Research Links w 35 (back from summer)

So I’m back in the office and finally done wading through all the interesting stuff that piled up in August, but there’s too much to put here, so popping right into September…



Research Links (w25-28/16)

4 weeks’ worth, yikes. #summer


Citizen Engagement FTW!
The Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory just released a “virtual issue” on citizen engagement, collecting the most important articles with that focus in that journal since 1995, to make some sense of how citizens actually engage with governance across the policy cycle. The editors’ take on the compilation is compelling and there are some real gems in the articles, such as those demonstrating how citizen expectations influence participation in public service accountability initiatives. Crudely summarized, some of the findings suggest that:

Continue reading “Research Links (w25-28/16)”

What I Learned about Digital Methods

I just attended the digital methods summer school, hosted by University of Amsterdam initiative of the same name. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years, but first had the opportunity as a phd candidate. It was worth the wait, and here’s a quick summary of what I learned about the methods, the tools, and the course.

The methods

“Digital methods” could mean a lot of different things, but there’s a lot at stake in the rhetoric. Digital humanities, data journalism, webometrics, virtual methods, data science, oh my. Cramming the internet into social science research makes for a complicated landscape, and there’s ontological and political work to be done in how academic schools and approaches distinguish themselves.

Digital methods stakes out its turf with a 2-part move: Continue reading “What I Learned about Digital Methods”

Against the civic tech sector

Stefaan G. Verhulst recently offered some suggestions on how to “build a civic tech field that can last and stand the test of time.” Stefaan is a smart guy, connected, well informed, and his suggestions make smart sense of a messy landscape. But they also accept a fundamental premise which tends to go unchecked in international discussions about civic tech.

His introduction:

…we are yet to witness a true tech-enabled transformation of how government works and how citizens engage with institutions and with each other to solve societal problems. In many ways, civic tech still operates under the radar screen and often lacks broad acceptance. So how do we accelerate and expand the civic tech sector? How can we build a civic tech field that can last and stand the test of time?

I think this represents a popular perspective, but would argue that there’s a hidden question begged. The need for a strong sector or community does not follow directly from widely recognized promise and lack of significant impact. I’m all for the exciting way in which civic tech can strengthen governance, civic engagement and quality of life, but would like to suggest that we might not need a civic tech sector for that at all, at least not in the sense of a scope of work defined by common interests. It might even be getting in the way. Continue reading “Against the civic tech sector”

The Permanent Staycation

I just returned from the digital methods summer school (post forthcoming). It was the first time I’ve attended an international event for phd students, and in the inevitable dinners and drinks that followed long workshop days, I learned a lot about how phd programs differ. One thing that surprised me, was how consistently the most thoughtful and productive people seemed to describe the leisurely aspect of their work.

“It’s like an early retirement,” said one, which you get early and only once, so you might as well enjoy it. Continue reading “The Permanent Staycation”

Research Links (w24/16)


  • Making All Voices Count this week reported on their recent Learning Event, in a document that collects some useful schematics and tools for thinking about civic tech programming, and also captured some of the practitioner thinking about what it all means.

    A certain scepticism and sense of let-down has been expressed by some observers, but this may have more to do with the way civic technologies were described than their actual impacts on the ground.

    The report also includes some compelling thoughts on what “practitioners” want research to do (p42): get embedded in projects to contribute practically to the generation of useful info, and in-depth evaluations.

  • MAVC also released a couple of “Research Briefs” following up on the recent IDS bulletine article When Does the State Listen (rarely): one on Ghana (which argues that urgency surrounding policy moments can be a positive catalyst for collaboration with civil society [at least when interests and understanding of that urgency are aligned]) and one on Kenya (which argues that the explosion of Continue reading “Research Links (w24/16)”

Apples, oranges and open data

Open Knowledge International recently asked for feedback on survey questions for the 2016 Open Data Index. This is great, and has produced a modest but likely useful discussion to  improve Index processes for national research, as well as the resulting data. But regardless of how much effort goes into fine tuning the survey questions, there’s a fundamental problem underlying the idea of an international open data index. There’s a good argument to be made that you simply can’t compare the politics of #open across countries. Open Knowledge should think carefully about what this means when refining how they present the Index, and see what can be learned from the last 15 years of experience with international indices on human rights and governance. Continue reading “Apples, oranges and open data”