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March 2009

Quote of the Week

Sina Odugbemi's picture

'There can be no public without full publicity in respect to all consequences which concern it.  Whatever obstructs and restricts publicity, limits and distorts public opinion and checks and distorts thinking on social affairs.  Without freedom of expression, not even methods of social inquiry can be developed.  For tools can be evolved and perfected only in operation; in application to observing, reporting and organizing actual subject-matter; and

If Force and Incentives Fail...Then What?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

As one observes the practice of policy in many contexts - including policy responses to the current global financial crisis - it is amazing to see how many expert advisers still see policy making and policy execution as a matter of command or the crude manipulation of incentives. Force relies on the coercive powers of the state: if you want citizens or groups of them to do something simply insist on compliance, and deploy the full apparatus of state power. Failing that, you manipulate incentives, especially financial incentives and citizens will fall in line. Expert systems are comfortable with either approach because each is something they understand and can easily deploy. And, to be fair, you can make and introduce policies by using force or manipulating incentives. Then you wait and see how far those approaches take you. But there is one big lesson coming out of policy studies: force and the manipulation of incentives can only take you so far.

Quote of the Week

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

’Nothing appears more surprising to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find, that, as FORCE is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular.The soldan of EGYPT, or the emperor of ROME, might drive his harmless subjects, like brute beasts, against their sentiments and inclination. But he must, at least, have led his mamalukes, or praetorian bands, like men, by their opinion.’

David Hume, Of the First Principles of Government, 1741

Time to Learn How to Act 'Macro' while Talking 'Micro'

Sina Odugbemi's picture

One of the major features of public discussion around the current global financial crisis is that the language of macro-economics is dominant. Different theories of macro-economics are being used to shape policy prescriptions, and these prescriptions are being shouted at policy makers. I suppose policy makers have to take Macro-economics 101 in order to be effective in their roles. Which is fine. But what about citizens?

Quote of the Week

Sina Odugbemi's picture

'If it be true that all governments rest on opinion, it is no less true that the strength of opinion in each individual, and its practical influence on his conduct, depend much on the number which he supposes to have entertained the same opinion. The reason of man, like man himself, is timid and cautious when left alone, and acquires firmness and confidence in proportion to the number with which it is associated. When the examples which fortify opinion are ancient as well as numerous, they are known to have a double effect. In a nation of philosophers, this consideration ought to be disregarded. A reverence for the laws would be sufficiently inculcated by the voice of an enlightened reason. But a nation of philosophers is as little to be expected as the philosophical race of kings wished for by Plato. And in every other nation, the most rational government will not find it a superfluous advantage to have the prejudices of the community on its side.'

James Madison, The Federalist Papers, No 49.

Fighting Corruption with a Double-Edged Sword

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Fighting against crime and corruption means to fight battles on all kinds of fronts. Institutional reform is one of them: you need to establish accountability institutions outside the executive government to reduce the abuse of executive power. But - rule by law is not rule of law. Institutional reform is only one front. It is unlikely that reforms succeed if they are not embedded in the broader culture of a country.

Three Centuries of Copyright: Public Domain and the Public Sphere

Andrea Cairola's picture

After many years abroad, I have just moved back to my hometown Torino, known for car-design, the Winter Olympic Games, and for safeguarding the self-portrait of the Leonardo da Vinci. But it's also the town of the little known engineer Leonardo Chiariglione, who invented the revolutionary standard MP3 in the framework of a not for profit project, and of Nexa, Center for Internet & Society, where the other day I witnessed a meeting to prepare an action against a draft European directive for a copyright extension.

Copyright was recognized by law 300 years ago. It enabled valuable authors to make a living on their work. Therefore it was fundamental to boost the artistic creation and the freedom of expression, because finally creators could avoid to waste most of their time to please sponsors. After a given (reasonable) period,

M-Government: The Promise of Participation

Antonio Lambino's picture

Internews Network and Internews Europe recently released a report entitled “The Promise of Ubiquity: Mobile as Media Platform in the Global South.”  According to the release, the report was commissioned “to help the media to understand the exciting potential, the incredible challenges and the perils of refusing to change.”  It’s an impressive volume, packed with multi-country stats and trends, future visions, and case studies from the Global South.  These cases include use of text messaging (SMS) for a news service in Sri Lanka, election monitoring in Nigeria, crop price distribution in Indonesia, and expert health consultations for the Philippine diaspora in the Gulf region.  An interesting discussion on the report here.

The Global Crisis: Experts versus Public Opinion

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The global economic crisis is producing, amongst others, a divide between experts/technocrats and public opinion. This is a bill of several particulars. First, the question of language. The crisis and the possible policy responses are being discussed in a technical language so abstruse that if you don't have an MBA in finance or a PhD in Economics you are lost. It appears we have a coterie of insiders...and everybody else. This is not good, as I will soon explain.

Second, there is the question of scepticism. Public opinion is skeptical about what the experts really know about what is going on. Are these not the same experts running the global financial system and who drove it off a cliff? And why can they not agree on anything? For every expert who says countries must throw trillions at the problem is another who says do nothing, just tough it out. What are non-specialists to make of this cacophony?

A Little Goes a Long Way: Creating an Enabling Environment for Media Development

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

CommGAP's work on a toolkit for media development has passed its second stage! After a learning needs assessment among governance advisors Shanthi Kalathil conducted three expert round table discussions on training and skills, sustainability, and an enabling environment for media development projects.

Building Will

Johanna Martinsson's picture

A reader's response to the blog post Media Strengthening: Taking Politics Seriously - 2:

"We've come across such problems helping the government of Trinidad and Tobago build concensus for sweeping reform of public services. Under the auspices of their ministry for public administration, we've their support to build an online forum as a first step in establishing public servant-led dialogue, that we hope can grow across government then into the world of consumers.

Starting online, it will need to attract more than the 25% of citizens now online, but it is a start. Once we get it going, the challenge will be (1) to get the administration to discuss HR issues (in particular) even if they have not formulated a position beforehand. Then (2) to ensure that forum comments and questions are responded to swiftly, so that the cynical workforce does not give up on dialogue.

It's Not Propaganda, It's Effective Governance

Antonio Lambino's picture

The School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, supported by CommGAP, recently organized a roundtable on The Contribution of Government Communication Capacity to Achieving Good Governance Outcomes.  Participants included representatives from governments, international NGOs, academic institutions, and World Bank colleagues who specialize in public sector governance and development communication.  Discussions revolved around the ways in which the topic of government communication might be approached and how good practices might be shared globally.

Good News from Asia?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Are newspapers dead or dying? The growing chorus in the West seems to be: yes, newspapers are dead or dying. The internet is going to win and we all face a future where all the news that is fit to note will be on-line. Whatever happens in the West, reports suggest that in Asia at least newspapers are doing very well indeed. According to a recent report in TIME Magazine, for instance, as Asian societies become more open newspapers are sprouting all over the place and finding millions of readers.  

Asia's media expansion has mirrored the fall of its dictators, as newspaper readers thrill at no longer getting just the day's propaganda. In Indonesia, the number of newspapers has increased from a few dozen when strongman Suharto was deposed in 1998 to roughly 800 today. The market is so buoyant that a new English-language paper, the Jakarta Globe, revved up its printing presses last November, just as several cash-strapped American papers were readying their final editions. "The Indonesian middle class is growing, and many households subscribe to two newspapers," says Ali Basyah Suryo, strategic adviser to the start-up Globe. "People like to hold the newspaper in their hands and even clip stories or save copies. It's seen as a valuable product."