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Priorities for ICT4D/WSIS Policy and Practice Beyond 2015

11 June 2014 1 comment

What should be the future priorities for ICT4D policy and practice?  And what should guide the World Summit on the Information Society process – the global node for ICT4D policy and practice – beyond 2015?

The post-2015 development agenda will be the single most-important force shaping the future of international development and, hence, the single most-important force shaping the future of ICT4D.

In previous blog entries, I have discussed: the process by which the post-2015 agenda is being created; its importance; its content; and the way in which it reflects changing trends and priorities in international development.

In this entry, I summarise the findings from a recent working paper: “ICT4D 2016: New Priorities for ICT4D Policy, Practice and WSIS in a Post-2015 World”.  This presents results from a content analysis exercise which compared the content of the post-2015 development agenda against the content of nearly 1,000 pages of ICT4D-related text gathered from WSIS+10 review and vision activities.

The basic comparison is shown in the figure below.  It provides a measure of “ICT4D gap” by plotting the extent of difference between the post-2015 text and the WSIS+10 documentation; aggregated into a set of development issues.  Issues above the line are more highly represented in ICT4D than in the post-2015 agenda; issues below the line are less highly represented.  The larger the indicator the greater the over- or under-representation.

ICT4D Gap Chart

Figure 1: Measure of “ICT4D Gap” Between ICT4D Policy/Practice and Post-2015 Agenda

 

This chart plus a whole set of other analytical data (see online paper for details) produce the ICT4D priority map shown below.  Laterally, it sorts issues in terms of their relation to development.  Mainly by type of goals – environmental, economic, social, political, or cross-cutting – but also including development mechanisms, of which ICT itself is one.

ICT4D Priorities Map

Figure 2: Map of Post-2015 ICT4D Priorities

 

Vertically, it sorts issues in terms of gap.  The higher up the diagram a topic appears, the greater the gap between its presence on the post-2015 agenda and its presence in current ICT4D policy/practice as exemplified by WSIS.  The larger the gap, the greater the need for additional attention to be paid to that topic.  Put another way: in reshaping future WSIS priorities specifically and ICT4D priorities more broadly, there is a logic in starting at the top of the figure.

Further details about the topics identified in the map can be found in the online paper.

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Restructuring ICT4D and WSIS Beyond 2015

9 June 2014 1 comment

Around the time of the MDGs, ICT4D became the focus for a critical mass of activity; a “sidestreaming” approach that saw specialist ICT4D units arise in a number of international and national organisations.  Following the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), this was largely mainstreamed with specialist units being disbanded or shrinking, and ICT4D expertise seen as diffused into the main development sectors.  There is a logic to mainstreaming – if done right – in ensuring integration of ICTs into a broad range of development goals.

But there are also many dangers of just mainstreaming, as I have previously summarised: you lose the focus for learning about ICT4D; you hide or downplay technological innovation which can be a source of motivation and hope, and a lever for change; you lose sight of the ICT sector and digital economy roles in development; you silo ICT into individual development sectors and thus miss the technology’s cross-cutting, integrative capabilities; and there is no “Development 2.0” or other vision for ICTs as a force for transformative change.

So alongside mainstreaming, there needs to be some sidestreaming: retaining and supporting specialist ICT4D units within … the UN system overall; individual UN organisations; international development agencies; national development agencies; national governments; international NGOs; etc.  But ICT4D seems to spend more time making arguments for mainstreaming than for sidestreaming: in a recent analysis of WSIS+10 documentation, mainstreaming was found to be mentioned on a fairly regular basis but the need for sidestreaming – very much present if one cared to draw it out – was only implicit.

The case for specialist concentrations of expertise will require evidence of the past benefits of, and continuing future necessity for, sidestreamed structures at all levels within development.  That should associate the value of sidestreaming just identified – learning, motivation, hope, change, ICT-based livelihoods, integration, transformation, etc – not just with the positive impacts of ICT4D but also the negative: as development becomes ever-more digital, we will require a focused effort to address ICT’s dark side.

As noted, this applies at various levels but the structuring at the level of the UN system mirrors that one would find at the level of individual countries and organisations.  Essentially you have a technology-focused structure – the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in the case of the UN; equivalent to a Ministry of ICT at national level or the IT department at organisational level.  Its future is never in doubt and it remains the bastion of sidestreaming.  But these structures have a problem: they are full of engineers with a techno-centric worldview who find it difficult to understand development language and concepts.

We can characterise the issue in terms of the ICT4D value chain.  Technical structures are good at dealing with the technical components of ‘readiness’, and the technical deliverables of ‘availability’.  But they are not so good at dealing with the non-technical elements of both stages, nor with the issues of ‘uptake’ and ‘impact’.  That would be a problem in itself but it is exacerbated because, over time and as ICT diffuses ever-further into international development, there is a shift in focus from just being concerned about readiness and availability to being equally – if not more – concerned with uptake and impact.

The solution here is that, over time, one places less emphasis on technical personnel and technology-dominated structures, and greater emphasis on ICT4D hybrids: socio-technical people and structures who combine an understanding of informatics (data, information, ICTs, information systems) with an equal understanding of development.  In theory, the UN system has this via the UN Group on the Information Society, which was set up in 2006 in the wake of WSIS 2005 to draw together those with ICT4D interests and responsibilities from across the UN system.  However, the extent to which UNGIS members are actually hybrids is unclear, and more generally, UNGIS seems to have limited power and reach in part due to its lack of independent resources.

So what of the future for ICT4D structures in the UN system?  One could argue for a hybridisation of the ITU: a broadening of its scope to turn it from a technical into a socio-technical organisation that can cover all parts of the ICT4D value chain.  But that could be self-defeating in terms of politics and impact: it could create an ICT4D silo that was isolated from development; all sidestream and no mainstream.  And it would also be impractical given the focus and interests of ITU’s membership.  Far better for ITU to stick to the readiness and availability issues that it does best – infrastructure, standards, access, bridging the digital divide – and instead to strengthen UNGIS with its own clear and independent mandate, funding, and secretariat.  It would also make sense to draw other and emergent UN actors into UNGIS, such as Global Pulse.

This would create an appropriate ICT4D structure within the UN system (see figure below) with ITU providing the broad foundation of ICT expertise, and UNGIS providing the hybrid spearhead that connects out to all of development.

ICT4D UN Structure

 Structuring ICT4D Within the UN System

 

This would also ensure one further essential aspect of ICT4D’s future within the UN system, which is the continuation of WSIS beyond 2015.

[This blog entry is a modified excerpt from the working paper: “ICT4D 2016: New Priorities for ICT4D Policy, Practice and WSIS in a Post-2015 World”.]

The Missing Vision for ICT4D and WSIS Beyond 2015

ICT4D drew attention, money and other resources at the turn of the century because it was associated with a compelling narrative.  Albeit via a variety of terms, we foresaw the creation of an information society in developing countries; delivering the e-fruits of the global North to the global South.

At present, we have no such ICT4D narrative for post-2015 development.  The technology has fragmented with ICT4D struggling to keep hold of mobile, broadband, cloud, social media, smartphones, etc.  The development goals and sectors that ICT serves are sub-fragments within economic, social, political and environmental fragments.

Having never really gone away, it is hard for ICT4D to really reinvent itself with a reinvigorated sense of what an “information society” is and why it matters.  But it should at least try.

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process – the global node for ICT4D policy and practice – is publishing materials on its “beyond 2015” vision.  But as yet these have little to offer.  There is no defined core of an information society, just a sweeping up of the many fragments in the hope they might amount to something worth pursuing.  The notion of an information society is qualified: in a number of places it must be “inclusive”; at one point it must be “people-centric, inclusive, open and development-oriented” (did someone forget to add “sustainable” to that list?).

The erosion of vision is in some ways understandable because ICT4D stood well ahead of actuality in the early 2000s, offering a clear and different future destination.  Over the years, reality in developing countries has started to catch up but WSIS has not maintained its headway: it has moved from casting visions to reflecting realities.  WSIS has also fallen victim to a path dependency that keeps it within existing tramlines: a future of the same old action lines, and a conservatism that leads to repetition of increasingly-stale incremental formulations instead of embracing transformative new thinking.  If path dependency is typical of institutionalised processes then fragmentation of core concepts is typical of multi-stakeholder processes: it is easier to keep adding phrases to please particular constituencies.  But it means “information society” resembles the mule in Buckaroo – increasingly over-laden, and with the only solution that it must throw off all of these loads and boil down to a more singular and coherent vision.

ICT4D could try to join another’s army, looking for a central role within the core narratives of post-2015 development.  But those narratives are not yet clear – perhaps sustainable development; perhaps inclusive development – and narratives of “sustainable informatics” or “inclusive informatics” might give ICTs a marginal not central role in development.  They would, nonetheless, be worth developing: the questions “where do ICTs fit into a sustainable development agenda?” and “where do ICTs fit into an inclusive development agenda?” remain unanswered.

ICT4D could try grabbing someone else’s flag, claiming the data revolution as its own, and carrying that forward at its head into post-2015 discussions.  It won’t be a comprehensive narrative, but at least it would be something that smells of fresh paint.

ICT4D might try to develop its own internal narrative.  The two candidates so far have barely sputtered, let alone caught fire.  “Development 2.0” – the ICT-enabled transformation of development processes and structures – remains a marginal concept but one worth further investment given transformative development is a third possible narrative of the post-2015 agenda alongside sustainability and inclusivity.  “Open development” has, thanks to IDRC, had more thought and work put into it and – another plus – it reaches out well beyond the technology.  But that is also its downside: it does not yet resonate as an ICT- or even informatics-related narrative; and it suffers from conflicting meanings (the World Bank’s definition of open development is narrowed to open data and its impact on transparency and accountability; IDRC’s definition is more ambitious and potentially paradigmatic).

All that can be suggested at present, then, is exploratory moves to look for an overarching narrative.  The future role and structure of ICT4D policy and practice may well depend on how far forward those moves are able to explore.

[This blog entry is a modified excerpt from the working paper: “ICT4D 2016: New Priorities for ICT4D Policy, Practice and WSIS in a Post-2015 World”.]

The Death of International Development?

I have a joke – it’s not a very good one – that in ten years’ time new staff joining my development studies department will have to don the equivalent of the Hogwarts sorting hat.  This will allocate them to either Somalia, Chad, DRC or Afghanistan, which by then will be the only developing countries left.

Sadly, this will probably be an exaggeration but there is a sense in which the development industry is succeeding, and thus steadily putting itself out of business.  Take a look at the ‘five good things’ tab by Hans Rosling at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24835822; or take a look at the changes in the DAC list of aid recipients: the number of low-income countries on the list shrank from 72 in 1997/99 to 54 in 2012/13[1].

So we have an external, objective reality of fewer developing countries over time.  We have some evidence of shrinkage within development discourse: comparing top-10 tag clouds for the MDGs vs. the post-2015 agenda, it is notable that “developing countries” no longer appears.

MDG Post-2015 Tags

And we may also have an internal, subjective reality.  There must be better data on this – please comment to supply – but I was struck by an anecdotal report from a colleague who has travelled to a number of African countries in the past few  months.  She found the young Africans she met were unwilling to accept the “developing country” label for their nations, which they saw as stigmatising.  They saw the development industry typically focusing on the negative[2], and missing out on enterprise, innovation, investment, opportunity and other related keyword identities.

In part, this data just reinforces past messages on development becoming a more intra- than inter-country phenomenon e.g. that the majority of the world’s poor live in middle-income countries, and may well continue to do so in coming decades.  So we see a decline of the national, geographic identity of development both externally and internally: perhaps a better title would have been “the death of the developing country”.  But we also see signs – in Rosling’s presentation but more generally in progress on the MDGs – of fewer individuals overall suffering at the wrong end of the socio-economic development continuum.

While much of this is contested and could be reversed, the direction of travel at present seems clear and it will have important implications.

First, for the notion of international development.  One can see this reflected in the changes from the MDGs to the post-2015 agenda, as discussed in a number of prior blog entries.  While mainstream notions of economic development and social development remain; they now sit alongside other views: sustainable development, inclusive development, open development, institutional development.  The development hegemony of the global North is also being challenged by Southern models of development.  In other words we have an increasingly pluralistic notion of development which must bring with it niches and fragmentation in the field.  In turn, these could well bring a lack of focus and lower profile for international development[3].

Second, for development studies departments[4].  Do they shrink themselves down alongside the shrinking of low-income countries?  Do they convert themselves into area studies departments?  Do they convert themselves into more cross-cutting departments that focus on global challenges: poverty, environment, inequality?  Do they embrace the intersections with business schools and expand to encompass the “emerging economy” notion?  Linked to all these possibilities is again the question of identity: how do development studies departments brand themselves externally, and think of themselves internally to match the changing development context?

 

[1] I’ll leave aside the discussion about the extent to which the development industry is the cause of the improvements Rosling and the DAC list describe.

[2] Negative external projections of Africa are, of course, a long-term concern – see, e.g., Pratt, C.B. (1980) The reportage and images of Africa in six US news and opinion magazines, Gazette, 26(1), 31-45

[3] For analysis of the loss of focus in development see, e.g., http://www.societies.cam.ac.uk/cisa/documents/Chang_Hamlet_Paper.pdf

[4] For an analysed defence of development studies against dissolution, albeit from 2003, see: http://www.eadi.org/fileadmin/WG_Documents/Reg_WG/lister.pdf

ICT4D Research Priorities from the Post-2015 Development Agenda

25 March 2014 5 comments

What should be the future priorities in researching ICT4D?

The post-2015 development agenda will be the single most-important force shaping the future of international development.  In planning our priorities for development informatics (DI) research – the academic study of ICT4D policy and practice – we should therefore pay close attention to the post-2015 agenda.

In previous blog entries, I have discussed: the process by which the post-2015 agenda is being created; its importance; its content; and the way in which it reflects changing trends and priorities in international development.

In this blog, I summarise the findings from a recent working paper: “Future Priorities for Development Informatics Research from the Post-2015 Development Agenda”.  This presents results from a content analysis exercise which compared the content of the post-2015 development agenda against the content of 116 recently-published papers researching ICT4D.

The basic comparison is shown in the figure below.  It provides a measure of research gap by plotting the extent of difference between the post-2015 text and the development informatics papers; aggregated into a set of development issues.  Issues above the line are more highly represented in DI documents than in the post-2015 agenda; issues below the line are less highly represented.  The larger the indicator the greater the over- or under-representation.

DI Research Gaps Chart

Figure 1: Measure of “Research Gap” Between Development Informatics Research and Post-2015 Agenda

 

This chart plus a whole set of other analytical data (see online paper for details) produce the development informatics research priority map shown below.  Laterally, it sorts research issues in terms of their relation to development.  Mainly by type of goals – environmental, economic, social, political, or cross-cutting – but also including mechanisms of development.

DI Research Priorities Map

Figure 2: Map of Post-2015 Development Informatics Research Priorities

 

Vertically, it sorts research issues in terms of gap.  The higher up the diagram a topic appears, the greater the gap between its presence on the post-2015 agenda and its presence in current DI research.  The larger the gap, the greater the need for additional development informatics research on this topic in future.  Put another way – if you are planning what ICT4D-related topic to research in future, there is a logic in starting your search at the top of the figure.

Further details about the topics identified in the research map can be found in the online paper.

Hot, Warm and Cooling Topics on the Post-2015 Development Agenda

12 February 2014 4 comments

The analysis presented in my previous blog entry helped understand the post-2015 development agenda.  But it was static, giving no sense of the dynamics and trends within that agenda.  Those dynamics are important to all development stakeholders: “hot” topics garner funding and attention and political support, and so can gather momentum and produce real-world impact.

So, using the MDGs as the comparison point, what topics are falling down, continuing on, and rising up the international development agenda?

A textual analysis – for details see “From the MDGs to the Post-2015 Agenda: Analysing Changing Development Priorities” – was undertaken comparing core MDG with core post-2015 documentation.  The figure below shows the results of that comparison for 25 development issues (each of which aggregates a number of separate terms).

PTDA Change

Figure 1: Averaged Issue Change in Frequency from MDG to Post-2015 Core Documentation

These can then be grouped into three types of issue and into four categories of change, as summarised in the table below.

MDG to PTDA Change Development Goals Development Mechanisms Development Perspectives
Diminution – MDG 8 with ICTs/Digital

– Manufacturing

– Insecurity

– Traditional Development Finance

– Development Strategy

Continuity – Wellbeing 

– Infrastructure

– Urban Development

– Institutional Development

– MDGs 1-6

– Informatics
Some Expansion – Rural/Agricultural Development

– Services

– Livelihoods

– Growth and Jobs

– Rights and Justice

– New Development Finance

– Technovation inc. Data and Mobile

– Complex Adaptive Systems
Significant Expansion – Open Development

– Inclusive Development

– Migration

– Environment and Sustainability

– Development Projects

– New Stakeholders

Table 1: Summarising Changes in Development Issues from MDGs to Post-2015 Agenda

A blog is not the place for lengthy explanations: if you’d like to understand what each of these issues represents, then refer to the working paper.

Instead, I’ll comment on the bigger picture of change.  The post-2015 agenda represent a richer, more multi-faceted view of development.  This reflects the breadth of consultation behind post-2015; criticisms of what the MDGs missed out; and the ongoing complexification of development.

Other context also matters.  In relative terms, the MDGs were written at a time of stable politics and growing economies.  The post-2015 agenda is being created within a world suffering an ongoing series of economic, environmental and socio-political shocks.

So some of the agenda dynamics reflects real-world change – aid is no longer as important as it was; there has been some decline in war and conflict; services have grown relative to manufacturing; migration and mobile use are rising; the private sector has an ever-larger role in developing countries.  Some of the agenda trajectory reflects a mix of real-world change and the moving political spotlight: growth, jobs, inclusion and inequality are rising because of new evidence and a new economic context, but also because political insecurities have made them more salient.  Climate change and sustainability also fall into this category, though the political impetus to address them remains distributed and volatile.

And some trends seem to fall more into the realm of fads and fashions.  There are long-burn issues that have taken a while to arrive at the centre of development debate: livelihoods, capabilities, rights, justice and systems are all candidates here.  Others are more cyclical – development projects and management, science and technology were central to development debate from the mid-20th century, then faded, and are only just returning.  Indeed, for these and other issues, we might invoke the Gartner hype cycle (see Figure 2).  ICTs, for instance, are much more important to life in 2014 than 1999 but are only just recovering from their over-hyped peak at the turn of the century.  Resilience and other recent arrivals on the development agenda may follow a similar path (see Dave Algoso’s analysis for more on this.)

Gartner Hype Cycle

Figure 2: The Hype Cycle

We can try to reach into the data to find the changing narratives of development.  One – which we can associate with the fastest-rising terms including sustainability, resilience and uncertainty – is that development in 2000 was about moving forwards.  Development in 2015 will be about that, but will also be about not slipping backwards.  With disability, inclusion/exclusion, partnership and stakeholders as other fastest-rising terms, we can also see a changing narrative from “development for many” to “development for all”.

In turn, the events and changing priorities of the 2000s could be seen as a(nother) challenge to the neo-liberal model that has been the dominant development paradigm.  Perhaps we have finally reached a point of inflection for that model in which the weight of its associated externalities give rise to some alternative.  Of course claims of such a point are arguably continuous from Marx onwards, and the MDGs themselves – while not really challenging the neo-liberal model – spoke as much from the human development paradigm as any other.

There is certainly an expressed desire to move from an incremental to a more transformative notion of development: that is a core leitmotif of the High-Level Panel report but it appears throughout the post-2015 discussions.  In practice, the aspiration for transformation sometimes means more of the same but if there is a paradigmatic transition, it is most likely to be to a sustainable development worldview.  How much political traction this will have with Western governments still likely to see themselves as fragile and emerging from recession during 2014 and 2015 remains to be seen.

There is additionally the sense that opposition to neo-liberalism is somewhat divided.  The post-2015 documents echo other development worldviews that could be transformational if they were the centrepiece for the future of development but which currently sit as one ingredient of the mix: inclusive development, rights-based development, perhaps even open development if it were able to deliver a well-grounded and broad narrative.

Returning to a main theme, above all, the post-2015 agenda – like the MDGs – reflects the world in which it is being created.  A world of growing climate change and growing inequality, of increasing global flows of capital and labour, of increasing complexity and connectivity in which a rising number of stakeholders want their voice to be heard and their views taken into account.  So alongside paradigms like sustainable, inclusive and open development will need to be a worldview that accepts development as a complex adaptive system, and seeks ways to manage that emerging reality.

Analysing the Post-2015 Development Agenda

30 January 2014 3 comments

In two earlier posts, I outlined the current process of creating the post-2015 development agenda, and analysed how important it will be to development practice and research.

But what will that agenda be?  The best guide at present appears to be four key documents that emerge from the totality of post-2015 activity as previously summarised:

  • The foundational “Realizing the Future We Want for All” document and its update “A Renewed Global Partnership for Development”: these are the products in 2012 and 2013 respectively of the UN System Task Team; the core of the post-2015 process.
  • As part of that process a High-Level Panel was set up based around the leaders of the UK, Indonesia and Liberia, which produced a report, “A New Global Partnership” in mid-2013.
  • The Open Working Group, and High-Level Political Forum, and Expert Committee associated with Rio+20 and the Sustainable Development Goals are all in mid-process, so the best guide as yet is the outcome of the Rio+20 conference; a UN General Assembly resolution of 2012 entitled, “The Future We Want”.

Textual analysis of these documents was undertaken.  A simple approach to this was the creation of tag clouds: the cloud for the combined post-2015 documentation is in the figure below.

PTDA TagCloud

Tag Cloud for Combined Core Post-2015 Documentation

 A more detailed analysis was then undertaken via word counts within the documentation.  In all, roughly 200 terms were analysed.  The term list was developed via:

a)   selection from the top 500 words counted in the document using Wordle, which also produced the tag cloud; eliminating all non-discriminatory terms (both simple terms like “and”, “the”, “of”, etc, but also those which relate to development but do not provide any particular guide to a development agenda such as “development”, “developing”, “countries”, etc), plus

b)   similar selection from the top 500 words within the MDG documentation (see future posts), and

c)   cross-checking with terms used in a set of other current development reports and journal paper titles.

The frequency of all terms was normed to a mean count per 10,000 words.

All meaningful terms which appeared more than 10 times per 10,000 words (i.e. with a frequency of more than 0.1% of the text) are shown in the table below.

Term

Freq. per

10,000 Words

Term

Freq. per

10,000 Words

Term

Freq. per

10,000 Words

Sustainab*

94.6

Women

19.9

Water

14.8

System*

38.2

Implementation

19.5

(In)equalit*

14.0

Partnership

36.1

Food

18.7

Security

14.0

Environment*

33.9

Education

18.6

Communit*

13.5

Social

31.5

Rights

18.2

Trade

13.3

Economic

31.2

Growth

17.6

Particip*

13.1

Finan*

29.3

Energy

17.5

Business

12.5

Poverty

28.8

State/States

17.5

Local

12.3

Policy/Policies

23.7

Public

17.1

Income

11.7

Health

21.3

Inclusi*

17.0

Transform*

11.7

Technol*

21.2

Accountab*

16.7

Job

11.5

Government

21.1

Process*

16.1

Information

11.0

Cooperation

15.7

Private

10.8

Child

15.5

Agric*

10.6

Institution

15.5

Impact

10.6

Most Frequent Development Terms in Post-2015 Documentation

 Detailed discussion of the dynamics of the post-2015 development agenda will be undertaken in a future post.  Here, I note the following ten conclusions:

  1. The importance of sustainable development as a core model, of course arising particularly because of the presence of the Rio+20 track within the post-2015 process; with some recognition of the role of inclusive development.
  2. Poverty and environment being the two most important individual development issues on the agenda.
  3. Perhaps, a reasonable parity between three of the main domains of development: environmental, social, and economic.  But a question mark over the place for political development: “politic*” scores just 8.3 and so does not appear; but “govern*” would score 31.2.
  4. A strong presence for items related to MDGs 1 to 6: e.g. poverty, health, women, food, education.
  5. A strong recognition of the importance of technology within development.
  6. A strong presence for what one might term the mechanisms or processes of development: the need for partnerships and cooperation and participation, the role of policies, but also of processes and implementation and impact.
  7. Despite moves towards a more multi-stakeholder perspective on development and the presence of business and communities; still a dominant role for the state in its various guises: state, government, public sector.
  8. Some sense of a systems perspective on development.
  9. Maslow’s shade – or at least the importance of basic needs – stands over the agenda given the presence of poverty, health, food, energy, water, security.
  10. The recognised importance of data (just outside the list at 9.2) and information as the foundation for decision-making and action in development.

Readers are encouraged to make their own analysis of the findings presented in the table, and to draw any other big picture conclusions.

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