G7 performance on digital innovation
G7 Summit

G7 performance on digital innovation

Although digital innovation has not been made a top priority for this year’s summit, it could be a significant driver of the post-pandemic recovery and achieving Boris Johnson’s goal of building back better

The global economic shutdown triggered by COVID-19 hit at a time when digital innovation was flourishing. Now as we move from containment to recovery, G7 leaders need to support collaborative models and continued investment, to mitigate future negative impacts of the pandemic on innovation. As the pandemic forces profound change in all aspects of the digital world, technological innovation plays a starring role in transforming and responding to this new level of global disruption and opportunity.

In 2020, momentum from previous G7 summits on digital innovation performance regressed, as G7 leaders focused on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, UK prime minister Boris Johnson plans to use his G7 presidency to build back better. At the Cornwall Summit, G7 leaders will focus on tackling climate change, leading global recovery from COVID-19, and championing free and fair trade, but not dealing with digitalisation as a top priority.


From 1975 to 2019 the G7 leaders in their communiqués dedicated 9,020 words to digitalisation, with none at the March 2020 virtual summit held to respond to COVID-19. From 1975 to 1999, G7 summits focused on information and communications technology. The first acknowledgement of digitalisation itself was made in 2000, with 113 words (0.8%). It was not mentioned again until the 2009 summit, in 169 words (0.5%). The 2010 summit made no references and the 2011 summit had 163 words (0.9%).

From then on, there was more deliberation on digitalisation, ranging from 2,395 words (18%) in 2013 and peaking at 1,868 (26%) in 2019, with only 395 words (4%) in 2017.


G7 leaders made 122 commitments on digitalisation since 2000, as identified by the G7 Research Group. They produced 26 between 2000 and 2009, and 96 between 2010 and 2019.

They made none between 2001 and 2008, and none in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015. In 2000 0.26% of the commitments were made on digitalisation, rising to 1.2% in 2009. There were 3% in 2011, rising to 8% in 2013 and 7% in 2016, then dropping to 2% in 2017 and rising back to 7% in 2018. At the 2019 summit 31% of the commitments were on digitalisation, the highest percentage at any G7 summit.


Compliance with G7 digitalisation commitments averaged 65%, based on the eight commitments assessed by the G7 Research Group. This is well below the overall 76% compliance average for all subjects. Compliance with digitalisation commitments fluctuated between 2000 and 2019. The two assessed commitments in 2000 had 100% compliance.

The assessed commitment from 2009 had 63% compliance, followed by 78% with the 2011 commitment and 67% with 2013’s commitment. In 2016 and 2017, compliance rose to a high 88%. Then came a plunge to 60% with 2018’s commitments and again to 50% for 2019’s.


Digitalisation compliance has been slightly above the G7’s average since
2016. However, digital innovation continues to outpace G7 policy makers’ responses, evolving much faster than regulation can be implemented.

G7 compliance with digitalisation commitments, based on the limited available evidence, is highest, at or above 74%, with commitments that refer to an institutional body such as the Digital Opportunities Taskforce (100%), use highly binding language such as ‘we will’ or ‘we commit to’ (89%), or refer to other international organisations (67%) and the private sector (67%). This suggests that G7 leaders should include such catalysts in their digitalisation commitments, specifically references to institutional bodies, and seek support from international organisations to promote stronger compliance. The G7 should also use highly binding language to hold members more accountable for implementation.

Similarly, G7 leaders should avoid the use of low binding language such as ‘we promote’, ‘we support’, or ‘we encourage’, which was used in commitments averaging only 49% compliance. Lastly, G7 commitments lack any reference to self-monitoring or accountability measures, or any specific agenda to stay on track and keep up with the pace of digital innovation. With no clear support from G7 ministerial meetings, and the deprioritisation of digitalisation during the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Johnson’s leadership at the Cornwall Summit faces significant challenges to get digitalisation back to the forefront of G7 leaders’ agenda for the future.