How to predict citizen engagement in urban innovation projects?


Blogpost by Julien Carbonnell: “Citizen engagement in decision-making has proven to be a key factor for success in a smart city project and a must-have of contemporary democratic regimes. While inhabitants are all daily internet users, they widely inform themselves about their political electives’ achievements during the mandate, interact with each other on social networks, and by word-of-mouth on messaging apps or phone calls to form an opinion.

Unfortunately, most of the smart cities’ rankings lack resources to evaluate the citizen engagement dynamic around the urban innovations deployed. Indeed this data can’t be found on official open data portals, focused instead on cities’ infrastructure and quality of life. These include the number of metro stations, the length of bike lanes, air pollution, and tap water quality. Some of them also include field investigation such as the amount of investment in this or that urban area and communication dynamics about a new smart city project.

If this kind of formal information provides a good overview of the official state of development of a city, it does not give any insight from the inhabitants themselves and sounds out the street vibes of a city.

So, I’ve been working on filling this gap for the last 3 years and share in Democracy Studio all the elements of my method and tools built for conducting such analysis. To do so, I have notably been collecting inhabitants’ participation in a survey study in three case study cities: Taipei (Taiwan), Tel Aviv (Israel), and Tallinn (Estonia). I collected 366 answers by contacting inhabitants randomly online (Facebook groups, direct messages on LinkedIn, and through messaging apps) and in-person, in events related to my field of interest (Smart-City and Urban Innovation Startups). The resulting variables have been integrated into machine learning models, which finally performed a very satisfying prediction of the citizen engagement in my case studies….(More)”.

Internet Futures: Spotlight on the technologies which may shape the Internet of the future


Report by Ofcom (UK): “Our lives have been profoundly impacted by the Internet and the web – these two inventions have made the world a more connected but complex place. Billions of people are now online, creating an extremely busy ‘global village’ where many services in communication, commerce, education, entertainment and beyond exist. Because of the rapid advancements of the Internet and the expansions in these services, innovations in communications have rolled out on a global scale. In fact, some of the biggest companies in the world today were founded on the Internet solely, so they have played an important role in advocating for improvements. Coupled with a wide range of other factors, such as the diverse pool of different users hence different needs, it is likely that the technology that drives the Internet and the web will continue to develop.

As the UK’s communications regulator, it is important that Ofcom is aware of new types of Internet technology that may affect the future. We will monitor and consider the effects that these developments may have on the communications services we use every day. This helps to ensure that we meet our duties competently and we continue to help people and businesses to get the most out of their services, as well as to protect them from any potential risks.

This report shines a light on the innovative, emerging Internet technologies that could shape our Internet in the future. We have selected a sample of technologies based on the responses we received to our call for inputs, and the discussions we had with thought leaders in both academia and industry. We will however continue to identify other important Internet technologies as they emerge and in sectors beyond those considered in this report…(More)”.

The One-Earth Balance Sheet


Essay by Andrew Sheng: “Modern science arose by breaking down complex problems into their parts. As Alvin Toffler, an American writer and futurist, wrote in his 1984 foreword to the chemist Ilya Prigogine’s classic book “Order out of Chaos”: “One of the most highly developed skills in contemporary Western civilization is dissection: the split-up of problems into their smallest possible components. We are good at it. So good, we often forget to put the pieces back together again.”

Specialization produces efficiency in production and output. But one unfortunate result is that silos produce a partial perspective from specialist knowledge; very few take a system-wide view on how the parts are related to the whole. When the parts do not fit or work together, the system may break down. As behavioral economist Daniel Kahnemann put it: “We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.”

Silos make group collective action more difficult; nation-states, tribes, communities and groups have different ways of knowing and different repositories of knowledge. A new collective mental map is needed, one that moves away from classical Newtonian science, with its linear and mechanical worldview, toward a systems-view of life. The ecologists Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi argue that “the major problems of our time — energy, the environment, climate change, food security, financial security — cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are all interconnected and interdependent.”

“Siloed thinking created many of our problems with inequality, injustice and planetary damage.”

A complex, non-linear, systemic view of life sees the whole as a constant interaction between the small and the large: diverse parts that are cooperating and competing at the same time. This organic view of life coincides with the ancient perspective found in numerous cultures — including Chinese, Indian, native Australian and Amerindian — that man and nature are one.

In short, modern Western science has begun to return to the pre-Enlightenment worldview that saw man, God and Earth in somewhat mystic entanglement. The late Chinese scientist Qian Xuesen argued the world was made up of “open giant complex systems” operating within larger open giant complex systems. Human beings themselves are open giant complex systems — every brain has billions of neurons connected to each other through trillions of pathways — continually exchanging and processing information with other humans and the environment. Life is much more complex, dynamic and uncertain than we once assumed.

To describe this dynamic, complex and uncertain systemic whole, we need to evolve trans-disciplinary thinking that integrates the natural, social, biological sciences and arts by transcending disciplinary boundaries. Qian concluded that the only way to describe such systemic complexity and uncertainty is to integrate quantitative with qualitative narratives, exactly what the Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller advocates for in “Narrative Economics.”…(More)”.

Helsinki invites cyclists to collect data on street conditions and earn money


Article at the Mayor.eu: “From Saturday 10 July, cyclists in Helsinki will be able to earn money doing what they love whilst simultaneously helping the municipality repair damaged streets. This was announced on 28 June when the City of Helsinki shared that all residents are invited to take part in a game to map out 300 kilometres of cycling paths in the capital.

In a press release, the City of Helsinki reports that anyone can participate as long as they have a bicycle and a smartphone. To take part, one must simply download the free application Crowdchupa and attach their phone to their bicycle. The device will then record footage of the streets and Artificial Intelligence will be used to identify damage that must be repaired.

To make this even more interesting, the Crowdchupa application will allow participants to earn money. The application features a map which depicts various objects (such as coins and berries) on the streets. Cyclists must drive over these virtual objects to collect them and earn money….(More)”.

Human behaviour: what scientists have learned about it from the pandemic


Stephen Reicher at The Conversation: “During the pandemic, a lot of assumptions were made about how people behave. Many of those assumptions were wrong, and they led to disastrous policies.

Several governments worried that their pandemic restrictions would quickly lead to “behavioural fatigue” so that people would stop adhering to restrictions. In the UK, the prime minister’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings recently admitted that this was the reason for not locking down the country sooner.

Meanwhile, former health secretary Matt Hancock revealed that the government’s failure to provide financial and other forms of support for people to self-isolate was down to their fear that the system “might be gamed”. He warned that people who tested positive may then falsely claim that they had been in contact with all their friends, so they could all get a payment.

These examples show just how deeply some governments distrust their citizens. As if the virus was not enough, the public was portrayed as an additional part of the problem. But is this an accurate view of human behaviour?

The distrust is based on two forms of reductionism – describing something complex in terms of its fundamental constituents. The first is limiting psychology to the characteristics – and more specifically the limitations – of individual minds. In this view the human psyche is inherently flawed, beset by biases that distort information. It is seen as incapable of dealing with complexity, probability and uncertainty – and tending to panic in a crisis.

This view is attractive to those in power. By emphasising the inability of people to govern themselves, it justifies the need for a government to look after them. Many governments subscribe to this view, having established so-called nudge units – behavioural science teams tasked with subtly manipulating people to make the “right” decisions, without them realising why, from eating less sugar to filing their taxes on time. But it is becoming increasingly clear that this approach is limited. As the pandemic has shown, it is particularly flawed when it comes to behaviour in a crisis.

In recent years, research has shown that the notion of people panicking in a crisis is something of a myth. People generally respond to crises in a measured and orderly way – they look after each other.

The key factor behind this behaviour is the emergence of a sense of shared identity. This extension of the self to include others helps us care for those around us and expect support from them. Resilience cannot be reduced to the qualities of individual people. It tends to be something that emerges in groups.

Another type of reductionism that governments adopt is “psychologism” – when you reduce the explanation of people’s behaviour to just psychology…(More)”.

The miracle of the commons


Chapter by Michelle Nijhuis: “In December 1968, the ecologist and biologist Garrett Hardin had an essay published in the journal Science called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. His proposition was simple and unsparing: humans, when left to their own devices, compete with one another for resources until the resources run out. ‘Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest,’ he wrote. ‘Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.’ Hardin’s argument made intuitive sense, and provided a temptingly simple explanation for catastrophes of all kinds – traffic jams, dirty public toilets, species extinction. His essay, widely read and accepted, would become one of the most-cited scientific papers of all time.

Even before Hardin’s ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ was published, however, the young political scientist Elinor Ostrom had proven him wrong. While Hardin speculated that the tragedy of the commons could be avoided only through total privatisation or total government control, Ostrom had witnessed groundwater users near her native Los Angeles hammer out a system for sharing their coveted resource. Over the next several decades, as a professor at Indiana University Bloomington, she studied collaborative management systems developed by cattle herders in Switzerland, forest dwellers in Japan, and irrigators in the Philippines. These communities had found ways of both preserving a shared resource – pasture, trees, water – and providing their members with a living. Some had been deftly avoiding the tragedy of the commons for centuries; Ostrom was simply one of the first scientists to pay close attention to their traditions, and analyse how and why they worked.

The features of successful systems, Ostrom and her colleagues found, include clear boundaries (the ‘community’ doing the managing must be well-defined); reliable monitoring of the shared resource; a reasonable balance of costs and benefits for participants; a predictable process for the fast and fair resolution of conflicts; an escalating series of punishments for cheaters; and good relationships between the community and other layers of authority, from household heads to international institutions….(More)”.

Inclusive SDG Data Partnerships


Learning report” by Partners for Review (P4R/GIZ), the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR), and the International Civil Society Centre: “It brought together National SDG Units, National Statistics Offices, National Human Rights Institutions and civil society organisations from across six countries. The initiative’s purpose is to advance data partnerships for the SDGs and to strengthen multi-actor data ecosystems at the national level. Goal is to meet the SDG data challenge by improving the use of alternative data sources, particularly data produced by civil society and human rights institutions, and complementary to official statistics….(More)”.

The Open Data Policy Lab’s City Incubator


The GovLab: “Hackathons. Data Jams. Dashboards. Mapping, analyzing, and releasing open data. These are some of the essential first steps in building a data-driven culture in government. Yet, it’s not always easy to get data projects such as these off the ground. Governments often work in difficult situations under constrained resources. They have to manage various stakeholders and constituencies who have to be sold on the value that data can generate in their daily work.

Through the Open Data Policy Lab, The GovLab and Microsoft are providing various resources — such as the Data Stewards Academy, and the Third Wave of Open Data Toolkit — to support this goal. Still, we recognize that more tailored guidance is needed so cities can build new sustainable data infrastructure and launch projects that meet their policy goals.

Today, we’re providing that resource in the form of the Open Data Policy Lab’s City Incubator. A first-of-its-kind program to support data innovations in cities’ success and scale, the City Incubator will give 10 city officials access to the hands-on training and access to mentors to take their ideas to the next level. It will enable cutting edge work on various urban challenges and empower officials to create data collaboratives, data-sharing agreements, and other systems. This work is supported by Microsoft, Mastercard City Possible, Luminate, NYU CUSP and the Public Sector Network.

Our team is launching a call for ten city government intrapreneurs from around the world working on data-driven projects to apply to the City Incubator. Over the course of six months, participants will use start-up innovation and public sector program solving frameworks to develop and launch new data innovations. They will also receive support from a council of mentors from around the world.

Applications are due August 31, with an early application deadline of August 6 for applicants looking for feedback. Applicants are expected to present their idea and include information on the value their proposal will generate, the resources it will use, the partners it will involve, and the risks it might entail alongside other information in the form of a Data Innovation Canvas. Additional information can be found on the website here.”

The Data Innovation Canvas

Household Financial Transaction Data


Paper by Scott R. Baker & Lorenz Kueng: “The growth of the availability and use of detailed household financial transaction microdata has dramatically expanded the ability of researchers to understand both household decision-making as well as aggregate fluctuations across a wide range of fields. This class of transaction data is derived from a myriad of sources including financial institutions, FinTech apps, and payment intermediaries. We review how these detailed data have been utilized in finance and economics research and the benefits they enable beyond more traditional measures of income, spending, and wealth. We discuss the future potential for this flexible class of data in firm-focused research, real-time policy analysis, and macro statistics….(More)”.

The Inevitable Weaponization of App Data Is Here


Joseph Cox at VICE: “…After years of warning from researchers, journalists, and even governments, someone used highly sensitive location data from a smartphone app to track and publicly harass a specific person. In this case, Catholic Substack publication The Pillar said it used location data ultimately tied to Grindr to trace the movements of a priest, and then outed him publicly as potentially gay without his consent. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the outing led to his resignation….

The data itself didn’t contain each mobile phone user’s real name, but The Pillar and its partner were able to pinpoint which device belonged to Burill by observing one that appeared at the USCCB staff residence and headquarters, locations of meetings that he was in, as well as his family lake house and an apartment that has him listed as a resident. In other words, they managed to, as experts have long said is easy to do, unmask this specific person and their movements across time from an supposedly anonymous dataset.

A Grindr spokesperson told Motherboard in an emailed statement that “Grindr’s response is aligned with the editorial story published by the Washington Post which describes the original blog post from The Pillar as homophobic and full of unsubstantiated inuendo. The alleged activities listed in that unattributed blog post are infeasible from a technical standpoint and incredibly unlikely to occur. There is absolutely no evidence supporting the allegations of improper data collection or usage related to the Grindr app as purported.”…

“The research from The Pillar aligns to the reality that Grindr has historically treated user data with almost no care or concern, and dozens of potential ad tech vendors could have ingested the data that led to the doxxing,” Zach Edwards, a researcher who has closely followed the supply chain of various sources of data, told Motherboard in an online chat. “No one should be doxxed and outed for adult consenting relationships, but Grindr never treated their own users with the respect they deserve, and the Grindr app has shared user data to dozens of ad tech and analytics vendors for years.”…(More)”.