So I’ve been away for a whopping 8 weeks, bouncing between holidays, summer schools, consultancies and moving the fam to DC. Somehow the internet refused to stop while I was gone. So as I get back into the swing of things, here is an abbreviated summary of the summer’s findings in civic tech research, plus a couple of choice weeds and reflections.
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.
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”
There’s lots of findings on inclusion and exclusion this week. A study of Fix My Street platforms in Brussels suggests that they “marginalize low-income and ethnically diverse communities,” while a Dutch survey suggests that citizen forums aren’t increasing political engagement as much as we’d like. primarily due to problems with representation and drop-out problems, and @phat_controller offers early research reflections from the Philippines on how digital technologies are excluding rather than including. Meanwhile, a survey in Brazilian favelas (telecenter convenience sampling, n=107) suggests online content creation, digital freedom, mobile Internet access as best ways to improve political engagement among marginalized groups. Continue reading “research links w 18 – 17”
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 @ 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 (@ among news groups, @ among NGOs) and Democratic committees dramatically out-FOIA their Republican counterparts (81/7). These and other fascinating insights in @‘s analysis of 229,000 requests to 85 government agencies.
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.
#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”