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Digital Inclusion and Governance Lab

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. Its researchers employ a range of methodological tools, including randomized-controlled trials, focus group discussions, qualitative interviews, and machine learning, combined with novel data collection, to better understand how to increase digital inclusion and leverage digital tools to maximize societal benefits.

A couple participates in the Livelihoods of Women Program in Blantyre, Malawi in July 2021.
DIGLab Team

Professor Philip Roessler, Director, contact

Dr. Shreya Bhattacharya, Senior Research Analyst, contact

DIGLab Affiliates

Dr. Tanu Kumar, Claremont Graduate University (Formerly Post-Doc, DIGLAB)


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 first-of-their-kind experiments targeting the smartphone gender gap—demonstrating the substantial economic costs of this digital divide and how to effectively address it. 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.
  • Digital 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 inclusive instant 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 inclusive instant payment systems in Philippines, Pakistan, Tanzania, India, 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. 
  • The impact of generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, on emerging economies

AI tools and methodologies are rapidly evolving, characterized by swiftly advancing algorithms and an expanding array of applications. However, with this rapid growth, there is a growing concern about inequity in access to AI and its potential influence on individuals who may be unknowingly exposed to its misuse. The global call for regulatory measures to govern AI deployment is intensifying. In light of these developments, it becomes paramount to systematically assess the impacts of AI, comprehending both its constraints and benefits, through rigorous methodologies that can in turn guide policy formulation. DIGLab, in partnership with the Makerere University Business School-ICT Centre, is pursuing this research agenda, by designing experiments to measure the impact of incorporating AI tools on self-directed digital learning, entrepreneurship, and attitudes towards sociocultural norms.

Project and Research Highlights

 “Better Than Cash? Smartphones for Realized Financial Inclusion” BIGD WEE-DiFine Blog, April 13, 2023.

 “Most Tanzanian Merchants Believe That Digital Retail Payments Will Benefit Their Business. Why Are They Still Using Cash?” IPA Blog, November 17, 2022.

 “Inclusive Instant Payment Systems: An Evidence-based Approach from Design to Impact,” Innovations for Poverty Action, White Paper, August 2022.

 “The Economic Impact of Mobile Phone Ownership: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial in Tanzania,”2021. Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), Working Paper #2021-05.

 DIGLab Student Perspective and Experiential Learning  

 Sean Nguyen, “Diving into the Deep End,” November 17, 2023.  

Student Opportunities

Students are integral contributors to the DIGLab, assisting with project design, implementation, analysis, and write-up. See here and here for student perspectives. The DIGLab hosted two GRI Summer Fellows in 2023 and hopes to host Fellows again in 2024.

Interested in what we do? We would love to hear from you! Please subscribe to the Global Research Institute Digest to learn about future opportunities, or contact the project leaders directly to express one’s interest.


The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation | Innovations for Poverty Action | BRAC Institute of Governance and Development | Vodacom M-Pesa | REPOA | Institute for Public Opinion Research (IPOR) | Girls Empowerment Network | Makarere University Business School | KEIPhone