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

research links w 22 – 17



An assessment of 100 Indian smart city initiatives supports previous findings regarding the lack of correlation between digital literacy, infrastructure citizen and participation in municipal e-government. A comparison of national log data with select case studies further suggests that national centralization of e-government services may have a negative consequence on citizen engagement, and high uptake rates in mid-sized cities are used to articulate a “theory of civic intimacy at play between citizens and governments and its relation to the scale of urban spread.”

Popular criticisms of government hackathons were reinforced by findings from a survey of hackathon participants in Brazil and Australia (N=52/57), which found that hackathon tasks are defined by developer experience rather citizen needs, and that projects don’t tend to get finished.

A study of FOIA requests for algorithm info in the US has some useful strategic tidbits for anyone considering such a request. Main takeaway: be specific, cross fingers.

“Tech Is Improving Healthcare” seems to be the most #advox-relevant finding in Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends report (or at least the TechCrunch summary that I skimmed).

Community and Resources

Our logframes are fictions – necessary fictions, but fictions nonetheless.” That’s a Guardian piece which argues convincingly that the aid industry is crippled by measurement, but doesn’t offer a way out. Good read nonetheless.

@mysociety is looking for help filling out its wikidata on EVERY POLITICIAN IN THE WORLD. Rarely are all caps so well deserved.

@OddLetters has a great-great-great long read on big data and politics, noting that in addtion to the problems of opaque influence, political big data analytics risk de-incentivising political engagement between citizens and political actors: “It is a short hop from thinking you know someone to thinking you know what they want or what is good for them, without any need to persuade or even to ask. And removing persuasion as a necessary step from the political sphere removes consent from the political sphere as well.” This risk is exacerbated by the fact that a lot of politically contrarian people manage to extract themselves from big data analytics in their efforts to avoid censorship.

Thinking strategy, this law review article critiques the long term strategic utility of FOIA laws, arguing that such legislation “contributes to a culture of adversarialism and derision surrounding the domestic policy bureaucracy while insulating the far more secretive national security agencies, as well as corporations, from similar scrutiny.” Meanwhile, a study of 50 long-form deliberative processes in Canada and Australia is used to argue for deliberation as the cure to populism and political disengagement, while a Brookings report argues against political participation, suggesting we need rather to hone institutional capacity to intermediate between citizens and government: “In asking the public and the reform community to reconsider the cult of participation and rediscover the value of intermediation, we seek only to recall what Madison and the Founders taught: Intermediation strengthens democracy, and sometimes democratization weakens it.”

Internationally, Princeton has a fascinating case study on Tunisia’s rapid turn around on Open Government, and Judith Kelly argues for the virtues of ranking countries in order to influence their behavior. She cites compelling anecdotal evidence from WikiLeaks in the context of human trafficking scorecards. Of course, the devil is in the national advocacy context, which tends to be messy, as I’ve discussed in the context of the Open Data Index.

New books:

In the Methodological Weeds

Oxfam has a new how-to guide for measuring women’s empowerment that funnels bespoke project data into a single composite indicator. I questioned its utility for projects.

Australia is developing “uniform metrics on public use of freedom of information (FOI) access rights and the collection and publication of this data.” The draft metrics are super duper vague, but published for public comment.

Academic Opps

The Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences has a track on digital and social media (deadline: 15 June, Event: 4-7 Jan, Hawaii (!!))

Courses on social network analysis (14-21 June, Milan)

PHD positions on Government Web Portals as New Government Actors (no deadline, Queensland Univ.)

Miscellanea & Absurdum


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