Case by case: what development economics can teach the civic tech and accountability field about building an evidence base

Warning: long post, deep weeds.

Last week saw some really interesting thinking in the development economics blogosphere, focused on design questions for external validity (the applicability of case-specific findings to other cases). This is a central question for research on civic tech and accountability programming, which talks a lot about wanting an evidence base, but remains dominated by case studies, enthusiasm and a handful of ametuer researchers. We see this clearly a couple times a year (at TicTech, the Open Data Research Forum), where the community gathers to talk about evidence, share novel case studies, acknowledge that we can’t generalize from case studies, and then talk some more as if we can.

If we want to develop the kinds of general heuristics and and rules of thumb that would be useful for the people who actually design and prioritize programming modalities, the kind that would make it possible to learn across country contexts, then we have to be smarter about how we design our research and conceptualize our evidence base. There’s a lot to learn from development economics in that regard. Development studies is like pubescent civic tech and accountability’s older uncle, who used to be cool, but still knows how to get shit done. In particular, there was a lot to learn from last week’s discussions about generalization and validity.

Continue reading “Case by case: what development economics can teach the civic tech and accountability field about building an evidence base”

research links w 21-17

Findings

E-government projects are more successful when formal decision-making processes include stakeholders and actively manage risk, according to a survey of  Swedish national government agencies and municipalities (N=550). Meanwhile, @timdavies is coauthor on a paper in Science & Technology Studies that tracks how data standards influence bureaucratic processes for opening government data. The paper warns that standards can in some ways obstruct actual engagement with users, and puts a useful focus on people in institutions just trying to get things done.

Mixed findings on social media effects this week. Chinese participants in political discourse on Weibo experience that discourse as deliberative, despite the interactions being “mostly non-dialogical and non-creative in nature, and characterised by homophily and polarisation.” (New study, n= 417). In the US, social media played a definitive role in determining how the Tea Party negotiated it’s identity and relationship with the Republican party in the course of Trump’s rise to power. Not in the least, it allowed for quick differentiation of activist perceptions on appropriate degrees of openness, which seem to correspond with political objectives and conceptions of political efficacy. This is described by a new paper in Social Media + Society (not to be confused with New Media and Society, I recently made that mistake > facepalm), which offers a fascinating case, without clearly actionable findings.

Continue reading “research links w 21-17”

research links w 19 & 20-17

Findings

The University of Vienna has a new report on far-right attacks on the press, a concept they sketch to include legal action, abuse of power and online abuse. The report describes a delicate relationship between the rise of far-right nationalism/populism and declines in the quality of European democracy.  Meanwhile @datasociety‘s new report on Media Manipulation only describes the tactics and platforms that “far-right groups” are using to manipulate media, but the social and economic factors that make traditional media vulnerable.

A survey of Chinese localities suggests that “technology competence, top management support, perceived benefits, and citizen readiness significantly influence assimilation of social media in local government agencies.” And globally it doesn’t seem to be going well, at least in terms of responsive web design. Global research suggests that government websites still suck on mobiles. Or more carefully put: “The results show that only 0.03% of government websites comes close to adhere to mobile web best practices (MWBP) guidelines with compliant rate greater than 80%.” But every little bit counts. Even when government’s are lackadaisical on social media, having a Facebook page can still spur citizen engagement, at least according to a study of 18 months of communications in La Paz, Mexico. Continue reading “research links w 19 & 20-17”

research links w 17-17

Findings

Power users of civic reporting platforms tend to cluster geographically and disseminate use of platform use in their neighborhoods. This is the main finding of new research on 311 platforms in San Fransisco (surveys, n=5k over 5 yrs), though the title and abstract are misleading, promising insights on “co-production” more generally (the authors reference the distinction, but only to exploit a casual equation), and implying a problem of elite capture. Sigh.

Community  & Resources

Quality standards for open government data? Marta Indulska and Shazia Sadiq think it’s researchers job to push for them. Meanwhile, @eytanadar ‏ makes a strong argument against data exploration without hypotheses (h/t @FlowingData), and @_AndrewYoung announced a new “Opening Governance stream” on the @monkeycageblog, but I wasn’t able to find it on the blog.

Last week was The Impact of Civic Technology Conference (#TicTec), @DanLammerhirt ‏ has some useful reflections. Continue reading “research links w 17-17”

research links w 16-17

Findings

Do international norms and evaluations influence country performance? New evidence on the Aid transparency Index suggests they do. Combination of original panel data and interviews gives some pretty fascinating insights into institutional processes in government.

Community & Resources

A couple of new (and arguably redundant) efforts to open data in the US this week:

  • The US State Department launched the “F Interagency Network Databank (FIND)” for accessing international development data by country.
  • Former Microsoft executive spends a ton of cash creating USAFacts, to provide an integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments. Coverage and skepticism

There’s also now a SAGE Handbook of Resistance, @morganweiland has crowdsourced a lit review on free speech theory and technology in the US context, data from the 2016 Right to Education Index is now live, there’s 1 week left to comment on @SunFoundation’s Tactical Data Engagement Guide, and the eminent Stephen Coleman has a new book coming out to revitalize cyber utopianismContinue reading “research links w 16-17”

research links w15-17

Findings

Qualitative content analysis of 122 US cities suggests three main pathways through which police forces adopt and innovate transparency. Short version: it’s complicated, but policy and mandates matter a lot.

New research from NewsWhip suggests that political news is the trick for news outlets to increase their Facebook engagement, but that partisan sites are outperforming mainstream news outlets on Facebook in the first months of Trump. They argue that new features will only reinforce the Face’s centrality to activism in the future.

Microsoft Transparency report suggests that the US Govt is asking for a lot more information about less people (from 2015-2016). Continue reading “research links w15-17”