Chapter 7 Minor Case Studies
As described in Chapter 5, the minor case studies offered a perspective on interactive technology in policy discussions at different levels. The CSIRO study (7.2) complements the Finance study by providing raw data from an internal mailing list. These textualised views of staff allow comparison between public sector agencies. The Link study (7.3) offered a specific focus on information technology policy, and also provided an iterative, reflective element via a feedback loop to the list itself. The Canberra Commons experiment (7.4) was a small illustration on a local, community level of the potential for interactive electronic deliberation. This caught the attention of information infrastructure policy actors in the ACT government. These last 2 minor studies therefore became part of the situation they examined. Each study offered evidence in relation to the theoretical perspective and hypotheses developed in Part I.
7.2 Seeking a Real Forum - a report on CSIRO’s internal mailing list
Discussions with a human resources manager in the Commonwealth Science Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO) led to a proposal to analyse the postings to an internal mailing list known as Forum. The intention was to gather information from the messages about the usefulness of the list for internal policy matters. As a large national organisation, CSIRO offered an opportunity to examine computer mediated communications from a complimentary perspective to the studies of Finance or the Link list. The relation to the research questions of this thesis was straightforward: Does Forum contribute to internal policy and industrial democracy at CSIRO, and what factors affect this?
The Forum list was established as a subscribed mailing list ‘for staff to provide ideas and comments on issues of interest to all staff’. CSIRO is the key Australian agency for the coordination of basic research and development with industry needs, and is a well known and respected part of government infrastructure and support for the scientific community. Because CSIRO is geographically dispersed with many different areas of expertise and research, the mailing list was intended to allow wider input to management issues than print or other means could provide. Preliminary discussions and some background documents gave the researcher an indication of the general framework in which the list operates. Forum was one of approximately 13 general and 34 specialist electronic lists in CSIRO. The general lists covered administrative matters such as financial management, library, personnel and computer systems. The specialist lists were for organisational or scientific projects as diverse as timber engineering, genetic resources or web technology. Forum postings were a small sub-set of the total electronic conversations taking place daily throughout the organisation. As with the Finance case study, it was necessary to consider the list in relation to the organisation’s overall framework for internal communications. Like many public sector organisations, CSIRO was going through a period of sustained restructuring. Change followed general public sector reform patterns: outsourcing, more reliance on the private sector for funding, and managerialist directions at the organisational level, as outlined in Chapter 3. For example, the human resources area was fully charging for their services to the rest of the organisation.
This study complemented the Finance case study of Chapter 6 in both methodology and content. The study of CSIRO used primarily naturalistic data from internal list participants, supplemented by some conversations with the list facilitators, whereas the Finance study drew heavily on interviews and observational data over a two year period. Conclusions from the CSIRO study were therefore more limited in scope and reliability. Together, these two case studies helped to ‘ground’ the overall theoretical perspective. Initially, only postings for one month were provided. Print-outs of the postings for the four weeks ending October 20, 1995 were modified and photocopied to remove individual’s names. Numbers assigned to names allowed the researcher to follow the ‘threads’ and personalities which emerged over the month. A report prepared by the facilitator which summarised the postings for senior management were also provided to the researcher. Several months later, contact with another Forum facilitator led to an additional set of postings for a similar period from March 1996 being provided, along with the facilitator’s report for that period, the previous facilitator’s report, a consultant’s report on internal communications at CSIRO, and additional background documents mostly dealing with communication and management issues within CSIRO. The consultant’s report, generally referred to as the Bright Report after the author, was commissioned to provide advice on improving communication mechanisms between staff and senior management, and encourage ownership of policy, with a view to improving the overall effectiveness of the organisation. The Bright Report was released in July 1995, and gave some background and context beyond that contained in the postings themselves. A committee set up to implement some of its recommendations was active during the second month of postings, and this implementation process was a topic for discussion.
Discussions with the two Forum facilitators and other officers indicated that the relatively small numbers of staff subscribed to Forum were not necessarily representative of the organisation, and that senior staff was mostly absent from Forum debates. It was explained that middle levels were well represented on Forum, from the professional (ie, scientific) and administrative ranks. The analysis of postings became Stage 1 of a potentially longer and larger case study. These plans did not eventuate. This case study was therefore primarily two ‘snap shots’ of the organisation during a brief period of time, as seen through a narrow window of textualised comments. An agreement was drawn up and signed to ensure confidentiality of the data. A report was prepared, as part of the written agreement, summarising and analysing the postings, and recommending further action to implement proposals contained on Forum for improving its usefulness. Both facilitators were asked to comment on the draft, and both indicated they found it accurate. A sample of postings for the analysis below are in Appendix C.
The data - dates and numbers
The thickness of the posting printouts decreased for the second period, with several possible explanations. The first set was not dated, and there were multiple copies of many postings, whereas the second set seemed to be a consolidation, with headings removed to save space, and messages printed continuously over multiple pages. It was also possible that the number of postings dropped over time. Adding up the postings per topic for the first period yielded a total of 242 messages over 30 days, assuming no overlaps in topics. This was compared with the facilitator’s report for the period 16 January to 1 March 1996, which listed 272 postings over the 43 day period. The March period was not totalled or categorised in the same way, but there were about 55 postings in all. These figures indicated a slight trend towards fewer postings between September 1995 and April 1996. This agreed with some messages expressing regret over the declining numbers of subscribers and/or postings. It appeared that approximately 10% of the 7000 employees of CSIRO subscribed to Forum at the time of study, and that these numbers were once higher. An informant reported that only four or five of the divisional heads contributed to Forum, and only two out of six administrative executives. Convincing these senior managers to participate in discussions on Forum was described as difficult, partly because once they joined in, withdrawal was difficult and tended to create bad feelings. The volume of messages on the list was a deterrent for some to participation, regardless of level. Mailing lists have been observed to have ‘life cycles’. Bursts of activity on Forum reportedly followed indications of support for it from the head of the organisation. One message was posted on behalf of the chief executive, providing another indication of senior management remoteness. There was also an indication in the postings that many staff were unaware of Forum.
The intelligence and thoughtfulness of the postings were obvious to the researcher, along with their tone. Many were several pages long, and had the appearance and depth of reports or discussion papers. While most of the postings were polite and professional, there was also an undercurrent of cynicism. As Forum was set up to discuss internal issues, criticism of management was not surprising. However, the widespread expressions of lack of trust indicated a deep rift, with few indications that steps were being taken to resolve it. Indeed, the lack of, and need to build, trust between staff and management was one of the common themes in both sets of postings and all three of the facilitators’ reports. This perspective, repeatedly described in the postings as the ‘us versus them syndrome’, tended to colour many postings, even those about factual matters. This mind set, in turn, seemed to enhance the levels of conflict and detract from productive use of Forum for developing consensus and agreement on future directions. An incident was related to the researcher of a former employee threatening legal action for defamation, following a posting on Forum that was passed on. This resulted in a message from the legal area being introduced as a header to all postings on Forum, with a warning about defamatory language and confidentiality. Protocols for online behaviour, tacit or otherwise, seemed to be missing, but were reportedly set up some time after the period of this study. People putting up long and detailed analyses indicated uncertainty about the role of Forum overall, through such comments as: ‘excuse the long posting,’ or ‘I’m not sure if this is appropriate’.
Topics covered in the postings included many aspects of internal policy and change in the organisation: enterprise bargaining, staff numbers, redundancy provisions, media treatment of science, partnerships and teams, communication and the Bright Report, internal restructuring, and Forum itself. Contributors to Forum consistently made suggestions indicating a good understanding of management theory. There were calls for 360 degree assessment, and some discussion of how this had been implemented in other organisations. The need to foster diversity, and the problem of it being stamped out through over-reliance on hierarchical structures was discussed, along with calls for self-managed teams and better participatory practices. Problems of ‘silos’ and fiefdoms were highlighted, and there was protest at the introduction of performance rewards accompanied by a forced distribution pattern. Management’s proposals for change were described as ‘old structures in new clothing’.
Sophisticated proposals for the use of the Internet and intranet, support for a healthy diversity within, ideas to improve industrial participation, and proposals to increase accountability and trust were some of the concepts that ‘bubbled up’ in Forum. These indicated staff were making connections between technology use and processes of internal governance (Hypothesis 3). These were often accompanied by quotes from leading writers and case studies of other organisations. Some interest and support was voiced for a report by a human resources staff member. There were many calls for more openness and information from the executive, and more meaningful implementation of industrial participation. An informant said some felt resentment that the organisation head could send them messages via the CSIRO-all list, but this was not reciprocal. This restriction was apparently put in place when a particular topic triggered a voluminous response via the ‘reply’ button and jammed the system. Following that event, access to CSIRO-all was limited to a few. Postings repeatedly called for greater involvement by senior management in discussions at the lower levels, and greater participation by the lower levels in decision-making. However, it was not clear whether these proposals were considered or acted upon at senior levels. Many messages voiced frustration. Perhaps Forum subscribers felt free to voice strong negative emotions precisely because they believed no one was paying attention. The facilitators’ summaries provided a slightly different sub-text to the actual messages, which were rather more intense. This was to be expected, given that the summaries were provided for the benefit of the executive committee of a hierarchical organisation. It also indicated the list was a site of conflict over communication (Hypothesis 2), and that the perspectives of the more powerful actors took precedence (Hypothesis 1). Thus, the summaries were a somewhat abstracted version of the actual postings. The summaries were also made available on Forum, for comment from contributors, and these were acknowledged by subscribers as accurate.
The postings were compared with the outcomes of an executive forum held in July 1995 to ‘increase interaction and cohesiveness across the upper management of CSIRO’, and ‘improve policy development and implementation’. Values critical to success included integrity, trust and respect, and ‘unity of purpose with plurality of means.’ The statement of intended structure and CSIRO purpose did not, however, include recognition of the importance of staff involvement in decision making. Only external customers were recognised, indicating differences between senior management and staff values regarding participation.
The quality and language of the postings was consistent with a highly educated and intelligent set of people who were both articulate and quick to show sarcastic wit in their critiques. The use of metaphor and even parable was noteworthy, along with colourful language such as ‘sironauts’ or references to management as the ‘Death Star’. One particularly outspoken commentator was given the sobriquet ‘Flamethrower’. There were also complaints that a few individuals tended to dominate the discussion and inhibit others from participating. Top-down reforms in the public sector no longer work, partly because today’s middle managers simply will not respond to authoritarian decisions (Peters 1996). The situation at CSIRO must be even more exaggerated, with many highly educated scientists, trained as independent thinkers, and whose intelligence must be well above average. These are professionals who excel at problem-solving and team-based collaboration, but are unlikely to thrive on hierarchical structures. Indications were that internal communication had long been an area of conflict. In the mid-1980s an internal document had highlighted the need for better internal relations as a prerequisite for improving external public and media relations. Many of the perspectives and suggestions put forward in that early report were repeated more than a decade later in the Bright Report.
The postings to Forum were consistent with the findings of the Bright Report, which pointed to both the highly effective team work within the organisation and the critical need for greater two way participation in management processes. Several positive things were said to have come out of Forum discussions relating to human resources: a travel policy users’ guide, and several new technical groups. The list was therefore providing more than a steam-venting option, and was having some impact on internal policy. It was not clear from the limited evidence whether these Forum outcomes were primarily instrumental (Hypothesis 13) or affected deeper processes. This raised the question of how well Forum was integrated into other mechanisms for internal communication across the organisation. Both the list data and the Bright Report provided evidence that staff sought greater involvement in internal decision making. These were assertions on Forum of the right to replace managers who had lost the support of staff. The institutionalisation of 360 degree assessment would have laid the groundwork for this. Some subscribers to Forum had read and commented on Semler (1994), which described the success of radical industrial democracy in a Brazilian firm.
The organisation appeared to be still maturing in its use of interactive technology, but without adopting the corresponding innovations in management that would maximise its effectiveness. The introduction of new means of communication, and the recognition by staff and consultants alike of its potential to make internal relations more inclusive and open, had not altered the underlying problems. The similarities between the 1984 staff viewpoint on internal communication practices and the 1995 Bright Report indicated systemic problems. Without a conscious attempt to avoid repeating past methods for solving problems, change was unlikely (Hardy and Schwartz 1996). The hierarchical structures and decision making were inhibiting CSIRO’s ability to undertake complex double-loop learning, which may also reduce an organisation’s ability to deal with an unstable environment with high levels of ambiguity and uncertainty (Stacey 1996:385). To the extent that this was reflected in the uses of interactive technologies such as Forum, the study provided evidence for Hypothesis 14, on the relation between internal processes and external accountabilities.
Many staff pointed out the potential of the interactive technologies to contribute to improvements in staff-management communications. Even a simple list can be a source of creative self-organisation. The postings to Forum provided sophisticated commentary on the role of the organisation, self-managed teams, and the nexus between government policy and the wider social picture. For example, there were comments on a major multinational Australian company and its credibility in giving advice to CSIRO, given its environmental and legal record overseas. Staff postings sometimes reflected views as citizens, on such issues as the role of science in society. Forum’s potential, however, could not be realised without wider efforts to open up organisational communications and decision-making.
Industrial participation was a wide concern. The discursive nature of many of the postings and the need to have Forum summarised for the executive indicated that these issues were not being adequately handled by other means. Forum became a site where communication conflict was expressed (Hypothesis 2). While this analysis was limited by being based on the views of the small minority of subscribers to Forum, it was consistent with the findings of the Bright report.
Many questions remain unanswered from this ‘snapshot’ view of Forum. The researcher understood that as of late 1998 Forum was no longer being ‘facilitated’, nor were monthly reports being made to the Executive. It is not clear, without further enquiry, what this implied for the usefulness of the list. Either senior management was taking a more active, participatory role, or perhaps they had lost interest even in keeping a watching brief. The Bright report noted that email was emerging as a highly effective communication tool. As discussed in Chapter 4, research into computer-mediated communication has repeatedly demonstrated that such channels echo rather than transform the cultures in which they operate. Thus, changes in the role of Forum might signal df wider organisational changes.
During the months analysed, Forum seemed to function as a fairly isolated channel for disgruntled visionaries, while still partly acting as a collaborative mechanism across the organisation. Its utility to CSIRO could be improved by any one of a number of pathways, many of which were suggested in Forum itself. There were a number of similarities with the Finance case study. Neither had done a formal evaluation of the new communication media or sought to improve its effectiveness. Both organisations had set up and disbanded information management projects. In CSIRO, the reported refocus of information management on ‘core’ activities implied that developmental aspects of information management were marginalised. Both organisations had highly regarded team-based groups, but problems with archaic hierarchical structures. These difficulties were perceived by staff as an economic rationalist, managerialist agenda. The overall patterns supported the proposition of this thesis that the values associated with globalisation flow through to the public sector to diminish democratic interactivity.
The Forum subscribers were a sub-set of all CSIRO actors. The overall direction of change in the organisation unsurprisingly repeated the patterns of wider public sector reform observed in the Finance study. The more vocal Forum participants took the technological opportunity to voice their values and stake their claims to direction setting, even at the risk of being branded as radical. Facilitators softened the feedback to avoid upsetting senior executives. Underlying communication issues of long standing were thus muffled, but at the cost of the internal learning which might have ‘broken the loop’. Most importantly, the process of opening up the organisation to this potentially rejuvenative feedback from Forum would also have required the forms of democratic participation called for in the postings. The Forum evidence provided support for Hypotheses 1-3, on the dominance of the most powerful actors in the struggle to influence the use of interactive technology in processes of governance. This case study also provided lesser evidence in support of Hypothesis 10 (neither full participation nor real industrial democracy was present); Hypothesis 11 (that simple beliefs about the system tended to determine the forms of participation and learning available); and Hypothesis 13 (that the interactive technology was used more instrumentally than developmentally). There was insufficient evidence to support Hypotheses 14, on the relation of internal technology use to external accountabilities, although the Bright report and individual subscribers indicated belief in this interdependence.
7.3 The Link List - an electric elite
The analysis of electronic mailing lists has become one way researchers look for signs of public space developing on the Internet. This thesis presents evidence that lists and related interactive technologies can also make policy processes more democratic. Realisation of this potential is dependent on a wide range of environmental and contextual factors. The Link list, which originated in Canberra, has become an established channel of communication for those interested in telecommunications policy and Internet developments in Australia. However, like the informal electronic channels in the other case studies, its contribution has not been formally acknowledged or assessed. The research questions for this analysis then became: Does the Link list contribute to the democratisation of Internet and telecommunications policy in Australia? What factors affect this?
The Link list is a predominantly Australian list open to all subscribers, established in 1993 as a forum for the exchange of views about the impact of networks on libraries and publishing. It grew out of a Working Group on Local Systems Interconnection, now the Electronic Libraries Forum (ELF). The founders were Eric Wainwright, then Deputy Director-General of the National Library of Australia, and Tony Barry, then Head of the Centre for Networked Access to Scholarly Information, Australian National University Library. The initial membership was from the library, networking and standards community (Barry 1997). Link has been through several technical stages, and has been archived since 1995. It currently resides on a Sunsite at the Australian National University. Because the early backbone of the Internet in Australia, AARNet, was maintained by the universities, much of Link’s content focussed on the standards and performance of this network, more or less within an academic framework. The membership of Link evolved to reflect the changes in government policy on the Internet: membership and contributions of government groups such as the Broadband Services Expert Group grew, and then gradually became less dominant on Link as private interests took notice, and eventually control of Internet ownership and policy. This pattern of growing commercialisation is itself evidence for a central theme of this thesis: the values characteristic of globalisation create similar, fractal patterns at different levels of organisation. The changing membership on Link reflects not just Australian telecommunications policy, but also overseas experience.
By the time Telstra took ownership of the Internet backbone, Link had a much broader membership, and included many government officers, people from telecommunications industries and internet service providers, specialist media reporters, Internet activists and other individuals, some representing professional organisations, along with a sprinkling of Ministerial and opposition staff members, in addition to the original core of networking and library professionals. Membership ebbs and flows, but has remained fairly stable with approximately 400 subscribers. As many as two-thirds of subscribers contribute, with postings following a statistical pattern of distribution familiar to some academic disciplines (Barry 1997).
Other studies of electronic lists
Fang (1995) used discourse analysis to examine three lists in the United States with public policy implications, to determine whether the Internet is becoming a public space. Only one list was found to have substantial debate or discussion. Mostly they were used for posting enquiries or announcements, and evidence was found for the emergence of a two tier communication system, where the mass media was covered on the new, networked system, but not necessarily the reverse. Convenience rather than the uniqueness of the network as an information source seemed to determine use. Freedom of communication was most likely when professional reputation was not at stake. The lists were found to have a left-of-centre bias. One conclusion was that while the new media is not likely to dissolve or supplant the prevailing state-corporate-media power nexus, they may complement the dominant communication system.
Sachs (1995) conducted ethnographic interviews with 15 frequent users of PeaceNet electronic network, and analysed the results by grouping data. Part of the intent was to look at the process of public opinion formation in a non-profit computer network. Not surprisingly, Sachs found a strong left-wing bias among users, which limited the representativeness of the network as a sample of public opinion. Respondents voiced strong feelings that the network allowed them to access information not readily available in the corporate media. Respondents also felt PeaceNet helped them to overcome both geographic and ideological isolation, by finding kindred spirits on line. Contributors fell into two groups: experts and local sources. In addition, there was a group of lurkers who did not contribute postings. The critical orientation, opportunity for reflection offered by the asynchronous nature of the network, and the non-linearity of lingering or discontinuous conversations were also significant, along with the markedly cooperative aspect of information sharing. Sachs concluded that the network may be ‘both a complement and an alternative to traditional forums’. Gomez (1997) looked the use of computer-mediated communication within several Latin American non-government organisations. He found that electronic interactions can help restructure real life relationships, often in unpredictable ways. He found that although there were strong indications that these organisations could use computer technologies as a powerful communication tool for their work, there was little evidence that this use contributed to democratisation or development.
The Link study provided an opportunity to compare the above studies with Australian list usage. Those who use the Internet have higher levels of political activism than the general population (Calabrese and Borchert 1996). Two Australian lists with national reach, Pubsec and Cirg-L, were discussed in Chapter 3. The wider literature on the democratising potential of computer-mediated communication was considered in Part I.
The researcher has been a subscriber to Link since 1994, when public sector colleagues mentioned it. A brief survey was sent to the list in September 1997, asking other subscribers for information about the way they use the list. Only a handful of the 400 subscribers responded, even though the survey was limited to three brief questions. This is a frequent problem with email surveys (Clayton 1996). A number of other subscribers were subsequently sent direct messages asking for their comments, leading to 14 eventual survey replies. Thus, most of this analysis is based on additional discussions both on and off-line. Further commentary came when the summary of the findings were posted to the list, with a pointer to a web site with the full report. The researcher presented the findings to a conference attended by list members, and incorporated the resulting feedback and discussion. Thus, the case study had an iterative quality, a common feature of web-based information. There was also a small element of ‘action research’ in this study, through the researcher’s explicit articulation of the desirability of incorporating democratic norms into computer-mediated policy discourse. The research was a mechanism to engage other list participants in a dialogue about these possibilities.
The survey and summary of findings are presented in Appendix D. As email lists go, Link can be described as a ‘Rolls Royce’. The list infrastructure is professionally managed by the ANU Information Technology Services Group. The list owner, Tony Barry, was involved in the establishment of that infrastructure when employed there. He continues to manage the list and is webmaster of the list site mounted on the Australia Sunsite which is also maintained by ANU. Not many lists have a meticulous archive as Link does, searchable by date, keyword, and person. The list has not suffered from the maddening glitches that can plague this technology, such as thousands of messages sent to all subscribers when someone’s automated software breaks down. The Link list has also shown durability. Electronic lists tend to be ephemeral, and to ebb and flow in a rather arbitrary fashion. Many vanish without a trace. Link has been relatively stable, with new subscribers roughly balancing those who depart. This is probably not coincidental to its content. Postings to Link are highly professional, and reflect the sophistication of the subscribers. This is not a casual CB band on the Internet, but more like Radio National. The owner of the list is also well known and widely respected. Although unmoderated, Link is sometimes gently redirected by the owner to remain ‘on topic’ when the debate heats up or strays into alien territory. At one point over the summer in early 1998, a humorous thread developed with a set of postings in Latin, until someone returned from holiday and noted the absurdity. Other list members have described the discussions as ‘Socratic’, as contributors counter each other’s statements and gradually add information which advances understanding of an issue.
Based on a ‘who’ listing of subscribers, Linkers are unevenly divided between sectors with overlapping interests in Internet and telecommunications policy: legal, regulatory, a wide range of commercial activities, academic, media and activists. Exact figures on distribution of membership are difficult to determine, as subscribers often choose to join as individuals, thereby disguising their organisational affiliations. Only a handful are from overseas, and the researcher’s experience is that some with international email addresses are Australians. A rough analysis by gender, which counted only email addresses containing a clearly gender-identifiable name, indicates that perhaps one third of subscribers are female. Several of these, mostly technically literate professionals, are active posters. While one informant indicated that women’s voices seem to be a somewhat silent minority on Link, the researcher has not observed gender bias. Several female subscribers indicated support for the assertion that there is no discernible gender discrimination on Link. This refuted Spender (1995), who argued that there is widespread bias against women in relation to computer technology.
The distribution of this ‘digerati’ is not uniform across Australia, but is concentrated along the Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne axis, with supplementation by other regions. Within this range, which is geographically limited but populous, Link subscribers have the opportunity to be more than a ‘virtual’ community. The importance of geographical proximity in maintaining electronic relationships is critical in shaping their use (Doheny-Farina 1996), and is evident in many aspects of Link. Linkers meet at conferences, through their work, and at social events. They tell others about the list, and refer and defer to each other’s areas of expertise. The Internet Reality Checks which a prominent Linker occasionally organises in Canberra and elsewhere allow Linkers to reinforce personal contacts. Such contacts, while perhaps not a dominant feature of Link interactions, are perhaps more frequent among Australian actors in telecommunications than in a more populous country, and may reinforce the feeling of community within the group.
Subscribers indicated that Link serves many important functions, including discussion, information sharing, networking, and feedback on draft policies and proposals. The inclusion of government officers, lawyers, journalists, academics, publishers, activists and the business community creates particularly fertile ground for pluralistic deliberation on both the technical and political aspects of Internet and telecommunications policy, both as it affects Australia and globally. Overall, flaming or rudeness are generally absent from Link, another indicator of its stature. The standards of netiquette are quite high, and there is much helpful information offered to enquiries. The researcher once requested sources of government Internet policy, and received at least eight helpful replies within a few days. Postings are cordial, and often light-hearted. Content on the list reflects the globalisation of the Internet telecommunication industry through the influence of overseas policy and events on the Australian telecommunications conceptual, technical and legal infrastructure. Any significant overseas event, such as news or decisions about domain names, software company mergers or electronic commerce, is quickly reported on Link, usually with an Internet URL for more detailed information. The availability of the web as a publishing platform for more thoughtful and lengthy contributions has been noted as a vital element in the success of the Link list (Barry 1997). Along with Australian-based information, requests, and discussions, this forms the core of Link postings. Much of the content is technical, requiring a professional understanding to assess the implications for wider policy. These exchanges are important, and allow professionals to untangle the intricacies of Microsoft or browsing software, learn more about routing devices or find out about email-transmittable viruses and internet hoaxes and scams. Subscribers who are not involved with these issues technically can improve their general knowledge about Internet issues. However, the highly technical content may also inhibit some subscribers from posting, even though the tone of the list is tolerant and friendly.
Thus, respondents indicated a range of uses for Link, with most ranking it four or five out of five for value. Link is unique within Australia as a channel for communication sharing, dialogue and networking on an important range of issues associated with the Internet and telecommunications generally. The conversations that flow off-line and the subsequent telephone discussions, exchanges of material, and meetings with like-minded people help to establish a feeling of ‘place’ within an otherwise evanescent environment.
Use of Link by media and government
There is no doubt that Link has become a true ‘link’ between the media and other players in telecommunications policy. A number of journalists from computing magazines and the technology sections of leading newspapers regularly use Link for sourcing ideas/contacts/leads for stories about government policy in high-technology areas. Those who don’t are likely to be seen as less up to date, as they are ‘out of the loop’. This situation has evolved over time, and the gap between a story appearing on Link and its coverage in print journalism has shrunk from several weeks to overnight. Connections between these journalists and government officers or company contacts have no doubt been facilitated through Link, as have many other sorts of personal and professional interactions. Of course, this cuts both ways, and government also uses Link to monitor issues, ‘let them wash over’, so they can preempt what is likely to show up as a thoughtful piece in the technology pages. Not all government players find Link productive. Some government agencies have become suspicious of engaging with Link, as they know that predictable attacks will ensue over particular issues. The agency policy stance, in turn, might not reflect public opinion so much as political pressure from influential individuals.
Aikens (1996) noted that one democratising effect of electronic community-based communications is in agenda-setting. Similar effects may occur in communities of interest such as Link. That is, the media may be forced to pick up on issues prominent in electronic deliberations, given a sufficient power base among the network of electronic actors. Both government agencies and media groups often assign someone to be a ‘designated lurker’ on Link, a human filter who will pass along selected messages and monitor the overall thread of discussions. The implication is that the list is valued by people without the time to read it themselves. It also seems that several agencies and a research group subscribe to Link through a ‘dummy’ address which is then forwarded directly via an internal newsgroup.
Link and policy
The influence of Link on government policy or within private organisations was more difficult to determine. The general impression was that Link did influence policy decisions, often in the context of ‘assisting in identifying issues and associated resources which need addressing at a policy level’, to quote one informant. This is similar to the concept of policy was discussed in Chapter 1, in which actors and their networks use resources and decisions to promote their value systems (Considine 1994). One respondent commented:
I also feel in a crazy way that this list has helped keep me ‘one up’ on the management, and it has given me ammunition when I have wanted to argue a point of view!
Thus, policy impacts from Link may be organisational. While internal decisions about technological applications are never without political implications for the organisation, some of these are less highly charged than others. Value clarification may also be easier on smaller scales. One extended discussion on Link concerned the way in which a tender for internal computer systems had been managed within a government department, with allegations of bias towards a particular multinational software supplier. In that case internal decision-making overflowed the agency to become an external topic, raising questions of accountability and probity. However, such discussions are not the norm on Link, and such situations usually remain within agency boundaries.
Direct effects on agency policy are probably more often limited to smaller issues, such as web design. Criticisms submitted to Link about the format and utility of a web page, and even the failure to ask for feedback, can become minor sources of embarrassment to the offending party. Such chiding tends to be collegial, in keeping with the list’s genteel tone. For policy issues with wider impact, tracking the influence of an ephemeral electronic forum such as Link would be even more difficult, because so many of the important exchanges occur off-line. Any likely audit trail usually ends when messages become private exchanges. A trace of such an exchange once appeared accidentally, when a government protagonist on a policy matter hit the wrong button and a private reply was received by all Linkers. Other glimpses of policy and regulatory workings are made available to Linkers that would otherwise remain opaque. For example, it may not be general knowledge that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) seeks information from journalists about possible anti-competitive practices of software companies. Such a request to a Link subscriber was passed along to the list for input, and the comments on Link about the ACCC’s approach might have helped them to refine it, if seen and heeded. The bluntness of some of the comments: ‘The ACCC must be clueless!’ might not be music to regulatory ears, but is normal in an informal forum such as Link. On a broader scale, notices about Internet governance appear on Link, giving subscribers an early opportunity to become involved in these global policy issues. A proposal by the World Intellectual Property Organization about resolving domain names disputes over the Internet was forwarded to the list. Areas in which Link has had particularly active discussion include privacy, encryption and censorship. This may be partially due to the efforts of several subscribers who are well informed and articulate activists in these areas. Their well-reasoned analyses and steady provision of relevant information on these topics have no doubt increased the levels of understanding of all Linkers.
There is clearly a fine line between information gathering and decision making on policy matters. The contribution of Link to broader policy debates involving value-laden issues about the direction of the national telecommunications infrastructure is less obvious. The spontaneous and casual nature of Link limits its suitability as a mechanism for more formal policy deliberations. Complementary, overt and normative mechanisms are necessary to maximise the contribution which interactive tools can make to ensuring democratic benefits accrue from telecommunications development. Press releases and draft papers on policy issues are regularly posted by the Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts, the Office of Government Online, the Australian Broadcasting Authority and other agencies. Invited comments on these drafts are the norm, and there is a growing trend towards making submissions publicly available at the agency site. This practice, which can be described as ‘full transparency’ was a final query on the Link survey. Some respondents offered examples, but several indicated they didn’t understand the concept.
Analysis and conclusions
Link, as one respondent noted, may be considered ‘the very definition of Australia's elite technocracy.’ Subscribers are an influential, if informal, network of actors. Such a group is a potentially powerful source of advanced thought. However, the rarefied nature of this input requires emphasis. Within Australia, perhaps 10% of the population uses the Internet as of 1998, according to information provided on Link. Globally, this drops to 1% (Brown 1998:17). Subscribers to Link may be considered a network of several ‘communities of practice’, or groups who carry out similar tasks (Stacey 1996:385). Even though they come from different professions, they have much in common socio-economically and politically, including a mild form of Australian chauvinism and a generally critical view of both governments and multinational monopolies. The actual content of the postings has been an important resource for the current research, providing information which has contributed to the development of the theory, particularly on Hypothesis 3 on the emergent role of information technology in governance at all levels, and the globalising values of both international technology uses and Australian public sector trends (Hypotheses 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8).
Link subscribers pursue individual or group policy agendas, sometimes overlapping, sometimes conflicting. This includes some jostling over the use of the list itself, providing support for Hypotheses 1-3 on the role of interactive technology as a scene for struggle over communication and more general governance. Each smaller network creates its own attractor, evolving through self organisation and feedback loops with other networks. Some of these interactions spill over onto Link, as predicted by Hypothesis 5 on the interconnectedness of actors and levels of technology use. While many relevant issues, such as encryption, have a technical component, all issues discussed on Link have social and political considerations as well. Employment and conditions in information technology related industries, globalisation and its impact on Australia, and equity in telecommunications access are just a few of the more obvious complexities that impact on the policy issues discussed on Link. The scope for meaningful engagement with such topics on Link is limited. Many government and corporate subscribers have neither the time nor the inclination for discussion, and are also aware of the need for self-censorship. Also, while many subscribers to Link are sophisticated and articulate, the tradition of the technology culture, and the backgrounds of the dominant actors, work against exploration of social issues. Link can be thought of as a national example of a ‘shadow system’ which operates outside formal structures in organisations (Stacey 1996:381). Part of its effectiveness may be that it is not subject to control or scrutiny. One brief attempt in early 1998 to formalise the role of Link, through the short-lived ‘Link Institute’, rapidly faded. Link may contribute to the important tasks of consensus building and value clarification in its field, but this role is likely to be overlooked and underutilised, partly because it is not acknowledged. This oversight supports Hypothesis 8, on the generally instrumental nature of Australian information technology policy.
The lack of formal recognition and the relatively narrow set of participants limit the dialectic process on Link. One respondent noted that there do not seem to be any information economists on Link; nor do there seem to be any active sociologists or consumer representatives. The specialist knowledge represented on Link is a precise recipe for highly-informed debate on technical matters. But by their nature such discussions do not easily translate into information and options which can be readily understood by other less technically informed groups. Thus, the list may itself intensify the expert-lay divide discussed in Chapter 5. The boundaries for discussion keep the attractors generated within stable regions. It may be that the chaotic fringe where Link members interface with other groups produces equally important but undocumented impacts.
Link continues to exist because of the unpaid efforts of its owner, and the largess of the university sponsors the site. This is the sort of community building and altruism the Internet is famous for. Telecommunications policy in Australian currently reflects what has been called ‘the digital value of communication’ (Spurgeon 1997), which emphasise the role of the private sector. Deliberations on Link and the activities of subscribers undoubtedly play a role in articulating alternative attractors of policy behaviour, but are in themselves inadequate to shift the patterns of the larger system. This is probably partly due to the elite and therefore self-contained characteristics of most Link subscribers. A larger study of Link might provide an alternative analysis. Such a study would pursue specific policy issues over time and use interview data and documents as well as the more casual observations recorded here.
7.4 The Canberra Commons
This case study began as an enquiry late in 1997 to Steve Colman of Global Learning. An informant from another case study advised the researcher that Colman was using interactive conferencing software as part of his team building and leadership training business. Several meetings led to a collaborative effort to use the software to encourage community discussion and information sharing, as part of a public Internet site. After a public trial of several weeks, in February 1998 the Canberra Commons became the site of Australia’s first Internet debate for candidates in a state or territory election. It addressed the research question by modestly demonstrating the potential of new communication technologies to facilitate democratic deliberation. This experiment led to the researcher’s involvement with another election site and a local broadband technology trial.
An important stimulation for this experiment was a visit to Canberra by Steven Clift, founder of the Minnesota e-democracy project, in November 1997. The researcher had been in intermittent contact with him since early 1996, and had met Scott Aikens, also associated with that project, twice in 1996 at conferences in North America. Clift sent advance notice of his impending visit to Australia to several email lists the researcher was subscribed to. The researcher assisted the Chief Minister’s office with publicising a public talk for him and accompanied him on a visit to the Office of Government Information Technology during his visit. Thus, recent discussions on the progress of the Minnesota project and a desire to explore something similar in Australia were fresh in the researcher’s mind at the time she met Colman. It was decided to experiment with the software facilitate.com, for which Colman had a license. They agreed Canberra was a good place for such an experiment. The population is small (300,000) and relatively isolated geographically. The nearest large town, not counting adjacent Queanbeyan, is Goulburn, one hour away and with a population about one tenth of Canberra’s. Sydney is three hours away. However, the population of Canberra is highly educated and mobile. There are several tertiary education campuses and an Internet access rate higher than the national average. One newspaper, The Canberra Times, services the community.
The facilitate.com software offered several advantages. It was browser-based. That is, users only needed access to the Internet and browser software such as Netscape, rather than having a copy of the software on their own machine. This broadened the access possibilities. It also was less linear than listserver software. That is, topics could be run in parallel, building a discussion data base for each, rather than only being visible sequentially. This was considered an element of both convenience and transparency. There were also more sophisticated features that could be exploited at a later date, such as voting options and links to other sites. The site would be non-profit and non-partisan, and would take advantage of the territory elections at the end of February 1998 for creating heightened interest in local issues and discussion. A number of independent and small party candidates were standing in the election, and there had been complaints in the press that they were not getting adequate coverage for their positions. It was hoped the site would be attractive to candidates as a ‘level playing field’ of access, independent of media filtering.
While the Minnesota project was an inspiration for the Canberra Commons, the intention was simply to provide a brief example of how interactive technologies could provide a supplementary platform for discussion. The researcher was in communication with Clift during the project, but was unable to implement his suggestions. For example, a listserver was desirable, but beyond the resources of the Canberra team. The Minnesota project was developed over several years, and has spread to other countries.
Action research methodology
The style and substance of this case study were necessarily quite different from the others in this thesis. The initial intent was to apply the knowledge learned throughout the research period at a community level. This general background helped shape the project and included electronic communications, contacts and discussions with individuals and groups involved with interactive technologies and electronic democracy projects, and readings about the Internet, the information society, and media trends. The project had an action research component, as it had a goal of influencing the immediate environment. This approach embraces, but extends beyond ethnographic research. It has been described as ‘A type of applied research that focuses on finding a solution to a local problem in a local setting’ (Leedy, Newby and Ertmer 1997:111). An essential element here was the ongoing involvement of all those associated with the project, including the political candidates, and the nexus between the experiment and actual policy and implementation outcomes. These elements were important even though some of those involved would not have thought of themselves as part of either an experiment or a conscious attempt to find a solution to a local problem. Thus, while not a true example of action research, this project was part of the researcher’s efforts to become an actor in the local network involved with information technology infrastructure development and agenda setting. Appendix E provides a sampling of postings to the Canberra Commons.
The wider research issues of this thesis relate to this experiment via the specific questions: How can interactive technologies contribute to democratic policy processes at the local level? Would Canberrans be interested in an interactive information and discussion site for local issues? What factors would determine the effectiveness of such a site? And would local activists, politicians and candidates also engage productively with it? The actual methodology, or steps taken to answer these questions, evolved rapidly as the project progressed, often in ways outside the researcher’s influence. However, as initiators of the project, the researcher and principal collaborator were able to steer activities to some extent towards the outcomes they desired. Involvement was both personal and professional. Neither perceived these perspectives as conflicting. The project coordinators shared an acknowledged bias, which they attempted to articulate and make explicit in all communications about the project. Briefly stated, this was a belief that interactive technologies, such as the software used in the project, could play a positive role in assisting community groups and individuals to share information and views without mainstream media filtering. A further belief was that leadership and guidance, if not training, was critical to demonstrate what this could mean in practical terms. It was also hoped that in the longer term such value-adding efforts could be economically viable.
Development of the site
The basic requirements were for server space with a local Internet Service Provider, and a desk top computer with a suitable configuration to maintain the software in a stable configuration. A draft proposal was used to approach several suitable small providers. Internet Service Provider Netinfo agreed to host the site. Another company, which chose to remain anonymous, loaned the equipment. Meanwhile, Colman worked out the necessary interface between the software and the Internet, and the researcher developed words to welcome participants to the site and explain its purpose. A legal disclaimer was provided by a lawyer working with Colman, and design for the entry page was donated by a graphic artist specialising in web pages. A loose set of protocols was intended to avoid flooding by a minority of participants and give the coordinators the option of deleting inappropriate contributions. The software also allowed banning of particular people, should that become necessary. None of these cautionary measures were necessary during the life of the project. This development phase was intermittent, and spanned the Christmas and New Year break, when people are difficult to contact or get decisions from. The territory election was scheduled for February 21. The site was running publicly by February 2, leaving just a few weeks for development and participation. The format was a welcoming page, saying that the Canberra Commons was an ‘a non-profit and non-partisan experiment in community information sharing and discussion’. Visitors were offered a set of topics where they could input information and comments. The default was anonymous, allowing unidentified messages to be posted. However, the facilitators had the ability to trace people through their IP addresses. The topics offered for discussion were: employment, education, environment, ACT economy, health, other, and Canberra Commons feedback. These were based on a survey conducted during the previous territory elections by the ACT Greens. Under each topic, the researcher placed a welcoming invitation to discuss or contribute.
Despite some preliminary publicity via email contacts and lists, the site started off slowly. There was not enough time for word of mouth to help the site develop. Publicity was a critical element, and these activities aimed to increase public awareness of the site:
The researchers and colleagues also approached candidates known personally. Candidates were invited to contribute party policy URLs, discussion, etc. The approach taken was to reach as many community based groups as possible, and to get active contributions from them. The site gave the researcher’s and Colman’s email addresses for queries or feedback, and messages started to come in during the first week of the site going ‘live.’ Some people complained about technical matters, others expressed support. However, there were not many contributions during the first week. The researcher took advantage of the anonymity offered and posted many messages to ‘breathe life’ into the project. Items were taken from The Canberra Times about community events or meetings, and other messages were forwarded from email lists. Friends were strongly encouraged to contribute. Gradually a small momentum started to build up, but the desired ‘colonisation’ of the site by special interest groups did not occur during the brief life of the experiment.
It was hoped that if the experiment was successful, resources to continue it would be found from either the community or the ACT government. This could have included volunteer or ‘work experience’ assistance for the technical and public relations aspects of the project. It was known from the outset that neither of the facilitators would be able to continue working on the project indefinitely.
The election debate
Because the site was only developing very slowly, it was decided to try for an on line election debate. This was believed to be a first for Australia, and would further energise the site if successful. Because of the short time frame, the debate was staged over one day only. In comparison, the Minnesota e-democracy project offered candidates five days to post their responses to a set of questions (Aikens 1997). Approaches were made to several candidates. Almost immediately, the office of the Chief Minister, Kate Carnell, said that she would participate. This was important because it would encourage other candidates to also join in. Over the next few days the ACT Greens, the Democrats, several independents, notably sitting member Michael Moore, and the new Progressive Labor Party all agreed to participate in the debate. Only the Labor party and independent member Paul Osborne did not respond.
Having created a workable quorum for the debate, the details needed to be worked out. In particular, the facilitators wanted to ensure the authenticity of candidates’ postings, while making the debate visible to other citizens. This was done via a password which was faxed out to candidates. Non-candidates had view-only privileges. Meanwhile, the site started to develop momentum. The Chief Minister and several other candidates started posting messages, inviting comments and encouraging a ‘chat’ with citizens. There were also some complaints from users about some aspects of the software, including the short ‘refresh’ time. This caused interruptions while people were keying in comments, and was quite frustrating. This was adjusted, but remained a bit of a problem. On the day, there were additional technical difficulties. The software started to seize up under the load of postings. This problem had started to surface before the debate, as more people added information. It meant that additional comments could not be registered or seen by other participants. Colman made every attempt to deal with this, and closed the debate for several hours over lunchtime while he went to the Internet service provider to make adjustments. There were also problems with passwords, and several candidates called to say their names had been wrongly attributed to a statement. About six pm the debate was closed down. The technical problems had not really been solved. There had been, however, a lively discussion between at least 20 candidates participating at various times of the day.
An email sent to the technology editor of The Canberra Times resulted in a very positive review of the site in their newly established ‘Techno’ supplement, in the week preceding the debate. A press release about the debate, printed on Global Learning letterhead, was dropped off at the federal Parliament House, where the national press gallery has boxes. No interest was shown by media outside Canberra, but the researcher did a second radio interview on 2CN, the ABC affiliate. Another local radio station called for more information to put in a news broadcast. On the day of the debate The Canberra Times called for further background and information about how it was proceeding, and came for a photograph during the lunch break. Sitting independent Michael Moore also came for the photograph, and was overall very positive about the experience. A brief article about the debate appeared in The Canberra Times with the photograph the next day. About one month later, a photograph and story about the site was published in Campus Review, a national magazine circulated to all universities in Australia.
Before the debate, the facilitators had agreed that the worst that could happen would be lack of interest. Technical problems were expected, especially since the software had not been trialed ‘live’ on the Internet with more than a few participants. However, the volume of the postings was a factor in causing the software to ‘crash’, thus limiting the scope of the experiment. Overall, the positive approach and good will shown by participants, given the technical difficulties, was impressive. There was even a hint of rivalry between candidates in asserting who had been the first, during the previous election, to make use of the Internet. The Chief Minister was known to be encouraging of Canberra as a ‘smart city’, a view shared by the facilitators and highlighted in the press release. Several candidates or their campaign managers were contacted in the weeks following the election debate. They reiterated the positive comments made during the course of the experiment, and confirmed the technical difficulties as the major problem. They also commented on the potential for such technologies to provide transparent political debate. One staffer noted the advantage of being able to respond immediately to someone else’s statement or position, unlike the print media, which is closed. Sitting member Moore said his interest in this area had increased, and he later became a member of a government committee dealing with these issues. The brief time frame, during the last few days of a hectic campaign, was also reported as a difficulty for some of the candidates. In terms of generating awareness and publicity the project was a qualified success. Although technical problems curtailed the project just as public interest was growing, it attracted the attention of key policy people, as well as the politicians themselves. Meanwhile, ACT government staff involved with the developing the local government electronic infrastructure had noted the project with interest, and had placed links from their sites to the Canberra Commons. Several weeks after the election debate, a policy officer from the Canberra Wired project contacted the researcher. The government was interested in pursuing the possibilities that the project suggested. The researcher was invited to a meeting with the Community Information Committee, which included key people from a number of local electronic information projects: the Community Information Network, a broadband project, and the AUSTOUCH kiosk project. While nothing concrete came from these meetings, the researcher did become involved with a community network component of the broadband trial in late 1998.
Conclusion - Learning with the community
The Canberra Commons experiment was primarily a learning exercise for all participants, including the public servants who watched with interest. As an exercise in experiential learning, it communicated the possibilities of interactive technologies directly with key decision makers: bureaucrats and politicians. It attempted to influence the forms of learning by sending out a simple message about the system being offered, which was one of pluralistic participation (Hypothesis 11). Through a fortuitous combination of pre-election fervour, peer pressure and media attention, some of those most intimately involved in developing a local information infrastructure found themselves engaged with immediate citizen feedback and electronic dialogue. Throughout the project, personal connections and contacts were important ingredients. Such personal connections are normal in a city of Canberra’s size, intensified perhaps by being also the seat of both federal and territory government. These connections facilitated the identification of common goals and values. This blending of professional and social life reinforced the ethnographic dimension of both the Canberra Commons experiment and the larger case study in the Department of Finance and Administration. There was some cross fertilisation between the case studies. Link (see Chapter 7.3) and the Pubsec list (discussed in Chapter 3) were both helpful in promoting the Canberra Commons, as were contacts within various government departments. This entwining of process provides some support for Hypothesis 5, on the links between levels of technology use. This was further demonstrated when later discussions with The Canberra Times for a federal election site led to them setting up their own site.
The somewhat hurried and ad hoc nature of the experiment may have worked in its favour. Discussions with government officers revealed their stringent requirements for legal and financial clarity. Issues handled quickly by two people working without funding would have presented problems in a more structured project. The facilitators were able to point towards a potentially powerful means of communication which clearly caught the imagination and enthusiasm of more measured minds. Access to the local media was a big plus in the experiment. The national press gallery is accessible to anyone wishing to post a media release. The Canberra Times has good local coverage, as the only local newspaper for sale. There was a certain irony in the attention given by The Canberra Times, as one of the goals of the project was to bypass media monitoring. It is noteworthy that the radio outlet of the national public broadcaster saw the subject as worthwhile for two interviews, whereas the commercial stations took little interest, except for a brief mention on the news. The importance of a public media, and the evidence that it is globally under threat, was discussed in Chapter 2.
The Canberra Commons offered a locally relevant example of a participatory electronic forum. However, resource constraints meant it could not offer an economically sustainable model. There is little precedent to encourage community awareness and support of such projects, and little research on their potential. The limited influence of the project was to highlight these participatory mechanisms as a complement to electronic government service delivery. In relation to the theoretical perspective of this thesis, the Canberra Commons helped establish credibility for the researcher and her associate as part of the network of actors in local information infrastructure. The project was also an example of Feenberg’s social contingencies of technology, as discussed in Chapter 2. Individuals will always find ways to shape technology for their own ends, and advocates of electronic democracy are no exception (Hypotheses 1 and 2). The full potential of this experiment would require a larger scale project with substantial support and a formal evaluation procedure, as was undertaken for the Minnesota project (Aikens 1997). At time of writing, this was expected to occur with the Aranda Commons. Partly and indirectly as a result of the Canberra Commons, the researcher and a colleague were contracted to set up a community site to encourage local content and discussion about a trial of broadband technology. This was planned for six months starting late 1998. While different from other electronic democracy or community networking projects, it provided another example of a self-similar general pattern which is identifiable with related projects because the democratic values of participation and access to information and deliberation act as an attractor. As in all complex environments, the outcomes were unknown and unpredictable. The researcher helped set up a further experiment with a federal election site later in the year. While not particularly successful or well-resourced, this discussion site was noted in an electronic record of the election at Australia’s Cultural Network site as an electronic democracy experiment. Thus, awareness of the possibilities of electronic deliberation is likely to slowly diffuse to wider circles and communities through interested groups of actors.
Aikens (1997) in his analysis of the Minnesota project, found the new medium could support normative behaviour, depending on the context. The Canberra Commons, in a small way, demonstrated all three aspects of the theory developed in Part I: the use of interactive technology in the potential pluralisation of governance processes, the key influence of actors and their values, and the unpredictable but systemic links across scales of use.
Taken together, these three case studies complemented the major case study of Chapter 6. They did not provide the same level of detailed support for specific hypotheses on organisational uses of interactive technology. Instead, they offered a bigger picture of how the factors influencing technology use, as developed in the theoretical perspective of Part I, impact at other levels. The Forum study gave some support for the organisational and public sector reform processes seen in Chapter 6, and showed that similar patterns emerged in a different agency. These included inadequate provision for industrial democracy measures, as expressed by staff. Link, as a national study, confirmed the existence of policy actors seeking to influence the direction of Australia’s Internet and telecommunications infrastructure. The interconnections between global issues, national policy and individual or organisational actors, comes through clearly in the list content, along with the values of each group. The pluralising potential of this technology is also evident, although limited in this case by the elite nature of the subscribers. At the local level, the Canberra Commons demonstrated the possibility of even small actors such as the researcher to influence the policy agenda, through the flow-on effects of this unresourced initiative.
None of the case studies evinced the complete set of protocols for the democratic use of interactive technologies proposed in Chapter 4. Nor would one expect to find fulsome expression of their opposite in any one situation or organisation. As two extreme attractors, driven by two conflicting sets of values, the protocols represent a bifurcation which is perhaps unlikely in the real world of technology applications. The remaining chapter considers the wider conclusions and ramifications of the theory and evidence presented so far, and explores how this might further be applied and tested.