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Information and communication technology in international policy discussions

The objective of this report is to describe and analyse policy debates on information and communication technology (ICT) in Norwegian and international policy milieus. While there are many directions from which such debates could be analysed, we approach the issue in terms of basic policy concepts, by considering how policymakers see the economic and social significance of information- and communication technology, and how they see their own role in relation to information- and communication technology. In doing this, we try to go beyond superficial observations and the generally speculative ideas which are often presented as a rationale for ICT policy. We seek to come to grips with underlying issues, by focussing on the ways in which information- and communication technology is conceptualised, and the background assumptions which policymakers are adopting at the present time when discussing this technology.Against this background, we seek to evaluate the quality of the documentation, information and analysis which is available for and used by policy makers in international institutions, such as the EU and the OECD, and in policy milieus in the USA. In terms of theoretical perspectives, there are two particular themes that we will be interested in the course of the subsequent analysis. They are (i) technological determinism and (ii) innovation systems. (i) A longstanding feature of ICT policy debates has been to place the effects and impact of new technology in the foreground, while the mechanisms that generate new technology, and the selection processes which decide between technological alternatives and development directions, have been more or less ignored. In much discussion of ICT, technical change itself has been taken for granted, as if changes are presented to society, rather than being a product of social actions among members of society. An important emerging development in the ICT debate is that there is now some awareness that technology development in itself is a social product and an expression of social factors and policy strategies. (ii) The second theme we deal with is closely related to the previous one. It concerns the fact that innovation happens in a social context, and that innovation presupposes that many agents take part in an interactive process, where something new is created. Policy rhetoric in the post-war period has to a large degree been built around ‘linear’ concepts of innovation. Arguments seem to presuppose that pure scientific research is the ultimate engine of change, and that innovation in the market is mere exploitation of ready-made novelties presented to the economic agents by scientists. Recent analyses of innovation, however, tell us that innovation is primarily an interactive process, both inside firms, and between firms and other organisations and institutions. Research is not necessarily the driving force of innovation – it is rather that science and technological development are part of a problem-solving process in which many actors are involved. There are important complementarities and reciprocities between activities in science, applied technology and in commercial business. In the following report we explore some of the implications of this for R&D policy.

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Paper provided by The STEP Group, Studies in technology, innovation and economic policy in its series STEP Report series with number 199814.

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Handle: RePEc:stp:stepre:1998r14
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