The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) is an annual international conference dedicated to economic and business issues. Each year, over 2,500 political and business leaders, leading scientists, public figures and members of the media from all over the world gather at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum under the auspices of the President of the Russian Federation to discuss the most pressing issues facing Russia and the world.
From the official website of SPIEF 2012: Leadership that Works.
SPIEF 2012, themed “Leadership that Works,” provided its participants a platform to gain “first-hand insight and engage in discussions and debates on issues affecting the global economy, in particular the increasing role that emerging economic powers are playing in shaping regional and global agendas.”
On June 22, Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office attended the session “Digital Us—How the Internet is Transforming Modern Culture.” What follows is a transcript of the Undersecretary’s contributions to the discussion:
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COMMUNICATIONS UNDERSECRETARY MANUEL L. QUEZON III: I would like to address the challenge in the Philippines which is basically low trust. There is a low trust environment where people are not fully aware of the full scope of laws, therefore it cannot build a true rule of law. People are very unaware of the basis of policy decisions, much more so what goes into those decisions.
Our program involves basically putting over a century of legislation and laws onto the Internet, which brings up two problems. The first, as it turns out, no one has a full list of what these [government documents] are. [No one has tried] to find them. The second is that in trying to put something online, you are actually harming the much more tedious process of trying to catalog everything that already exists.
But address this with one basic insight, which is: institutional memory is a competitive advantage at a time of great change. I mean this in a different sense from how knowledge has traditionally been used by governments, which is as a competitive advantage for its officials. Instead, what we have taken is the approach that everyone has something to gain from partaking in this institutional knowledge.
Now how do you promote this and make it accessible?
The first is to be responsive to your markets. The markets are ruthless but they are very clear in what they want. For example, the public is most interested in holidays or weather reports. Therefore, you give [the data] to them faster and more accurately than anyone in the media can. It gives independence or cooperation and, at the same time, that takes care of your dissemination, getting people to know what you do.
The second is policy, which is the problem in every government–how to justify it. Your ability to provide briefers to the media–who have very limited time, deadlines to try to understand and get hold of an issue for the day–can be successfully managed by providing information, whether in innovative forms, whether by video or infographics, and that sort of thing.
The final point is that this—restoring trust—requires best practices. This is where open source comes in. There have been too many cases in developing countries of it being used to make money for officials [that] would not result in public service. Also [making] sure that you have credible partners, such as Google, [that lets] you use some of their technology [making it] cost-effective, and at the same time, helps bring your message out.
Q: Has there been any push back from your population (I’m sure there is a lot of people who like what you are doing making these available through the Internet)… has there been any push back from your population in terms of concern that by being a high-tech government, the government is prying too much into people’s lives?
QUEZON: I think the concern is that if this proves successful it will inevitably lead into that sort of thing. For example one of the biggest debates in our country is actually over the question of national identity and all that it implies. From there it goes to data privacy and all of that. The question really is one that all of us have in common, whether you are an institution of advanced art or media (I came from media before entering government) or whether in government. [It] is related to the question of curating, validating or basically [determining] provenance as you would call it in the art world, and also, [it is a question of] ethics. All of those are involved because the selection of information to present always includes the decision of what not to include. The question of what you put out would [lead to] the question of [whether or not] it [is] trustworthy? And then this whole process of you making decisions and having the public interpret it becomes a question of ethics. In the end, [people ask], “where’s the money?” That is where questions of legitimacy come in.
Q: I know that the Philippines has been developing online this World War II in the Pacific project… Again, a cultural and possibly political minefield given how the world has changed and the Philippines has aligned itself with that change. Is this a long term project? Tell us about some of the discussions within government.
QUEZON: Institutions that used to speak in an authoritative voice have only now really been part of the conversation. Therefore, having to justify every action, the question then becomes one of transparency: to disclose the editorial choices that have been made, to be vigorous about the attribution of resources used and pictures and videos put forward and to open up the conversation to the public so that no one feels that they have been excluded by this sort of massive official point of view. That is the only way you can get legitimacy–you can gain public acceptance from academicians and as well as the broader public.
Q. Thank you very much. That’s very interesting. What is the site for that? I would like to look at it.
QUEZON: It’s very easy to remember: www.gov.ph [Official Gazette].
Q: Last words before the end of discussion.
QUEZON: We are at a point that, just as we are about to achieve a consensus of the problems we face and what we are doing, something is going to change and throw it up in the air. Very soon we will be able to type in domain names in non-Western alphabets. And just as we are at the point of trying to integrate and learn from each other, [through] best practices, this will lead to part of the online equivalent of what they did in the 20′s. Everyone else put up tariff walls against each other to try to protect their competitive edge and their markets. And this, I think, no one has really wanted to face in discussions.