research links w 12- 17

Findings

Politically marginalized groups have less access to the internet, worldwide. This shocker based on network measurements over 8 years and identification of politically relevant groups as defined by the Ethnic Power Relations (EPR).

The relationship between online and offline activism is messy, according to a survey of 1023 adolescents from five Balkan countries, while a year-long study in Uganda and Kenya documents ways that citizen-generated data can be used to improve service delivery and policy, but finds that relationships matter, and that measurement is hard.

Why governments implement e-participation: Governments are most willing to implement e-participation schemes when they enjoy strong ICT infrastructure and human capital, according to a review of archival data from 153 countries (pulled from UN E-Gov surveys and the World Bank’s Development and Governance Indicator sets from 2010-2012). Most interestingly, quality of governance did not positively correlate with willingness to implement e-participation, and the authors suggest that advocates should accordingly push for better ICT infrastructure and human resources, “to move up the ladder of e-government maturity.” Also worth noting, willingness to conduct e-consultations was the only form of willingness negatively associated with e-government maturity. On this last point, the authors speculate is because governments are afraid that consultative processes will slow down e-government processes.

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research links w 11-17

Findings

Voice online:
Twitter advocacy can bypass mainstream media that excludes non-elite voices, according to a study of how #IfTheyGunnedMeDown was used following 2014 police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri. That’s good news for digital advocacy innovators, but important to remember that people don’t feel safe online and don’t understand how their personal information gets used, but most aren’t willing to get trained. This according to survey of “Mozilla community members” (n=30,000+) by the Mozilla Foundation.

All the FOIA researchin the US:
Freedom of information in the US has been suffering in recent years from reduced access to information and increased FOIA denials, and a survey of “336 freedom of information experts” suggests that it is only going to get worse. On the other hand, “data pulled from over 30,000 FOIA requests” by @MuckRock suggests that the US govt is much better at responding to FOIA requests than we tend to think. Digging into the details, US FOIA gets used by business actors more than any other group,  single actors dominate requests from most groups (@MuckRock among news groups, @JudicialWatch among NGOs) and Democratic committees dramatically out-FOIA their Republican counterparts (81/7). These and other fascinating insights in @galka_max‘s analysis of 229,000 requests to 85 government agencies.

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research links w 9-17

Findings

All the reports:
A @datasociety report finds low trust in media among US youth, who often find news by accident, and demonstrate a variety of innovative verification strategies. Meanwhile, a University of London report finds that whistleblowing is more dangerous in the digital age and a new OECD report finds that the resurgence of single bidding significantly increases risks of corruption in European procurement. Take note #opencontracting strategists. Perhaps most happily, new research described in @SSIReview suggests that funders do use knowledge! In fact they get it primarily from peers and grantees, but it’s not enough to provoke change.

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Review – Popular Democracy: the Participation Paradox

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Though you wouldn’t know it from the title, Popular Democracy is about participatory budgeting, full stop. It’s a fantastic little book (213 pgs) that’s both accessible and illustrative, leveraging an ethnographic account of several participatory budgeting case studies to argue for the potential power of participatory mechanisms more broadly. It’s a casually written book that’s a pleasure to read, both because the authors serve up juicy details on the “secret histories” of their case studies (though they deny it’s their intention, 137), and because the theoretical claims that those cases support are provocative.

The book is divided up into six chapters. The first two set the frame for the book historically and theoretically, describing the international rise and dissemination of PB as a policy meme. Chapters three through five present ethnographies of individual case studies, and the closing chapter draws some grand conclusions.

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research links w8-17

Findings

#participationwashing? Participatory mechanisms promise to empower the marginalized, and can provide the illusion of power, but an ethnographic study on development processes in Boston shows how participation can simply reinforce existing power dynamics: “residents appear empowered, while officials retain ultimate decision-making authority.” Worse than that, a (peer reviewed but unpublished?) article on Vietnam demonstrates how  e-government is not e-democracy, and authoritarian states can digitize just as well as anyone else, while G20 countries are  breaking promises to release anti-corruption data, according to a report from the Web Foundation, which notes the quality of what they do release isn’t that great either.

So how to make government more responsive? Put the mayor on Twitter says  a social network analysis of citizen-state social media interaction in Seoul, Korea. Meanwhile, a new research report from MAVC supports the common assumption that crowdsourced information is inherently political, due in no small part to the behavior and interaction of crowdsourcing infomediaries, which is itself messy, while a survey of 57 Swiss legislators suggests that making lawmakers argue on the basis actual performance evidence changes the way they budget, but also increases polarization. Continue reading “research links w8-17”

Why do governments do civic tech and open government? (a mini lit review)

The civic tech and open government community spends a fair amount of energy persuading government counterparts to get in the game, measuring how well they do, and encouraging them to do more and better. There seems to be based on a general assumption that doing so works best when appealing to government incentives, either to make their work easier, to increase their legitimacy or to get on the right side of national and international norms. But what does the literature say?

Well, as usual, it’s complicated. Scholarly work looking at why governments pursue civic tech, open government, open data, e-participation and other such programming is as diverse as one might expect. It’s spread across a number of disciplines and uses a variety of methods, and lots of careful distinctions should be made between studies on the incentives, motivations, boosters, enabling factors and predictors of government engagement. I’ll refer casually to “incentives” for “civic tech” in order to keep this brief, but the distinctions do matter.

As per usual, the literature seems to be dominated by case studies, and there’s a lack of comparative empirical or synthetic work. This likely because the field of study is relatively new, but serves as a general point of caution when drawing conclusions. As usual, I’ve pasted formatted references with links below the fold. A lot of the links bump into paywalls, but I’m happy to facilitate access to the articles if you drop me an email. Continue reading “Why do governments do civic tech and open government? (a mini lit review)”