Methodical Snark critical reflections on how we measure and assess civic tech

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What a week…

Papers & Findings

Political tech: A survey of Swedish NGOs (n=907) suggests that civil society needs lots of human resources to use social media effectively in campaigns, which raises the bar for entry, and strengthens an elite cohort of civil  society organizations. Tech was shown to directly help voters, however, as new research strengthens the claim that information apps for voters increase electoral participation, based on electoral data sets from 12 countries and a randomized field experiment during the 2013 Italian parliamentary elections. An online field experiment with San Fransisco residents (n=140,000) also suggests that people who vote are more likely to engage in other forms of political participation, or at least more likely to open NGO surveys.

Thinking about cities, a study of 65 mid-to-large size US cities suggest that data analytics practices are wide spread, and that leadership attention, capacity and external partners are the primary factors determining whether cities engage with big data. A researcher from International Data Corporation (whoa) compares three prominent models for evaluating the implementation of smart cities, and suggests how city managers should merge them.

Parliamentary power: There’s some deep research into advocacy towards the US congress, suggesting that in-person visits are the most powerful advocacy technique, that relationships matter, as do personalized and localized info. This from expansive surveys with US lawmakers over a 9 year period, with some suggestions on what advocates can do to up their game. Considering parliaments all over the world, research by a Dutch architecture shows that they all employ one of five basic seating charts, which suggests a “a systemic lack of innovation in the architecture of parliaments.”

Media in crisis. A Chines survey (n=421) confirms that government release of information after emergencies increases public trust in authorities. Though it can have negative consequences on the public’s assessment of government integrity, the research also argues that “government information disclosure positively moderates all the relations.” Does access to media correlate with violence? Sub-national research in 24 African countries suggests that mass media has passifying effects, while “social media penetration generates substantial increases in collective violence.” The methods are intriguing, and social media’s effects are particularly strong in “areas lacking access to mass media infrastructure.”

Otherwise in Africa, this book chapter finds that ICT-driven innovation and entrepreneurship are key drivers of economic growth, action research suggests that implementation of e-government is improving effectiveness, internal transparency and collaboration in Kenyan public sector organizations, and non-user-driven revenue models, active monitoring strategies and an emphasis on face-to-face marketing in hybrid communications strategies are three of the 5 keys to success identified in research on African ICT 4 agriculture initiatives.

Lastly, IJoC has a timely special section on Digital Citizenship and Surveillance. The collection includes thoughtful pieces on the attention economy and the role of technical specifications in surveillance infrastructure, as well as a piece by @GusHosein questioning the presupposed trade-off between rights and security.

Commentary & Community

People doing stuff: OKF, Web Foundation and the Gov Lab are starting research to map open data governance models around the world, including the mechanisms and political arrangements (“levers”) which facilitate broad and default national open data schemes. They end their announcement with a call for contributions, which encourages interested researchers to get in touch, though there doesn’t seem to be any structured way for outsiders to get involved. Meanwhile, the USA Today newspaper is crowdsourcing research on usability of government informational websites with an online survey, and IDS reports that their flagship journal, IDS Bulletin is getting more than 5 times as many downloads since it went open access. The editor argues that this isn’t just about readership, it’s helping the journal to “bridge the discourse between academia, policy and practice.”

Relating research to the world: Data & Society is hiring two people to translate their research to the business and policy communities. As a organizational hiring decision, this is in line with Jishnu Das’ push back against the donor drive to have researchers pursue policy impact, arguing that researchers should be good at research, not communications and public relations. Other research suggests that blogging and tweeting your research is not so effective anyway, at least not after the first few days. Meanwhile, Andrew Schrock lays out three ways that communication scholars should be thinking about big data (communication as data, data as discourse and communication around data), and Jeff Pooley argues that media researchers should apply their critical methods to the world of scholarly publishing, and not just Wiley and Elsevier, but also “the dizzying, buzzy array of new models and experiments” in open access research publication. A good read.

Matters of debate: An article in the British Journal of Politics and International Relationships argues that transparency approaches to NGO governance can harm public trust more than build it. (h/t@freedominfoorg)

In the Methodological Weeds

Does bureaucratic responsiveness increase citizen participation? That seems to be the too presumptive implication of @fsjoberg and@participatory‘s new paper in PAR, as I argue  here.

The Open Budget Partnership is making changes to the Open Budget Survey, altering it’s definition of “publicly available” documents, and revising “indicators on public participation and oversight through a collaborative process.” While it’s great to see this expansion in scope, it’s a shame to see indicators and definitions revised instead of being added to, which will frustrate comparability over time. Comparability is not an objective of the survey, which aims (admirably) primarily to be a tool for national reform, but this move nixes a low cost extra resource for the research community, that might help to explain changes in national policy over time through the OBS data.

Academic Opps

Summer School on International Media, Political Action & Communication Technologies (deadline: ??, event: July ??, Paris)

ECREA European Media and Communication Doctoral Summer School (Deadline: 1 April. Event: 24 July-4 Aug, Milan)

The Knight Foundation is planning an open call for “ideas to counter misinformation and help quality journalism become a more trusted…”

IDRC has at least 2 years of funding to strengthen 4 research centres in the global south working on cyber policy.

Calls for Papers:

Miscellanea & Absurdum

  • From the department of weird-Gulf-country-sports-I-didn’t-know-about, comes The World GovTechioneers Race, an annual process by which government tech are given recognition prizes. This year Philippine AI, Singapore interactive web chats, and Dutch anti-child about text mining topped the list. These winners are selected by the United Arab Emirates (slash World Government Summit, who’s website opens with a quote from Jeffery Sachs: “I hope we can follow the UAE’s example and keep up…”)
  • Data Selfie is a browser extension that tracks you while you are on Facebook to show you your own data traces and reveal how machine learning algorithms use your data to gain insights about your personality.”
  • Soon, you will never lose your boarding pass because it will be your face (headline from Quartz)
  • Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government (Book review by Peter Carrol)
  • Omidyar Network invests $2.9M in new Latin American Alliance for Civic Technology. Boom.
  • TrumpSingles.com: making dating great again. It’s real.
  • Transnational Monstrosity in Popular Culture (a call for papers)
  • Pornopticism: Surveillance and Pornography (a call for papers)
  • And lastly, http://stuffin.space/. I can’t even.

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Methodical Snark critical reflections on how we measure and assess civic tech

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