Monday, April 28, 2014

Social Media as a driver of social change

From the late 1990s onwards, there has been a metamorphosis in the way people relate to one another- earlier an individual’s day was punctuated by the arrival of the newspaper and the odd letter and since the time connectivity and smartphones became commonplace, this inflow of news and information has been constant and unyielding. A lot of flows in this happen over the social media- it is no longer the two or three points in a day that you had new information to mull over; information just keeps flowing and forces you to think almost all through your waking hours. The world now moves to a different rhythm, and the beats can change any moment in time depending upon how your brain evaluates the particular piece of newly arrived content.
One of the most significant features of the social media is that it is accessible- not only in terms of low costs, but also in terms of skills which allow you to get on to the platform itself. You really don’t have to be someone famous to make a significant impact in social media. It may be just that accidental video of a tourist on an African safari which captures the struggle between lions and a crocodile over who gets the buffalo calf or a cute crooner whose video has suddenly picked up more likes and gone viral on YouTube or facebook. There is a new way social relationships are constructed on the social media, how the content is produced, mediated and received on Facebook, twitter, Google+ etc. There is a new visual imagery in which the currency of the item reported upon makes it spectacular- the Navy Seal operations in Abbotabad in Pakistan were first reported on Twitter; the Arab Spring movement weaved together discrete events into one fantastic tide  which toppled regimes.
Social media has empowered people to spread perspectives on social causes and change, participation in digital activisms, and support and information sharing in crisis situations. Cultural adoption and availability/understanding of technology once overcome represent a very powerful tool of change anywhere in the world.
On April 11, 2013 a new study “Social Media & Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament) Elections”, was released by IRIS Knowledge Foundation and supported by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). The study reported that there were 160 High Impact Constituencies out of the total of 543 constituencies, which will likely be influenced by social media during the ongoing general elections. The report also finds that there are a total of 67 constituencies, which has been identified as Medium Impact constituencies, while the rest of the constituencies have been identified as Low Impact Constituencies or No impact constituencies. This way of predicting election outcomes and impact using social media influence is itself a novel one; the earlier demographic assessment tools for elections were different and relied on economic and social groups to focus on. This change amply signalled to political parties contesting the elections to put at least a part of the campaign effort on the social media and that is a change which is quite visible. Twitter and Facebook became great tools for the reluctant young Indian, who for long had taken the voting day as an unexpected holiday to Enjoy instead of voting, to actively engage at least in discussions on political, economic, military as well as social issues. These conversations eventually became powerful groups for not just mere discussions but criticism and dissemination of opinion on several such issues which mainstream media would get around to later. The numbers of those actually voting also tended to increase in the elections. Even a fraction of the votes of the young educated contingent can make things swing substantially so far as the result of a constituency or that of the entire election is concerned. The reason for the importance of social media and its success in actively mobilising the youth can be found in the very demographics of India today. As per International Labour Organisation, India has the largest youth population in the world with 66% or nearly 808 million of its population is below the age of 35. With an upwardly mobile population increasingly latching on to the decreasing prices of mobile phones and tablets, social media connection is now like a social status for most.
Currently, all national parties and many regional ones are using social media platforms to get their message across. Some surmise that the recent good showing by the newAam Adami Party in Delhi State Elections were largely due to a well managed social media campaign which helped in fund raising as well from both within and outside the country. This probably holds true for the campaign against corruption which drew a very large participation from people in India.  
An average inbox now tends to get filled up quickly with requests for espousal of causes ranging from human rights, woman empowerment, female literacy and efficient governance, deficient services or products sold etc. And the more people join in to sign up on or like a particular cause;  the greater is the likelihood of it making an impact and causing about a change in the real world- we have all heard of a complaints by unhappy customers on the complaints page forcing the company to act to address the situation hurriedly. The change is reflected not only in the way we pick out movies to watch or restaurants to go to, but also in the options that we have now to choose between alternative medical therapies available. The manner in which people are recruited has also changed with both Recruiters and job-seekers converging on SM platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to fill their needs.
Malcolm Gladwell, writing in New Yorker, takes a view that Social media activism is for those with low motivation, he says. Twitter/Facebook “revolutions” are built around weak ties. Protests which brought down the Berlin wall or caused about changes in the laws relating to women following the Nirbhaya case are of a different genere- where stronger ties and bonds among people who think alike caused about the changes. While we may agree or disagree with Mr. Gladwell, it is never going to be a  situation where a change or a revolution happening today will not find an echo or a resonance on the social media.
. In India, we see one of the biggest initiatives in the rural sector has come from the private sector in the form of ITC’s e-ChoupalThe e-Choupal model has been specifically designed to tackle the challenges posed by the unique features of Indian agriculture. It is a blend of click & mortar capabilities, village internet kiosks managed by farmers - called sanchalaks - themselves, that enable the agricultural community access ready information in their local language on the weather & market prices, disseminate knowledge on scientific farm practices & risk management, facilitate the sale of farm inputs (now with embedded knowledge) and purchase farm produce from the farmers' doorsteps (decision making is now information-based).
Real-time information and customised knowledge provided by 'e-Choupal' enhance the ability of farmers to take decisions and align their farm output with market demand and secure quality & productivity. The aggregation of the demand for farm inputs from individual farmers gives them access to high quality inputs from established and reputed manufacturers at fair prices. As a direct marketing channel, virtually linked to the 'mandi' system for price discovery, 'e-Choupal' eliminates wasteful intermediation and multiple handling. Thereby it significantly reduces transaction costs.While the farmers benefit through enhanced farm productivity and higher farm gate prices, ITC benefits from the lower net cost of procurement (despite offering better prices to the farmer) having eliminated costs in the supply chain that do not add value.
So while global conversations have escalated around using social networks to reach new audiences and spread philanthropic and charitable messages, questions still remain about how to effectively use social media to achieve measured results in communication strategy.  Some suggest that gathering advocates to tell the story or espouse a cause, allowing ideas to develop to a stage where they could inspire followers, working across platforms to create sustained conversations may be a good way forward in making the immediate, real-time inherent nature of social media respond to good ideas which are needed to make positive social changes happen.

Ways to evaluate E-Governance Procedures and problems due to Communication Gap

Evaluation of e-Governance Procedures:

e- Government essentially means use of Information and Communication Technologies in public sector. The concept has gradually evolved from responsive public service delivery which puts importance on quality of services and participation of citizens in the process of governance.  With intensification of public awareness about timely delivery and quality of services being delivered to them, responsibility, credibility and accountability became strategic points of Governance. E-Governance is result of interplay of these reforms.
Highlight of e-Governance is on participation of citizens wherein citizens actively participate in process of Governance. It means that citizens keep participating in process of governance even after elections are over. Participation of citizens may be by means of discussions, debates, opinion forming groups etc. This kind of participation is facilitated by extensive use of IT. Evaluation of effectiveness of e-governance becomes significant in view of investments being made by Governments for its implementation and also because of increasing expectations of the citizens.
There could be several ways of evaluation. One of the ways is ex ante and ex post evaluation.  Ex ante as the name suggests is kind of future evaluation, i.e, under the given set of conditions how the e-Government scheme is going to perform in future, what would be the costs involved, its impacts and benefits, difficulties that could be faced, their solutions etc. this evaluation is generally taken up to justify or otherwise, implementation of project. Ex post on the other hand assesses impact and other outcomes of implementation.
Another way of evaluation is formative and summative evaluation. Formative evaluation is done during formative phases to assess progress or lack of it whereas summative evaluation done after project is completed to assess its impact.
Further there is distinction in the ways to evaluate such as goal based evaluation, goal free evaluation, and criteria based evaluation.
Further, evaluation could be based on levels such as macro/societal level, sector level, organizational level, application level, stakeholder level.

Problems in e-Governance due to communication gaps:

In e-Government projects, there may be cases where e-Governance procedures are not user friendly and User Centric Designs (UCD) are not applied. This situation occurs in three situations;
First, when there is gap between policy formulation and development of project to implement it. It is observed that when policies are formed, they are seldom prepared with a view of usability. As a result of which usability aspect is somewhat left behind.
Second, when there are many teams working on different aspects of a single project such as one team evaluating the needs of citizens, another team is preparing policy and yet another team implementing it. In such a situation there could be gap in communication and hence User Centric Design may not be achieved.
There could be a third situation when there is a mismatch between Government objectives and citizen’s objectives. In those conditions, focus is not on citizens but on the process itself.

Uses of Mobile Technology in Indian Elections

Uses of Mobile Technology in Indian Elections

As Indian parliamentary elections, 2014 are coming to an end after completion of 6 out of 9 phases; four interesting uses of new technology in Indian elections have been noticed:
1. Mobile crowd sourcing to harvest voter information:
One of the national parties of India asks potential voters to message their voter-registration number. In return the party sends the information about the location of polling station. Apparently, this service is for benefit of voters. However, this allows the political party to prepare a huge database of potential supporters.  They have also created a rating system giving each supporter a unique number which they call ‘mobilization number’. Then grading of this unique number is done on the basis of sign ups using that unique number. This is a unique way of creating a data base of supporters and motivating them to support the party.
2. WhatsApp, for better organization of campaign
When Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19bn it might not have thought about the impending Indian election as a major part of its audience. But WhatsApp is proving out to be an indispensable tool for management of election campaign. Political parties are making profound use of this app to reach the young voters personally by sending personalized messages to them regularly. In addition the party workers are using it to exchange information about campaign in their area, manage the rallies and talk to each other.
3. Missed calls, for political organizing
Indians love ‘missed’ calls. The concept of missed call is unique to India. The calls that are not answered are not charged. Many prepaid Indian mobile users, thus, call the number they want to and then disconnect after one or two rings. The person on other side comes to know that a particular person is trying to contact them and call back. Thus, the person having prepaid number does not have to pay. Political parties are making use of this unique Indian phenomenon of ‘missed’ call. They ask people to give a ‘missed’ call to their number for any information regarding the party candidate, voter list information etc. Then the party workers call back the voters who have given ‘missed’ call to provide the information. Thus the voters are provided information on phone without spending money.
4. Plain old SMS, for voter mobilization
In a country like India where most of the people still use very basic mobile phones, SMS is the best way to reach them. In fact one of the political parties was making people members of their party on the basis of SMS sent by people. On the day of polling, traditional text messages are still functioning as the most important tool in cajoling people to turn up to the polls.

Crowdsouring and World War I

I find the most interesting things on Reddit sometimes....frankly it's addicting.  This recent post about crowd sourcing is a great example of how regular citizens from around the world (Redditors) can come together and compile information on a topic that years ago would have taken Encyclopedia Britannica months to publish to the public.

This crowdsourcing project, which is still in progress by the way, is an attempt to catalog, in drawn image form, all of the small arms used by the countries involved in World War I.  All The Guns  Just another way to show the effect of crowdsourcing and the collaborative and open medium created by interactive communities like Reddit.

Canadian Digital Currency Attempt

I noticed an interesting article as I was browsing Reddit the other day titled "Canadian Government to End ‘MintChip’ Digital Currency Program" Coin Desk.  The article was actually posted in the bitcoin subreddit but after reading I felt it made a connection to one of Canadas attempts to transform its currency system to an online medium, eliminating physical currency.  As bitcoin currency slowly gains mainstream popularity, it seems Canada has taken a particularly harsh stance on the digital currency.  While MintChip was ultimately scrapped by the Canadian government, the idea of a global currency that is all digital is probably a scary notion to more countries than just the Canadians.

Social media and Civil Society

Social media encourages one to express, its effects have infused our into common syntax- ‘selfie’, ‘slash’, “hashtag”  have become words of the year or come close to being ordained so.  It seems social media also encourages less benign emotional expressions, as well- a man’s political or religious beliefs often inspire some of the angriest conversations on the social media. At times, really perceptive parleys can take place on social media platforms, but just too often, a posted article or controversial status open up outpouring of ridicule, offense, and disdain.
Though we still remain far from the world imagined by Michael Crichton in “Disclosure” where we actually meet with people in the virtual world by using more than our keyboards, it is a fact that these virtual communities and interactions in which knitted brows and glares which are sensed and not seen - have a profound impact on our exchanges and thoughts in real life. Cyber-bullying is a great example of how social media communication has some very real effects. The worst part about cyber bullies is that they behave with even lesser sense of responsibility because of the relative anonymity and distance lent by the platform itself.
Some 73% of online adults in US now use a social networking site of some kind. Facebook is the dominant social networking platform in the number of users, but a striking number of users are now diversifying onto other platforms. Some 42% of online adults now use multiple social networking sites. In addition, Instagram users are nearly as likely as Facebook users to check in to the site on a daily basis. These are among the key findings on social networking site usage and adoption from a 2013 survey from the Pew Research Centre’s Internet Project.
McKinsey Global Institute’s July 2012 survey finds that more than 1.5 billion people around the globe have an account on a social networking site, and almost one in five online hours is spent on social networks— increasingly via mobile devices.
The use of social technologies has led to the adoption of new behaviors across social, economic and cultural spheres. All forms of social interaction from weddings, politics or just plain talk are happening over social media. New social bonds are formed and broken over social media. Earlier advice was sought from social contacts made in the real world to determine which movie to watch, which neighborhood to live in, which maid to hire- now it takes place online and often from people whom we have never met. The ‘likes’ garnered on facebook often spur us on to lose more weight or feel applauded for a culinary creation.  New authors, musicians, artists can create an overnight market for their products if they manage to catch sufficient attention online and go ‘viral’- This may have just ended up being a good thing. The huge untapped wealth of mental ability is finding new ways to collaborate and create online.
Companies too are turning to social media to gather insights about products and services people like by tapping into what consumers do and say to one another on social platforms, which provides unfiltered feedback and behavioral data (what they like and what they do not), to engage in crowdsourcing new product ideas, managing logistics, setting up supply chains and even to raise productivity of knowledge workers.  
The speed of adoption of such technologies and platforms is unprecedented and scalability is easy. The same McKinsey Report puts it that while it took commercial television 13 years to reach 50 million households and Internet service providers three years to sign their 50 millionth subscriber, it took Facebook just a year to hit 50 million users. It took Twitter nine months In May 2012; Facebook logged its 900 millionth user. It is estimated that 80 percent of the world’s online population use social networks on a regular basis (now of course Facebook has over a billion users).
Perhaps the change brought about by social media is akin to that brought about by the growth of high rise buildings. For a long time, the high rises were impossible to make- technology being the limiting factor and then they discovered how to use steel in structures. Tall buildings transformed not only the physical landscape but also modified the social scene. They also brought in new problems which had to be solved like that of ‘vertical policing and fire fighting’, about finding faster ways to move people up and down the floors etc. They created new living spaces which often are now designed with the theme of ‘live, work and play’.  Similarly, social media technologies are here to stay. They will and are having an impact on how we interact with each other- they increase the interface, but reduce the face- to – face interaction, demand new social skills, change the way we look for information, think and act as also the speed with which events happen. Etiquette is being refashioned. Crimes too have now taken on a dimension of the virtual world requiring new laws, codes, jurisprudence and skills to control.

As they say, change is the only permanent thing in this world- time now to prepare for another big one.  

Social Media and Governance

Contrary to what may appear in the first view, social media is not and should not be regarded as an anathema to good governance. Good governance is about creating a public space which lends inclusion to civil society and provides for an effective interaction with the state and its various organs. Civil Society has the potential to drive the good governance agenda through communication, providing a balance between messages that have their origin within and without the government.
Social media has changed the landscape of social engagement. We are now in a hyper connected world - the ICT Facts and Figures (2013) show a continued and almost universal growth in ICT uptake. In 2013, there are almost as many mobile-cellular subscriptions as people in the world, with more than half in the Asia-Pacific region (3.5 billion out of 6.8 billion total subscriptions). Mobile-cellular penetration rates stand at 96%globally; 128%in developed countries; and 89%in developing countries. In 2013, over 2.7 billion people are using the Internet, which corresponds to 39% of the world’s population. These figures illustrate that online computing and communication have become ubiquitous, this unprecedented connectivity coupled with Smartphones and Tablets have revolutionised Social Media Consumption.
The Arab Spring in 2011 would probably be remembered as a landmark event – a signal of the enormous impact that social media could have by weaving together discrete events into a singular force which shook the middle east and caused long entrenched regimes across the region to fall. There were revolutions before, but this was the one which leveraged the power of new tools and the technology- of the internet and social media. In its most simplistic understanding of the entire series of events, social media helped save time by fostering quicker linkages between thought leaders and ordinary people to create a rapidly growing network of people willing to act.   A paradigm shift has happened since, it is not only the government of the day, or the big money which makes opinions and controls outcomes, but it is the new communities and groups- often linked up across national borders- which are in the position to call the shots as well.
The social media platforms are enabling in many ways and they have by making use of highly accessible and scalable communication techniques offered a voice to those excluded from the political discourse- the communication has now turned into an interactive dialogue. There is now a vast amount of user- generated content on social media platforms which express ideas, opinions and share hope in a global way. Many of these ideas and opinions articulate and identify the community’s needs and/ or measure the government’s performance. It helps improve the citizen’s understanding and awareness of their rights and augments their capacity to engage in public dialogue and public affairs. This, hopefully should translate into more transparent and a more responsive governance.
United Nations
The UN E-Government Survey 2012 notes the increasing role of e-government in promoting inclusive and participatory development has gone hand-in-hand with the growing demands for transparency and accountability in all regions of the world. E- government has strongly shifted expectations of what governments can and should do, using modern information and communication technologies, to strengthen public service and advance equitable, people-centred development. This report shows that with the right institutional framework, policies and capacity-building efforts, progress in enhancing the contributions of e-government to sustainable development is within reach. The report also observes that leveraging social media for the benefit of e-service uptake is another area where a greater effort can make a difference since currently only 40 per cent of Member States are using a social networking site.
The communication with citizens on social media platforms could be direct when expressed on pages/ forums owned by the government departments themselves or it could be facilitated through intermediary actors like the professional media on platforms hosted by them, but the latter would presuppose the presence of a self- regulated, active and a responsible professional media sector.
The widespread use of social media and its increasing importance as a tool for communication underscore the need to set up guidelines for social media interaction with government organizations to optimize its use as a tool to connect with citizens. The need to set up key signposts in any such interaction is identified as a requirement for corporations and other entities trying to use the social media platforms as well.  This has led to evolution of social media policies and as the study of one such social media policy database would suggests, there are certain core values like not divulging non-public information, taking non- partisan political stands, expectations of a basic level of civility etc. which find a reflection right through.  
In India too, many government departments like the Ministry of External Affairs, Delhi Traffic Police etc. have engaged on social media platforms with the citizens. With this increasing engagement, the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeITY) has in September 2011 laid down the approved social media policy framework  after due consultations. This framework encourages officials while commenting on issues to clearly identify her/himself in professional capacity, refrain from making personal comments or comments about draft legislations/sub-judice matters, emphasise politeness, not to reveal personal details of self or others and be open to both positive and negative comments though it may not be essential to respond to all of them.  
Political processes are, essentially, communication processes, on-going dialogues between people, parties, pressure groups and governments. The political environment shapes the way in which communications work with regard to governance. Providing the right information is the key to fostering social awareness and facilitating democratic participation. However, it is never a given that the right or accurate information will spread automatically. State or non- state actors can as easily monopolise and manipulate communication to spread messages which provoke fear, violence and hinder development. This is latent threat of manipulation exists as much on social media communication as it does on more traditional means of communicating.
For the government, social media creates a means to improve governance by allowing information to rapidly transfuse; it opens up access to government officials, creates possibilities for new community based initiatives’ as well as saves time and money. For the citizen, it allows them to better public services and collaborate across government departments to bring change and highlight new imperatives for policy. Social media is not a homogenous, indistinguishable whole- these are user- centred organisations and self- organising networks and can be used to deliver public value effectively. The prerequisite is that the communication has to be put into the right social channel to target the intended clientele (for example LinkedIn will not carry a message to teens).  Social media strategy has to be a part of the overall communication mix and will require some reorientation and attitudinal changes to be effectively used by governments.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Digital Government and the DMV

     Digital government does more than just provide information and service to the public.  It also helps to make government agencies more efficient, empower government employees and empower the public.   We have all used digital government services at some point.  Recently, as I stood in line at the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV), I witnessed five people be referred to the website for online services instead of waiting in the line.  Some left, I am guessing, deciding to take advantage of the “line free” digital government service, but others chose to wait it out.  The DMV employee was empowered by the fact that he/she could instruct the public to use the online services, therefore reducing the strain on DMV employees and customer wait times.  Those that left were empowered by the DMV employee to save time and utilize the online services.  They did not have to wait in long lines and could process their request on their own schedule and not have to take time off of work. 
      For those that stayed, previously, I would not have thought anything of the phenomenon, but now, I thought of the possibility of the “Digital Divide.”   Did the individuals who stayed not have access to the DMV’s digital service?  This would make utilizing the DMV office the only way to get these public services.  Until the “Digital Divide” problem is resolved, government agencies, such as the DMV, will need to provide brick and mortar services.  Internet access is still expensive, and for the most part so are computers, but probably the hardest issue to tackle is lack of user experience.  Some individuals have no computer experience and/or are not tech savvy.   Bridging that gap is a difficult challenge and some individuals just do not want to learn.   
     Personally, if I could have settled my issue online, I would have done so, but alas there was no online DMV service to assist me.  So I waited and waited and waited…..

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Role of Social Media in Afghanistan's April 2014 Election

No one can ignore the significant role that Facebook and twitter has played in the recent presidential and provincial council election in Afghanistan. Rule of social media, especially Facebook has been more visible before, during, and after Election Day. There are 820,000 Facebook users, over 18 years old, in the country, out of which 120,000 are female.
Upon the start of election campaign period, February 2, 2014, presidential candidates started their Facebook campaigns through posting on their Facebook accounts, created for election purpose, and advertising in Facebook. By Facebook posting each candidate could reach to 10s of thousands of followers. The two leading candidates, Dr.AbdullahAbdullahh (with 280,191 likes) and Dr.Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (40,342 likes), are more active in Facebook. Dr.Ashraf Ghani is also active on twitter, with 14,400 followers. Nearly all-8 presidential candidates used Facebook advertisement and reached to all Facebook users (820,000 people) in Afghanistan.  candidates used social media to share rallies videos, speeches, Pictures and answering to the questions asked by their followers. Facebook was a very handy, easy, and cheap tool for presidential candidates to reach young and educated generation and share their strategies and plans for the future of the country. In addition, Facebook users had 24/7 accesses to candidates plan, strategies, videos, and speeches and remained in the loop of rallies all over Afghanistan. I do firmly believe that Facebook had a great role in encouraging young generation to vote. 
Facebook role was greater during the Election Day. Minutes after the official start of polling, people started sharing pictures of long lines of people waiting to vote. Facebook could embrace and cover more pictures and news than TVs around the country. In addition people, with their smartphones, where capturing attempts of fraud and posting them within seconds, which I believe could prevent a number of frauds across the country.There are 100s of such videos and pictures on Facebook. 
Social media is still playing a great role in post election day. Election results and fraud investigations are among the hottest issues in Facebook and twitter now . People still sharing videos and other fraud evidences. I was following election results a couple of days ago and was looking at TVs and social media. I was surprised how fast twitter is in sharing information. Just seconds after result announcement started, I got the results through twitter.

                                few pictures of election day shared by Facebook users