By Charles Mgbolu
Last week, the Digital Bridge Institute; an international centre for communication studies running currently in the country in conjunction with Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Georgia Tech University and the MacArthur Foundation presented a 3-day workshop on the Enhancement of Civil Society use of ICTs in Nigeria.

But the Harvard University has other plans as two weeks from today, another series begins: a large, day-long public symposium at the Yar’ Adua Centre in Abuja.

The objective of the proposed series is to stimulate discussion of, engagement with, and reflection upon the role and uses of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in civic engagement. According to the organisers “We will specifically examine and advocate around the upcoming 2011 Nigerian presidential election, exploring ICTs as environments to educate, discuss, deliberate, choose, and act.”

The organisers say that of particular interest are the various ways in which ICTs can be enabling key functions of democracy, including how they help people to access and share relevant news and information, organize and coordinate activity, and generate and utilize data. While these endeavors are always important in the drive to create transparent and accountable government and rich civic engagement, they are perhaps never more essential as in the period around (and including) elections, where they represent a unique resource.

According to them, the public symposium will introduce the big picture making the issues widely accessible and compelling to a diverse public audience. It will include a small number of plenary talks from eminent personalities designed to give framing overviews to the topics. However, most of the day will consist of panel discussions that will combine case studies and critical analysis with policy engagements including next-step provocations.

This upcoming symposium and workshop organisers say emerged from a July 2009 conference in which diverse non-governmental organizations (NGOs) made plain the requirements of robust state accountability and transparency for civil society to succeed with its missions – and the concomitant potential of ICTs to support these goals of participatory, inclusive and deliberative processes of decision-making. Organisers said what became eminently clear from these NGO participants was that Nigeria now sits at a critical juncture with respect to this civic engagement, with all eyes focused upon the upcoming election.

The meetings will draw on relevant experiences from Nigeria, the rest of Africa, and elsewhere around the world, bringing together thought leaders, practitioners, activists, and citizens, with a particular focus on civil society actors.

Facilitators are leading researchers, activists and organizations in the field and will come from Nigeria, across Africa and around the world. Participants will overlap, drawing from across sectors, including NGOs, donors, academics, activists, policymakers, technologists, and entrepreneurs.

The symposia are co-organized by the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and the College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology (USA) and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University (USA), hosted by Digital Bridge Institute (Nigeria), and sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


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