Stuff what I has been reading… 23/02 – 01/03

Second Life is a feudal society

James Grimmelmann produces a very well-worked analysis of the law and feudal dimensions of Second Life. ‘Virtual worlds built purely for play and where the stakes are not too large should remain mostly untouched by the offline legal system’, he writes, but are we not always hearing how Second Life is a real market?

Can Social Networking Technology Undo Old Political Networks?

No, says Silvio Waisbord, Assistant Professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. And, quite frankly, he’s tired of hearing the suggestion that it might. Quite a loosely-argued piece, but I pick it up because hidden somewhere in there is a fantastic research opportunity to analyse what happens to a polity when the discourse is split across conventional and innovative media.

MPs talk but don’t listen online

… so reports the Hansard Society in its recent snapshot of the ways in which parliamentarians are – or are not – making use of digital media. Disappointing that the pace of change has been so slow. It would be great if the next report went local to find out what constituents think.

‘Digital Democracy’ Predictions for 2009

I’m into my second year of blogging, and this year is almost done. So I thought I’d celebrate and sign off for 2008 with a few ‘digital democracy’ predictions for 2009.

I can’t emphasise enough that none of these predictions are based on inside knowledge of existing plans. I just thought it would be fun to reflect and have a go at judging the way the digital wind is blowing into the year to come.

Here goes…

  1. A ‘household name’ government department will launch a large-scale crowd-sourcing site for the purposes of problem-solving. Not a one-off PR exercise; it’ll be something more like what we are used to from the likes of Dell and InnoCentive but it will have to be even more efficient and incisive. It will go through a bunch of phases before the department gets it right.
  2. Two states will be at loggerheads over the way one of them has been using the web to engage the citizens of the other. It won’t be cyber-warfare, more a gentlemanly disagreement, but it will spark a debate that’s been long overdue.
  3. A local government will fall head-over-heels in love with the promise of eDemocracy and launch into an ambitious project to put digital front-and-centre of its democratic processes and service provision. It will be facilitated with next-generation municipal ICT and it will capture our imaginations but it will come at a price.
  4. We’ll all be fascinated with what Obama does in office, but he’s going to have to work hard to live up to the standards we became accustomed to over the course of the presidential campaign. I reckon he will pull it off.
  5. The UK Parliament will launch a virtual-version of Westminster Hall debates. The MPs will love it, the officials will be tearing their hair out.
  6. The ‘digerati’ will freak at all this good stuff coming out of political institutions because it takes away the founding basis of their books, lectures, sites and films – that institutions and elected representatives don’t get people and they sure as hell don’t get digital. It will take them a while to get their heads round it, there will be a lot of foot-stamping and door-slamming, but then there will always be consultancies.
  7. A government department will move away from a standard homepage to a drag-and-drop dashboard model. Others will quickly follow.
  8. Sadly there will be a disaster somewhere in the developed world but digital communications infrastructure will be sufficiently intact to play a pivotal role in dealing with the emergency and speeding up the rescue and rebuilding effort. The integrity and quality of digital infrastructure will race up the political agenda overnight.
  9. As more and more citizens come online to access services and hold their representatives to account, efforts to to promote political literacy will have to be redoubled and the volume will have to be turned up on the participative opportunities inherent in representative democracy.
  10. I will blog a lot less about digital democracy and turn to some of the other things in life that interest me.

I reckon these are all good bets – bar number 10.

What do you think?

Where there’s a will…

Tonight is the Hansard Society’s eDemocracy event in the Scottish Parliament, and on Friday its the Scot Web 2 Conference at Edinburgh University.

I was looking forward to attending both, but I’m going make neither. Illness in the family.

I want to apologise to Alex Stobart in particular for dropping out because I was due to be leading one of the sessions.

At both events I wanted to make some time for discussing the issue of political will for engagement, and more specifically online engagement.

Is there the will amongst our politicians to involve the people of Scotland in the democracy of the nation, I believe there is. But it’s a will that is blocked, by what I’m not sure – it could be party politics, it could be resources, it could be a cultural thing. And if we figure out what the block is – well, what do we do about it? What is the vision of the e-enabled Scottish polity, what is the role of the elected representative and how can we as citizens, activists, practitioners and critics support them and hold them to account?

This issue is key. I’ll be interested in what the speakers and the delegates at both events have to say on the matter.

Parliaments and ICT – going on from here

I’ve had an opportunity to – properly – go through the World e-Parliament Report, produced by the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament.

As I knew it would be, it is an excellent piece of work. I think that the particular value lies in the fact that it looks at a range of possible applications of ICT and covers as many Parliaments as possible.

For me, the recommendations were also an important inclusion. Everyone knows the state of play and where the problems lie, but very few know how to make decisive steps toward addressing these challenges. The Report’s recommendations are clear and achievable and it will be interesting to watch Parliaments try to enact them.

And this tracking, I think, is crucial. Which Parliaments take up the challenge? Which make the best efforts with the limited resources at their disposal? Which are innovative? Which are conservative and static? Which are lazy and isolationist? I think it would be worth taking this tracking on another level and actually setting up some awards to be given out at the Centre’s annual Conference.

I would also like to suggest:
Continue reading “Parliaments and ICT – going on from here”

A good year for… parliaments in the digital age?

Reviewing some notes last night and I found a list of ‘must-haves’ for parliament websites. I compiled it as a stream-of-consciousness in one of the sessions at the ‘Parliaments in the Digital Age‘ workshop, which was organised by the Centre for Legislative Studies (Hull University) and the Oxford Internet Institute. I promised I’d pass it on to the organisers, Cristina Leston-Bandeira and Steve Ward, but never got round to it. Before I do send it over I thought I’d put it up here and see if anyone wants to add to it or refine it (it follows at the end of this post).

The list will strike some people as like-soooo-obvious but they’d be surprised to find out that a lot of parliaments haven’t even got round to the basics. One parliament that has been working hard to go beyond the basics is the UK Parliament. It’s been under a lot of pressure to do so and progress has been slow. But like a model waiting to happen, Westminster has all the pieces in place – the technology, the budget, the staff. Mind you, having the bits is one thing, what will glue them all together is the political will. What till now has been a project led by officials, now depends on the involvement of MPs and Peers. It’s time to follow up on all the rhetoric.

I’m confident that after all the nervous caution, the 2007/8 parliamentary year will be a good one for the Westminster in the area of online engagement. I’m confident that they’ll ramp up their online consultations and get ePetitions in place. More significantly, I think we’ll also see Parliament finally figure out how to make blogging work for them. Continue reading “A good year for… parliaments in the digital age?”