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Meeting of the Network of Internet & Society Centers

by Prasad Krishna last modified Dec 11, 2012 10:18 AM
The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University together with the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet & Society in Berlin, in collaboration with the Centre for Internet and Society Bangalore, the Center for Technology & Society at the Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) Law School, KEIO University SFC, the MIT Media Lab, the MIT Center for Civic Media, and the NEXA Center for Internet & Society, will host a highly interactive and participatory meeting of representatives from these and other research centers focused on Internet and society issues.

Event details

When

Dec 06, 2012 01:30 AM to
Dec 08, 2012 04:00 AM

Where

Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Taking place on December 6-8 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this gathering will serve as the inaugural event for a nascent global network and create an opportunity for participants to scope and identify mechanisms for collaboration, research, and informal coordination.

Theme

Internet-driven Developments: Structural Changes and Tipping Points As a starting point, the December meeting will focus on the theme of “Internet-driven Developments: Structural Changes and Tipping Points,” provoking both substantive questions to facilitate ideas for collaboration, as well as process-oriented questions regarding the structure, governance, and composition of the network of centers. This topic is intended to provide a conceptual lens for the meeting itself, and to enable myriad connections to the diverse research areas and interests of the participating organizations; however, it is not meant to frame the thematic areas of the network writ large. Rather, we hope that the theme stimulates conversations about future areas of collaboration within and beyond the topic areas outlined in this concept note.

With this goal in mind and building upon the research interests of the participants, the two proposed overarching “horizontal” questions of the meeting are:

What are the structural changes (as opposed to hype, fashion, spikes, etc.), from societal, economic, legal, and educational perspectives, promoted by the Internet and related technological advancements? What do we know about these tectonic shifts and where are knowledge gaps? How do these shifts compare to earlier changes facilitated by new technologies? What further changes do we anticipate?
2 What are the forces and tipping points that have catalyzed these structural changes— including the actions of individuals (such as users, citizens, and individual activists) and institutions (such as government, business, and civil society)? Where do we currently see or anticipate tipping points? As a research community that seeks to inform advocacy efforts, policymaking, civic discourse, and other societal interests, how can these concepts inform or drive our activities?

We hope to discuss these guiding (“horizontal”) questions in the context of exploring two areas of research or use cases (“verticals”), which might inspire future activities of the network itself as well as collaboration among participants:

Political participation: Various research efforts over the past decade have focused on the question of if and how the Internet changes political participation, from new forms of electronic voting to the broader question of potential changes in political discourse in the digitally networked public sphere. During the meeting, we will take stock of the current landscape, with a particular focus on recent elections and political movements around the globe, and explore open questions, future research directions, questions, emerging tools and methodologies.

Production modes: Digital technologies in general and the Internet in particular have changed the ways in which goods are produced and services provided. Within this context, new modes of production — most prominently “peer-based” models — have emerged, accompanied by innovative organizational models and set-ups. Questions we hope to explore include: How relevant are these shifts from an economic, organizational, societal, business, and creative perspective? Has recent empirical research confirmed the theory of commons-based peer production, or challenged it? What conditions facilitate new modes of Internet-based production and what are the benefits and challenges from a public policy perspective? What do interesting case studies in the field, from collaborative online journalism to crowd-funding, tell us about the direction of this trend?

In a number of learning calls leading up to the meeting, we hope to further specify the proposed substantive areas, identify core issues of mutual interest for discussion, nominate speakers and rapporteurs, and learn about each other’s work in respective areas.

Key Objectives

The meeting will not only focus on substantive issues within the proposed themes, but also seek to provide a foundation for discussions regarding structural and process-oriented objectives for the network.

Substantive goals include: based on the proposed themes and topics, becoming familiar with each other’s work; facilitating the exchange of information regarding current and future projects, research areas, and innovative methods; identifying connection points, concrete ideas for initial and continued institutional collaborations on projects, and tools to support sustained and future efforts; and building a shared vocabulary and structure for collaboration among Internet & society centers, including existing and potential actors in the Global South.

Structural/process-oriented objectives include: defining the scope and core DNA of the network; exploring initial structures for governance, shared research, exchange programs, and mechanisms for collaboration; and identifying tools and practices for communication among teams, within the network, and externally.

From Ideas to Action

Using the substantive discussion as a jumping-0ff point, we will collectively explore how to apply lessons learned from the process of conducting interdisciplinary and international research into a network that embodies those same values. What analytical frames and empirical indicators can researchers offer to better inform policy makers and citizenry? How can we make public debates more rational and informed? What are methodological and data issues we should consider in research projects? What role do we envision for advocacy and broader communication for greater societal impact? How do these discussions inform and scope the potential areas of activity of the network? Through what specific mechanisms, such as research, tool development, convenings, or teaching, will Centers address these challenges? Invited colleagues, collaborators, and guests will provoke discussions and pose questions that challenge current assumptions and encourage experimentation.

Mode of Engagement

We are committed to leveraging the tremendous diversity of the participants to develop novel understandings — and approaches to reaching them — by actively embracing differences in geography, discipline, organizational approach, culture and context, among many other facets. Not only must we consciously address the more straightforward challenges of translation (language and discipline), but we must proactively develop ways to meaningfully and efficiently engage the deeper divisions we identify among us. Allowing differences to become splits would be unfortunate, but more importantly, it is at precisely these gaps where new perspectives are possible, and great gains are within reach.

Fulfilling this commitment will be a real challenge because it requires behavior change on our part. We must avoid or explain terms of art, make explicit and explore our assumptions, explain our methods, perform necessary translations, and otherwise take steps to maximize hospitality and genuine understanding. Because this work is interactive in nature, it is essential that we are economical in our group discussion, leaving as much time for the interactions that will highlight and address gaps, rather than making extended monologues that risk losing other participants and sacrifice the provocative stimuli offered by our diversity. In short, let us be clear, brief and to the point. Let us listen to each other closely and encourage new voices, rather than inadvertently privileging only a few dominant ones. Let us be aware that participants will have different styles of engagement, and that we need to collectively find ways to embrace them, even as they adapt to this special environment. Above all, let us have enjoy this rare opportunity to gather and engage on issues we care about with this unique group of colleagues.

Draft Agenda

Thursday, December 6
9:30-1:00 pm (Optional) Cyberscholars Forum
For those meeting participants who arrive in Cambridge early, we welcome them to attend a half day meeting of the Cyberscholars Working Group, which includes fellows from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Yale Information Society Project, MIT Media Lab / Center for Civic Media, and other institutions.
3:00 Opening Exercise: Mapping Collaboration
The opening session of the symposium on “Structural Changes and Tipping Points” will include participants of the Cyberscholars forum, and will highlight the landscape of existing collaborations among researchers, as well as generate ideas for new modes and methods for collaboration to be considered over the course of the meeting. This early convening will allow the opportunity for representatives to bring the unique strengths of their institutions to the table and consider ways we can take advantage of coordinated efforts.

5:30 Opening Session
Structural Change: Understanding Structural Changes, Tipping Points, and their Effects on Systems

Historical examples of significant structural change, and the events and conditions leading up to those dramatic shifts, will offer a lens for the meeting where societal advancements catalyzed by technological innovation can be analyzed and understood. As digital technologies increasingly intersect with and support institutions, industries, and individuals, what cautionary tales does history reveal regarding how to study and engage important tipping points? What lessons from history will enable societal development? And what structures are currently changing or are ripe for change (and research) in the next decade?

6:45 Joint Reception with Cyberscholars Participants
The reception will include displays from the Harvard metaLAb and the Harvard Library community.
Friday, December 7
8:30 am Breakfast
9:00 Welcome

9:15 Foundations: Key Ingredients for Structural Change in the Digital Ecosystem: Data, Algorithms, Intermediaries

This opening session will set the stage by exploring the key elements that facilitate current and the next generation of structural shifts in the digitally networked information ecosystem and discuss both drivers and inhibitors of change from social, economic, legal, and educational perspectives. Instead of providing a holistic overview of all factors that are in play, the session will focus on three particularly important elements: the power of “big data”, the importance of algorithms, and the role of new intermediaries. Beyond phenomenological stock-taking, the participants will discuss the next generation of legal, ethical, economic and other issues that arise in the context of these key elements and the need for collaboration - and potentially intervention – with regard to these and related factors of change. The discussion will help orient the relationship between structural change and associated tipping points, and will be further explored throughout the day via participant-organized breakout sessions and use case discussions.

10:15 Use Case #1
Political Participation: New Orders, Democracy, Governance, and Civic Engagement

Various research efforts over the past decade have focused on the question of if and how the Internet changes political participation, from new forms of electronic voting to the broader question of potential changes in political discourse in the digitally networked public sphere. During the meeting, we will take stock of the current landscape, with a particular focus on recent elections and political movements around the globe, and explore open questions, future research directions, questions, emerging tools and methodologies. Examples we could examine, and potentially consider as “tipping points,” may range from SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA to the Arab Spring and the post-election crisis in Kenya in 2008 to many other major political events. These examples may also highlight the limits, challenges, and dangers of the new media environment.

11:15 Coffee Break
11:30 Morning Breakout Sessions & Afternoon Proposals
Semi-moderated discussion sessions proposed by participants in advance of the meeting (such as sessions on Internet & democracy, research methods, region specific issues, and other projects) will take place, with an eye towards developing contributions to the final session on future directions.
Additionally, participants will brainstorm and propose sessions to lead during the unconference sessions in the afternoon, with a preference for more exploratory topics. Anyone at the meeting can suggest, lead, or participate in the discussions, and topics can range from those relevant to the substantive themes of the symposium to ideas for networking, shared research, and anything beyond.
12:30 pm Lunch

1:30pm Use Case #2
Economic and Production Modes: New Models for Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Digital technologies in general and the Internet in particular have changed the ways in which goods are produced and services provided. Within this context, new modes of production — most prominently “peer-based” models — have emerged, accompanied by innovative organizational models and set-ups. Questions we hope to explore include: How relevant are these shifts from an economic, organizational, societal, business, and creative perspective? Has recent empirical research confirmed the theory of commons-based peer production, or challenged it? What conditions facilitate new modes of Internet-based production and what are the benefits and challenges from a public policy perspective? What do interesting case studies in the field, from collaborative online journalism to crowd-funding, tell us about the direction of this trend? Examples of market and industry shifts, institutional changes, and individual impact may serve as illustrations of tipping points where new models of production have fostered true innovation, and reveal paths for what to expect in the future.

2:30 Participant-Led Unconference Sessions

Meeting participants who proposed sessions will lead discussions around topics related to the main theme of the symposium or around ideas related to the formation of a network of centers.

3:30 Break

4:00 Reflections and Future Directions

A rapporteur from each center will offer brief reflections and key takeaways based on their experience during the meeting. A shortlist of “low hanging fruit” (i.e. things that we can immediately start to collaborate on) will be developed in advance and serve as the basis for the session, so the group can make progress towards developing a substantive agenda and initial workplan for the network at the meeting.

7:00 Reception and Party
Saturday, December 8

9:00-12pm Breakfast session: Action plan for the next year

In the Food for Thought mode, representatives will meet to discuss an innovation and collaboration agenda for the inaugural year of the network. Using inputs from learning calls and the previous days of the meeting, participants will work to identify existing or new projects where researchers, faculty, and staff can immediately begin collaborating. We will also create a rough plan for addressing action items that are “low hanging fruit” for the launch of the network.

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