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Issue Overview

Accelerating velocities, borderless information flows and the empowering of individuals are just some of the ways that connectivity is redefining the underlying dynamics of society. Yet, as ubiquitous computing embeds itself into all facets of society and the economy, the business models to sustainably meet this opportunity are in question. Demand is outstripping supply. The massive increase in the use of information and communication technology (ICT) is leading to a disconnect between the sources of revenue and sources of cost.

If the trend continues without a serious rethinking of sustainable models and innovation processes, it will significantly undermine future investment to expand the network and gain the associated economic and social returns.

There is no single answer that addresses this concern. Investments in core infrastructure are so large that it is difficult to close a business case that meets both the short-term financial requirements and the long-term scale requirements. A constellation of new opportunities need to be developed which flexibly open up a variety of infrastructure enablers and move past legacy notions of proprietary “walled garden” solutions.

Equitable value distribution across the ecosystem is also vitally important for a healthy sector. Application developers and “over the top” providers need to design services which recognize the scarcity of available wireless spectrum. The role of government in supporting a sustainable digital infrastructure also needs to be re-examined. Creating stable policy frameworks with incentives for private sector investment, competition and innovation remains as important as ever.

Council Focus

Strengthening the Dialogue on the Hyperconnected World

Digital hyperconnectivity is transforming the socio-economic landscape, creating new risks and opportunities. High levels of connectivity are redefining relationships and increasing complex interdependencies, while the digital nature of the environment is forcing us to re-think concepts of ownership and control. The result is a highly dynamic – and frequently paradoxical – environment.

Because of this complex and fast-changing environment, the commercial, social and political outcomes are uncertain. The dialogue is fragmented. Coordination is difficult. Trust within and between stakeholders is broken. As a response, the Global Agenda Council on Information & Communication Technologies has put forward two high-level objectives. First, mental models must shift from a mechanistic, reductionist world to one of interdependent complex systems. Second, trust must be fostered and strengthened to normalize digital interactions.

In light of this, the Council has focused on approaches which embrace individuals as both producers and consumers of digital content. If the individual is not placed at the centre of the solution space, it could unintentionally recreate systemic blind spots and repeat mistakes from the past. Increasing the role of individuals through co-creation, collaboration and crowdsourcing are key points of leverage for collectively managing emerging opportunities and risks.

Rethinking Personal Data

A fundamental shift is occurring in global communications systems. End-users are no longer just consumers they are also producers. As a result, the exponential increase in the amount of personal data (and metadata) being generated is creating systemic instabilities in our social, commercial and legal systems. Laws related to the use of data and identity systems are currently an afterthought and drafted with limited understanding of their interdependencies and second-order impact.

Debates and policies that frame the discussion within the overly-simplified and ambiguous term of “privacy”, often serve to only conflate tensions with misunderstandings in terms of the types of harms, the cultural and regional norms and the complexity between individuals’ stated intentions and actual behaviours. To establish more reliable and trusted systems, the Council calls for a greater understanding and coordination of people, policies and technology in how personal data can flow in a trusted and permissioned manner.

Accelerating the Adoption of mLearning

Mobile learning is the third area of focus for the Council as it serves as a new way of interconnecting everything and everyone – teachers, tutors, students, study groups, social networks, gaming communities, content creators and more. Mobile learning is transformational and creates new platforms to reach the 140 million children and young people who are currently not enrolled in school. The Council also notes that technology alone won’t change the educational paradigm and that robust multistakeholder collaboration is required to ensure that well-designed, locally-appropriate content and well-prepared teachers are all engaged to create sustainable value.

In particular, the Council calls for three areas of focus:

  • Robust collaboration among governments, teachers, private sector and individuals
  • Globally scaling mLearning projects, particularly those serving the most vulnerable segments of society
  • The ICT sector taking a much more active role in the success of mLearning

The mass adoption of increasingly sophisticated and affordable mobile devices and the state of today’s connectivity technology has the potential to expand education in ways never before seen. Because of mLearning’s inherent quality of anytime, anywhere access to the most current content and information, it makes it possible to provide unemployed populations with the latest and most appropriate skills they need. This includes promoting entrepreneurial skills as well as initiatives addressing youth unemployment – one of the greatest challenges facing the world today. As education is pervasive in any field, mLearning can also have a significant positive impact on global health, financial literacy and on the challenges faced in agriculture and food supply.

Council Publications



CEO Discussion on the Opportunities of mLearning

February 2012, Mobile World Congress, Barcelona, Spain

More than 40 leaders from government, industry and civil society gathered in Barcelona, to address the continued scaling of the mobile platform for creating economic and social value. Insights and plans were shared on the following:

  • Strengthening cross-industry collaboration with an emphasis on addressing challenges related to mobile learning
  • Identifying new models for delivering technology-enabled learning experiences
  • Identifying pragmatic approaches for addressing the skills gap in building mLearning solutions

Rethinking Personal Data, “Tiger Team” Meeting

March 2012, Ericsson Innovation Center, San Jose, California

A vanguard group of more than 40 global personal data experts met to stimulate the creation and adoption of international actionable agreements and partnerships that help fast track the implementation of the Forum’s vision to bring about the emergence of a personal data ecosystem where people are in control of the collection, use, sharing, and monetization of their personal data.

Objectives for the meeting included:

  • Agreement on a common, shared language/taxonomy/terms of reference for describing the personal data space; including a personal data ecosystem model showing entities, and flows/control of data, rights/permissions and value
  • Sharing of the latest examples of important new international developments, use cases, architectures and best practice in key areas and sectors (consumer, corporate and government)
  • Agreement on how to “slice the elephant”: how to coordinate next step international collaboration in a few high-impact areas

mLearning Innovation: Putting Principles into Practice

May 2012, Nairobi, Kenya

A group of Sub-Saharan ICT leaders, social innovators and policy-makers discussed how to advance the general concepts of the Council’s mLearning agenda into real-world deployment and action. Questions included how to incorporate digital civics and key enablers such as identity systems, mobile payment and open-data into mLearning applications.

Advocacy/Awareness Raising

The Council engages with relevant stakeholder communities in the mLearning and personal data arenas to advance its key points of view and thought leadership. It has placed numerous articles in the mainstream media, and a series of white papers, reports, panels, surveys and interviews will be generated throughout the coming months.

Next Steps

The Council aims to pursue a multi-pronged communication/advocacy strategy to draw attention to the issue of mLearning and personal data. It will align and support the World Economic Forum, particularly through the Living in a Hyperconnected Reality project and the Partnering for Cyber Resilience initiative.


The opinions expressed here are those of the individual members of the Council, and not of the World Economic Forum or any institutions to which they are affiliated.