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Twitter in e-Participation

The next CeDEM 2011 session starts with a presentation by Peter Mambrey, whose focus is on the potential role of Twitter in e-participation. He begins by noting the expansion of the media ecology and the take-up of new media forms by specific groups in society; this creates new opportunities for political participation and self-empowerment, but also challenges for local administration and government.

There is a rising expectation of service quality, growing demands for local service delivery and expertise, competition between cities for citizens and enterprises, demographic change (with a marked population decline in some areas in Germany, for example), and financial problems in the wake of the global financial crisis. General questions include transparency and input-legitimacy, dialogue and output-legitimacy, collaboration and participation, identity management and public relations, and an erosion of the representative system (also through lobbying).

Building towards Deliberation and Civic Intelligence

I’ve made it to Austria for the third year running, to attend the Conference on e-Democracy. We begin the day with a keynote by Douglas Schuler – and my own keynote will come later today, too. The proceedings from the conference will appear soon on Google Books, by the way – in line with the open access philosophy espoused by many e-democracy initiatives. The Twitter hashtag for the conference is #cedem11, by the way.

Doug begins his talk with the premise that current trends aren’t adequate for the challenges we face – can we intelligently readjust our activities? What’s necessary here are interdisciplinary approaches, aiming for research that makes a real difference. Doug’s focus is on deliberation: we are in desperate need of good decisions and actions, which help fix our current problems. Such decisions don’t necessarily happen through conventional mechanisms (including the free market); we won’t luck into better solutions, but need clear and effective mechanisms for better deliberation to reach them.

A Technological Shaping of the Social in Evidence-Based Policymaking Platforms

The next speaker at AoIR 2010 is Anders Madsen, whose focus is on design choices in policy-oriented technologies of knowledge management. This operates in the context of discussions over the role of knowledge in democracy – how is the relevance of information and facts settled? Two divergent approaches to this highlight the role of science in generating evidence-based policy (which responds to well-defined problems), or alternatively see a range of wicked problems that need broad participation and socially robust policies.

Digital democracy can aid policymaking in these contexts; policymaking procedures can be grounded in new technologies of knowledge management – but this too is either simply about efficient and transparent data-sharing, or about the collaborative production of knowledge, reflecting the earlier division. Some of this leads to discussions of Web design - for example drawing on clearly structured Semantic Web developments, or more folksonomically organised Web 2.0 structures.

Theorising the Net as a Universal Public Service

The final speaker at AoIR 2010 is Sebastian Deterding, who is interested in reframing Web 2.0 as a public service right to communicate. One example of the debates around this is the French HADOPI three-strikes law around filesharing, which would remove Net access from offending users; others have framed Google or Facebook as universal public services, and describe broadband access as just as important as water or electricity.

The Internet is now a core communicative backbone for various communication networks, then – but how might we think about the Net as a public service in a more systematic, technology-neutral manner? First, public services are generally seen as services of general public interest that are subject to specific obligations or regulations. While usually the market provides, these are essential services where public needs may not be fully satisfied by markets alone. Indeed, the Net even serves as a backbone for some of the more conventional public services now.

e-Government? First Educate Politicians about ICTs

The next speaker at ANZCA 2010 is Julie Freeman, whose interest is in impediments to local e-government development. She suggests that there needs to be further education about ICTs of policy makers; one of the councillors of the city of Casey, in the south-east of Melbourne, whom she interviewed asked whether email was considered to be Internet use, for example.

The current population of Casey is around 256,000 residents (on 400 square kilometres), and continues to grow; some 89% are under 60. There are 11 councillors representing residents in the city council. The city has an extensive and sophisticated Website (with multilingual information and mobile versions), and its Twitter account (@CityOfCasey) has some 500 followers; there are significant visitor numbers (over 700,000 in 2008/9), while call centre calls are slowly declining. There is also a civic networking site, and the overall e-government costs are around $10,000 per annum.

Harnessing Community Resources in Public Policy

The next paper at ANZCA 2010 is by Jocelyn Williams, who shifts our interest to the question of opinion leaders online. This is in the context of a qualitative study of free Internet access for low-income school-based families, which also pointed to other difficulties and barriers for Internet uptake by low-income families; what can account for differences in uptake even between different case studies in this research project?

One likely explanation is the role played by key individuals who had influence on their peers and may have acted as role models in taking up Internet usage. What needs to be considered as a framework here is the study of the social dimensions of knowledge or information - society plays a central role in the knowledge formation process. Knowledge is socially constructed by people in relation to one another, within specific contexts; research therefore also needs to consider multiple realities, stakeholders, and angles on the research problem.

Improving the Print Literacy of Apprentices?

The next paper at ANZCA 2010 is by Frank Sligo, whose focus is on how apprentices develop print literacy. Modern Apprentices is a New Zealand government programme to help apprentices find places in various industries in the country. However, print literacy, language, and numeracy was identified as a key problem in apprenticeship training. This is why a new network of literacy support providers was set up across the country. Apprentices could access up to 30 hours of tuition time. The research project set out to evaluate this programme.

The Shape of an Emerging Monitory Democracy

Another day at ANZCA 2010, another keynote: we're starting this last day of the conference with a keynote by John Keane, whose theme is monitory democracy. He begins chronologically, in 1945 - when there were only 12 parliamentary democracies left in the world. Democracy was a beleaguered species.

John himself is in search of a 'wild category' - a category that provides a new way of seeing conventional wisdom, provides alternatives to traditional ways of ordering thought. We need a new term for describing the dynamics, changes of language, shifts in institutions, of democracy - and monitory democracy is the term he offers. We need a new term to describe these novel trends (which exist all over the world, especially also outside the traditional democratic countries), and in particular to better understand the intersections of democracy and communication forms.

Radio Networks and Local Content

The next speaker at ANZCA 2010 is Harry Criticos, whose interest is in regional radio. He begins by introducing the Super Radio Network, which has taken advantage of the deregulation of the radio industry, and he studied this through observation of and interviews with staff at a regional station that acts as a hub for AM and FM SRN stations, focussing on breakfast shift journalists and afternoon and drivetime announcers as well as managers. All were very interested in being involved - and the focus of the study was how people sourced and used information.


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