Digital engagement: time to shift attention toward use and usefulness


Geoff Mulgan: “The last few years have brought a cornucopia of innovation around data, with millions of data sets opened up, and big campaigns around transparency, all interacting with the results of a glut of hackathons, appathons and the like. Linked to this has been the explosion of creativity around digital tools for civic engagement and local government….
There are also big questions to ask about digital technologies and public services – and in particular why so few public services have been radically redesigned. This has been talked about for as long as I can remember – and it’s not hard to map out how a transformed health, welfare or transport system could work if you started afresh. But with a few exceptions (like tax) this isn’t happening in any of the big public services anywhere. I’ll be writing some blogs soon about how we might accelerate this kind of systemic change.
In the meantime there are some more pragmatic questions to ask about what is and isn’t working.  A pattern is becoming clear which poses a challenge to the enthusiasts, and to funders like us.  In essence it’s this: there has been brilliant progress on the supply side – opening up data, and multiplying tools and apps of all kinds. But there has been far less progress on the demand and use side. The result is that thousands of promising data sets, apps and sites remain unused; and a great deal of creativity and energy has gone to waste.
The reasons are fairly obvious when you think about it. This is a movement driven by enthusiasts who have tended to assume that supply will create its own demand (sometimes it does – but not often).  Most of the practitioners are interested in the technical challenges of design, and a measure of their success is that for most applications there are readily accessible tools now available. Yet the much bigger challenges lie around use: how to develop attractive brands; how to promote and market; how to shape design to fit how people will actually use the services; how to build living communities.”

Data for the Boston Marathon Investigation Will Be Crowdsourced


WIRED: “The investigation of Monday’s deadly twin bombings in Boston will rely to an extraordinary extent on crowdsourced surveillance, provided by Marathon spectators’ cellphone photos, Vine videos, and Instagram feeds….There are limits to the crowdsourcing. The data used in the investigation will be crowdsourced. The investigation will not be. A crowdsourced investigation runs a high risk of becoming a witchhunt, as we saw in the Newton shooting spree.”

Should Local Government Be Run Like Silicon Valley?


The April issue of Governing magazine features Jen Pahlka of Code for America: “One of the things I love about Silicon Valley is the experimentation and willingness to play around,” says Pahlka. “That is wonderful, but sometimes becomes trivialization. As a society we can’t afford to have some of our brightest minds working on trivial things like, you know, Facebook apps.”…Pahlka’s vision for the group was essentially that by taking start-up values to government, “this thing that works” (Silicon Valley) would “fix this thing that doesn’t” (government). She quickly concluded that idea was wrong….What was broken, though, was the relationship between government and the citizenry. “That’s a problem on both sides,” Pahlka says.

Citizen Engagement and City Budgets


Governing Magazine: “Inviting public comment early in the budget process, and doing so in multiple ways, is closely associated with better performance outcomes, according to a new study in The American Review of Public Administration.

State and local government meetings, from a state agency to a county board, are notoriously low in attendance. Some governments have reacted with experiments to spur better public involvement, especially in drafting budgets. … Despite this patchwork of efforts to involve citizens, public administrators still don’t know exactly when to seek public input and how it might affect the day-to-day work of governing. So Hai Guo and Milena Neshkova, both assistant professors in the Department of Public Administration at Florida International University, set out to study the relationship between citizen participation in budgeting and measurable performance outcomes. Their analysis relied on 2005 survey data on state transportation agencies and their civic engagement strategies (focus groups, for example) across four stages in the budget process.
Because their research focused solely on transportation agencies, they looked at transportation-related outcomes that governments value: fewer road-related fatalities and fewer poor-quality roads. They took into account external factors, such as level of funding, that might account for differences in fatality rates or road conditions. They found that not only is there an inverse relationship (more attempts at civic engagement mean fewer fatalities and low-quality roads), but that the relationship is statistically significant. In other words, the result isn’t due to chance.
More importantly, the association was strongest at the earliest stage in the process. “You need to engage them early. I think that’s the point we’re trying to make,” Prof. Guo said. Since the analysis was specific to state transportation departments, Prof. Guo says he’d like to see if the same pattern would emerge at other levels of government.”

Big Data Challenge to Transform Health Care Delivery


BPC Press Release: “Today, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), Heritage Provider Network (HPN), and The Advisory Board Company launched the Care Transformation Prize Series, a national contest to address the most daunting data problems U.S. health care organizations face as they implement new delivery system and payment reforms.
The goal of this big data challenge is to help health care organizations more effectively use data to drive improvements in health care cost and quality. The series was announced at a BPC-hosted event today that featured a forward-thinking discussion on the strategies that providers, health plans, and states are using to harness data to help Americans lower their health care costs and improve care.”

Africa’s digital divide: still gaping


Peter Vanham in the FT’s Beyond Brics blog: “Don’t let success stories like M-Pesa in Kenya fool you: the worldwide digital divide is still increasing and Africa remains the biggest victim.”  So says Soumitra Dutta, Dean of Cornells’ Johnson School of Management, talking to beyondbrics at the launch of the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2013.
M-Pesa, the highly successful mobile payments service in Kenya, has attracted global attention. Used by the vast majority of Kenyans, M-Pesa is so successful that, according to Quartz, a massive 31 per cent of Kenya’s GDP is spent through mobile phones.
It was proof that technological progress could happen in low-income countries with poor infrastructure. It has been copied in other emerging markets, leading some to believe the so-called digital divide between the developed and the developing world was ready to fall.
But the opposite is true, says the Indian born Dutta, a founding author of the WEF’s IT report….
To support his claim, Dutta refers to the latest available data on access to different mobile technologies (see graph – click to enlarge).”:

Boston blasts show two sides of social media


Zach Miners in ComputerWorld: “Twitter users reacted fast to the explosions that ripped through the Boston Marathon Monday, but the incident also revealed how social media can only be so reliable in such situations. Twitter spread news of the blasts quickly and was a useful communications tool for public authorities such as the Boston police and the marathon organizers. But information on social media sites can also be questionable or just plain inaccurate, noted Greg Sterling, senior analyst with Opus Research…
The Boston Police Department’s Twitter log showed a positive side of social media. It was updated minute by minute in the aftermath of the bombings, often with instructions about which areas to avoid, or information about where the most police officers might be stationed.
There was also misinformation, however. A report was circulated quickly on Twitter that police had shut down cellphone service in Boston to prevent detonation of further blasts, though it ultimately turned out to be inaccurate, according to network operators.
Others had nefarious intentions. At one point, a Twitter account with the handle @_BostonMarathon was promising to donate US$1 to victims of the blast for every one of its tweets that was retweeted. Users soon called it out as a fake, noting the real Twitter account for the Boston Marathon was @BostonMarathon.”
See also: Google’s Person Finder

New OECD paper on Machine-to-Machine Communications


Machine-to-Machine Communications – Connecting Billions of Devices: “This document examines the future of machine-to-machine communication (M2M), with a particular focus on mobile wireless networks. M2M devices are defined, in this paper, as those that are actively communicating using wired and wireless networks, are not computers in the traditional sense and are using the Internet in some form or another. While, at the global level, there are currently around five billion devices connected to mobile networks, this may by some estimates increase to 50 billion by the end of the decade. The report provides examples of some of the uses to which M2M is being put today and its potential to enhance economic and social development. It concludes that to achieve these benefits, however, changes to telecommunication policy and regulatory frameworks may be required. Some of the main areas that will need to be evaluated, and implications of M2M assessed, include: opening access to mobile wholesale markets for firms not providing public telecommunication services; numbering policy; frequency policy; privacy and security; and access to public sector information.”

Big Data can help keep the peace


NextGov story: “Some of the same social media analyses that have helped Google and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spot warning signs of a flu outbreak could be used to detect the rumblings of violent conflict before it begins, scholars said in a paper released this week.
Kenyan officials used essentially this system to track hate speech on Facebook, blogs and Twitter in advance of that nation’s 2013 presidential election, which brought Uhuru Kenyatta to power.
Similar efforts to track Syrian social media have been able to identify ceasefire violations within 15 minutes of when they occur, according to the paper on New Technology and the Prevention of Violence and Conflict prepared by the United States Agency for International Development, the United Nations Development Programme and the International Peace Institute and presented at the United States Institute of Peace Friday.”