Benchmarking the Future of the Network Economy


Trust cannot be delegated. But can it be re-built?
We need better data governance and regulations to ensure healthy data flows

Over the last few decades, societies have grown increasingly dependent on digital exchanges. Far from just being the ‘new oil’ of our economies, data has become our ‘new air’. Without properly managed data flows, our world cannot breathe. As COVID reminded us, neither air pollution nor airborne viruses can be defeated by filters and masks alone. We need better data governance and regulations to ensure healthy data flows and effective utilisation of available digital resources.

Trust cannot be delegated. But can it be re-built? This is one of the questions that this edition of NRI attempts to explore. The NRI is a testament to our ongoing commitment to facilitate data-driven decision-making in the realm of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), with the ultimate goal of fostering economic growth and enhancing quality of life across the world. In this endeavour, we are immensely thankful to our partners at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, for co-publishing the report.

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Bruno Lanvin

Bruno Lanvin
Co-editor and Co-author

Soumitra Duta

Soumitra Dutta
Co-editor and Co-author

NRI 2023 Theme

NRI 2023 Theme

Trust in a Network Society: A crisis of the digital age?

Network societies run on a learned level of trust in the information, communication, and related digital media and technologies that underpin them. Over the past decade, there has been a growing concern about the accelerated erosion of trust, which could potentially lead to a fundamental crisis for networked societies. Various factors have contributed to this trend, including disinformation campaigns, advancements in surveillance technologies (partially due to a widespread use of mobile phones), the emergence of 'deep fakes,' and the rapid rise of AI and large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT.

This year’s report seeks to provide insights into the resilience or decline of trust online by tracking trends in trust, identifying potential driving forces behind these changes, and proposing actionable recommendations for policy and practice. By examining global issues and developments, such as the cognitive conflict surrounding geopolitical tensions and the advent of the AI age, this report draws attention to the potential for a serious crisis in public trust in the internet and related technologies in our increasingly interconnected world. Furthermore, we present examples and cases that highlight transformational technologies, regulations, and practices that could either support or undermine trust in the coming decade.

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Key messages

Trust is the glue for our interconnected world

Over the past few decades, trust has progressively eroded. Mis-trust, once directed mostly at content like fake news, propaganda, and advertising claims, has morphed into systemic mis-trust, whereby tools, architectures and systems are subject to lower level of acceptance and credibility.

Without trust, the fabric of our global society would unravel, causing uncertainty and inefficiency in our digital interactions and breaking many of the connections that empower our daily lives.

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There are reasons for collective skepticism

The decline in trust can be attributed to a range of factors, including the explosion of social media, advancements in generative AI, the rise of crypto-currencies and blockchain technology, the spread of fake news, and privacy breaches resulting from the extensive data collection that characterizes the digital age.

As technology continues to rapidly evolve, it is vital for society to strike a balance between harnessing its benefits, managing risks, and safeguarding individual rights.

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We need to move past a perspective centered on harms

While the digital realm is not without its challenges, it is essential to ensure our perspective isn't solely centered on potential dangers. Like everyday activities such as crossing a street, online interactions come with inherent risks.

Rather than magnifying these threats, it is more productive to equip individuals with the skills and mindset to navigate the digital space safely, emphasizing the importance of discerning potential hazards and practicing robust cyber hygiene.

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Access, Exposure and Skills Development are crucial to building trust

Trust in digital technologies is built largely through personal experience. The more individuals interact with these platforms, the better they understand and appreciate their value. However, factors like age and experience level can affect this trust.

Therefore, expanding access to digital technologies, coupled with comprehensive skills training, is crucial to ensuring that everyone can confidently and effectively engage in the digital world.

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We need to demystify technology

Demystifying technology is critical to fostering trust in the digital age. Concepts like big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and ethical dimensions of personal data need not remain enigmatic.

While the media can influence public perceptions of emerging technologies like AI, states can play a pivotal role in promoting transparency, especially in the realms of algorithms and data management. These efforts can empower individuals to better understand and protect their digital assets, and increase their personal sense of efficacy.

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Appropriate data governance is required

As technology continues to evolve, it is vital for society to identify the right balance between digitalization, and fundamental human rights and aspirations. Regulation, particularly regarding privacy and cybersecurity, plays a pivotal role in building trust in the digital age.

As digital technologies continue to evolve, the metrics provided by the NRI will seek to equip decision-makers with the foresight to develop proactive and informed strategies, as well as discern the ramifications of their decisions on the digital trust ecosystem.

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Trust and Inclusion are interconnected

This year’s findings show that trust and inclusion are interconnected elements of technology readiness. When digital inclusion is promoted, it ensures that technology is accessible and used in ways that foster a learned level of trust.

This, in turn, can support higher levels of technology adoption, innovation, and overall technology readiness. Economies with high levels of digital inclusion demonstrate the value of building trust toward digital technologies.

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Key Results

The Top 10

The United States retains its top position in the NRI for the second consecutive year, closely followed by Singapore. Finland has climbed to the third spot, displacing Sweden to fifth place, while the United Kingdom reenters the top 10.

Historically, the Top 10 performers in the NRI exhibit three prominent trends: they consistently belong to high-income economies, demonstrating robust network readiness across all dimensions, and European countries continue to dominate the list. These trends continue in the NRI 2023, with each of the top 10 countries achieving a top 25 ranking across all four primary pillars (Technology, People, Governance, Impact). As for regional distribution, Singapore and Korea remain the only top 10 countries located in Asia and the Pacific, while the United States is the only economy located in the Americas. The rest of the top 10 rankings consist of European countries.

Country NRI Rank NRI Score Technology People Governance Impact
United States of America 1 76.91 1 4 7 23
Singapore 2 76.81 5 6 10 1
Finland 3 76.19 10 7 1 2
Netherlands 4 76.04 4 15 2 5
Sweden 5 75.68 9 9 5 4
Switzerland 6 74.76 2 14 13 6
Republic of Korea 7 74.48 17 1 18 11
Denmark 8 74.06 11 11 3 8
Germany 9 74.00 6 8 14 10
United Kingdom 10 72.75 8 10 16 9

Regional Leaders

The performance distribution across regions in the NRI 2023 follows an established pattern. Europe dominates those economies in the top ten rankings for digital readiness.

Asia follows with Singapore and the Republic of Korea both securing a position among the top 10 positions. The United States is the sole representative from the Americas. Africa, the CIS, and the Arab States fail to appear in the top ten rankings. There are some changes in the top three economies from each region this year. Kenya surpasses South Africa to claim the top position in the African region. Finland joins the top three in Europe, also claiming the top position. Chile replaces Brazil in the Americas.

The regional leaders for NRI 2023 include Kenya, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, the Russian Federation, Finland, and the United States. Overall, these regional trends in the NRI 2023 highlight the varying levels of progress and challenges faced by economies across the different parts of the world as their journey towards digital readiness and network capabilities continues. Europe stands out as a strong leader in the NRI while The Americas and the Asia & Pacific display a diverse spectrum of digital competencies. The CIS showcases the smallest variation in scores among its member nations. These regional trends shed light on the fact that the pace of advancement in digital technology and network infrastructure varies significantly from one region to another. The relative standings of individual counties in their respective regional rankings reflect the importance of creating and pursuing tailored strategies and policies to address the specific and unique digital needs and challenges faced by each region.

Note: Global ranks in parentheses. CIS = Commonwealth of Independent States.

Income Group Leaders

While the data produce a strong positive link between income and digital success, a closer look at the group leaders in each income bracket reveals standout countries within their peer group.

This closer look showcases the rising stars in network readiness. This positive correlation reveals the importance of ongoing investments in digital infrastructure and policies for nations aiming to enhance their digital capabilities and drive economic growth in the digital era. The United States, Singapore, and Finland all exemplify this pattern. China, an upper-middle-income economy, defies tradition by securing a spot in the NRI's Top 20 due to its formidable technological prowess. Notably, Ukraine remains the sole lower-middle-income economy to claim a spot in the NRI's top 50. While the link between income and digital success remains strong, the emergence of these standout countries within their income groups highlights the potential for rapid advancements in network readiness through strategic investments and policy initiatives, regardless of a nation's income level.

High Income Countries Upper-Middle Income Countries Lower-middle Income Countries Low Income Countries
1. United States of America (1) 1. China (20) 1. Ukraine (43) 1. Rwanda (99)
2. Singapore (2) 2. Russian Federation (38) 2. Viet Nam (56) 2. Uganda (117)
3. Finland (3) 3. Malaysia (40) 3. India (60) 3. Gambia (120)

Note: Global ranks in parentheses.

Continuing to improve the NRI model

Digital transformation demands a continual reexamination of the sources that enrich the NRI model. Each year the NRI team examined multiple general and technology-specific sources to identify novel indicators that can help measure and assess the dynamic landscape of digital transformation and network readiness.

Improvements to the NRI occurred through the replacement, development, or inclusion of coherent metrics. Yet, the main concept underlying the NRI model relies on the notion that our collective future will require a harmonious integration of People and Technology.

Primary technical updates to the NRI 2023 apply to four indicators across three sub-pillars: Content, Individuals, and Economy. Additionally, two indicators within the Access sub-pillar underwent a nomenclature revision. A sum of 58 indicators span across the 12 sub-pillars in the NRI. For detailed insights into enhancements within the full set of indicators, refer to Appendix I: Technical Notes and Appendix II: Sources and Definitions. The organization of the NRI model's pillars and sub-pillars is outlined as follows:

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Central to the networked economy is technology. As a foundational component of the NRI, the Technology pillar aims to evaluate the technological infrastructure crucial for a country's engagement in the global economy. The Technology pillar's objectives are addressed through three sub-pillars:

  • Access: This examines the basic level of ICT accessibility for individuals in countries, delving into facets such as communication infrastructure and cost-effectiveness.
  • Content: Focuses on the nature of digital technologies generated within countries and the local deployable content/applications. It encompasses data derived from scientific articles, expenditure on software, GitHub commits, and the development and use of mobile applications.
  • Future Technologies: Gauges a country's readiness towards the impending trends in the networked economy and novel technological paradigms. It encapsulates the adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and investments in budding technologies.

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The technological landscape mirrors the proficiency, inclusivity, and adeptness of the populace and entities of a nation in harnessing technological assets. The People pillar, therefore, assesses the application of ICT across three facets: individuals, enterprises, and public sectors.

  • Individuals: Analyzes individual technological utilization and their capacity to engage in the networked economy.
  • Businesses: Evaluates the way enterprises integrate ICT and their involvement in the networked economy, inclusive of R&D expenditures.
  • Governments: Probes into government ICT investments and deployments to cater to the wider populace.

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Governance epitomizes the frameworks that fortify a holistic network, ensuring its users' safety. The Governance pillar emphasizes the creation and reachability of structures that invigorate the networked economy across a triad of dimensions:

  • Trust: Assesses the security landscape for both individuals and corporations within the networked economy, highlighting a trust-conducive environment and its consequent behavior among citizens.
  • Regulation: Surveys the government's role in fostering networked economy participation via regulatory measures, strategies, and foresight.
  • Inclusion: Identifies digital disparities within nations, where governance can mitigate discrepancies stemming from gender, disabilities, and economic backgrounds.

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A nation's readiness in the networked economy translates into holistic growth and societal enhancement. The Impact pillar endeavors to gauge the diverse ramifications of engagement in the networked economy across a trio of arenas:

  • Economy: Delves into the economic repercussions of integration into the networked economy, incorporating aspects like the magnitude of the domestic market.
  • Quality of life: Chronicles the societal implications derived from participation in the networked economy.
  • SDG contribution: Analyzes the influence of networked economy engagement in the purview of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this context, ICT emerges as pivotal, with specific indicators weaving through health, education, gender parity, and environmental concerns.

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Detailed results of NRI 2023

Download the NRI 2023 Report