Comparing messages across different political communication environments (from the Ohio State University IWG meeting)

Just finished an interesting day at the latest gathering of the International Working Group on Online Consultation and Public Policymaking at the Ohio State University's fabulous Barrister Club. Thanks to the Moritz College of Law and the Mershon Center for International Security Studies for sponsoring the event and to the Moritz law students who have looked after us so well.

My paper on 'Web 2.0: New Challenges for the Study of E-Democracy' (picture below) was first up at 9am, though with jet lag it felt like lunchtime (perhaps the only advantage of jet lag). Thanks to Vince Price (Annenberg School, Penn) for his thoughtful and stimulating discussant comments.


Lots of interesting papers throughout the day and too much to blog about, but I was particularly struck by a discussion right at the end of the session, when participants were commenting on Alicia Schatteman's paper. Alicia is a PhD student at Rutgers University whose dissertation is examining the case of Ontario's Assembly on Electoral Reform.

In the discussion that followed, David Lazer (Kennedy School, Harvard) raised an interesting point about how Alicia's case presented a useful opportunity to consider how communication environments differ and how this might impact political outcomes. So, in the case of the Ontario Assembly there were face to face small group deliberations supported by expert input, a supporting website with rich sources of information and a full record of discussions, and then there was the broader 'mass media' environment and the political campaigning element which involved the political parties, journalists and so on.

The advantage of Alicia's case is that it allows us to compare a single issue - in this case electoral reform - across these very different media ecosystems. An intriguing point here is the extent to which organised party opinion and media management came into play in the mass media environment but was a less powerful force in the small group deliberations. The interactions between these environments, including how what goes on in one gets represented in the others, is also of significance.

It strikes me that this might be a fruitful way of approaching the communication processes surrounding specific policy issues.