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.
From the duh desk:
A white paper from Cornell Law reviews e-government and rulemaking processes in the US, to find that an institutional “culture of risk adverseness” is much more obstructive to e-participation than is a lack of technological solutions.
What difference does it make?:
An article in Telecommunications Policy documents how mobiles have dramatically reshaped the political communication ecology in Ghana and deepened civic engagement, without affecting “the fundamental structures of political power and the levers of control.” Things look slightly better in a series of research briefs on open data and OGP processes produced by @ITforChange and @AllVoicesCount. The briefs describe incremental progress in all three countries, with significant reservations. Despite increasingly progressive open data practice and policy in the Philippines, for example, “the benefits to individual democratic citizenship are far more conclusive than the benefits to democracy as a whole.” Similarly, the increasingly participatory and inclusive nature of Uruguay’s OGP action plans are described as “gradually modifying” governance processes, through increased interaction and deliberation (though the research brief provides neither a narrative nor a theory to explain how this might be happening). Most optimistically, the brief on inclusive municipal technologies in Spain describes not only specific instances of “engaged and transformative citizenship,” but a proliferation of knowledge sharing and participatory strategies across the country. Here too however, details are light.
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.