Internet, Politics, Policy (III). Participation in Politics and Policy-making

Notes from the Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment conference, organized by the Oxford Internet Institute, and held at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, UK, on September 16-17, 2010. More notes on this event: ipp2010.

New ways for policy-makers to interact with citizens through open social network sites – a report on initial results
Matthew Addis, IT Innovation Centre, University of Southampton, UK

WeGov aims at using social networking sites (where the people is) to engage citizens in two-way dialogues as part of governance and policymaking processes.

Several issues are raised, though, concerning security, privacy, digital identity, hacking, masquerading, bugs and system malfunctions, etc.

So far, though, it seems that social networking sites do offer plenty of potentgial for improved interaction of plicy makers and community, and they are complementary to other models. Notwithstainding, care is needed on what’s legally acceptable, risks need being assessed. On the other hand, there is a high dependency on the major actors (Google, Facebook and other SNS operators). Last, many technical challenges have to be overcome before real dialogue can take place.

Discussion

Q: Should politicians and/or public servants take part in social networking sites? Are them an appropriate place where to engage in a conversation? A: These issues are taking into account in the project, though no results are available at this moment. Notwithstanding, SNS can be used to create only-politicians workgroups, so they can work amongst them in a new environment without “third parties” peeking in.

Q: Isn’t that a big brother approach to policy making? Are SNS only used for surveillance but not for listening? A: Of course it depends on the usage.

Analysing e-consultations with the help of Computer Assistance
Aude Bicquelet, London School of Economics (LSE)

Text mining is the process of extracting information in large corpora with the aim of identifying patterns and relationship in textual data. Can text mining methods help the analysis of large corpora such as e-consultations?

Alceste software was used to explore petitinons and comments from the citizens. After a first scan, cluster analysis was performed to try and isolate groups of terms and infer from them concepts/meanings.

Text mining methods help in categorization of data, reduction of information, visualization to help and disentangle complex and prolific data, high velocity of analysis.

On the other hand, there are some risks like points or issues missed by the algorithm, missing data, insensitivity to meaning and context, etical issues related to privacy or confidentiality, “dehumanization”, non-awareness of participants being a matter of research, etc.

Discussion

Ismael Peña-López: Though there might be a risk of decontextualization, text could also be mixed with other data (e.g. on the author of the text) and thus reintroduce context within the equation. Would that be possible? A: Yes, this is definitely an option.

Q: Text mining can be used for “sentiment mining”.

Q: How are these findings used? A: They feed back the whole participation process and they inform the people designing the systems so that they can improve them.

Surfing the Net: a pathway to political participation without motivation?
Rosa Borge and Ana Sofía Cardenal, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute IN3, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona

Goals of the research: To investigate the relationship between internet motivation and political participation, and to see whether the use of Internet changes the importance given to motivation.

The literature is not conclusive, and both positive and negative impacts have been found in Internet over political participation in the literature.

The main drivers of political participation are resources, psychological involvement and recruitment networks. Does the Internet reduce the importance of motivation (psychological involvement)? Does the Internet has any impact on it? When participation is not so costly (due to the Internet), maybe political interest is not so important, as participation is almost costless.

(H1) Use of the Internet will not cause the effect of motivation to disappear, but digital skills may actually be a barrier. (H2) Browsing aimlessly on the Internet and being contacted online will increase the probability of online participation.

First results show that political interest and political skills have a direct effect on online political participation. Specifically, having internet skills does have a direct effect in participation, though it will not make political interest disappear as a reason to participate.

There also is a relationship between browsing aimlessly on the Internet and being contacted online and an increase in online political participation.

[Own ramblings: Pippa Norris stated that citizens were increasingly engaged in “actions” rather than “ideologies”. Isn’t that the next step, where “action” is substituted by “casual politics”? Is there still a role for deliberation? We’re witnessing transition fr endorsement of ideas, to participation in actions to casual politics on the run. Seems like e-politics is less of the Habermassian e-agora and more about e-herding.]

Civil Society and ICTs: Creating Participatory Spaces for Democratizing ICT Policy and Governance in the Philippines
Ian Jayson Reyes Hecita, Florida State University

Goal of the research: analyse the state of Civil Society Organizations (CSO) in Philippines.

Context: failure of institutions, lack of capacity of government, democracy dominated by the elite.

Thus, CSOs are raising many relevant issues in Philippines related to ICTs and society.

But government receptiveness on CSOs can depend on leadership, on tapping government “champions”, the political attractiveness of the policy issue, and the effectiveness of engagement will be more viable at the executive level than at the legislative level. It will also depend on the openness/receptiveness/political will of government agencies to CSO participation, on the level of institutionalization of CSO participation, the resources of CSOs and capacity and skills to engage the government, the critical mass in their basis and policy audience, the need to develop consumerism, their capacity to carry on research and, of course, the legal and regulatory framework.

As a conclusion, CSOs may have a limited impact in terms of influencing policy outcomes, but they may have an important one in brining relevant topics on the table.

Papers:

Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment (2010)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2010) “Internet, Politics, Policy (III). Participation in Politics and Policy-making” In ICTlogy, #84, September 2010. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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