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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Case by case: what development economics can teach the civic tech and accountability field about building an evidence base

Warning: long post, deep weeds.

Last week saw some really interesting thinking in the development economics blogosphere, focused on design questions for external validity (the applicability of case-specific findings to other cases). This is a central question for research on civic tech and accountability programming, which talks a lot about wanting an evidence base, but remains dominated by case studies, enthusiasm and a handful of ametuer researchers. We see this clearly a couple times a year (at TicTech, the Open Data Research Forum), where the community gathers to talk about evidence, share novel case studies, acknowledge that we can’t generalize from case studies, and then talk some more as if we can.

If we want to develop the kinds of general heuristics and and rules of thumb that would be useful for the people who actually design and prioritize programming modalities, the kind that would make it possible to learn across country contexts, then we have to be smarter about how we design our research and conceptualize our evidence base. There’s a lot to learn from development economics in that regard. Development studies is like pubescent civic tech and accountability’s older uncle, who used to be cool, but still knows how to get shit done. In particular, there was a lot to learn from last week’s discussions about generalization and validity.

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research links w 17-17

Findings

Power users of civic reporting platforms tend to cluster geographically and disseminate use of platform use in their neighborhoods. This is the main finding of new research on 311 platforms in San Fransisco (surveys, n=5k over 5 yrs), though the title and abstract are misleading, promising insights on “co-production” more generally (the authors reference the distinction, but only to exploit a casual equation), and implying a problem of elite capture. Sigh.

Community  & Resources

Quality standards for open government data? Marta Indulska and Shazia Sadiq think it’s researchers job to push for them. Meanwhile, @eytanadar ‏ makes a strong argument against data exploration without hypotheses (h/t @FlowingData), and @_AndrewYoung announced a new “Opening Governance stream” on the @monkeycageblog, but I wasn’t able to find it on the blog.

Last week was The Impact of Civic Technology Conference (#TicTec), @DanLammerhirt ‏ has some useful reflections. Continue reading “research links w 17-17”

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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research links w5-17

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”

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”

Research Links w 2-17

Papers & Findings

A large scale citizen survey conducted in 36 Chinese cities found strong correlation between government transparency and citizen perceptions of public service equity. Perceptions of trust are equally important in open data initiatives, but a forthcoming article in Sociology argues that “open government initiatives routinely prize visibility over intelligibility and ignore the communicative basis of trust.” Trust also plays a significant role in Global Innovation Exchange’s sweeping report on the use of ICTs in fighting Ebola, including 9 case studies, and based on 130 interviews. The report’s insights on the “fog of information” are particularly compelling.

Continue reading “Research Links w 2-17”