Tech tools help deepen citizen input in drafting laws abroad and in U.S. states

Gopal Ratnam at RollCall: “Earlier this month, New Jersey’s Department of Education launched a citizen engagement process asking students, teachers and parents to vote on ideas for changes that officials should consider as the state reopens its schools after the pandemic closed classrooms for a year. 

The project, managed by The Governance Lab at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, is part of a monthlong nationwide effort using an online survey tool called All Our Ideas to help state education officials prioritize policymaking based on ideas solicited from those who are directly affected by the policies.

Among the thousands of votes cast for various ideas nationwide, teachers and parents backed changes that would teach more problem-solving skills to kids. But students backed a different idea as the most important: making sure that kids have social and emotional skills, as well as “self-awareness and empathy.” 

A government body soliciting ideas from those who are directly affected, via online technology, is one small example of greater citizen participation in governance that advocates hope can grow at both state and federal levels….

Taiwan has taken crowdsourcing legislative ideas to a new height.

Using a variety of open-source engagement and consultation tools that are collectively known as the vTaiwan process, government ministries, elected representatives, experts, civil society groups, businesses and ordinary citizens come together to produce legislation. 

The need for an open consultation process stemmed from the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement, when groups of students and others occupied the Taiwanese parliament to protest the fast-tracking of a trade agreement with China with little public review.  

After the country’s parliament acceded to the demands, the “consensus opinion was that instead of people having to occupy the parliament every time there’s a controversial, emergent issue, it might actually work better if we have a consultation mechanism in the very beginning of the issue rather than at the end,” said Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s digital minister. …

At about the same time that Taiwan’s Sunflower movement was unfolding, in Brazil then-President Dilma Rousseff signed into law the country’s internet bill of rights in April 2014. 

The bill was drafted and refined through a consultative process that included not only legal and technical experts but average citizens as well, said Debora Albu, program coordinator at the Institute for Technology and Society of Rio, also known as ITS. 

The institute was involved in designing the platform for seeking public participation, Albu said. 

“From then onwards, we wanted to continue developing projects that incorporated this idea of collective intelligence built into the development of legislation or public policies,” Albu said….(More)”.

Dialogues about Data: Building trust and unlocking the value of citizens’ health and care data

Nesta Report by Sinead Mac Manus and Alice Clay: “The last decade has seen exponential growth in the amount of data generated, collected and analysed to provide insights across all aspects of industry. Healthcare is no exception. We are increasingly seeing the value of using health and care data to prevent ill health, improve health outcomes for people and provide new insights into disease and treatments.

Bringing together common themes across the existing research, this report sets out two interlinked challenges to building a data-driven health and care system. This is interspersed with best practice examples of the potential of data to improve health and care, as well as cautionary tales of what can happen when this is done badly.

The first challenge we explore is how to increase citizens’ trust and transparency in data sharing. The second challenge is how to unlock the value of health and care data.

We are excited about the role for participatory futures – a set of techniques that systematically engage people to imagine and create more sustainable, inclusive futures – in helping governments and other organisations work with citizens to engage them in debate about their health and care data to build a data-driven health and care system for the benefit of all….(More)”.

New York Temporarily Bans Facial Recognition Technology in Schools

Hunton’s Privacy Blog: “On December 22, 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law legislation that temporarily bans the use or purchase of facial recognition and other biometric identifying technology in public and private schools until at least July 1, 2022. The legislation also directs the New York Commissioner of Education (the “Commissioner”) to conduct a study on whether this technology is appropriate for use in schools.

In his press statement, Governor Cuomo indicated that the legislation comes after concerns were raised about potential risks to students, including issues surrounding misidentification by the technology as well as safety, security and privacy concerns. “This legislation requires state education policymakers to take a step back, consult with experts and address privacy issues before determining whether any kind of biometric identifying technology can be brought into New York’s schools. The safety and security of our children is vital to every parent, and whether to use this technology is not a decision to be made lightly,” the Governor explained.

Key elements of the legislation include:

  • Defining “facial recognition” as “any tool using an automated or semi-automated process that assists in uniquely identifying or verifying a person by comparing and analyzing patterns based on the person’s face,” and “biometric identifying technology” as “any tool using an automated or semi-automated process that assists in verifying a person’s identity based on a person’s biometric information”;
  • Prohibiting the purchase and use of facial recognition and other biometric identifying technology in all public and private elementary and secondary schools until July 1, 2022, or until the Commissioner authorizes the purchase and use of such technology, whichever occurs later; and
  • Directing the Commissioner, in consultation with New York’s Office of Information Technology, Division of Criminal Justice Services, Education Department’s Chief Privacy Officer and other stakeholders, to conduct a study and make recommendations as to the circumstances in which facial recognition and other biometric identifying technology is appropriate for use in schools and what restrictions and guidelines should be enacted to protect privacy, civil rights and civil liberties interests….(More)”.

Digital Politics in Canada: Promises and Realities

Book edited by Tamara A. Small and Harold J. Jansen: “Digital Politics in Canada addresses a significant gap in the scholarly literature on both media in Canada and Canadian political science. Using a comprehensive, multidisciplinary, historical, and focused analysis of Canadian digital politics, this book covers the full scope of actors in the Canadian political system, including traditional political institutions of the government, elected officials, political parties, and the mass media. At a time when issues of inclusion are central to political debate, this book features timely chapters on Indigenous people, women, and young people, and takes an in-depth look at key issues of online surveillance and internet voting. Ideal for a wide-ranging course on the impact of digital technology on the Canadian political system, this book encourages students to critically engage in discussions about the future of Canadian politics and democracy….(More)”.

COVID-19 Pushes Digital Services from Luxury to Necessity

Zack Quintance at GovTech: “So much of American life was pushed out of physical spaces and onto the Internet this year, including the vast majority of local government services. Following the outbreak of COVID-19 and resultant social distancing guidelines, seemingly overnight it became dangerous to wait in line at city hall, or to interact with a public servant in close proximity across the space of a traditional counter.

As a result, long-simmering governmental efforts to modernize and make services digital in 2020 were supercharged. For digital government services, the danger of the virus was like a turbo boost for a race car that had been lazily chugging along. Indeed, public-sector entities at state and local levels have sought to catch up to private companies online for years, struggling to offer a modern customer experience to constituents with projects that have ranged from online permit renewal to 24-hour chatbots. With the pandemic, providing digital services fast moved from luxury to necessity….

A great example of the former at the state level took place in Vermont, specifically within that state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The Vermont DMV was already working to launch a new online driver’s license renewal platform, one that would enable residents there to avoid in-person trips to the office. The pandemic made the timing of that launch ideal, finally giving users a digital option they could use from home.

And the Vermont DMV is far from alone. There were others at the state level that worked on and debuted new online processes as well. Maryland, for example, managed to stand up a new online grant application in the early days of the crisis, doing so in just eight hours. Digitization efforts like this have traditionally taken far longer, but agencywide buy-in was fostered here by COVID-19. Armed with this, the Maryland Department of Information Technology (DoIT) was able to rapidly collaborate with the state’s Department of Commerce to add new small business grant application functionality to a platform the IT shop had launched for a different purpose back in early 2018.

At the city level, Buffalo, N.Y., managed the similarly speedy task of transitioning its 311 infrastructure to be remote-operated as its city staff moved to work-from-home operations. In that instance, City Hall was vacated in the service of social distancing on a Friday, and by the following Monday, the IT shop had 311 up and running again via remote operation, doing so again with a collaboration, this time with the University of Buffalo and Cisco….(More)”.

Third Wave of Open Data

Paper (and site) by Stefaan G. Verhulst, Andrew Young, Andrew J. Zahuranec, Susan Ariel Aaronson, Ania Calderon, and Matt Gee on “How To Accelerate the Re-Use of Data for Public Interest Purposes While Ensuring Data Rights and Community Flourishing”: “The paper begins with a description of earlier waves of open data. Emerging from freedom of information laws adopted over the last half century, the First Wave of Open Data brought about newfound transparency, albeit one only available on request to an audience largely composed of journalists, lawyers, and activists. 

The Second Wave of Open Data, seeking to go beyond access to public records and inspired by the open source movement, called upon national governments to make their data open by default. Yet, this approach too had its limitations, leaving many data silos at the subnational level and in the private sector untouched..

The Third Wave of Open Data seeks to build on earlier successes and take into account lessons learned to help open data realize its transformative potential. Incorporating insights from various data experts, the paper describes the emergence of a Third Wave driven by the following goals:

  1. Publishing with Purpose by matching the supply of data with the demand for it, providing assets that match public interests;
  2. Fostering Partnerships and Data Collaboration by forging relationships with  community-based organizations, NGOs, small businesses, local governments, and others who understand how data can be translated into meaningful real-world action;
  3. Advancing Open Data at the Subnational Level by providing resources to cities, municipalities, states, and provinces to address the lack of subnational information in many regions.
  4. Prioritizing Data Responsibility and Data Rights by understanding the risks of using (and not using) data to promote and preserve the public’s general welfare.

Riding the Wave

Achieving these goals will not be an easy task and will require investments and interventions across the data ecosystem. The paper highlights eight actions that decision and policy makers can take to foster more equitable, impactful benefits… (More) (PDF) “

Announcing the New Data4COVID19 Repository

Blog by Andrew Zahuranec: “It’s been a long year. Back in March, The GovLab released a Call for Action to build the data infrastructure and ecosystem we need to tackle pandemics and other dynamic societal and environmental threats. As part of that work, we launched a Data4COVID19 repository to monitor progress and curate projects that reused data to address the pandemic. At the time, it was hard to say how long it would remain relevant. We did not know how long the pandemic would last nor how many organizations would publish dashboards, visualizations, mobile apps, user tools, and other resources directed at the crisis’s worst consequences.

Seven months later, the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us. Over one million people around the world are dead and many countries face ever-worsening social and economic costs. Though the frequency with which data reuse projects are announced has slowed since the crisis’s early days, they have not stopped. For months, The GovLab has posted dozens of additions to an increasingly unwieldy GoogleDoc.

Today, we are making a change. Given the pandemic’s continued urgency and relevance into 2021 and beyond, The GovLab is pleased to release the new Data4COVID19 Living Repository. The upgraded platform allows people to more easily find and understand projects related to the COVID-19 pandemic and data reuse.

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The Data4COVID19 Repository

On the platform, visitors will notice a few improvements that distinguish the repository from its earlier iteration. In addition to a main page with short descriptions of each example, we’ve added improved search and filtering functionality. Visitors can sort through any of the projects by:

  • Scope: the size of the target community;
  • Region: the geographic area in which the project takes place;
  • Topic: the aspect of the crisis the project seeks to address; and
  • Pandemic Phase: the stage of pandemic response the project aims to address….(More)”.

Using Collective Intelligence to Solve Public Problems

Report by The GovLab and the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design at Nesta: “…The experience, expertise and passion of a group of people is what we call collective intelligence. The practice of taking advantage of collective intelligence is sometimes called crowdsourcing, collaboration, co-creation or just engagement. But whatever the name, we shall explore the advantages created when institutions mobilise the information, knowledge, skills and capabilities of a distributed group to extend our problemsolving ability. Smartphone apps like PulsePoint in the United States and GoodSAM in the United Kingdom, for example, enable a network of volunteer first responders to augment the capacity of formal first responders and give
cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to a heart attack victim in the crucial, potentially lifesaving minutes before ambulance services can arrive. Deliberative ‘mini-publics’, where a small group of citizens work face to face or online to weigh up the pros and cons of alternative policy choices, have helped governments in Ireland and Australia achieve consensus on issues that previously divided both the public and politicians. In Helsinki, residents’ involvement in crafting the city’s budget and its sustainability plan is helping to strengthen the alignment between city policy and local priorities.

Despite these successes, too often leaders do not know how to engage with the public efficiently to solve problems. They may run the occasional
crowdsourcing exercise, citizens’ jury or prizebacked challenge, but they struggle to integrate collective intelligence in the regular course of business.

Citizen engagement is largely viewed as a nice-to-have rather than a must-have for efficient and effective problem-solving. Working more openly and collaboratively requires institutions to develop new capabilities, change
long-standing procedures, shift organisational cultures, foster conditions more conducive to external partnerships, alter laws and ensure collective intelligence inputs are transparently accounted for when making decisions. But knowing how to make these changes, and how to redesign the way public institutions make decisions, requires a much deeper and more nuanced understanding….(More)”.

AI Localism

Today, The GovLab is  excited to launch a new platform which seeks to monitor, analyze and guide how AI is being governed in cities around the world: AI Localism. 

AI Localism refers to the actions taken by local decision-makers to address the use of AI within a city or community.  AI Localism has often emerged because of gaps left by incomplete state, national or global governance frameworks.

“AI Localism offers both immediacy and proximity. Because it is managed within tightly defined geographic regions, it affords policymakers a better understanding of the tradeoffs involved. By calibrating algorithms and AI policies for local conditions, policymakers have a better chance of creating positive feedback loops that will result in greater effectiveness and accountability.”

The initial AI Localism projects include:

The Ethics and Practice of AI Localism at a Time of Covid-19 and Beyond – In collaboration with the TUM School of Governance and University of Melbourne The GovLab will conduct a comparative review of current practices worldwide to gain a better understanding of successful AI Localism in the context of COVID-19 as to inform and guide local leaders and city officials towards best practices.

Responsible AI at the Local Level – Together with the NYU Center Responsible AI, The GovLab will seek to develop an interactive repository and a set of training modules of Responsible AI approaches at the local level. 

Join us as we seek to understand and develop new forms of governance to guide local leaders towards responsible AI implementation or share any effort you are working on to establishing responsible AI at the local level by visiting:

How Integrated Data Can Support COVID-19 Crisis and Recovery

Blog by Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP): “…State and local leaders are called upon to respond to the immediate harms of COVID-19. Yet with a looming recession threatening to undo gains among marginalized groups — particularly the Black middle class — tools to understand and disrupt long-term impacts on economic mobility and well-being are also urgently needed.

Administrative data[3] — the information collected during the course of routine service delivery, program administration, and business operations — provide an essential tool to help policymakers, community leaders, and researchers understand short- and long-term impacts of the pandemic. Several jurisdictions now have the capacity to link administrative data across programs in order to better understand how individuals interact with multiple systems, study longitudinal outcomes, and identify vulnerable subpopulations. As the COVID-19 crisis reveals weaknesses in the U.S. social safety net, states and localities with integrated administrative data infrastructure can use their capacity to identify populations and needs otherwise overlooked. Youth who “age out” of the child welfare system or individuals experiencing chronic homelessness often remain invisible when using traditional methods, aggregate data, or administrative records from a single source.

This blogpost demonstrates how nimble state and local data integration efforts have leveraged their capacity to quickly respond to and understand the impacts of COVID-19, while also reflecting on what can be done to mitigate harm and shift thinking about social welfare and the safety net….(More)”.