Will the Regional Digital Development Strategy take us where we need to be?

The Regional ICT for Development Strategy has been developed by CARICOM, but is still in draft form. This post outlines some of the key features of the draft strategy, and draws attention to some deficiencies that have been identified.

In July 2009, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government directed the CARICOM Secretariat to facilitate the development of a five-year strategic plan that would “consolidate and guide activities towards ICT development in the region”. The result of the Secretariat’s efforts is the draft Regional Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Development Strategy, which is also known as the Regional Digital Development Strategy (RDds).

In preparing this strategy, the drafters considered a broad range of issues, such as green ICT, e-health, innovation and entrepreneurship, and examined several national, regional and international plans and initiatives that spoke directly and indirectly to ICT development. Consultations were also held in a cross-section of member countries – Barbados, Belize, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Saint Lucia, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago – along with regional organisations. The country participants in the consultations were primarily from the public sector: private sector representation was limited.

Basic framework

Nevertheless, the resulting strategy aims to establish a coordinated regional approach for improving ICT in the region and for building a “sustainable knowledge society in the shortest possible time”. The following mission, vision and objectives guide the proposed regional strategy:

Vision

An inclusive Regional Knowledge Society, driving sustainable development.

Mission

Use ICT and other appropriate technologies to leverage and deepen the Region’s cultural resources, through high-speed ICT networks and trained human resources, and within good governance and sound operating partnership networks; in order to add social and economic value, for the benefit of the Region.

Broad Regional Strategic Objectives

  1. To fully establish modern regional regulatory and open telecommunications infrastructures with affordable networks using converged technologies, to provide affordable and ubiquitous access.
  2. Build a digital Community culture and increase the value and volume of the regions trained ICT workforce that can create with, develop and use ICT to improve life style and otherwise add personal and economic value.
  3. To manage and use ICT to demonstrate good governance and increase efficiency in operations.
  4. To establish a culture of innovation and quality, and to enable sustainable production of Regional digital goods and services, the development of cultural industries and the inclusion of local content in delivery of information.
  5. To guide businesses and governments to use ICT for sustainable growth and support social development objectives through partnerships that use networked technologies.

Challenges and concerns about RDds

As drafted, the RDds is a commendable undertaking: it provides some overarching direction to ICT development in the region. It also considers some key areas that must be addressed in order to promote sustainable knowledge societies.

Although the strategy sets out six regional goals that should be achieved by 2015, the RDds is deliberately vague in the approach that will be employed to realize those goals. Bearing in mind that we have about 41/2 years until the end of 2015, establishing comprehensive and coherent strategies might have been the better approach, since tangible progress indicators have been set.

Further, with a strategy comprising high-level concepts and little on implementation, issues critical to the successful realisation of the RDds have not discussed. For example, matters related to investment are not considered, although as developing countries and in these economic times, most governments are strapped for cash. Moreover, as sovereign states, each CARICOM member country will presumably be responsible for executing activities within its jurisdiction. Hence, CARICOM, as a key coordinating body within the region and through the RDds, had an invaluable opportunity to highlight challenges that might exist, and to suggest alternatives.

Secondly, the RDds emphasises the importance of governance, and proposes that “a formal Regional Partnership of Agencies with core interests” be established for some of the strategic objectives. Through the strategy, attention will also be given to the policy, legal and regulatory frameworks that are considered necessary to support this paradigm. However, there is no mention of improving the region’s participation and representation at international meetings on Internet Governance (IG).

It is currently a known concern that the English-speaking Caribbean is not well represented at the IG meetings that are occurring, but more importantly, clear positions on the issues are not being expressed. Although it is important to ensure that the requisite internal frameworks are established, the region does not exist in a vacuum. It is therefore vital that we are aware of the issues that are being debated in regional and international fora; that we determine where our interests should lie; and that we ensure our positions are heard, and hopefully considered.

In summary, the RDds appears to have played it safe. CARICOM did not present ambitious digital development goals for the region, and to some degree, seemed to have limited itself to the national and regional development plans already established by other agencies. As a result, and evidenced by the vague nature of the document, it might be difficult ascertain how or the extent to which CARICOM contributed to the state of digital development in the Caribbean, some time in the future.

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