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Pushing Back against State and Corporate Internet Surveillance and Censorship

The second day of the Berlin Symposium begins with a keynote by Rebecca MacKinnon, who begins with the story of an arts installation, the Berlin Twitter Wall, which reflected on the fall of the Wall in 1989 through the medium of Twitter. As it happened, though, the hashtag #fotw (fall of the wall) was taken over by Chinese Twitter users, protesting against the continuing censorship in China; this cold war view of state censorship as an ‘information curtain’, and of digital media as the samizdat of the day, continues to permeate today.

But this ‘iron curtain 2.0’ view of the Internet has also been criticised – there are more complicated problems that mere barriers to access, and more complex divisions than those commonly perceived to exist between ‘authoritarian’ and ‘democratic’ countries. We may be succumbing to historicism, even to technological determinism, blinding us to what’s actually going on. Where, in fact, are we going, then?

The Historical Trajectory of Social Innovation

The second plenary speaker in this session at Challenge Social Innovation 2011 is Frank Moulaert. He begins by suggesting that much of the interdisciplinary work on social innovation has not been properly recognised, or has even been gently censored. But why is this the case?

We must work towards a shared analytical framework, but this can only happen through an open and wide-ranging discussion of where social innovation research should be going. Research on social innovation goes back to the early days of social science (Weber, Durkheim, Schumpeter, …); such work was synthesised in France (and in French) during the 1970s and 80s, but does not seem to have crossed over into anglophone research. Only at the end of the 1980s, international social science renewed its interest in social innovation – but international work, especially by the Young Foundation, takes too much of a business- and enterprise-oriented approach to the study of social innovation.

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.


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