We believe all digital economy and broadband econometrics and research efforts should be organized at a regional level within a global dynamic. This takes into account the new information needs described above, while leveraging new data collection tools, and addresses the information and statistical shortcomings identified earlier.
To accomplish this, we introduce the concept of the Broadband Research and Innovation Network (BRaIN): a broadband and digital economy research, planning and monitoring research center with a regional planning development focus, aimed at providing elected officials, public policy makers and regional planners with the information they require to make decisions relative to the development of the Digital economy.
The Broadband Research and Innovation Network (BRaIN) will enhance the traditional research center model by adding action-driven information gathering efforts. Research projects would bring together hands-on, micro level understanding of actual needs and practices with a socio-economic dimension, action-focus goals and deliverables meant to be used in local planning and economic development.
BRaIN will also enable public decision makers to take advantage of economies of scale and scope for planning and network roll-outs.
Macro is no longer sufficient
The impact and usage data needed to help decision makers in their planning and monitoring efforts can be obtained either at the macro or micro level. BRaIN aims to combine both approaches:
- The macro approach: This approach includes looking at available regional statistical information, and making projections based on traditional economic multipliers. That “macro” approach is only possible if the geographically pertinent statistics are available, and if the appropriate multipliers also exist. However, it is increasingly clear that the existing statistical information is rarely available both at the “granular” level, and in the format required for efficient regional development and infrastructure planning and monitoring. Hence, the need to incorporate a micro level dimension to the approach.
- Using the road analogy, the micro approach consists in quantifying expected benefits of the projected access road by asking residents and local businesses about their “road usage” habits: How many miles do they currently travel to go downtown, to school, to their place of employment. What they would do differently if a new access road was built. What would be the expected benefits; e.g., 1 hour daily and 15 miles saved weekdays by a typical employee residing in the area? This information can then be translated into economic terms, and even sustainable environment terms.
An all encompassing, cost effective web-based approach
BRaIN will enable decision-makers to develop a “micro/macro” ,three-step approach by incorporating e-solution utilization intelligence in digital economic development strategies:
- Devise the initial strategy informed by macro level intelligence and thinking
- Test the strategy “on the ground” using micro level intelligence to fine-tune
- Conduct iterative reassessments in order to make the necessary adjustments
This route is expensive if traditional tools are used to gather micro data about how people, businesses and organizations take advantage of the broadband-enabled connectivity. The high cost of face-to-face or on the phone interviews makes such an approach non-sustainable, leading to at best one-off data collection efforts. Therefore, to gather and to “accumulate real time data [about e-solutions utilization] that can be brought in, processed, cut in different ways, shared with the public ” by taking advantage of improved broadband connectivity is significantly more cost effective.
In other words: by relying mainly on online survey platforms, and by building “ongoing relationships” with a large number of people and organizations using ICT and e-solutions, it is now possible to obtain almost real time data and information, in an extremely cost efficient manner. That is precisely what BRaIN is all about: using digital economy tools and techniques to gather intelligence about how the digital economy impacts economic development at regional/local level.
Pooling of resources and economies of scale
Economies of scale
Measuring broadband-enabled digital economy benefits and using measures and analysis for planning and monitoring purposes in a traditional way can only be done by conducting multiple, parallel, local/micro level impact assessment studies. This involves drafting questions, interviewing people, analyzing the econometrics setting priorities and incorporating them into the plan. Each step carries its own fixed costs. Hence, to taking advantage of economies of scale it makes sense to coordinate these steps cooperatively as part of BRaIN at the most appropriate regional level
Pooling of resources
The pooling of an extended human knowledge base through collaborative networks across various regional entities and across various disciplines has huge potential benefit to all participants All participants would both contributing to, and drawing from, pooled data research and analysis resources and results: the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. In fact, some of those parts would simply not happen without the economies of scale as participants would not engage in this type of data gathering and analysis on their own.
The inherent consistency of approach and data collection across regions and over time is valuable by itself. Because local area profiles can be categorized, and also compared and benchmarked, BRaIN will make it possible to use and extrapolate specific results across neighborhoods; or in areas with comparable characteristics in other areas generating further added value and cost savings. Finally, BRaIN regional approach will also allow trans-sector comparisons which will enable decision-makers more efficiently identify usage gaps and refine the regional development planning process.