Archive for 2013

"Internet renforce le pouvoir de la société civile" - Interview in Le Monde

Le Monde interviewed me about trends in digital democracy, as discussed in a report I prepared for the Council of Europe's World Forum for Democracy, which I'm participating in over the next few days. You can find the article here.

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Interview in The Globe & Mail: Is democracy at risk?

In the run up to the Trudeau Foundation's 10th Anniversary Conference, the Globe & Mail took a look at threats to our democracy in this past Sunday's edition. The article drew on interviews with three members of the Trudeau community, Michael Pal, Kent Roach and I.


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New publication: Paper for the Council of Europe's World Forum for Democracy

The Council of Europe will host the World Forum for Democracy from November 23rd-29th in Strasbourg. The forum's theme is "Re-wiring Democracy: connecting institutions and citizens in the digital age". The Council invited me to prepare an Issues Paper to anchor the discussions at the Forum. The paper is titled "Exploiting the Web as a Tool of Democracy: New Ways Forward in the Study and Practice of Digital Democracy", and can be downloaded here.

I'm attending the Forum and will be the plenary respondent for the session "Alternatives for Representative Democracy". They have lots of interesting speakers on board, so I'll be sure to share anything useful I come across during the Forum.

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Presentation at IPAC

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting a part of my PhD research at the Institute of Public Administration of Canada's annual conference. The presentation explored the barriers that can make it hard for civil servants in the welfare and benefits policy sector to integrate the social web--and the vast amounts of data it generates-- into policy design and service delivery.

It was a useful venue to discuss the research, as the crowd was more practitioner-heavy than a traditional academic conference is. Given this, it was a great opportunity to get feedback on the research from civil servants with a "real world" perspective on some of the issues the paper and my PhD touch on. One observation I made at the conference was that the conversation amongst practitioners around things like social media, big data (although no one was calling it that!) and open-book government has become much less one of "why?" to one of "how?". In other words, it seems that  a broad range of civil servants (or at least those at the conference), have accepted that the social web should play more of a daily role in their work as opposed to just being a tool for the communications department. Five years ago, a similar conversation would have had many more cynics dismissing the whole thing as a "waste of time" and irrelevant to the work of the public service.

This is encouraging, although it is still worrying that it has taken this long for the topic to become more mainstream and accepted, since another commonly held perception amongst those I spoke with was that while cynicism reigned in the past few years, government departments and agencies missed the opportunity to build the skills required to handle the massive amounts of data produced through the web. When things are moving as quickly as they are in the digital age, I'm not sure that governments can afford to take this long to accept new ideas and integrate them into their work. The challenge will be remaining agile while also satisfying the accountability requirements that can make it tricky for government to move quickly in new and untested environments.

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Interview on TVO's Pull: How Technology is Changing the Conversation

Last May I was asked to participate in a TVO web series titled Pull: How Technology is Changing the Conversation. This is a clip from my interview which covered new avenues to citizen engagement made possible by big data and open data. (It's always a little painful to see and hear yourself recorded. Duly noted: I use the word "innovative" far too frequently.)

You can check out the entire series here.

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Presentation at CAPPA

This week I presented a paper at the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration (CAPPA) conference at Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada). The paper I presented was part of the e-Government panel, and assessed how departments in the welfare policy sectors in Canada and the UK are adapting (or not) to new digital information networks. The conclusion: despite the potential gains in effectiveness and efficiency offered by the social web, civil servants in this policy sector are not capitalizing on social media and related phenomena to improve their work. I argued that this isn't just a case of governments moving more slowly than the fast pace of technological change, or the public sector lagging behind the private sector (where the social web has been adopted much more readily). Rather, the social web clashes in significant ways with the organizational structures, norms and values of public sector bureaucracies, typified by the departments responsible for welfare and benefits in Canada and the UK. Without examining and reforming these deeply entrenched features of contemporary bureaucracy, these departments will have little scope to meaningfully improve their operations when they take up the social web as a policy instrument.

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Upcoming lecture at Dalhousie University's Social Media Lab

Dalhousie University's Social Media Lab is hosting me on April 5th from 11 am-noon to discuss the current status of academic research on government social media use. The abstract for the talk is below. If you're interested in coming along, you can register (for free) here.

I'm really looking forward to getting feedback on my current research and to learning more about the Social Media Lab during my visit. As a bit of background on their work, they bring together researchers with the technical skills required to collect and analyze social media data with other researchers interested in exploring social media as it relates to their research interests, but that don't necessarily have the skills required to do so. This is a really innovative, and quite frankly, absolutely necessary model that other universities need to adopt if they want to produce cutting edge research into web-based phenomenon. I'm looking forward to seeing how it all works in practice.

Lecture abstract
Methodological and Theoretical Gaps in the Study of Public Sector Social Media Use

In response to widespread use of social media, governments are recognizing the need to integrate Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and blogging into their communications, policymaking and service delivery “toolkits”. Academics have begun to study government’s use of social media, but significant methodological and theoretical gaps remain. Authors from Public Administration link public sector social media use to broader theories of government-citizen relations and state management, but typically rely on “analogue” methods that cannot efficiently or effectively capture the nuances of this digital phenomenon. As a foil, researchers from Computer Science and Information Studies typically draw on more rigorous digital methodological approaches to the study of public sector social media use, but rarely meaningfully tie this data into the broader Public Administration theories to which they speak. In this talk, Amanda Clarke will illustrate how the methodological and theoretical limitations of different disciplines have thus far left much to be desired in the study of public sector social media use. In doing so, Ms. Clarke will make the case for collaborative, inter-disciplinary approaches to this topic—and to other facets of digital government—in order to fill the gaps that single disciplinary approaches have left untouched thus far. The talk will conclude with a discussion of the practical barriers that will complicate such collaboration as the study of digital government moves ahead.

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Article for Samara: Want to Redesign Parliament? Don’t forget about the website, please.

Samara is running a series of articles that explore ways to improve Parliamentary politics in Canada. Here is my contribution, which argues that the parliamentary website is a worthwhile place to look first.

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Upcoming talk - Digital government-citizen engagement: Where we've got it wrong, and how to get it right

From 5-7 pm on February 4th I'll be speaking at the University of Toronto's School of Public Policy and Governance on the topic of digital government-citizen engagement. Here's a little overview from the event's poster:

The earliest research on and practice of Internet-enabled government-citizen engagement merely digitized traditional mechanisms of citizen participation. That is, rather than thinking imaginatively about the web’s capacity to transform traditional and produce new mechanisms by which citizens participate in the work of government, writers and practitioners looked to “consultations”, “townhalls”, and “deliberations”, simply added the words “electronic”, “virtual”, and “digital” to the front of them, and called it a day.

In this lecture, Amanda Clarke argues that traditional theories of offline government-citizen engagement are to blame for this narrow approach to digital engagement. She claims that this narrowness undercuts space for innovative government-citizen partnerships that capitalize on new forms of social production made possible by the digital age, but which do not conform to the models of citizen engagement inherited from earlier theory and practice.

If you're interested in coming along, entrance is free, and you can register here.

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