World Bank Report: “Digital technologies have spread rapidly in much of the world. Digital dividends—the broader development benefits from using these technologies—have lagged behind. In many instances digital technologies have boosted growth, expanded opportunities, and improved service delivery. Yet their aggregate impact has fallen short and is unevenly distributed. For digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere requires closing the remaining digital divide, especially in internet access. But greater digital adoption will not be enough. To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on the “analog complements”—by strengthening regulations that ensure competition among businesses, by adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy, and by ensuring that institutions are accountable…..
Engendering control: The gap between institutions and technology The internet was expected to usher in a new era of accountability and political empowerment, with citizens participating in policy making and forming self-organized virtual communities to hold government to account. These hopes have been largely unmet. While the internet has made many government functions more efficient and convenient, it has generally had limited impact on the most protracted problems—how to improve service provider accountability (principal-agent problems) and how to broaden public involvement and give greater voice to the poor and disadvantaged (collective action problems).
Whether citizens can successfully use the internet to raise the accountability of service providers depends on the context. Most important is the strength of existing accountability relationships between policy makers and providers, as discussed in the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People. An examination of seventeen digital engagement initiatives for this Report finds that of nine cases in which citizen engagement involved a partnership between civil society organizations (CSOs) and government, three were successful (table O.2). Of eight cases that did not involve a partnership, most failed. This suggests that, although collaboration with government is not a sufficient condition for success, it may well be a necessary one.
Another ingredient for success is effective offline mobilization, particularly because citizen uptake of the digital channels was low in most of the cases. For example, Maji Matone, which facilitates SMS-based feedback about rural water supply problems in Tanzania, received only 53 SMS messages during its first six months of operation, far less than the initial target of 3,000, and was then abandoned. Political participation and engagement of the poor has remained rare, while in many countries the internet has disproportionately benefited political elites and increased the governments’ capacity to influence social and political discourse. Digital technologies have sometimes increased voting overall, but this has not necessarily resulted in more informed or more representative voting. In the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, online voting increased voter turnout by 8 percentage points, but online voters were disproportionately wealthier and more educated (fi gure O.19). Even in developed countries, engaging citizens continues to be a challenge. Only a small, unrepresentative subset of the population participates, and it is often difficult to sustain citizen engagement. There is no agreement among social scientists on whether the internet disproportionately empowers citizens or political elites, whether it increases polarization, or whether it deepens or weakens social capital, in some cases even facilitating organized violence. The use of technology in governments tends to be successful when it addresses fairly straightforward information and monitoring problems. For more demanding challenges, such as better management of providers or giving citizens
There is no agreement among social scientists on whether the internet disproportionately empowers citizens or political elites, whether it increases polarization, or whether it deepens or weakens social capital, in some cases even facilitating organized violence. The use of technology in governments tends to be successful when it addresses fairly straightforward information and monitoring problems. For more demanding challenges, such as better management of providers or giving citizens greater voice, technology helps only when governments are already responsive. The internet will thus often reinforce rather than replace existing accountability relationships between governments and citizens, including giving governments more capacity for surveillance and control (box O.6). Closing the gap between changing technology and unchanging institutions will require initiatives that strengthen the transparency and accountability of governments….(More)”