“A color-coded map of the perceived safety of New York City neighborhoods, based on Web volunteers’ comparisons of images extracted from Google Maps’ “street view” archive.
Image: Macro Connections Group
The “broken-windows theory,” which was propounded by two Harvard University researchers in the early 1980s, holds that urban “disorder” — visible signs of neglect, such as broken windows — actually promotes crime, initiating a vicious feedback loop. The theory was the basis for former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s crackdown on petty crime, but it’s come under sharp criticism from some social scientists. One of the difficulties in evaluating the theory is that it’s hard to quantify something as subjective as visible disorder.
In the latest issue of the journal PLoS One, researchers from MIT’s Media Lab present a new online tool that they hope will help social scientists take a more rigorous look at city dwellers’ emotional responses to their environments. The tool presents online volunteers with pairs of images randomly drawn from Google Maps’ compendium of street-level photographs; each volunteer selects the image that better represents some qualitative attribute. Algorithms use the results of the pairwise comparisons to assign geographical areas scores, from one to 10, on each attribute.
In the experiments reported in the PLoS One paper, volunteers ranked the neighborhoods depicted in the images according to how safe they looked, how “upper-class,” and how “unique” — an attribute selected in the hope that it would not be strongly correlated with the other two. The researchers found that the scores for the U.S. cities selected for the study — New York and Boston — showed greater disparity between the extremes for both class and safety than did those for the two Austrian cities selected, Linz and Salzburg.
They also found that, controlled for income, area, and population, the perceived-safety scores for neighborhoods in New York correlated very well with incidence of violent crime”.
Idit Harel Caperton (@idit) in SSIR: “Last month’s Games for Change Festival (G4C) celebrated the promising power of video games to yield social change. The event, now in its tenth year, brings game developers, educators, NGOs, and government agencies to New York City to discuss and promote the creation of social-issue games in an industry with a global market of $67 billion, projected to reach $82 billion by 2017. Big numbers like this prove that the gaming industry has engaged the masses, and G4C wants to push this engagement toward social learning and positive action.
It’s already happening on a small scale. The Games for Change Awards, announced annually at the festival, recognizes effective mission-driven games. This year’s winning games included “Data Dealer,” which raises awareness around personal data and online privacy, and “Quandary,” where players are social pioneers facing decisions that challenge their moral compass. These and other games endorsed at G4C achieve a blend of social influence and technical innovation through engaging gameplay.
G4C has also aligned with larger social impact movements, proving that video games can be vehicles for positive global action through game mechanics. Half the Sky Movement is a transmedia campaign working against the oppression of women worldwide; it includes a book, film, and game. The game, produced by G4C and available for free on Facebook, features game tasks that transfer to real-world donations and social action opportunities. Since launching in March, “Half the Sky Movement: The Game” has raised nearly $350,000 to empower women worldwide. Yet, social issue games production still resides on the edge of the gaming industry. …”
Fast-Feed: “Talk about crowdsourcing: Finland is set to vote on a set of copyright laws that weren’t proposed by government or content-making agencies: They were drafted by citizens.
Finns are able to propose laws that the government must consider if 50,000 supporters sign a petition calling for the law within six months. A set of copyright regulations that are fairer to everyone just passed that threshold, and TorrentFreak.com reports that a government vote is likely in early 2014. The new laws were created with the help of the Finnish Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the body has promised that it will maintain pressure on the political system so that the law will actually be changed.
The proposed new laws would decriminalize file sharing and prevent house searches and surveillance of pirates. TorrentFreak reminds us of the international media outcry that happened last year when during a police raid a 9-year-old girl’s laptop was confiscated on the grounds that she stole copyrighted content. Finland’s existing copyright laws, under what’s called the Lex Karpela amendment, are very strict and criminalize the breaking of DRM for copying purposes as well as preventing discussion of the technology for doing so. The laws have been criticized by activists and observers for their strictness and infringement upon freedom of speech.”
Interview with Joseph Kahne, chair of the MacArthur Foundation’s Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics: “What we found was that many games provided civic learning opportunities, such as opportunities to take on the role of a leader—the president, for example—or opportunities to help others. There also were simulations where players had opportunities to work on a societal issue and to learn about institutional processes—how a legislature works, for example. And we found that when games provided those kinds of civic learning opportunities, playing them was associated with much higher commitments to civic engagement. We think some of the relationship was due to youth with civic interests choosing to play those games, and that some of the relationship was due to these games orienting youth towards the potential of civic activity. – …
Historically, the way I thought about how people engaged with the internet did not emphasize what Henry Jenkins and others refer to as “participatory culture.” I focused on whether people send email or look things up on the web. But that’s really not so different than what people did before. It’s just more efficient. The more I got involved, though, the more I began to see that the ways in which people participated with digital media actually transformed or enabled new kinds of engagement—or at least greatly facilitated the kinds of engagement that might have been possible before but would have been much less common. Such participation teaches norms and skills that end up being quite valuable in the civic realm—and it connects youth and adults to networks where they learn about issues and ways to get involved. – …
We found that many youth engage in nonpolitical forms of interest-driven activity— they’re part of online groups connected to their hobbies or sports or entertainment, for example. And we found that youth who engage in those nonpolitical, interest-driven activities become more engaged civically and politically even after controlling for their prior levels of civic and political engagement. That’s fascinating. – “
New Report from the Knight Foundation: “Since 2007, Knight Foundation has run or funded nearly a dozen open contests, many over multiple years, choosing some 400 winners from almost 25,000 entries, and granting more than $75 million to individuals, businesses, schools and nonprofits. The winners believe, as we do, that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. The contests reflect the full diversity of our program areas: journalism and media innovation, engaging communities and fostering the arts. Over the past seven years, we have learned a lot about how good contests work, what they can do, and what the challenges are. Though contests represent less than 20 percent of our grant-making, they have improved our traditional programs in myriad ways.
A 2009 McKinsey & Company Report, “And the winner is…, ” put it this way: “Every leading philanthropist should consider the opportunity to use prizes to help achieve their mission, and to accept the challenge of fully exploiting this powerful tool. ” But of America ‘s more than 76,000 grant-making foundations, only a handful, maybe 100 at most, have embraced the use of contests. That means 99.9 percent do not.
Sharing these lessons here is an invitation to others to consider how contests, when appropriate, might widen their networks, deepen the work they already do, and broaden their definition of philanthropic giving.
Before you launch and manage your own contests, you might want to consider the six major lessons we ‘ve learned about how contests improved our philanthropy.
1. They bring in new blood and new ideas.
2. They create value beyond the winners.
3. They help organizations spot emerging trends.
4. They challenge routines and entrenched foundation behaviors.
5. They complement existing philanthropy strategies.
6. They create new ways to engage communities.
…Depending upon the competition, the odds of winning one of Knight’s contests are, at their lowest, one in six, and at their highest, more than one in 100. But if you think of your contest only as a funnel spitting out a handful of winning ideas, you overlook what’s really happening. A good contest is more a megaphone for a cause.”
Data Science for Social Good: “By analyzing data from police reports to website clicks to sensor signals, governments are starting to spot problems in real-time and design programs to maximize impact. More nonprofits are measuring whether or not they’re helping people, and experimenting to find interventions that work.
None of this is inevitable, however.
We’re just realizing the potential of using data for social impact and face several hurdles to it’s widespread adoption:
- Most governments and nonprofits simply don’t know what’s possible yet. They have data – but often not enough and maybe not the right kind.
- There are too few data scientists out there – and too many spending their days optimizing ads instead of bettering lives.
To make an impact, we need to show social good organizations the power of data and analytics. We need to work on analytics projects that have high social impact. And we need to expose data scientists to the problems that really matter.
That’s exactly why we’re doing the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good summer fellowship at the University of Chicago.
We want to bring three dozen aspiring data scientists to Chicago, and have them work on data science projects with social impact.
Working closely with governments and nonprofits, fellows will take on real-world problems in education, health, energy, transportation, and more.
Over the next three months, they’ll apply their coding, machine learning, and quantitative skills, collaborate in a fast-paced atmosphere, and learn from mentors in industry, academia, and the Obama campaign.
The program is led by a strong interdisciplinary team from the Computation institute and the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.”
Evgeny Morozov in Frankfurter Algemeine: “What we need is a sharper, starker picture of the information apocalypse that awaits us in a world where personal data is traded like coffee or any other commodity. Take the oft-repeated argument about the benefits of trading one’s data in exchange for some tangible commercial benefit. Say, for example, you install a sensor in your car to prove to your insurance company that you are driving much safer than the average driver that figures in their model for pricing insurance policies. Great: if you are better than the average, you get to pay less. But the problem with averages is that half of the population is always worse than the benchmark. Inevitably –regardless of whether they want to monitor themselves or not – that other half will be forced to pay more, for as the more successful of us take on self-tracking, most social institutions would (quite logically) assume that those who refuse to self-track have something to hide. Under this model, the implications of my decision to trade my personal data are no longer solely in the realm of markets and economics – they are also in the realm of ethics. If my decision to share my personal data for a quick buck makes someone else worse off and deprives them of opportunities, then I have an extra ethical factor to consider – economics alone doesn’t suffice.
All of this is to say that there are profound political and moral consequences to information consumerism– and they are comparable to energy consumerism in scope and importance. Making these consequences more pronounced and vivid is where intellectuals and political parties ought to focus their efforts. We should do our best to suspend the seeming economic normalcy of information sharing. An attitude of “just business!” will no longer suffice. Information sharing might have a vibrant market around it but it has no ethical framework to back it up. More than three decades ago, Michel Foucault was prescient to see that neoliberalism would turns us all into “entrepreneurs of the self” but let’s not forget that entrepreneurship is not without its downsides: as most economic activities, it can generate negative externalities, from pollution to noise. Entrepreneurship focused on information sharing is no exception….”