Blogs for e-Government: sufficient condition, but not necessary

In my conference about Digital Citizens vs. Analogue Institutions I spoke — among other things — about the importance of blogging for democracy, human rights and the development of the Information Society. And I stated that, even if we could not draw a direct relationship between all these variables — which we cannot so far —, we could set up a path where all these concepts formed part of the same equation.

Now Víctor R. Ruiz asks me to elaborate this idea.

First things first: with the data available at the moment (in this case from UNPAN — UN e-Government Survey 2008. From e-Government to Connected Governance — and Universal McCann — Wave 3 —) we cannot state that there is a close or strong relationship between blogging and the development of e-Government. In the figure that follows UNPAN’s e-Government index is compared with Universal McCann data about creation of blogs. The figure speaks (or, actually, does not speak at all) for itself:

So, what is the relationship then between blogs and e-Government? I’ll try and draw here two lines of thought, schematically for clarity’s sake (see below for references where to dig for some evidence about the following statements). Please keep in mind that when I say things like “there is a relationship” or “there is a correlation”, no explanation for causality is intended: variables seem to have a parallel evolution, but we (still) do not know whether one determines the other, the contrary or not at all. The argument is better followed by browsing through the slides I used at my conference:

Information Society, e-Governenment and Human Rights

  • Economic development is tied to the development of the Information Society (slide 3 and references below).
  • And not only economic development, but human progress at large (slide 3).
  • Part of this human progress is human rights: the maturity of the Information Society seems closely related to the maturity in human rights issues in one society or region as measured, for instance, by the degree of democracy, freedom of speech or civil liberties (slide 4).
  • The index of e-Government is correlated with ICT infrastructures, in particular, and with e-Readiness in general (slide 7).
  • And the index of e-Government is, again, related to other human rights as gender development, which, at its turn, is related to self-expression, identity, etc. (slide 8)

Conclusion? The triangle formed by e-Readiness (development degree of the Information Society), e-Government and Human Rights (especially those about freedom of speech and thought in general) is formed by three variables that seem to evolve in parallel: when one of them scores high, so do the other two.

Information Society, e-Government and Digital Literacy

  • Progress in Education is tied to the development of the Information Society (slide 5).
  • We even find that there is a general acknowledgment that the presence of computers in the classroom and teaching quality are related one to the other — we can understand this as digital literacy being a critical component of a good education (slide 6).
  • Digital literacy (e.g. being able to perform web searches or to chat online with other people) is quite related with the index of e-Government readiness (slides 9 & 10).
  • Indeed, participation itself and e-Government depends on the online experience of the user: the more they’ve been online (which should mean a more digitally literate user), the more they participate (a key for e-Government) (slide 12).

Conclusion? The triangle formed by e-Readiness (development degree of the Information Society), e-Government and Digital Literacy is formed by three variables that seem to evolve in parallel: when one of them scores high, so do the other two.

Blogs for e-Government

So, even if the direct correlation between the e-Government readiness index and the creation of blogs brings poor results (maybe because of poor data too), I wonder if we can establish an indirect relationship.

On one hand, there is plenty of evidence (see the valuable work of the OpenNet Initiative or Reporters Without Borders) that democracy and blogs make good friends, and that authoritarianism systematically persecute bloggers or, at least, try and block the access to their sites.

On the other hand (and again, the Pew Internet & American Life Project or Digital Natives project are bringing more and more evidence about it), it is my opinion that blogging is strongly related to a higher level of digital literacy, not because of blogging itself, but because of all the accompanying activities around blogging that we usually dub as the Web 2.0: editing photos and video, podcasting, uploading and sharing multimedia files, social networking sites, etc.

Summing up. On one side, e-Readiness, e-Government, Human Rights and Digital Literacy are correlated: not a development of the Information Society and e-Government without a certain degree of Human rihts and Digital Literacy. On the other side, blogging might not be enough to foster e-Government, but blogging does need a high degree of freedom of speech and political liberties (i.e. Human Rights) and quite a degree of Digital Literacy. So, in my opinion, blogging is a good proxy for both e-Readiness and e-Government. Why necessary and not sufficient? Sufficient because the existence of blogging implies that there are no barriers to the evolution of Human Rights and Digital Literacy, conditions related to the achievevent of high levels of e-Government development and a healthy Information Society. But not necessary because there might be no barriers and, actually, people not feel the need to blog, but express their freedom of thought and digital literacy in other ways (i.e. people might be digitally literate and free, but hate blogging). This could explain while there is no correlation between e-Government and a complex thing like blogging.

Further reading

iCities (IX). Debate: The Handbook of the blog in the enterprise.

iCities is a Conference about Blogs, e-Government and Digital Participation.
Here come my notes for session IX

Debate: The Handbook of the blog in the enterprise.
Chairs: César Ramos

Genís Roca

We should focus on what is an enterprise and not on blogs. Do we agree on what do we understand by “enterprise”? An enterprise is:

  • the acknowledged and legal way to have a personal adventure.
  • A temporal union of people around an interest
  • An interest group
  • An institution: a big telecom is like a ministry, and a ministry like an enterprise.

There are many enterprises: working for your own or employed, with or without employees, with or without workmates, with or without leadership, with or without partners, etc.

Blogging in the enterprise is easy when you’re alone (e.g. freelance) or part of a network and with small decision-taking capacity. If you’re a big decision-taker in a big institution, blogging is more difficult.

The problem is that most GDP and employment is generated at big institutions. So, blogs and GDP and employment do not (so far) go hand in hand. And more, while freelances are 2.0 and explain how do they do things, and the others explain what they did achieve and their version is the number of the inflation rate, which is the number that counts.

Real value of blogs: do they affect the ROI? EBITDA? power quota? value of shares? brand? customer satisfaction? …really?

Enterprises need to improve performance. If blogs play this game, great. If not, forget about them.

The bigger the enterprise, the deafer it is to customer “noise”.

Alberto Ortiz de Zárate Tercero

So, what’s a blog?

  • A tool
  • A communication medium
  • A lifestyle
  • A participative social action
  • A part of a biggest thing: the blogosphere
  • A selling platform?
  • An advertising platform?

A blog is a way to listen and talk with the network (not to the network)

The blog can be used to listen and know about your:

  • Customer habits
  • Campaigns
  • Branding
  • Reputation
  • Notoriety
  • Competence
  • Ways to innovate and improve
  • Authority
  • Ways to listen inside the enterprise

The conversation is ubiquitous.

Once you’ve listened, now it’s time to speak and share: listen, reflect, link. Some uses:

  • Viral campaings
  • Microniches
  • Public Relationships
  • Communication medium
  • Show authority
  • Leverage notority
  • Create communities
  • Team building
  • Innovate with the user
  • …but not intended for selling

The keys to success… in a World that’s changed:

  • Be connected
  • Openness to the World
  • Weave networks
  • Become an attractive place
  • Control is not relevant
  • Having is not important, but linking

My reflections

I don’t think the size is that important in the reason behind having or not a blog (to impact the ROI, etc.), but:

  • Their dependence on the customer’s opinion
  • Their degree of competition within the sector
  • Their dependence on innovation for survival

Two examples: IBM and Dell are increasingly becoming more 2.0. They are big, but depend on the customer, on innovation and the market is really competitive. On the other hand, big banks, big oil enterprises or the Administration, are almost monopolies (or oligopolies), do not depend on the customer and do not depend on innovation.

Antoni Gutierrez-Rubi adds to my arguments another reason: dependence on brand and reputation.

Genís Roca adds that this might be more a cultural issue (i.e. we are native digitals and think openness as a natural and a necessary thing) than a business valid argument. Maybe, if decision-takers happen to know and learn and perceive this cultural change and see how it really affects their firm, maybe then they’ll shift towards 2.0, but…

iCities 2008, Blogs, e-Government and Digital Participation (2008)