Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS

Information society, work, and the generation of new forms of social exclusion: Alternative paths into the information economy and policy learning

The argument that Europe has to find its own way to the information economy seems to assume that companies of all countries and regions in Europe have to apply more or less the same ICT-based restructuring strategies. Furthermore, this would imply that all regions are also confronted with similar labour-market and exclusion problems. Our research has shown, however, that although there are many similarities, the participating regions and countries are following different techno- organisational paths.33 Diffusion processes of modern ICTs and their social impact are to a certain extent region-specific, while sector specificity seems to be less important according to our findings.

From our research we have learned that the participating regions do not differ significantly in the intensity of applying modern ICT. Differences result more from the way in which modern ICTs are used and organisationally embedded. Here we can identify regions in which a great number of companies still stick to the traditional Fordist production model, with some flexibility made possible by the intensive use of modern ICT. On the other hand, we can find regions where companies have started to orient their restructuring strategies more on the network model as a new restructuring Leitbild, benefiting more from the transformation potential of modern ICT through accompanying organisational, cultural and training measures. However, we could not find a single region coming close to the realisation of an ICT-based network economy.

We do not understand the diversity of development paths into the information economy as a weakness, it may even be seen as a strength. By comparing various national strategies and their shaping through institutional structures, we may be able to identify good practices and new tools, which could then be 'borrowed' by other regions. For any region, the ability to adapt, diffuse and use products, processes, organisation forms, and even institutions developed abroad is a central aspect, not only for catching-up countries but for the leading ones as well. Due to such huge institutional diversity, institutional benchmarking in Europe is of particular advantage, as the cross-country and cross-regional comparisons of institutional performance are likely to strongly increase the political pressures for individual regions to address the underlying causes of poor institutional performance.

The strict application of the method of benchmarking is very difficult, however. There are serious problems related to the method of benchmarking, the most important being that one can by no means expect that a particular institutional solution as part of a specific economy may function in the same way and with the same efficiency in another economy. We probably cannot relate economic success to isolated institutional or organisational factors; they are part of a specific economic structure and it is unrealistic to assume that isolating single institutional or organisational solutions from the whole setting and implanting them into a new structure will not affect their performance.

Simple institutional borrowing and copying good practices may turn out to be very unsuccessful, as efficient functioning may depend upon the specific constellation of organisations and institutions in which the good practice is embedded. The method of benchmarking must therefore be applied very carefully. A less strict benchmarking - we may speak of intelligent instead of mechanistic benchmarking - may be helpful in better understanding the development of one's own economy, its strengths and weaknesses. It may give some further hints about how to improve the strategies of economic transformation, because we can learn from diversity. Institutional borrowing implies to a greater or lesser extent a process of institutional learning and adapting to new systems.

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University of Tampere
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