New paper: Connecting people, sharing knowledge, increasing transparency

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[Summary: Linking to a short conference paper exploring the impact of the web on land governance]

After a few contributions I made to their online dialogue, the lovely folk at The Land Portal invited me to help them writing up the dialogue and putting together a paper for the upcoming World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty. They’ve just published the result over here (also accessible via this direct PDF link).

The paper itself was a rather rapid creation between the end of the online dialogue and the end of February deadline, but aims to weave together a number of strands important to thinking about how digital technology is changing the landscape for advocacy and work on land governance. It has a particular focus on women’s land rights, which, in the Land Portal’s online dialogue, stimulated lots of interesting discussions about the potentially gendered nature of digital technologies. In it we survey how the Web has evolved from Web 1 (documents), to Web 2 (communities) and onwards towards a possible Web 3 of open and linked open data.

The Land Portal team, since getting involved in last years Open Knowledge Festival, have been really exploring what open data and open development might mean for them – and the Portal is definitely a space to watch to see how ideas of open development might be put into practice in the very grounded and wide-reaching field of land governance.

How might open data contribute to good governance?

[Summary: sharing an introductory article on open data and governance]

Thanks to an invite via the the great folk at CYEC, earlier this year I was asked to write a contribution for the Commonwealth Governance Handbook around emerging technology trends, so I put down a few thoughts on how open data might contribute to good governance in a Commonwealth context. The book isn’t quite out yet, but as I’m preparing for the next few days I’ll be spending at an IDRC Information and Networks workshop with lots of open access advocates, talking about open data and governance, I thought I should at least get a pre-print uploaded. So here is the PDF for download.

The article starts:

Access to information is increasingly recognised as a fundamental component of good governance. Citizens need access to information on the decision-making processes of government, and on the performance of the state to be able to hold governments to account.

And ends by saying:

Whether open data initiatives will fully live up to high expectations many have for them remains to be seen. However, it is likely that open data will come to play a part in the governance landscape across many Commonwealth countries in coming years, and indeed, could provide a much needed tool to increase the transparency of Commonwealth institutions. Good governance, pro-social and civic outcomes of open data are not inevitable, but with critical attention they can be realised?.

The bit in-between tries to provide a short introduction to open data for beginners, and to consider some of the ways open data and governance meet, drawing particular on examples from the Commonwealth.

Comments and feedback welcome.

Download paper: PDF (128Kb)

Participation, enterprise, legitimacy and power: reflections from the Dyroy Seminar

[Summary: Links and reflections from a day live-blogging with Web Scientists in North Norway]

The Dyroy context
Web Science Students (with the socks we were given on arrival to keep us warm inside the Arctic Circle)I’ve spent the last few days with a group of Web Science students in the community of Dyroy, in Northern Norway, about two hours by boat from the regional capital Tromso, and located around 69 degrees North – inside the arctic circle. Dyroy, like many rural areas, is facing a tough challenges to maintain a vibrant community as opportunities for employment draw young people away towards the cities, and as old industries and trade decline. Yet, as we heard from the Norwegian Minister for the Regions at today’s Dyroy Seminar, the area is not one to simply shrug and let decline set in – but is an area where citizens have come together to find new ways to sustain and develop the community. Although electricity only reached much of Dyroy in the 1950s, the Old Trading Post where we were staying brought a phone line into the area in the mid 1800’s, and the modern development of Dyroy relies heavily on high-speed Internet connectivity (hence the Web Science connection…).

One of the ways the community comes together is through a bi-annual conference, exploring topics of interest to the local community. This year’s seminar focussed on youth – looking at issues of youth participation, as well as exploring questions of identity and sustainable entrepreneurship and employment. As Web Science students we were present to explore how the web could be used to amplify some of the discussions from the first day of the seminar, and to build new online connections between ideas from Dryoy and the wider world. The day before the seminar, we spent time with students at the local school, running a number of workshops, including one exploring how social media could be used to campaign on key issues.

You can find a wealth of live-blogging and social reporting from the seminar here, and on the Dyroy Seminar website you will find a number of Norwegian reports about our projects. However in this post I wanted to draw out just a few reflections about some of the key youth participation themes of the last two days, in a way that I hope will be helpful both for those who took part in Dryoy, and for the wider readership of this blog.

Participation, politics and power
The room with English translation - and our social reporting hubI was hopeful that in Norway, the first county to establish a Children’s Rights Ombudsman, that when I asked a group of 13 – 15 year old students if they were aware of their right to participate under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that every hand would go up. However, translation issues aside, both in the school where we worked, and the seminar, ideas of participation did not appear to be explicitly rooted in the human rights of children and young people to have their views heard in matters that affect them. Building on a rights-based foundation is important to highlight (a) that children and young people’s participation needs to be about having an individual say, for example, in home life – as well as having a collective voice on community issues; (b) to recognise that all young people have participation rights, not just those who shout loudest or who get involved in formal structures.

Forms of participation that involve an individual expression of views can sit alongside participation in more formal politics: where debates are often concerned with the allocation of scarce resources. However, as a number of youth councillors, and young political party members debated during the seminar, it is important for young people engaged in political participation structures to be aware of the dangers of pursuing power for it’s own sake.

Structures, shared values and shared challenges
Much of the morning of the seminar involved discussion of how Norway is well on the way to having a Youth Council in every municipality, with the possibility of legislation to require Youth Council’s to be established. There was some debate over whether national requirements for youth representation would lead to an over-prescriptive set of structures, and whether instead flexibility was needed for each local area to develop it’s own youth participation approaches. The importance of handing over real power to youth fora was discussed, including mention of youth-led grant making (such as existed at scale in the UK with the, now sadly much rarer, Youth Opportunity Funds and Youth Capital Funds, and as still exists in other youth led grant making globally), or youth involvement in budgeting (or perhaps budget monitoring and advocacy, as a number of global youth participation projects are exploring).

In my experience of working on youth participation structures in the UK, when approaches are formalised it is important to recognise that there is no single structure that can support effective participation and representation, or that provides a suitable means of engagement for all young people. Rather, good participation involves a spread of interlinked approaches, from good complaint and feedback systems, through one-off-events and activities, to regular and structured representative structures. With the right design and active facilitation, online social media tools are potentially very effective to ‘bridge the gap’ between forms of one-off engagement, and more sustained engagement in local decision making.

Even with a good mix of approaches to youth participation, and many channels through which young people can get involve – without ‘shared values‘ being clearly articulated, and a wide shared understanding in the community that children and young people are equal citizens – participation of all forms risks becoming tokenism.

One of the peculiar properties of youth participation structures over other participation structures, is the relatively rapid turnover of membership. By definition, one can only be a member of a youth council for quite a short period of time compared perhaps to the main council. This leads to a need for both shared values, and participation structures, to be regularly revisited, revived and regenerated. It can also lead to a structural disadvantage for young people seeking to express their views – as they have to spend comparatively longer picking up the background knowledge needed to engage in particular debates, or may have less access to prior experience that could support them to secure the outcomes they want.

I’ve long been interested in the potential of the web to create a stronger institutional memory for youth campaigns: with social reporting and regular online reporting of youth activities generating an open record that future young participants can pick up – able to benefit from the experience of their predecessors. However, although it is often claimed that the Internet never forgets, in practice, keeping content updated and discoverable over many years turns out to be very challenging. For example, content from the Youth Council Website I developed and maintained over 10 years ago is now only available in the Internet Archive, where you would only find it if you knew where to look, and the archive of Oxford’s Social Responsible Investment campaign is scattered across a number of sites. Even if it was easy to deposit content from youth participation on the web as part of a long-term archive, we need better approaches to curate it so that future generations of youth representatives and campaigners can quickly find the intelligence they need to strengthen their hands.

Shared challenges
Having drawn on a rather oppositional idea of youth participation above: with the need to strengthen the voices of young people in contrast to those of adults, I want to step back and example whether that opposition is useful. There is a common platitude in youth participation events to talk about ‘young people as the future’. This is often met with the reply from young people that ‘we are part of the present too’, which is a very fair response. However, what concerns me more in this claim is that it often covers up an implied abdication of responsibility on the part of adults. By saying ‘we need the innovative ideas of young people to sort out future problems’, adults can be letting themselves off the hook for also being part of creating those innovative solutions. It can be a way of pushing the solving of the problem off into the future, perpetuating the generational injustice that has seen those currently in power create environmental problems, burden states with debt, and enable vastly unequal development (an accusation I target more at political leaders in the UK than Norway here).

In many cases the challenge is not to listen to the voice of youth, but to find ways for people to be involved in shared problem solving, regardless of age or background.

Entrepreneurship and legitimacy
Anders Waage Nilsen took us away from participation structures in his presentation to the seminar, highlighting how, particularly with the web, it is possible for people of all ages to self-organise, bringing an entrepreneurial spirit to problem solving. This approach, rooted in an impatience and desire to see change, suggests that young people should not wait around to have access to formal decision making power from which they can call for alternative models of economic and environmental development – but suggests that young people should use their networks to actively create the sorts of future they want.

The forms of ad-hoc social innovation enable by the web, by new practices and emerging norms of self-organising truly offer great opportunities to attack persistent social challenges, but when they become one of our primary modes of acting they also raise challenges of legitimacy. How far can, and should, communities (from local communities like Dyroy, to national communities like Norway) exercise collective self-determination over what happens amongst them? When the ability to take advantage of technologies to self-organise is not conditioned only by access to technology, but also by wider access to social and financial capital, how can a community avoid those with money and networks over-dominating the shape of local development by simply getting on with what they want to do outside of representative structures?

I’m not at all suggesting here that social innovation should be curtailed, and I would generally celebrate the forms of entrepreneurial social action Nilsen described. Yet, the most that ‘political action’ is conducted through ad-hoc actions, the more we need to find new ways to respond to it. To some extent our representative structures are about striking a balance of power, and as power shifts in the network society, we may need to develop new ways to regulate it’s legitimate exercise.

Web Science reflections: bridging with artifacts and agency
I’ve already mentioned a few ways the web might impact upon youth participation: from helping maintain an institutional memory for youth fora, to supporting new models of social action and problem solving.

In our workshop with students yesterday, we used the Social Media Game (with some extra cards made specially for this workshop), to explore how students might use the web to campaign on issues that affected them – from the poor quality of some roads, to a lack of activities, and issues relating to drugs and crime. A number of the strategies for using the web the young people put together involved strong use of online and offline channels – recognising that, for example, the support gathered on a Facebook page might need to be expressed through a letter to a politician to get their attention, or nothing that out-and-about exploration of problems with potholes could be taken online through videos and shared to raise awareness of the problem.

As we have also been exploring acting as social reporters today, bridging involves a mix of technical artifacts (tweets, blog posts, video clips and so-on), digital networks, and human connections. Understanding how these interact, and the different dynamics that affect each (from the design of content and messages, to the structure of digital networks, and the social psychology of sharing content) should be an important part of the contribution Web Science makes to thinking about participation.

Where next in a social reporting cycle?

For many of the Web Science DTC students, today was a first taste of live blogging and social reporting. Even for a single track conference, live blogging and social reporting generate a lot of content. Unlike events such as the Internet Governance Forum, where social reporting may be part of facilitating engagement in the live event, in the case of the Dyroy seminar, our social reporting has served more to amplify and create a record of the event. Working out sustainable ways to create a legacy out of this content is a challenge. For me, a first reflective blog post is a way to draw out some themes to reflect on more – that might emerge into future writing. However, with such a wealth of content generated through today – we do need to think more about how we might curate elements of it to further share ideas and debates from today’s event.

PhD and Practice

[Summary: study as part of practice]

This week was my first as a full-time PhD student with the Web Science Doctoral Training Centre and the Social Science department at Southampton University. It’s just under a year since I put in an application to start, and the start-date has pretty much fallen in one of the busiest month I’ve known: in part as I’ve tried (and failed) to sequence projects to finish before I started, and as a number of exciting events, projects and deadlines with the Internet Governance Forum, and International Aid Transparency Initiative, and Journal of Community Informatics and work on young people and technology, have all converged on the last and next few weeks.

Which makes for an interesting start to a PhD. But I hope, a positive one: with a clear reminder that I want three years of PhD not to be about three-years of stepping away from or outside of practice, looking to specialize into some narrow disciplinary structure for the purpose of a future academic careers; but to be about connecting research, theory and practice in mutually supporting ways.

I originally titled this post ‘Creating creative tension: PhD and Practice’ – as right now it feels like that is what I’m doing: setting up an interesting tension between the drivers in a number of projects to deliver some clear outcomes, and the drivers of early PhD study to spend time widening the horizons of my reading, broadening out with no outcomes yet in mind. But I’m not sure ‘in tension’ is the best way to keep practice and study over the coming years: so, time to dig out a reading list on theory, practice and praxis.

A logistical note:

Taking on a full-time PhD does mean that I’ve got limited personal capacity for new freelance projects over the coming months and I’ll be focussing on projects that overlap with my area of study on open data and civic engagement. Practical Participation more generally however continues to take on projects with Bill Badham and Alex Farrow leading on all things youth-engagement.

Call for Papers: Digital Campaigning Knowledge Exchange

One of my favourite events to be part of over the last few years has been the E-Campaigning Forum – an gathering of online campaigners convened around open space discussions. At the last two annual ECF gatherings we’ve tried to include some discussions of recent research, and, thanks to a great team coming together in 2012 we’re hoping for a full ‘knowledge exchange’ track bringing academics and practitioners together.

The call for papers is below. General registration for the E-Campaigning Forum is likely to open later in the year.

Call for Papers: Digital Campaigning Knowledge Exchange

Charities and campaigning organisations increasingly employ campaigners with digital expertise, with many developing dedicated digital campaigning teams to work on furthering social change goals. The eCampaigning Forum (ECF) has, for the last 10 years, brought together e-campaigning practitioners from across the world for an annual knowledge-sharing event. For more information see www.ecampaigningforum.com

The Digital Campaigning Knowledge Exchange will be a new element of the 2012 eCampaigning Forum (21st-22nd March, Oxford, UK), providing a parallel track of academic workshops alongside the open space discussions of the forum.

There is a wealth of academic and industry research into digital campaigning related topics, but this research rarely crosses over into practice discussions at ECF. Our aim is to foster meaningful links between researchers and practitioners, with a view to bringing relevant, informative research to digital campaigners, and connecting academics and researchers with live datasets and experience to draw upon.

Topics

Based on feedback from participants in 2011 we are inviting researchers with interests in the following areas to propose short papers to present, for discussion in a series of mixed academic and practitioner seminars throughout the event. Based on the papers submitted, three topics will be chosen.

  • The role of digital tools and communication in enhancing engagement to a cause
  • Demographics of digital mobilisation – Is e-campaigning inclusive? Which different demographics and patterns of technology use should campaigners consider?
  • Cross-country perspectives on digital campaigning – Including political and social issue campaigns. How do different national contexts compare?
  • Research methods for digital campaigners – How to collect research-ready datasets; how to employ innovative methods – including social network analysis and digital ethnography; how to combine qualitative and quantitative research methods;
  • Innovations in mobile and web technology; what do new services and approaches have to offer social change campaigns?
  • Approaches to crowd-sourcing and mobilising digital volunteers;
  • Data, data mining and ethics in digital campaigning.

We are particularly keen to have contributions that provoke debate or point to future directions for practice in digital campaigning. Specifically, we are keen to hear from academics that can provide practical suggestions for e-campaigners in additional to any theoretical or methodological insights. Poster submissions are also welcome.

The Digital Campaigning Knowledge Exchange will take place in three sessions on the 21st and 22nd March 2012. Each session will consist of 2 – 3 papers, followed by discussion. Knowledge Exchange delegates are invited to particulate fully in the eCampaigning Forum, including the open space sessions. Academic participants without papers are also welcome to apply as delegates to the eCampaigning Forum.

Academics making a presentation in the Knowledge Exchange will be eligible for a reduced fee if required. Accommodation and meals are available on site at an additional cost.

Papers can be submitted for inclusions in a short peer and practitioner-reviewed 2012 eCampaigning Forum proceedings to be produced after the event.

Research connections

E-campaigners also generate a wealth of data from e-mail metrics and campaign response rates, to social network data and supporter profiles. Space will also be dedicated at the 2012 ECF to creating connections between researchers looking for data to draw upon, and practitioners with live datasets. Discussions will explore how practice data can be made available for research, and how practitioners can draw upon research data and findings more effectively.

Call for Papers

Abstracts of between approximately 200 and 300 words should be submitted to academic@ecampaigningforum.com by the 16th September 2011. Accepted presentations will be notified during October.

Programme Committee

  • Anastasia Kavada, Senior Lecturer, Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI), University of Westminster
  • Janelle Ward, Assistant Professor, Department of Media and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Duane Raymond, Founder and Director, FairSay and eCampaigning Forum
  • Jess Day, eCampaigning writer and consultant
  • Tim Davies, Independent Researcher & Web Science PhD Student, University of Southampton