ICT Interoperability and Innovation – Berkman/St.Gallen Workshop

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We have teamed up with the Berkman Center on an ambitious transatlantic research project on ICT interoperability and e-innovation. Today, we have been hosting a first meeting to discuss some of our research hypotheses and initial findings. Professor John Palfrey describes the challenge as follows:

This workshop is one in a series of such small-group conversations intended both to foster discussion and to inform our own work in this area of interoperability and its relationship to innovation in the field that we study. This is among the hardest, most complex topics that I’ve ever taken up in a serious way.

As with many of the other interesting topics in our field, interop makes clear the difficulty of truly understanding what is going on without having 1) skill in a variety of disciplines, or, absent a super-person who has all these skills in one mind, an interdisciplinary group of people who can bring these skills to bear together; 2) knowledge of multiple factual settings; and 3) perspectives from different places and cultures. While we’ve committed to a transatlantic dialogue on this topic, we realize that even in so doing we are still ignoring the vast majority of the world, where people no doubt also have something to say about interop. This need for breadth and depth is at once fascinating and painful.

As expected, the diverse group of 20 experts had significant disagreement on many of the key issues, especially with regard to the role that governments may play in the ICT interoperability ecosystem, which was characterized earlier today by Dr. Mira Burri Nenova, nccr trade regulation, as a complex adaptive system. In the wrap-up session, I was testing – switching from a substantive to a procedural approach – the following tentative framework (to be refined in the weeks to come) that might be helpful to policy-makers dealing with ICT interoperability issues:

  1. In what area and context do we want to achieve interoperability? At what level and to what degree? To what purpose (policy goals such as innovation) and at what costs?
  2. What is the appropriate approach (e.g. IP licensing, technical collaboration, standards) to achieve the desired level of interoperability in the identified context? Is ex ante or ex post regulation necessary, or do we leave it to the market forces?
  3. If we decide to pursue a market-driven approach to achieve it, are there any specific areas of concerns and problems, respectively, that we – from a public policy perspective – still might want to address (e.g. disclosure rules aimed at ensuring transparency)?
  4. If we decide to pursue a market-based approach to interoperability, is there a proactive role for governments to support private sector attempts aimed at achieving interoperability (e.g. promotion of development of industry standards)?
  5. If we decide to intervene (either by constraining, leveling, or enabling legislation and/or regulation), what should be the guiding principles (e.g. technological neutrality; minimum regulatory burden; etc.)?

As always, comments are welcome. Last, but not least, thanks to Richard Staeuber and Daniel Haeusermann for their excellent preparation of this workshop.

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