Ethnography of Policy: Puerto Rico's Roadmap to High Tech (1998-2008)

There is pressing interest in economies around the world to foster entrepreneurship, and technological innovation. Can we build "McSilicon Valleys," can the ingredients and special sauce and sprinkle it around the globe. Though many have tried, few have succeeded. There is a growing realization that entrepreneurship and innovation eco-systems need to be ethnographically studied to explore the unique variables behind each success and each failure. The challenge is breaking into this high speed world as an anthropologist. Altamente has the unique opportunity to have as its lead social researcher, Laura Gorbea, who for a decade was an Internet start-up entrepreneur in Puerto Rico, working alongside local agencies to establish a high technology sector. In the Spring of 2014, Gorbea had the opportunity to transfer her experiences into anthropological insights to paper. Her work was selected to be presented in the Society for Applied Anthropology annual meeting, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her work was also featured in a podcast series of conference highlights. Gorbea was also invited by an academic publishing company to elaborate on the topic and create a manuscript. This work is still in progress but we include her conference presentation abstract:

Running to a Standstill: Developing a High Technology Sector in Puerto Rico

In the period of two decades the Government of Puerto Rico sponsored at least three economic development plans from global consulting firms such as Arthur D. Little, McKinsey and A.T. Kearney. All plans coincide in recommending the Island invest in developing a high technology sector. This research offers an ethnographic look at economic development planning and obstacles met in the implementation of these plans. Fieldwork includes first hand experience as an invited private industry representative of small, technology firms during the intelligence gathering portion of the economic development planning, interviews of diverse groups of stakeholders in the economic development analyzes government and private sector technology purchasing patterns and an ethnographic look at the life of technology startups. The data gathered shows that the persistent belief that “knowledge” and “technology” come from “outside” fosters a zero-sum game where wealth in not generated but imported and managed, resulting in what the investigator describes as “technological colonialism.”

Keywords: Anthropology of Policy, Entrepreneurship, Innovation Eco-system, Economic Development, Science & Technology Policy