CMC colleagues Darren Lilleker, Pawel Surowiec and Dan Jackson spent two days in Prague, at an invited workshop designed to foster greater international research links between Charles University and other universities, and develop their faculty staff in research methodologies. The workshop also involved Prof John Downey (Loughborough), Todd Graham (Groningen) and Nico Carpentier (Brussels). The workshop theme was new media and political participation and was a launch event for a newly formed institute of communication, journalism and politics at the university.
It was a small, invite-only event, and so well designed to foster future research collaboration. On the first day we had a round table discussion on the challenges of researching political participation online. There was a methodological focus: how do we sufficiently understand and capture political participation online? Do we need to move beyond traditional offline measures of participation when considering the range of low threshold forms of participation social media affords? And what are the most productive methods in the field: is big data and network analysis the boon it appears to be or is it a methodological solution looking for a problem?
The second day kicked off with standard conference panel sessions, where Dan (political talk in non-political online spaces), Pawel (Twitter and the 2011 Polish elections) and Darren (Obama, social media and political mobilization) presented their recent research. This was followed by a panel showcasing the recent research of the faculty staff in online political participation. This included papers on the relationship between offline and online political participation in the context of the 2013 Czech elections (Vaclav Stetka); the dynamics of mobilization and heterogeneity of participation during the 2013 Czech election campaign on Facebook(Lenka Vochocová); User generated humour in the 2013 Czech parliamentary elections (Jaroslav Švelch); and the use of Twitter during Czech elections (Zuzana Karaščáková).
In the afternoon, Darren delivered a public keynote for staff and students at the faculty on “Political Campaigning Online: current directions in campaigning and research“. This was a state of the discipline overview of the developments in online political campaigning from Web 1.0 practices of online shovelware (websites as online brochures) through Web 2.0, Obama and beyond. Whilst party websites and social media campaigns are yet to demonstrate a significant electoral or persuasive impact, Darren identified their ability to mobilise supporters during elections as a key affordance, which campaign managers are increasingly focussing on.
The final part of the workshop was an unstructured brainstorming session on future research collaborations between workshop participants. Darren and Vaclav Stetka (Charles University) have already set the ball rolling with a comparative study of campaign professionalisation across the EU. We hope to report on more collaborations in the future.
And if you are interested, we can confirm that we did successfully locate some of Prague’s finest watering holes. As your correspondent has observed on this blog before, many of the most productive conference discussions happen in the bar, though as one of us (who shall remain anonymous) found out to his expense, you should act with vigilance and check the prices before cleaning out the hotel minibar snacks when faced with the post-pub munchies. Aside from “minibar-gate”, we were also treated to some of the local culinary offerings, which received mixed reviews from your correspondents. If you like eating big hunks of meat with dumplings then Prague is the place to you. If you are on a diet, then you might be struggling!!