Friday, 14 October 2011

Early headlines from research on policy makers and ICTs: "persistent and curious enquirers" (with smartphones)

By Simon Batchelor

Just to keep you up to date on the country studies that I mentioned in my first blog….(in which I spoke about research we were conducting on policy makers and their use of ICTs).... a lot of data is in. Some countries found it easier to get interviews with senior policy makers than others, so some countries have still to deliver their full quota.

However we have now begun analysis and we begin to find some interesting headlines. As I write, my colleagues Jon Gregson and Manu Tyagi are presenting some headlines back to a portion of the intermediary sector in India and Nepal, and Chris Barnett presented last week in Ghana.  I would like to acknowledge the work of our partners ODC Inc in Nepal, and Delink Services  in Ghana.

So what are some of those headlines?

We will upload the slideshare soon, but in brief here are some of the things that attracted my attention:-

Policy actors have access to ICT, and a considerable number of them have smartphones, and to my mind more importantly, know how to use them!

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Of course they almost all have access to computers and the internet, and cellphones.  But Ghana 52%, Nepal 49% and North India 35% of the samples have smartphones.  In Ghana 25% had more than one smartphone!  And of those that have a smartphone, almost all in Ghana and Nepal have explored sending emails, surfing in the internet on the phone, recording a video and instant messaging.  Only in North India did it seem that there were a significant portion of people who had a smartphone and yet did not explore these ‘features’ (about 50%).

What does this mean to us in the intermediary sector? It suggests that if you are developing an app to push research into the policy environment, then the baseline of smartphone use is there.

Policy actors are surfing the internet themselves – the idea that policy makers wait for an assistant to brief them seems to be diminishing.  

In all three countries, the majority of policy makers agreed with statements surrounding their own use of ICT and surfing the internet.  They described themselves as ‘a "persistent and curious" enquirer’ and noted that they ‘often "discover" other relevant information when searching’ (Phrases used by the PEW Internet studies in USA).  They also agreed to a lesser extent with ‘I tend to get my briefings face to face officially, in meetings’.  In Ghana, where there was a significant portion of private sector executives, there were a significant number who actually disagreed with the idea that they got their information from ‘official briefings’.

What does this mean to us in the intermediary sector? It suggests that policy actors are looking for information themselves, and, I presume, therefore need to find it easily, in an accessible form, and I guess, quickly.  

Yes, I know that searching for information online is evolving, and that social networks now tend to push information within the network.  This changes the way those of us who are well connected get our information.  We did investigate whether the policy actors are connected to social media networks and to some extent looked at their searching behaviours, but we are not there yet in the analysis to be able to comment on it.  Watch this space.

Policy actors do have an appetite for research – or at least they say they do 

There was a consistent strong agreement with the need for facts and figures, and that these need to be up to date.  We explored what information they were actually looking for and we looked at whether they trust the sources and channels for the information.  Again, these details will come out as the analysis proceeds.  However there was an interesting difference between the three countries.  In India there is a strong trust for ‘local research’ (as opposed to international research), however in Ghana  and Nepal they rate international research much higher than local research.
What does this mean to us in the intermediary sector ? In our MK4D programme, we are working on the idea that local intermediaries understand the context of research and policy in their location, and therefore have a strong ground with which to communicate research to policy makers. However, we also work with the idea of ‘co-construction’ working alongside and with our colleagues in the South.   If ‘local research’ is trusted less by policy actors, then that would seem to endorse the approach of co-construction – where local and international bodies work together to provide quality insights.   It also suggests that our programme to support the exposure of research published in the South onto the global internet is heading in the right direction.

Anyway, those are some insights from the first week of analysis.  More to come.