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)”

The problem with the problem with input transparency

This isn’t about research or methods, so I’ll be brief.

  1. Cass Sunstein, US policy veteran and eminent scholar, recently released a draft article distinguishing between input and output transparency, suggesting that arguments are weaker for the former, and offering reasons why input transparency might often not be a good thing.  (To grossly oversimplify: there are too many inputs to policy-making processes, and making inputs transparent is potentially costly, not very useful, and could have chilling effects on the kind of open conversation that leads to good policy).
    Continue reading “The problem with the problem with input transparency”

Crimes against data, talk by Andrew Gelman

crimesagainstdata_youtube

Andrew Gelmen gives a great talk on how data gets abused in research and politics. He goes a bit into the statistical weeds at times with T & P values and the like, but he’s also a pleasure to listen to. And he gives some great examples of both academics and public figures that either “treat statistics as a means to prove what they already know, or as hoops to be jumped through.” Continue reading “Crimes against data, talk by Andrew Gelman”

Quick Note: Using the Rhetoric of Civic Tech

There’s a recurrent obsession with self-naming and differentiation in international thinking  about how technology can facilitate some kind of betterness (nice overviews here and here).

Part of this is likely about fashion, funding and social prominence, but there’s also legitimate concerns about how our labels impact “the field”’s popular salience or ability to learn.

For me, the greatest annoyance has always been finding the right term when writing stuff, a label that’s inclusive (“open government” excludes private sector campaigns), precise (“tech for social good” isn’t) and concise (“technology for transparency and accountability initiatives” doesn’t roll of the tongue or keyboard, and the acronym, well, acronyms often make me want to cry). Continue reading “Quick Note: Using the Rhetoric of Civic Tech”

What’s e-gov got to do with it?

Lots.

Emily Shaw posted a great piece on the relevance of e-governance research for civic technology earlier this month. She argues that academic e-government research dwarfs the nearly non-existent academic interest in civic tech (as evidenced by 169,000 vs 185 hits on google scholar), and that civic technologists should care about research on e-government.

And in the civic tech world, we can certainly derive value from the wisdom of our e-government colleagues who’ve been working to understand what happens when government service meets the internet. To the extent that civic tech implementation requires at least an open mind—and better, an enthusiastic partnership—on the side of our government partners, it is best if we know where they’ve been coming from.

I think she’s absolutely right, but want to challenge a couple of the distinctions she makes, and look for more proactive ways that civic technologists might engage e-government learnings.   Continue reading “What’s e-gov got to do with it?”