What Our Words Tell Us


David Brooks in the New York Times: “About two years ago, the folks at Google released a database of 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008. You can type a search word into the database and find out how frequently different words were used at different epochs….

I’d like to tell a story about the last half-century, based on studies done with this search engine. The first element in this story is rising individualism. A study by Jean M. Twenge, W. Keith Campbell and Brittany Gentile found that between 1960 and 2008 individualistic words and phrases increasingly overshadowed communal words and phrases. That is to say, over those 48 years, words and phrases like “personalized,” “self,” “standout,” “unique,” “I come first” and “I can do it myself” were used more frequently. Communal words and phrases like “community,” “collective,” “tribe,” “share,” “united,” “band together” and “common good” receded.

The second element of the story is demoralization. A study by Pelin Kesebir and Selin Kesebir found that general moral terms like “virtue,” “decency” and “conscience” were used less frequently over the course of the 20th century. Words associated with moral excellence, like “honesty,” “patience” and “compassion” were used much less frequently. The Kesebirs identified 50 words associated with moral virtue and found that 74 percent were used less frequently as the century progressed. Certain types of virtues were especially hard hit. Usage of courage words like “bravery” and “fortitude” fell by 66 percent. Usage of gratitude words like “thankfulness” and “appreciation” dropped by 49 percent. Usage of humility words like “modesty” and “humbleness” dropped by 52 percent. Usage of compassion words like “kindness” and “helpfulness” dropped by 56 percent. Meanwhile, usage of words associated with the ability to deliver, like “discipline” and “dependability” rose over the century, as did the usage of words associated with fairness. The Kesebirs point out that these sorts of virtues are most relevant to economic production and exchange.

Daniel Klein of George Mason University has conducted one of the broadest studies with the Google search engine. He found further evidence of the two elements I’ve mentioned. On the subject of individualization, he found that the word “preferences” was barely used until about 1930, but usage has surged since. On the general subject of demoralization, he finds a long decline of usage in terms like “faith,” “wisdom,” “ought,” “evil” and “prudence,” and a sharp rise in what you might call social science terms like “subjectivity,” “normative,” “psychology” and “information.” Klein adds the third element to our story, which he calls “governmentalization.” Words having to do with experts have shown a steady rise. So have phrases like “run the country,” “economic justice,” “nationalism,” “priorities,” “right-wing” and “left-wing.” The implication is that politics and government have become more prevalent.

So the story I’d like to tell is this: Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked. The atomization and demoralization of society have led to certain forms of social breakdown, which government has tried to address, sometimes successfully and often impotently.”

"ambient accountability"


New blog by dieter zinnbauer: “what is ambient accountability?
big words for a simple idea: how to systematically use the built environment and physical space to help people right at the place and time when they need it most to:

  1. understand their rights and entitlements (the what is supposed to happen)
  2. monitor the performance of public officials and service providers (the what is actually happening)
  3. figure out who is responsible and offer easy ways to take action if things go wrong and 1) does not match up with 2)

Ambient accountability is a very elastic concept. It ranges from the very simple (stickers, placards, billboards) to the artistic nifty (murals, projections) and the very futuristic (urban screens, augmented reality). It can include the official advisory, the NGO poster, as well as the bottom-up urban intervention…
For more see blog entries with a quick overview, and the historical backdrop and this working paper with lots of visual examples and a more in-depth account of why ambient accountability has a lot of potential to complement the existing anti-corruption repertoire and at the same time offer a interesting area of application for all those urban computing or open government initiatives.”

IRS: Turn over a new leaf, Open up Data


Beth Simone Noveck and Stefaan Verhulst in Forbes: “The core task for Danny Werfel, the new acting commissioner of the IRS, is to repair the agency’s tarnished reputation and achieve greater efficacy and fairness in IRS investigations. Mr. Werfel can show true leadership by restructuring how the IRS handles its tax-exempt enforcement processes.
One of Mr. Werfel’s first actions on the job should be the immediate implementation of the groundbreaking Presidential Executive Order and Open Data policy, released last week, that requires data captured and generated by the government be made available in open, machine-readable formats. Doing so will make the IRS a beacon to other agencies in how to use open data to screen any wrongdoing and strengthen law enforcement.
By sharing readily available IRS data on tax-exempt organizations, encouraging Congress to pass a budget proposal that mandates release of all tax-exempt returns in a machine-readable format, and increasing the transparency of its own processes, the agency can begin to turn the page on this scandal and help rebuild trust and partnership between government and its citizens.”
See full article here.

How Generation X is Shaping Government


Governing Magazine: “Local governments are in the midst of a sea change when it comes to public participation and citizen engagement. Forced by the recession and recovery of the last five years to make dramatic cuts to their budgets, they’ve reached out to try to understand better what their residents value most. Presented with a new and ever-evolving array of technological tools — Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and public-participation sites like MindMixer, Peak Democracy and Nextdoor — they’re using them to publicize their own concerns and, increasingly, to draw out public sentiment. They’ve discovered the “civic technology” movement, with its groups like Code for America and events like next month’s National Day of Civic Hacking, which encourage citizens with tech skills to use government data to build apps useful to residents, neighborhoods and cities.
What may be most interesting about all this, however, is that it’s occurring precisely as another momentous shift is taking place: As they go through their 30s and 40s, members of Generation X are moving into more active roles as citizens and into upper management ranks in local government. While it’s too much to say that this generational change is the force driving local governments’ more expansive view of public engagement, the blending of the two trends is no coincidence. It shouldn’t be surprising that this generation, which long ago shook off its disengaged-slacker stereotype to become known for its entrepreneurialism, DIY ethic, skepticism about bureaucracy and comfort with collaborating over far-flung networks, would now be pressing local government to think in new ways about the work of democracy.”

New Book: New Technology, Organizational Change and Governance


Book Description (Edited By Emmanuelle Avril and Christine Zumello): “The advent of globalisation and the continued development of new information technology has created an environment in which the one certainty for organisations is that they cannot cling to archaic, centralised and hierarchical models. The increased fluidity and speed of the global environment call for horizontal networked structures, where decisions are achieved through collaborative mechanisms, rather than pyramidal models. New processes have been emerging, in particular the practices of deliberative and participatory governance, with increased stakeholder and citizen inclusion and participation, greater use and reliance on networks of organisations, and efforts to resolve conflict through dialogue. New forms of organizations, networks, coalitions and partnerships, as well as the promises of open sourcing and the collaborative horizontal model point towards a new governance apparatus in which relationship-based patterns can project and protect a human dimension in this digital world. This book will prove invaluable to all those who are interested in participatory governance and organisational change.”

Putin Puts OGP Entry on Hold


Moscow Times: ” President Vladimir Putin has postponed Russia’s entry into the Open Government Partnership planned for the second half of this year, a news report said Monday.
“We are not talking about winding up plans to join, but corrections in timing and the scale of participation are possible,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Kommersant.
OGP is an international partnership with over 50 member states aimed at promoting human rights, budget transparency and fighting corruption.
In December, Medvedev had confirmed plans to join the partnership in Sept. 2013 noting that Russia needs membership for its own benefit, and not for the sake of becoming “part of a global shindig”.
Open Government Minister Mikhail Abyzov said Russia will join the organization if the latter implements the newcomer’s recommendations, namely, linking transparency assessments provided by the OGP to investment ratings, Kommersant said.
Furthermore, Russia proposes expanding the OGP’s format, increasing the number of member and observer states, as well as changing the principles of financing the organization.”

SmartSantander, the City that runs on Sensors


Businessweek: “Buried under the streets of Santander, Spain—or discreetly affixed to buses, utility poles, and dumpsters—are some 12,000 electronic sensors that track everything from traffic to noise to surfing conditions at local beaches. This digital nervous system puts the city of 180,000 at the forefront of one of the hottest trends in urban management: streaming real-time data to the public in an effort to increase the efficiency and reduce the stress of city life.
Santander’s narrow downtown streets are dotted with electronic signs that direct drivers to the nearest available parking spaces, reducing traffic congestion. Sensors are being installed on dumpsters to signal when they need emptying and are being buried in parks to measure soil dampness, preventing sprinkler overuse. Coming soon: wireless-enabled meters that monitor water consumption at homes and businesses, phasing out door-to-door meter readers. Mayor Iñigo de la Serna says the effort, known as SmartSantander, will cut city waste-management bills 20 percent this year, and he projects a 25 percent drop in energy bills as sensors conserve use in public building systems. “Smart innovation is improving our economic fabric and the quality of life,” the mayor says. “It has changed the way we work.”
The 20-person SmartSantander development team, which is led by University of Cantabria engineering professor Luis Muñoz, has also pushed residents to help collect and make use of data. Anyone in the city can download a mobile app to complain about potholes or other nuisances and receive updates from officials. A separate app tracks the availability of buses and taxis in real time. Still another city-provided app lets people wave their smartphones over barcode decals in shop windows to get price information or place orders. “This is the future, and we are already there,” says local shoe store owner Angel Benito, who has received orders from customers using the app….”
Euronews: Santander gets smart (Video):

Intel Fuels a Rebellion Around Your Data


we the dataAntonio Regalado and Jessica Leber in MIT Technology Review:”Intel Labs, the company’s R&D arm, is launching an initiative around what it calls the “data economy”—how consumers might capture more of the value of their personal information, like digital records of their their location or work history. To make this possible, Intel is funding hackathons to urge developers to explore novel uses of personal data. It has also paid for a rebellious-sounding website called We the Data, featuring raised fists and stories comparing Facebook to Exxon Mobil.
Intel’s effort to stir a debate around “your data” is just one example of how some companies—and society more broadly—are grappling with a basic economic asymmetry of the big data age: they’ve got the data, and we don’t.

Crowdfunding gives rise to projects truly in public domain


USA Today: “Crowdfunding, the cyberpractice of pooling individuals’ money for a cause, so far has centered on private enterprise. It’s now spreading to public spaces and other community projects that are typically the domain of municipalities.

The global reach and speed of the Internet are raising not just money but awareness and galvanizing communities.

SmartPlanet.com recently reported that crowdfunding capital projects is gaining momentum, giving communities part ownership of everything from a 66-story downtown skyscraper in Bogota to a bridge in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Several websites such as neighborland.com and neighbor.ly are platforms to raise money for projects ranging from planting fruit trees in San Francisco to building a playground that accommodates disabled children in Parsippany, N.J.

“Community groups are increasingly ready to challenge cities’ plans,” says Bryan Boyer, an independent consultant and adviser to The Finnish Innovation Fund SITRA, a think tank. “We’re all learning to live in the context of a networked society.”

Crowdfund
Crowdfunder, which connects entrepreneurs and investors globally, just launched a local version — CROWDFUNDx.”

Slacktivism


Research featured in the New Scientists focuses on the impact of so-called “slacktivism”, or “low-cost, low-risk online activism”, on subsequent civic action.  A detailed analysis of  slacktivism was developed by Henrik Serup Christensen in his 2011 paper in First Monday where he defined the concept and its origin as follows:

“Slacktivism has become somewhat of a buzzword when it comes to demeaning the electronic versions of political participation. The origins of the term slacktivism is debated, but Fred Clark takes credit for using the term in 1995 in a seminar series held together with Dwight Ozard. However, they used it to shorten slacker activism, which refer to bottom up activities by young people to affect society on a small personal scale used. In their usage, the term had a positive connotation.

Today, the term is used in a more negative sense to belittle activities that do not express a full–blown political commitment. The concept generally refer to activities that are easily performed, but they are considered more effective in making the participants feel good about themselves than to achieve the stated political goals. Slacktivism can take other expressions, such as wearing political messages in various forms on your body or vehicle, joining Facebook groups, or taking part in short–term boycotts such as Buy Nothing Day or Earth Hour.”

The research featured in the New Scientist comprises work by Yu-Hao Lee and Gary Hsieh, both from Michigan State University, who analyzed the effects of slacktivism following  (using the description of the New Scientist)  “the Colorado cinema shootings in 2012, which had prompted wide debate over access to firearms. Hsieh’s team recruited 759 US participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing marketplace and surveyed them for their position on gun control. They asked people if they would sign an e-petition to either ban assault rifles or expand access to guns. Some of the participants then had the opportunity to donate to a group that was pro or against gun control. Another group, including people from both sides of the gun debate, were asked to donate to an education charity.” Findings:

“We found that participants who signed the online petition were significantly more likely to donate money to a related charity, demonstrating a consistency effect. We also found that participants who did not sign the petition donated significantly more money to an unrelated charity , demonstrating a  moral balancing  effect. The results suggest that  exposure to an online activism influences individual decision on  subsequent civic actions.”

These two psychological effects provide additional insight on whether or not slacktivism is damaging real citizen engagement potentially replacing meaningful action – as suggested in the below UNICEF video – part of a series titled “Likes Don’t Save Lives”:

https://web.archive.org/web/2000/https://youtu.be/QcSZsjlqs4E