It was the year 2000, and we both were part of a small group of experts at the World Economic Forum (WEF) with the mandate to design a framework for assessing the impact of information and communications technologies (ICT) on the development and competitiveness of nations. The commercialization of the Internet had started only a few years before, and there were many anecdotes about the positive impact of the emerging technology on the lives of people, including, for example, fishermen and farmers in Western Africa. However, there was no overall framework for the evaluation of such impacts of ICT. It was hoped that the team of experts at the WEF could propose a more evidence-based and structured approach to ICT policy formulation by public and private sector stakeholders.
The result of the exercise was the creation of the Network Readiness Index (NRI), which provided, for the first time, a holistic framework for assessing the multi-faceted impact of ICT on society and the development of nations. The NRI was forward-looking. In many ways, it anticipated many of the aspects which would become critical in the following years. Early on, the NRI identified the three key stakeholders for ICT: individuals/society, businesses, and governments, and included elements of ICT application that were novel for the time—for example, a focus on the political environment and quality of regulations. At a time when the primary concerns in ICT revolved around infrastructure issues, the NRI provided a forward-looking and holistic perspective on the application of ICT within national economies.
The NRI rapidly developed into an influential global benchmark for the application and utilization of ICT. Many economies utilized the NRI to design their ICT strategies, and the NRI was used and frequently quoted by leaders from the public and private sectors. Over the ensuing two decades, the NRI framework underwent one major revision, which allowed an explicit focus on the impact of ICT. Despite the challenges inherent to collecting data from more than 120 economies, the NRI chose to retain its extensive global coverage and evolved into a trusted global benchmark of the use of ICT for development and competitiveness.
Earlier this year (2019), due to some internal re- organizations and changed priorities, the WEF decided to hand over the production of the NRI to us. This provided us with an opportune moment to revisit the NRI framework and make it future-ready. Over the last decade, ICT has become more integrated with our lives than we could have ever anticipated. This has in turn raised important issues of trust, governance, and impact that have become critical in recent years.
We turned to a set of experts in ICT and friends of the NRI to redesign the framework of the NRI. We are grateful for this NRI technical advisory group for their support in redesigning the NRI to make it reflective of current ICT issues and to make the NRI more future- ready in the wake of new technological disruptions such as AI. A key theme underlying the newly redesigned NRI framework is that a necessary condition to a collective prosperous future will be our ability to integrate people and technology with the right governance structures.
We also decided to create a special not-for-profit, the Portulans Institute (PI) to support research on the NRI and continue to serve leaders from the public and private sectors in their quest to deploy the power of ICT effectively within their societies and economies. We hope that the Portulans Institute, much like the ancient navigational maps, the Portulans, will help us to discover the contours of the changing impact of ICT on our world and navigate the right path forward.
As disruptions in areas like big data, artificial intelligence, fintech, healthtech, and augmented and virtual reality gain momentum, the challenge of how to best combine technological opportunities and human concerns is high on the agenda of global leaders. The realization has emerged that if we are not able to leverage technology for bringing out the best in humans, we are potentially headed for scenarios in which society is fractured and some of our core organizational principles, such as democracy, can be perverted. Moreover, if the benefits to be expected from ongoing and upcoming changes are not global, they are bound to create new inequalities or reinforce existing ones.
The Network Readiness Index Report 2019 is the latest edition of a series launched in 2002. It features a renewed Network Readiness Index (NRI) framework, which assesses the factors, policies, and institutions that enable a country to fully leverage information and communication technologies (ICTs) for inclusive, sustainable growth, competitiveness, and well-being.
The NRI has emerged as one of the leading global indices on the use of technology for development and enhanced competitiveness. Last published in 2016 by the World Economic Forum, initially in collaboration with the World Bank, then with INSEAD, and later in partnership with both INSEAD and Cornell University, the NRI has been recognized as a global benchmark for assessing the progress and readiness of technology adoption in countries around the world. Over the years, the NRI revealed the opportunities and challenges posed to governments, businesses, academia, and individuals to fully capture the benefits of technology, and provided valuable, data-based guidance to leaders from both the public and private sectors.
In this rejuvenated version, the framework of the NRI has been updated to include both the current technology landscape and the new imperatives in leveraging technology for the good of all. The goal is to update and continue the tradition of the NRI and use it as a basis to create an authoritative and valuable quantitative tool for facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogues at the international, regional, and national levels. We hope that the updated NRI continues to be used by policymakers, business leaders, academia, and civil society to evaluate progress and set the action agenda for more inclusive and sustainable growth, on a global scale.
A special not-for-profit, Portulans Institute, has been created to support research on the NRI and continue to serve leaders from the public and private sectors in their quest to deploy the power of ICT effectively within their societies and economies. It is hoped that the Portulans Institute, much like the ancient navigational map Portulan, will help us to discover the contours of the changing impact of ICT on our world and help us to navigate the right path forward. More details on the mission of the Portulans Institute can be found at www. portulansinstitute.org.
During the development process for the 2019 renewed NRI, the team reviewed over 30 other general or technology-specific indices and surveys and compared their metrics and methodology used. A clear conclusion they found from this exercise is that a majority of existing indices have focused either on infrastructure—from its presence to its affordability, adoption, and in some cases relevance (e.g. the existence of content in a local language)—or on individual perceptions of the adoption of one specific technology (e.g. artificial intelligence, fintech, digital health tools), and thus do not provide country-level data that allows for rankings.
A smaller number of indices give priority to the human factor of network readiness and try to capture the impact of people’s choices regarding technology and governance on economic growth, and more generally to the contribution of network readiness to the achievement of broader goals, such as those in the SDGs.
At a high level, the main concept underlying the new NRI model is that our collective future will require a harmonious integration of people and technology. Technology will continue to evolve and become more intelligent with the spread of artificial intelligence and related technological innovations. People and technology will increasingly interact as collaborators and partners in most parts of society and business. To ensure the effectiveness of this integration, appropriate governance mechanisms will have to be implemented to address issues related to trust, security, and inclusion. The ultimate objective is for technology to have a positive impact on the economy and our quality of life, helping us to achieve the SDGs.
- to maintain continuity with the major components of the NRI from previous years
- to reflect the current issues with respect to ICT deployment that were not adequately captured in the NRI model of 2016
- to future-proof the NRI model for future technology trends and developments.
In light of these considerations, a new NRI model emerged that rests on four pillars: Technology, People, Governance, and Impact. Each pillar is itself comprised of three sub-pillars, leading to the redesigned NRI model depicted in Figure 1.
Technology is at the heart of the network economy. This pillar therefore seeks to assess the level of technology that is a sine qua non for a country’s participation in the global economy. The following three sub-pillars have been identified for that purpose:
- Access: The fundamental level of ICT in countries, including on issues of communications infrastructure and affordability.
- Content: The type of digital technology produced in countries, and the content/applications that can be deployed locally.
- Future Technologies: The extent to which countries are prepared for the future of the network economy and new technology trends such as artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT).
The availability and level of technology in a country is only of interest insofar as its population and organizations have the access, resources, and skills to use it productively. This pillar is therefore concerned with the application of ICT by people at three levels of analysis: individuals, businesses, and governments.
- Individuals: How individuals use technology and how they leverage their skills to participate in the network economy.
- Businesses: How businesses use ICT and participate in the network economy.
- Governments: How governments use and invest in ICT for the benefit of the general population.
- Trust: How safe individuals and firms are in the context of the network economy. This does not only relate to actual crime and security, but also to perceptions of safety and privacy.
- Regulation: The extent to which the government promotes participation in the network economy through regulation.
- Inclusion: The digital divides within countries where governance can address issues such as inequality based on gender, disabilities, and socioeconomic status.
- Economy: The economic impact of participating in the network economy.
- Quality of Life: The social impact of participating in the network economy.
- SDG Contribution: The impact of participating in the network economy in the context of the SDGs—the goals agreed upon by the UN for a better and more sustainable future for all. The focus is on goals where ICT has an important role to play, including such indicators as health, education, and environment.
Eventually, 62 indicators have been identified to populate these 12 sub-pillars. Details about these indicators can be found in Appendix II: Sources and Definitions.
This stickiness in the rankings of the leading nations reflects the results of determined efforts over the years in these economies to prioritize investments in digital technologies while ensuring that a supportive ecosystem for digital leadership is put in place across all key stakeholders.
Because high-income countries have traditionally invested heavily in their technology infrastructure (boosting both access and content) and continue to monitor and invest in future technologies, they generally remain better positioned to leverage the opportunities afforded by technological innovations.
Technology can have an important positive impact on national economies and on their ability to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but this will not be achieved unless we are able to set up effective governance mechanisms to integrate technology with the three key stakeholder groups: individuals, businesses and governments.
There can be considerable variations in network readiness across countries within any particular region. However, some regional differences can be identified through NRI data and analyses. For instance, Asia & Pacific and Commonwealth of Independent States do comparatively well in terms of Impact of ICT, while access to and production of technology remains a challenge. In Africa and the Arab region, on the other hand, technologies and infrastructure often remain the first obstacle to network readiness.
The results of the NRI 2019 show a persistent and important digital divide across nations, in all pillars of the model. Given the rapid pace of progress in underlying technology trends, it is important for governments to exhibit leadership and put in place appropriate policy measures to enable individuals and businesses to benefit from technological progress within the context of a trusted ecosystem.
In the face of growing distrust vis-à-vis governments (compounded by privacy concerns) on one hand, and technological innovations on the other (artificial intelligence and cybersecurity being two areas in point in this regard), it is critically important to rebuild the human face and values base of information technology. Linkages between technological progress and our collective ability to reach the SDGs will continue to be crucially important in this regard.
The Network Readiness Index 2019’s top performer in this year’s index is Sweden, which is just ahead of Singapore in 2nd place and the Netherlands in 3rd place. The top 10 countries in the NRI 2019 are shown in the table below. The top of the rankings is dominated by European nations, with the region claiming 8 of the top 10 positions. The United States is ranked 8th globally.
Sweden claims the top spot in the renewed NRI. One of the country’s greatest strengths is its consistency across the pillars: It ranks in the top 10 in all four pillars and in the top 5 in three of them. Singapore is a top 10 country in all four pillars and is in the top position when it comes to the Impact pillar, where it does particularly well in terms of the impact of its readiness on the Economy (1st).
Similarly, Netherlands performs well in all four pillars, ranking in the top 10 in each of them. The country is particularly strong when it comes to Technology (2nd), where it is the global leader in the Content sub-pillar and has a high level of Future Technologies (8th). Norway is the world’s top-performing country when it comes to issues of Governance that are relevant to the network economy. It enjoys high levels of Trust (2nd) and Regulation (3rd) and is also one of the top 10 countries in the Inclusion (8th) sub-pillar. Norway is the global leader with regard to Quality of Life and also has a strong SDG Contribution (4th), which are the main factors behind the country’s high Impact (4th).
The United States leads the way when it comes to Technology, where it is the top performer in Future Technologies and has the second-highest score in Content. Its weaker performance in the Access (29th) sub-pillar stands in stark contrast to this. The country also does very well in the Governance (4th) pillar, where it has the world’s best Regulation relevant to the network economy and is a leading country in terms of Inclusion (4th). The United Kingdom makes it into the top 5 in the Governance (5th) pillar, where it benefits from solid performances in all three sub-pillars: Trust (5th), Regulation (10th) and Inclusion (5th).
The highest-ranked country in the Technology pillar is the United States, followed by the Netherlands and Switzerland. All three countries perform well at the sub-pillar level and are the three top-performing countries in the Content sub-pillar. Luxembourg leads the way with respect to the Access sub-pillar, and the United States is top-ranked in the sub-pillar of Future Technologies.
The People pillar is headed by two Scandinavian countries, Denmark and Sweden, which are strong in all dimensions related to the usage and skills in digital technologies among individuals, businesses and governments. They are also the two leading countries when it comes to the Businesses sub-pillar, and are ranked 3rd and 4th, respectively, in the Governments sub-pillar.
Another Scandinavian country—Norway—is top-ranked in the Governance pillar. It performs particularly well with respect to the Trust and Regulation sub-pillars, but it is also a top 10 country in the Inclusion sub-pillar. There are three different global leaders in the three sub-pillars: Luxembourg is the highest-ranked country when it comes to Trust, the United States leads the way in Regulation, and New Zealand ranks first in matters related to Inclusion.
Singapore is the highest-ranked country in the pillar related to Impact followed by Switzerland and Sweden. Singapore is also the leader when it comes to the Economy sub-pillar. Switzerland is a more consistent performer, with high rankings in all three sub-pillars. Sweden performs particularly well with respect to the Economy and Quality of Life sub-pillars. The latter dimension is primarily dominated by the Nordic countries, with Norway leading the way.
Performance by pillar of the NRI
Europe dominates the NRI rankings, with eight countries in the top 10. In addition to the high-ranked performances of Sweden and the Netherlands, other countries also come up with excellent results. Switzerland, ranked 5th globally, is ranked high (2nd) in the Impact pillar, primarily as a result of its high scores in the Economy (3rd) and SDG Contribution (2nd) sub-pillars. Switzerland is also impressive when it comes to the Technology (3rd) pillar, where it enjoys superior levels of Access (4th), Content (3rd) and Future Technologies (7th). Denmark, ranked 6th globally, is one of the top 5 countries in all three sub-pillars of the People pillar: Individuals (5th), Businesses (2nd) and Governments (3rd). Finland ranks in the top 10 in each of the four pillars. Its highest placement is in the Technology and People (5th in both) pillars. Germany finds itself in the top 10 in three pillars: Technology (10th), People (10th) and Impact (8th). Its strong performance with respect to the Impact pillar is primarily due to its positive SDG Contribution (6th) and outcomes in the Economy (7th) sub-pillar.
The Asia & Pacific region is only behind Europe in many of the dimensions included in the NRI. Asia & Pacific has a wide dispersion of performances in the NRI, ranging from Singapore in 2nd to Lao P.D.R. in 108th. After Singapore, the next highest-ranked country in the region is Japan (12th), which makes it into the top 10 in two pillars: People (7th) and Impact (10th). Japan is also a world-class performer in Future Technologies (5th), but its overall score in Technology is weakened by its levels of Access (35th) and Content (27th). Ranked just below Japan is Australia (13th), which also enjoys high information and communication technology (ICT) usage and skills among Individuals (6th) that contribute to making People (11th) its best-ranked pillar. Australia’s performances in Governance (13th) and Technology (16th) are primarily boosted by high levels of, respectively, Trust (9th) and Access (8th).
Further down the rankings of the Asia & Pacific region, one finds the highest-scoring South Asian country: India (79th). Its key strength lies in Governance (52nd), as a result of consistent performances in all three sub-pillars: Trust (49th), Regulation (59th) and Inclusion (58th). The relatively high score in the Governments (36th) sub-pillar is offset by weak ICT usage and skills by Individuals (103rd) and Businesses (87th), which leads to a rank of 81st in the People pillar. Slightly better is the Technology (79th) pillar, mainly because of the level of Future Technologies (46th). India’s greatest challenge is to raise its ranking in the Impact (100th) pillar, where there is much scope for improvement in issues related to Quality of Life (93rd) and SDG Contribution (108th).
The group of Arab States also shows a large dispersion of overall scores in the NRI, despite the region being represented by only 13 countries in the index. The region can, in effect, be broken down further into Middle East and Northern Africa, where most of the former countries clearly outperform the latter economies. The regional leader, United Arab Emirates (29th), is the only Arab State ranked in the top quartile. The high ICT usage of its population makes it the top-performing country in the Individuals sub-pillar, but lower digital usage and skills by firms and national authorities (34th in Businesses; 59th in Governments) put a damper on the overall score in the People (24th) pillar. The UAE performs equally well in the Governance (24th) pillar, boosted by consistent performances in all three sub-pillars (Trust, 21st; Regulation, 32nd; Inclusion, 28th). Its most pressing need is to improve the Impact (38th) of the network economy, where much could be done to raise SDG Contribution (75th).
The group of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is headed by Russia (48th). Its best performance relates to People (38th), especially the ICT usage and skills of firms and national authorities (35th in Businesses and 32nd in Governments). At the level of the sub-pillar, meanwhile, the country does even better when it comes to Inclusion (29th). However, the same pillar — Governance (56th) — also includes Russia’s weakest dimension in the NRI: Regulation (91st). Other areas in need of improvement include Future Technologies (72nd) in the Technology (51st) pillar and Quality of Life (85th) in the Impact pillar (59th). The associated pillars, Technology and Governance, are also the two weakest dimensions of the CIS, which suggests that many countries in the region should pay more attention to promoting online safety and ICT regulation and to preparing themselves for disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence and Internet of Things.
In the Americas region, after the U.S., Canada (14th) is a solid performer in all four pillars, ranking in the top 20 in each. It is one of the leading countries when it comes to Inclusion (3rd) of various groups in the network economy, which—together with high levels of Trust (14th) and Regulation (15th)—leads to good Governance (11th). Canada ranks 10th in the two sub-pillars related to Governments and Quality of Life, but relatively weak ICT usage among Individuals (47th) dampens the People (17th) pillar, while the Impact (19th) would improve by boosting the role of ICT in the Economy (29th) and SDG Contribution (27th).
Chile (42nd) is the leading Latin American country in no small part because of its levels of ICT usage and skills among Individuals (20th) and Businesses (41st), which boosts the People (41st) pillar. The country also performs relatively well with respect to Governance (39th), where it enjoys solid levels of Trust (42nd) and Regulation (39th). Its main weakness relates to Impact (54th), where much could be done to raise the Economy (70th) sub-pillar. The three largest Latin American economies — Mexico (57th), Argentina (58th) and Brazil (59th) — are all ranked next to each other in the NRI. All three do comparatively well in the People pillar (Mexico, 55th; Argentina, 46th; Brazil, 48th), and all three countries can do more to increase their readiness for Future Technologies (Mexico, 80th; Argentina, 103rd; Brazil, 95th).
In Africa, there is a significant gap even within the top 3, with Mauritius ranked 53rd and Rwanda ranked 89th. In between these two is South Africa (72nd), where the levels of Trust (38th) and Inclusion (46th) contribute to making Governance (47th) its best pillar. South Africa also finds itself in the third quartile with respect to Technology (58th), primarily as a result of the country’s position in Content (54th) and Future Technologies (53rd). Its greatest challenge, meanwhile, concerns the Impact (99th) of the network economy, especially as it relates to improving Quality of Life (118th). As for Mauritius, its level of Trust (32nd) also makes a significant positive contribution to the Governance (41st) pillar. Its weakest dimension is People (70th), with considerable room for improvement in all three sub-pillars (Individuals, 73rd; Businesses, 68th; Governments, 69th). It is interesting to note that Africa ranks ahead of CIS in the sub-pillars of Future Technologies and Trust.