Dr Ellen Strickland
Dr Ellen Strickland

Dr Ellen Strickland

Principal supervisor: Associate Professor Pradip Thomas

Associate supervisor: Associate Professor Eric Louw

Thesis titleNavigating the Undercurrents: An Analysis of Pacific Island Regional ICT Policy (available here

Thesis abstract:

The Pacific Island countries are believed to have some of the lowest information and communication technology (ICT) penetration rates in the world in terms of Internet and mobile phone connectivity. With the global spread of ICT, ICT policy has been implemented at international, regional and national levels to increase ICT uptake and utilization, including in developing countries often as part of the work of development institutions. This thesis investigates the Pacific Island regional ICT policies created from the 1990s to 2011, exploring the terms and conditions of the policy processes and expressed perceptions of their failure.

This thesis constructs a Critical Policy Practice Analysis approach to explore the context, practices and outputs of ICT policy, focusing on the regional policy practice which engages international and Pacific Island institutions and policymakers. This Pacific Island ICT policy practice is investigated to explore the system which is producing dissatisfaction with this policy and to recommend how this situation might be overcome.

In this analysis, this thesis uses a theoretical framework employing a political economy perspective, along with critical discourse analysis techniques of Fairclough and Bourdieu’s notions of field and habitus to add insight into the sociology of policymaking, which finds multilateralism as a lens through which the context of ICT policy development in the Pacific Island region is best explored. This framework of theory is located in a Critical Realist epistemology, as established by Bhaskar. This research relates this western theory based approach to Pacific Island scholars’ work on political economy, international politics and regional self-determination. Shaped by these Pacific perspectives, this thesis prioritises and values ICT policy as a potential space for empowerment around regional and local Pacific purposes and intentions, exploring the policy processes in relation to this potential.

This research uses two data collection techniques: archival research and ethnographic observant participation in regional policymaking processes. The later took place over 2010 and 2011, during the most recent phase of Pacific Island region ICT policymaking process. This observant participation included attendance at two Pacific regional ICT Ministers’ meetings, as well as at three other regional ICT policy related events.

A key contribution of this thesis is the construction of the CPPA approach to policy analysis, using critical political economy and sociological notions of language, policy fields and the role of policymakers, combined with an emphasis on context, including local academic voices. Using this approach, this thesis contributes multifaceted insights into Pacific Island regional policy in the area of ICT towards improving the dissatisfaction of policymakers and outcomes of policy.

The findings of this thesis show the Pacific Island regional ICT policy processes involve international and Pacific Island institutions and policymakers in a broad range of policy fields well outside official policy, perpetuating ongoing rounds of policy despite expressed perceptions of failure to achieve Pacific Island goals for ICT. A major finding of this research is that the failure to achieve these goals is related to the multilateral context of this policy process itself. The research finds that while framed as Pacific Island regional ICT policy, with Pacific Island ownership, the processes were largely driven and sustained by international organizations, and the failure to achieve the Pacific Island goals for the Policy is directly related to the dependency on International organizations to fund and facilitate the process and its outcomes. Related to this, the policy processes have instead successfully supported a range of developments related to ICT in the region, particularly market deregulation and access for international companies, which align with the interests and goals of the International organizations involved.

This thesis recommends that any potential to improve this situation and empower a Pacific Island regional ICT policy which achieves goals set by the region for the region, lies with policymakers, both Pacific Island and international, through a broadening of their own horizons and awareness about the influences on and intentions of this process due to the direct relationship to international political and economic interests through international organizations engaged in and around the multilateral process. The imbalance in geopolitical power and realities of global ICT interests limit policymaker ability to change the processes and outcomes, therefore this research concludes that the dissatisfaction can most realistically be reduced by increasing understanding of the policy context, as explored in this research, to enable more informed policymaker action within the constraints of the context.

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