The Network Readiness of Nations Three Years After the Gathering Storm

A little over three years ago the National Academies published Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. The Gathering Storm report is the Academies’ response to a request by Senators Lamar Alexander and Jeff Bingaman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to “conduct an assessment of America’s ability to compete and prosper in the 21st century – and to propose appropriate actions to enhance the likeliness of success in that endeavor.”

During this global economic crisis the Gathering Storm report seems even timelier than when it was written. The findings in the report come as no surprise: that America faces serious and intensifying challenges to its competitiveness as do Americans to our standard of living; that pervasive information and communication technologies (ICTs) have intensified competition for high paying jobs across national boundaries; and that knowledge and innovation are crucial to American competitiveness as well as each individual’s standard of living.

Since the Gathering Storm report was issued, the mortgage crisis impacted both employment and our standard of living in ways the Academies did not anticipate, yet the recommendations of the report remain all too relevant. Just last month before the House Appropiations Committee on Commerce, Justice and Science, Norman Augustine, Chair of the National Academies committee that produced the report, testified that “It is perhaps appropriate at this point to note why the Gathering Storm committee placed such great emphasis on science and engineering, including the endeavors of research and education. The reason is that while scientists and engineers comprise only four percent of the nation’s workforce, they disproportionately create jobs for the other 96 percent … and jobs for all citizens is what the Academies report was really about. Numerous other studies have shown that over the last half century between 50 and 85 percent of the growth in Gross Domestic Product is attributable to advancement in science and engineering. In the current century, the Knowledge Century, this effect is likely to be even more prominent.”

The World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report (GITR) provides a framework to understand how 134 nations comprising 98% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are prepared to emerge from the global economic crisis. This framework called the Network Readiness Framework (NRF) measures the extent to which economies benefit from the latest ICT advances where benefit means each nation’s competitive position ranked according to an associated Network Readiness Index (NRI). The NRI includes weighting for many factors mentioned in the Gathering Storm report and although the GITR focuses only on ICTs it serves as a useful companion to the Gathering Storm report. Most importantly, Figure 1 demonstrates a high correlation between the NRI score and Per Capita GDP providing solid evidence of Mr. Augustine’s claim that growth in GDP is attributable to science and technology.

So how competitive is the U.S. three years after the Gathering Storm report according to the NRI? We rank at #3 overall, up one place from last year and four places the year before. Again it’s no surprise that countries ranked high in the World Bank knowledge economy index also rank high in GITR, with Denmark once again ranked #1 and European nations taking 7 of the top ten spots. Our strengths are in venture capital availability (#1), quality of scientific research institutions (#1), and business internet use (#1), and e-government participation (#1). By contrast we score low in the following criteria: effectiveness of law making bodies (#33), property rights (#26), quality of math and science education (#48), government prioritization of ICT (#18), importance of ICT to government vision of the future (#28), government success in ICT promotion (#21), ICT use and government efficiency (#18), and presence of ICT in government offices (#16).

So the GITR has some good news as well as a useful comparative analysis supporting our future planning. I hope you’ll take the time to read either the report highlights or browse the interactive version.