research links w 16-17

Findings

Do international norms and evaluations influence country performance? New evidence on the Aid transparency Index suggests they do. Combination of original panel data and interviews gives some pretty fascinating insights into institutional processes in government.

Community & Resources

A couple of new (and arguably redundant) efforts to open data in the US this week:

  • The US State Department launched the “F Interagency Network Databank (FIND)” for accessing international development data by country.
  • Former Microsoft executive spends a ton of cash creating USAFacts, to provide an integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments. Coverage and skepticism

There’s also now a SAGE Handbook of Resistance, @morganweiland has crowdsourced a lit review on free speech theory and technology in the US context, data from the 2016 Right to Education Index is now live, there’s 1 week left to comment on @SunFoundation’s Tactical Data Engagement Guide, and the eminent Stephen Coleman has a new book coming out to revitalize cyber utopianismContinue reading “research links w 16-17”

research links w8-17

Findings

#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 Worse than that, a (peer reviewed but unpublished?)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”

New Research Guide on Open Data and Accountabiltiy

The GSDRC is a resource centre that synthesises and summarizes research for use in international development programming. It’s a great initiative for making scholarly work relevant and useful in the real world, and last week they released a new topic guide on open data and accountability. I was excited to take a look, as I’ve previously found their guides and responses to research help desk queries to be insightful and useful. This guide builds on work about infomediaries and CSOs holding governments to account, which the GSDRC produced in the last year or so, and provides a strong overview in an easily accessible format for program designers. I felt that it fell short in a few important ways, though, especially by relying on the usual academic suspects, by skipping some of the most important scholarly debates and dynamics for transparency programming, and by not directly addressing the significantly nascent state of research on the topic. Continue reading “New Research Guide on Open Data and Accountabiltiy”

Against the civic tech sector

Stefaan G. Verhulst recently offered some suggestions on how to “build a civic tech field that can last and stand the test of time.” Stefaan is a smart guy, connected, well informed, and his suggestions make smart sense of a messy landscape. But they also accept a fundamental premise which tends to go unchecked in international discussions about civic tech.

His introduction:

…we are yet to witness a true tech-enabled transformation of how government works and how citizens engage with institutions and with each other to solve societal problems. In many ways, civic tech still operates under the radar screen and often lacks broad acceptance. So how do we accelerate and expand the civic tech sector? How can we build a civic tech field that can last and stand the test of time?

I think this represents a popular perspective, but would argue that there’s a hidden question begged. The need for a strong sector or community does not follow directly from widely recognized promise and lack of significant impact. I’m all for the exciting way in which civic tech can strengthen governance, civic engagement and quality of life, but would like to suggest that we might not need a civic tech sector for that at all, at least not in the sense of a scope of work defined by common interests. It might even be getting in the way. Continue reading “Against the civic tech sector”

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”