Voice or Chatter? Towards A More Impactful Milieu of ICT-mediated Citizen Engagement in the Philippines

Source: http://data.gov.ph/

There is no time period more challenging yet and at the same time more exciting for governance than when the political environment is in flux. In the Philippines, 2016 marked significant changes as the country transitioned to the Duterte administration. The Duterte era is believed to signal greater transparency in government, especially with the signing of an Executive Order on Freedom of Information merely days after President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office. At the same time, the 2016 elections sparked plenty of debate and conflict in online and offline spaces, thus highlighting the role of social media in amplifying citizen voice. This is perhaps the reason why 2016 was an interesting year for Philippine governance, and even more so for the Voice or Chatter project.

In the Philippines, the research project is led by Foundation for Media Alternatives, with the case study on the Philippines’ Open Data Initiative.

Using Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory, the study examines how open data can be used by government and citizens to generate shared meaning. ” It does this by using available secondary data on the ODP, as well as in-depth discussions with a former member of the Philippine government’s Open Data Task Force.

The study starts by looking at the development of eGovernance in the Philippines through the years, from the creation of the National Computer Center in 1971 to the various initiatives done under the country’s commitment to the Open Government Partnership in 2011. It then zeroes in on the case of the Open Data Philippines (ODP) and examines the initiative’s successes and shortcomings, as well as how they can impact and inform emerging policies such as those on Freedom of Information.

An analysis of the history of the ODP from 2011 to 2016 showed that although Open Data Philippines offered significant potential and operated with a vision of enriching citizen participation in governance, its overall impact fell short because of several reasons, namely: limited citizen involvement and poor appreciation of open data by both the public and the government. These include low uptake because of persisting gaps in access and literacy, significant lack of monitoring and evaluation efforts by the government, and a volatile political landscape that impedes sustainability.

Based on these results, the Philippines research makes the following recommendations;

First, the Philippines’ commitment to the OGP must be further institutionalized to ensure continuity and sustainability of efforts under the Partnership.

Second, a wide-reaching paradigm shift must occur with regard to the attitudes and appreciation of open data among political leaders and civil society alike.

Lastly, a long fought-for Freedom of Information law must be passed covering all branches of government to strengthen the impact of access to information for good governance. FMA intends to use the Voice or Chatter research to advocate for policies that could fill its identified gaps and achieve the potential of open data for citizen engagement and meaningful change.

Event: What is the Internet’s role in Brazilian politics?

This piece originally appeared on InternetLab. It has been reposted here with permission.

On February 21st 2017, we hosted the event “What is the Internet’s role in Brazilian politics?”, with the aim to foster in the public sphere some of the debates we consider important from internal discussions motivated by two of our research projects: Voice or Chatter and #OtherVoices: gender, race, class and sexuality in the 2016 elections.

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From left to right: Sâmia Bomfim (Vereadora – PSOL-SP); Bernardo Sorj (UFRJ/Centro Edelstein); Rurion Melo (FFLCH-USP); e Francisco Brito Cruz (InternetLab) (Image: André Zurawski)

Voice or Chatter is a project coordinated by the Indian organization IT for Change and aims at building a comparative panorama on whether and how participation mediated by information and communication technologies (ICTs) has been empowering citizens and transforming democracy. InternetLab is responsible for the research in Brazil, which will result in two products: an article with a “state of the art” revision of the literature about participation and ICTs in Brazil (the complete report is available here); and a case study, comparing the public consultations of the Brazilian Civil Rights Framework and the reform of the Copyright Law (still in development).

In the panel “Listening challenges: the future of participation and the State’s role” we presented the main results of our state of the art research. Some of our conclusions were:

As it has been noted by the classical Political Science literature, the permeability of the decision making processes to civil society not only depends on normative provisions (Federal Constitution, laws and decrees), but also on the context and political will of the rulers;

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From left to right: Larissa Santiago (Blogueiras Negras); Pablo Ortellado (EACH-USP); Tati Dias (Jornalista); e Natália Neris (InternetLab) (Image: André Zurawski)

The use of new technologies such as online platforms has advantages, like a greater transparency in relation to those who took part and which were the interests at stake;

The interface of the online tools influences the way through which citizens engage and interact among themselves, which has direct consequences for the quality and the pertinence of the contributions. Technological decisions, therefore, are more and more turning into political decisions;

Especially in Brazil, where only 50% of the population has access to the Internet, one of the main worries in the use of ICTs is with regard to eventual distortions in the participation due to the lack of representativeness in the online processes. Thus, these tools should not be seen as replacements of traditional forms of participation, but as complementary methods;

The State still has difficulties to provide feedback to the population in terms of which contributions were taken into consideration and on which criteria they were based on, something that could contribute to the establishment of a more profound and organic relationship with civil society.

The project #OtherVoices: gender, race, class and sexuality in the 2016 elections, in its turn, monitored and registered the discussions related to gender, race, sexuality, regional origin and social class that happened during the 2016 electoral period and their relationship with the Internet.

In the panel Acting challenges: activism and (in)visibility on the Internet we presented the main results of the research and, at the end of the event, distributed copies of the report (in Portuguese), which we comment in detail and made available for download here.


Watch videos from the event

Listening Challenges: The Future of Participation and the State’s Role


Acting Challenges: Activism and (In)visibility on the Internet


Dutch Grassroots Digital Activism: Notes from the Netherlands

Dr.Delia Dumitrica at research seminar held by the Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture (ERMeCC), January 2017

With a population that is increasingly online (over 93 per cent of the Dutch used the Internet in 2015) and an array of formal mechanisms for citizens to engage in political decision-making, the Netherlands is often touted as a model for e-participation and e-government. In 2016, the Netherlands ranked 7th in the world in the UN E-Government Development Index and ranked 5th in the world in the UN E-Participation Index . While such numbers speak to the integration of digital technologies into Dutch political life, the contribution of such technologies to citizen engagement is by no means a settled matter. In fact, the political use of digital technologies is often shaped by various non-technological factors, such as the wider political context or the cultural understandings of the affordances and usefulness of technology.

These were the preliminary conclusions proposed by a case study of a Dutch grassroots digital activism undertaken by Dr. Delia Dumitrica, Assistant Professor in the Media and Communication Department at Erasmus University Rotterdam. The results of this research, funded by the “Voice or Chatter? Using Structuration Framework Towards a Theory of ICT Mediated Citizen Engagement” project led by the IT for Change foundation, were presented to an academic audience in early January 2017 in a research seminar held by the Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture (ERMeCC).

The case study warns against the dangers of technologically deterministic accounts of the power of digital technologies to organize, mobilize, or otherwise empower citizens. Instead, the results suggest that digital activism can equally call upon users and visitors to envisage themselves as supporters, fans, or followers of a cause, eliciting low-cost, low-involvement civic actions. Far from being a reflection of the alleged ‘power’ of technology, the grassroots activist use of digital technologies adapt to the requirements and pressures set upon citizen-activists by the wider political structures. The latter recommend particular avenues for citizen input, thus shaping the citizen-activists’ own take to the use of digital technologies. Furthermore, activists are often experiencing tensions between their expectations on what such technologies are able to do—expectations often inflated by highly mediatized events such as the Occupy movement or the Arab Spring—and the often disappointing results of their actual