Worldwide, countries of all sizes and development levels are striving to become competitive knowledge economies and build inclusive information societies. In this context, the intensive adoption of information and communication technologies (ICT) as the optimal base for sustainable social welfare and economic growth in all economic sectors and social activities is becoming a top priority in every public policy and corporate agenda.
To a large extent, this trend has been seconded and accelerated by the recent crisis, as a large array of traditional industrial and natural resource–intensive sectors have had to face shrinking demand and margins. Among the richer countries of Western Europe, Spain is a case in point. On one hand, the country has known one of the most spectacular and sustained growth rates of the last 30 years. On the other hand, it has also been one of the countries hardest hit by the recent crisis, with unemployment rates surging from 12.8 percent in October 2007 to 19.3 percent in October 2009.1
The specific political and administrative context of Spain—where almost everything from taxes to education is subject to complex sharing mechanisms between central and local governments—as well as the emphasis the country has put on developing its information infrastructure make it an even more interesting case as well as a source of expertise and lessons to illustrate the challenges and possible rewards of designing and promoting information society strategies.
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The present chapter includes four sections. In the first, an attempt will be made to better understand the context in which Spain’s information society vision was born and how, as a result, Plan Avanza was designed and launched.The second section will focus on identifying the main results generated by this approach, while the last two sections will address the remaining challenges to be faced by Spain’s information society strategy and the lessons that other countries could use from its experience. The past is the prologue:
Plan Avanza’s design and launch In Spain, the traditional growth model has relied mainly on economic sectors that, though producing positive results in the short term, were neither intensive in ICT nor sustainable in the long run. In this context, the Spanish government designed and started Plan Avanza (literally,“Move Forward” in Spanish) in late 2005.Avanza is aimed at the full, effective development of the information society in the country, thus ensuring the convergence of social and economic growth across Spanish regions with European levels.
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Spain’s authorities clearly understood that such a demanding plan could succeed only with the involvement and commitment of the whole Spanish society. For this reason, they were determined to build an inclusive plan able to cope with different needs and sensitivities of the private sector, civil society, and the public administration.
Within this framework, regions and local administrations played significant roles, as warranted by the highly decentralized organization of the country. In fact, the central Spanish government, all 19 regional governments, local governments, private agents and associations from the ICT sector, political parties, and citizens were involved.A large array of working groups was created to build a strategic diagnosis of the initial situation and suggest objectives and measures for shaping the Plan. These recommendations were endorsed unanimously by every group, leading to the elaboration of the main lines of the Plan.