Reading Development

Random readings on society, politics and change – Jorge Carrillo

Information technology and political engagement

This paper contributes to our understanding of inequalities in political participation by assessing the causal and heterogeneous effects of access to means of communication. In doing so we seek to shed light also on the underlying willingness to engage in politics and on citizen beliefs about the effectiveness of political engagement.

Marginalized populations engage in politics at lower rates. Not only are their demands less likely to be addressed, they are also less likely to be articulated in the first place. This study uses a large-scale field experiment—implemented in partnership with the national Democratic Institute and the Parliament of Uganda—to learn about how technological change can effect who gets heard and what gets communicated to politicians. The nationwide field experiment was implemented following a national pilot undertaken under more controlled settings. The controlled experiment provided evidence that ICT can lead to significant “flattening”: a greater share of marginalized populations used this SMS-based communication compared to existing political communication channels. Estimated relations from the scaled-up intervention, however, look a lot like politics as usual, where participation rates are low and marginalized populations engage at especially low rates. We examine possible reasons for these differences, and then present the design and analysis of a third “mechanism experiment” that helps parse rival explanations for these divergent patterns

With the multiple pieces of evidence available to us we infer that the failure of the nationwide program is not simply a function of weak demand on the part of citizens but is a function of larger inequalities. Some of these, such as unevenness in receipt of invitations from parliament, might be addressable through improved interventions. However, some reflect more fundamental weaknesses in the broader political system, most notably cynicism regarding the competence and motivations of politicians, which parliament likely cannot address easily through technological innovation.

[Download study in PDF format]

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, 7 June 2016 by in Innovation, Politics and rights and tagged , , , , .
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