research links w 23-24 / 17

Findings

Research on nearly 3 decades of democratic innovation and e-participation in Latin America has some interesting findings (Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru). According to an Open Democracy blogpost (the actual project’s website is down): civil society participation programming uses tech more often than not, smaller countries are less prolific than large countries in terms of tech-driven innovations, and tech driven innovations are just as common at the national level as they are at the sub-national level. Though digital innovations are widespread, they only rarely facilitate decision-making (30%)  or are formalized in legislation or policy (less than 50%).

University of Maryland research on anti-Trump protests finds digital media commonalities among an exceptionally diverse group, suggesting something that approximates a “movement.”

A review of research on government social media use finds that it is generally quantitative, ignoring both users and impacts, while a library study in the UK suggests that Open Data makes it hard to archive well in the NHS, and a study of service delivery in Kenya found that it was improved by decentralization, but that the mediating effects of e-government initiatives were insignificant (275 respondents, 8 county govts).

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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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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 50-52

Papers and Findings

Do global norms and clubs make a difference? A new dissertation assesses implementation of EITI, CSTI and OGP in Guatemala, the Philippines and Tanzania to conclude that multi-stakeholder initiatives can strengthen national proactive transparency, but have little impact on demand-driven accountability. There are interesting insights on open washing and the importance of high level political ownership.

Meanwhile, MySociety’s @RebeccaRumbul assessed civic technology in Mexico, Chile and Argentina (interviews w/ gov and non-gov, n=47), to conclude that the “intended democratising and opening effects of civic technology have in fact caused a chilling effect,” prompting Latin American governments to seek more restrictive control over information. In Brazil, researchers assessed 5 municipalities to see whether strong open data initiatives correlated with strong scores on the digital transparency index–they don’t.

Austrian researchers reviewed the literature on gamification strategies in e-participation platforms globally, concluding that gamification of democracy doesn’t happen often, and when it does, it’s often rewards-based, a strategy they expect to “decrease the quality of participation.” This conference paper by computer scientists proposes an e-government maturity model, based on a literature review of 25 existing models, and the International Budget Partnership has released a report on how civil society uses fiscal transparency data. Spoiler: they don’t have the data they want.

A number of global reports and releases were published. The DataShift has a new guide on Making Citizen-Generated Data Work, based on a review of 160 projects and interviews with 14 case studies, and which presents some useful classifications and typologies. Creative Commons has released the 2016 Global Open Policy Report, with an overview of open policies four sectors (education, science, data and heritage) in 38 countries. The White House has released a report on the performance of it’s public petition site, We the People, highlighting four cases where e-petitions arguably impacted policy in the platform’s first five years of operation.

Meanwhile, the Governance Data Alliance has released a report entitled “When is Governance Data Good Enough?” based on snap polls with “500 leaders” in 126 countries, and which suggests among other things that credibility and contextualization of governance data is important to governance data users, and that governance data is used primarily for research and analysis. The general impression seems to be that yes, in many countries, the governance data that exists is in fact good enough “to support reform champions, inform policy changes, and improve governance.” A launch event was held on Dec 15.

Flow Journal has a special issue on Media activism politics in/for the age of Trump. International Political Science Review has a special issue on measuring the quality of democracy.

Community and Commentary

GovLab sought Peer Reviewers for open gov case studies on Cambodia, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Paraguay and Uganda, but there were only 9 days to sign up (in late Dec) and 2 weeks to review (during the holidays). Hope they found someone. There must be a happy medium between the glacial grind of academic peer review and… this.

A Freedominfo.org post highlights the Access to Information component in the World Bank’s Open Data Readiness Assessment Tool, and suggests how it can be a useful tool for advocates and activists.

The World Bank has released a new guide on crowdsourcing water quality monitoring, with a focus on program design, not measurement, which is nicely summarized here.

Mike Ananny and Kate Crawford’s new article in New Media & Sociaty critiques the “ideal of transparency” as a foundation for accountability, identifying 10 limits of transparency, and suggest alternative approaches for pursuing algorithmic accountability.

The LSE blog re-posted a piece describing novel metrics for research social media influence, and distinguishing between aspects of “influence”, such as amplification, true reach and network score, but failing to link to that research. In Government Information Quarterly, a troika of international researchers have suggested an uninspired research agenda for “open innovation in the public sector”, with a focus on domain-specific studies, tools other than social media, and more diverse methods.

This TechCrunch article attributes civic innovation in US cities to governmental gridlock at the federal level, the NYT describes research suggesting that price transparency in the US health sector has failed to drive prices down and Results for Development Institute is developing a framework to help governments “cost” open government initiatives before they pursue them.

In the Methodological Weeds

The Development Impact Blog has a great post on life satisfaction reporting between women and men. The discussion begins with the assertion that “women definitely say they are happier” and moves quickly to debunk that assertion, using hypothetical vignettes, anchored to common response scales. The methods are smart, and highly relevant to response bias problems in any social survey setting, especially in assessing political and social impacts of media and information.

An article in JeDEM presents a model for multidimensional open government data, which focuses on the integration of official and unofficial statistics. The proposed method builds on the data cube model from business intelligence, and relies entirely on a linked data technology. This paper goes a bit beyond my technical expertise, but at bottom it promises to harmonize indicators from different data sources (with different, but overlapping meta-data and data context) on the basis of shared attributes. Kind of a lowest common denominator approach. This is intuitive, and the type of thing I’ve seen attempted at data expeditions via excel, but having a rigorous method could be a huge advantage. Especially if demonstrated with the participation of governments in the pilots this article references, a solid methodology for this could be hugely useful to initiatives like DataShift, which talk a lot about merging citizen-generated data with official statistics, but struggle to make that happen either politically or technically.

Academic Opps

Calls for Papers:

Miscellanea and Absurdum

  • America’s most common Christmas-related injuries, in charts (from Quartz)
  • The Hate Index “represents a journalistic effort to chronicle hate crimes and other acts of intolerance since Donald Trump’s presidential election victory.”
  • DataDoesGood is asking you to donate your anonymized shopping data, which gets sold, and profits donated to charity.
  • Academic article: “Tinder Humanitarians”: The Moral Panic Around Representations of Old Relationships in New Media
  • The Association of Internet Researchers has a YouTube channel (!)
  • 4% of U.S. internet users have been a victim of “revenge porn” (via Data & Society)
  • CFP: Women’s Head Hair as a tool of communication, in media outlets and social media activism