Showing posts with label policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label policy. Show all posts

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Motivational Speaker for Gemeente Amsterdam Diversity Program

I cannot emphasize enough how much I love Amsterdam. It really feels like home for me and that's saying a lot given that I have moved so much since I was a teenager. From India to the United States (San Francisco, New York and Boston), I finally came to the Netherlands about a decade ago. So, was really happy to get an invite from the Gemeente Amsterdam (the Amsterdam municipality) to give a motivational talk for a program they have initiated a few years ago to improve diversity and support those less represented in positions of power.

Of course, usually I associate the municipality with paying my taxes and water bills and all the tedium of city governance. Had to block that Pavlovian training temporarily as I went about participating and speaking about my life story to this wonderful group of young mentees and mentors of this diversity program.

This mentoring program is in partnership with a wonderful organization called ECHO which is an expert organization on diversity policy. It links students/fresh graduates of color to professionals in the public and private sector. It’s a two way street where mentees learn from the professional experience of their mentors and the mentors learn from the challenges mentees face and hopefully reflect on their own blind spots. The idea is this process will hopefully contribute to more diversity and inclusion in the participating organizations.

My motivational speech was part of the closing session. It was good to not speak about academia for a change and focus more on how I got to where I got through the numerous experiments, failures with careers, hopping careers and countries and through this whole process, discovering myself. I spoke about the pressures of being a "token" as an Indian woman in the Netherlands and the responsibilities, privileges, and roles we play to represent entire communities whether we like it or not.

This kind of talk really keeps me grounded and am glad I got an opportunity to do it. 


Keynote for the Digital Inclusion Policy Conference in London

What a wonderful and diverse audience for this keynote for the Digital Inclusion Policy conference held in London by the University of Liverpool. It emerged from some very critical and timely questions such as - What type of skills do people need to ‘be digital’? Do different people from different ages and abilities need different types of skills and training? And how can we foresee what skills will be needed for future work? The conference brought together researchers, civic activists, government think-tanks, policy practitioners, tech entrepreneurs and more from very different contexts and countries which made these conversations more challenging and rewarding. 

My keynote was about Inclusion with the emergence of the Next Billion Users and what that means for equity and justice at a global level in this data-driven age. 

The basis of my talk was as follows:

The mobile phone has been a global game-changer. There are more cellphones than people in China. India is the biggest market for WhatsApp, and Brazil ranks second after the United States as the top Twitter user group worldwide. By 2020, majority of data will come from the Global South. With cheap phones and a vast array of affordable data plans, the next billion users will emerge from outside the West. They are, for the most part, young, low-income but upwardly mobile and extremely enthusiastic users of social media. While this is good news for digital divide policy-makers and practitioners, this talk grapples with how this digital inclusion confronts current concerns on user commodification and tracking in this data-driven society. Is inclusion intrinsically empowering? How do we negotiate the optimism of these new users towards these life changing digital interventions with the growing pessimism of ‘surveillance capitalism’ that signals a dystopic future? Can media literacy, digital activism, and free will serve as a counter force to the bleak visions of ‘algorithmic oppression’? By unpacking some of these questions through the perspective of these next billion users, we may be able to move forward in our joint aspirations for the common good.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Excited to be an ITS Global Fellow in Rio this July!

I have been working for over a decade on the intersection of new communication technologies, social activism, the public sphere and policy. While I have much fieldwork experience in India in this area, I would like to gain a sustained comparative perspective with another emerging market to extend critical understandings across a wider cultural context.

Early last year, I initiated a small comparative project on perspectives on privacy among youth from the slums in Hyderabad,India with youth in favelas in Belo Horizonte and Rio, Brazil. Given that much scholarship on digital privacy pertains to concerns in the West, I saw this as an opportunity to delve into an underrepresented context for a more cross-cultural and transnational dialogue on privacy. Besides, our understandings on ‘digital privacy’ need to go beyond the online realm, and explore the diverse social norms and spheres these private behaviors inhabit.


While fieldwork continues in these two contexts through research assistants and guided by excellent local mentors (Nimmi Rangaswamy in India and Laura Scheiber in Brazil), I recognized the need to immerse myself further into the working dynamics within the Brazilian and ICT policy context so as to serve as an effective project leader. As luck would have it, The Institute of Technology and Society put out their annual call for Fellows for 2015 offering,

"...an intensive 4-week program for our fellows, which includes visits to the biggest technology companies operating in Brazil, the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br) and visits to São Paulo and Brasília, including representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture and Congressmen who are advocating for policies related to internet and technology."

Now that would be perfect for me to gain an overview of the Brazilian context regarding internet usage, privacy and ICT policy!

Dot Com MantraFortunately, I was selected as one of the six fellows for this year to go there! This serves as an ideal and timely opportunity to create new and long term collaborations and future publications. For years now I have been approaching this area from simultaneously a policy and grassroots practice angle. For instance, my first book in 2010, ‘Dot Com Mantra: Social computingin the Central Himalayas,’ juxtaposed social practices with new technologies in rural Himalayas with technology policy in India regarding e-health, e-agriculture and e-learning initiatives. Since then, I have written extensively on democratic aspirations and collective participation through social media across cultures, manifesting in constructs such as the digital commons or what I term as the ‘leisure commons’ and the ‘cultural commons’ (e.g. see my 2014 book on the ‘Leisure Commons: A spatial history of web 2.0’).

However, what continues to be amiss is more critical and empirical work on how effective collective governance is pioneered, managed and sustained via digital platforms across cultures and contexts, with particular attention to emerging economies in the global south. Brazil is an excellent context to explore such an undertaking given its high connectivity and usage of social media, controversies on apps like Secret and wide socio-economic and cultural diversity.

Very much looking forward to meeting the ITS Team, my co-fellows and experiencing Brazil for the first time!
 

Monday, July 1, 2013

General Electric Panel on Cutting through the hype (Helsinki WCSJ 2013)

General Electric Panel Helsinki Finland June 26 2013 (WCSJ)


Just got back from Helsinki after speaking on the GE sponsored panel on energy at the World Conference of Science Journalists 2013 (click here for the live video recording of our panel talk). And yes, before you even go there, it is true that I'm not an expert on energy. In fact, ask me a question on wind turbines or solar energy or whether or not fracking is good or bad for the environment, and I would just advise you to Google these issues instead. So where do I fit in on a panel with Haydn Rees, the managing director of Clarke Energy or Rhys Owen, Deputy Editor of Global Water Intelligence or Tom Freyberg, the Chief Editor of WWi Magazine?

Simply put, there is no escaping the conversation of social media infiltration into all corporate spheres, including that of the energy world. In a forum such as this where science journalists are confronted time and again with the hype on citizen scientists and amateur journalism as somehow more authentic, there is need to talk about the impact of Web 2.0 on communicating science to the public. Today, science journalists are expected to be more flexible in their expertise, be able to move seamlessly through multimedia platforms and transform their language constantly to suit the needs of the diverse audience out there in the Twitterverse to the Blogosphere.


There is concern about reductionism and popularization of science and the compromise of the integrity of the science journalist as s/he views this as selling out to mass appeal. But as we see this play out, it is hardly a choice of amateur versus the expert but rather we need to view this new communicative landscape in its spectrum of pitfalls and opportunities. For instance, at the conference there was much talk about data checking departments being shut down due to budget cuts and the genuine concern by journalists on making sure their reports were cross-checked for errors and misinformation. Here, crowdsourcing can come in handy where citizens volunteer to do that for experts and lend to the vigor of the article rather than diminish it. (This is not to advocate for it replacing professional data checking but given the financial crisis within the field of journalism, this provides some solace to journalists looking to maintain their quality of reporting).

Also, when citizens take an interest in science through participation, this also increases the audience for science journalists. When there is personal involvement in the making of science news, this is bound to generate an interest in consuming such news. Also, science journalists need to view these amateurs as possible mavens, disseminating critical science through the numerous channels of mass media, framing it in numerous ways beyond that which is institutionally endorsed by the state and corporate entities. While by no means am I an uncritical enthusiast for the much talked about wisdom of the crowds and collective intelligence phenomena, I do see the potential in amateur involvement. What would be worse is public indifference to science where decisions are made through primarily emotion and not understanding of the ramifications of science in our daily lives.
What struck me was how much in common the art market has with the world of science. Currently, one of my research projects entails gauging the impact of social media on the traditional gatekeepers of the art world such as museums, galleries and art critics. Much like science journalists, art experts are far from redundant in this information deluge. Experts are very much entrenched to guide audiences through this maze of data online but what has changed is the nature of expertise in their communicating and networking abilities that requires re-addressing. Basically, the role of the science journalist as the primary interface in the golden triangle of the scientist, state and the industry is over. Today, there are multiple intermediaries due to the affordances of new media and the changing appetite of the public for more accessible science. There have been a number of studies that demonstrate that the public accesses their science and technology information primarily through the medium of entertainment such as the television (NSB 2008; Pew Research Center on People and the Press 2008). Social media platforms come second as a source for investigating more on specific science issues such as climate change.

Of course, this comes with a whole host of problems including the promotion of pseudoscience and the hijacking of the Google algorithm by concerted parties. That said, if we are to Google water and nuclear energy debates, what we get are a range of results that are not all corporate-oriented. For instance, the search results for water debates are biased toward conversations around water conservation in Australia and New Zealand while the nuclear energy debates seem to be driven by a non profit 'Do Something. Org.' In other words, it isn't necessarily the commercialization of algorithms that has pervaded as internet pessimists have predicted but rather a cat and mouse game between corporate, non-profit and other special interest groups that fight to dictate the search for science issues, shaping how the public constructs and processes them as fact.




Contrary to popular belief, this emphasis on public engagement cannot be credited solely to social media. In fact, if we are to look at public policy on science dissemination, well in the 1980s, from the UK to the Netherlands, there was a concerted effort to make science public and promote what is called as 'deliberative democracy.' In 1985, the Royal Society in London issued a report on The Public Understanding of Science, where it was the moral responsibility of the state to make transparent its expenditure by explaining science investments in layman terms and connect it to the everyday life of citizens. Or take for instance the Broad Societal Debate around Energy Policy (BMD) in the Netherlands in the early 1980s. The Dutch Parliament was instrumental in organizing broad societal debates pre-Facebook era on a range of science agendas including cloning, GM-food and xeno-transplantation.

This historical rootedness can be found even in the hype around big data. There is an overwhelming feeling that science journalism has been overtaken by the algorithmic mastermind that swerves conversation and factoids in the digital landscape of reporting. While undoubtedly the scale at which data is collated is unprecedented, it is hardly new. Citizens have been contributing information about their lifestyles, preferences and opinions through conventional media and the state and corporate entities have been gathering them in strategic ways to market and personalize articles of interest and frame science agendas that makes it more palatable to the public. Granted, big data is more sweeping and thereby gives us the impression of being more representative of the public. However, it is still the amassing of data from those within the system which leaves a large percentage of the global public that are undocumented and outside the radar to not be considered. Last but not the least, the role of science journalists is to convert this data into a narrative, to guide conversations on energy debates through their story telling. They need to use big data as a starting point of critique and analysis rather than factoids that create a grand narrative of critical science that pertains to our daily lives.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reforming higher ed in Jordan: politicking away



Policy-making is political theatre. No doubt about it. That which is not behind closed doors is posturing. But rather than condemn posturing, we should try to understand it. After all, it serves a purpose. It makes public the intent to create buy-in as well as detect common resistances. Conferences oriented towards policy-making are hardly about making decisions then and there. It's about feeling the pulse, NOT of the generic public per se, but about key stakeholders in the game. So with this higher education reform conference in Amman that I was part of, ministers, deans, professors, private education consultants, ed publishers and others congregated for a period of 3 days to discuss key problems and solutions for higher ed reform. About 500 delegates including from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and others in the region took part in this process. It was an impressive turn out of card touting and name dropping. It was true to form, a networking event.

All this should not surprise. Jordan is an amazing example of diversity and assimilation as it has one of the highest concentrations of immigrants and refugees and yet is able to provide stability. It could be the center of learning in the Middle East region and beyond. After all, education is big business. It no longer suffices that higher education cater to the local but rather, serve as a global platform and stepping stone to transnational competitiveness. In fact, Jordan is strategically positioned to take on this role, with an extraordinary 20% of the budget earmarked for higher education. No wonder private educational providers turn up to such events from around the world, hoping to get a slice of the educational funding pie.

What is also interesting are the buzzwords that circulate. In spite of the diversity of the crowd, the same themes keep circulating, telling us what's in fashion now: blended learning, student-centric pedagogy, mentoring, outcome based education and the like. Also, there is much emphasis on new media in the classroom, pushing one to wonder why they don't just have that as central to the conference. Audience questions are also revealing. The fact that they are rarely questions but statements of public belief, experience, and conviction feeds into the posturing ambiance. “I have been a dean for 34 years and in my experience…” is usually how it goes. Posturing is the public policy dance after all.