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Social Innovation Policy in the European Union

The next speaker at Challenge Social Innovation is Agnès Hubert, representing the European Commission. There is a growing interest in questions of social innovation at the European Union, with important preliminary work already underway; a new report has already been published, and further social innovation actions are underway. This brings together a wealth of important but still very fragmented initiatives in the past; social innovation is now becoming a frontline issue for decision-makers at the Commission.

Two major EU policy documents, framing the next ten years, address social innovation: this includes the 2020 directive, promoting inter alia innovation and the reduction of poverty. Social innovation is also embedded throughout a variety of other initiatives contained in the directive. Additionally, the EU budget also features significant financial support for social innovation initiatives; member states will need to identify themes for social innovation, and the Commission will facilitate capacity building in this field. Further, the EU Horizon 2020 research programme will also address social innovation research, and aims to unleash innovation across a number of crucial growth areas.

The Inevitability of Public Funding for U.S. News Media

Day two of the Future of Journalism conference starts with a keynote from Robert McChesney. He begins by acknowledging yesterday’s keynote, but also notes that he has a somewhat different view on matters; pointing to The Guardian as a special case, endowed by a trust, and publicly funded media in Britain in general, he notes that there aren’t all that many such news organisations left – and these and new initiatives may not be enough in their own right to sustain the future of journalism. More and other approaches are needed.

The world is filled with young people who want to be journalists, and they need to be given the opportunity to do so. There’s no lack of talent or enthusiasm, but a lack of resources and institutions that enable this – this is a political problem first and foremost; the labour market for journalists in the U.S. is now the worst it has ever been – worse even than in the Great Depression –, and this will not change unless major changes are made. And things may get even worse in the coming years.

CeDEM Lightning Talks, Part 1

The final session at CeDEM 2011 is a series of five-minute lightning talks – so I’ll try to cover them all in two combined blog posts. Let’s see how we go…

The first speaker is Siobhan Donaghy, whose interest is in the transparency of electronic vote counting: after voting (using traditionally paper ballots and ballot boxes) has taken place, how are the results dealt with? Can technological solutions improve the counting process – and how can we keep the counting process transparent even though counting is no longer manual?

A Passionate Plea for More Open Data Initiatives

The final keynote speaker at CeDEM 2011 is Stefan Gehrke, whose focus is on open data. He notes that open data was a niche term at first, but turned more mainstream after President Obama launched the initiative – as a result, the increased availability of public sector information (PSI) initiated a change from from a permissions culture (where data access must be requested) to an innovations culture (where access is the default setting, and no permissions are necessary for the development of new services using these data).

PSI puts citizens into focus and highlights the importance of government-to-citizen interaction between elections. This increases the focus on citizens’ needs, and the potential at a local government level is especially high. But in spite of all of this, the digital civic rights movement has been faster than government in harnessing open data; they have developed projects showcasing the potential of open data, if not always with the support of government.

Models for Greater Citizen Involvement in Public Services

We’re now starting the final round of keynotes here at CeDEM 2011. The first presenter is Elke Löffler of Governance International, whose interest is in facilitating the greater involvement of citizens in decision-making – a move from big government to the big society. How far have we come to date? We’ve moved, at least in some countries or some regions, from law and order approaches in the 1980s through new public management models in the 1990s to collaborative governance initiatives in the early 2000s; the latter stages of this process are very unevenly distributed, however.

Even public servants pursuing these latter, more advanced models feel that they have not yet been implemented in any significant way; where new approaches are attempted, awareness of the also still remains quite low. On a scale from 0 to 100, EU citizens generally rate the level of user involvement in their countries at around 50, with the UK and Germany slightly more advanced than other countries – the glass is half full, at best.

Learning from e-Democracy Failures in Sweden

The second presentation in this session at CeDEM 2011 is by Elin Wihlborg, whose focus is on a specific case study of e-democracy practices in a Swedish municipality – focussing in this case on reasons for failure, which are just as important to investigate as obvious successes. We need to start, though, by considering the concept of ‘democracy’ in the first place, which is often glossed over – it’s about forming a demos through finding a common ethos and participating in an inclusive fashion, and about kratia: thinking through the exercising of power.

What happens when we add ‘e-’ to this concept, then? Again, we need to consider how ‘e-’ anything affects both the ‘demos’ and the ‘kratia’ element of the term ‘democracy’. This is about politics from the institutional all the way through the everyday level, then, and democracy from the national to the local level. Similarly, we need to challenge the idea of empowerment, of course – what constitutes empowerment, who is empowered, who extends an invitation to participate and ‘be empowered’ in the first place?

Institutionalising e-Participation in Europe?

The next session at CeDEM 2011 starts with Francesco Molinari. His interest is in the processes of institutionalising e-participation in Europe. There is an enormous amount of information, evidence, and outcomes from a wide range of e-participation projects in the EU – how can we learn from them and develop more systematic approaches within European and member state institutions? What role does the researcher and practitioner community play in this?

The story begins with the EU e-participation Preparatory Action, which set up 30 pilot sites in 18 EU member states and engaged 100,000 citizens. 50 public sector entities were involved, and 70 MEPs took part as well. The overall investment was €20m, so that’s about €200 per participating citizen. Per pilot, an average of 3,300 citizens took part (or 2,000 per public sector entity, or 1,400 per MEP). These activities also created some economic impact, creating a market for leading innovative technologies.

PAAS: Assisted Citizen Access Points in Tuscany

The second speaker in this morning session at CeDEM 2011 is Sara Tavazzi, who works in the Italian region of Tuscany. She’s introducing a network of assisted access points to citizen services called PAAS. Some 45% of Tuscan families owned a PC in 2003, and only some 37% had Internet access; while this will have increased in the meantime, those are relatively low figures, then.

The Tuscan region pursued three actions to improve e-government, then – for public administration, for businesses, and for citizens; the latter was approached through a new regional law that also introduced the PAAS network, as part of broader efforts towards citizen participation in regional decision making, better services, and better participatory deliberation processes. Digital citizenship, digital rights, information flows, and general citizen engagement are also goals of this.

Managing Government Business Processes

We’re entering the second and final day of the CeDEM 2011 conference here in Krems. The first speaker of this session is Bojan Cestnik, whose interest is in business process outsourcing and its connections to citizen participation. Bojan starts by noting that the availability and sophistication of user services provided by governments are steadily improving; there is also a strong EU policy stating that no citizen should be left behind by these services in 2010. At the same time, participation figures remain limited: only 28% of citizens participate (but 68% of companies). So, there’s a need to understand and engage citizens more effectively.

There may be problems of apathy or intentional exclusion here. Certain obstacles and barriers actively discourage engagement, but this has also given rise to a common but incorrect belief that people just don’t care about politics (that they see it as a spectator sport). It is necessary here also to embrace voluntary and incomplete participation, rather than aim for ‘perfect’ outcomes.

Who Engages in e-Policymaking Processes?

The final presenter on this first day at CeDEM 2011 is Rebecca Schild, whose interest is in engaging policy communities online, in Canada. Canada is at an important crossroads in public consultation at this point; there has been substantial consultation in the past using older media technologies, but since the 1990s there was a neoliberal shift towards a more exclusive policy process that became dominated by private sector interests. Can this be redressed using e-participation?

Does the Internet increase participation in policy processes, then, and for whom? Can this draw on the emerging networked public sphere, or does it fall prey to fragmentation and polarisation? How may socio-cybernetic governance be made to work, and how can participatory inequality be addressed?


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