The federal Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) said this week that while the effects of the information economy were being felt "across all areas of the wider economy," its impact on productivity was hard to quantify, "especially in fast-growing service sectors, including property and business services and the predominately non-market health and education sectors".
DCITA said "conceptual and data limitations" had led to "growing dissatisfaction" with the macro methodologies currently used to measure the growth of some sectors, while DCITA-sponsored research had suggested conventional growth accounting methodologies could "understate" the importance of ICT use.
"As a consequence, the nature and extent of the contribution of ICT to trend growth in productivity is a matter of contention."
DCITA made the remarks in an invitation for consultants to submit a proposal for research that would explain how ICT contributes to Australia's innovation and productivity growth "and so advance the understanding of the growth mechanisms important to Australia". The request for proposal closes on 2 March.
DCITA said the present research base could be expanded in a number of ways, including accounting for the special characteristics of ICT which have led to its classification as a general purpose technology (GPT) and modification of conventional economics for its analysis. (The GPT classification, according to previous government documents, is warranted by ICT's capabilities in terms of pervasive application throughout the economy).
Researchers should also pay specific attention to characteristics specific to Australia such as geography, culture and history.
The focus on ICT's classification as a GPT is driven by the increasingly observed trend of new ICTs such as the Internet to involve "significant social transformation", said DCITA.
DCITA sees a need for the government to oversee the evolution of such social transformation, if potential productivity gains are to be realised.
The tender document does admit with respect to GPT research, however, that while the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is a leading global researcher in the development of statistics to measure and understand technological growth, "the gap between the data available and that required to better model GPT effects is a significant hurdle to progress".
The timeline for the research to be completed is specific: DCITA will sign a contract with the successful parties on March 25, with an initial progress report due on May 11. The final report will be due on July 29, with the findings to be presented at a public conference session to be determined, although the department mentions the Australian Economists Conference or the Canberra Communications Research Forum, both of which are to be held in September. All intellectual property rights to the research will remain with the Commonwealth.