ICTs and Social Protest Research

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OGC is starting research on the above is partnership wit the German Development Institute (GDI, http://bit.ly/13kqp04). A researcher from GDI has already completed a paper on the Tunisian revolution (see http://bit.ly/13kqFML) and thus has inside expertise on the topic. OGC has drafted a concept note (OGC-Concept Note_Social Media & Social Protest and has already met with GDI in Boon (OGC-BTOR_Bonn_Meeting DIE).

After reading the concept note, I provided the following comments:

1. Please note that we have already completed some research in this area. Although our focus was more on participation, we did tackle the Arab Spring and other social movements. Please see:

Mirage_and_Reality: Participation in the Era of Social Networks and Mobile_Technologies
https://undp.unteamworks.org/node/105402

our mobile technologies primer

https://www.undpegov.org/mgov-primer.html

and a case studies report we recently completed:

https://www.undpegov.org/connectivity_service_delivery

among others.

2. The study seems to center only on social media and apparently is not considering the use of mobiles in the process. Here I mean the use of basic mobiles phones that are now in the hands of close to 4 billion people. This in an unprecedented number and there are indeed many examples of using SMS or text to mobilize people around specific issues. Ushahidi, the pioneering crowdsourcing platform feeds from SMS.

3. I am not entirely sure we as UNDP want to talk about social protest. We should instead speak about social movements to make it more general (and more PC too!) and of contentious politics when social movements make collective claims to state counterparts using a vast repertory of methods to do so (demonstrations, civil disobedience, media, and new media, etc.) that challenge power relations. The literature here is vast, but we can focus on the impact of new technologies on contentious politics and/or social movements.

4. Although the draft ToRs does say that there arw two distinct and opposed view on the role of social media, it also seems to assume that new ICTs did play a vital role in the Arab Spring, etc. I think this is the hypothesis that needs to be proven by the research. Some of the latest research on the Arab Spring shows that social media and mobiles played a role but not the one that we hear in the Western media all the time. See for example the book Tweets and Streets by Paolo Gerbaudo (Castells’ latest, on the other hand, feeds the myth big time…).

5. We should also beef a bit the link between social media, mobiles, social movements, and development. I think this is important for UNDP.
Tale social media. Most poor countries have a feeble presence in the major social media platforms as most of their populations are not really connected to the Internet. Developing countries that use the new platforms are those where the middle classes have grown substantially in the last decade or so. There is a clear correlation here. But what about all those other countries, the vast majority, where this has not yet happen. And these countries are supposedly our priority countries.

All in all, I think this research project sounds quite exciting, and we will be more than glad to be part of the project and support UNDP efforts. As I mentioned to Heba on a separate email, I worked for 7 years with one of the fathers of contentious politics. And we also have in our team a Ph.D who has done extensive work on social movements.

Cheers, Raúl

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