Behind the Scenes: Information Flows in Network

Karine Nahon (University of Washington)

Karine Nahons keynote begins with film of the protests in Israel in July 2011 agaisnt the regime. Are these protests the result of facebook? No the “success” of protests (up to 500,000 protesters) was due to the use of  news paltforms.

We need to look at these information flows: they are traces, help us understand events and the relationships betweeen technology. But we also need to understand that information flow, in particular viral information, offers not only reprodcution but also transformation. Such information flows challenge institutions and fundamentally transform the structures of institutions and power relations among stakeholders. Importantly, change does not occur through technology, (technology is always changing!) but through changes in behaviour.

Internet technology was to envisioned to be open, empower….but the truth is, the internet and information flows are not equal. There are 6 inequalities: the power law, homophily, fragmentation and polarisation, following the herd and  network gatekeeping.

How can these the inequalities be reduced? First we need to consider some democratic illusions: what is the crowd? Is it the mass or the elite? What is objective information? Can the wisdom of the crowd represent the populuation? Who is leading the herd? Where is the heard going? Is the individual voice lost in the crowd? How much transparency do we need?

Part of the answer is that we need to increase inclusive particiation, beyond the experts, geeks, elites!

 

Successful eGovernment (eParticipation) Takes a Village: Inclusion and the Role of Community Anchors

John Carlo Bertot (University of Maryland College Park)

Johan begins his keynote by depicting some changes that are occurring in the US at the moment. There are massive demographic shifts (rapid growth in the US, especially immigrants; the population is getting older, expecially the group of 85+; the white populaton will soon be a minority) and in the land of opportunity, there is increasingly more poverty. On the technology side, there is heavy investment in broadband diffusion – and although penentration is 65%,  a plateau has now been reached. due to mobile? Who are the non-adopters of technology? The older, the less educated and less welathy, those impacted by the recession and affected by declining income.

There is little participation, deliberation, engagement and low levels of trust in government. So how can the major social challenges be resolved?

First it is important to consider the goal to be achieved. Is it to make participation a democratic processes? Reinvent government? Resolve/meet community challenges? All of these? Does it depend on who you ask? John suggests that participation needs to be embedded in exisitng social and communtiy strucures  – and not by doing new things all the time.

He also considers some of  the assumptions made concerning e-participation:

  • citizens are informed – no, not really;
  • participation is broad, and will broaden: no, not necessarily;
  • we are digitally literate, and people can do something with huge datasets and have the technology to do it – no, not really;
  • engagement happens through technology – and is the preferred medium , no, not a safe assumption!

So what is the solution? Libraries! There are 17,000 libraries 17,000 in the UUS, all have access to internet, teach users how to use internet, and have extended opening hours. In addition libraries are neutral (have no political affiliation) and thus are trusted, are often social innnovators in the community, know their communities and users, and are experts in knowledge management.

The library can be used for civic engagement and community building, innovaiton and community transformation, solve social issues; John thus concludes that “the best participatory and engagement “paltform” may be down the street”.