The report Digital Citizenship in Pakistan by the Centre for Cultural Relations (CCR), for the Research Evaluation and Monitoring Unit (REMU) of British Council Pakistan, provides a snapshot of the status of digital citizenship in Pakistan 2015-16.
Pakistan is a country with low levels of internet access, high levels of contestation in society in terms of attitudes to internet freedom, and high levels of inequality, all of which pose severe challenges to the practice of effective digital citizenship. “Effective” practice is defined by regular, skilled use of the internet to engage in society to access services, practice politics, get an education, conduct business and so on, i.e. to engage in civic life.
Our work on the report was made possible by the involvement and collaboration of academics from across the university. The Centre for South Asian Studies brought expertise in Pakistan, and, crucially in understanding the linguistic aspects of digital citizenship, and the Informatics Department was able to build on earlier research for the British Council on the UK’s digital connectivity to analyse the uses of social media (Twitter) in Pakistan.
The report presents survey data collected by Nielsen Pakistan, and qualitative interview material collected by University of Edinburgh researchers in Pakistan. The data was not only collected from internet users, but included household data from non-users. This was important is that data collection can be challenging in Pakistan and surveys of internet use there can tend to focus on existing users only, which inevitably distorts the picture.
Headline findings related to the need for a coherent strategy to redress regional imbalances in infrastructure, implement a regulatory regime which drives internet use without undue restrictions on internet freedom, and the need to focus on users’ needs for relevant content and services, made available in ways that overcome the digital divide.
REMU organised a series of events to discuss the preliminary research findings with Pakistani stakeholders and others with an interest. The first was held in Edinburgh in February, the second in Lahore in March, and the third in London in May. These workshops were invaluable in allowing us to get feedback from high level Pakistani officials and those active in digital media in Pakistan on the relevance and likely impact of the research.
From the point of view of the CCR, this research has generated a wide range of questions directly relevant to the practice of cultural relations today. Firstly, it is important to understand specific contexts such as Pakistan in as much detail as possible if we are to understand the nature and impact of transnational flows of information, knowledge and influence. This is only possible through truly interdisciplinary collaborations between academic disciplines and practice organisations. Secondly, digital diplomacy needs to be viewed as more than communications strategies which aim to influence perceptions, events and behaviours. It is also about understanding the multi-level, complex nature of digital policy and strategy and how that works in different societies and cultures. Thirdly, research on digital citizenship raises questions about citizenship more generally and about the often troubled interface between global communications with all their potential for positive development and how people view the practice of citizenship, the exercise of cultural rights and cultural production in their own societies. Finally, the research shone a light on digital divides at a range of levels, both within and between societies.
This research project was particularly timely. There is a turn towards international development in the practice of cultural relations. It is essential that we do what we can to understand the dynamics of development in relation to the economic and cultural drivers of globalisation such as the internet in specific places if we are to develop better theories of change and understandings of impact.