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

research links w25 – 17



From the duh desk: 
A white paper from Cornell Law reviews e-government and rulemaking processes in the US, to find that an institutional “culture of risk adverseness” is much more obstructive to e-participation than is a lack of technological solutions.

What difference does it make?:
An article in Telecommunications Policy documents how mobiles have dramatically reshaped the political communication ecology in Ghana and deepened civic engagement, without affecting “the fundamental structures of political power and the levers of control.” Things look slightly better in a series of research briefs on open data and OGP processes produced by @ITforChange and @AllVoicesCount. The briefs describe incremental progress in all three countries, with significant reservations. Despite increasingly progressive open data practice and policy in the Philippines, for example, “the benefits to individual democratic citizenship are far more conclusive than the benefits to democracy as a whole.” Similarly, the increasingly participatory and inclusive nature of Uruguay’s OGP action plans are described as “gradually modifying” governance processes, through increased interaction and deliberation (though the research brief provides neither a narrative nor a theory to explain how this might be happening). Most optimistically, the brief on inclusive municipal technologies in Spain describes not only specific instances of “engaged and transformative citizenship,” but a proliferation of knowledge sharing and participatory strategies across the country. Here too however, details are light.

In other news, sorry, democracy does not cause innovation

Community and Resources

A new working paper on Computational Propaganda from @oiioxford takes a comprehensive look at the multiple ways that online platforms are being used to manipulate public opinion, while the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies has an article looking at the dark side of government consultations, looking at how structural and contextual factors can obscure “participatory disempowerment,” and French scholars have been exploring the labor that lies behind open government data.

Strategy-wise, BBC Media Action blogs on cutting edge research on story telling for development and advocacy, and Kentaro Toyama argues that ICT4D should move beyond a focus on user needs and begin designing towards user aspirations. The Engine Room blogs on how Amnesty is training digital volunteers to verify human rights data, and this paper summarizes research and tools for tech-driven deliberation at scale. Meanwhile, 12 months of research on interactive radio platforms for small scale farmers in Tanzania has some familiar take-aways for responsive tech, @AllVoicesCount ‏ sums up research on tech innovation hubs, with lessons for hubs, policy makers and donors, and USAID has dropped a new Guide to Strengthening Civil Society through Social Media.



Aiming to answer all the questions, a Berkman Klein Center-affiliated project launched a website called Catalysts for Collaboration, which presents case studies and tips to encourage internet activists to collaborate across disciplinary silos and strengthen their digital rights litigation. So now that’s taken care of.

There was also a whole lot of curation popping up last week. consolidates data on over 2.4m unique open source projects, the Manifesto Project provides access to data on political party positions, coded from electoral manifestos (1000 parties from 1945 in over 50 countries), the MSI Database is a searchable online database of multi-stakeholder initiatives, and aims to “be the place where rigorous research on international development moves into practice; we will translate the state-of-the-art into pragmatic policy advice.” Ambitious.

Bookwise, LSE reviewed The Makerspace Librarian’s Sourcebook, the new Communication and Social Change: A Citizen Perspective is a stocktaking, with a focus on developing countries, and this review makes me think that By any media necessary: The new youth activism can live up to its presumptuous title.


In the Methodological Weeds

@fhi360research has more on probability sampling in the field. Key takeaway: protect validity by building a strong buffer between sampling design decisions and field-based implementation decisions.

Academic Opps

Calls for participation/papers:


Miscellanea & Absurdum

The Girl Scouts are adding a cybersecurity badge (headline, CNN)

“Endangered life is often used to justify humanitarian media intervention, but what if suffering humanity is both the fuel and outcome of such media representations?” So begins the blurb for Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary.

The 2nd International Conference of the Fisheries Transparency Initiative, adopted the first FiTI Standard. (h/t@freedominfoorg)


  • Artificial intelligence can predict which congressional bills will pass (Science)
  • How Tinder Could Take Back the White House (New York Times)
  • Estonia to open the world’s first data embassy in Luxembourg (
  • Why nobody knows how many Nigerians there are (The Economist)

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