Social media in a disaster

November 4, 2012

My thanks have to go to Steven Clift for circulating the following links regarding the use of social media in a disaster situation and we are all aware of what the USA has had to go through recently:

First of all some lessons learned from the Joplin tornado –

There was already Steven’s article – – about creating micro online groups for more informal ongoing exchange as emergency response moves into recovery.

From Christchurch NZ comes a multi-agency meta site –

As the globe warms and water levels and weather changes, these experiences need to be shared.


Youth and social media

July 6, 2012

As has been commented on here recently young people do use social media but not in the manner those trying to engage with them necessarily think. Steven Clift kindly pointed his network to an American study of young people there and their social media usage. The report ‘Participatory politics – New Media and Youth Political Action‘ (PDF, 1.45Mb, 56 pages) authored by Cathy J. Cohen (University of Chicago), Joseph Kahne, Benjamin Bowyer, Ellen Middaugh (Mills College) and Jon Rogowski (University of Chicago) presents some interesting conclusions.

The paper appears to envisage participatory politics as a parallel track to conventional or representative politics, where one voices one opinions which, may or not reach the ears of politicians, but are heard by friends and family. It bases the need for it upon the existing use in recent campaigns, along with the finding that unlike voting participatory activities are more equitably distributed – something that might cynically be assigned to the old adage, sometimes attributed to Emma Goldman, that if voting could change anything they’d make it illegal. Importantly the paper does acknowledge on page 37 that “one should not assume that the new digital media or the alternative paradigm of participatory politics will organically expand youth political engagement”, but quotes Henry Milner on page 38 that “generations that turn their backs on politics in favor of individual expression will continue to find their priorities at the top of society’s wish list – and at the bottom of the ‘to-do’ list.”

Further it states on page 38, as was stated in an earlier post – Digital entitlement – “youth must learn how to judge the credibility of online information and how to find divergent views on varied issues” and interventions may be required to assist young people in learning these skills – what a better scheme to pep up ICT classes, or many others, in schools and colleges?

Inclusive online community engagement

May 20, 2012

Whilst I am frequently dismissive of those who claim a major role for social media in participatory politics, I am not unaware that it has uses and that these uses may increase particularly with younger generations. So I must give thanks to Steven Clift for bringing to my attention their 60 page evaluation report on inclusive online community engagement in lower income, highly diverse, high immigrant neighborhoods. The  Inclusive Social Media pilot project was funded by the Ford Foundation. The report is available on the website.

A great deal of effort has clearly been employed in these areas of St Paul, MN, USA and the preparatory analysis of the make-up of those communities is really interesting, along with the groundwork to involve people in the electronic forums but as it states on page 54 – “the sparse participation of local elected officials on forums can feel like stonewalling to forum participants, one of whom said, “It takes a lot of discussions going for government officials to respond.” A Frogtown community member felt strongly about accountability, saying, “I think the elected officials – the decision-makers – need to be online to answer questions to make the forum a more effective online engagement [tool]. Ideally, you’d want to have full participation [across all groups].”

An interesting read and a telling story of trying to develop local e-democracy in the USA.

Participating in a democracy

January 21, 2012

Following the very active debate on the UK and Ireland E-Democracy Exchange following the announcement of the publication of the Digital Participation in Scotland report I thought it worthy of a brief summary of some of what had been said and the concepts that had been considered. A key element of the debate was about participation (or e-participation), democracy (or e-democracy), and ultimately what the terms mean and how they can conceivably be measured.

David Newman, part of a group that produced one of the big ideas for the digital agenda (diagram presented at pointed to the failing of the report that it didn’t meet the latter two of the four stages people go through when integrating digital tools into their lives and work: 1. Accessibility, 2. Skills and competences 3. Effective use 4. Empowerment.

I then supported him stating my own argument is for feedback loops as standard, that are consistently employed to change systems. However my BIG concern is that government and therefore participation is so BIG that even those elected or employed in it can’t appreciate the magnitude/complexity, so how the hell does the citizen? This brings with it the issue of where to start and end feedback loops. I entirely agreed that the measures named were of little use and had argued this point endlessly!

Andy Williamson supported this saying his research “clearly shows that engagement becomes effective when you ask, listen, respond, and act”. Professor Stephen Coleman agreed with the preceding arguments whilst asking “which metrics should the report have been measuring?” Ella Taylor-Smith, inquiring about the strategy the report was linked to, raising the issue that digital participation was described in another Scotish strategy as “people’s ability to gain access to digital technology, and understand how to use it creatively. Increased digital participation can improve people s quality of life, boost economic growth and allow more effective delivery of public services.” Which hardly the conventional definition of e-participation. Andy Williamson then went on to raise the matter that there appeared to be no actual ‘voting citizens’ involved in the charter.

At about this point Steven Clift jumped in with a lengthy commentary around work he was due to publish on ‘Inclusive Social Media’ – there were an extensive number of measures in the proposition. Pedro Prieto-Martin of CKYOSEI stepped in suggesting that it was a matter of differing definitions. He also mentioned their own paper “The e-(R)evolution will not be funded”  which paid some attention to evaluation issues, especially around EU-funded projects. Pedro was also concerned at the number of evaluation criteria that required collection and analysis. He then pointed out that their association claimed that the best way to advance the field was to “closely align eParticipation research with citizens and civil society needs”. ( ) He proposes viral growth, satisfaction, and impact as potential measures.

Ella reported that they also used a final analysis based on input, actions, output, outcomes and impact in the final results report of the HUWY project. (Avalilable here: ). In terms of definition she preferred that of Ann Macintosh – “use of information and communication technologies to broaden and deepen political participation by enabling citizens to connect with one another and with their elected representatives” Macintosh, A. (2006) eParticipation in Policy-making: the research and the challenges . In P. Cunningham & M. Cunningham (Eds.) Exploiting the Knowledge Economy: Issues, Applications and Case Studies; IOS press, ISBN 1-58603-682-3, pp.364-369, which seems a pretty good one to me too. She also directs to a wider view of participation –  Ann Macintosh also concluded her contribution by informing us that she has “been working recently with colleagues, Simon Smith and Jeremy Millard, considering the issue of eParticipation evaluation. The results of our study can be found in a paper soon to be published in the International Journal of Electronic Governance. In it we present a framework for evaluating eParticipation, distinguishing between factors which lie at least partly within the control of the stakeholders in an eParticipation initiative and factors which are largely external. It uses a three-layered impact assessment framework distinguishing between outputs, outcomes and impacts. Its multi-layered character is intended to prompt evaluators to consider links to high-level policy goals, culturally-specific understandings of eParticipation and the chain of transformations which condition long-term impacts. In this way one can, not only, move from outputs to impact but also select different evaluation criteria depending on purpose/stage.” This is a paper that should prove very interesting.

One of the difficulties in the debate is the difference in political structures between the US and the rest of the democratic world. My own view is that in representative democracies, participation is difficult to deliver without potentially tilting the balance of the representatives power, so they don’t tend to be in favour of it – something I labelled in my dissertation one of the ‘antinomies of e-government’. The issue of definitions is not unusual, again in my dissertation I spent a number of pages going through a range of definitions of ‘e-government’ before even trying ‘e-democracy’, which is equally debatable, as will be ‘e-participation’.

P.S. My apologies if I’ve missed or misquoted people – it did go on for pages…and its all here on Democracy Online.

Neighbourhood Networks

November 27, 2011

Thanks go to Steven Clift’s US-based network for the heads up on the interesting report from Neighbourhood Networks in the UK. Having spent some years encouraging others to use blogs, social media and other e-media to communicate in the public space, it finally looks like it might be taking off! I’ve seen a recent surge in community websites, but a fall-off in those of individual councillors – but somehow if they lose office, they seem to find time to start doing it (can’t keep away from local politics obviously).

The study isn’t using a particularly large sample – “There were ninety-four responses from council officers and 132 from elected members” – blaming it on staff reductions, and so can’t be considered particularly rigorous. The actual report is interesting in that it is an attempt to find a place for neighbourhood websites, unfortunately as a practitioner with years of trying to provide no-obligation websites to parish and town councils, I  personally found that it only works when a small number of committed people are willing to take up the challenge and go with it for as long as necessary, without falling out! The same applies to those sites where no support is provided. It’s all a bit like the ‘Big Society’, since for years a small band of dedicated citizens have assisted their communities in a range of largely unseen tasks, whether out of religious, political or some other belief, and now government is trying to get the less-zealous to become more so and join in.

The report expects local councils to play a big part in this, which seems unlikely when many are reducing staff numbers, particularly in what are seen as back-office roles. One of the findings is that internal barriers or lack of clarity for responsibility within councils still constrain the  ability of officers to deal with such sites, which I can understand and appreciate. Who is going to monitor such sites? Is it a media relations responsibility or a customer service one? Is it the web team? Who actually makes the decision and, in the current climate, is it really that important?

It is great for the report to highlight the issues and bring them in to the arena for debate, but currently most councils are frying bigger fish. Yes, engaging with local networks may assist in some of the decision-making, but they need to be taken in a context of the whole neighbourhood and the means of communicating within it.