The digital divide in the age of Gov 2.0: another perspective

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It might have different definitions, but a simple one by Bharat Mehra defines digital divide as “the troubling gap between those who use computers and the Internet and those who do not”. The term is usually incorporated in e-Government programas as a challenge need to be tackled to secure more up-take of government online services and smoother transition towards knowledge based economy and society.

However, while many governments around the world explor how to make the move from Gov 1.0 to Gov 2.0, another perspective of the digital divide is emerging and should be paid the necessary attention.

To better illustrate it, let’s have at quick look at the status in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – this 55,000 GDP per Capita country on the Arabian gulf is widely known with its world-class telecom infrastructure and limited digital divide (in its traditional perspective). The country is ranked 23rd in the 2010 Networked Readiness Index (NRI) from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

And here are some interesting statistics that tell the story about the level of the society engagement in the online social networks:

  • Social networking is the second online activity for UAE internet users. (Arab Media Outlook report, 2010).
  • 70% of the internet users in UAE are subscribed to one of the social netwrok sites (Arab Media Outlook report, 2010). This is the highest uptake in all Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, and it’s higher than the 30% uptake in EU countries (The impact of social computing on the EU information society and economy report – European Commission)
  • 41% of Twitter users in MENA are from UAE. (Yahoo Maktoob business statistics)

So, it’s obvious that the “traditional” digital divide as defined above shouldn’t be a main concern the e-Government transformation in UAE, but the high “socialization” of UAE society in online social networks as shown by the figures above might be an indicator for another “digital divide: as the society moves ahead in understanding and leveraging these online communities for exchanging ideas and organizing collaborative actions, most of the government agencies still struggle to find their way in these online communities. In my humble point of view, this gab between the government and the society in using the online social communities would will create a new “digital divide” that could affect the pace of adoption of Gov 2.0 concepts and initiatives.

Other countries might have similar situaitons but government agencies in UAE should leverage the examples demonstrated by H.H. Sheik Mohammed on Facebook and Twitterand turn this into a continuous work through sustainable methodologies , the recent “social networking policy forum” might be a good start.

Should we post Aasir’s photos on Facebook?

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Two weeks ago, my lovely wife Nuha and I had our first baby (thanks Allah), so now you know why I’ve not update my blog with new posts recently! :)

And as Aasir (yes this is his name :) joined our little family, our close friends family members  told us that they couldn’t wait to see the photos of our little angle … on Facebook! That request was a nice occasion for us to resume talking about one of our interesting topics: privacy on Facebook!

Though both of us have accounts there and use them as any other Facebook users to connect with our friends and family members in different countries, we tend to take the privacy issue more seriously than many other Facebook users usually do. So, we used to limit the personal info and photos we share out there. Our understanding for this is simple: once you post something on Facebook (and internet in general), you don’t own it anymore.  And we don’t  allow the frequent announcements about specific privacy adjustments to blur this crystal-clear and simple understanding.

Years from now, Aasir might have (and I’m sure he will!) a different understanding for the privacy on Facebook (will it still be there at that time?!) but for now we have to decide on behalf of him, that’s parenting!

So, we have decided to happily and gratefully respond to the requests from our family members and close friends and share with them some lovely photos of our sweetheart Aasir, they can see them in thier personal emails and not Facebook wall!

God bless Aasir :)

Ibrahim

Building a Nation: The recipe of a transformational leader

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Last week, I was fortunate to attend a lecture at Dubai School of Government that was unique for both it’s title and the lecturer: “Nation Building – Malaysia’s Experience” by Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, former Malaysian Prime Minister!

It was a real opportunity to hear directly from such a visionary transformational leader who is credited with turning Malaysia from a newly established federation to one of the most successful economies of Asia that aspires now aspires many nations in Asia and around the world.

Needless to say, the Malaysian’s experience as well as Dr.Mahathir’s personal philosophy and thoughts are well documented and widely accessible, but my purpose of this post is to share with you Dr.Mahathir’s point of view on two exact important pillars of any renaissance of a nation: the leader and the people. He talked about the leadership issue as part of his speech, while he highlighted the people part as a response to a question i raised. He has clearly identified what he believes as prerequisites on both the nation’s leader and his/her people so that the nation can launch and successfully implement such comprehensive national development plans.

Not only his insightful and interesting comments that motivated me to share them with you, but also the fact that while I was listening to him I couldn’t resist the “joy” of testing my home country profile against these “Building a Nation” criteria! Sorry for not sharing with you the result of this quick test, but of course you can do your own one!

So what did Dr.Mahathir say about the criteria of a leader and the characteristics of his people to build a nation?

On the leader side, Dr. Mahathir quickly and briefly has listed three criteria a leader of a nation must have to become qualified to lead his/her nation towards the promised renaissance, these criteria are:

  • To be passionate about the development of his country and his people, this passion should motivate him/her to draw an ambitious challenging vision for the nation.
  • To be knowledgeable so that he/she can develop wise long term development plans and formulate sound governance policies.
  • To be inspiring in a way makes his people love him and support him to move forward his vision.

Of course we can extend the list, but I believe that these shortlisted features differentiate transformational leaders such as our speaker from ordinary ones. However, I was keen to hear a similar comment on the people side of the equation, and that was my question: don’t they have similar prerequisite features? Does the leader need to tackle certain social or cultural shifts to boos the chances achieving the defined vision? Dr. Mahathir answered that the people need to be educated, but he quickly pointed out a significant clarification: “I’m not talking about the formal education only, but also the its very important for the people to have the right values and … the discipline.”

Interesting and inspiring but disappointing!

Now dear reader of this post, how does your country do against these criteria?

Ibrahim (on Twitter)

This book was authored using Twitter!

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I was so excited to get the official approval on my chapter proposal about online social networking and government policies to be published in the book titled “E-Governance and Civic Engagement: Factors and Determinants of E-Democracy“.  However, the moment I recieved this approval, I’ve started thinking about one of the key questions face any author of such a book chapter: what are my resources that would help me to get the most up to date, accurate and useful information for my readers?

Theoretically, this shouldn’t be a problem for a researcher like me who have access to many academic journals but as I started searching in these journals I discovered the following interesting reality: even the most recent academic articles and papers find it difficult to keep up with the pace of change in such a field! I reached a conclusion that “online social networking” is a topic that requires me to develop a different strategy to get the job done in high quality. It took me several days to think about this problem and then I suddenly shouted: eureka! I’ll author the chapter using Twitter!

I’m supposed to write about a  “online social networking”, a topic that has a new update from around the globe every single hour (should I say every single moment?!) so, Twitter is the perfect tool to keep me in the loop. I’ve started the work immediately by taking the following action steps:

  • I reviewed the list of “Tweeps” I “follow”, and started following Tweeps that are from the domain of the my book chapter topic, this included: researchers, gov initiatives etc…
  • I created a “list” named “Book chapter”  and started adding any new Tweep of this kind I follow to this list.
  • Every time I read an interesting Tweet that might help me with the chapter i mark it as a “favorite” one.
  • And when I have my “semi-daily” reading session, I start it by reviewing these favorite Tweets and decide whether they are useful or not and in which way.

I started this practice less than a month ago, since then I’ve collected several good information resources including new case studies,  fresh surveys and studies and interesting blog posts by researchers or practitioners. The interesting thing here is that I’ve collected these from around the world: US, Brazil, Kenya, South Korea and other countries, having all these perspectives will definitely enrich my analysis.

I can say that I find this strategy effective so far specially when consider the other tools I’m using such as Google Alert. For sure, I welcome any advises from you, just email me, or reply to me on Twitter!

Ibrahim

Follow me : Twitter.com/ibadawi

Email me: ibrahim.elbadawi@gmail.com

Democracy 101: Governments shouldn’t block social media sites and … they can’t!

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News flash: Sudanese government has blocked YouTube! (BBC)

Why? there is no official confirmation/explanation yet but it’s believed that the reasons is the wide online circulation of a video clip showing what seems to be an evidence of fraud in election.

I wasn’t surprised to hear this, actually I expected this weeks ago in an earlier post, but I find it appropriate to briefly remind authorities in Sudan with some policy recommendations I find essential  as the country enters a new era of “democratic transition”. But first here are few facts about social media politicians should know:

  • The time when governments have the exclusive right to decide what information people should know has gone for ever!
  • In the age of social media, every single citizen has the ability (and not only the right) to know and to share what he/she knows with other citizens.

I find it difficult to figure out any rational explanation for such decision, facing the flood of social media with such an authoritarian action is like facing the Nile flood with coffee cup! it won’t work!

While the official final election results are not announced yet, it would be a very sad news to Sudanese people if the government decided to follow the Iranian approach in dealing with accusation of fraud in election.

Dear Sudanese government: you shouldn’t block social media sites, and you can’t!

e-Participation? Houston, We Have a Problem!

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It was interesting to see e-Participation is incorporated as a measure in the United Nations e-Government Readiness Survey 2010 released recently. The UN defines e-Participation in the context of e-Government as “online services that opens up channels for online participation in public affairs” and it is composed of three sub-components:

  • Does the national government publish information on items under consideration?
  • Are there ways for the public to engage in consultations with policy makers, government officials and one another?
  • Can citizens directly influence decisions, for example by voting online or using a mobile telephone?

You can notice that the three components look for actions taken by the “governments” to allow “citizens” to e-Participate. This is not only because the UN survey by nature focuses on measuring the performance of the government  but mainly because the UN itself is still struggling in the “e-government” box instead of moving ahead towards the wider “e-governance” sphere!

However I’ve my concerns that governments and global institutions like UN are repeating the same mistake we witnessed more than a decade ago when the term “e-government” started to spread: to be led by technology and forget about the concepts behind it and the goals we are trying to achieve!

Among many promises made by e-government champions years ago, transparency was one of the most attractive ones; especially in developing countries where people used to look for any help in the struggle against corruption and bad governance. Years later, no much success has been made in these countries and we can’t blame e-government!

Fascinated by the power of the web and internet applications in mid and late 90s, governments in these countries  rushed to invest in e-government projects and waited to see their rankings moving up in Transparency International  lists and… still waiting! What went wrong? why didn’t e-government initiative make the promise of transparency and good governance?

As I said, it’s not the e-government’ s fault, it is the “government” responsibility! Governments has forgotten that “e” is just an enabler while transparency and good governance need requirements that we knew long time ago before the invent of the first computer chip: political willingness, institutions, culture, just to mention a few.

Thanks to social media and web 2.0, we are now facing a similar situation, this time it’s about e-Participation! social media has granted citizens unprecedented opportunity to participate in public affairs, and granted a similar opportunity to governments that are “ready” to engage their citizens in the “governance” process. But the world is not “flat” (sorry Thomas Friedman!) in this context. Although these tools are available and at a very low cost, but governments in developing countries have much more work to do than just opening more accounts in Facebook for government officials!

The good news this time is that and unlike the first wave, it’s not the sole privilege of the governments to decide, the social media empower citizens to positively support the motion of change they want. Still, in my humble opinion, governments have to do their homework.

Before or at least in parallel with their efforts to adopt social media tools to encourage e-Participation, governments in developing countries should find answers to some basic yet tough questions:

  • Are we ready to move from “government” to “governance”? do we have the required political willingness and commitment?
  • Do we really need the citizen to participate?
  • Are we ready? do we have the needed institutions to handle this?
  • Have we established the needed processes to  make the needed cultural changes?

By overlooking these facts, we will continue enjoying social media tools and the UN will continue publishing its annual reports but I’m afraid that no much difference will be made!

Ibrahim

“Ushahidi” in Sudan: A Step Towards Citizen-Monitored Elections

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In my article:  “Internet and democracy, empowering citizens to promote transparency and fairness in elections” posted ten days ago, I suggested that Ushahidi model could be used to empower citizen to monitor the election process in countries that are about to kick off their democratic transition journey through an open election.

However, as the election in Sudan started earlier this week and while I was doing a further research on the topic upon the feedback i received from the readers, I’ve discovered a lovely fact: the model is already there and was developed by Ushahidi! The citizen-monitored election was implemented in 2009 in India and Mexico, but more exciting it is up and running for the current election in Sudan!

Through the website: http://www.sudanvotemonitor.com, citizens and observers can report any suspicious behavior that could affect the fairness and transparency of the voting process. Such behavior could range from defamation to vote tampering.

According to the official statistics provided by the website at the end of the first voting day, the website reported a total of 52 online reports in 12 categories, and 106 SMS messages from 253 locations across Sudan. The “red dots” covered wide range of Sudan’s vast land from Halfa in the North to Yei town near the Southern borders with Congo.

Screenshot of "Sudan Vote Monitor" website

Of course, it’s too early to judge on the statistics as it is only the first day but it would be great if we can have some benchmarking to similar sites in Mexico and India. I’ve to add that it’s not clear how the website is being promoted, I myself has discovered the website through Tweeter which is not popular in Sudan. However, more marketing activities on more popular channels are needed. Few weeks from now, and when we reach the end of the election process, we can have real data to discuss the issues highlighted in my earlier post and raised through readers comment such as the challenge of identifying and isolating the “fake” claims (the website allows users to report incidents anonymously ).

After all, it’s great to see the technology empowering the Sudanese citizens to take action and participate in monitoring the country’s first election in 25 years.

I believe that the website has a great potential to improve with the continuous work on the model itself and the effective utilization of users feedback.

Ibrahim

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