On 14 December 2021, INCLUDE held a first progress meeting for the research programme on digitalisation and basic services in Africa. Representatives from all five case study teams presented the work they have done so far, and we discussed common challenges and solutions to conducting research on this topic.
Here we share the latest updates from the programme.
All 5 teams have made impressive progress with their case studies, in terms of analysing literature, gathering data and connecting with key informants in the political and technical space. All the researchers chose to move chronologically through the study, first grappling with the context around digitalisation – the political context (transparency, stakeholders, data protection and rights) as well as the enabling environment (physical infrastructure, digital skills, regulation) – before undertaking the mapping of interventions and the inclusion analyses.
In some of the countries studied (e.g. Benin), digital basic services are relatively new, while others (e.g. Ghana) have a long history of digital government interventions. We are yet to see how this impacts the inclusivity of these services, for example, the ability to start from scratch at building a digitalised government system with less embedded constraints, versus the ability to build on what is already there and expand to reach the poorest and most vulnerable. Despite the differences between countries, there are some common findings emerging, in particular common barriers that prevent populations from accessing and using digital basic services. These include low internet penetration in rural areas, device ownership, and digital skills, among others.
There have also been some challenges experienced in the research process itself – acquiring licences to conduct surveys, the cost of buying data and article subscriptions (especially articles by private telecoms companies), missing or incomplete data, and the challenges related to COVID-19, such as restrictions on travel for fieldwork and contacting people and building networks online. Despite these obstacles, all 5 research teams have been able to collect sufficient data. The next steps will be to map digital service interventions in each country and select a few to analyse in more detail and draw lessons and best practices for scaling and inclusion. Stay tuned on this website for more updates!