Development Implications Of Digital Economies (DIODE) Research Network

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Environment, Education and Development

Abstract

As digital technologies - the internet, web, mobile phones, social networks, 3D printers, etc - spread around the world, both work and business are changing via creation of digital economies.

There has already been impact in developing countries: thousands of digital startups, millions working in the ICT sector, millions more undertaking online work for platforms like Upwork. And the potential is even greater: hundreds of millions could access online work platforms, digital businesses like Uber and Airbnb are spreading rapidly, demand for digital enterprises is high, 3D-printing could level the manufacturing playing field, etc. But problems are also arising: most digital startups and digital careers fail; most citizens are unable to participate in digital economies; the benefits of digital work and trade seem to flow more to big corporations in the global North than to workers, enterprises or governments in the global South.

The speed of change means much of this is happening in a knowledge vacuum. Researchers are playing catch-up to try to understand these new trends in the global North, but very little research on digital economies looks at developing countries or is done by researchers in those countries. As a result, there are four knowledge gaps about digital economies in the global South. We don't know:
- what's going on and where;
- the development impact e.g. whether digital economies are increasing or reducing inequalities;
- what governments, NGOs and businesses should be doing to create an effective "digital ecosystem" that works for the benefit of all.
And as researchers we are not sure what concepts and methods to apply.

The "Development Implications of Digital Economies" (DIODE) Strategic Network aims to help fill these knowledge gaps. It has three main objectives:
- To assess the current state-of-play and identify a future research agenda around the four knowledge gaps above.
- To create a research network with the capacities to implement this research agenda on digital economies and development.
- To develop specific research proposals that address identified research priorities.

The network consists of senior and junior researchers from the UK, developing countries and other locations around the world who - along with those working in digital economy policy and practice - will work together to fulfil these objectives. Following initial synthesis studies to understand the current state-of-play, we will meet in four workshops - two in developing countries, two in the UK - each of which will address particular knowledge gaps through presentations and working group sessions.

Alongside the network itself, by the end we will have produced a final report that provides a future research agenda; a strategy brief to guide those involved in digital economy policy/practice; and a set of research proposals that can put the agenda into practice.

Initially, the main beneficiaries will be network members: we will have a far better understanding of what to research next and how to research it, with stronger capacity to undertake this work, and dense contacts to ensure our research is relevant to policy and practice. We will have created research capacity within and between developing countries, so that work on this important and growing phenomenon can be driven from and undertaken in those countries.

GCRF and other researchers - especially in developing countries - will benefit from having a clear sense of research priorities and tools, but also from understanding how important digital economies are becoming in the global South. Digital economy policy-makers, entrepreneurs, worker organisations and other practitioners will understand what good-practice actions to take.

Through that policy/practice connection, and through the outputs from later implementing our research agenda, we will make a difference to development: helping ensure digital economies work to deliver development goals.

Planned Impact

DIODE's knowledge development will impact a wide range of stakeholders in addition to GCRF and the academics who are core network members, associates, and in the wider contact network of members and associates:

1. UN system organisations: those within the UN Group on the Information Society and other WSIS actors will benefit from better understanding the role digital economies play in development, helping improve their policy and programme interventions. Agreed network collaboration includes UNCTAD and ILO, and Co-Is have ongoing links with ITU, UNDP, UN-ESCWA and others.

2. International development agencies: will similarly benefit from better understanding the role digital economies play in development, helping improve their policy and programme interventions including investments. Agreed network collaboration includes the World Bank and IDRC as Project Partners plus DFID and GIZ, and Co-Is have ongoing links with other European and North American donors.

3. National government agencies: are seeking guidance on most-effective digital economy policies, and will benefit from the Strategy Brief and policy-maker presentations/papers/etc that form part of WP2 (details in Case for Support). Agreed network collaboration includes government officials or advisors in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Azerbaijan, Egypt and Ghana, and there are much broader links enabled by Project Partners and UN and international agency collaborators, and via Advisory Board representation of the OECD and World Economic Forum.

4. Private sector organisations: will benefit from more effective digital strategies, and better understanding of the links between digital business and development outcomes; via the Strategy Brief and practitioner presentations/papers/etc that form part of WP2. Agreed network collaborations include Xerox Research, Microsoft Research, Digital Divide Data, Auxenta, Infocom, Invotech and Caribou Digital; and representative organisations include GSMA (the global mobile operators association), International Chambers of Commerce, World IT and Service Alliance (WITSA) and International Federation of ICT Industry Associations of Latin America (ALETI).

5. Social enterprise: including digital enterprise hubs in the global South will benefit from more effective enterprise growth and support strategies via the Strategy Brief and practitioner presentations/papers/etc that form part of WP2. Agreed network collaboration includes iHub Kenya, Impact Hub Accra, and Mastercard Foundation.

6. Civil society/advocacy groups: will benefit from enhanced understanding of policy measures to advocate, and of institutional interventions that promote digital entrepreneurship and fair digital livelihoods. Agreed DIODE collaboration includes IT for Change and IG Metall.

7. PhD and early-career researchers: those researching digital-economy-and-development topics will benefit from research priority guidance, and exposure to cutting-edge conceptual and methodological approaches; via network outputs, and supervision by network members.

8. Students within development studies, informatics, ICT4D and other disciplines will benefit from revised teaching materials of network members and associates that incorporate DIODE outputs.

Most of these groups will also benefit from policy/practice recommendations flowing from a) the digital economy research being undertaken by Co-Is, Core Researchers and Network Associates during 2017-18 (see CVs for list), which will be reported at DIODE events and then published; and b) the subsequent research projects flowing out of DIODE from 2018 including its specific research proposals.
 
Description "Development Implications of Digital Economies" (DIODE) is a strategic research network and thus did not fund any direct research. The network has three main achievements:

a) Research Capacity-Building: the workshops and other activities of DIODE have created a true network of researchers, forming social capital via direct personal relations and the formation of the network's four research groups on Digital Labour, Digital Platforms, Digital Enterprise, and Digital Policy. Knowledge-building has occurred in terms of research contacts in global North and South, of research ideas and priorities, and of research funding and publication channels. Direct capacity-building, particularly of developing country researchers at earlier or less-developed career stages, has occurred through research masterclasses, group and individual feedback to help develop initial research ideas, participation in research proposal development, and support for research publication including direct mentoring of specific publications, and iterative provision of feedback on draft publications.

b) Research Agenda Creation: the workshops and commissioned papers of the DIODE network had a continual focus on formation of a future research agenda on digital economies and developing countries. These have been synthesised in the network's publication, "Digital Economies and Development: A Research Agenda" which identifies research priorities relating to six sub-topics: Digital inequality, Digital labour, Digital platforms, Digital enterprise, Digital policy, and Digital economy theory and methods.

c) Research Proposals: all of the DIODE network workshops included sub-workshops focused on the formation and development of research proposals. The "flagship" proposal emergent from this brought together two ESRC GCRF-funded networks: DIODE and "Digital Development" for an £18m GCRF Hub bid, "Pro-Equity Innovations in Digital Development". In addition and to date, multi-DIODE-member proposals worth c.£1.5m and single-DIODE-member proposals worth c.£350,000 on digital economies and developing countries have been submitted.
Exploitation Route The "Development Implications of Digital Economies" (DIODE) strategic research network has created four research groupings and sub-agendas - digital labour, digital enterprise, digital platforms, digital policy - which are empowered to take forward their work into funding proposals. The research work of the network will specifically be taken forward via the successful research proposals of group members which, to date, include projects on digital labour in South Africa; digital platform policy in Asia, Africa and Latin America; transport platforms in India; and digital economy actors in Indonesia.

The DIODE network's policy guidance - strategy brief, working paper, case example - has been widely disseminated, including dissemination to and through the network's own policy-maker members and international organisation members. This guidance will shape digital economy policy in future years.

Finally, the DIODE network itself is continuing in operation after the end of ESRC funding through continuation of its website, blog, sharing of publications, and collaboration on future research proposals.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

URL https://diode.network/
 
Description The main focus of the DIODE network was not non-academic impact but the formation of the network, the identification of a future research agenda, and the creation of multi-stakeholder research proposals; all of which are described elsewhere. The network has produced a number of practice-/policy-oriented outputs including a Strategy Brief on digital economy policy in developing countries; more detailed digital economy policy guidance and case study; guidance on scoping and measurement of the digital economy; and policy-/practice-focused blog entries. Given these are open access, tracking their usage is not possible, though citation evidence points to use already in policy-related outputs. Within the network, illustrative examples of impact include: - Guiding Caribou Digital's programmatic intervention on use of platforms to create inclusive markets in the global South. - Policy documents were used to provide a complete overview in the preparation of strategy and the measurements methodology policy for the 2019-2022 Vision strategy of the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and IT, and in the formation of the Ministry's new projects/initiative for the implementation of its eCommerce Strategy. - Use of materials to guide Microsoft's future of work agenda, briefings and events. Further non-academic impact will emerge "downstream" from the research projects catalysed by the network; for example, shaping digital policy in developing countries through the IDRC-funded "Policy frameworks for digital platforms" project; and changing pay and conditions for platform workers in South Africa through the ESRC-funded "Fairwork in the Platform Economy in the Global South" project.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description ESRC GCRF New Models of Sustainable Development
Amount £688,545 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/S00081X/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 02/2021
 
Description Policy frameworks for digital platforms
Amount $170,000 (CAD)
Organisation International Development Research Centre 
Sector Public
Country Canada
Start 10/2017 
End 01/2019
 
Description ILO Network on the Future of Work 
Organisation International Labour Organization (ILO)
Country Switzerland 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Contributing publications on the future of work, and co-development of research proposals.
Collaborator Contribution Contributing publications on the future of work, and co-development of research proposals.
Impact Collaboration on GCRF "decent work" research bid
Start Year 2017
 
Description "Development Implications of Digital Economies: Mapping and Issues" workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Workshop of digital economy presentations; masterclass on researching digital economies in developing countries, which reviewed good practice in digital economies research; discussion workshop on the research agenda and research priorities on digital economies in developing countries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://diode.network/events/indonesia-workshop/
 
Description "Development Implications of Digital Economies: Theory and Methods" workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Masterclass for early-career and PhD researchers working on digital and development; activity workshop that established key theory, methods and methodology issues in researching the digital economy in developing countries; workshop of presentations on digital economy theory and methods.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://diode.network/events/cape-town-workshop/
 
Description "Development Implications of Digital Economies: Findings and Next Steps" workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentations on digital economy policy and practice; panel discussion and then activity workshop on the research agenda and research priorities on digital economies in developing countries
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://diode.network/events/manchester-workshop/
 
Description "Development Implications of Digital Economies: Policy and Practice" workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentations on digital economy policy and practice; activity workshop on the research agenda and research priorities on digital economies in developing countries; activity workshop that established key digital-economy-and-development policy and practice issue
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://diode.network/events/oxford-workshop/
 
Description DIODE Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact DIODE network blog summarising key research ideas and outputs from network members
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
URL https://diode.network/blog/