Rohan Samarajiva started out by introducing the four case studies that LIRNEasia will be conducting this year which will be LIRNEasias contribution to the Expert forum to be held in September-October 2005. Since all four study teams were represented, Rohan gave an overview of the terms of reference common to the projects and went over the timeline.
Rohan observed that a good research organization and a consulting firm has a common culture, values and quality standards. This is not the case for bodyshops and hence their output was unpredictable, varying from mediocre to excellent. LIRNEasia will not be a bodyshop but will build a common organizational culture, value and standards using multiple methods, the colloquium being one. We will experiment with various formats and themes until we get it right, he said. The previous colloquium discussed practical aspects whereas todays colloquium examines the abstract question of conducting research and the relationship organizations like LIRNEasia have with the policymaking process.
The article under discussion was the previously distributed Nicolas Garnhams Euro CPR keynote address in March 2004 titled Contradiction, Confusion and Hubris: A Critical Review of European Information Society Policy. Rohans short response to this piece had also been distributed beforehand.
According to Rohan, Garnham seemed to suggest that one of the aims of research geared for policy makers should be based on dispassionate analysis, free from the crude interplay of economic and political interests. Rohan started out the discussion by asking whether it was possible to conduct research which was free from political or economic interests. Especially, in the context of organizations like LIRNEasia that were actively intervening in the policy process.
Harsha de Silva found Garnhams article confused and according to him the author seemed bent on debunking different economic theories without proffering anything of his own.
Discussion then moved to the three seemingly contradictory theoretical approaches, highlighted by Garnham, that economists were using to analyse the information societyNeoclassical, Schumpterian and Hayekian. Rohan added a fourth: the Madisonian approach which saw the world as a series of unstable equilibriums, each with a concentration of power (market and political). Human action could undermine and topple a concentration of power (example AT&T), but there was no guarantee that another concentration would not appear (example Regional Bell Operating Companies, now consolidated into Verizon, SBC, etc.).
Amal Sanderatne said that bringing about policy change while being part of government was one thing, but how does an organization like LIRNEasia intervene in the policy process from the outside? Is it through the media? And if the political doors were still open and intervention could happen during informal interactions with decision-makers, would it make sense to air ones views to the media when behind the scenes activity was taking place? Harsha thought that the credibility of the academic made a big difference on whether he/she would be heard in the media and if the public pronouncements could have any impact on the government.
Rohan recounted his memorable anecdote of Eli Noam, Columbia Professor and former Commissioner of the State of New York regulatory agency, and how he pointed to Rohan as an example of someone who made a submission to a proceeding held by the New York Public Service Commission that resulted in the defeat of a proposal made by billion dollar telecom companies. Rohan hastened to add that one couldnt generalize from this incident but participation by LIRNEasia in public consultation process was a must.
Malathy Knight-John mentioned that Rohan had written somewhere that in the ocean of bad governance one could create small islands of good governance which could seed change. Rohan mentioned that the creation of new organizations was done with the optimistic hope that they would somehow escape the failings of the existing organizations, especially when the old organizations were perceived to be unfixable.
The discussion moved to LIRNEasia and its mission. Rohan read out the organizations provisional mission statement and its provisional organizational mission statement. After extensive discussion, it was agreed that the mission statement would be put up on LIRNEasias website and the views sought from the LIRNEasia community of researchers and consultants to improve it. Amal suggested that a strategy statement should also be developed.
Chanuka Wattegama then gave a summary of recent discussions that took place about the merits of having a bidding process for deployment of VSATs to connect VGKs (telecenters).
Colloquium attendees were suitably rewarded for their participation by what followed next—colorful sandwiches, rich chocolate cake and strong coffee, thanks to Sabina Fernandos intricate, logistical exercises of the evening.