Over the past 14 years, the Regional Dialogue on the Information Society (DIRSI) has contributed to promoting an inclusive, productive and equitable society for Latin America through the generation of evidence-based knowledge to inform public policy aimed at protecting and promoting democracy, social inclusion and economic opportunities through the use of information and communication technologies (ICT).
Over this period, the network grew to more than 30 researchers across the region and has generated more than 90 academic papers and reports on ICT affordability and access for the bottom of the pyramid in Latin America, ICT policy and regulation, impact evaluation of digital tools for the social and economic inclusion of marginalized communities including women and youth. DIRSI quickly became a thought leader on the challenges of digital expansion in the region.
DIRSI was built on the decades of research and experience of research specialists to offer high-quality evidence for partners such as ECLAC, the International Telecommunication Union and the Inter-American Development Bank. DIRSI worked closely with policymakers in the region, providing training and research that has influenced legislation in several countries such as México, Perú, Ecuador and Argentina. It was also been instrumental in training young emerging researchers in the region to contribute to ICT research as a specialized academic field.
DIRSI researchers witnessed how ICT adoption rates in Latin America were growing at an accelerated pace, which has created significant obstacles for legislators and regulators in the development of effective policies and to promote and protect digital rights and digital innovation. As the number of internet users in the region increases and ICT innovations continue to emerge, local, national and regional ICT policies in Latin America must consider the implications of a dynamic cyber policy environment and have the capacity to respond with appropriate regulations to protect users and promote effective adoption and innovation.
DIRSI recognized that a key challenge to digital policy in the region is to create an inclusive digital society that fosters digital rights, network openness, cybersecurity and promotes economic growth. To create this, digital policies in Latin America must be approached locally relevant to take into account the various dimensions. Global developments in ICT innovation and digital policy have regional and national implications, and there are several gaps in knowledge and academic discussion is dominated by actors from the Global North.
DIRSI leadership became aware of this and through its latest projects (such as After Access) included strategies and indicators that address pressing issues related to ICT, such as digital rights, cybersecurity, digital work, access and affordability.
Together with network partner Telecom CIDE based at CIDE in Mexico City (which also holds 15+ years of impact in ICT policy and regulation through rigorous academic research) DIRSI took the opportunity to reflect on the challenges and opportunities for evidence-based research as well as training and dialogue on new issues associated with digital transformation in the region.
Its response was to join forces to take its field building, research and policy impact to the next level so that it can contribute to the building of an ecosystem that promotes ICT as an engine of social inclusion, productivity and prosperity in the region.
As of 2018, with the support of IDRC, DIRSI and Telecom CIDE have been working towards a transformation into a new think tank called Centro Latam Digital. This joint initiative is now an academic research center that generates knowledge, strengthens technical capacities and promotes dialogue around the adoption and use of ICT for economic, political and social development in Latin America.
Centro Latam Digital (CLD) conducts evidence-based, interdisciplinary and applied research, organizes capacity building activities as well as generates dialogue with stakeholders around four main areas: digital innovation, digital rights, cybersecurity and gender as a cross-cutting theme.
CLD aims to build a community that responds to the context and specific needs of the Latin America and can identify opportunities for better design and implementation of effective digital policies around digital rights, innovation and cybersecurity.
Former DIRSI and Telecom CIDE leadership see this as an opportunity to expand the former organizations’ lines of research and diversify its capacity building activities and partnerships with civil society organizations, advocates, industry leaders and other think tanks while maintaining a regional reach and retaining a focus on field building and conducting high-quality academic research around ICT policy in the region.
Centro Latam Digital is pleased to be building on DIRSI’s regional presence, and now has staff and affiliate researchers in Mexico, Perú, Brasil, Colombia and Argentina. Former DIRSI steering committee members will continue to lead strategy as co-directors of Centro Latam Digital. Judith Mariscal is leading research and capacity building activities, operations, strategic partnerships and fundraising strategies from Mexico City as Executive Director.