What Are Web 2.0 Tools and Why They Should be Incorporated into the Research

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What are Web 2.0 tools and why we need them

Web 2.0 and social media

We distinguish between Web 2.0 technology – web-based applications that facilitate interactive information sharing and collaboration on the web – and Web 2.0 behaviour. For our purposes Web 2.0 does not refer exclusively to a specific change in the technology of the internet, but rather a change in how the internet is used. Thus Web 2.0 technology (wikis, flickr, social networking sites) can be used in distinctly non-collaborative ways – to merely broadcast information about an organisation's activities, for example – while Web 2.0 behaviour can be exercised using a broad range of tools, including new interactive ones, but also “older” ones such as email.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that Web 2.0 behaviour and Web 2.0 technologies can reinforce each other in new and powerful ways. Collaboration on a document is much easier and “natural” with a platform such as Google Docs than with email, and social networking sites such as Facebook enable people with common interests to find each other and to develop campaigns involving millions. Despite these opportunities, there continue to be barriers to the use of these tools. Some of these are related to bureaucratic inertia and resistance and others are related to capacity issues, both human and technical. Many public institutions in Latin America still block or otherwise prohibit access to Facebook, Twitter and other Web 2.0 services from the work place. In the long run strategies to harness the potential of Web 2.0 will have to seek to overcome these barriers, but in the short run they will also have to use all available tools for collaboration, network building and campaigns.

It is no longer sustainable for a research organisation to ignore incorporating Web 2.0 tools among its work and research strategies, let alone preventing individual researchers from using them from a workplace. Increasing amount of research is done via these tools or is based on some evidence collected through web 2.0. Moreover, some research can not be done without these tools, particularly research on internet users' online behavior. Social networking and other web 2.0 tools are increasingly being used for distribution of research findings. Web 2.0 space (particularly social networking space and blogosphere) represents the space where the key recipients are present and listen, and where evidence and research conclusions can be amplified and made known to millions within days (if properly presented), with speed and impact that no conventional publication can ever achieve, whatever is its volume. Many politicians understood this already, acknowledging that their key audience is 'there' and learning to talk with this audience through Web 2.0 tools. Researcher's key audience and partners are also 'there' and quickly picking up Web 2.0 communication language, whether they are policy makers, media or other researchers. Research that ignores web 2.0 not only loses potential partners and existing research inputs available in web 2.0 universe, but also loses on audience, possibilities of impact on public policies, but eventually also attention of partners and funders who like to support 'visible' projects with visible effects.

By no means the issue ends with general acknowledgment that researchers should be permitted and able to use web 2.0 tools for their work. To succeed, they must adopt Web 2.0 way of working, which means incorporating these tools and behaviors into all research phases, and particularly count with them when developing research methodology. While this guide emphases specifically the use of web 2.0 tools for building and strengthening links between researchers and policy makers, Web 2.0 has much broader potential for supporting all research phases, from issue mapping, through communication with research stakeholders, to dissemination of research results.

For the purposes of this guide we understand the terms Web 2.0 and social media to be synonymous - a combination of technologies and behaviours that enable people and organisations to efficiently and effectively:

  • connect with other people and organisations;
  • collaborate with those other people and organisations;
  • create and share content; and
  • find, use, organize and reuse content.

General Guidelines for Incorporating Web 2.0 Tools in Research, Policy and Advocacy

There are some lessons and guidelines to be learned from organisations and individuals who have been able to effectively use Web 2.0 tools for advocacy, awareness-raising and public debate. Below are some ideas to keep in mind in using Web 2.0 tools for research, policy and advocacy:

Have clarity on your role in the process. This will have implications on chosen tools and strategies for using them (e.g. you can set up a project website only if you know you can make sure it is supplied with content). In case of Impact 2.0 project, the role of national focal points is not as much to provide content and evidence that would support discussion among policymakers, researchers and activists, but rather to facilitate the discussion, make sure the best online tools are there to support the dialogue and that all stakeholders are as much involved in the process as possible. Their role is also to make sure that all stakeholders know and fully utilize the potential of web 2.0 tools to the benefit of the overall objective of this initiative – to ensure that public policies are informed by relevant research findings and that researchers are aware of the research needed by policymakers.

Have a clear communication plan. Organisations which have used these tools effectively have been very clear about why they were communicating, who they were communicating with, what information they were relaying, and how they were going to relay their messages. See How to Communicate (for suggestions, how to build your communication plan).

Use Web 2.0 to support collaboration. It is necessary to understand that collaboration and feedback are embedded in most Web 2.0 tools. They allow people to respond to what you are saying. If done properly, a blog post or a status update on Twitter, can stimulate debate and discussion on the issues you want to discuss.

Some strategies in achieving this include:

  • Do not overload your community with too much information. One of the mistakes that many people using Web 2.0 tools do is writing up long and complicated entries that will take a while to read and go through. It is necessary to “chunk” your information in accessible and readable portions so that your community can easily understand the information and be able to respond to it.
  • Post questions that people can respond to. One important consideration in getting people to discuss an issue is to raise questions that your community can think about and respond to.
  • Respond to people who respond to you. It is also good practice to respond to people who have taken time out to provide feedback on your information. This could mean responding to their comments or highlighting their comments so that other people can respond to them.
  • Facilitate discussion. As the main person providing information in the community, it is good practice to apply basic facilitation skills in your online spaces. This means getting the members of your community to talk to each other (not just to you) by pointing out relevant feedback from some members of your community to others.

Who is “community”?

Throughout the document, a term community is used to describe a network of people who are participants in the Web 2.0-enabled action you are planning to launch.

With Web 2.0 your communication counterparts will not be your 'users', recipients of your information. You are expecting them to read, react, discuss, protest, propose, collaborate with you and each other online in real time, etc, as much as you would expect it if they were in a face-to-face team with you. While you will be likely to be the one who gets community starting by selecting the right people and appropriate online tools and by actively facilitating, everyone will be a contributor to this process. If the community is linked by a meaningful purpose, this dynamics will become more spontaneous with time and it will require less of your leadership.

Web 2.0 tools enable this spontaneity because they allow as much horizontal communication as participants permit themselves.

In this document, community is everyone whom you want to become involved in communication on specific issue (public policy), even if in real life we are probably talking about several partially overlapping networks (not everyone needs to talk to everyone) and people and groups who are joining the communication loop and leaving it at different phases of the process.

Welding different communities together

Rather then building completely new networks, the challenge faced by national focal points will be to bring existing communities together. Researchers already form some networks, activists and policymakers have their own networks and communication channels. The role of national focal points will be to 'open' existing closed circles and connect them through careful facilitation and with the help of web 2.0 tools that -out of their definition- lend themselves to strengthening horizontal and participatory relations between users/participants.

Web 2.0 must support what happens in reality. One of the challenges in using Web 2.0 for advocacy, awareness-raising and public debate is that what goes on virtually does not always translate to “real” life action and changes. It is one thing to get people to sign up for an online community to discuss about ICT policy issues in your country, but getting the members of your online community to take local action on the discussions is another matter altogether.

Some of key strategies in getting Web 2.0 tools to support local and 'real' action are:

  • Be clear on what action you want your community to take beyond the discussions. Specify what your goals are in using online spaces and allow for people in your communities to take action based on online activities and discussions.
  • Integrate face-to-face activities with online activities. Support your online communities by organising events and spaces where the members can relate to one another in person. This builds trust within community members and will allow you to get to know which of your members are committed to supporting your issues. In the context of working with policy makers, once initial online connections are made, think about ways and opportunities to bring this linkage offline.
  • Bring the offline online. The most effective online activities have 'offline' components. So in determining tools and channels, it is imperative to think not just of online tools but also offline materials such as brochures, leaflets, activities that will draw people into what is going on online. Also, using online tools effectively usually entails being able to translate online information into 'offline' materials.
* Repackage information to fit online environments . While it is important to have complete research reports published online as reference and source materials, it is also important to be able to present some information from the reports in different ways to allow your community to process and understand them. It is easier to solicit comments on a few pages focused on a specific issue than on an omnibus research report.

There are different ways to repackage information:

  • Use metadata on your research reports. Metadata is information about information. Simply put, it is important to provide some basic information that will describe your research report or other content. This generally includes information such as the name of the resource, author/s, date of publication, the format of the document and abstracts. These are important markers that will allow people to know what the report is about before they read or download it. In the Web 2.0 sphere, this includes tagging of information, where you include topics and categories to describe your information resource. For Web 2.0, tagging is a key element in finding and organizing content online, so pay good attention to tagging your content and tagging search techniques.
  • Visualise your information[1]. There are tools available on the web that will allow you to map your information as well as to illustrate it. These allow you to present large amounts of data at a glance, which will allow your community to process the information quicker. For more details, see Data visualization
  • Use interactive tools and audio / video content. Audio and video embedded in blogs or available for download as podcast (videocast) are very popular way of delivering content. Interviews with researchers and policymakers or short documentaries about people impacted by specific public policies can all be produced in no time with relatively small resources, while they can attract a lot of interest.
  • Chunk content. One of the effective strategies in publishing and sharing content in Web 2.0 sphere is called chunking. That is, presenting text in portions rather than as one large page. This allows your community to get to the information that is most relevant to them.

Use a combination of tools. Using Web 2.0 tools effectively to repackage information is not just about using one tool to fit different messages, activities and communities. It is important to be able select and use a variety of tools and spaces to generate publicity and attention to your research findings.

In using a combination of tools consider the following:

  • Have a main space where the main content and communities are available. This could be a main website or community space where all of the complete research reports and resources can be found, or it can just be a signpost linking together all different communication spaces and channels used by the network.
  • Have a presence in other online spaces that your community members frequent. Use services like twitter and Facebook to lead your community to the main space. Take advantage of mash-ups between many social networking sites and other Web 2.0 online applications (such as many existing Google application).
  • Participate in spaces where people you want to network with are working. This means signing up in other online communities where they are.

  1. Tactical Technology Collective published a resource manual on Visualising Information for Advocacy <http://www.tacticaltech.org/infodesign>, which present different tools and methodologies in information design.


Table of Contents of the iGuide

1. Introduction

2. Basic Communication Strategy and use of Web 2.0 Tools for Evidence Based Policy

3. Section 1: Political Context

4. Section 2: Evidence

5. Section 3: Links

This iGuide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

Impact 2.0 is a project of the Fundación Comunica with funding provided by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), IDRC.jpg Ottawa, Canada.


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