Intelligent Infrastructures - For a People-Centered Digital Society

IT for Change's research series on Intelligence Infrastructures interrogates essential digital infrastructures that underpin the economy, society, and governance, putting the spotlight on the need for democratic control of these building blocks of tomorrow. Policies must straddle a people-centric vision of tech-design and institutional mechanisms so that these infrastructures can deepen social and public value, rather than undermine them.

Supported by International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Canada and the Fair, Green and Global Alliance (FGG), the project responds to the increasing mediation of our socio-cultural, economic, and political life by data assemblages controlled by digital corporations. How can states design accountable, inclusive, and transformative digital infrastructures of tomorrow is a key concern for the project.

Research Outputs

Gender by Design: Principles for Gender-responsive Public Digital Infrastructure

White Paper | May 2023

Over the last two decades, information and communication technologies have become an important part of the implementation of different types of programs and schemes by the Government of India in the form of ‘large-scale public digital information systems’, designed for the implementation of programs oriented towards welfare and social protection, as well as services in areas such as agriculture, health, education, nutrition, and broader governance delivery. However, in the face of a digital divide that remains acutely gendered, a fast-growing digital-by-default trend has implications for the extent to which women are able to effectively engage with the state and eventually reap the benefits of such digitalization. Within this context, this paper outlines the principles of thinking ‘gender by design’ in the development and implementation of digital public infrastructure, and offers a set of pathways towards maximizing gender justice outcomes in public service delivery.

Read the complete paper here.

Data Empowerment and Protection Architecture: Side-Stepping Empowerment for Convenience?

Policy Brief | December 2021

India has recently launched a model for data governance to facilitate increased consent-centric data sharing across sectors such as health, telecommunications, and finance, called the Data Empowerment and Protection Architecture (DEPA). The project’s first leg targets the finance sector, where DEPA has been implemented through the Account Aggregator (AA) framework with an explicit mandate to enhance financial inclusion through credit access.
While significant segments of India’s population are excluded from networks of formal credit, the combination of digital technology, dynamic start-ups, and a strong public infrastructure have the potential to significantly alleviate this problem. However, with an initiative such as DEPA, the finer details of its implementation will determine whether it serves as a genuine ‘public good’. Instead, is it just poised to extend a form of inclusion that would expose some of the country’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations to the volatile and dangerous pressures of the predatory, accumulative process driving financial capitalism today? What is the more likely outcome, given the information available? This essay attempts to engage with these questions through a careful and critical analysis of DEPA’s proposed framework, as well as the proposed regulatory mechanisms envisioned to oversee it.

Read it here.

Credit Scoring Algorithms as Tools for Financial Inclusion: A Development Perspective

Think Piece | February 2022

This think-piece explores the development implications of using algorithmic scoring models as tools of financial inclusion. It aims to engage with the use of such models not as a technological transformation underpinned by Big Data and machine learning, but as a fundamental political shift reflected in the willingness to dispense the task of shaping the normative framework of creditworthiness to a process of algorithmic datafication. In doing so, it raises important questions about who really benefits from the use of such infrastructures and highlights alternate imaginaries that may be required in order for them to meet the development goals of financial inclusion and economic empowerment.

Read it here.

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