UNRISD Research and Policy Brief 2: Social Development and the "Information Revolution"


There is widespread talk of an \"information revolution\". For many, this has gone beyond the idea of radical change in technological processes, to the notion of the \"information society\" or, even, of new historical cycles. At the same time, glaring differences in the use of information and communication technology (ICT) between industrialized and developing countries have led to talk of a \"digital divide\". This concept implies that relative lack of access to ICT is itself a strategic disadvantage that can -and should- be tackled distinctly from the multitude of other development challenges. Whether an information revolution is taking place; if and how it is distinct from other processes of change, such as globalization; and its implications for public policy are all subjects of passionate debate.

If an information revolution is indeed under way, it will be evidenced by profound changes in social and economic relations. In order to examine the evidence in a specific setting, UNRISD formed a multidisciplinary team in Senegal to research the impact of ICT on multiple aspects of life there. The findings of this research improve our understanding of ICT-driven change in one society, and reveal the potential social implications of policy choices that may be relevant for other countries.

Senegal was chosen for a number of reasons. On one hand, it is a low-income country, struggling to emerge from deep economic crisis. Open urban unemployment stands at approximately 29 per cent. One third of the population is poor or very poor. There has been substantial external migration over recent decades. On the other hand, it has invested heavily in one of the most advanced telecommunications and information infrastructures in sub-Saharan Africa. It has policies aimed at promoting mass access to telephone and Internet technologies. Changes in government control over the media in recent years have created important new openings for independent radio and television. What does this mean for development? What role can ICT play -and what role is it in fact playing- in improving the climate for economic growth, social welfare and democracy?

Briefing available in english, french and spanish.


United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Geneva, Switzerland, ISSN 1811-0142, 4 pp.

Published 1 January 2004