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Distributed deliberative citizens: Exploring the impact of cyberinfrastructure on transnational civil society participation in global ICT policy processes

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This study explores the impact of a virtual organisational structure called a policy collaboratory on a transnational NGO network participating in the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). A collaboratory is a center without walls, which uses computer-mediated communication (CMC) tools to support geographically distributed knowledge work (Wulf 1989). The interdisciplinary conceptual framework draws primarily on Roger's (1995) diffusion of innovation thesis. To explore the conceptual framework, we asked four grand tour research questions: (1) How is a policy collaboratory introduced into a transnational policy network?; (2) how is the collaboratory used?; (3) what impact does it have on participants?; and (4) to what degree can it be institutionalised? Using the second phase of WSIS as the setting for this longitudinal mixed-methods study, we purposefully selected the participants from the active WSIS civil society networks. After collecting baseline data in December 2003, we designed and implemented the collaboratory in January 2004, continuing to collect multi-modal data (surveys, interviews, email, computer logs) until shortly after the Tunis WSIS in November 2005. Key findings include: (1) training and a visionary change-agent are critical to successful diffusion; (2) participants may not utilise the full potential of the collaboratory; (3) even with limited use, the collaboratory can help to empower network members, especially those from developing countries, (4) institutionalisation of the collaboratory requires at least medium-term commitment and financial support. The study points to some of the challenges and opportunities of using the Internet and CMC tools to enhance geographically distributed participation in global governance processes.

Keywords: WSIS; collaboratories; cyberinfrastructure; global governance; multistakeholder participation; virtual collaboration

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Syracuse University, USA. 2: United Nations Association, Denmark.

Publication date: January 24, 2008

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  • The International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics is committed to analyzing the politics of communication(s) and cultural processes. It addresses cultural politics in their local, international and global dimensions, recognizing equally the importance of issues defined by their specific cultural geography and those that traverse cultures and nations.
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