Douveri Henao is from the Institute of National Affairs, Papua New Guinea.
I have been following with interest the debate on this blog about the Pacific's digital future. In her new paper, Danielle Cave analyses PNG's Facebook discussion group Sharp Talk. I wanted to join this blog discussion and give readers background on how I started Sharp Talk.
Sharp Talk was developed largely due to my personal frustration about the lack of information and dialogue on topical issues concerning Papua New Guinea. This is largely due to limited access to information, which is generally held in hubs of academia, research institutions and the mainstream media, where the privileged were able to hear learned commentators talk on issues of national interest and generate views on these matters.
I remember having my first constitutional law class. After almost 18 years living in PNG, it was the first time in my life I really knew what was going on in government. Such rare insights and appreciation was the norm up until social media and specifically Facebook provided mass engagement.
Sharp Talk has allowed public servants, the private sector, students, development partners, students and even buai sellers to air their views, report events, post news but more importantly read quality information from experts.
I have on several occasions been in-boxed by senior government officials, MPs, analysts, research students and many, many students hungry to get insights on how systems of law and policy work. Some of the views have translated into major outcomes, which Danielle's paper highlighted. On several occasions I've noted commentaries featuring in government policy. A positive of sorts.
However, I'm also mindful that information needs to be appreciated in its entirety and this is where social media such as Sharp Talk is defective. It is unable to add value to the information unless it can create action. Yes, it has brought people onto the cyber landscape to talk and even mobilise some of us to advocate for issues but getting decision-makers to make informed decisions remains a challenge. This is the challenge for Sharp Talk but one thing is for sure, offline networks such as the great wantok system will aid the flow of information, for good or bad.