October 23, 2014
Interview with Prof. Gary King ( Harvard University by our editor R.Erdem Erkul)
Gary King is the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University -- one of 24 with the title of University Professor, Harvard's most distinguished faculty position. He is based in the Department of Government (in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences) and serves as Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science. King develops and applies empirical methods in many areas of social science research, focusing on innovations that span the range from statistical theory to practical application.
King has had many students and postdocs, many of whom now hold faculty positions at leading universities and companies. He has collaborated with more than seventy scholars, including many of his students, on research for publication. He has served on more than 30 editorial boards; on the governing councils of the American Political Science Association, Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, the Society for Political Methodology, and the Midwest Political Science Association; and on several National Research Council and National Science Foundation panels. more...
Participation is a key goal for in democratic governments. One of the advantages of Web 2.0 applications including social media platforms is that regular users are more actively participating in interacting and generating content. Do you think these platforms would play a key role in participation?
Social media makes it possible for billions of people to to write messages that billions of others can see. This has never before happened in human history. Exactly what effect that will have on democracy, democratic institutions, and the rest of the world remains to be seen, but regardless they are an important form of participation in and of themselves.
Social media management is a very broad topic with implications to companies, institutions and also governments. From the point of governance, what are the key components of managing social media?
The first and most important step is understanding what everyone is saying. Since reading the billion social media posts that appear every two days is impossible, automated technology is the only feasible option. This step is not only the most important; it is the most difficult. Once a company understands their customers, they can redesign products, market to them in different ways, communicate or engage with their customers better, and tailor long term company decisions to suit. Companies are experts at what to do with this knowledge; they need help understanding the torrent of information raining down on them.
Social media and open innovation, is it a good marriage?
When done well, yes, absolutely.
Should the social media tools be related to e- govenment? If yes, how?
Many governments are recognizing the power of data, and of social media in particular. With social media, they can better understand what their constituents want, know, and wish to communicate. Government officials can better serve them just as companies can too. Communicating between masses of people and large institutions has never been easy, but it is becoming possible in ways that were not previously available.
Related to the above question, you published a very recent study on Censorship in Chinese Government, where you find evidence that the government tries to prevent collective activities spreading through social media. How do you see censorship as a method in social media management?
Most governments and most social media data providers censor (i.e., remove from the Internet) some types of information. The types they censor differ a great deal of course, with important implications for the degree to which their citizens can communicate with each other and their governments. Netizens work hard at evading censors in most places, but the censorship itself certainly has an effect.
You have given a talk titled as 'Big Data is not about the data!". From governments perspective, all digital government applications including social media there is abundance of data from multiple sources. What do you foresee as key steps in putting all the information buried in these data sources into action for better governance?
The interesting point is that no special efforts need be developed in many situations to create data. As the systems created to improve finances, human relations, bus transport, internet connectivity, etc., etc. get upgraded, or transitioned from analogue to digital, data is automatically created. To make the data actionable, and to turn it into useful information for policy makers and better governance, requires some good analytics work. With the two, tremendous progress can be made.
Finally, this last presidential campaign for Obama seemed very unique in terms of utilizing 'data science' for reaching to new voters, raising money, organizing community events, etc. How do social media and big data analytics fit into campaigns for elections?
Every democratic campaign involves politicians and their supporters taking every legal action they can think of to creatively advance their cause. In every election, the roadblocks, opportunities, technological options, and analytic ideas change. And so we can expect politicians to use whatever they have at their disposal, including social media, better analytics, and -- for the next election -- something you and I do not yet foresee.
R. Erdem ERKUL ; Thank you so much Prof. King