e-Inclusion by improving government service delivery and exploring the potential for “big data” for answering development questions

The research comprises a main module that addresses the problem of exclusion of those at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP) from the full potential of emerging electronic networks, by seeking to understand how best more services and applications of relevance to BOP users can be offered by government (primarily) and private sector providers (secondarily) . Multiple research methods that approach the supplier-user relationship will be used, including analysis of “big data” streams from two mobile operators, who have given consent for the use of their data.

The principal commonalty of the main module with the second module, big data to answer development questions, is the use of big data. Since obtaining access to this source of data is quite difficult, its use for two different purposes was negotiated, one that is of significant interest to the operators in terms of improving their customer relations and the other that has greater significance for those addressing development questions. Given that this type of transaction-generated information is often the only set of big data that has substantial coverage of the behaviors of those at the BOP, it is important that we demonstrate its use in a broad way. Hence a related objective of the second module is to create a framework for the facilitation of future access to mobile network big data, which includes an examination of privacy issues and the development of self-regulatory guidelines on the use of big data.

Much current thinking on inclusion/exclusion assumes an almost ubiquitous electronic connectivity, albeit anchored on voice. Myanmar, a country of approximately 50 million people, has the lowest mobile penetration in the world. Under the third module, we seek to work with stakeholders on adopting policies and regulatory practices appropriate for the local circumstances. This is centrally concerned with inclusion/exclusion through the particular form of the problem being addressed differs from that being addressed in the main module which looks at exclusion from more-than-voice services and applications. In the case of Myanmar exclusion is from e-connectivity itself since today only one person in 100 has access to a phone. It also exemplifies a key element of LIRNEasia’s research-to-policy approach, that of responding quickly to policy windows.

In the bad old days, it was said that half the world was waiting for a phone connection and the other half was waiting for dial tone. If timely, evidence-based policy actions are not taken the new aphorism could be that half the world is waiting for broadband and the other half is waiting for a file to load. The signs of a data tsunami driven by increased smartphone use and applications are already here. Developing countries at the ends of inadequately provisioned and/or competitive backhaul networks are already experiencing degraded broadband performance. It is likely that the BOP will bear the brunt of the resulting forms of exclusion. The fourth module seeks to maintain engagement with policy activity on broadband quality and backhaul through the continuation of work commenced in 2008.