New methods help identify what drives sensitive or socially unacceptable behaviors


Mary Guiden at Physorg: “Conservation scientists and statisticians at Colorado State University have teamed up to solve a key problem for the study of sensitive behaviors like poaching, harassment, bribery, and drug use.

Sensitive behaviors—defined as socially unacceptable or not compliant with rules and regulations—are notoriously hard to study, researchers say, because people often do not want to answer direct questions about them.

To overcome this challenge, scientists have developed indirect questioning approaches that protect responders’ identities. However, these methods also make it difficult to predict which sectors of a population are more likely to participate in sensitive behaviors, and which factors, such as knowledge of laws, education, or income, influence the probability that an individual will engage in a sensitive behavior.

Assistant Professor Jennifer Solomon and Associate Professor Michael Gavin of the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources at CSU, and Abu Conteh from MacEwan University in Alberta, Canada, have teamed up with Professor Jay Breidt and doctoral student Meng Cao in the CSU Department of Statistics to develop a new method to solve the problem.

The study, “Understanding the drivers of sensitive behavior using Poisson regression from quantitative randomized response technique data,” was published recently in PLOS One.

Conteh, who, as a doctoral student, worked with Gavin in New Zealand, used a specific technique, known as quantitative randomized response, to elicit confidential answers to questions on behaviors related to non-compliance with natural resource regulations from a protected area in Sierra Leone.

In this technique, the researcher conducting interviews has a large container containing pingpong balls, some with numbers and some without numbers. The interviewer asks the respondent to pick a ball at random, without revealing it to the interviewer. If the ball has a number, the respondent tells the interviewer the number. If the ball does not have a number, the respondent reveals how many times he illegaly hunted animals in a given time period….

Armed with the new computer program, the scientists found that people from rural communities with less access to jobs in urban centers were more likely to hunt in the reserve. People in communities with a greater proportion people displaced by Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war were also more likely to hunt illegally….(More)”

The researchers said that collaborating across disciplines was and is key to addressing complex problems like this one. It is commonplace for people to be noncompliant with rules and regulations and equally important for social scientists to analyze these behaviors….(More)”

Open Government Data for Inclusive Development


Chapter by F. van Schalkwyk and M,  Cañares in  “Making Open Development Inclusive”, MIT Press by Matthew L. Smith and Ruhiya Kris Seward (Eds):  “This chapter examines the relationship between open government data and social inclusion. Twenty-eight open data initiatives from the Global South are analyzed to find out how and in what contexts the publication of open government data tend to result in the inclusion of habitually marginalized communities in governance processes such that they may lead better lives.

The relationship between open government data and social inclusion is examined by presenting an analysis of the outcomes of open data projects. This analysis is based on a constellation of factors that were identified as having a bearing on open data initiatives with respect to inclusion. The findings indicate that open data can contribute to an increase in access and participation— both components of inclusion. In these cases, this particular finding indicates that a more open, participatory approach to governance practice is taking root. However, the findings also show that access and participation approaches to open government data have, in the cases studied here, not successfully disrupted the concentration of power in political and other networks, and this has placed limits on open data’s contribution to a more inclusive society.

The chapter starts by presenting a theoretical framework for the analysis of the relationship between open data and inclusion. The framework sets out the complex relationship between social actors, information and power in the network society. This is critical, we suggest, in developing a realistic analysis of the contexts in which open data activates its potential for
transformation. The chapter then articulates the research question and presents the methodology used to operationalize those questions. The findings and discussion section that follows examines the factors affecting the relationship between open data and inclusion, and how these factors
are observed to play out across several open data initiatives in different contexts. The chapter ends with concluding remarks and an attempt to synthesize the insights that emerged in the preceding sections….(More)”.

The Constitution of Knowledge


Jonathan Rauch at National Affairs: “America has faced many challenges to its political culture, but this is the first time we have seen a national-level epistemic attack: a systematic attack, emanating from the very highest reaches of power, on our collective ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. “These are truly uncharted waters for the country,” wrote Michael Hayden, former CIA director, in the Washington Post in April. “We have in the past argued over the values to be applied to objective reality, or occasionally over what constituted objective reality, but never the existence or relevance of objective reality itself.” To make the point another way: Trump and his troll armies seek to undermine the constitution of knowledge….

The attack, Hayden noted, is on “the existence or relevance of objective reality itself.” But what is objective reality?

In everyday vernacular, reality often refers to the world out there: things as they really are, independent of human perception and error. Reality also often describes those things that we feel certain about, things that we believe no amount of wishful thinking could change. But, of course, humans have no direct access to an objective world independent of our minds and senses, and subjective certainty is in no way a guarantee of truth. Philosophers have wrestled with these problems for centuries, and today they have a pretty good working definition of objective reality. It is a set of propositions: propositions that have been validated in some way, and have thereby been shown to be at least conditionally true — true, that is, unless debunked. Some of these propositions reflect the world as we perceive it (e.g., “The sky is blue”). Others, like claims made by quantum physicists and abstract mathematicians, appear completely removed from the world of everyday experience.

It is worth noting, however, that the locution “validated in some way” hides a cheat. In what way? Some Americans believe Elvis Presley is alive. Should we send him a Social Security check? Many people believe that vaccines cause autism, or that Barack Obama was born in Africa, or that the murder rate has risen. Who should decide who is right? And who should decide who gets to decide?

This is the problem of social epistemology, which concerns itself with how societies come to some kind of public understanding about truth. It is a fundamental problem for every culture and country, and the attempts to resolve it go back at least to Plato, who concluded that a philosopher king (presumably someone like Plato himself) should rule over reality. Traditional tribal communities frequently use oracles to settle questions about reality. Religious communities use holy texts as interpreted by priests. Totalitarian states put the government in charge of objectivity.

There are many other ways to settle questions about reality. Most of them are terrible because they rely on authoritarianism, violence, or, usually, both. As the great American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce said in 1877, “When complete agreement could not otherwise be reached, a general massacre of all who have not thought in a certain way has proved a very effective means of settling opinion in a country.”

As Peirce implied, one way to avoid a massacre would be to attain unanimity, at least on certain core issues. No wonder we hanker for consensus. Something you often hear today is that, as Senator Ben Sasse put it in an interview on CNN, “[W]e have a risk of getting to a place where we don’t have shared public facts. A republic will not work if we don’t have shared facts.”

But that is not quite the right answer, either. Disagreement about core issues and even core facts is inherent in human nature and essential in a free society. If unanimity on core propositions is not possible or even desirable, what is necessary to have a functional social reality? The answer is that we need an elite consensus, and hopefully also something approaching a public consensus, on the method of validating propositions. We needn’t and can’t all agree that the same things are true, but a critical mass needs to agree on what it is we do that distinguishes truth from falsehood, and more important, on who does it.

Who can be trusted to resolve questions about objective truth? The best answer turns out to be no one in particular….(More)”.

Advancing Open Data for Open Governance in Asia


Paper by Michael P. Cañares: “The record of countries in the region in terms of transparency and accountability is dismal. In the latest Corruption Perceptions Index released by Transparency International, more than half of the country in the region scored below 50, with at least a quarter of these are countries considered with systemic corruption problems. Nevertheless, there have been significant attempts of several countries to install transparency measures and project a commitment towards greater openness. At least a dozen of countries has right to information laws that provide citizens’ fundamental access to government information and several have installed open data policies and are implementing e-government programs or practices. But access of citizens to data and information to hold governments to account, demand for better services, and strengthen citizen participation in governance remain elusive.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. OGP’s vision is that more governments become more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens, with the goal of improving the quality of governance, as well as the quality of services that citizens receive. Since its inception in 2011, OGP today brings together 75 countries and 15 subnational governments with over 2,500 commitments to make their governments more open and accountable. In Asia, only the governments of Indonesia, the Philippines, and South Korea are participating countries along with two subnational pilots, Seoul and Bojonegoro. These governments have launched initiatives to involve citizens in the planning and budgeting processes, proactively disclose budget and other public financial information, and engage citizens in monitoring of public service delivery. But these countries remain the exception rather than the norm….(More)”.

Parliament and the people


Report by Rebecca Rumbul, Gemma Moulder, and Alex Parsons at MySociety: “The publication and dissemination of parliamentary information in developed countries has been shown to improve citizen engagement in governance and reduce the distance between the representative and the represented. While it is clear that these channels are being used, it is not clear how they are being used, or why some digital tools achieve greater reach or influence than others.

With the support of the Indigo Trust, mySociety has undertaken research to better understand how digital tools for parliamentary openness and engagement are operating in Sub-Saharan Africa, and how future tools can be better designed and targeted to achieve greater social impact. Read the executive summary of the report’s conclusions.

The report provides an analysis of the data and digital landscapes of four case study countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (KenyaNigeriaSouth Africa and Uganda), and interrogates how digital channels are being used in those countries to create and disseminate information on parliamentary activity. It examines the existing academic and practitioner literature in this field, compares and contrasts the landscape in each case study country, and provides a thematic overview of common and relevant factors in the operation of digital platforms for democratic engagement in parliamentary activity…(More)”.

Governments fail to capitalise on swaths of open data


Valentina Romei in the Financial Times: “…Behind the push for open data is a desire to make governments more transparent, accountable and efficient — but also to allow businesses to create products and services that spark economic development. The global annual opportunity cost of failing to do this effectively is about $5tn, according to one estimate from McKinsey, the consultancy.

The UK is not the only country falling short, says the Open Data Barometer, which monitors the status of government data across the world. Among the 30 leading governments — those that have championed the open data movement and have made progress over five years — “less than a quarter of the data with the biggest potential for social and economic impact” is truly open. This goal of transparency, it seems, has not proved sufficient for “creating value” — the movement’s latest focus. In 2015, nearly a decade after advocates first discussed the principles of open government data, 62 countries adopted the six Open Data Charter principles — which called for data to be open by default, usable and comparable….

The use of open data has already bore fruit for some countries. In 2015, Japan’s ministry of land, infrastructure and transport set up an open data site aimed at disabled and elderly people. The 7,000 data points published are downloadable and the service can be used to generate a map that shows which passenger terminals on train, bus and ferry networksprovide barrier-free access.

In the US, The Climate Corporation, a digital agriculture company, combined 30 years of weather data and 60 years of crop yield data to help farmers increase their productivity. And in the UK, subscription service Land Insight merges different sources of land data to help individuals and developers compare property information, forecast selling prices, contact land owners and track planning applications…
Open Data 500, an international network of organisations that studies the use and impact of open data, reveals that private companies in South Korea are using government agency data, with technology, advertising and business services among the biggest users. It shows, for example, that Archidraw, a four-year-old Seoul-based company that provides 3D visualisation tools for interior design and property remodelling, has used mapping data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport…(More)”.

Governments fail to capitalise on swaths of open data


Valentina Romei in the Financial Times: “…Behind the push for open data is a desire to make governments more transparent, accountable and efficient — but also to allow businesses to create products and services that spark economic development. The global annual opportunity cost of failing to do this effectively is about $5tn, according to one estimate from McKinsey, the consultancy.

The UK is not the only country falling short, says the Open Data Barometer, which monitors the status of government data across the world. Among the 30 leading governments — those that have championed the open data movement and have made progress over five years — “less than a quarter of the data with the biggest potential for social and economic impact” is truly open. This goal of transparency, it seems, has not proved sufficient for “creating value” — the movement’s latest focus. In 2015, nearly a decade after advocates first discussed the principles of open government data, 62 countries adopted the six Open Data Charter principles — which called for data to be open by default, usable and comparable….

The use of open data has already bore fruit for some countries. In 2015, Japan’s ministry of land, infrastructure and transport set up an open data site aimed at disabled and elderly people. The 7,000 data points published are downloadable and the service can be used to generate a map that shows which passenger terminals on train, bus and ferry networksprovide barrier-free access.

In the US, The Climate Corporation, a digital agriculture company, combined 30 years of weather data and 60 years of crop yield data to help farmers increase their productivity. And in the UK, subscription service Land Insight merges different sources of land data to help individuals and developers compare property information, forecast selling prices, contact land owners and track planning applications…
Open Data 500, an international network of organisations that studies the use and impact of open data, reveals that private companies in South Korea are using government agency data, with technology, advertising and business services among the biggest users. It shows, for example, that Archidraw, a four-year-old Seoul-based company that provides 3D visualisation tools for interior design and property remodelling, has used mapping data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport…(More)”.

Challenges facing social media platforms in conflict prevention in Kenya since 2007: A case of Ushahidi platform


Paper by A.K. Njeru, B. Malakwen and M. Lumala in the International Academic Journal of Social Sciences and Education: “Throughout history information is a key factor in conflict management around the world. The media can play its important role of being the society’s watch dog of the society, by exposing to the masses what is essential but hidden, however the same media may also be used to mobilize masses to violence. Social media can therefore act as a tool for widening the democratic space, but can also lead to destabilization of peace.

The aim of the study was to establish the challenges facing social media platforms in conflict prevention in Kenya since 2007: a case of Ushahidi platform in Kenya. The paradigm that was found suitable for this study is Pragmatism. The study used a mixed approach. In this study, interviews, focus group discussions and content analysis of the Ushahidi platform were chosen as the tools of data collection. In order to bring order, structure and interpretation to the collected data, the researcher systematically organized the data by coding it into categories and constructing matrixes. After classifying the data, the researcher compared and contrasted it to the information retrieved from the literature review.

The study found that One major weak point social media as a tool for conflict prevention is the lack of ethical standards and professionalism for the users. It is too liberal and thus can be used to spread unverified information and distorted facts that might be detrimental to peace building and conflict prevention. This has led to some of the users already questioning the credibility of the information that is circulated through social media. The other weak point about social media as tool for peace building is that it is dependent to a major extent on the access to internet. The availability of internet in low units doesn’t necessarily mean cheap access. So over time the high cost of internet might affect the efficiency of the social media as a tool. The study concluded that information credibility is essential if social media as a tool is to be effective in conflict prevention and peace building.

The nature of social media which allows for anonymity of identity gives room for unverified information to be floated around the social media networks; this can be detrimental to the conflict prevention and peace building initiatives. There is therefore need for information verification and authentication by a trusted agent, to offer information appertaining to violence, conflict prevention and peace building on the social media platforms. The study recommends that Ushahidi platform should be seen as an agent of social change and should discuss the social mobilization which may be able to bring about. The study further suggest that if we can look at Ushahidi platform as a development agent, can we then take this a step further and ask, or try to find, a methodology that looks at the Ushahidi platform as peacemaking agent, or to assist in the maintenance of peace in a post-conflict thereby tapping into Ushahidi platform’s full potential….(More)”.

Many Around the World Are Disengaged From Politics


Richard Wike and Alexandra Castillo at Pew Research Center: “An engaged citizenry is often considered a sign of a healthy democracy. High levels of political and civic participation increase the likelihood that the voices of ordinary citizens will be heard in important debates, and they confer a degree of legitimacy on democratic institutions. However, in many nations around the world, much of the public is disengaged from politics.

To better understand public attitudes toward civic engagement, Pew Research Center conducted face-to-face surveys in 14 nations encompassing a wide range of political systems. The study, conducted in collaboration with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) as part of their International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), includes countries from Africa, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Because it does not represent every region, the study cannot reflect the globe as a whole. But with 14,875 participants across such a wide variety of countries, it remains a useful snapshot of key, cross-national patterns in civic life.

The survey finds that, aside from voting, relatively few people take part in other forms of political and civic participation. Still, some types of engagement are more common among young people, those with more education, those on the political left and social network users. And certain issues – especially health care, poverty and education – are more likely than others to inspire political action. Here are eight key takeaways from the survey, which was conducted from May 20 to Aug. 12, 2018, via face-to-face interviews.

Most people vote, but other forms of participation are much less common. Across the 14 nations polled, a median of 78% say they have voted at least once in the past. Another 9% say they might vote in the future, while 7% say they would never vote.

With at least 9-in-10 reporting they have voted in the past, participation is highest in three of the four countries with compulsory voting (Brazil, Argentina and Greece). Voting is similarly high in both Indonesia (91%) and the Philippines (91%), two countries that do not have compulsory voting laws.

The lowest percentage is found in Tunisia (62%), which has only held two national elections since the Jasmine Revolution overthrew long-serving President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and spurred the Arab Spring protests across the Middle East.

Chart showing that beyond voting, political participation is relatively low.

Attending a political campaign event or speech is the second most common type of participation among those surveyed – a median of 33% have done this at least once. Fewer people report participating in volunteer organizations (a median of 27%), posting comments on political issues online (17%), participating in an organized protest (14%) or donating money to a social or political organization (12%)….(More)”.

Craft metrics to value co-production


Liz Richardson and Beth Perry at Nature: “Advocates of co-production encourage collaboration between professional researchers and those affected by that research, to ensure that the resulting science is relevant and useful. Opening up science beyond scientists is essential, particularly where problems are complex, solutions are uncertain and values are salient. For example, patients should have input into research on their conditions, and first-hand experience of local residents should shape research on environmental-health issues.

But what constitutes success on these terms? Without a better understanding of this, it is harder to incentivize co-production in research. A key way to support co-production is reconfiguring that much-derided feature of academic careers: metrics.

Current indicators of research output (such as paper counts or the h-index) conceptualize the value of research narrowly. They are already roundly criticized as poor measures of quality or usefulness. Less appreciated is the fact that these metrics also leave out the societal relevance of research and omit diverse approaches to creating knowledge about social problems.

Peer review also has trouble assessing the value of research that sits at disciplinary boundaries or that addresses complex social challenges. It denies broader social accountability by giving scientists a monopoly on determining what is legitimate knowledge1. Relying on academic peer review as a means of valuing research can discourage broader engagement.

This privileges abstract and theoretical research over work that is localized and applied. For example, research on climate-change adaptation, conducted in the global south by researchers embedded in affected communities, can make real differences to people’s lives. Yet it is likely to be valued less highly by conventional evaluation than research that is generalized from afar and then published in a high-impact English-language journal….(More)”.