Call for Participation
A New Listserv on Public-Private Partnerships in ICT
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This is an invitation to join a new listserv that focuses on
public-private partnership initiatives in the field of information and
communication technologies (ICTs), with a particular emphasis on the
economic and political dynamic usually referred to as 'development'.
Following the growth of private-sector involvement in public
infrastructure projects across the globe, corporate investments often
have become a substitute for public funding formerly provided by
intergovernmental agencies, international aid organizations, and
governments. Usually considered in terms of a pooling of private and
public resources, public-private partnerships aim at a cooperative
provision of services and products to exploit synergy effects although
they take many forms and adopt a variety of organizational, funding and
governance structures. Through this process, public institutions are
expected to become more 'proactive' in terms of their engagement with
private actors, and the development process is projected as being,
altogether, more equitable and sustainable.
Such official pronouncements aside, assessments from the ground tend to
view the relatively new tool of PPP with much more ambivalence. While
major info-corporations are indeed offering themselves as ’partners in
development‘ and support ICT development as vehicles for 'effective
service delivery' and 'e-governance', they also take advantage of the
newfound enthusiasm for Public-Private Partnerships to stake out their
own commercial claims, crowd out public-sector alternatives, and
actively discourage alternative forms of development cooperation.
Questions concerning the motivations particularly implicit in relation
to these initiatives include the gaining of inter-company competitive
advantages, pole positions in standard setting (and pushing aside
technological alternatives), influencing procurement strategies, and so on.
Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships (MSPs) are offered as an alternative form
of development cooperation. Unlike PPPs, which are based on the primacy
of an ambiguous private/public distinction, MSPs focus on whoever has a
stake in a given process. Because the position and identities of
'stakeholders' are largely self-defined, MSPs, at least theoretically,
are open to individual and collective actors that may be left out of PPP
processes that involve only state and private sector actors. Beyond the
contractual relationship of PPPs, in principle MSPs prioritize
overlapping interests, emphasize trust and transparency, and could also
play an important role in the development of new accountability
mechanisms. More generally, perhaps, MSPs affirm that the idea of
'partnerships' is itself in flux and open to contestation.
The idea to launch a project committed exclusively to PPP-in-ICT arose
during a two-day conference, Incommunicado 05: From Info-Development to
Info-Politics, held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in June 2005.
Incommunicado 05 attempted to offer a critical survey of the current
state of 'info-development', generally known by its catchy acronym
'ICT4D' (Information and Communication Technologies for Development) but
also created an interest in more focused follow-up projects that would
engage specific dimensions of the info-development process.
Public-private partnerships in ICT became a topic of debate during the
conference, with discussions concerning, for example, the role of Cisco
and Cisco Academies in their partnership with the UN Development
Program, the on-going role of Microsoft in its Unlimited Potential
program and its recent partnership with Canada’s International
Development Research Centre, and the role of WSIS in the evolving
landscape of similar info-development alliances.
What we envision is a lively exchange of research, critical discussions
and reports from the ground, a sharing of experiences both via a mailing
list and - later on - a collaborative weblog. Given that PPPs in ICT
involve a complex set of actors - including intergovernmental
institutions, states, local authorities, transnational corporations,
small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) - the scope is both specific - PPP in ICT - and
broad enough to address related developments and processes.
To be taken up at a later time, we also propose the joint development of
a code of conduct for PPP that addresses the specificity of ICT.
A great deal of research is done outside the institutional loops of the
academy, research labs, or development consulting, so we hope that the
framing of this topic will be of interest to those who wish to engage in
a substantial PPP-in-ICT exchange, regardless of whether or not they
consider themselves researchers, community and/or media activists, etc.
On PPP-in-ICT and PPP-Watch
The domain currently used for this project is pppwatch.org. In the
context of software, 'pppwatch' refers to a small demon used to monitor
the PPP connection. In the more general context of info-political
efforts, the idea of a 'watch' also suggests common cause with other
'watch' projects that attempt to create a modicum of transparency and
accountability in development processes - regardless of whether they
involve public or private actors - where there is none. Both offer apt
descriptors for a project that intends to keep an eye on the evolving
dynamic of 'partnerships' in the field of ICT.
We are hoping that you will participate in this project. The listserv
will ’go live‘ once an initial threshold of 50 subscribers has been
reached. Online subscription will be enabled once this number has been
reached. To subscribe, please contact Soenke Zehle ([log in to unmask]) or
Lisa McLaughlin ([log in to unmask]). The site and list are currently
maintained by tmsp.org, hosted by kein.org.