Sensing and Shaping Emerging Conflicts


cover.phpA new Report of a Joint Workshop of the National Academy of Engineering and the United States Institute of Peace: Roundtable on Technology, Science, and Peacebuilding: “Technology has revolutionized many aspects of modern life, from how businesses operate, to how people get information, to how countries wage war. Certain technologies in particular, including not only cell phones and the Internet but also satellites, drones, and sensors of various kinds, are transforming the work of mitigating conflict and building peaceful societies. Rapid increases in the capabilities and availability of digital technologies have put powerful communications devices in the hands of most of the world’s population.
These technologies enable one-to-one and one-to-many flows of information, connecting people in conflict settings to individuals and groups outside those settings and, conversely, linking humanitarian organizations to people threatened by violence. Communications within groups have also intensified and diversified as the group members use new technologies to exchange text, images, video, and audio. Monitoring and analysis of the flow and content of this information can yield insights into how violence can be prevented or mitigated. In this way technologies and the resulting information can be used to detect and analyze, or sense, impending conflict or developments in ongoing conflict.”

FailureFest


Geoff Mulgan’s blog: “We’ve often discussed the role of failure in innovation – and have started running FailureFests and other devices to get practitioners talking honestly about what they learned from things that didn’t work. We all know how hard this is.
There’s a new book out by the guru of failure in engineering, Henry Petroski: To forgive design: understanding failure. He argues that the best way of achieving lasting success is by understanding failure and that a single failure may show ‘weaknesses in reasoning, knowledge, and performance that all the successful designs may not even hint at’. For him the best examples are collapsing bridges. Here’s a very different, but helpful, example of trying to extract some useful lessons from a well-intentioned project that didn’t quite work in a field very distant from bridges. It’s a reminder of why it’s so important that the new What Works centres are brave enough to set out clearly the ideas that they think have been tested and shown not to work – that may be just as useful as the recommendations on best or proven practice.
Of course it’s not enough to say we should celebrate failure. No organisation or system can do that. Instead there is an unavoidable ambiguity in the relationship between innovation and failure. On the one hand if you’re not failing often, you’re probably not taking enough creative risks. On the other hand, if you fail too much don’t expect to keep your job, or your funding. “

Can Silicon Valley Save the World?


Charles Kenny and Justin Sandefur in Foreign Policy: “Not content with dominating IPOs on Wall Street, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are taking their can-do, failure-conquering, technology-enabled tactics to the challenge of global poverty. And why not? If we can look up free Khan Academy math lectures using the cheap, kid-friendly computers handed out by the folks at One Laptop per Child, who needs to worry about the complexities of education reform? With a lamp lit up by an electricity-generating soccer ball in every hut, who needs coal-fired power stations and transmission lines? And if even people in refugee camps can make money transcribing outsourced first-world dental records, who needs manufacturing or the roads and port systems required to export physical goods? No wonder the trendiest subject these days for TED talks is cracking the code on digital-era do-gooding, with 100 recent talks and counting just on the subjects of Africa and development…
But entrepreneurial spirit and even the fanciest of gadgets will only get you so far. All the technological transformation of the last 200 years hasn’t come close to wiping out global poverty. More than half the planet still lives on less than $4 a day, and 2.4 billion people live on less than $2 a day. And that’s after a decade that saw the biggest drop in extreme poverty ever. What’s more, millions and millions of people still die annually from easily and cheaply preventable or treatable diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia. None of this is for a lack of science; often it isn’t even for lack of money. It is because parents don’t follow simple health practices like washing their hands, government bureaucrats can’t or won’t provide basic water and sanitation programs, and arbitrary immigration restrictions prevent the poor from moving to places with better opportunities.
Sorry, but no iPhone, even one loaded with the coolest apps, is going to change all that….
SO WHAT CAN BE DONE to harness technological innovation, filter the good ideas from the bad, and spread a little of Silicon Valley’s fairy dust on the world’s poorer regions? The answer, according to Harvard economist Michael Kremer, is market discipline and rigorous testing. Kremer is a MacArthur “genius” grant winner whose name pops up in speculation about future Nobel Prize contenders. He thinks that technological fixes can dramatically improve the lives of the global poor, but markets won’t provide the right innovations without support.”

Knight News Challenge on Open Gov


Press Release: “Knight Foundation today named eight projects as winners of the Knight News Challenge on Open Gov, awarding the recipients more than $3.2 million for their ideas.
The projects will provide new tools and approaches to improve the way people and governments interact. They tackle a range of issues from making it easier to open a local business to creating a simulator that helps citizens visualize the impact of public policies on communities….
Each of the winning projects offers a solution to a real-world need. They include:
Civic Insight: Providing up-to-date information on vacant properties so that communities can find ways to make tangible improvements to local spaces;
OpenCounter: Making it easier for residents to register and create new businesses by building open source software that governments can use to simplify the process;
Open Gov for the Rest of Us: Providing residents in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago with the tools to access and demand better data around issues important to them, like housing and education;
Outline.com: Launching a public policy simulator that helps people visualize the impact that public policies like health care reform and school budget changes might have on local economies and communities;
Oyez Project: Making state and appellate court documents freely available and useful to journalists, scholars and the public, by providing straightforward summaries of decisions, free audio recordings and more;
Procur.io: Making government contract bidding more transparent by simplifying the way smaller companies bid on government work;
GitMachines: Supporting government innovation by creating tools and servers that meet government regulations, so that developers can easily build and adopt new technology;
Plan in a Box: Making it easier to discover information about local planning projects, by creating a tool that governments and contractors can use to easily create websites with updates that also allow public input into the process.

Now in its sixth year, the Knight News Challenge accelerates media innovation by funding breakthrough ideas in news and information. Winners receive a share of $5 million in funding and support from Knight’s network of influential peers and advisors to help advance their ideas. Past News Challenge winners have created a lasting impact. They include: DocumentCloud, which analyzes and annotates public documents – turning them into data; Tools for OpenStreetMap, which makes it easier to contribute to the editable map of the world; and Safecast, which helps people measure air quality and became the leading provider of pollution data following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
For more, visit newschallenge.org and follow #newschallenge on Twitter.

Canada's Action Plan on Open Government


Introduction: “Canada’s commitment to open government is part of the federal government’s efforts to foster greater openness and accountability, to provide Canadians with more opportunities to learn about and participate in government, to drive innovation and economic opportunities for all Canadians and, at the same time, create a more cost effective, efficient and responsive government.
The Government of Canada first launched its Open Government strategy in March 2011, and then further enhanced its commitment by announcing its intention to join the Open Government Partnership in September 2011.
Over the past two years, we have consulted Canadians on both the development of a Digital Economy Strategy and on Open Government. Our Digital Economy consultation sought feedback from all Canadians on how to improve innovation and creativity, and achieve the shared goal of making Canada a global leader in the digital economy. More recently, in the fall of 2011, we launched a consultation to explore Canadians’ perspectives on Open Government in order to inform the development of Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government.
The results of these consultations stressed the importance of providing open access to public sector information and data and, in particular, the need to improve the availability of data to researchers and the private sector with fewer restrictions on reuse of these information assets. Canadians also want the opportunity to engage in an ongoing dialogue with government on policies and priorities. Cumulatively, the valuable information and insight received from Canadians have helped us shape the direction for open government in Canada. As we move forward, we will continue to consult with Canadians and Canada’s active open government community on how best to implement this plan.
Our Action Plan on Open Government sets out our commitments to Canadians and for the Open Government Partnership, which we will achieve over a three-year period through the effective and prudent use of resources. It is structured along the three streams of our Open Government Strategy: Open Information, Open Data, and Open Dialogue.”
 

Targeting Transparency


New paper by David Weil, Mary Graham, and Archon Fung in Science Magazine: “When rules, taxes, or subsidies prove impractical as policy tools, governments increasingly employ “targeted transparency,” compelling disclosure of information as an alternative means of achieving specific objectives. For example, the U.S. Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires calories be posted on menus to enlist both restaurants and patrons in the effort to reduce obesity. It is crucial to understand when and how such targeted transparency works, as well as when it is inappropriate. Research about its use and effectiveness has begun to take shape, drawing on social and behavioral scientists, economists, and legal scholars. We explore questions central to the performance of targeted transparency policies.

Targeted transparency differs from broader “right-to-know” and “open-government” policies that span from the 1966 Freedom of Information Act to the Obama Administration’s “open-government” initiative encouraging officials to make existing data sets readily available and easy to parse as an end in itself (1, 2). Targeted transparency offers a more focused approach often used to introduce new scientific evidence of public risks into market choices. Government compels companies or agencies to disclose information in standardized formats to reduce specific risks, to ameliorate externalities arising from a failure of consumers or producers to fully consider social costs associated with a product, or to improve provision of public goods and services. Such policies are more light-handed than conventional regulation, relying on the power of information rather than on enforcement of rules and standards or financial inducements….”

See also the Transparency Policy Project at http://transparencypolicy.net/

Visualizing 3 Billion Tweets


9080460045_cb6c84283e_bEric Gundersen from Mapbox: “This is a look at 3 billion tweets – every geotagged tweet since September 2011, mapped, showing facets of Twitter’s ecosystem and userbase in incredible new detail, revealing demographic, cultural, and social patterns down to city level detail, across the entire world. We were brought in by the data team at Gnip, who have awesome APIs and raw access to the Twitter firehose, and together Tom and data artist Eric Fischer used our open source tools to visualize the data and build interfaces that let you explore the stories of space, language, and access to technology.
This is big data, and there’s a significant level of geographic overlap between tweets, so Eric wrote an open-source tool that de-duplicated 2.7 billion overlapping datapoints, leaving 280 million unique locations…”
 

Visualizing the Stunning Growth of 8 Years of OpenStreetMap


new yorkEmily Badger in Atlantic Cities: “The U.S. OpenStreetMap community gathered in San Francisco over the weekend for its annual conference, the State of the Map. The loose citizen-cartography collective has now been incrementally mapping the world since 2004. While they were taking stock, it turns out the global open mapping effort has now mapped data on more than 78 million buildings and 21 million miles of road (if you wanted to drive all those roads at, say, 60 miles an hour, it would take you some 40 years to do it).
And more than a million people have chipped away at this in an impressively democratic manner: 83.6 percent of the changes in the whole database have been made by 99.9 percent of contributors.
These numbers come from the OpenStreetMap 2013 Data Report, which also contains, of course, more maps. The report, created by MapBox, includes a beautiful worldwide visualization of all the road updates made as OpenStreetMap has grown, with some of the earliest imports of data shown in green and blue, and more recent ones in white. You can navigate the full map here (scroll down), but we’ve grabbed a couple of snapshots for you as well.”