{research} PSM in the service of communication rights?

book project, Research

{This is a segment of an upcoming book chapter. Very interested in any comments!}

Commercial interest have since been coupled with many other challenges of digitalization to public service broadcasting – and much has been said about the current crises of public service ideal and practice. As Voltmer (2013: 160) sums it up: We are now at a historical moment where different realizations, mature and new, of public service broadcasting worldwide are under threat because of digital convergence, audience fragmentation, and deregulated markets – and we may just need to come up with new ways to ensure the values of independency, impartiality, and integration via media. Might one way to ensure those classic values to embrace human and communication rights as an explicit PSM mission? More specifically, in terms of Europe: If we take seriously the normative engagement of welfare societies about informed citizenship and communication rights, and if we try to learn from the critique of paternalism, centralization, elitism, the copying of commercial channels, what can we suggest for public service media in services of communication rights in the digital era? To find answers, one has to tackle at least one conceptual and one empirical challenge.

The first issue is a fundamental one. Today, the European institution of PSB can be said to embody many of the rights relating to information and communication, especially in relation to citizens’ access to and availability of relevant information. At the same time, a certain conceptual riff between PSB and communication rights does exist. Public service in the media sector has in most related literature been linked to democracy theories and, on practice, democratic societies. And while rights-based approaches “share a commitment to the ideal of equal political dignity for all”, and while realization of human rights requires democratic government, the ideals of democracy and rights point to different directions (Donelly 2013: 222). The former ideal is about collective empowerment – the latter ideal is about individuals. Related to this is the traditional practice of PSB: The paternalistic, one-way flow of communication from one center that disseminates information to anybody within its reach.

And yet, in practical, empirical terms, we have established that PSBs have been used as vehicles in realizing certain communication rights, not least the one of access to information/content. To find out whether PSM could serve communication rights of the digital era, one needs to operationalize those rights. One scheme to understand today’s communication rights is to map under these five distinct operational categories: (see Nieminen 2010, 14-15; Splichal 2002, 168-69):

Access is about citizens’ equal access to information, orientation, entertainment and other contents serving their rights. Availability indicates that relevant contents (of information, orientation, entertainment and other) should be equally available for citizens. Competence means that citizens should be educated with the skills and abilities to use the means and information available according to their own needs and desires. Dialogical rights means availability of public spaces available that allow citizens to publicly share information, experiences, views, and opinions on common matters. Finally, privacy indicates two different things: first, everybody’s private life has to be protected from unwanted publicity, unless its exposure is in the public interest or the person decides to expose it to public; and second, protection of personal data means that all information gathered by authorities or businesses must be protected as confidential.

In the current media landscape, PSM is not alone serving the public. Given the multi-platform environment, many propose that public service functions can also be performed what could be called public media de facto, ranging form community media to networked projects and events (e.g., Bajomi-Lazar et al. 2012; Horowitz & Clark 2014). A commercial TV channel may have a particularly important and engaging political debate program or news website; a community radio station may address issues of a region in more depth than national media outlets; and citizens may inform each other (and the world) on social media about the Arab Spring, or the Ferguson riots, more effectively than any legacy media news outlet.

Yet, if we take an overall outlook of responsiveness of different media outlets to communication rights, how would PSM fare in terms of communication rights vis-à-vis its de facto counterparts? Table 1 presents a simple sketch of PSM and selected other forms of media outlets, with the assumption that they all have a potential in serving in the public interest.

Table 1. Communication rights, public service media, and selected other media institutions: A comparison

  PSM Commercial broadcaster/media outlet Community/ alternative media Short term issue and other “projects” and spontaneous citizen journalism
Access Good Weakening (e.g., pay-TV and streaming pay walls) Weak: doesn’t reach everyone (filter bubble)[1] Often weak: doesn’t reach everyone
Availability Good, weakening if narrowed or if competing with commercial outlets with similar content Weak (more of the same and recycling similar content for audiences, eyeballs, and likes) Good, as filling in the gap; but not diverse Good, as filling in the gap; but exists only for a short time
Competence Traditionally good (education) Traditionally weak Improving with the help of social media (free tools) Improving with the help of social media (free tools)
Dialogicality Improving with the help of social media Improving, but for commercial purposes Improving with the help of social media (free tools) Often based on dialogicality, with the help of social media (free tools)

(a)    Private life

(b)    data

(a)    usually good

(b)    can be good

Weak (usually exploited for commercial purposes) Can be weak if no resources to guard privacy Can be weak if spontaneous and no resources to guard privacy

The above scheme would indicate that PSM could fare well in the service of communication rights. It is a simplified view that does not account for several core issues. For instance, audiences of public media can be global, regional, national, local and/or issue-driven (Aufderheide & Clark 2009). In addition, PSM exists in the same platforms as its commercial competitors. That may result in compromises in terms of intermediary liability, especially regarding privacy and freedom of expression that can be (e.g., MacKinnon 2010) In practical terms: national PSB companies are regulated under national legislation, but their activities in social media are ruled (mostly) by US jurisdiction. And, conversely, s Ziccardi (2013: 39) observes, digital communication and its platforms may have the potential to enhance international human rights, but this process is continuously being interrupted by nation-states and their interests. How would PSM organizations react to those challenges? Still, the original (even if implicit) role of PSM in guarding communication rights is clearly present and can be enhanced. No other media outlet has had that kind of on-going, sustainable commitment and obligation.

{teaching} To learn and to contribute.


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The 4th Generation – Digital Human Rights course for the Helsinki University just ended.

The course was for me a first, an exploration on human rights directly related to the media and communication technologies, as well as supported by communication and tech.

One of the core learning objectives was to empower theories — and students — to work in practice. The philosophy behind this goal was the urgent, real-life need for communication and research expertise in the field; as well as the desire to give the students an opportunity to contribute, to help, to inspire, to enhance the work of organizations working on these issues. Theories can make a difference as applied in to the world, a scholar can make a difference in contributing his/her skills.

To stress these points, the final project was a question of choice: Either a scholarly paper or a consultancy project of sorts. (See the final project instructions here.)

Below are some examples of the final projects.

(There were many more great submissions – applied and scholarly work – but these final projects are by nature public = live online.)

(My co-facilitator Rune Saugmann and I are in the process of writing a reflection of this experimental course, between theory and praxis.)

{teaching} 4th Gen Expert Guest: Johannes Koponen on our Future and Human Rights


Our course is titled The Fourth Generation, as a reference to the possibility of information and communication rights soon entering the formal realm of human rights. But the phrase Fourth Generation of Human Rights can also be used to refer to the rights of the future generations: What kind of world are they entitled to and how should we take their rights into account, already now?

This last lecture of 4th Gen combines the above two interpretations.

Our esteemed Guest Lecturer is Johannes Koponen, an expert in strategic futures studies and development of business 2015-04-22 20.11.05models through futures studies methods. Currently, he’s working for the Nordic Think Tank Demos Helsinki. He’s also the co-founder and current CEO of Scoopinion that won the biggest Nordic media innovation award in 2011 (Uutisraivaaja, by Helsingin Sanomat Foundation).

Johannes holds a M.Sc. (Tech.) from knowledge intensive business major at Aalto University. He also has a broad understanding in communication and media research, and is currently working on his PhD at the University of Helsinki in Media and Communication Studies. In addition he teaches futures studies in Aalto University  and Open University.

Follow him @johanneskoponen.

Problem-solving as a passion and a profession

“I have always been interested in futures studies and that entails scenario-building. I was always interested in social and political sciences but ended up studying at the University of Technology. Those studies gave me a solid foundation in thinking that is centered around problem solving.  I always say that engineers can find a simple solution to a complex problem; but social scientists can see that the problem is actually more complex than the engineers could even envision. Bringing together these two views – complexity and a search for solutions – is what I want to do.

At the University, I worked quite a bit with usability studies and user-centric approaches. Interestingly, that field and futures studies both utilize scenarios as methods. It felt natural to move on to futures and strategic studies and research. Scenarios became the main method I use at Demos Helsinki and in my other work.

The essence of this kind of work is not only to see trends but envisions alternative ways of being and doing. The directions of trends will change. The truly interesting aspect of depicting change resides in understanding its array of possibilities.”

The power of disruption

“The possibilities I’m talking about are related to fundamental changes. We are often entrapped in this false sense of inevitability of the outcome regarding a problem. But if we spread the timeline far enough we can see openings and completely new possibilities.  At the same time, it’s good to remember the transformations that some in the field of technology call “disruptive”, are only profound when a product, practice, or structure changes into something that people want more than what existed before.

For instance: In the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, the trade of spices was one of the largest forms of business. In fact, the entire currency system in the West was based on that trade. And then, at the end of the 19th century, one man, named Tudor, changed it all. He introduced the idea of refrigerating food with ice: He started to import ice blocks stored in saw dust from Michigan, the US, to warm countries – to those importers of spices.  People use spices, like the media, for many reasons, but one very important one was the fallacy that spices would preserve food.

Now ice, then ice machines, and later on fridges did the job. People working for the spice trade were not getting jobs in the ice cube trade, or the ice machine industry, or then in the manufacturing of refrigerators. Disruption will happen again when something – maybe Amazon Fresh – meets the most pressing use of the fridge and responds to that need in a new way. So meeting the need is the determining factor in disruption.”

Disrupting communication rights

“So now, if we think of communication, and communication rights, the disruption that has already happened and has already been established is about authorship and active participation. I suspect that the formalization of the rights also limits them somewhat – the times of the wild and free Internet are over.

But we can think of the field of media being somewhat similar to the field of energy production. We had major players in the industry, distributing energy to the masses. With renewable energy sources, and accessible technologies, many individuals can become actors, and produce their own solar power for their home. And if most people join the bandwagon, then perhaps it becomes a right to be able to be energy-self-sufficient.

The challenge we have now in the field of the media, when we think of those involved – say, Facebook, Google, and so on – that they are not producers of information as such and they have no interest in producing quality products. Their interest is in segmenting us, and to sell us, segmented, to the advertisers. And our unsafe and insecure world doesn’t invite us to break out of our comfortable filter bubbles.”

The Sensor Revolution and its challenges to human rights

“Another set of challenges is posed if we continue to think about the Internet of Things, or, as I think is more accurate, about the Sensor Revolution. If this phase isn’t thought through carefully, we will end up in a state of digital feudalism. All these developments, like the Amazon Dash Button, make our everyday lives so much more convenient and comfortable. But at some point we need to begin to question what this does to us as humans. If Tinder recommends a bride, and another site suggests the location at which we should get married… At which point do I make the decision? And the challenge is: Decision-making is a tough process and we’d love to avoid it as long and as often as we can.

The Internet is already almost like water. If it doesn’t flow, we’re in trouble. The discourse on [Internet] rights has taken interesting twists and turns, especially when much has been justified with freedom of expression. Those have been important discussions. But as radical as it may sound, I believe we must begin to bring some of the decision-making into the real of public policy, not only private enterprise. We need to guarantee access, and then we can begin to bring in the responsibilities that come with it, for organizations, businesses, as well as individuals.”

The future of us?

“One of the biggest challenges for us as scholars/experts will be – employment. We must start to radically rethink how we find our place in the world, and, in practice, how we work. This is no longer a choice to find a “different career path” but a necessity.  The old school, traditional employers of the industrial era barely exist anymore.

In physics, work is defined as “overcoming resistance”. Our world today is such that if someone invents an algorithm that could replace that person at work, he or she will get fired. But we should continuously make ourselves redundant. Yet, there’s so much work in the world – so many problems to solve – but how to find that space, collective, organization in which you can work, make a living, and participate in the society in that capacity.

There are a couple of methods to go about this. The most interesting of these has been coined by Juha Leppänen: We have heard so much about the “Creative Class” but it’s a very exclusive concept.  We should instead think about the Curious Class – curiosity is an innate ability in everyone. It’s fascinating, I find, how little we talk about curiosity given that  it’s a fundamental feature of problem-solving and innovation. Another aspect is that all of us must embrace digital tools. Those shouldn’t be denied from those who are not immediately at ease with technology. “

{teaching} The Global and Hyperlocal: HR, Media/Tech & Post-2015 Goals


Our journey continues.

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A wordle of the almost 3000 words you contributed to http://padlet.com/minna_aslama/4thgen — what strikes you as interesting in terms of the frequencies of certain words?

Our globalized world is marked by extraordinary progress alongside unacceptable — and unsustainable — levels of want, fear, discrimination, exploitation, injustice and environmental folly at all levels.

– The road to dignity by 2030: ending poverty, transforming all lives and protecting the planet Synthesis report of the Secretary-General on the post-2015 sustainable development agenda 

How the last session brought us here
  • We discussed the basics: Different generations (3) of human rights. Sometimes, the 4th generation is said to be the rights of the future generations. And, it seems, the media and communication technologies will have  great role in that.
  • We also discussed the specific focus of this course. We are taking the global outlook but a very local attitude:  the media, communication technologies, and human rights together are a core theme of global debates, paramount in terms of the future development of our planet as a whole. Yet, equally, these are everyday, ‘hyperlocal’ issues for all of us, in our highly mediatized world. That’s why we are drawing from our own experiences and expertise, making connections betwwen theory and praxis.

[Marko knows what he’s talking about. He was Chair of Department of Journalism from 2007 to 2011, and  a Chairman of the Expert commission for Pluralisation of Media at Slovenian Ministry of Culture from 2009-2010. He was a member of Experts’ group for new Mass Media Act (2009) and Public Broadcasting Act (2009) at Slovenian Ministry of Culture. He was a Chairman of Expert commission for radio and television programmes at Slovenian Ministry of Culture from 2002-2004. He is a member of National Committee for Information Society since 2010.

AND: He’s written for main Slovenian media including largest daily Delo and leading political weekly Mladina.;  for daily Der Standard, the largest quality newspaper in Austria; as well as features for magazine Paper from New York. He was correspondent for press agency IPS from Vienna. He was reporting on international policy for Delo as well as writing interviews and features about pop culture; with, among others, Metallica, R.E.M. (Michael Stipe, twice), David Byrne, Henry Rollins, Philip Glass, Depeche Mode, Pharell Williams, Rammstein, Duran Duran Bryan Ferry, Air, Massive Attack, Blur, Patti Smith, Moby, … As well as Christina Aguilera…]

UN and the development of Comm Rights – a refresher course
  • How has the media and comm tech become a global human rights, development, and governance question? Arguably, most discussions around media, communication and human rights in the past decades have have focused on national contexts of building and maintaining democracy — mass media, after all, were structured around national systems:
  • The rise of mass media in the 19th century = information could be shared, at least potentially, not only by the elites, but by vast groups of people, regardless of economic or social standing = democratization of communication.
  • In the 20th century, many countries chose to establish a public broadcasting system to ensure several components that had to do with the media’s relationship with democracy: universal access to media contents; diversity of all kinds of contents (famously, the trinity originally attributed to the BBC: public media should inform, educate and entertain); as well as a variety of voices and viewpoints, also those of minorities.
  • In the academic contexts, the normative model of the public sphere by Jürgen Habermas has often been used in defense of such thinking: a democracy needs a diverse functioning media to guarantee a public sphere where citizens (virtually) meet to debate (rationally) and agree (consensus) on common issues.

The above discourses on media and democracy have a Western conceptual history, but with globalization have become prominent in international contexts:

  • The idea of Development Communication often included the idea of (more) universal access and, hence, establishment of vehicles of public service media.
  • The new tech =  issues are increasingly borderless, global.
  • The the idea of democracy and democratization now embraced the concept of ICT4D.

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The context of the United Nations and global debates on the role of the media reflect the above development:

  • Freedom of Expression is defined already in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1946, Art. 19.
  • The discussions on Right to, and Freedom of, Information entered the debate in the 1960s — when the role of governments and states were questioned and the rights of individual citizens to information were brought forth.
  • Around the same time, the lesser developed countries begun to bring up the Right to Communicate:  They wanted to challenge the Western domination of mass communication. Active partners in the conversation were UNESCO, proposing the New World Information and Communication Order and the so called UN McBride Commission(1980).
  • In the 1990s, the idea of the Right to Cultural Identity was added to UNDHR — and challenged in fora such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) , and later in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in terms of copyright agreements.
  • Also in the 1990s, the UN recognized the increasing  importance of the Internet and organized two major meetings on the issue: The World Summit on the Information Society.  It soon became clear, also with the beginning of the UN-driven Internet Governance Forums, that Communications Rights was the term several stakeholders started to use as an umbrella term for the new challenges of the networked era.

Read more here from a short summary article on the historical developments above.

  • Much of the recent debate has focused in the Internet and Human Rights. In late 2009,Finland declared broadband Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 7.42.57 PMaccess a legal right. The UN followed in 2011 in declaring the importance of access:

“Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all states,”

Frank La Rue, a special rapporteur to the United Nations,  in his report to the UN Human Rights Council

  • Note to self: While human rights seem universal, they can also been seen as relational and contextual, even when we think about the Internet. For instance, the question of access may include challenges of corruption and concentration of ownership, as some African activists argue.
From one to two reasons why communication technologies and the media matter for human rights
  1. Freedom of expression, and other ‘classic’ communication rights.
  2. The media and communication technologies as a means to an end, assisting in realization of other rights: political participation, work, education, health… [more on this in the sessions to come — and in your projects.]
Why discuss 1. AND 2.  — right now?

The so called UN Millenium Development Goals have been in place for 15 years, addressing poverty and hunger, education, maternal and children’s health, diseases, environmental sustainability, and global co-operation. They are about to be replaced. The new UN Sustainable Development Goals will be decided upon in September 2015.

As a recent article in the Guardian reported, civil society groups from 77 countries came together to call on the UN to make access to information and media freedom central to the post-2015 development agenda. The article highlights that freedom of expression and  access to information are crucial for the future goals in general:

Quality, current and accessible information is crucial to establishing the scope and nature of development challenges. It empowers people to hold their leaders to accountand participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

It also forms the basis of a free and independent media, which, as media development NGOs [non-governmental organizations] such as Internews have emphasised, plays a vital role in safeguarding development. A free media informs, facilitates public participation through open debate and helps to hold those in power to account.

The lack of information about development targets is considered to be a significant factor in the failure to meet previous targets. The UN secretary general’s special adviser on the millennium development goals Jeffrey Sachs, publicly acknowledged how problems posed by out of date data have hindered progress on achieving MDG targets.

Bringing it all together: Assignment Week 2

Paraphrasing Marko’s reflection: You are already experts in the crucial field for democracy and development: the media and communication.

This week, you will write a collaborative position paper about why communication, related technologies, and the media should be a part of Sustainable Development Goals as their specific own goal. Why does it make sense (not only economically, but socially, culturally…)?

Week 2 readings (in Dropbox), most of them very practical, will help you:

  • Intro & an essay by Cees Hamelink: the role of comm research in social justice and human rights work.
  • The latest “synthesis” report of the UN Secretary General on SDGs.
  • A brief by UNESCO on the media and post-2015 goals.
  • A brief by DW Academie on the media and post-2015 goals.
  • … And one extra: The IAMCR report from a few years back on comm research views on human rights.
  • Plus, a tab within this blog with more resources.

… And feel free to do research of your own. Feel free to bring in your theoretical and empirical expertise into this conversation.

You will work in 3 teams of 10+ or so people and compose your essay in Google docs. You will receive an email  invitation to your team. Each team member contributes an idea or an example = 2-3 sentences. I will edit the texts and we will share our essays amongst ourselves to see the wise arguments and solutions we could come up with, collaboratively. You will find detailed instructions in the Google docs.

Your contribution is due: Wed 25.3. midnight Helsinki time!

{teaching} Live Blog: 4th Gen Intro session 11.3.


2012-07-16 13.52.43Welcome to the first session of The Fourth Generation!

Prelude: INTERESTING answers and insights to the pre-course questionnaire!

  • The general consensus seems to be that the media and comm tech relate at least to the famous Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — Freedom of Expression — as well as to privacy, right to one’s artistic and scientific achievements, and right to education.
  • Surprisingly many of you are working/interested in media/comm tech and development. Great — that will be one of the main foci of examples, and definitively  one of the main issues we will look at when we will assess the future. We will also have a screencast or two by folks who work in this field.
  • Many of you are also concerned about gender and human rights. That’s great too as one or two (depends how many will want to work on it) of our group work cases will address that.
  • Your concerns of the main HR violations are numerous. They vary from capital punishment to gay rights, but the most recurring themes were gender inequality and, yes, freedom of expression. As the recent study by the organization Reporter without Borders notes, in 2014 FoE declined significantly in all over the world. In this age of digital media that some time ago was hailed as the saviour of democracy…
  • Some themes you want to discuss are – as already noted – gender, media & comm tech; FoE; surveillance; media development questions; but also corporate social responsibility, stalking/cyberbullying, cyber hate crimes, and digital divide (thank you for that — only some 42% of the world is online and while mobile leap frogging will do some of the work, that won’t solve the problem immediately).

14:15: Introductions! Rune: This is an experience-based course. Please bring in your own experiences and interests — work or otherwise — because this is an issue that is so in the flux that old theories are not going to solve our problems. Most of our assignments are practice-oriented because we are tackling the field that is so complex.

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Rune: Just finished his PhD: see saugmann. tumblr.com/dissertation

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 8.21.09 AMMinna’ s intro: PhD from Helsinki, interest in media reform as well as in ICT4D (see more in this blog).

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 8.29.57 AMOthers… (see also the FB intros!): FoE and data privacy are big issues! Social media and social movements. Piracy, hate groups.Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 8.39.03 AM Gender. Freedom of journalistic expression in  relation to journalists using new digital tools. The ways in which the media constructs discourses.

How does this course differ from other courses: We create a global outlook and apply our knowledge and build the bridges between theories and praxis.

Please make sure you’re on the FB group and feel free to share.

Generations of Human rights: Video on this section of Rune’s lecture is here.

There are many texts (marked as ‘W1’) in the Dropbox —  take a look.


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  • What’s in a communication rights? Can communication be a right when clashing with other rights? (Privacy)
  • E.g. US – HR and the public sphere meets the economic sphere. E.g., Google’s involvement in discussing comm rights.
  • [Access = an NGO based on the premise that media/comm rights are essential to human rights.]
  • Tech companies / private services and ‘quasi rights’, ‘quasi laws’ = user instructions and privacy clauses. Those documents in many ways override national laws. You may give up some rights when you agree on a private company as you agree to those terms of service.
  • Who is actually the SUBJECT of the right? The problem for the mediator systems (platforms) – who is responsible (intermediary liability)? Is Google responsible for a website that violates some laws of a nation? Google, Facebook etc. have all been  in this difficult bind.
  • In addition should Google et al.  give info to governments when they request it?
  • In sum: 3 main players: govts, corporations, NGOs.
  • [Minna: 4th sector = loosely affiliated, non-institutionalized, groups such as some hacker groups, some individuals…] – the below chart by Joseph Nye, showcasing also the local – national – global dimension (see also discussion below; more next week!)

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Darker sides:

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  • #1: Privacy: NOT ONLY private citizens but right to representative governance — and to the latter their right to privacy is important – a treat to representative democracy.
  • Risk society: a new risk by surveillance – global digital freedom risk.
  • Individual state is not enough to govern = a collective action problem, need for agreement beyond the nation state.

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  • Images and digital content in general is such a fundamental part we live in -> EXPOSURE becomes a part of torture (e.g., Abu Ghraib) – images are a part of all kinds of actions we do.

These are difficult — yet interesting — ways of discussing the question of HR & comm tech/the media.

PLEASE SEE RUNE’S SLIDES HEREFourth Generation HR – intro session

This is your next assignment, due at midnight Wed 18.3.: 

You are to ‘participate’ in a on open consultancy call for an EU report on human rights and technology. 

You can do this ‘for real’ as well as on our shared platform — just note that the real deadline is Mon 16.3.

Here’s the intro video to the assignment – to introduce you to the case.

Here’s the participatory platform. You will need a password — that’ll be posted in our secret FB group and emailed to you.

Here’s the original call for consultation.

Let Minna know via email if you have any questions or post one below.