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Digital Inclusion and Governance Lab

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The Digital Inclusion & Governance Lab is a research lab at William & Mary’s Global Research Institute. DIGLab undertakes rigorous, policy-relevant research on the impact of digital technologies on society, politics, and the economy.

DIGLab researchers employ a range of methodological tools, from randomized-controlled trials to textual analysis, combined with novel data collection, to better understand how to increase digital inclusion and leverage digital tools to maximize societal benefits.

Click here for an overview of DIGLab's projects

A couple participates in the Livelihoods of Women Program in Blantyre, Malawi in July 2021. The program aims to increase women’s smartphone ownership and digital literacy.

 

GET TO KNOW DIGLab          
Project Leaders

Professor Phil Roessler
Professor Fiona Shen-Bayh

 
 
 
 
Focus Areas
  • Bridging the digital divide  As far and fast as the digital tech revolution has spread globally, key disparities in access and use persist. One of the most stubborn is the mobile gender gap. DIGLab researchers working in Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda have been  fielding the firstof-its-kind experiments targeting the smartphone gender gap—demonstrating the substantial economic costs of this digital divide and how to effectively address it. (See more below.) Another critical inequity is disparities in broadband and the constraints irregular access to internet connectivity places on productivity. The digital divide is not only a problem affecting emerging economies. It represents a critical constraint to learning, employment, empowerment, and economic growth in the United States as well.

  • Digital tools for climate change risk-mitigation — Climate change represents an unprecedented threat to livelihoods, economic development, and social cooperation. This research stream offers actionable insights into how digital technologies can mitigate climate change impacts by reducing the costs of risk-sharing, increasing the accessibility and uptake of insurance, and facilitating innovative governance solutions to environmental problems, such as managing forests or adjudicating pastoralist grazing rights.
  • Digitization, text-as-data, and governance  Recent transformations in digital tech and the increasing availability of digital data have created opportunities to analyze governance in the Global South. One of the most important is the digitization of government archives, which provide researchers direct access to text records that might otherwise have been costly to find or inaccessible. Such data present the opportunity to enhance understanding of the most pressing challenges confronting emerging democracies, from judicial decision-making to social policy.
  • Interoperable payments and financial inclusion — In many emerging economies one of the key benefits of owning a mobile phone is for sending and receiving money. The next frontier in digital financial services is the deployment of interoperable payment systems, which enable seamless, instantaneous transactions and hold great promise to accelerate economic growth, financial inclusion, and revenue mobilization. Working with Innovations for Poverty Action and a team of global researchers, the DIGLab is studying the impact of interoperable payment systems in Pakistan, Tanzania, Congo-Brazzaville, and beyond.
  • Social media in emerging economies — Over the last two decades, the advent of social media use on smartphones has transformed communication, coordination, and information-sharing the world over. Existing research suggests that these technologies could have multiple countervailing effects on social trust and cooperation—essential conditions for democracy and economic development. On the one hand, social media use may exacerbate societal divisions and polarization through the creation of “echo chambers” and “filter bubbles” and the spread of divisive content that engenders out-group animosity. At the same time, the use of smartphones and social media can increase individuals’ intergroup contact—both virtually and in-person—as well as strengthen cross-group economic ties through increased mobility, occupational change from farming to market trading, and long-distance communication. In line with the vibrant literature on the contact hypothesis, these new social and economic ties may lead to intergroup contact that reduces prejudice and increases cooperation with outgroups. This research stream aims to use randomized evaluations to disentangle these countervailing effects and identify design implications for social media. 
Contact

Professor Phil Roessler
Professor Fiona Shen-Bayh

Student Opportunities

Students are integral contributors to the DIGLab, assisting with project design, implementation, analysis, and write-up. See here for one student perspective. The DIGLab hosted two GRI Summer Fellows in 2021. Please subscribe to the Global Research Institute Digest to learn about future opportunities, or contact the project leaders directly to express one’s interest.

Partners

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Innovations for Poverty Action, Institute for Public Opinion Research (IPOR), Girls Empowerment Network, REPOA