Wednesday, 9 December 2009

BB, policy & ethnography

Prof. Phil Napoli (Fordham) and I have moved a (BIG) step further in our investigation of Broadband Access: The Case of Finland.

Last week, I interviewed key people at the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Finland (MINTC), Ms. Maaret Suomi (Ministerial Adviser) and Mr. Juhapekka Rantala (Director of Communications Networks Unit).

They told a fascinating story of the process of lawmaking (see the previous blog on Finnish radicalism), paralleling the recent decision by Finland with the traditional system of universal primary education (kansakoulu): BB access is a similar, necessary component of today's (Finnish) society.  (A core background document -- in English -- by the MINTC  for the national BB strategy can be found here.)

But they also depicted a much broader policy-making philosophy and interconnected set of issues that, I suspect, Phil and I would not have been able to tease out from the law, public debates, or background reports. 

Interestingly, just a few days prior we had received some interesting emails forwarded from the Giganet list, debating which country, after all, is the first one to declare universal access (was it Estonia, as this discussion suggests? Or perhaps Ecuador? France? Switzerland?). Whatever the case, I'm sure that the background stories of the policy making would be partly similar, but surely also different, but that would be something revealed by discussions with those concretely involved in the respective processes.

This just highlights to me how ethnography as a method needs to move to the realm of policy studies. One segment is, naturally, understanding changing audiencehood (see previous blog on participation) that can't be solely derived from statistics on blogging, tweeting, and facebooking.  

But in order for communication research to matter, we need to gain a much more in depth understanding of policy-making processes. In that realm, there are a couple of interesting recent works applying ethnography that real with activism/advocacy -- and Des Freedman's wonderful US-UK comparative analysis on 'Politics of Media Policy'.

However, I hope that the work Phil and I are involved in will prove the importance of case studies and in depth analyses of specific policy decisions, and suggest their applicability and possibilities for modifications for other contexts. Only microlevel ethnography approaches can show the particularities, subtleties, and details that can, in turn, inform the possible lessons learned for other countries and policy forums.

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