achieve the maximum potential benefits for the lowest investment.

This paper addresses the problem in terms of measurable criteria that can be used to examine the feasibility of unit investments in networking at national, regional or local levels. Since the author is currently experiencing specific applications of this approach in twenty countries on four continents, the emphasis is on current experiences but there is a rich empirical basis for most of the ideas presented and it is also included in the paper.

The paper offers first a list of several dozen network services and recommends a classification scheme of essential, valuable, useful and marginal. This leads to a series of matrices showing a group of services with associated costs and expected outcomes. Each of these service-outcome pairs becomes a strategy set that can be used to compare approaches by nation or region. For example, Peru's national budget is characterized as being aimed at essential and valuable services only, a bare bones budget, and connectivity, relative to total population has been modest. (The matrices include difficulty factors for such problems as quality of phone lines, role of PTT's, etc.) Zambia's budget is even more stringent, aiming at essential services only. Yet Zambia's incremental, highly successful diffusion of Zamnet with emphasis more on incremental successes and one-at-a time migration to over three hundred Internet sites, seems to be a low cost/high yield model that may deserve greater attention. The proposed approach permits comparisons of this type between national policies and their results.

The second part of the paper discusses some of the empirical evidence that helps to predict the results of services like those described in the first part. By concentrating on some of the user-centered studies of network use from the journals in fields like cognitive psychology, sociology, communications and public policy, it is possible to make even sharper distinctions between implementation strategies in developing nations. These studies, like those of Shoshanna Zuboff, predict that the process of integrating networking into an organization, no matter what its focus, us far more important to ultimate success (better productivity, job satisfaction, identification with organizational goals, etc.) that the investments made in better hardware and software. Strategy is more important than structure.

The final part of the paper orationalizes the ideas presented in the context of an implementation process now going on in thirteen nations, one in South America (Chile), seven in Africa (Mali, Nigeria, Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroun,Tanzania and Uganda) and five in Asia (Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, Phillipines and Indonesia). The author has specific responsibility to establish essential network connectivity for population research centers and/or cell biology research centers in each of these countries. This furnishes an excellent opportunity to evaluate the variables as predictors of success. Results for two of the countries are already available and indicate that the provision of essential-only services at first and the use of extensive training and followup have a major role in implementation success.