COMMUNIA Panel: Free Culture Research and Policy

This panel addressed the relationship between research and policy, and featured Amelia Andersdotter, one of the “phantom MEPs” from the Swedish, Pirate Party; Renata Avila of CC Guatemala; Marcus Beckedahl, who runs about internet policy and politics; and Mayo Fuster Morell, researcher and activist in Barcelona. It was moderated by Juan Carlos de Martin of COMMUNIA.

Researchers freely choose the questions they want to research. In Italy that’s a constitutional right–the freedom of science. After picking a question, they aim to produce reproducible and generalizable knowledge, and adhere to the scientific method. They then distribute these results through the normal academic channels.

Most people are in favor of evidence-based policy, and so policy-makers should in principle look to researchers to provide that evidence. In an ideal world, there’s a perfect decoupling between policy on the one side and the science that supports it on the other side.

Of course, this ideal world hasn’t been the reality. Academics package knowledge about their field in books and popular articles meant for the public, engage generally with the public as a “public intellectual,” or  in some cases deal directly with policy makers. Larry Summers is an extreme example, having served prominently in academia, the public sector, and the private sector.

The free culture field has a number of public intellectuals. Otherwise, its interaction with some areas of policy-making are developing but still weak.

According to Andersdotter, the European Council of Ministers is the most powerful but least transparent political structure of the European Union. She also said that free culture isn’t generally even mentioned in the European Parliament.

The recent Gower Report is an example of a policy document that could have been influenced by the free culture, but instead it’s an uninformed an internally contradictory document. The groups that interact with researchers have the power to distribute money, but no guarantee that their results will be adopted or even considered.

Andersdotter maintained that the problem that remains in the European Union is that the Council of Ministers is powerful and opaque for citizens. It’s critically important that member states contact their ministers to effect change.

Avila related an anecdote that took place in Mexico last October. Researcher Alejandro Pisante tweeted a link to an article he wrote expressing his concern about a 3% tax on internet usage. Many Mexicans were unaware of this law, and his article spread like wildfire among citizens who were opposed to the new law.

Shortly thereafter, Pisanti and activists on the internet (including Creative Commons Mexico and Internet Society Mexico) created web sites and protests, and convinced the Mexican government to drop the price increase. According to Avila, the communication channels developed in response to this event are still used by citizens who are now far more aware about how laws are created in that country.

Beckedahl started by warning that he is not a researcher; rather he comes from the activist side and writes a blog about net policy and politics. He said that there are only a handful of activists who are actually working on influencing European politics, and they need the help of researchers. Without proper research, activists have more works and less of an argument to bring to politicians. Policy papers or background papers would be helpful for lobbying.

When a region in Germany gets behind open source, it’s almost always an economic question, but for example in Linz, the Commons City initiative that Leonhard Dobusch has been working on, it’s much more than just interaction of industry and the open source sector, and that’s the kind of project that could be replicated around Europe.

Beckedahl said that parliamentarians do actually mention free culture, but only in the context of activists and the plenty of people who call about issues.

Morrel’s presentation wass geared towards her academic focus in political science, and in the region of Spain and southern Europe. The academics she’s spoken to are aware of the need to look at policy and free culture, but don’t actually write the papers on these issues. The current situation is that being a researcher and an activist at the same time isn’t valued in academia.

Generalized academic research has even less of an impact on policy decisions. Specialized centers and think tanks at the local and regional level are more influential, in part because local and regional policy-makers are more open to dialogue.

In Morrel’s experience, there need to be more direct interlocutors and bridges inside political institutions. We need to change the political system, because without a real change to the political system research won’t be able to have an impact on real policy.

Each of the panelists discussed the need for researches to get involved with these issues. As Beckedahl stated, researchers are citizens too, and need to express their opinions to politicians. Andersdotter dismissed the idea that researchers should try to avoid appearing ideological, because in fact the act of engaging in research is inherently ideological.

Der Beitrag wurde am Saturday, den 9. October 2010 um 18:07 Uhr von veröffentlicht und wurde unter Allgemein abgelegt. Sie können die Kommentare zu diesem Eintrag durch den RSS 2.0 Feed verfolgen. Sie können einen Kommentar schreiben, oder einen Trackback auf Ihrer Seite einrichten.

2 Reaktionen zu “COMMUNIA Panel: Free Culture Research and Policy”

  1. markus

    Markus beckedahl runs

  2. Mayo Fuster Morell

    (My name is Mayo Fuster Morell (not Morrel). Mayo is my name, and then I (as any other Spanish person) have two surnames: Fuster Morell)

    Thank you for the reporting post. Additionally, here you can find a listing of the main ideas I presented.

    A set of guidelines for bridging free culture research and policy making

    1) The relationship between research and policy making is an important issue, but there are very few systematic reflection done. There is the need to put attention into systematize what we know about this issue.

    2) Not think of a direct connexions between them, but in terms of building intermediation, translators or/and channels between the two worlds.

    3) Specialized centers and/or think thank at the local and regional level have more possibilities to develop applied research and have influence in the policy-making, than those of european/international character and/or developed in a general department which favour more basic research.

    4) Create and feed direct interlocutors and bridges inside political institutions.

    5) Build meeting spaces and relationship between process of social mobilization and research (such as the Free culture forum of Barcelona: http://www.fcforum,net) in order to provide scientific evidence on movements believes, to question and adopt a critical approach to them; and, to put light on what actually works (independently of our believes).

    6) In order to do so, to adopt the action-participation research tradition which favor the translation and the accessibility of the research.

    7) To fully believe that developing rigorous research being politically committed to an issue is something doable.

    However, even if following all of these guidelines is not a sufficient condition of success. For example, on the issue of climate change, even if there is a quiet broad academic consensus on the issue and a social mobilization process, it had a limitation impact into the policy-making. The same can be said in regard to the war. In sum, to create the better conditions for research applicability listed above is the direction to follow; however, it is better not to rise too many expectations, because without a deep change in the political system the possibilities to have impact into the political process are very limited. These is one of the reasons why I think there is the need to create bridges between the free culture mobilization and other movements aiming to change the political system.

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