Robyn Caplan is one of ten 2015 Milton Wolf Emerging Scholar Fellows, an accomplished group of doctoral and advanced MA candidates selected to attend the 2015 Milton Wolf Seminar. Their posts highlight critical themes and on-going debates raised during the 2015 Seminar. In this blog post, the evolving relationships between social and traditional media and between politics and information policy regimes are reviewed.
In the last year, questions about the roles that both non-traditional and traditional media play in the filtering of geopolitical events and policy have begun to increase. Though traditional sources such as The New York Times retain their influence, social media platforms and other online information sources are becoming the main channels through which news and information is produced and circulated. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, and other micro-blogging services bring the news directly to the people. According to a study by Parse.ly, the era of searching for information is ending—fewer referrals to news sites are coming from Google, with the difference in traffic made up by social media networks (McGee, 2014; Napoli, 2014).
It isn’t just news organizations that are finding greater success online. Heads of state—most famously President Obama—have used social networks to reach a younger generation that has moved away from traditional media. This shift, which began as a gradual adoption by state and public officials over the last several years, is quickly gaining speed. Iranian politicians, such as President Rouhani, have also taken to Twitter, a medium still banned in their own country. The low barriers to entry and high potential return make social media an ideal space for geopolitical actors to experiment with their communications strategies. ISIS, for example, has developed a skillful social media strategy over the last few years, building up a large following (which emerged out of both shock and awe) with whom they can now communicate directly (Morgan, 2015, p. 2). As more information is disseminated through these platforms, considering the role that technological and algorithmic design has on geopolitics is increasingly important.
The Government of Iraq recently withdrew lawsuits against news media and journalists nationwide and adopted an access to information law in the Kurdish region. Jing Guo explores the range of opinions journalists have regarding freedom of information in a country experiencing political transition.
In December of last year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced the withdrawal of all government lawsuits against news media and journalists under the previous administration, signaling a departure from the media policies of his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki. This announcement, in addition to the adoption of an access to information law in the Iraqi Kurdistan region a year ago, marked a positive step toward freedom of expression and information in the post-authoritarian country.
In Iraq, a functioning national freedom of information law is long overdue for supporting an independent media sector and the public’s right to know, both of which are among the fundamental pillars of democracy. With open access to government meetings and records, journalists can serve as conduits of information between the governing and the governed. At the same time, citizens and journalists can help strengthen democratic governance by holding those in power accountable.
Today, more than a decade after the end of full state control, Iraqi journalists are still largely “in transition.” As proponents and users of the legislation, their views of freedom of information are important in the passing and implementation of the law. What do journalists think about accessing government information in their country? What factors shape their views?
We came across this article that took a very unorthodox position against the axiom “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” The “argument” (with a dose of ad hominem) states: “That’s BS on the face of it, because the vast majority of important things we manage at work aren’t measurable, from the quality of our new hires to the confidence we instill in a fledgling manager”. This was followed up by “The good news is that we manage these unmeasurables perfectly well without any need for yardsticks”. Had this been an article on a “clickbait” site, where an unorthodox position is often taken without support or forethought just to get the clicks, we could have just moved on. But this was Forbes.
We have put quotes around the term argument above because cogent arguments do not start with “That’s BS.” It also provides only two examples of unmeasurables: 1) “quality of our new hires” and 2) “confidence we instill in a fledgling manager” to convince readers that a majority has been demonstrated by the author. It is also incorrect to assume that most people “manage these unmeasurables perfectly well.” In fact, we posit most of us (with conscience) will have an extremely hard time making serious decisions (for example, promoting someone or cancelling a project) based on “unmeasurable” indicators.
Measurement of intangibles is hard to do. Even when it is done, such measurement would necessarily be a rough proxy of reality. There is no disagreement from us on this. None at all. However, to account for them would be vastly better than ignoring them completely because in the absence of measurements (even if they are fuzzy), fallacious rhetoric sneaks in and objectivity disappears. We go back to the Forbes article again to support this hypothesis: it uses the term “vast majority”,which can be easily replaced with a quantifiable term (e.g 80% of our managerial decisions).
Earlier this week marked the celebration of the 12th Annual International Right to Know Day.
The event was first proposed during a meeting of access to information advocates in Sofia, Bulgaria in September of 2002 and has since grown to an internationally recognized celebration promoting freedom of information (FOI) initiatives worldwide.
Twelve years later more than 60 countries having access to information legislation celebrate the day (and in some cases, the week) by promoting FOI initiatives and their results. Primarily hosted by civil society organizations (CSO’s), citizen groups, and academic/research institutions, the idea is to help citizens engage with their governments to become active participants in the democratic process.
With more governments and partners adopting transparency initiatives, advocates of access to information continue to see the movement expand worldwide. Events like Right to Know Day are critical to the success of global Open Development initiatives in that they promote the strong collaboration between various partners in order to spread awareness on a larger scale. Citizens are engaged through these events, allowing for millions of individuals worldwide to learn what their governments and organizations are doing for them, and learning what they can do to hold their governments accountable.
Each month, People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that garnered the most attention.
For July 2014, the featured blog post is "World Bank’s Four Year Access to Information Policy Update."
It’s been four years since the World Bank enacted its Access to Information Policy, and to mark the occasion this blog post covers the facts, figures, and developments that has made this Policy a success. Read the blog post to learn more!
Solutions Oriented Knowledge-Sharing
Making information and data freely available and usable enables citizens to engage with service providers to participate in development decisions. But is this enough?
Proactive disclosure of better data and information are prerequisites to enabling citizens, governments and institutions to make informed decisions. In order to help countries utilize the open initiatives and build client demand for increased openness, the World Bank organized local workshops and public forums in South Asia and East Asia since 2012, using the twinning approach of access to information and open data. This was an opportunity to connect local citizens and stakeholders to national and global data and knowledge, further providing the public with information needed to influence development at the local level. The World Bank interacted with civil society organizations, research and academic institutions, media, and government, among other stakeholders, providing a forum for discussion, debate and the exchange of information. Access to Information broadens the conversation among multiple informed stakeholders and creates opportunities to find and deliver innovative local solutions to long-standing development problems.
It’s a sign of the times that we had the first digital media academy at the World Urban Forum this year. Digital media has come a long way and is here to stay. Its effects have been transformational in many areas of communications – print journalism, book publishing, and marketing & advertising. Now, learning is seeing itself transformed by the same technologies that offer reach, scale, and interactivity at a price tag that’s hard to beat.
I was invited to share my experience in promoting the WBG’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on climate change, as I had created the communications strategy and overseen its launch, which was heavy on social media and reach to the developing world. I was inspired by earlier campaigns and also by the TED organization’s single-minded approach to branding. See attached presentation for details.
World Press Freedom Index 2014
Reporters Without Borders
The 2014 World Press Freedom Index spotlights the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information and its protagonists. The ranking of some countries has also been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed. This trend constitutes a growing threat worldwide and is even endangering freedom of information in countries regarded as democracies. Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year. At the other end of the index, the last three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, three countries where freedom of information is non-existent. READ MORE
Throwing the transparency baby out with the development bathwater
In recent weeks, a number of leading voices within the international development movement – including the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates as well as development economist Chris Blattman and tech-for-development expert Charles Kenny - have come out arguing that corruption and governance efforts in developing countries should be de-prioritized relative to other challenges in health, education, or infrastructure. Their basic argument is that while yes, corruption is ugly, it’s simply another tax in an economic sense and while annoying and inefficient, can be tolerated while we work to improve service delivery to the poor. The reality is more complicated and the policy implications precisely the opposite: corruption’s “long tail” in fact undermines the very same development objectives that Gates, Blattman, and Kenny are advocating for. READ MORE
Are citizens receiving the greatest development impact for their development dollar? This is the same question I asked when the Publish What You Fund Aid Transparency Index was released in October 2013.
This week I found myself asking the same question as the 2013 World Bank Access to Information Report was released, highlighting how the Bank’s Access to Information Policy has provided the framework for the institution to emerge as a global leader in transparency and openness.
“Of course, data and knowledge are not an end in themselves,” President Jim Kim noted in the opening message of the report, “ultimately the true test of our effectiveness is how we use this evidence to change the lives of over a billion people in extreme poverty.”
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Transparency for what? The usefulness of publicly available budget information in African countries
“Advocacy and civil society groups around the world are increasing their calls for governments to publish budgets and expenditure reports, not least in Africa, where budget transparency remains low by global standards. However, while governments are often praised internationally for the number and type of budget documents they release, less attention is given to the content of these documents and whether they allow for meaningful budget analysis. This note considers whether the budget documents released by African governments are sufficiently comprehensive to answer basic questions about budget policy and performance.” READ MORE
Five steps to more meaningful youth engagement
Global Development Professionals Network Partner Zone
“Today's young leaders are taking on a variety of meaningful and dynamic roles in development organisations. As board members, lobbyists, activists, entrepreneurs, designers, experts, trainers, and researchers, youth are driving their own destinies by taking part in decisions that affect them and their communities. For example, Restless Development, an international youth-led development agency, supports a project in which local young people lead action research aimed at finding solutions to complex challenges in the turbulent Karamoja region of Northern Uganda. These young researchers have produced several excellent products, including Strength, Creativity, and Livelihoods of Karimojong Youth.” READ MORE