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.
#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 Worse than that, a (peer reviewed but unpublished?)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”
Papers & Findings
Using the internet leads to civic engagement. Sometimes. Kind of. This according to structural equation analysis of US college survey data (n=2000), which finds “both positive and negative effects” of internet use on engagement patterns (students who share political opinions online tend to have less political conversations offline) but also identifies “feedback loops” between online and offline engagement activities (the effects of offline activity on online activity being slightly stronger than the other way around), and online info-gathering as having particular predictive power for engagement, both online and off.
Crowdsourcers, microtaskers and distributed team wranglers, choose your platforms wisely. Online groups do not display “collective intelligence.” This based on a replication of the 2010 study that demonstrated collective intelligence among groups, but using online groups. The likely explanation is that collective intelligence relies on social sensitivity of group members rather than individual intelligence, and that social sensitivity in turn relies on social cues absent in the type of online group-work tested in this study.
Open data enthusiasts and civic techies are good at exploiting norms around #open for mobilization, but “open data intermediaries lack a shared culture and political understandings necessary for broader and more impactful action,” with “exceedingly fragmented” perspectives on what data can and should do. This from work with focus groups in a mid-sized US city. Continue reading “research links w 6-17”
Papers & Findings
What makes for a strong and democratic public media? According to comparative research on “12 leading democracies,” it’s all about multi-year funding, legal charters limiting gov influence, arms-length oversight agencies and audience councils. Compelling, but not shocking. Similarly, we know that the internet doesn’t drive democracy, but increased digital media penetration and demand are part of the complex processes that do. These findings confirmed by new replication research comparing data on 72 countries from 2004-2014.
E-government and open budget practices correlate strongly with good governance and anti-corruption, according to panel data on 48 countries from 2004-2015, reviewed by Turkish researchers in a Romanian journal. At least that’s my best reading, the authors’ English isn’t great, and their prose actually seems to consistently argue that the existence of these comparative indices leads to less corruption. Continue reading “research links w5-17”
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”
Papers & Findings
What makes multi stakeholder initiatives for transparency effective? In the case of EITI, it seems to be treating civil society as equal partners and ensuring that they bring relevant technical skills to the table. This according to doctoral research that also outlines common “pathways to proactive transparency reform.” Would be great to see research testing these findings in other MSI contexts, cough, the OGP.
Data on the 2012 online consultation for the Egyptian constitution suggests that demonstrably popular articles are less likely to be changed, but that ex ante agreement on constitutional design among elites is just as important as popular consensus on substance for successful citizen feedback initiatives.
A new handbook on political trust looks amazing and timely, but is prohibitively expensive, and this new book on participatory democracy compares participatory hype to increasingly reported feelings of disconnection from politics, finding that ” participatory instruments have become more focused on the formation of public opinion and are far less attentive to, or able to influence, actual reform.” Continue reading “research links w 3/17”
Papers and Findings
A new Brookings report aims to answer the question “Does Open Government Work?” NBD. Not surprisingly, the report doesn’t provide a definitive answer. It does suggest six structural conditions for open government initiatives to achieve their objectives. The framework is nuanced and useful, but it’s not at all clear how the authors came up with it. It would be nice to know more about their “analysis of hundreds of reports, articles, and peer-reviewed academic studies discussing the effectiveness of particular programs.” Presumably they looked at evidence internationally, but there’s no clear distinctions made between different political and cultural contexts…
Meanwhile, an article in the ARPR assesses the implementation of the OGP in the US (OGP didn’t do much to change the way the US does transparency) and Portuguese researchers have proposed a “transparency ontology” to guide the development and implementation of open data initiatives, in order to make them more relevant for citizens. The paper relies on journalists’ role as “information brokers,” which is reflected in their method. They don’t seem to have interviewed any actual citizens.
Globally, the OECD has a new book out summarizing the future of Open Government, while the 2016 UN E-government survey paints a rosy picture. It finds that 90 countries have a portal for open data or services, 148 countries provide at “online transactional services” and “an increasing number of countries are moving towards participatory decision-making.” #devilinthedetails Continue reading “research links w 48-49”