Archive for the ‘Trends’ Category

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Social Networks and Voting in Italy: New Evidence?

19. June 2011 – 12:28 by Francesco Molinari

In the aftermath of the three consecutive election rounds held between mid-May and mid-June this year – two administrative ballots and a referendum day – which have been unanimously seen as a defeat for the ruling center-right majority and particularly for the Prime Minister Mr. Silvio Berlusconi, many political commentators have strongly made the point that social networks (particularly Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) played a major role in determining the new prevailing orientation of Italian voters.

To be honest, the argument is not new. Already in the 2006 general election, a survey of electoral flows showed that the citizens embedded in homogeneous partisan networks were comparatively more influenced than those who discussed politics within heterogeneous networks that do not uniformly support a single political position. In both cases, the effects of interpersonal networks on voting behavior turned out to be stronger than those of TV news programs and generalist talk shows.

However, the big difference this time – particularly in the case of the referendum, since the administrative ballots were involving only part of the Italian population, though also including important cities like Milan, Turin, Bologna and Naples – is that almost all nationwide TV channels did not provide any coverage of the election day till the very last week of campaign. Critics attributed this lack of transparency to the fact that 5 out of 7 channels (three private and two public) are controlled by the media tycoon and elected PM Silvio Berlusconi, and that the referendum was putting into question the building blocks of his government’s policy stance: from privatization of a public service like tap water supply to the rebuilding of nuclear power plants in Italy, not to forget the controversial law that had suspended de facto the numerous ongoing trial hearings of the Prime Minister till the end of his mandate.

Knowing that the majority of voters would have repelled these acts – the argument continues – the Government’s unspoken strategy was aimed to prevent the 50,001% quorum (percentage of population going to the polls) that is required to make a referendum’s results effective, according to the Italian Constitution, differently from any normal election. Parts of that strategy were reportedly: the decision taken by the Ministry of Interior to postpone the referendum day till the beginning of school holidays in Italy, the slow start-up of the usual TV video clips instructing citizens how to vote as well as of the electoral talk shows in the national TV channels (a delay that was formally blamed by the National Telecommunication Authority), and other hilarious happenings like TV news speakers making mistakes on the actual election date, or fake weather forecasts announcing the sunshine and inviting people to go off on leisure trips… The same appeal, by the way, which was indirectly made to the electorate by key members of the incumbent majority.

Thus, while the impact of television on voting was being sterilized somehow, Italy registered an explosion of political discussions and particularly word of mouth spreading on social networks, with hundreds of Facebook groups created ad hoc and Twitter messages sent around to promote participation of friends and relatives in the referendum day (the assumption being that once reached the quorum, there would be no doubt on the results; in fact, the “aye’s” to abrogation ultimately won 95-5). Statistics available from Google Insights clearly show how the public’s interest on making web searches on the word “referendum” was steadily growing in the two weeks before. Here again, some humorous peaks were reached: for instance, Madonna’s latest hit being forced to change from “Vogue” to “Vote!“, or the TV information service for the hearing impaired becoming a pretext for mockery of Government censorship on how to vote.

Most of these video clips have relied on YouTube and other similar repositories to support viral distribution to peers and reach the top headlines of printed – as well as Internet – press. Yet, it remains fairly undemonstrated that a decisive push to voters orientation has been a direct consequence of this exposure. For instance, according to an instant poll realized by IPR Marketing on the aftermath of referendum day, 81% of former Berlusconi’s party voters and 64% of “Terzo Polo” (the main center opposition party) did actually stay at home on the referendum day, compared with 10% of left party supporters and a surprising 49% of the Northern League followers (the biggest ally in the Prime Minister’s coalition).

To conclude, while the political effects of social networks seem to have been enhanced by a partisan, purposeful reaction to a Government’s instrumental exploitation of traditional media and particularly TV, real impact seems to have more likely occurred within the center-left opinion area – by the way, the 2006 general election also saw the victory of a leftist majority, and part of the Northern League’s electorate is said to be made of former center-left voters – while the persistent power of television on electoral behavior is not decisively disconfirmed. Further research is needed to assess whether this election round marked a real breakthrough in the Italian politics or is simply another step of the long march towards wider engagement of “ordinary” people in the electronic participation arena.

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The Surf’s Up! German Local Authorities And Social Media

7. June 2011 – 11:44 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)
picture of a ship

Photo by Wrote on Flickr

Like their counterparts worldwide, local authorities in Germany are working out how to surf the web in something that is more like a huge ship than a surfboard, and how to provide something that surfers want instead of intruding on what they are doing and making them flee for the safety of the beach. As one PEP-NET Member, the City of Hamburg, publishes its social media guidelines, I review social media in German public administration.


The current issue of Kommune 21, a German E-Government magazine, gives a good overview of the social media landscape in Germany. There is a piece on Stuttgart’s comprehensive strategy for integrating several social media tools to ensure that their message gets to its target audience whilst remaining open to feedback; the City of Moers is also trying out several social media tools and has developed social media guidelines; and the City of Braunschweig reports how it has helped create a community of equals, Facebook users who exchange insider tips on which restaurants and cafés to go to.

However, Germany is well known for its suspicion of anyone who attempts to collect their data, whether the state’s pre-emptive collection of telephone records or Google’s photographing people’s houses for Street View. (Try taking a tour of a German residential area on Google Street View and you will see that many people have had their houses blurred out.) This issue will not go away, what with the increasing importance of cloud computing and the wealth of online applications that we use day to day. So Datenschutz, or data protection, is high on the agenda and warrants a place in all social media guidelines, including Hamburg’s.

Hamburg’s recently published guidelines explain some of the most common tools, describing social media use by German local authorities and providing examples of scenarios in which social media could be used. The case studies come from across Germany and indeed from across the world: from San Francisco’s activities on Twitter to the Stadtwiki Karlsruhe via Maerker Brandenburg, the Fix My Street-like service that allows citizens to report problems to their local authority and view status updates online.

On top of that, the suggested scenarios illustrate what can be achieved with social media, and how to go about it. These fictional scenarios are: a directorate uses Facebook, a district office publicises times for vaccinations on Twitter, the Culture Directorate posts videos of cultural events on YouTube, the HR department uses XING to acquire new staff, a senior official blogs, and a directorate conducts a survey with SurveyMonkey.

Each of these scenarios is accompanied by a flowchart which really nails down the procedure that has to be gone through when setting up something as simple as a WordPress blog: the departments that have to be consulted, the problems that have to be anticipated, the extra work involved and issues that have to be considered. I found this part especially interesting because, although it may seem onerous to go through such a long procedure for setting up a Twitter account, I think it is right to be honest with the public and employees about the reality of social media within a large public sector organisation like Hamburg.

So there is a lot going on in Germany in the field of open government, which thanks to projects such as Apps 4 Berlin and Munich Open Government Day, which open data to the public and encourage enthusiasts to develop apps that make use of them, is not limited to social media use. Maybe more on that in a later blog post …

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Carrotmob: Digital activisim – the capitalist way

16. March 2011 – 10:06 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

We have seen countless examples of digital campaigns interlocking with offline activities aimed at protesting against something or the other. And even though I agree that protest campaigns can be very important we have seen far less examples of digital activism for a particular thing. I would like talk about one initiative that makes use of the net and our role as consumers to facilitate actual positive change in the offline world.

The Carrotmob initiative was started in San Francisco in 2008 and wants to make use of strategic consumption to change businesses behaviour. The video below shows how this approach works:

How Organized Consumer Purchasing Can Change Business from carrotmob on Vimeo.

The key aspect is that all participants, consumers and businesses, can achieve their goals without damaging the other. The buycott (as opposed to boycott), as it is sometimes called, does make use of core market principles and therefore is a “capitalist friendly” way of activism.

Even though the actual actions or buycotts are very local the initiative has spread to many countries all over the world. The internet is used both to communicate on the worldwide scale and to organise the local events. The organisers make use of their own websites and platforms like Facebook or Twitter to, in the end, organize offline activities.

Form this point of view the net is just a tool which helps to globalize and organize a creative form of activism. But I would argue that this kind of coordinated action and the quick spread to this many countries would not have been possible without the use of the net a tool for communication.

Thanks to Thore for introducing me to the idea.


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Exploring the Governance-ICT nexus at City level in Europe

3. February 2011 – 00:06 by Francesco Molinari

On January 31st, a group of academic researchers, city managers and consultancy professionals was gathered into a single-day expert advisory meeting led by IPTS, the European Commission’s Institute on Prospective Technological Studies, and Eurocities, the network of major European cities, to discuss and evaluate the preliminary results of an exploratory study carried out jointly by the two organisations over the past couple of years.
The study, called EXPGOV, has by now collected a huge amount of evidence on the most likely areas of impact of ICT on governance, based on a survey of about 60 out of 446 EU cities with 100,000 inhabitants or more from all 27 Member States (plus Croatia and Switzerland), and later on the preparation and analysis of four detailed case studies (Barcelona, Berlin, Manchester, and Tallin), the results of which were presented for the first time during the meeting.
In my opinion, the big merit of this effort is to have raised the issue of assessing ICT impact on middle- and large- sized city governance on a systematic basis in Europe – probably for the first time ever, as strange as this may appear. In that respect, it is a preliminary answer given to the key questions: “Where do we stand? Where should we go?” and also the photograph of work in progress, showing a fair deal of convergence between old and new Member States, south and north of Europe, relatively larger and smaller communities, both in terms of problems tackled with and solutions offered to approach them. Particularly the survey questionnaire (which was anonymously filled out by several kinds of stakeholder, including city managers or their delegates) provided evidence of a number of “flagship projects” that must have been making the difference in a number of European city contexts.
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How Google is planning to deal with governments

21. January 2011 – 10:15 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Yesterday Eric Schmidt stepped down as CEO of Google and he will act as the executive chair starting April 2010. The founder Larry Page will take over the day-to-day operations of the company (Sergey Brin will mainly focus on product development from now on). The impacts of these changes are discussed all over the web and I will not try to do that here.

But there is another interesting angle on this whole issue. In his role as executive chair Mr Schmidt will be working on Government relations more heavily than before which might have a major impact on how the net is regulated and how Google interacts with government – which in turn could influence the field of eParticipation.

Taking this into account it makes sense to take a look at what Mr Schmidt said about his plans in terms of government relations. In the Q4 2010 Earnings Call he stated that he thinks that the problems Google had with governments in last few years (accidental collection of wifi data or the Streetview debate in Germany) might stem from the fact that “people don´t really understand what we really do and what we don´t do”. He follows up with the statement that the core strategy will be do communicate more intensely with regulators and government – “We are trying to be as transparent and collaborative as possible”. He also makes clear that Google thinks that regulators have an important job to do and that “they are there for a reason and we respect that”.

While Mr Schmidt makes clear that there is a need for more communication between government and the company he also says that he thinks that what Google does is “very pro competitive” – answering the complains that Google might behave anti-competitive in some areas like for example favouring their own products in search results.

In summary it looks like if Mr Schmidt will be more active in working with governments in the next years and I would argue that it is good for both the company and governments. Without a doubt he is a very knowledgeable and straight discussion partner for governments and from a citizen’s point of view his involvement might help to both improve internet regulations and speed up the process towards them.

Picture from

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Covering the costs of open data

19. January 2011 – 11:44 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

A report to the European Commission recently called upon Member States to step up their efforts to digitise catalogues of cultural works including books and paintings. This presents some challenges which I think help us to reflect on issues surrounding open data.

The act of digitising works costs money and doing it properly – ensuring that prints are of a high quality and high enough resolution to make them useful – can be expensive. As with any expenditure, public organisations have to demonstrate that their investment is justified by a public need or that they can recoup the money by selling what they produce. This is exactly what Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has done by selling on-demand prints of their works online. The argument that these works are public property and should be available free of charge may hold in principle, but if all works are made freely available then the funding must come from elsewhere or they simply won’t be digitised in the first place.

I think the same applies to open data: the data may be on paper, or uncollected. The act of collating this data simply for the purpose of making it public costs money and this investment will need to be justified against many other competing demands on the public purse. Where data is already in digital form and it is simply a case of putting a spreadsheet on the internet, the argument is more straightforward; but when it costs money to collect it and make it available it is more complicated, especially if the data is already a source of income. Why would you want to give companies that happily pay handsome sums for, say, mapping data this information free of charge? Why spend lots of money collating data that perhaps nobody will use?

The Localism Bill (see previous article) attempts to solve this by releasing data according to the wishes of local residents. I think we should be exploring other ways of ensuring that data remains a source of income whilst being available for people like community activists and volunteers who want to use data to improve their surroundings.

Public authorities should think about making data available under a Creative Commons licence. This could allow them to preserve their income streams by prohibiting commercial use, whilst allowing people to use the data for personal and voluntary means. It may even encourage more people to buy their datasets by giving them the option to “try before they buy”. Further, there may be some instances where a private company can work with a public authority to collect data for its own purposes and at its own expense. By obliging the company that collects the information to make it available for non-profit public use, this may be a way of covering the costs of data collection whilst retaining the principle of openness.

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The PEP-NET Christmas Survey: Trends in eParticipation 2010 and 2011

17. December 2010 – 17:25 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

You’ve joined us for live chats on the blog, taken part in our online discourses, chatted to us at conferences, read PEP-NET members’ articles, and downloaded the free PEP-NET Issue of JEDEM. Eighty-six of you even came to Hamburg to join us for the PEP-NET Summit. Before the year is out, we would like to ask you take part in one final activity: our survey “Looking Forward, Looking Back: eParticipation Trends in 2010 and 2011.”

So what were the main trends in 2010? What areas of eParticipation made particular progress, and what events defined the eParticipation calendar? And while you are thinking about trends, what do you think will be up and coming in 2011? Nobody can predict the future, but it will be interesting to find out how 2010 was for friends of PEP-NET, and what they expect in 2011.

When I’m back in the New Year, I’ll put together a summary of results. I think it will make for interesting reading – but only if you take part, that is!

In the meantime, from Edinburgh to Athens, Madrid to Minsk: wherever you are, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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eGovernment Action Plan, Citadel Statement and ECI regulations

15. December 2010 – 10:25 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Far from winding down for Christmas, this week sees a lot of European eParticipation-related activity in Brussels and Strasbourg. The launch of the eGovernment Action Plan, the presentation of the Citadel Statement and the expected adoption of regulations on the European Citizens’ Initiative by the European Parliament in Strasbourg mean that this is a busy week for European eParticipation enthusiasts.

At the “Lift Off Towards Open Government” in Brussels, Digital Agenda Commissioner and Vice President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes will launch the eGovernment Action Plan 2015. Following the launch, the conference will hear from eParticipation and eGovernment actors from the Commission and across Europe.

At the pre-conference yesterday, Geert Bourgeois (Vice Minister-President of the Flemish Government and Flemish Minister for Administrative Affairs, Local and Provincial Government) launched the Citadel Statement, a pan-European declaration that aims to identify what local government really needs to deliver on the vision set forth in last year’s Malmo Ministerial Declaration on e-government. The Citadel Statement, the result of an open discussion in which anyone could makes suggestions and vote on other people’s suggestions, is broken down into the following headings:

  • Common Architecture, Shared Services and Standards
  • Open Data, Transparency and Personal Rights
  • Citizen Participation and Involvement
  • Privacy and Identification of Individuals
  • Rural inclusion

Click here for a PDF version of the full press release.

Finally, the European Parliament will vote on regulations that specify in more detail arrangements regarding the European Citizens’ Initiative. The Lisbon Treaty made provision for one million citizens to force the Commission to consider initiating legislation in any area within its remit. A recent petition online called on the Parliament to adopt “effective regulations for the European Citizens’ Initiative”; see my previous post.

Geert Bourgeois, Vice-Minister-President of the Flemish Government and Flemish Minister for Administrative Affairs, Local and Provincial Government

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E-Voting, change management and the US elections: PEP-NET chats to Manuel Kripp, MD of

18. November 2010 – 10:32 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Manuel Kripp, MD of

Manuel Kripp, MD of

Manuel Kripp, Managing Director of PEP-NET member, recently visited the US during the mid-term elections, so I was very curious to find out what he had got up to. We spoke about electronic voting machines, the role of social media in the US elections, and the need for change management when introducing E-Voting technology.

To find out what does, see their website or my previous interview with Manuel’s predecessor Robert Krimmer.

John Heaven: Hi Manuel. I hear you’ve been travelling recently. What were you up to?

Manuel Kripp: I was invited to participate in the 2010 U.S. election program organised by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), and by the the Electoral Assistance Commission (EAC) to observe the election on Tuesday 2nd November.

The conference was well attended by experts from around the world, including Thomas Wilkie (Chief Executive, IFAS), Doug Chapin (Pew Centre on the States), and Bob Carey (Federal Voting Assistance Program). The Jo C. Baxter prize was presented to Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, Chairman of Ghana’s Electoral Commission, for invaluable contributions to democracy in Ghana.

The focus of my visit was on seeing how elections are conducted in other countries from around the world, and comparing the US electoral system with how things are done in Europe.

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Conclusions from the e-Democracy Conference 2010 held in Ohrid, Macedonia

16. November 2010 – 17:49 by Institute for Electronic Participation

e-Democracy Conference 2010 OhridThis year largest eDemocracy conference in South East Europe took place during 12-14th September, 2010 in Ohrid, Macedonia.

The e-Democracy Conference 2010 welcomed 30 delegations from 15 countries. 100 participants from Parliaments, Governments and Official Journals, as well as representatives from international organizations, business sector and academia were engaged in fruitful and interesting discussions about the role that ICT can play into improving the democracy and transparency of the public institutions.  More information about the conference is available at

The e-Democracy Conference 2010 topics included:

  • Future and emerging technologies for e-Democracy
  • Compliance and standards (EU perspective)
  • How to support “Green IT” initiative in the policy development
  • ICT in legislative knowledge management
  • How can information technology transform the way parliaments and governments work
  • Interoperability in the legislative process
  • Parliaments and Democracy in the Twenty-first century
  • State of ICT development in Parliaments
  • ICT in parliaments current practices
  • e-Parliaments-The Use of ICT to Improve Parliamentary Processes

The participants at the e-Democracy Conference 2010 agreed that the progress that Macedonia has made in using ICT for improving democracy is an example that all the countries in the region should follow.

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