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Gov’t 2.0 – DAY 2

Friday night was easy in the most well-organized sense imaginable, or at least so our distinguished guests said last night during our informal soiree at café Kriterion. Even the most formal of gatherings turn into pleasant chats over beer and wine, and ours was no exception. The guests were talking about how satisfied they were with what had been said during the first day of the Conference, but also about what a great job we at Dokukino did hosting them. Which, to be candid, was amazing, since we could then stop worrying about whether every detail had been catered to, and focus on Day 2 of the Conference.

Luckily, the weather on Saturday was nice, acceptably sunny and wind-less. After having discussed the vision and methods for achieving more direct and efficient communication and collaboration between governments, NGOs, the media and citizens, Day 2 was reserved for the complementary concept of Reality 2.0 or, to put it succinctly, a reality in which there is a clear recognition of a communication paradigm shift from traditional media and its unilateral messages, to new technologies and real-time, two-way communication between all concerned.

What is Reality 2.0?

President of Dokukino Darko Sokovic was the one to ask the necessary questions before the debate. “When you establish a page on social networks and start any kind of an initiative or survey, what happens when you reach a certain number of “likes” and “shares”? Does that mean that we’ve just spent time clicking incessantly, or have we actually achieved something? What if this has no impact on public policy creation?”

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Communication is a necessary precursor for reaching and maintaining Reality 2.0, but is it enough?

Adis Arapovic, Project Manager at Centres for Civic Initiatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was the first speaker to address this burning question. “I have never worked for the government. I have, though, worked against the government as a civil activist,” said Adis while the crowd chuckled.

Using visceral rhetoric which included questions regarding the power of the media and one’s perception of control and information, Arapovic proposed that contemporary concepts of power, especially state power, should encompass accountability, transparency, and efficiency. He talked about how new media has brought about a paradigm shift in terms of working against monopolization of truth traditional media once held as a sole source of carefully crafted information disseminated one-way to the general public.  Nevertheless, he questioned the notion of “freedom” inherently embedded in new media. Arapovic was reluctant to support new media, stipulating that the so-called “virtual citizen” has no more liberty and power than the uninformed citizen not-so-long-ago. According to him, one of the challenges Reality 2.0 faces is the power of media conglomerates, which have the tendency to “suck in” smaller media by buying them or controlling them in other ways. In his closing remark, Arapovic said that there will be no change in the pyramid of power without demonstration of power by the “opposing side” (in this case the constituency), and that the people cannot demonstrate any real intent using virtual environments.

Zorica Vojinovic, Senior Program Coordinator at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Serbia, took over from there.

“New communication systems through which citizens can hold discussions with their elected representatives, have to be personalized. People need to know exactly who they are talking to and how to reach the people they need,” said Zorica. She discussed the current issue of “depersonalization” of parliaments, noting that only 13% of Serbian citizens know the names of their municipal representatives. She insisted on the creation of self-sustainable communication systems, online or offline, which would not only encourage citizens to speak up and initiate discussions, but also ensure that pertinent persons within the government actually receive those messages and participate in discussions.

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Leila Bicakcic, Executive Director at Center for Investigative Reporting, Bosnia and Herzegovina, continued by talking about media pluralism, noting there are more than 400 media outlets in Bosnia alone. She questioned the authority of media outlets and their personnel, suggesting that a great number of outlets doesn’t account for dispersion of control and information, but rather chaos and confusion. Bicakcic saluted the concept of new media insofar that it enables quick dissemination of uncensored information, but also voiced her concern about organized action from citizens and how they could ensure a more favorable position for civil activism through new media.

Transparency and Accountability

A brief coffee break was a welcome mid-point after a heated debate on how to establish a fresh reality through new media and its potential. Marko Rakar, Political Adviser and President of Windmill Association, Croatia, spoke about his organization and his views on communication with the government.

“We deal with transparency in a rather unorthodox fashion – Windmill (Vjetrenjaca) is a “hit and run” organization with no offices; when need arises, we meet ad hoc and then go our separate ways again,” said Marko, who then proceeded to examine the discrepancy between the number of Croatian citizens and voters (as it turns out, Croatia has more voters than citizens). His findings showed irregularities in numbers of registered voters across Croatian municipalities. Several other discrepancies have also been uncovered, among them problems with government expenditure. He helped create a website seen by more than 145,000 within five days, aimed at provided accountability for government expenditures.

His conclusion was that citizens can and should force their governments to openly speak about issues and account for their actions, and that interactive websites and initiatives through which the general public can ask questions and demand information, are the first step toward transparency and accountability. Governments should provide NGOs and other civil organizations with all data of significance to the general public – such data should then be analyzed and further discussed by people themselves. Marko commended the concepts of websites such as www.opencorporates.org, created with the purpose of listing every corporation worldwide (nearly 64 million companies) and providing public information about its business actions.

Finally, Marko discussed Windmill as an organization promoting citizens’ right to information and the numerous ways civil society can combat corruption through internet and transparency. You can find out more about Windmill (Vjetrenjaca) and its work on vjetrenjaca.org .

Practice to Policy / Debate organized and moderated by Foundation Dokukino

The final session of the conference was directed toward discussing what regional governments have actually done so far with regard to their promises to the people and how their actions can be turned into policies and standards. The overall conclusion was that the number of campaign promises actually fulfilled by governments was disappointing in BiH. Dalio Sijah (Editor – Info Portals, CSO Why Not?, Bosnia and Herzegovina), Sadzida Tulic (Project Assistant Directorate General of Democracy, Council of Europe, Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Aleksandar Trifunovic (Editor-in-Chief, BUKA, Bosnia and Herzegovina), Igor Kolundzija (Activist, Oštra nula, Bosnia and Herzegovina), Boris Brkan (Founder and Project Manager, CSO Why Not’?, Bosnia and Herzegovina), and Maja Brankovic (Project Coordinator, Transparency International, Bosnia and Herzegovina), condemned governments’ tendency to engage in marketing and media spin to hide what it lacks in good governance.

“Civil society should propose concrete solutions to problems they perceive as relevant. Nobody can guess what you are thinking and what you need unless you speak out. The risk of speaking out exists insofar that government officials might not take you seriously enough, responding only with nominal support for your initiatives without really collaborating. The burning question here is – what can we really do and how we can do it, to get our representatives to take us seriously?” said Maja.

Jan Zlatan Kulenovic, Executive Director of Youth Information Agency BiH, who participated in the discussion via Skype, said that governments need to ensure that channels for communicating with the new generation of voters need to exist and work in order for collaborative efforts to take place.

“Transparency and communication with the citizens shouldn’t only be perceived as the job for high-ranking government officials, but rather for every single one of people’s representatives in the government and other organizations of influence. If we wish to engage the young to participate, the challenge is to figure out a way for authorities to de-bureaucratize themselves and provide the necessary communication channels, easily understandable by the “digital generation”; transparency will imminently follow as a result,” concluded Jan.

Milos Milosevic, CEO and Creative Director of Fleka, Montenegro, noted that the young spend most of their free time on social networks and that such multimedia platforms should be exploited as the ideal tool for connecting and providing social change. Milos suggested local governments and organizations should, for a start, employ good practices already established by numerous governments and initiatives worldwide.

Best Practice Fair and conclusions

We wrapped our two-day Conference with Best Practice Fair, a showcase of successful regional practices related to the topics we discussed.

All in all, everyone seemed happy with what was said and proposed. All of our speakers were on the same page with regard to what should be done to advance and enhance communication and collaboration between regional governments and their citizens; more importantly, we all agree on how all this should be done. Now it remains to be seen how all of us will turn this small step into one giant leap for mankind.

 

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