De-institutionalizing education

In October 2009 I had the chance to be one of the participants that took part into the Open EdTech Summit 2009: Exploring Learning Solutions Together.

The aim of the event was to reflect on the future of education. To do so, a hypothetical assignment was put onto the participants: to create, from scratch, a brand new university for an imaginary country. There were only four conditions to that assignment:

  1. Access to high-quality education should be available to all, and open content is a key part of providing such access.
  2. Informal learning and mentoring are effective and well-proven approaches to engaging with youth and stimulating critical thought.
  3. Personalized learning is critical to student success, but will require learning standards that allow students to continue their learning where ever life takes them.
  4. Tools such as digital video, mobile devices, social media, and the global network all have important roles in learning and should be available to all learners.

The results, a Call to Action, identified five major tasks that are perceived as critical to meeting the needs of students, namely:

  1. We must encourage the reuse and remixing of rich media.
  2. We must embrace the full promise of mobile devices as learning platforms.
  3. We must award credentials based on learning outcomes.
  4. We must enable a culture of sharing.
  5. We must take care that open resources include the context that will enable their use and understanding.

Though I subscribe to the aforementioned points — I was there and I really do —, some shades of meaning have escaped this necessary but short summary of the debates that took place (formally or informally) during two days.

This manifest call to openness (remixing, mobility, outcomes, sharing, context…) is, as far as I can remember — and always according to my own feelings and opinion — a call to de-institutionalization. In general, I perceived (and still do) three main philosophical shifts or movements:

  • A possibility to detach content from the container: the digital revolution has made possible to separate books (paper) from what it’s told in them. Unbundling opens a new way to understand content and knowledge. But, this unbundling also applies to knowledge holders per excellence: teachers. Digitizing is to books what telecommunications are to people: everyone’s knowledge is at a click’s range. Thus, why should I stick to a bunch of people (i.e. Faculty)?
  • A claim to detach learning from institutions: if content can now be found (and retrieved and copied) from anywhere, and if we can get rid of a closed, limited, selected group of individuals, why stick to their “holder”, the institution? If there is abundance of content and knowledgeable people, how do universities, schools, libraries, etc. still make sense?
  • An effort to detach the object from the supporting structure: but it’s not only about content and people and institutions. Why (oh, why on Earth) should a specific institution give credit for what I’ve learnt? How did that got credit for that? Why, if I learn 24×7 (because my brain just won’t stop — what I learn is another debate), should I limit my learning to a specific place (school, university…) and a specific time (class hours)? Why building artificial scarcities and barriers when there’s (almost) none?

I’m not expressing here a personal wish — though I find most of these questions really appealing and even compelling — but an underground roar that is increasingly becoming mainstream, not only in education with the edupunk “movement”, but also in other fields like e-Government and e-Democracy.

We are witnessing a move towards de-institutionalization, from an education that works for the institution towards institutions that work for education, or from a democracy that works for parties and governments or parties and governments that work for democracy.

But, as always, the interesting question is not what is happening, but why. Why all this being fed up with institutions? What is the problem with them? And, moreover, why still so many people — especially policy-makers — are so deaf to hear (not to speak about listening to and reflecting about) and address these questions?

The problem with tampering with education is that the results (a) are unpredictable (because of the complexity of the subject) and (b) will only show up in the long term, when the harm (and a big one) has already been made. I think the movement towards openness and de-institutionalization in education is unstoppable (time will tell, though). So institutions (governments, universities, schools, parents associations, etc.) would better accompany the movement, so to avoid that people that exit institutions just find themselves out in the void, and try instead to engage in a debate to move towards a planned de-institutionalization or, at least, re-institutionalization.

More information on the Open EdTech Summit 2009

If you cannot see the video, please visit <a href=""></a>


Will the iPad pave the path towards e-Government? A comment to Andrea DiMaio

Andrea DiMaio has recently published two posts — Apple’s iPad Could Do For Governments More than the One-Laptop-Per-Child, Could the iPad Redefine Public Service Delivery? — about the hypothetical impact that the new device by Apple, the iPad, will have on e-Government and citizen participation in general. My point is not to show disagreement — I agree more than disagree with DiMaio’s statements — but to (a) put a grain of salt and, especially, (b) to move the focus from the device towards the concepts.

And I’ll begin with a strong agreement: the iPad is very likely to do more than the One-Laptop-Per-Child, just because the OLPC is doing very little for education, as I think is clearly explained in the Framing the Digital Divide in Higher Education monograph. But it is also possible that the iPad will do as little as the OLPC, just because it’s not about devices.

Pieter Verdegem co-authored two interesting articles — User-centered E-Government in practice: A comprehensive model for measuring user satisfaction, Profiling the non-user: Rethinking policy initiatives stimulating ICT acceptance — that, along with the aforementioned monograph, can help to centre the debate.

Just for the sake of clarity let us look at some points raised by the monograph authors, Verdegem and DiMaio about access to e-Government (including the “e-” part), keeping in mind that I fully share DiMaio’s vision on what e-Government should be and the conviction that, somehow, we’ll get to that point.


This still is a key issue for many people not to go online, hence not to use e-Government services. It is decreasing in importance and becoming almost marginal in higher income countries. But. While a desktop/laptop + broadband connectivity might be affordable, the addition of a second device + the addition of a second broadband service (3G or whatever) is definitely not affordable for many many people.

Yes, I am assuming having both devices and duplication of Internet access services. But I think this will be the scenario in the short and middle run, for the simple reason that the iPad is not a typing-aimed device or a hard-computing-power device, besides the fact that I do not believe in quantum leaps in computer adoption (i.e. in the short run, iPad users will be computer users, not late-adopters).


Claire from liberTIC recently commented about lack of skills playing havoc on e-Democracy and Democracy at large.

I think the iPad — as its i-predecessors — will make computer usage simple, much simpler than before. But e-Government is not only about computer usage, but much more. As I introduced in Towards a comprehensive definition of digital skills and Goverati: New competencies for politics, government and participation, there is much field in the area of digital competences that the iPad just won’t and cannot address. And, as time goes by, technological literacy is less of an issue, which is were the iPad could make a major contribution.


Which leads to where the Gordian knot is: existence and access to content and services. I fully agree that the iPad can contribute to ease access to online public services through its applications, and I am already looking forward this to happen. But the prerequisite is either open data or open application programming interfaces (APIs). There already exist devices and applications to access online public services. And their successes and failures have mostly depended (a) on the richness of the data they could access and (b) the degree in which they could make an impact or contribute to a change. We take for granted that iPad applications will play magic, but the magic is in the data, not the device (though magic wands always help, let’s admit it).

Awareness and peopleware

But things can exist, be accessible, be affordable and people know how to use them, and still don’t make any use of them. This is, indeed, the tragedy of e-Government (and Internet adoption at large) today in higher income countries: I either don’t know what’s out there or frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. The iPad can raise awareness, and the more friendly user interface will help, but I haven’t seen much success in iPhone educational or e-Government applications being used massively.

I honestly doubt that the problem of e-Government (lack of) pervasiveness is a matter of the device, but of peopleware. If Obama succeeded it was not because of the Internet, but because of “hope”. And the Internet was there to deliver it, of course, and to channel people’s hope back. If Ushahidi succeeded in Kenya it was not because of SMSs and mashups, but because of the basic substrate upon which these were erected. I find AppsForDemocracy not only an amazing initiative, but amazing things in themselves and I look forward the day they will be used massively. But, so far, I have the sense it’s just for us the usual e-Government suspects.


Jordi Puiggalí: Citizen security in electronic environments. The case of electronic voting

Notes from the research seminar Citrizen security in electronic environments. The case of electornic voting, by Jordi Puiggalí, held at the Open University of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain, on January 28th, 2010.

Citrizen security in electronic environments. The case of electornic voting
Jordi Puiggalí, Scytl

Electronic voting is the natural evolution of the electronic count in elections. Two main kinds:

  • Face to face: people still go to polling stations, but vote in polling machines
  • Remote voting: you vote from home


  • Count of votes is faster and exact
  • Cost saving in paper and printing (though there are added costs, especially in face to face electronic voting)
  • Increase of accessibility for disabled people. Also avoids identifying who was the voter (e.g. there’s only one blind voter in town: the ballot-paper in Braille is theirs)
  • Flexibility to include last-minute changes
  • Support for multiple languages. This, at its turn, avoids errors and avoids identifying who was the voter (e.g. there’s only one voter in town that speaks arabic: the ballot-paper in arabic is theirs)
  • Prevents involuntary errors that can end up in spoiled ballot-papers
  • Economies of scale (specific of remote voting)
  • Eases citizen participation (specific of remote voting)
  • Increases the mobility of the voter, as they can vote from anywhere (specific of remote voting)
  • Eases access to the voting process thus increasing participation (specific of remote voting)

Security threats

In traditional polling, the voter has a direct relationship with their vote and the polling station, committee, etc. Electronic voting adds an infrastructure layer that implies that the relationship between voter and vote becomes indirect/mediated. This mediation poses 4 security risks

  • The digital nature of the votes means that they can be easily added, erased, manipulated, and the privacy of the voter compromised at large scale;
  • The complexity of the systems at use, with the possibility of hardware functioning errors, bugs in the software, etc.;
  • Lack of transparency, as the technological infrastructures are more difficult to audit (e.g. how can you tell whether someone cracked the system?);
  • The introduction of new actors with privileges in the voting process, like system and platform administrators that can have privileged access to the voting process.

Side note: these threats can be extrapolated to the case of health records and many other cases.

How to address risks?

Physical measures

  • Avoid physical access to the protected device
  • This cannot be done in remote voting, at least not in the whole process

Organizational measures

  • Who has access to what
  • They necessarily have to be accompanied by monitoring measures (intensive log recording)
  • Intensive monitoring can lead to knowing who’s voting what

Logic measures

  • Automatic security measures
  • Easier to audit
  • Logic measures can, at their turn, be attacked themselves
  • Logic measures must not interfere (or even alter) the normal voting process

Security services

  • Information privacy: guarantee that no one knows what you did (e.g. your vote)
  • Information integrity: guarantee that information is not altered
  • Non-repudiation: avoid that you cannot deny having done something that you actually did
  • Authentication: ensure that the person that claims to have done something is that person
  • Authorization: you can do what you are allowed to do
  • Auditability: be able to track the system and assess its performance
  • Availability: always available.

One of the big differences between circumventing security in off-line voting and online voting is that scalability of the attack is much higher in online environments. E.g. identity theft in the offline world can be easy to do once, but not several times in the same polling station, but if done once in the online world, it is very likely that it can be done again, and very quickly, ad infinitum.

Electronic voting can identify which votes are valid and which ones not. You need not invalidate the whole polling station, but only the invalid votes.


EDem10 – eDemocracy Conference 2010: announcement, CFP and speech

eDem2010, the 4th International Conference on eDemocracy 2010 is taking place on May 6th and 7th, 2010, in Krems, Austria.

I want to warmly thank Noella Edelmann for inviting me to give a keynote speech in this event. For many reasons.

The first one is that the other keynote speakers are people that I am really willing to listen to, and that very rarely get together in this side of the pond (kudos for the organization!):

  • Stevan Harnad, American Scientist Open Access Forum; Universite du Quebec a Montreal, CAN; University of Southampton, UK
  • Jochen Scholl, The Information School, University of Washington, USA
  • Micah L. Sifry, Personal Democracy Forum, TechPresident, New York, USA
  • Andy Williamson, Hansard Society, London, UK

A second reason is that I am an enthusiast about the possibilities of the digital revolution to also revolutionize the concept of citizenship and politics. But I’ve become increasingly upset about the barriers to overcome. Amongst others:

  • ¿what has changed — and what has not — because of the digital revolution?
  • The digital divide because of physical access
  • The digital divide because of skills access and the new digital competences
  • The raise of the Goverati: ¿digital democrats or digital aristocrats?
  • The concentration of media, of digital media, the echo chambers and the daily me, etc.
  • Cons, but also pros of representative democracy
  • Pros, but also costs of deliberative democracy and direct democracy

I already dealt with some of these issues in my seminar Goverati: New competencies for politics, government and participation, but I have been increasingly concerned about that after having been working on a chapter proposal about the case of Spain for a Politics 2.0 book within the Information Technology and Law Series series, edited by Wim Voermans, Simone van der Hof & Marga M. Groothuis (the chapter is provisionally entitled Striving behind the shadow: the dawn of Spanish Politics 2.0 and you can see here the bibliography). So, having the chance to share my thoughts about this to a knowledgeable audience is quite a gift.

Call for Papers

By the way, the call for papers for eDem2010, the 4th International Conference on eDemocracy 2010 is open, the deadline being March, 1st. I copy-and-paste from the official website the subjects of the conference:

The EDem10 focuses on these changes which can be seen occurring in different areas and which are manifest in different way:

  • Transparency & Communication (freedom of information, free information access, openness, information sharing, blogging, micro-blogging, social networks, data visualization, eLearning, empowering, …);
  • Participation & Collaboration (innovation malls, innovation communities, bottom up, top down, social networks, engagement and accountability, collaborative culture, collaboration between C2C, G2C, …);
  • Architecture, Concepts & Effects (access and openness, user generated content, peer production, network effects, power laws, long tail, harnessing the power of the crowd, crowd sourcing, social web, semantic web, …);
  • Different Fields: open government initiatives, eDemocracy, eParticipation, eVoting, eDeliberation;
  • Approaches and Disciplines: law & legal studies, social sciences, computer sciences, political sciences, psychology, sociology, applied computer gaming and simulation, democratic theory, media and communication sciences;
  • Multidisciplinary and Interdisciplinary Approaches;
  • Research Methods.


A catalogue and a taxonomy of online participation tools. Request for comments.

Together with other people, I am working in a project that includes a sort of catalogue of online participation tools. In three senses:

  • What different tools are out there (e.g. blogs)
  • Which and how have they been used (e.g. Howard Dean’s blog)
  • How can we depict and/or categorize them (e.g. top-down communication, possibility to gather feedback through comments, text-based, Internet based, etc.)

What I am here presenting is the alfa-über-draft version of the preliminary and potential taxonomy that we might be using to categorize online participation tools. And I am openly (and sincerely and earnestly and humbly) asking for comments and examples:

  1. Comments on the taxonomy
  2. Examples of kinds of online participation tools (e.g. maps)
  3. Examples of actual cases of usage of online participation tools (e.g. Ushahidi in Kenya)

Needless to say that the final taxonomy, and list of tools and collection of practices will be shared here. Thank you very much.

A taxonomy of online participation tools

General Description

Name of tool

General category (do we accept more than one category per tool? e.g. Is Twitter nanoblogging and a social networking site? Should we speak about Twitter or about nanoblogging (which would include Yammer, WordPress’s P2, etc.)?

  • Forum, Blog, Wiki, Map, Social Networking Site, Photo, Video, Documents, etc.

Kind of Content

  • Text
  • Multimedia (Photo, Video, Audio…)
  • Application/database (e.g. Ushahidi, FixMyStreet)

Examples of tools

Examples of usage / cases

Field of participation

Directionality: qualitative

  • Unidirectional (e.g. web page)
  • Asymmetric Bidirectional (e.g. blog+comments)
  • Symmetric Bidirectional (e.g. forum)

Directionality: quantitative

  • One to one
  • One to many
  • Many to many
  • Hybrid (some of the above in the same tool, e.g. Facebook)

Direction (will depend on specific case?)

  • Top-down
  • Bottom-up
  • Both

Participation: level (inspired in, among others, Arnstein, 1969)

  • Information: unidirectional exchange of information (Arnstein 1-3)
  • Management / consultation / debate: bidirectional exchange of information (Arnstein 4-5)
  • Relationship: the exchange of information ends up in specific results (Arnstein 6)
  • Desicion: results are binding or have a direct impact (Arnstein 7-8)

Participation: scope

  • Government
  • Citizenry / grassroots
  • Parties / political organizations

Participation: goal

  • Accountability, transparency, monitoring
  • Propaganda, political message
  • Report, complaint, petition

Field of technology


  • Free
  • Freemium
  • Paid service
  • Own development


  • Online Service (e.g. Google applications)
  • (self-)hosted application (e.g. LimeSurvey)
  • Both (e.g. WordPress)

Difficulty / skills (too subjective?)

  • Basic
  • Advanced
  • Expert


  • Internet
  • Mobile phone
  • Other (e.g. digital TV)
  • Crossmedia
Updated with Roser Beneito‘s comments on the “Directionality: quantitative” section. Thanks!


Bruce Bimber: Collective Action within Organizations in the Age of Digital Media

Notes from the research seminar Organizations and Political Participation in the Age of Digital Media held at the Open University of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain, on January 18th, 2010.

Collective Action within Organizations in the Age of Digital Media
Bruce Bimber

This seminar is based on a project by Bruce Bimber, Cynthia Stohl and Andrew Flanagin.

We find new ways to organize people around causes, like Immigration Reform on Facebook. The question is: under what circumstances do we need these new ways of organization, and under which do we need traditional ways of organization (i.e. around institutions and gathering in brick and mortar buildings). What does it mean to be a traditional organization? What does it mean to be a member of a traditional organization in a digital environment?

What does organization-based collective action look like today in the US? People in the US belong to 1.98 organizations on average (twice the average in Europe, 5 times the average in Spain). Thus, we cannot (only) look at memberships, as “everyone” is a member of an organization.

Literature on participation tells who is more likely — depending on personal attributes — to participate in an organization, but not which organization is more likely to be more popular or have more members. So, we should focus on organization-specific attributes:

  • Goal agreement: people will participate more in organizations whose goals are more in line with theirs
  • Value agreement: people will participate more in organizations whose values are more in line with theirs
  • Civic & social motivation: reasons why you join a community (complaint, meet kindred souls, etc.)

On the other hand, we can also find literature on the impact of digital media on participation. But, again, over time the Internet will be less likely to discriminate behaviour as time and frequency of being online, or digital skills become generalized across socio-economic statuses.

Last, traditionally organizations have been classified in discrete categories: civic associations vs. interest groups, centralized/bureaucratic vs. decentralised/horizontal vs. networks, online vs. not-online. Our perspective is different: interaction is impersonal vs. personal, engagement with goals and activities of the organization is institutional vs. entrepreneurial. Combination of these:

  • Entrepreneurial + Impersonal
  • Entrepreneurial + Personal: e.g. support group, where members decide what to do and on a very personal basis
  • Institutional + Personal: e.g. institutions that open chat groups, send personal mail
  • Institutional + Impersonal: e.g. World Wildlife Fund, where the institution mainly tells their members what to do

Amnesty International spreads over all categories (skewed towards Institutional + Impersonal), like Greenpeace (more centred than Amnesty International).

To test the hypothesis, surveys run on three organizations, different amongst them in their typology: American Legion, People’s Lobby and The Voters.

Dependent variables: participation in pursuit of group goals via writing, volunteering, donating; identification with the group.
Independent variables: standard predictors of participation, controls for level of participation in other activities, interaction and engagement, organization-specific attributes, technology use.

A first result, though very week, is that being on an entrepreneurial+personal organization makes you more participative in comparison with being in other organizations. Civic and social motivation is also a good explanation for people being more participative. But, in general, results are not very strong (R2 below 0.4 for participation, below 0.5. for identification).

Regarding the relationship between engagement and interaction, the extent of within-group variation in interaction and engagement is comparable to that of across-group variation.

The predictors of participation in collective action vary by quadrant across collective action space.

  • Entrepreneurial + Impersonal organizations have individualists: people hard to predict, motivated people but with no specific profile
  • Entrepreneurial + Personal organizations hold embeddeds, people with high motivation and faithful to the organization, and with high(er) levels of education
  • Institutional + Personal organizations have traditionalists, people with high motivation and that are faithful to the organization
  • Institutional + Impersonal collect instrumentalists, lowest level of trust with the organization and the values, and the members are involved in many activities for several and different reasons


  • The four quadrants of collective action space are associated with four reasonably distinct collective action types
  • Civic and social motivation is the most important predictor
  • People’s involvement in other civic activities translates into contributions to collective action mainly for individualists
  • Technology use is associated consistently with participation for all four types
  • Technology use matters chiefly when it is tied to the organization itself, rather than in the form of general computer skills or time online
  • Membership looks somewhat different for different people, as a function of interaction and engagement
  • What matters about organiztions is how hey facilitate interaction and engagement, not just their objective structure
  • People are less similar than commonly assumed, while organizations are more similar, but to see this we need to look at both together.
Embedded video at


Q: Can people have different profiles depending on the organization they’re in? Bimber: (we don’t have time series but, so we don’t know, but) it is probable that this happens and, indeed, that people change profile over time. Nevertheless, we do not know and it can be true that what really happens is that people have a specific way of doing things.

Ana Sofía Cardenal: how is motivation measured? Isn’t it “suspicious” that motivation always comes so strong? Bimber: motivation is measured in different ways so to avoid cheating. But there might be some degree of endogenous relationships between variables. But people have different reasons for joining in and these reasons matter.

Michael Jensen: How do we cope with people being that different and nevertheless joining “similar” organizations? Bimber: More dynamic organizations engage in conversations with their members and adapt to their needs/requirements, so there is a feedback that redefines the organization. But still, technology is only a context, there is no core technology.

Derrick de Kerckhove: how are the four categories related with people’s lifestyles? Bimber: It would be interesting to know how an individual evolves through categories as his own personal lifestyle varies.

See also

Bimber, B., Stohl, C. & Flanagin, A. J. (2008). “Technological change and the shifting nature of political organization”. In Chadwick, A. & Howard, P. N., Routledge Handbook of Internet Politics, 72-85. New York: Routledge.