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)”

research links w 4/17

Papers & Findings

The world is ending. The 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index finds links between corruption and inequality, and notes falling scores for countries around the world. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index is titled Revenge of the “deplorables”, and notes a worsening of the worldwide “democratic recession” in 2016.

Civic techs. What are the most important characteristics for civic apps? Low threshold for use, built in feedback, and visible change and engagement across users. This according to a paper presented at a recent Cambridge conference. Meanwhile, research on Twitter use in the 2016 Ugandan elections finds that the social media platform “provides minority groups important access to public space otherwise denied on traditional media platforms,” and a Yale study suggests that city use of citizen reporting platforms correlate with lower levels of crime, potentially due to increased social cohesion, though the authors are careful not to assert a causal relationship. Continue reading “research links w 4/17”

Quick Note: Using the Rhetoric of Civic Tech

There’s a recurrent obsession with self-naming and differentiation in international thinking  about how technology can facilitate some kind of betterness (nice overviews here and here).

Part of this is likely about fashion, funding and social prominence, but there’s also legitimate concerns about how our labels impact “the field”’s popular salience or ability to learn.

For me, the greatest annoyance has always been finding the right term when writing stuff, a label that’s inclusive (“open government” excludes private sector campaigns), precise (“tech for social good” isn’t) and concise (“technology for transparency and accountability initiatives” doesn’t roll of the tongue or keyboard, and the acronym, well, acronyms often make me want to cry). Continue reading “Quick Note: Using the Rhetoric of Civic Tech”

Building on TICTec: more thinking about research pls


Last week I joined the Impacts of Civic Technology Conference 2016, a sort of annual mixer for researchers and the civic tech community, organized by MySociety to “promote and share rigorous and meaningful research into online technologies and digital democracy around the world.”

The event was good (write ups here, here, here, and here), but notable for being so firmly grounded in the idea of research, without talking about it all that much. I left inspired, but frustrated, wishing there was a forum for addressing some of the thornier issues surrounding this still fuzzy idea of research and evidence on civic technology. Because throughout the event, the idea of “research” influencing programming got mentioned a lot, but never examined. Here’s a quick run through some of those issues, and thoughts about why they aren’t yet getting the attention they deserve. Continue reading “Building on TICTec: more thinking about research pls”