Atlas of the Senseable City

Book by Antoine Picon and Carlo Ratti: “What have smart technologies taught us about cities? What lessons can we learn from today’s urbanites to make better places to live? Antoine Picon and Carlo Ratti argue that the answers are in the maps we make. For centuries, we have relied on maps to navigate the enormity of the city. Now, as the physical world combines with the digital world, we need a new generation of maps to navigate the city of tomorrow. Pervasive sensors allow anyone to visualize cities in entirely new ways—ebbs and flows of pollution, traffic, and internet connectivity.
This book explores how the growth of digital mapping, spurred by sensing technologies, is affecting cities and daily lives. It examines how new cartographic possibilities aid urban planners, technicians, politicians, and administrators; how digitally mapped cities could reveal ways to make cities smarter and more efficient; how monitoring urbanites has political and social repercussions; and how the proliferation of open-source maps and collaborative platforms can aid activists and vulnerable populations. With its beautiful, accessible presentation of cutting-edge research, this book makes it easy for readers to understand the stakes of the new information age—and appreciate the timeless power of the city….(More)”.

Leveraging alternative data to provide loans to the unbanked

Article by Keely Khoury: “Financial inclusion is integral to the achievement of seven of the 17 global SDGs, and the World Bank says in its 2021 report that between 2011 and 2021, “Great strides have been made toward financial inclusion.” However, despite a significant increase in the number of people accessing bank accounts, around 24 per cent of the global population remain unbanked.  

Particularly for minority groups such as immigrants, the ability to access formal financial services is made exponentially more difficult by their lack of permanent address, loss of employment, and gaps in tax records. For small business owners – many of whom provide an essential community service – a lack of formal accounting records, along with any previous time spent unbanked as individuals, contributes to a dearth of information traditionally used to evaluate risk for loans.  

To tackle this issue, US startup Uplinq provides lenders with a ‘credit-assessment-as-a-service’ solution that takes into account the entire business ecosystem, and therefore billions of data points that would not traditionally be examined by underwriters considering a traditional loan application. From supplier references and store traffic to community involvement and property improvements, Uplinq provides a holistic and accurate assessment of the “opportunities, challenges, and interests of each prospect” within “known confidence ranges.” By working with independently audited and fully regulatory-compliant data sets, Uplinq’s services are available worldwide.  

Other innovations that Springwise has spotted that are helping unbanked communities include a Spanish language-first bank, and a free digital learning platform to help underserved communities understand how to better manage their finances…(More)”.

The Synchronized Society: Time and Control From Broadcasting to the Internet

Book by Randall Patnode: “…traces the history of the synchronous broadcast experience of the twentieth century and the transition to the asynchronous media that dominate today. Broadcasting grew out of the latent desire by nineteenth-century industrialists, political thinkers, and social reformers to tame an unruly society by controlling how people used their time. The idea manifested itself in the form of the broadcast schedule, a managed flow of information and entertainment that required audiences to be in a particular place – usually the home – at a particular time and helped to create “water cooler” moments, as audiences reflected on their shared media texts. Audiences began disconnecting from the broadcast schedule at the end of the twentieth century, but promoters of social media and television services still kept audiences under control, replacing the schedule with surveillance of media use. Author Randall Patnode offers compelling new insights into the intermingled roles of broadcasting and industrial/post-industrial work and how Americans spend their time…(More)”.

Building Trust in AI: A Landscape Analysis of Government AI Programs

Paper by Susan Ariel Aaronson: “As countries around the world expand their use of artificial intelligence (AI), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has developed the most comprehensive website on AI policy, the OECD.AI Policy Observatory. Although the website covers public policies on AI, the author of this paper found that many governments failed to evaluate or report on their AI initiatives. This lack of reporting is a missed opportunity for policy makers to learn from their programs (the author found that less than one percent of the programs listed on the OECD.AI website had been evaluated). In addition, the author found discrepancies between what governments said they were doing on the OECD.AI website and what they reported on their own websites. In some cases, there was no evidence of government actions; in other cases, links to government sites did not work. Evaluations of AI policies are important because they help governments demonstrate how they are building trust in both AI and AI governance and that policy makers are accountable to their fellow citizens…(More)”.

A shift in paradigm? Collaborative public administration in the context of national digitalization strategies

Paper by Gerhard Hammerschmid, Enora Palaric, Maike Rackwitz, and Kai Wegrich: “Despite claims of a paradigmatic shift toward the increased role of networks and partnerships as a form of governance—driven and enabled by digital technologies—the relation of “Networked Governance” with the pre-existing paradigms of “Traditional Weberian Public Administration” and “New Public Management” remains relatively unexplored. This research aims at collecting systematic evidence on the dominant paradigms in digitalization reforms in Europe by comparing the doctrines employed in the initial and most recent digitalization strategies across eight European countries: Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom. We challenge the claim that Networked Governance is emerging as the dominant paradigm in the context of the digitalization of the public sector. The findings confirm earlier studies indicating that information and communication technologies tend to reinforce some traditional features of administration and the recentralization of power. Furthermore, we find evidence of the continued importance of key features of “New Public Management” in the digital era…(More)”.

To harness telecom data for good, there are six challenges to overcome

Blog by Anat Lewin and Sveta Milusheva: “The global use of mobile phones generates a vast amount of data. What good can be done with these data? During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw that aggregated data from mobile phones can tell us where groups of humans are going, how many of them are there, and how they are behaving as a cluster. When used effectively and responsibly, mobile phone data can be immensely helpful for development work and emergency response — particularly in resource-constrained countries.  For example, an African country that had, in recent years, experienced a cholera outbreak was ahead of the game. Since the legal and practical agreements were already in place to safely share aggregated mobile data, accessing newer information to support epidemiological modeling for COVID-19 was a straightforward exercise. The resulting datasets were used to produce insightful analyses that could better inform health, lockdown, and preventive policy measures in the country.

To better understand such challenges and opportunities, we led an effort to access and use anonymized, aggregated mobile phone data across 41 countries. During this process, we identified several recurring roadblocks and replicable successes, which we summarized in a paper along with our lessons learned. …(More)”.

Lisbon’s Citizens’ Council: Embedding Deliberation into Local Governance

Article by Mauricio Mejia: “Lisbon is joining cities like Paris, Bogota, and Milan in establishing new democratic institutions by convening Portugal’s first permanent Citizen Council. In April 2023, a new group of randomly selected citizens will deliberate on how to create a 15-minute city — one where citizens can easily access essential services such as education, health, commerce, culture, or green and leisure spaces.

Lisbon has taken the objective of reinforcing democracy seriously. Citizen participation is the first pillar of its Municipal Plan, intending to build “alternative mechanisms for democratic participation, capable of mobilising people’s knowledge.” To translate this into action, the City established its first Citizens’ Council, a decision-making body that is “representative of Lisbon’s population, while being impartial and independent from political parties.”

Lisbon’s Citizens’ Council is a microcosm of the city’s population

Anyone over 16 years of age who lives, studies, or works in Lisbon is eligible to become a member of the Citizens’ Council. For the first edition, the recruitment process consisted of two stages:

1. Voluntary enrolment to participate in the lottery. This process could be done online or at an in-person kiosk (Lojas Lisboa).

2. Random selection and stratification, using the following criteria: gender, age, academic qualifications, profession, area of residence, work or study, and level of political engagement.

Among the 2351 citizens enrolled, 50 citizens were randomly selected to form a microcosm of Lisbon’s population[i]:

Visual representation of the Council’s members by the gender, age and activity status criteria

Members were accompanied by an ecosystem of public servants, civil society stakeholders, academics, scientists, and experts to ensure deliberation was informed, facilitated, and objective. Participation in the Citizens’ Council was not remunerated, nor involved any financial incentives. However, members could request support to cover meals and transportation. The OECD suggests in its good practice principles for deliberative processes that participation should be encouraged through remuneration, coverage of expenses, and provision of childcare and eldercare…(More)”.

Professional expertise in Policy Advisory Systems: How administrators and consultants built Behavioral Insights in Danish public agencies

Paper by Jakob Laage-Thomsen: “Recent work on consultants and academics in public policy has highlighted their transformational role. The paper traces how, in the absence of an explicit government strategy, external advisors establish different organizational arrangements to build Behavioral Insights in public agencies as a new form of administrative expertise. This variation shows the importance of the politico-administrative context within which external advisors exert influence. The focus on professional expertise adds to existing understandings of ideational compatibility in contemporary Policy Advisory Systems. Inspired by the Sociology of Professions, expertise is conceptualized as professionally constructed sets of diagnosis, inference, and treatment. The paper compares four Danish governmental agencies since 2010, revealing the central roles external advisors play in facilitating new policy ideas and diffusing new forms of expertise. This has implications for how we think of administrative expertise in contemporary bureaucracies, and the role of external advisors in fostering new forms of expertise….(More)”.

The Government of Chance: Sortition and Democracy from Athens to the Present

Book by Yves Sintomer: “Electoral democracies are struggling. Sintomer, in this instructive book, argues for democratic innovations. One such innovation is using random selection to create citizen bodies with advisory or decisional political power. ‘Sortition’ has a long political history. Coupled with elections, it has represented an important yet often neglected dimension of Republican and democratic government, and has been reintroduced in the Global North, China and Mexico. The Government of Chance explores why sortation is returning, how it is coupled with deliberation, and why randomly selected ‘minipublics’ and citizens’ assemblies are flourishing. Relying on a growing international and interdisciplinary literature, Sintomer provides the first systematic and theoretical reconstruction of the government of chance from Athens to the present. At what conditions can it be rational? What lessons can be drawn from history? The Government of Chance therefore clarifies the democratic imaginaries at stake: deliberative, antipolitical, and radical, making a plaidoyer for the latter….(More)”.

How Democracy Can Win

Essay by Samantha Power: “…At the core of democratic theory and practice is respect for the dignity of the individual. But among the biggest errors many democracies have made since the Cold War is to view individual dignity primarily through the prism of political freedom without being sufficiently attentive to the indignity of corruption, inequality, and a lack of economic opportunity.

This was not a universal blind spot: a number of political figures, advocates, and individuals working at the grassroots level to advance democratic progress presciently argued that economic inequality could fuel the rise of populist leaders and autocratic governments that pledged to improve living standards even as they eroded freedoms. But too often, the activists, lawyers, and other members of civil society who worked to strengthen democratic institutions and protect civil liberties looked to labor movements, economists, and policymakers to address economic dislocation, wealth inequality, and declining wages rather than building coalitions to tackle these intersecting problems.

Democracy suffered as a result. Over the past two decades,as economic inequality rose, polls showed that people in rich and poor countries alike began to lose faith in democracy and worry that young people would end up worse off than they were, giving populists and ethno­nationalists an opening to exploit grievances and gain a political foothold on every continent.

Moving forward, we must look at all economic programming that respects democratic norms as a form of democracy assistance. When we help democratic leaders provide vaccines to their people, bring down inflation or high food prices, send children to school, or reopen markets after a natural disaster, we are demonstrating—in a way that a free press or vibrant civil society cannot always do—that democracy delivers. And we are making it less likely that autocratic forces will take advantage of people’s economic hardship.

Nowhere is that task more important today than in societies that have managed to elect democratic reformers or throw off autocratic or antidemocratic rule through peaceful mass protests or successful political movements. These democratic bright spots are incredibly fragile. Unless reformers solidify their democratic and economic gains quickly, populations understandably grow impatient, especially if they feel that the risks they took to upend the old order have not yielded tangible dividends in their own lives. Such discontent allows opponents of democratic rule—often aided by external autocratic regimes—to wrest back control, reversing reforms and snuffing out dreams of rights-regarding self-government…(More)”.