Distributed, privacy-enhancing technologies in the 2017 Catalan referendum on independence: New tactics and models of participatory democracy


M. Poblet at First Monday: “This paper examines new civic engagement practices unfolding during the 2017 referendum on independence in Catalonia. These practices constitute one of the first signs of some emerging trends in the use of the Internet for civic and political action: the adoption of horizontal, distributed, and privacy-enhancing technologies that rely on P2P networks and advanced cryptographic tools. In this regard, the case of the 2017 Catalan referendum, framed within conflicting political dynamics, can be considered a first-of-its kind in participatory democracy. The case also offers an opportunity to reflect on an interesting paradox that twenty-first century activism will face: the more it will rely on private-friendly, secured, and encrypted networks, the more open, inclusive, ethical, and transparent it will need to be….(More)”.

Data Flow in the Smart City: Open Data Versus the Commons


Chapter by Richard Beckwith, John Sherry and David Prendergast in The Hackable City: “Much of the recent excitement around data, especially ‘Big Data,’ focuses on the potential commercial or economic value of data. How that data will affect people isn’t much discussed. People know that smart cities will deploy Internet-based monitoring and that flows of the collected data promise to produce new values. Less considered is that smart cities will be sites of new forms of citizen action—enabled by an ‘economy’ of data that will lead to new methods of collectivization, accountability, and control which, themselves, can provide both positive and negative values to the citizenry. Therefore, smart city design needs to consider not just measurement and publication of data but also the implications of city-wide deployment, data openness, and the possibility of unintended consequences if data leave the city….(More)”.

Harnessing Digital Tools to Revitalize European Democracy


Article by Elisa Lironi: “…Information and communication technology (ICT) can be used to implement more participatory mechanisms and foster democratic processes. Often referred to as e-democracy, there is a large range of very different possibilities for online engagement, including e-initiatives, e-consultations, crowdsourcing, participatory budgeting, and e-voting. Many European countries have started exploring ICT’s potential to reach more citizens at a lower cost and to tap into the so-called wisdom of the crowd, as governments attempt to earn citizens’ trust and revitalize European democracy by developing more responsive, transparent, and participatory decisionmaking processes.

For instance, when Anne Hidalgo was elected mayor of Paris in May 2014, one of her priorities was to make the city more collaborative by allowing Parisians to propose policy and develop projects together. In order to build a stronger relationship with the citizens, she immediately started to implement a citywide participatory budgeting project for the whole of Paris, including all types of policy issues. It started as a small pilot, with the city of Paris putting forward fifteen projects that could be funded with up to about 20 million euros and letting citizens vote on which projects to invest in, via ballot box or online. Parisians and local authorities deemed this experiment successful, so Hidalgo decided it was worth taking further, with more ideas and a bigger pot of money. Within two years, the level of participation grew significantly—from 40,000 voters in 2014 to 92,809 in 2016, representing 5 percent of the total urban population. Today, Paris Budget Participatif is an official platform that lets Parisians decide how to spend 5 percent of the investment budget from 2014 to 2020, amounting to around 500 million euros. In addition, the mayor also introduced two e-democracy platforms—Paris Petitions, for e-petitions, and Idée Paris, for e-consultations. Citizens in the French capital now have multiple channels to express their opinions and contribute to the development of their city.

In Latvia, civil society has played a significant role in changing how legislative procedures are organized. ManaBalss (My Voice) is a grassroots NGO that creates tools for better civic participation in decisionmaking processes. Its online platform, ManaBalss.lv, is a public e-participation website that lets Latvian citizens propose, submit, and sign legislative initiatives to improve policies at both the national and municipal level. …

In Finland, the government itself introduced an element of direct democracy into the Finnish political system, through the 2012 Citizens’ Initiative Act (CI-Act) that allows citizens to submit initiatives to the parliament. …

Other civic tech NGOs across Europe have been developing and experimenting with a variety of digital tools to reinvigorate democracy. These include initiatives like Science For You (SCiFY) in Greece, Netwerk Democratie in the Netherlands, and the Citizens Foundation in Iceland, which got its start when citizens were asked to crowdsource their constitution in 2010.

Outside of civil society, several private tech companies are developing digital platforms for democratic participation, mainly at the local government level. One example is the Belgian start-up CitizenLab, an online participation platform that has been used by more than seventy-five municipalities around the world. The young founders of CitizenLab have used technology to innovate the democratic process by listening to what politicians need and including a variety of functions, such as crowdsourcing mechanisms, consultation processes, and participatory budgeting. Numerous other European civic tech companies have been working on similar concepts—Cap Collectif in France, Delib in the UK, and Discuto in Austria, to name just a few. Many of these digital tools have proven useful to elected local or national representatives….

While these initiatives are making a real impact on the quality of European democracy, most of the EU’s formal policy focus is on constraining the power of the tech giants rather than positively aiding digital participation….(More)”

Welcome to ShareTown


Jenni Lloyd and Alice Casey at Nesta: “Today, we’re pleased to welcome you to ShareTown. Our fictional town and its cast of characters sets out an unashamedly positive vision of a preferred future in which interactions between citizens and local government are balanced and collaborative, and data and digital platforms are deployed for public benefit rather than private gain.

In this future, government plays a plurality of roles, working closely with local people to understand their needs, how these can best be met and by whom. Provided with new opportunities to connect and collaborate with others, individuals and households are free to navigate, combine and contribute to different services as they see fit….

…the ShareLab team wanted to find a route by which we could explore how people’s needs can be put at the centre of services, using collaborative models for organising and ownership, aided by platform technology. And to do this we decided to be radically optimistic and focus on a preferred future in which those ideas that are currently emerging at the edges have become the norm.

Futures Cone from Nesta’s report ‘Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow: A modest defence of futurology’

Futures Cone from Nesta’s report ‘Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow: A modest defence of futurology’

ShareTown is not intended as a prediction, but a source of inspiration – and provocation. If, as theatre-maker Annette Mees says, the future is fictional and the fictions created about it help us set our direction of travel, then the making of stories about the future we want should be something we can all be involved in – not just the media, politicians, or brands…. (More)”.

All Data Are Local: Thinking Critically in a Data-Driven Society


Book by  Yanni Alexander Loukissas: “In our data-driven society, it is too easy to assume the transparency of data. Instead, Yanni Loukissas argues in All Data Are Local, we should approach data sets with an awareness that data are created by humans and their dutiful machines, at a time, in a place, with the instruments at hand, for audiences that are conditioned to receive them. All data are local. The term data set implies something discrete, complete, and portable, but it is none of those things. Examining a series of data sources important for understanding the state of public life in the United States—Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, the Digital Public Library of America, UCLA’s Television News Archive, and the real estate marketplace Zillow—Loukissas shows us how to analyze data settings rather than data sets.

Loukissas sets out six principles: all data are local; data have complex attachments to place; data are collected from heterogeneous sources; data and algorithms are inextricably entangled; interfaces recontextualize data; and data are indexes to local knowledge. He then provides a set of practical guidelines to follow. To make his argument, Loukissas employs a combination of qualitative research on data cultures and exploratory data visualizations. Rebutting the “myth of digital universalism,” Loukissas reminds us of the meaning-making power of the local….(More)”.

Beijing to Judge Every Resident Based on Behavior by End of 2020


Bloomberg News: “China’s plan to judge each of its 1.3 billion people based on their social behavior is moving a step closer to reality, with Beijing set to adopt a lifelong points program by 2021 that assigns personalized ratings for each resident.

The capital city will pool data from several departments to reward and punish some 22 million citizens based on their actions and reputations by the end of 2020, according to a plan posted on the Beijing municipal government’s website on Monday. Those with better so-called social credit will get “green channel” benefits while those who violate laws will find life more difficult.

The Beijing project will improve blacklist systems so that those deemed untrustworthy will be “unable to move even a single step,” according to the government’s plan. Xinhua reported on the proposal Tuesday, while the report posted on the municipal government’s website is dated July 18.

China has long experimented with systems that grade its citizens, rewarding good behavior with streamlined services while punishing bad actions with restrictions and penalties. Critics say such moves are fraught with risks and could lead to systems that reduce humans to little more than a report card.

Ambitious Plan

Beijing’s efforts represent the most ambitious yet among more than a dozen cities that are moving ahead with similar programs.

Hangzhou rolled out its personal credit system earlier this year, rewarding “pro-social behaviors” such as volunteer work and blood donations while punishing those who violate traffic laws and charge under-the-table fees. By the end of May, people with bad credit in China have been blocked from booking more than 11 million flights and 4 million high-speed train trips, according to the National Development and Reform Commission.

According to the Beijing government’s plan, different agencies will link databases to get a more detailed picture of every resident’s interactions across a swathe of services….(More)”.

Driven to safety — it’s time to pool our data


Kevin Guo at TechCrunch: “…Anyone with experience in the artificial intelligence space will tell you that quality and quantity of training data is one of the most important inputs in building real-world-functional AI. This is why today’s large technology companies continue to collect and keep detailed consumer data, despite recent public backlash. From search engines, to social media, to self driving cars, data — in some cases even more than the underlying technology itself — is what drives value in today’s technology companies.

It should be no surprise then that autonomous vehicle companies do not publicly share data, even in instances of deadly crashes. When it comes to autonomous vehicles, the public interest (making safe self-driving cars available as soon as possible) is clearly at odds with corporate interests (making as much money as possible on the technology).

We need to create industry and regulatory environments in which autonomous vehicle companies compete based upon the quality of their technology — not just upon their ability to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to collect and silo as much data as possible (yes, this is how much gathering this data costs). In today’s environment the inverse is true: autonomous car manufacturers are focusing on are gathering as many miles of data as possible, with the intention of feeding more information into their models than their competitors, all the while avoiding working together….

The complexity of this data is diverse, yet public — I am not suggesting that people hand over private, privileged data, but actively pool and combine what the cars are seeing. There’s a reason that many of the autonomous car companies are driving millions of virtual miles — they’re attempting to get as much active driving data as they can. Beyond the fact that they drove those miles, what truly makes that data something that they have to hoard? By sharing these miles, by seeing as much of the world in as much detail as possible, these companies can focus on making smarter, better autonomous vehicles and bring them to market faster.

If you’re reading this and thinking it’s deeply unfair, I encourage you to once again consider 40,000 people are preventably dying every year in America alone. If you are not compelled by the massive life-saving potential of the technology, consider that publicly licenseable self-driving data sets would accelerate innovation by removing a substantial portion of the capital barrier-to-entry in the space and increasing competition….(More)”

Crowdsourced data informs women which streets are safe


Springwise“Safe & the City is a free app designed to help users identify which streets are safe for them. Sexual harassment and violent crimes against women in particular are a big problem in many urban environments. This app uses crowdsourced data and crime statistics to help female pedestrians stay safe.

It is a development of traditional navigation apps but instead of simply providing the fastest route, it also has information on what is the safest. The Live Map relies on user data. Victims can report harassment or assault on the app. The information will then be available to other users to warn them of a potential threat in the area. Incidents can be ranked from a feeling of discomfort or threat, verbal harassment, or a physical assault. Whilst navigating, the Live Map can also alert users to potentially dangerous intersections coming. This reminds people to stay alert and not only focus on their phone while walking.

The Safe Sites feature is also a way of incorporating the community. Businesses and organisations can register to be Safe Sites. They will then receive training from SafeSeekers in how to provide the best support and assistance in emergency situations. The locations of such Sites will be available on the app, should a user need one.

The IOS app launched in March 2018 on International Women’s Day. It is currently only available for London…(More)”

It’s time to let citizens tackle the wickedest public problems


Gabriella Capone at apolitcal (a winner of the 2018 Apolitical Young Thought Leaders competition): “Rain ravaged Gdańsk in 2016, taking the lives of two residents and causing millions of euros in damage. Despite its 700-year history of flooding the city was overwhelmed by these especially devastating floods. Also, Gdańsk is one of the European coasts most exposed to rising sea levels. It needed a new approach to avoid similar outcomes for the next, inevitable encounter with this worsening problem.

Bringing in citizens to tackle such a difficult issue was not the obvious course of action. Yet this was the proposal of Dr. Marcin Gerwin, an advocate from a neighbouring town who paved the way for Poland’s first participatory budgeting experience.

Mayor Adamowicz of Gdańsk agreed and, within a year, they welcomed about 60 people to the first Citizens Assembly on flood mitigation. Implemented by Dr. Gerwin and a team of coordinators, the Assembly convened over four Saturdays, heard expert testimony, and devised solutions.

The Assembly was not only deliberative and educational, it was action-oriented. Mayor Adamowicz committed to implement proposals on which 80% or more of participants agreed. The final 16 proposals included the investment of nearly $40 million USD in monitoring systems and infrastructure, subsidies to incentivise individuals to improve water management on their property, and an educational “Do Not Flood” campaign to highlight emergency resources.

It may seem risky to outsource the solving of difficult issues to citizens. Yet, when properly designed, public problem-solving can produce creative resolutions to formidable challenges. Beyond Poland, public problem-solving initiatives in Mexico and the United States are making headway on pervasive issues, from flooding to air pollution, to technology in public spaces.

The GovLab, with support from the Tinker Foundation, is analysing what makes for more successful public problem-solving as part of its City Challenges program. Below, I provide a glimpse into the types of design choices that can amplify the impact of public problem-solving….(More)

Quantifying Bicycle Network Connectivity in Lisbon Using Open Data


Lorena Abad and Lucas van der Meer in information: “Stimulating non-motorized transport has been a key point on sustainable mobility agendas for cities around the world. Lisbon is no exception, as it invests in the implementation of new bike infrastructure. Quantifying the connectivity of such a bicycle network can help evaluate its current state and highlight specific challenges that should be addressed. Therefore, the aim of this study is to develop an exploratory score that allows a quantification of the bicycle network connectivity in Lisbon based on open data.

For each part of the city, a score was computed based on how many common destinations (e.g., schools, universities, supermarkets, hospitals) were located within an acceptable biking distance when using only bicycle lanes and roads with low traffic stress for cyclists. Taking a weighted average of these scores resulted in an overall score for the city of Lisbon of only 8.6 out of 100 points. This shows, at a glance, that the city still has a long way to go before achieving their objectives regarding bicycle use in the city….(More)”.