OII Day 4

Posted on: July 22, 2007

The Tools of Government in a Digital Age presented by Helen Margetts

Helen talked about the impact that the Internet has on government, and the methods we could use to measure the tools of government.

Key Questions:

  • What does government do?
  • What tools does government use to change societal behavior?
  • What are digital technologies doing to the tools?

NATO is an acronym for the constituent elements of public policy

  • Nodality – being visible/connected in social and informational networks
  • Authority – legally able to command or prohibit 
  • Treasure – able to exchange using money/other goods
  • Organization – ability to act directly (eg staff and skills, organization, land, buildings, equipment, computers)

Helen’s talk mainly concentrated on nodality as it is often the cheapest tool to use to effect change. Additionally it is much easier to share information rather than authority, money, or organization.

Nodality in the digital age

  • New potential for government nodality
  • Group targeted nodality is easier/cheaper (individualized and blanket messages     proportionally more expensive)

But …

  • Greater competition for nodality
  • Search engines are gatekeepers
  • ‘Narrow-cast government’ – rise in group-targeted treatments across all tools
  • Tools run up against individuals who:
    • Do not fit into digitally identifiable groups
    • Circumvent government digitally (eg false digital identities)
    • Choose not to/can’t play digital game


Measuring resources; making comparisons

  • Over time
  • Across countries
  • Across sectors
  • Across actors (individual and organization)
  • Against some benchmark

We can measure nodality via webmetrics and experiments

  • Visibility: is the site easily found
  • Accessibility: are users directed to relevant information on site
  • Navigability: can users find their way around the site
  • Extroversion: does the site point outwards to other sources
  • Competitiveness: does the site compete well against other information sources

Privacy, Anonymity, and Identity

This topic was presented utilizing the Socratic method between a whole slew of professors and us students as spectators. Here are the some concepts that I was able to catch from the discussion …


Anonymous – no one can connect your digital identity to your RL self in meat space

Pseudonymous – persistent identity that may or not be traceable to RL

Privacy – Is it a human right? Should we let market forces determine privacy? Is it a matter of dignity? Should anonymity be permitted (con: spam, fraud, ect.) ?

The problem

  • People like anonymity [less scrutiny?] as they go about their and business, but without [accountability | identity | tracability] people can do bad things. So how to reconcile?
  • Privacy protections carry costs (restrictions on speech, ect.)
  • Too much knowledge about someone can unfairly disadvantage minorities or in business transactions (eg provision of insurance)
  • Broadcasting certain facts | images | rumors ties to someone’s identity can humiliate and embarrass them
  • It can also prevent them from engaging in legitimate but visible activities or from expressing important but marginal views
  • However: todays kids are more difficult to embarrass (different privacy needs across people and generations)


  • Decouple unique identity from data
  • Tell the story but don’t say who is doing the embarrassing thing
  • Can still have a persistent identity, just not in physical world – like eBay identities that can accrue reputation without identifying the people behind them
  • Don’t resort to regulatory solutions?
  • How much do user choice/empowerment solutions rely on a high level of sophistication and engagement by people?

The session was wrapped up by a meta discussion by Jonathan Zittrain who wanted to outline some principles for asking good questions. Here is what we all came up with ..

  • make ’em short, on elegant question versus three not-so great ones
  • speaker + panelist format inherently flawed/limited
  • questions become public presentations of self
  • don’t be afraid to look ignorant – often other are wondering the same thing
  • speak up if one’s own question hasn’t come up yet – might represent a new direction
  • “in my field, X: What do you think?”
  • dangerous questions; borders on lecture
  • otherwise can be very good
  • don’t be rude

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Alla Zollers

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