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Internet Policy in the MENA Region: Research Methods for Advocates

September 1, 2015 - September 4, 2015

Categories: Workshop

Social media image MENA methods


Internet Policy in the MENA Region: Research Methods for Advocates 
September 1-4, Kadir Has University, Istanbul


As activists and researchers around the world endeavor to influence internet policymaking processes and raise awareness about the importance of protecting the open internet, the need for relevant, advanced internet policy research methods among advocates is brought into stark relief. This need is particularly great in the broader MENA region, where observers are witnessing increasing levels of government control online, inadequate legislation supportive of a robust and secure cyberspace, as well as increasingly sophisticated security risks to journalists, researchers, and activists. These issues are further complicated by the political, economic, and cultural dynamics that are specific to the region.  Recognizing the importance of advocacy and policy efforts that make use of methodologically rigorous and contextually appropriate research as well as the need for a deeper engagement with the local environments that shape internet policy issues, the Annenberg School for Communication’s Internet Policy Observatory has teamed up with Citizen Lab, ASL19, Social Media Exchange, 7iber, and Kadir Has University’s New Media Department to develop an Internet Policy Research Methods Workshop. This program will bring together young scholars and activists working in digital rights and the internet policy space in an intensive four day practicum that provides a survey of both qualitative and quantitative, online and offline research methods with the goal of enhancing and advancing their advocacy efforts.



DAY 1: Tuesday, September 1

  • 9:00-10:30:  Welcome and Introductions: Dr. Eylem Yanardağoğlu, Kadir Has University
  • 10:45- 12:00: Advancing Policy Advocacy for Digital Rights in the MENA Region Jessica Dheere, SMEX: This session helps frame the workshop by outlining the current state of digital rights in the MENA region, focusing specifically on emerging legal and social trends and how civil society and citizens-at-large are responding to them. We will discuss several recent advocacy initiatives, their successes and failures, and explore how the global push for digital rights intersects with local contexts. We will also survey recent Arab Internet policy research and available data and how they are being used (or not) in advocacy efforts to protect free expression and privacy online.
  • 12:00-1:30: Working Lunch and roundtable on Turkish Internet policy, Colleagues from Kadir Has
  • 1:30-5:00: Practicum 1: Intro to research methods Amy Brouillette, Director, European Media Project: This session will introduce the basic methods of and approaches of mapping internet policies, with an emphasis on how to research and track the flow of decision- and policy-making processes with regard to internet policy. We will cover the core elements and steps of how to frame the research, what sources to use, and how to organize the information. Activities will include practical steps of identifying and developing targeted research questions, designing a research plan, conducting desk research, techniques for interviewing sources, and methods of verifying information.

DAY 2: Wednesday, September 2

  • 9:00-12:00: Practicum 2: Network Measurement Collin Anderson, Independent Researcher: The session will cover the basics of network infrastructure, the policy issues that have arisen on Internet development around the world, and how measurement can shed light on issues of access. This will include identifying existing datasets and platforms that contain data relevant to researchers, as well as demonstrating tools for establishing more structural data collection. Through the use of real examples and data on topics such as censorship and network neutrality, the session will describe the technologies, practices and methodologies involved in order to provide a more deep understanding of the policy and technology issues in play.
  • 12:00-1:30: Working Lunch
  • 1:30-5:00: Practicum 3: Information controls Fereidoon Bashar, ASL19: Building upon Practicum 2, by Collin Anderson, ASL19 will use Iran’s 2013 presidential elections as a case study to demonstrate how users and network data, such as Psiphon data, can be used to document and report about information control online and the ways in which the data can be used for policy impact. We will discuss what data sources are available to researchers and advocates and how they can use these data to document censorship and surveillance, particularly in the lead up to important events, such as elections, when information makes the biggest impact.
  • 5:30-7:30: Reception and panel event: ICANN and the participation of Civil Society in Internet Governance

DAY 3: Thursday, September 3

  • 9:00-12:00: Practicum 4: Introduction to basic social media and social network analysis Dr. Emad Khazraee, Professor of Communication and Information Science, Kent State University: This session will cover the mechanisms of data collection from various social media platforms and its application to analyzing issues salient to internet policy activism. Through working with a real data set, participants will extract useful information, interpret the data, and finally, communicate it effectively through visualizations. We will use free and open source applications for data collection, data extraction, social network analysis and visualizations.
  • 12:00-1:30: Working Lunch, Presentation on IGMENA: Hanane Boujemi, Hivos: The Internet Legislation Atlas is a web-based initiative to share and analyze laws governing the Internet for seven countries in the MENA region: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Syria and the extent to which existing laws meet internationally recognized human rights standards. The goal of ILA is to advance Internet rights and freedoms by raising awareness among stakeholders, highlighting best practices, stimulating advocacy, and supporting policy engagement. The team is also developing a methodology for comparing laws across countries on the basis of human rights standards. This session will share the methodology and request feedback about its design and implementation from participants.
  • 1:30-5:00: Practicum 5: Survey methods and local contingencies Dr. Erik Nisbet, OSU: This session will introduce participants to the basic components of public opinion and survey research about communication behaviors and Internet policy. Identifying strategic goals and target audiences, operationalizing and defining survey constructs and questionnaire design, the advantages and disadvantages of different survey methodologies (web, phone, face-to-face) and approaches, sampling challenges and options, how to incorporate experimental message/policy evaluation within a survey design, cross-cultural survey challenges, and how to maximize the impact of survey results will be discussed. This session is designed as a basic introduction to these topics, but additional reference materials and resources will be provided.

DAY 4: Friday, September  4

  • 9:00-12:00: Practicum 6: Radical methodologies, dissemination strategies and measuring impact   James Marchant & Dr. Bronwen Robertson, Small Media Foundation: Using the example of Small Media and Impact Iran’s “UPR” interactive (Universal Periodic Review) and snippets from other ‘big data’ projects, we’ll demonstrate how research findings can be communicated in nontraditional methods for diverse audiences. The UPR interactive presents complex data with rich evidence, showing how quantitative and qualitative data can be presented together to engage policy makers, journalists, activists and local audiences. But the project doesn’t end when the website is launched, in some ways, it’s just the beginning. The session also looks at how we can keep the conversation going, and how we can use rich analytics from digital platforms to inform future strategies and monitoring and evaluation best practices.
  •  (Working Lunch)
  • 12:00-3:00 Practicum 7: Data Visualization for broader impact Drew Bollinger, Development Seed: This session will focus on creating data visualizations and constructing narratives which present data in media friendly ways. We’ll cover which techniques are the most effective visualizations for a given purpose and how various colors, shapes, and animation can affect perception of the work. Through discussion, we’ll explore how different approaches can impact understanding of the work across different devices, media, and audiences. Finally, we’ll review the iterative feedback process to push the project through completion while ensuring it’s picked up by media outlets and other interest groups and circulated as broadly as possible.
  • 3:00-5:00: Collaborative efforts and individual attention from assembled experts
  • 7:00: Closing reception


For more information about the program, please contact lsh@asc.upenn.edu.