Leveraging Data to Improve Racial Equity in Fair Housing


Report by Temilola Afolabi: “Residential segregation is related to inequalities in education, job opportunities, political power, access to credit, access to health care, and more. Steering, redlining, mortgage lending discrimination, and other historic policies have all played a role in creating this state of affairs.

Over time, federal efforts including the Fair Housing Act and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act have been designed to improve housing equity in the United States. While these laws have not been entirely effective, they have made new kinds of data available—data that can shed light on some of the historic drivers of housing inequity and help inform tailored solutions to their ongoing impact.

This report explores a number of current opportunities to strengthen longstanding data-driven tools to address housing equity. The report also shows how the effects of mortgage lending discrimination and other historic practices are still being felt today. At the same time, it outlines opportunities to apply data to increase equity in many areas related to the homeownership gap, including negative impacts on health and well-being, socioeconomic disparities, and housing insecurity….(More)”.

Varieties of Mobility Measures: Comparing Survey and Mobile Phone Data during the COVID-19 Pandemic 


Paper by Fabian Kalleitner, David W Schiestl, Georg Heiler: “Human mobility has become a major variable of interest during the COVID-19 pandemic and central to policy decisions all around the world. To measure individual mobility, research relies on a variety of indicators that commonly stem from two main data sources: survey self-reports and behavioral mobility data from mobile phones. However, little is known about how mobility from survey self-reports relates to popular mobility estimates using data from the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and the Global Positioning System (GPS). Spanning March 2020 until April 2021, this study compares self-reported mobility from a panel survey in Austria to aggregated mobility estimates utilizing (1) GSM data and (2) Google’s GPS-based Community Mobility Reports. Our analyses show that correlations in mobility changes over time are high, both in general and when comparing subgroups by age, gender, and mobility category. However, while these trends are similar, the size of relative mobility changes over time differs substantially between different mobility estimates. Overall, while our findings suggest that these mobility estimates manage to capture similar latent variables, especially when focusing on changes in mobility over time, researchers should be aware of the specific form of mobility different data sources capture….(More)”.

The Ethics of Automated Warfare and Artificial Intelligence


Essay series introduced by Bessma Momani, Aaron Shull and Jean-François Bélanger: “…begins with a piece written by Alex Wilner titled “AI and the Future of Deterrence: Promises and Pitfalls.” Wilner looks at the issue of deterrence and provides an account of the various ways AI may impact our understanding and framing of deterrence theory and its practice in the coming decades. He discusses how different countries have expressed diverging views over the degree of AI autonomy that should be permitted in a conflict situation — as those more willing to cut humans out of the decision-making loop could gain a strategic advantage. Wilner’s essay emphasizes that differences in states’ technological capability are large, and this will hinder interoperability among allies, while diverging views on regulation and ethical standards make global governance efforts even more challenging.

Looking to the future of non-state use of drones as an example, the weapon technology transfer from nation-state to non-state actors can help us to understand how next-generation technologies may also slip into the hands of unsavoury characters such as terrorists, criminal gangs or militant groups. The effectiveness of Ukrainian drone strikes against the much larger Russian army should serve as a warning to Western militaries, suggests James Rogers in his essay “The Third Drone Age: Visions Out to 2040.” This is a technology that can level the field by asymmetrically advantaging conventionally weaker forces. The increased diffusion of drone technology enhances the likelihood that future wars will also be drone wars, whether these drones are autonomous systems or not. This technology, in the hands of non-state actors, implies future Western missions against, say, insurgent or guerilla forces will be more difficult.

Data is the fuel that powers AI and the broader digital transformation of war. In her essay “Civilian Data in Cyber Conflict: Legal and Geostrategic Considerations,” Eleonore Pauwels discusses how offensive cyber operations are aiming to alter the very data sets of other actors to undermine adversaries — whether through targeting centralized biometric facilities or individuals’ DNA sequence in genomic analysis databases, or injecting fallacious data into satellite imagery used in situational awareness. Drawing on the implications of international humanitarian law, Pauwels argues that adversarial data manipulation constitutes another form of “grey zone” operation that falls below a threshold of armed conflict. She evaluates the challenges associated with adversarial data manipulation, given that there is no internationally agreed upon definition of what constitutes cyberattacks or cyber hostilities within international humanitarian law (IHL).

In “AI and the Actual International Humanitarian Law Accountability Gap,” Rebecca Crootoff argues that technologies can complicate legal analysis by introducing geographic, temporal and agency distance between a human’s decision and its effects. This makes it more difficult to hold an individual or state accountable for unlawful harmful acts. But in addition to this added complexity surrounding legal accountability, novel military technologies are bringing an existing accountability gap in IHL into sharper focus: the relative lack of legal accountability for unintended civilian harm. These unintentional acts can be catastrophic, but technically within the confines of international law, which highlights the need for new accountability mechanisms to better protect civilians.

Some assert that the deployment of autonomous weapon systems can strengthen compliance with IHL by limiting the kinetic devastation of collateral damage, but AI’s fragility and apparent capacity to behave in unexpected ways poses new and unexpected risks. In “Autonomous Weapons: The False Promise of Civilian Protection,” Branka Marijan opines that AI will likely not surpass human judgment for many decades, if ever, suggesting that there need to be regulations mandating a certain level of human control over weapon systems. The export of weapon systems to states willing to deploy them on a looser chain-of-command leash should be monitored…(More)”.

Govtech against corruption: What are the integrity dividends of government digitalization?


Paper by Carlos Santiso: “Does digitalization reduce corruption? What are the integrity benefits of government digitalization? While the correlation between digitalization and corruption is well established, there is less actionable evidence on the integrity dividends of specific digitalization reforms on different types of corruption and the policy channels through which they operate. These linkages are especially relevant in high corruption risk environments. This article unbundles the integrity dividends of digital reforms undertaken by governments around the world, accelerated by the pandemic. It analyzes the rise of data-driven integrity analytics as promising tools in the anticorruption space deployed by tech-savvy integrity actors. It also assesses the broader integrity benefits of the digitalization of government services and the automation of bureaucratic processes, which contribute to reducing bribe solicitation risks by front-office bureaucrats. It analyzes in particular the impact of digitalization on social transfers. It argues that government digitalization can be an implicit yet effective anticorruption strategy, with subtler yet deeper effects, but there needs to be greater synergies between digital reforms and anticorruption strategies….(More)”.

Closing the gap between user experience and policy design 


Article by Cecilia Muñoz & Nikki Zeichner: “..Ask the average American to use a government system, whether it’s for a simple task like replacing a Social Security Card or a complicated process like filing taxes, and you’re likely to be met with groans of dismay. We all know that government processes are cumbersome and frustrating; we have grown used to the government struggling to deliver even basic services. 

Unacceptable as the situation is, fixing government processes is a difficult task. Behind every exhausting government application form or eligibility screener lurks a complex policy that ultimately leads to what Atlantic staff writer Anne Lowrey calls the time tax, “a levy of paperwork, aggravation, and mental effort imposed on citizens in exchange for benefits that putatively exist to help them.” 

Policies are complex, in part because they each represent many voices. The people who we call policymakers are key actors in governments and elected officials at every level from city councils to the U.S. Congress. As they seek to solve public problems like child poverty or improving economic mobility, they consult with experts at government agencies, researchers in academia, and advocates working directly with affected communities. They also hear from lobbyists from affected industries. They consider current events and public sentiments. All of these voices and variables, representing different and sometimes conflicting interests, contribute to the policies that become law. And as a result, laws reflect a complex mix of objectives. After a new law is in place, relevant government agencies are responsible for implementing them by creating new programs and services to carry them out. Complex policies then get translated into complex processes and experiences for members of the public. They become long application forms, unclear directions, and too often, barriers that keep people from accessing a benefit. 

Policymakers and advocates typically declare victory when a new policy is signed into law; if they think about the implementation details at all, that work mostly happens after the ink is dry. While these policy actors may have deep expertise in a given issue area, or deep understanding of affected communities, they often lack experience designing services in a way that will be easy for the public to navigate…(More)”.

China just announced a new social credit law. Here’s what it means.


Article by Zeyi Yang: “It’s easier to talk about what China’s social credit system isn’t than what it is. Ever since 2014, when China announced a six-year plan to build a system to reward actions that build trust in society and penalize the opposite, it has been one of the most misunderstood things about China in Western discourse. Now, with new documents released in mid-November, there’s an opportunity to correct the record.

For most people outside China, the words “social credit system” conjure up an instant image: a Black Mirror–esque web of technologies that automatically score all Chinese citizens according to what they did right and wrong. But the reality is, that terrifying system doesn’t exist, and the central government doesn’t seem to have much appetite to build it, either. 

Instead, the system that the central government has been slowly working on is a mix of attempts to regulate the financial credit industry, enable government agencies to share data with each other, and promote state-sanctioned moral values—however vague that last goal in particular sounds. There’s no evidence yet that this system has been abused for widespread social control (though it remains possible that it could be wielded to restrict individual rights). 

While local governments have been much more ambitious with their innovative regulations, causing more controversies and public pushback, the countrywide social credit system will still take a long time to materialize. And China is now closer than ever to defining what that system will look like. On November 14, several top government agencies collectively released a draft law on the Establishment of the Social Credit System, the first attempt to systematically codify past experiments on social credit and, theoretically, guide future implementation. 

Yet the draft law still left observers with more questions than answers. 

“This draft doesn’t reflect a major sea change at all,” says Jeremy Daum, a senior fellow of the Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center who has been tracking China’s social credit experiment for years. It’s not a meaningful shift in strategy or objective, he says. 

Rather, the law stays close to local rules that Chinese cities like Shanghai have released and enforced in recent years on things like data collection and punishment methods—just giving them a stamp of central approval. It also doesn’t answer lingering questions that scholars have about the limitations of local rules. “This is largely incorporating what has been out there, to the point where it doesn’t really add a whole lot of value,” Daum adds. 

So what is China’s current system actually like? Do people really have social credit scores? Is there any truth to the image of artificial-intelligence-powered social control that dominates Western imagination? …(More)”.

OECD Good Practice Principles for Public Service Design and Delivery in the Digital Age


OECD Report: “The digital age provides great opportunities to transform how public services are designed and delivered. The OECD Good Practice Principles for Service Design and Delivery in the Digital Age provide a clear, actionable and comprehensive set of objectives for the high-quality digital transformation of public services. Reflecting insights gathered from across OECD member countries, these nine principles are arranged under three pillars of “Build accessible, ethical and equitable public services that prioritise user needs, rather than government needs”; “Deliver with impact, at scale and with pace”; and “Be accountable and transparent in the design and delivery of public services to reinforce and strengthen public trust”. The principles are advisory rather than prescriptive, allowing for local interpretation and implementation. They should also be considered in conjunction with wider OECD work to equip governments in harnessing the potential of digital technology and data to improve outcomes for all…(More)”.

Institutions, Experts & the Loss of Trust


Essay by Henry E. Brady and Kay Lehman Schlozman: “Institutions are critical to our personal and societal well-being. They develop and disseminate knowledge, enforce the law, keep us healthy, shape labor relations, and uphold social and religious norms. But institutions and the people who lead them cannot fulfill their missions if they have lost legitimacy in the eyes of the people they are meant to serve.

Americans’ distrust of Congress is long-standing. What is less well-documented is how partisan polarization now aligns with the growing distrust of institutions once thought of as nonpolitical. Refusals to follow public health guidance about COVID-19, calls to defund the police, the rejection of election results, and disbelief of the press highlight the growing polarization of trust. But can these relationships be broken? And how does the polarization of trust affect institutions’ ability to confront shared problems, like climate change, epidemics, and economic collapse?…(More)”.

Is Facebook’s advertising data accurate enough for use in social science research? Insights from a cross-national online survey


Paper by André Grow et al: “Social scientists increasingly use Facebook’s advertising platform for research, either in the form of conducting digital censuses of the general population, or for recruiting participants for survey research. Both approaches depend on the accuracy of the data that Facebook provides about its users, but little is known about how accurate these data are. We address this gap in a large-scale, cross-national online survey (N = 137,224), in which we compare self-reported and Facebook-classified demographic information (sex, age and region of residence). Our results suggest that Facebook’s advertising platform can be fruitfully used for conducing social science research if additional steps are taken to assess the accuracy of the characteristics under consideration…(More)”.

The Future of Self-Governing, Thriving Democracies


Book by Brigitte Geissel: “This book offers a new approach for the future of democracy by advocating to give citizens the power to deliberate and to decide how to govern themselves.

Innovatively building on and integrating components of representative, deliberative and participatory theories of democracy with empirical findings, the book provides practices and procedures that support communities of all sizes to develop their own visions of democracy. It revitalizes and reinfuses the ‘democratic spirit’ going back to the roots of democracy as an endeavor by, with and for the people, and should inspire us in our search for the democracy we want to live in.

This book is of key interest to scholars and students in democracy, democratic innovations, deliberation, civic education and governance and further for policy-makers, civil society groups and activists. It encourages us to reshape democracy based on citizens’ perspectives, aspirations and preferences…(More)”.