Nonsectarian Welfare Statements

New Paper by Cass Sunstein: “How can we measure whether national institutions in general, and regulatory institutions in particular, are dysfunctional? A central question is whether they are helping a nation’s citizens to live good lives. A full answer to that question would require a great deal of philosophical work, but it should be possible to achieve an incompletely theorized agreement on a kind of nonsectarian welfarism, emphasizing the importance of five variables: subjective well-being, longevity, health, educational attainment, and per capita income. In principle, it would be valuable to identify the effects of new initiatives (including regulations) on all of these variables. In practice, it is not feasible to do so; assessments of subjective well-being present particular challenges. In their ideal form, Regulatory Impact Statements should be seen as Nonsectarian Welfare Statements, seeking to identify the consequences of regulatory initiatives for various components of welfare. So understood, they provide reasonable measures of regulatory success or failure, and hence a plausible test of dysfunction. There is a pressing need for improved evaluations, including both randomized controlled trials and ex post assessments.”

Twitter’s activist roots: How Twitter’s past shapes its use as a protest tool

Radio Netherlands Worldwide: “Surprised when demonstrators from all over the world took to Twitter as a protest tool? Evan “Rabble” Henshaw-Plath, member of Twitter’s founding team, was not. Rather, he sees it as a return to its roots: Inspired by protest coordination tools like TXTMob, and shaped by the values and backgrounds of Twitter’s founders, he believes activist potential was built into the service from the start.

It took a few revolutions before Twitter was taken seriously. Critics claimed that its 140-character limit only provided space for the most trivial thoughts: neat for keeping track of Ashton Kutcher’s lunch choices, but not much else. It made the transition from Silicon Valley toy into Middle East protest tool seem all the more astonishing.
Unless, Twitter co-founder Evan Henshaw-Plath argues, you know the story of how Twitter came to be. Evan Henshaw-Plath was the lead developer at Odeo, the company that started and eventually became Twitter. TXTMob, an activist tool deployed during the 2004 Republican National Convention in the US to coordinate protest efforts via SMS was, says Henshaw-Plath, a direct inspiration for Twitter.
Protest 1.0
In 2004, while Henshaw-Plath was working at Odeo, he and a few other colleagues found a fun side-project in working on TXTMob, an initiative by what he describes as a “group of academic artist/prankster/hacker/makers” that operated under the ostensibly serious moniker of Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA). Earlier IAA projects included small graffiti robots on wheels that spray painted slogans on pavements during demonstrations, and a pudgy talking robot with big puppy eyes made to distribute subversive literature to people who ignored less-cute human pamphleteers.
TXTMob was a more serious endeavor than these earlier projects: a tactical protest coordination tool. With TXTMob, users could quickly exchange text messages with large groups of other users about protest locations and police crackdowns….”

The Multistakeholder Model in Global Technology Governance: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

New APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper by Nanette S. Levinson: “This paper examines two key but often overlooked analytic dimensions related to global technology governance: the roles of culture and cross-cultural communication processes and the broader framework of Multistakeholderism. Each of these dimensions has a growing tradition of research/conceptual frameworks that can inform the analysis of Internet governance and related complex and power-related processes that may be present in a multistakeholder setting. The use of the term ‘multistakeholder’ itself has grown exponentially in discussing Internet governance and related governance domains; yet there are few rigorous studies within Internet governance that treat actual multistakeholder processes, especially from a cross-cultural and comparative perspective.
Using research on cross-cultural communication and related factors (at small group, occupational, organizational, interorganizational or cross- sector, national, regional levels), this paper provides and uses an analytic framework, especially for the 2012 WCIT and 2013 WSIS 10 and World Telecommunications Policy Forum that goes beyond the rhetoric of ‘multistakeholder’ as a term. It includes an examination of variables found to be important in studies from environmental governance, public administration, and private sector partnership domains including trust, absorptive capacity, and power in knowledge transfer processes. “

Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization

Book review by José Luis Cordeiro:  Eric Drexler, popularly known as “the founding father of nanotechnology,” introduced the concept in his seminal 1981 paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This paper established fundamental principles of molecular engineering and outlined development paths to advanced nanotechnologies.
He popularized the idea of nanotechnology in his 1986 book, Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, where he introduced a broad audience to a fundamental technology objective: using machines that work at the molecular scale to structure matter from the bottom up.
He went on to continue his PhD thesis at MIT, under the guidance of AI-pioneer Marvin Minsky, and published it in a modified form as a book in 1992 as Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation.

Drexler’s new book, Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization, tells the story of nanotechnology from its small beginnings, then moves quickly towards a big future, explaining what it is and what it is not, and enlightening about what we can do with it for the benefit of humanity.
In his pioneering 1986 book, Engines of Creation, he defined nanotechnology as a potential technology with these features: “manufacturing using machinery based on nanoscale devices, and products built with atomic precision.”
In his 2013 sequel, Radical Abundance, Drexler expands on his prior thinking, corrects many of the misconceptions about nanotechnology, and dismisses fears of dystopian futures replete with malevolent nanobots and gray goo…
His new book clearly identifies nanotechnology with atomically precise manufacturing (APM)…Drexler makes many comparisons between the information revolution and what he now calls the “APM revolution.” What the first did with bits, the second will do with atoms: “Image files today will be joined by product files tomorrow. Today one can produce an image of the Mona Lisa without being able to draw a good circle; tomorrow one will be able to produce a display screen without knowing how to manufacture a wire.”
Civilization, he says, is advancing from a world of scarcity toward a world of abundance — indeed, radical abundance.”

Is Online Transparency Just a Feel-Good Sham?

Billy House in the National Journal: “It drew more than a few laughs in Washington. Not long after the White House launched its We the People website in 2011, where citizens could write online petitions and get a response if they garnered enough signatures, someone called for construction of a Star Wars-style Death Star.
With laudable humor, the White House dispatched Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space Branch of the Office of Management and Budget, to explain that the administration “does not support blowing up planets.”
The incident caused a few chuckles, but it also made a more serious point: Years after politicians and government officials began using Internet surveys and online outreach as tools to engage people, the results overall have been questionable….
But skepticism over the value of these programs—and their genuineness—remains strong. Peter Levine, a professor at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, said programs like online petitioning and citizen cosponsoring do not necessarily produce a real, representative voice for the people.
It can be “pretty easy to overwhelm these efforts with deliberate strategic action,” he said, noting that similar petitioning efforts in the European Union often find marijuana legalization as the most popular measure.”

Strengthening Local Capacity for Data-Driven Decisionmaking

A report by the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP): “A large share of public decisions that shape the fundamental character of American life are made at the local level; for example, decisions about controlling crime, maintaining housing quality, targeting social services, revitalizing low-income neighborhoods, allocating health care, and deploying early childhood programs. Enormous benefits would be gained if a much larger share of these decisions were based on sound data and analysis.
In the mid-1990s, a movement began to address the need for data for local decisionmaking.Civic leaders in several cities funded local groups to start assembling neighborhood and address-level data from multiple local agencies. For the first time, it became possible to track changing neighborhood conditions, using a variety of indicators, year by year between censuses. These new data intermediaries pledged to use their data in practical ways to support policymaking and community building and give priority to the interests of distressed neighborhoods. Their theme was “democratizing data,” which in practice meant making the data accessible to residents and community groups (Sawicki and Craig 1996).

The initial groups that took on this work formed the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) to further develop these capacities and spread them to other cities. By 2012, NNIP partners were established in 37 cities, and similar capacities were in development in a number of others. The Urban Institute (UI) serves as the secretariat for the network. This report documents a strategic planning process undertaken by NNIP in 2012 and early 2013. The network’s leadership and funders re-examined the NNIP model in the context of 15 years of local partner experiences and the dramatic changes in technology and policy approaches that have occurred over that period. The first three sections explain NNIP functions and institutional structures and examine the potential role for NNIP in advancing the community information field in today’s environment.”

Crowd-Sourcing the Nation: Now a National Effort

Release from the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey: “The mapping crowd-sourcing program, known as The National Map Corps (TNMCorps), encourages citizens to collect structures data by adding new features, removing obsolete points, and correcting existing data for The National Map database. Structures being mapped in the project include schools, hospitals, post offices, police stations and other important public buildings.
Since the start of the project in 2012, more than 780 volunteers have made in excess of 13,000 contributions.  In addition to basic editing, a second volunteer peer review process greatly enhances the quality of data provided back to The National Map.  A few months ago, volunteers in 35 states were actively involved.  This final release of states opens up the entire country for volunteer structures enhancement.
To show appreciation of our volunteer’s efforts, The National Map Corps has instituted a recognition program that awards “virtual” badges to volunteers. The badges consist of a series of antique surveying instruments ranging from the Order of the Surveyor’s Chain (25 – 50 points) to the Theodolite Assemblage (2000+ points). Additionally, volunteers are publically acclaimed (with permission) via Twitter, Facebook and Google+….
Tools on TNMCorps website explain how a volunteer can edit any area, regardless of their familiarity with the selected structures, and becoming a volunteer for TNMCorps is easy; go to The National Map Corps website to learn more and to sign up as a volunteer. If you have access to the Internet and are willing to dedicate some time to editing map data, we hope you will consider participating!”

Improved Governance? Exploring the Results of Peru's Participatory Budgeting Process

Paper by Stephanie McNulty for the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (Aug. 29-Sept. 1, 2013): “Can a nationally mandated participatory budget process change the nature of local governance? Passed in 2003 to mandate participatory budgeting in all districts and regions of Peru, Peru’s National PB Law has garnered international attention from proponents of participatory governance. However, to date, the results of the process have not been widely documented. Presenting data that have been gathered through fieldwork, online databases, and primary documents, this paper explores the results of Peru’s PB after ten years of implementation. The paper finds that results are limited. While there are a significant number of actors engaged in the process, the PB is still dominated by elite actors that do not represent the diversity of the civil society sector in Peru. Participants approve important “pro-poor” projects, but they are not always executed. Finally, two important indicators of governance, sub-national conflict and trust in local institutions, have not improved over time. Until Peruvian politicians make a concerted effort to move beyond politics as usual, results will continue to be limited” 

Defense Against National Vulnerabilities in Public Data

DOD/DARPA Notice (See also Foreign Policy article): “OBJECTIVE: Investigate the national security threat posed by public data available either for purchase or through open sources. Based on principles of data science, develop tools to characterize and assess the nature, persistence, and quality of the data. Develop tools for the rapid anonymization and de-anonymization of data sources. Develop framework and tools to measure the national security impact of public data and to defend against the malicious use of public data against national interests.
DESCRIPTION: The vulnerabilities to individuals from a data compromise are well known and documented now as “identity theft.” These include regular stories published in the news and research journals documenting the loss of personally identifiable information by corporations and governments around the world. Current trends in social media and commerce, with voluntary disclosure of personal information, create other potential vulnerabilities for individuals participating heavily in the digital world. The Netflix Challenge in 2009 was launched with the goal of creating better customer pick prediction algorithms for the movie service [1]. An unintended consequence of the Netflix Challenge was the discovery that it was possible to de-anonymize the entire contest data set with very little additional data. This de-anonymization led to a federal lawsuit and the cancellation of the sequel challenge [2]. The purpose of this topic is to understand the national level vulnerabilities that may be exploited through the use of public data available in the open or for purchase.
Could a modestly funded group deliver nation-state type effects using only public data?…”
The official link for this solicitation is:

Hackers Called Into Civic Duty

Wall Street Journal: “Cash-strapped cities are turning to an unusual source to improve their online services on the cheap: helpful hackers, who use city data to create tools tracking everything from real-time subway delays to where to get a free flu shot near your home and information about a contentious school-closing plan.
Hackers have been popularly portrayed as giving fits to national-security officials and credit-card companies, but the term also refers to people who like to write their own computer programs and help solve a variety of problems. Recently, hackers have begun working with cities to find ways of building applications, or apps, that make use of data—which gets stripped of personally identifiable information—that municipalities are collecting anyway in the regular course of governance….Last year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an executive order mandating the city make available all data not protected by privacy laws. Today, the city has nearly 950 data sets publicly available, the most of any U.S. city, according to Code for America, a nonprofit that promotes openness in government.”