Notes from the workshop Citizen Politics: Are the New Media Reshaping Political Engagement? held in Barcelona, Spain, on May 28-30th, 2009. More notes on this event: citizen_politics_2009.
New and old strategies of political communication. How to build a 2.0 political movement
Jordi Segarra, Segarrateres
End of a model to do politics. Now, politics is personal, is individual, is targetable, is viral.
Individuals, thanks to user-friendly Internet, have become their own news reporters, and the market can segment at the individual-level targets.
Politics: From a monologue to a dialogue, to a conversation. And messages are no longer aimed to the group, but to the individual. And the individual has a conversation with the campaign. 35% of adult Internet users have a profile in a social networking site (SNS).
Segmentation and targeting. Clear differences between who voted for Obama and McCain: Obama got clear majorities amongst youngsters, women, non-whites (african-americans, latinos, asians and others), lower-income classes, lower-educated (and higher- ones too) voters.
A major difference: 69% of first-time voters voted for Obama (vs. 30% for McCain) and two thirds decided long before the election that they’d be voting Obama.
Through technology, everything is targetable, and the tech-toolkit of Obama’s campaign was really wide.
Through targeting, all politics is viral.
Let the campaign flow instead of trying to control it.
Video: Crush On Obama, 100% non-official.
Logobama’08: everyone could create their own Obama campaign logo based on a simple official logo. But the results, were unofficial merchandising that pervaded everything.
In general, Obama directly contacted more people (26%) than McCain, reaching an average of 8-point gap in contact rate.
Politics are likely to become viral, but maybe not in the short run. TV remains dominant… though no longer exclusive. But, 30% of people surfing the Internet are watching television at the same time.
Twitter surges past Digg, by Erick Schonfeld: will it kill Facebook?
His Choice ad.
Old Media Transformation
Rapid response campaign: using old media (TV) in new ways, creating ads in few hours as responses to other ads or to public debates.
The Path to Change
The center of the campaign is the candidate.
You can change the tactics, but not the strategy.
50 states campaign, aimed towards mobilization.
Don’t try to convince voters: involve people on the campaign. The key to victory was a grassroots campaign.
13 million e-mails on my.barackobama.com database, 2 million volunteers working on the field.
It’s the network, stupid!
Government vs. Campaigning
Is governing different from campaigning? The answer is The White House 2.0, with pages in Facebook and MySpace, profiles in Twitter and Flickr and Youtube, blogs in the website, etc.
Q: How could Obama’s campaign be transposed in Europe? A: Negative campaigning and unofficial merchandising are very different to translate into Europe. The problem being that there are no emotions in politics, people (in Europe) do not put emotion into campaigns or messages.
Q: What will happen to “the list” (the 13 million people list on Obama’s database)? How will they keep engaged? A: It’s difficult to act in campaign-war-like times during government-times. Aiming for hope and change is much more difficult from the government than during campaigning — especially if you were in the opposition. In the government, people want more answers, real ones, than engagement. But the least you could do is not let the website die, to keep on contacting the voter, etc.
Q: Isn’t it a bottom-and-up approach instead of a bottom-up approach only? It is my guess that what disappeared was not the top of the pyramid, but the middle of the pyramid.
Q: Is it really true that there was more and new people voting, an increase in the turnout, or just that SNSs were used to squeeze the most of partisans? A: The results in fundraising might tell that it is not true that no new voters came and voted: partisans engaged in fundraising and did it from outside the boundaries of the “usual suspects”.
Q: How one can tell what technology will work or will be just hype? A: Every campaign, candidate, city, etc. are different. Putting all your eggs in one basket is simply a bad idea. All campaigns must begin with research and find your potential target — not the other way round. Numbers, figures and data. And research must be embedded in the campaign, iterative and being nurtured with the feedback of the campaign itself.
Eva Aduiza: In Spain, you tend to mobilize supporters, not swinging voters and even less opponents. Is it the same thing in the US? A: The problem with this approach is that the database is it a drawer. What is needed is datamining, knowing who’s on your database. And then, we can start working either on supporters or in swingers. But there’s a previous and much more important stage that is usually forgotten.
Citizen Politics workshop (2009)
Live notes at the research seminar Politics and Internet in Obama era by Manuel Castells. Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Castelldefels (Barcelona), Spain, May 26th, 2009.
This lecture is part of Manuel Castells’ new book Communication Power.
Politics and Internet in Obama era
Was what truly surprising and unpredictable was not that Democrats won the election — most likely to happen after the crisis, the wars and so — but that Obama won the primary elections. And the Internet was decisive. If Howard Dean leveraged the power of the Internet in the benefit of his campaign, in Obama’s, it was not only leveraged by determinant.
But it was not only the Internet, but also additional factors in the design of Obama’s campaing.
A first reason the Internet played such a role, was Internet usage, that has hugely increased compared to the previous elections four years before: 46% of adults used Internet or cellular phones to get political information, twice as much in Howard Dean’s times. And, indeed, there also were more Democrat voters using the Internet than Republican voters. And social networking sites (SNS) are just pervasive — even more than “standard” website usage — in general and, specifically, among youngsters. 40% of SNS users used SNSs to engage in political campaigning:
social networking on the web is social networking with political connotations.
A huge discovery was that 58% of youngsters used the Internet for political mobilization, while only 20% of people over 65 did: the Internet help mobilize young voters, which normally have a lower voting ration than elder people.
Fundraising and web interaction
The campaign was centralized in MyBarackObama.com plus a myriad of sympathising websites. But fundraising was centralized: any event, any action, led towards raising funds that inevitably led towards the Internet and the central website. Obama refused to be mainly funded by federal lobbies, which enabled him to propose political measures that went against specific lobbies’ interests. And this financial independence was made possible by the total (micro)donations raised and collected through the Internet. On average, Obama got US$250 per donor, 62% of which were through the Internet.
But, besides money, a huge database was created with people contacting Obama. Profiles were created and, thus, mobilization could be made almost on a personal basis. And this database was way better than the one the Democratic Party had.
Contacting the profiled people required a constant accountability of what Obama was doing with the money. It was all based on interaction, not just sending information out.
The turnout of Iowa’s campaing was 90%, but the overall campaing’s turnout was 135%: the young people were mobilized in a proportion that had never been seen in previous elections in the US.
The convergence of very important people around Obama’s campaing made it possible to bring it to a higher level. Experts from the Web world and, specifically, the SNS world, helped to design a campaign perfectly fitted for a Web 2.0 environment, being the flagship the “Yes We Can” viral video.
Indeed, web campaigning was also used in offline campaigning: the level of detail in the supporters’ profile allowed to identify who was supporting Obama in the territory, who should be addressed to, who was willing to vote, to engage… or who was “in need” of a final push to join Obama. These people knew each other, met on the Internet, and self-organized.
This self-organization meant that the message was delivered not by the “candidate” or the “apparatus” but by “normal” people, by neighbours, that explained why were they voting Obama, on a personal basis.
Despite the fact that “most” people is connected to the Internet, it is also true that intensive Internet users (read online, interact online, are heavy SNSs users, etc.) are below 40. This meant mobilizing the youngsters.
Indeed, Obama used the campaign not only for campaigning, but to send out a social message. And this was a major difference in relationship with Hillary Clinton.
On the one hand, Obama showed a different attitude towards the Iraq war, being against it from the beginning.
On the other hand, Obama detached himself from the mainstream powers of Washington, detaching himself also from John Kerry’s campaign who would never made it clear, for instance, whether he was for or against the Iraq war. Obama addressed people that were outside the political system, or disenfranchised from the whole system.
Triggering the social movement, socializing the campaign, bringing it to the grassroots level was crucial. The values of campaigning were transformed.
Saul Alinsky, based in Chicago, created the modern way of organizing communities. Barack Obama entered political mobilization when joining in churches in Chicago that worked in the Alinsky-like way of mobilizing communities. And Obama organized his campaign this way too. He applied Alinsky techniques to mobilize voters… and increase the voting rate. And he adapted it for the Internet age.
The platform is the message
Obama himself was a message. If Hillary Clinton decided that “she was a woman”. In Obama, he was the message and words mattered. And words were “hope” and “change”. Not gender, not race.
“Hope” became a framework, a framework within another framework characterized by crisis or war. And in this framework, he would bring “change”.
Obama mastered communication. A first pint was to dismantle Hillary Clinton’s attacks (HillaryAttacks.com) on his person. But this was a minor issue.
But most attacks, Obama fought them by being himself. And he also responded by bringing the level of debate to higher grounds, to more “philosophical” levels, avoiding personal reasons or personal confrontation.
Simonetta Taboni develops the concept of ambivalence, on how people innovate without being trapped in their approaches:
I want to change the world, but I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I will try, and I will experiment. And, in this sense, Obama is ambivalent. Why is it so important to be ambivalent? Because goals are clear, but they leave enough blank spaces that citizens, experts, politicians, can fill in and participate. The means are collectively constructed… but led by the leader. People are engaged, people are involved through constant interactivity to go through constraints.
Ismael Peña-López: how narrow is the line that separates the theory of ambivalence from the theory of ignorance? What makes the difference between being ambivalent and simply incompetent (i.e. really does not know what to do)? Manuel Castells: the fundamental difference is that most political parties (e.g. Spain’s) have clear goals and clear means: to stay in power and do it at all costs. There’s no room in the political apparatus of the party for engagement or debate, less for collective construction. The major difference from ambivalent approaches is that parties write the full script. In ambivalence, something originating from outside the party is embedded in the discourse and even can transform the system. In an ambivalent approach, the Internet fuels the debate; in a non-ambivalent environment, the Internet is yet another bureaucratic tool. And the shift from non-ambivalent to ambivalent is almost impossible, and only likely to happen in a situation of total political crisis, where a deep change is needed (e.g. the case of Italy and Berlusconi that, ironically, mobilizes the voter against the established political parties).
Rachel K. Gibson: to what extent can Obama act like he did during the campaign now that he is the President? Will involvement still be possible? Manuel Castells: A simple observation is that the campaign still goes on, especially on the Internet. It is likely that engagement and mobilization will fade out, as it normally happens. The question is how much degree of change, how much demands will be put into practice before the system metabolises the inertia triggered during the election campaign. The secret will be how to keep this feeling of “revolution” or “change” alive for as long as possible.
Mike Jensen: Did Obama really transformed the system, or just a new campaign? Why cannot Obama’s model be extrapolated to Europe? Aren’t we seeing “politics 2.0” in Europe? Manuel Castells: he did change the system, as he brought inside many new voters and from different strata. And these new people do feel that they can change the system, which, at its turn, inevitably changes the political landscape. There is a true opening up of the system while, at the same time, avoiding to enter in a “civil war” against the establishment, which he needs to “professionally operate” the country. About transporting Obama’s model to Europe: it’s true that there is an Obamization of politics, and that there are shy approaches towards Web 2.0, but they are mainly technological, not conceptual. Everything remains under the control of the party machines, including the leaders — especially because there are no presidentialist elections. Power must be taken from political parties. And this will only happen under a sever catastrophic crisis of politics and political parties. Will this happen in the next UK elections? Will the Conservative Party be able to do it? Not only to beat the Labour Party, but to transform the whole political system.
Eduard Aibar: what happened to television? Manuel Castells: television still is the most important way to get (political) news (though this is not true for young people). And Obama paid a lot of attention to television, especially in the last days of the campaign, when he got a lot of money left and little time to spend it. On the other hand, he got a lot of air coverage, in part because it reported profits for TVs to cover his campaign. But TV was information and would have never been able to raise a grassroots movement.
Jasmina Maric: Internet propelled Obama… or Obama propelled the Internet? Manuel Castells: The huge difference in Internet adoption from the previous election and Obama’s was crucial. He boosted it, but the terrain was prepared to.
On Friday May 15th, 2009, I took part in a round table about Educational Innovation in the framework of the ForumRed’09, a
meeting about education, the Net and the collective web organized by the School of Communication, University of Seville (Spain).
The round table was cleverly chaired by Juan José Calderón and participated by Julen Iturbe, Tíscar Lara and I.
After a first exposition from each of the participants about the topic of the title, Juan José Calderón would drop his questions on the table and then they’d be more or less answered or commented by some or all of us. What follows are the notes I took during the event, unedited, uncut, as raw as they came. They are nor complete or comprehensive, so important data might be missing. My apologies to the other speakers for not make justice to their insights here — fortunately, the event was taped and will hopefully be soon released online.
Should we be talking about teaching innovation or about student/learning innovation? Isn’t it the student the one that is innovating? Where are people socializing one to each other? Where is learning innovation happening? What’s the role of expanded education? Of informal learning? How do we integrate these phenomena?
Isn’t there a crisis in the segregation of roles between teachers and students? How do teachers learn? Aren’t teachers also learners, and learners that are learning on the Net?
We’ve been living in a world based on transaction costs: enterprises (the transaction costs of production and distribution), political parties (the transaction costs of direct democracy), schools and universities (the transaction costs of gathering all knowledge)… The Internet cuts down to almost zero most costs of transaction related to knowledge management. And, hence, the need of intermediaries: end of some industries? end of political parties? end of universities?
A new role for knowledge workers: to monitor knowledge, to hub it towards third parties, to enable these third parties and empower them in knowledge management terms.
We’re living a shift from a lab that acts as a simulator for entrepreneurs towards real engagement in the economy and real entrepreneurship. The student is empowered with a more active role enabled by this crisis of intermediation and the fall of transaction costs.
- A change in the idea of student: responsible of their own learning processes.
There are no handbooks, no syllabuses, etc.. It is the student who defines the syllabus and seeks their own learning resources.
- The teacher is no more a teacher but a tutor, and normally an entrepreneur themselves.
- The classroom has no more sense in this model, especially as a physical concept that increasingly implies constraints (of time and space). Students can design physical spaces themselves according to their own needs.
- What’s the sense of time? How do we measure the amount of hours required for a specific “subject”? How do we fit all the hours spent — offline and online — working on a project/subject?
No maps for these territories?
Juan José Calderón: there are new territories for which we have no maps [a statement which reminds me of William Gibson’s No maps for these territories]. What should we do? Are we in a crisis?
Julen Iturbe: there are (new) generations that feel comfortable enough without maps. That even feel uneasy when the whole path is paved and would rather have more freedom to define their own ways.
Crisis? There’s increasing evidence that students know more than teachers or experts at large.
Ismael Peña-López: I see three “evolution” patterns (simplified):
- Darwin: species change as better phenotypes survive and worse phenotypes extinct
- Lamarck: species change by adapting themselves to the environment
- Meteorite: a meteorite directly kills species by overturning the landscape and some species survive and reign
We have to assume that a meteorite will fall on some “species” (e.g. paper journals, the distribution of CDs). And that some other “species” might just die out and leave no trace (one or two generations of “digital immigrants”). But we have to work the Lamarckian path so to minimize casualties: learn to learn, learn how to map territories or live in unmapped ones, teach competences that enable skills acquisition, bridge old an new… No revolution but evolution.
think with a mobile phone logic: traditionally, switches have one and only one purpose (turn on the radio, switch on the lights, connect the washing machine). But mobile phones have keys with several purposes or functions. And trying to teach each and every function of a single key is useless. We have to teach the rationale behind the multifunction switch. There is no need to know the whole map of features, but learn how to take decisions with incomplete information, and learning in the process.
Put the focus on the purpose, and then discover the tools that can help me in achieving this purpose. And this is risky, and we are risk-averse, reluctant to change. But we have to learn to live with risk and failure. And we have to acknowledge that we are living in critical times, which will help in surviving this crisis.
Juan José Calderón: Are we ready for collaborative networking? Can we produce open content?
Julen Iturbe: content will increasingly be open, and this is an unstoppable trend. We should, nevertheless, put the stress on the difference between information and knowledge. In social networking sites the focus is in the “social”, and it is not about content, but networked people. And we learn not through content, but through people: content (publications and so) are but means to identify and reach people.
A problem with the actual system of acknowledgement of diffusion of science is that it is not related with the reality. The practitioner and the scholar do not share the same agoras where to exchange knowledge, and open publications seem to be bridging this chasm.
Ismael Peña-López: we are prepared to collaborate and teamwork and is has historically been this way. The problem is that we are assigning two different goals (diffusion and assessment) to the same tool: journals/papers/essays.
Open content has made diffusion quick and free, and creates tensions with the other goal: assessment. We should focus on assessment methodologies, which are dragging collaborative work as we do not know how to assess it (or are not able to).
Tíscar Lara: we have forgotten how to collaborate and teamwork. And we have to teach again how to, teach how to get over learning routines, already known and comfortable to be carried on.
On the other hand, scholarly journals have played havoc on knowledge diffusion in two ways: On the one hand, they are more focused towards assessment/accreditation than to diffusion. On the other hand, it does not catch knowledge that is produced outside of the system.
Indeed, we should acknowledge all the effort to produce and publish/diffuse knowledge made outside of the traditional/mainstream means, and use it to give credit.
Juan José Calderón: how to go on? next step? what is going to happen?
Julen Iturbe: use the judo philosophy: benefit from the energy and novelty that the student is bringing in, use the “difference” to approach the “different” (the new practices of the younger students).
Ismael Peña-López: we should try not to do the same things in different ways, but novelties should come with no disruptions. An option could also be radically innovative changes but in controlled and piloted projects, in just part of the subject, in just part of the traditional activities, in parallel lines (the revolution within).
Two key aspects for this approach to succeed:
- the sandbox: a place where to experiment without blowing up everything if it fails
- the wildcard: a person, or a team, whose only purpose is to be available to help others’ innovation, with relevant information on state of the art instructional technology and methodologies, being able to set up a “sandbox” in hours/days, etc.
Tíscar Lara: promote “full-contact”, because of the idea of contact, of hands-on. Try to bring back emotions and personal interests into the classroom. Try to avoid knowing our students once they’re given their marks… way too late for corrections. Build spaces where to just meet, as persons.
And the web 2.0 (blogs, social networking sites, etc.) do provide valuable tools to make this contact happen, to build affective links and emotional learning. And, by this, break the artificial rivalry between teachers and students, and amongst students and colleagues themselves.
Julen Iturbe: Innovación Educativa = Bronca.
Live notes at the research seminar 2.0 electoral campaigns: how do the new web tools reconfigure local electoral campaigns? by Rachel Gibson. Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Castelldefels (Barcelona), Spain, May 21th, 2009.
2.0 electoral campaigns: how do the new web tools reconfigure local electoral campaigns?
Rachel K. Gibson
- What kind of contents? Impact of content on online campaigning and parties (supply-side)
- Effects on voters attitudes and actual behaviour (demand-side)
Internal side of e-campaigning and factors of web campaign strategy
- Web strategies: to what extent are parties following an organisational strategy in the use of the web
- What’s driving this strategy?
- What effect does web campaigning has? Are old practices being removed and being replaced by web campaigning? How do internal party power hierarchies being affected?
- Digital divide: organisational resources (the capacity of the party) and individual characteristics (demographics, etc.)
- Context: level of competition, Internet use in constituency, size of the electorate, professionalisation of legislature, etc.
Some general findings
- Overall party status identified as most important factor in determining overall presence and quality of sites
- Overtime this has been questioned, particularly since e-campaigning entered the Web 2.0 era. A participatory Web is a much different framework than setting up just a static website.
- Suggests (a) that equalisation hypothesis gaining ground over normalisation ideas; (b) that there may be differentiation in use of web tactics
- If party status (supply side) no longer dominant factor then what explains uptake and usage of technology?
Demand-side explanations of e-campaigns
- Size of audience: how many Internet users (as a share of the population) and how many of these are visiting the canditates’ or the parties’ websites
- Mobilisation potential: in general, e-campaigning has been seen to focus on partisans and “preach to converted”, leaving aside “pockets” of potential mobilisation
- Obama blended offline and online campaigning: no more “partial” approaches, but holistic crossmedia ones, and integrating old and new techniques
- Obama’s campaign was based on grassroots and community based, challenging the established power structures and the “war room model”
- In local campaigns, there’s evidence of an increase of new (online) methods trading-off with face to face traditional methods, and with an increase of the control in local operations
- Is there a difference across parties in the extent to which they adopt 2.0 strategies?
- Do differences account for demand-side reasons?
- Is web campaigning supplementing or displacing traditional methods?
- Is web campaigning decentralizing or concentrating campaigning strategies?
Data from the Australian Candidate Study (ACS) and Australian Election Study (AES), both for 2004.
Australian e-politics timeline
- 1994 ALP “first” party website.
- 1996-2001 National parties move online but subnational presence is patchy. Experimental and cautious approach.
- 2004- expectations heightened for Internet to lay a role
- 2007 “the next election will be the one (Internet election)” feeling, though the 2007 election already credited for having being really present online and much relying from initiatives on YouTube, MySpace… A novelty in 2007 election was the non-partisan site/initiative GetUp! based on volunteers.
Now: The ALP, pioneer of the Internet, out of government for 11 years. What’s happened online?
- The general landscape of candidates and parties online has not changed
- But the ratio of candidates online in major parties has increased, while in minor parties has even decreased
- Party pages (73% of parties got one) still are the main platforms for online campaigning. Personal sites, e-news and social networking sites follow (circa 40%), and rest of platforms (podcast, videodiary, blog…) have minoritary use.
Factor analysis to identify candidate’s use of web campaining showed three factors: web 2.0, web 1.0 and personal sites. Major parties focus on personal sites, and the Greens have a more 2.0 approach.
Concerning voters, their use of the Internet to get information during elections is steadily increasing. Indeed, mainstream media (radio, TV, newspapers) are losing followers while the Internet is both in absolute and in relative terms gaining weight and is by far the most used means where to get information. But, mainstream news are nevertheless the preferred option when surfing the web for elections information.
Factor analysis to identify voter’s use of the Internet showed twofactors: campaigning sites (parties’ and candidate’s, etc.) and web 2.0 (mainstream news and media websites, youtube, blogs, etc.). Internet usage does not seem to be different according to social background and socioeconomic status, but it is different according to web use: people intensively using/visiting web 2.0 applications/sites are more prone to vote Green or more progressive parties.
Traditional campaigning has been affected by online activities: less doorknocking, direct mailing or telephoning; same mainstream media appearances; less campaign workers. While web campaigning has grown over time: more effort on personal websites, considering Internet as important in the campaign, etc.
Personal website strategies are not trading-off with traditional campaign, but e-mailing is: the more e-mailing, the less traditional campaigning.
Local candidates are becoming more self-sufficient and it somehow seems that some degree of decentralization has been made possible through online campaigning.
- The web 2.0 is leading to a differentiation among parties in how they engage in e-campaigning.
- Candidates appear to share a commitment with web 1.0 approaches; minor parties are more likely to go 2.0; major parties favour personalized independent web sites.
- Greens’ supporters are more likely to be users of the web 2.0; the demand seems to be driving different web strategies.
- Not a displacement effect between traditional vs. online campaigning; the web enhances traditional techniques
- e-Campaigning do not reduce the local level actors and increase a centralized national power; if any, just the contraty
Ismael Peña-López: Concerning uptake, usage, etc., is it a matter of party status or budget? The web 2.0 is way cheaper. Could this be the reason for more recent uptake? Gibson: we don’t have data about budgets but it looks like budgets would be a perfectly feasible aspect that could explain some issues. On the other hand, we should be seeing some normalization in this aspect (if the web 2.0 is cheaper, it’s cheaper for everyone), and still some differences between parties exist, and some of them within the web 2.0 arena.
Ramon Ribera: Minor parties don’t get as much coverage in mainstream media as major parties do. This should push them towards a major web 2.0 presence. Gibson: Yes, but we are also seeing that what major parties are doing is bring web 2.0 within their websites (e.g. embedding YouTube videos on their sites), so that these sites become hubs of web 2.0 content, where it is combined. So it might not exactly be a matter of shifting towards a more participatory web or a cheaper one.
Mike Jensen: Are candidates turning a necessity (budget) into a virtue (participation)? Gibson: This is definitely an option. But candidates and parties are also “spending time” that saves little money (and time is money, indeed). So there seems to be evidence that even if it might be true that they’re turning a necessity into a virtue, it is also true that there’s a political will to engage online and go ahead with new (e-)campaigning techniques.
Rosa Borge and Ana Sofía Cardenal: Spanish parties have broadly adopted Web 2.0 tools, being the major parties the ones seemingly the more committed with this approach. Nevertheless, partisans are by far the ones that more intensively use these tools to engage and mobilize.
Ismael Peña-López: in Spain, most parties are using web 2.0 tools, but more than using them they are pestering them, using them for unidirectionally broadcasting same as ever in different ways — this is not the case of partisans and some individual politicians.
Rachel K. Gibson: web 2.0 might find a better ground between elections, to maintain the movement, rather than during campaigns.
Some conversations with Ricard Faura — head of the Knowledge Society Service at the Catalan Government — about my recent research have triggered some questions that need being clarified.
The following lines are a very simplified approach on what I think should be the design of public policies to foster ICT usage in a place like Catalonia or Spain, though it is my guess that it can be extrapolated to most developed countries facing similar problems like Spain’s.
Barriers for adoption
In general — and again, being really simplistic with the analysis — there are three main issues identified as a barrier for ICT adoption in Spain and a third issue that, unlike developing countries, it is identified as not being a barrier:
- Age (and some would add gender) is a barrier: younger generations are way more online than older ones, being dramatic in elder people
- Skills present a barrier too, as people do not feel confident, or even threatened, by Information and Telecommunication Technologies
- Indeed, most people not using ICTs also state that they find them useless. Thus, utility and attitude are also a dire barrier and the one with a strongest trend.
- Last, and in general terms, infrastructures and affordability are not a barrier or, at least, they are not stated as being as important as other reasons for lack of usage.
I believe that the previous barriers can be summed up in just one single barrier: lack of utility of ICTs, with a stress on lack of utility on being online.
This lack of utility can be explained in two ways:
- A real lack of utility, mainly due to lack of digital content and services that fits one’s purposes, be them personal or professional: for leisure, for activism, for work, for training en education, for health, etc.
- A perceived lack of utility, mainly due to lack of e-awareness and not knowing the benefits (or a real measure of the costs) that ICTs can bring to one’s life. This lack of e-awareness, of course, can be accompanied by the lack of several digital skills, which create a vicious circle: less digital skills, less e-awareness; and so.
What about age? I believe that youngsters — besides the fact that they find ICTs not technologies but something that was always there since they were born — have already found ICTs useful: they absolutely fit their needs in matters of education (the Internet is full of stuff) and in matters of socialization (the “communication” part of ICTs), which are the two main “occupations” of people under 16.
So. We’ve got digitally illiterate people and people that cannot find in the Internet anything worth being connected. What to do from the government?
Concerning utility, my own research shows that pull strategies are the ones that work. It’s absolutely coherent, on the other hand, with trying the Internet to make sense for unconnected people. More hardware or software or broadband will just put stress on the citizen to use something for “nothing at all”. In my opinion, policies should be threefold:
- A high commitment to put public services and the dialogue government-citizenry online, by means of e-Administration and e-Government
- Help the private sector not to have an online presence, but to go beyond and use the Internet for their transactions, with the government (G2B, a part also of the e-Administration strategy) and with their customers (B2B and B2C)
- Last, but not least, empower the citizenry to bring relevant content and debate online. Citizen organizations (political parties, NGOs, neighbourhood associations, patient associations, foundations, clubs, etc.) would be my pick as huge impact collectives which to begin with, as they’ll have manifest multiplier effects by pulling other citizens towards the use of ICTs.
Concerning skills, there three groups of evidences that are worth being remembered:
- People with digital skills are more likely to be more productive and, hence, to earn higher wages. On the other hand, lack of digital skills is likely to reduce employability.
- People with digital skills go more online and happen to meet more people, which improves both their social engagement (and self-esteem and so) and their professional opportunities.
- Digital skills are, by far, acquired on an autodidact basis or, in the best cases, on a P2P basis (family, friends, colleagues). Formal training in digital skills is only partially present in schools and is rare past school age.
That said, and again in my opinion, policies should be threefold:
- Urgently mainstream ICTs — in a very broad and intensive sense — in curricula and syllabuses. This mainstreaming should be based in two approaches: (1) training for trainers and (2) embedding ICT practices in the overall learning process (i.e. not just bound to the computing subject or classroom — though I’m neither saying students should forget about pencil and paper)
- A proactive public strategy aimed to people out of the educational system to catch up with these skills, by means of telecenters and libraries (and other points of access), subsidised courses in computing academies, etc.
- A joint strategy with the private sector to do alike in their in-company training programmes. The public sector could provide training for decision-takers to raise their e-awareness and even help with funding in-company digital skills programmes. But, the private sector should be committed enough, as the benefits are evident and would sooner or later positively impact the firm with higher productivity rates.
I honestly think that pull policies to trigger demand (trigger, not contribute to the aggregate demand with direct expenditure) would, sooner or later, trigger to a demand for training in digital skills, which implicitly states in which order I’d be setting these policies.
These what-to-do-policies also, by construction, set aside the what-not-to-do-policies. If we keep in mind we’re talking about (digitally) developed countries and their characteristics, policies not to foster are mainly those aimed at subsidising hardware or connectivity in any way, or fostering the creation and expansion of infrastructures and carriers without anything to be carried on. Static and eminently informational public or corporate websites fully fit in this category; and also fits in this category the creation of content with no further purpose or strategy of usage behind.
Ficapal, P. & Torrent i Sellens, J. (2008). “Los Recursos Humanos en la Empresa Red
”. In Torrent i Sellens, J. et al. La Empresa Red. Tecnologías de la Información y la Comunicación, Productividad y Competitividad, Capítulo 6
, 287-350. Barcelona: Ariel.
Fundació Observatori per a la Societat de la Informació de Catalunya (2007). Pla de Màrqueting de la Societat de la Informació
. Barcelona: FOBSIC. Retrieved May 20, 2009 from http://www.fobsic.net/opencms/export/sites/fobsic_site/ca/Documentos/Escletxa_Digital/Pla_de_Mxrqueting_-_versix_per_a_difusix.pdf
The next 5th Internet, Law and Political Science Congress has been scheduled for 6th and 7th July 2009. Organized by the School of Law and Political Science at the Open University of Catalonia (Barcelona, Spain), the event has evolved into an interesting forum where it is highlighted what’s happening nowadays in the fields of law and cyberlaw, intellectual property rights, privacy, data protection, freedom, political engagement, politics 2.0, empowerment, etc.
Aimed to both researchers and practitioners, during the four editions that we’ve been running the congress, we’ve had here people the like of Jonathan Zittrain, John Palfrey, Eben Moglen, Helen Margetts, Lillian Edwards, Yves Poullet, Erick Iriarte, Stefano Rodotà or Benjamin Barber, among others.
The main topic this year is social networking sites (SNSs, in a broad sense). We want to have sessions were at least two speakers present opposite points of view (pros and cons). The programme (almost closed, though some changes might apply) is as follows:
- Keynote speech with James Grimmelmann, providing an analysis of the law and policy of privacy on social network sites, and an evaluation of some possible policy interventions.
- Session 1: Social Networking Sites and Individual rights, privacy, intellectual property rights, image rights, intimacy…,
chaired by Raquel Xalabarder and featuring Jane Ginsburg, Antoni Roig and Alain Strowel.
- Session 2: Data protection and SNSs,
chaired by Mònica Vilasau and featuring Franck Dumortier, Esther Mitjans and Maya Nieto
- Session 3: Access to public information and SNS
chaired by Ismael Peña-López and featuring José Manuel Alonso, Jordi Graells, and one/two more speaker(s) TBC.
- Session 4: Policies for a secure Internet,
chaired by Agustí Cerrillo and featuring Salvador Soriano Maldonado and Nacho Alamillo.
- Session 5: Public participation and SNSs,
chaired by Ana Sofía Cardenal and featuring Rachel Gibson (TBC), José Antonio Donaire and Ricard Espelt.
Daithí Mac Sithigh will be the official reporter of the event, providing, at the end of each day, a summary of the main subjects dealt in that day’s sessions.