Innovations In The Fight Against Corruption In Latin America

Blog Post by Beth Noveck:  “…The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) has published an important, practical and prescriptive report with recommendations for every sector of society from government to individuals on innovative and effective approaches to combatting corruption. While focused on Latin America, the report’s proposals, especially those on the application of new technology in the fight against corruption, are relevant around the world….

IADB Anti-Corruption Report

The recommendations about the use of new technologies, including big data, blockchain and collective intelligence, are drawn from an effort undertaken last year by the Governance Lab at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering to crowdsource such solutions and advice on how to implement them from a hundred global experts. (See the Smarter Crowdsourcing against Corruption report here.)…

Big data, when published as open data, namely in a form that can be re-used without legal or technical restriction and in a machine-readable format that computers can analyze, is another tool in the fight against corruption. With machine readable, big and open data, those outside of government can pinpoint and measure irregularities in government contracting, as Instituto Observ is doing in Brazil.

Opening up judicial data, such as information about case processing times, judges’ and prosecutors’ salaries, information about selection processes, such as CV’s, professional and academic backgrounds, and written and oral exam scores provides activists and reformers with the tools to fight judicial corruption. The Civil Association for Equality and Justice (ACIJ) (a non-profit advocacy group) in Argentina uses such open justice data in its Concursos Transparentes (Transparent Contests) to fight judicial corruption. Jusbrasil is a private open justice company also using open data to reform the courts in Brazil….(More)”

Abandoning Silos: How innovative governments are collaborating horizontally to solve complex problems

Report by Michael Crawford Urban: “The complex challenges that governments at all levels are facing today cut across long-standing and well-defined government boundaries and organizational structures. Solving these problems therefore requires a horizontal approach. This report looks at how such an approach can be successfully implemented.There are a number of key obstacles to effective horizontal collaboration in government, ranging from misaligned professional incentive structures to incompatible computer systems. But a number of governments – Estonia, the UK, and New Zealand – have all recently introduced innovative initiatives that are succeeding in creatively tackling these complex horizontal challenges. In each case, this is delivering critical benefits – reduced government costs and regulatory burdens, getting more out of existing personnel while recruiting more high quality professionals, or providing new and impactful data-driven insights that are helping improve the quality of human services.

How are they achieving this? We answer this question by using an analytical framework organized along three fundamental dimensions: governance(structuring accountability and responsibility), people (managing culture and personnel), and data (collecting, transmitting and using information). In each of our three cases, we show how specific steps taken along one of these dimensions can help overcome important obstacles that commonly arise and, in so doing, enable successful horizontal collaboration….(More)”.

Cybersecurity of the Person

Paper by Jeff Kosseff: “U.S. cybersecurity law is largely an outgrowth of the early-aughts concerns over identity theft and financial fraud. Cybersecurity laws focus on protecting identifiers such as driver’s licenses and social security numbers, and financial data such as credit card numbers. Federal and state laws require companies to protect this data and notify individuals when it is breached, and impose civil and criminal liability on hackers who steal or damage this data. In this paper, I argue that our current cybersecurity laws are too narrowly focused on financial harms. While such concerns remain valid, they are only one part of the cybersecurity challenge that our nation faces.

Too often overlooked by the cybersecurity profession are the harms to individuals, such as revenge pornography and online harassment. Our legal system typically addresses these harms through retrospective criminal prosecution and civil litigation, both of which face significant limits. Accounting for such harms in our conception of cybersecurity will help to better align our laws with these threats and reduce the likelihood of the harms occurring….(More)”,

Bad Landlord? These Coders Are Here to Help

Luis Ferré-Sadurní in the New York Times: “When Dan Kass moved to New York City in 2013 after graduating from college in Boston, his introduction to the city was one that many New Yorkers are all too familiar with: a bad landlord….

Examples include an app called Heatseek, created by students at a coding academy, that allows tenants to record and report the temperature in their homes to ensure that landlords don’t skimp on the heat. There’s also the Displacement Alert Project, built by a coalition of affordable housing groups, that maps out buildings and neighborhoods at risk of displacement.

Now, many of these civic coders are trying to band together and formalize a community.

For more than a year, Mr. Kass and other housing-data wonks have met each month at a shared work space in Brooklyn to exchange ideas about projects and talk about data sets over beer and snacks. Some come from prominent housing advocacy groups; others work unrelated day jobs. They informally call themselves the Housing Data Coalition.

“The real estate industry has many more programmers, many more developers, many more technical tools at their disposal,” said Ziggy Mintz, 30, a computer programmer who is part of the coalition. “It never quite seems fair that the tenant side of the equation doesn’t have the same tools.”

“Our collaboration is a counteracting force to that,” said Lucy Block, a research and policy associate at the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, the group behind the Displacement Alert Project. “We are trying to build the capacity to fight the displacement of low-income people in the city.”

This week, Mr. Kass and his team at, a nonprofit technology start-up, launched a new database for tenants that was built off ideas raised during those monthly meetings.

The tool, called Who Owns What, allows tenants to punch in an address and look up other buildings associated with the landlord or management company. It might sound inconsequential, but the tool goes a long way in piercing the veil of secrecy that shrouds the portfolios of landlords….(More)”.

To Reduce Privacy Risks, the Census Plans to Report Less Accurate Data

Mark Hansen at the New York Times: “When the Census Bureau gathered data in 2010, it made two promises. The form would be “quick and easy,” it said. And “your answers are protected by law.”

But mathematical breakthroughs, easy access to more powerful computing, and widespread availability of large and varied public data sets have made the bureau reconsider whether the protection it offers Americans is strong enough. To preserve confidentiality, the bureau’s directors have determined they need to adopt a “formal privacy” approach, one that adds uncertainty to census data before it is published and achieves privacy assurances that are provable mathematically.

The census has always added some uncertainty to its data, but a key innovation of this new framework, known as “differential privacy,” is a numerical value describing how much privacy loss a person will experience. It determines the amount of randomness — “noise” — that needs to be added to a data set before it is released, and sets up a balancing act between accuracy and privacy. Too much noise would mean the data would not be accurate enough to be useful — in redistricting, in enforcing the Voting Rights Act or in conducting academic research. But too little, and someone’s personal data could be revealed.

On Thursday, the bureau will announce the trade-off it has chosen for data publications from the 2018 End-to-End Census Test it conducted in Rhode Island, the only dress rehearsal before the actual census in 2020. The bureau has decided to enforce stronger privacy protections than companies like Apple or Google had when they each first took up differential privacy….

In presentation materials for Thursday’s announcement, special attention is paid to lessening any problems with redistricting: the potential complications of using noisy counts of voting-age people to draw district lines. (By contrast, in 2000 and 2010 the swapping mechanism produced exact counts of potential voters down to the block level.)

The Census Bureau has been an early adopter of differential privacy. Still, instituting the framework on such a large scale is not an easy task, and even some of the big technology firms have had difficulties. For example, shortly after Apple’s announcement in 2016 that it would use differential privacy for data collected from its macOS and iOS operating systems, it was revealed that the actual privacy loss of their systems was much higher than advertised.

Some scholars question the bureau’s abandonment of techniques like swapping in favor of differential privacy. Steven Ruggles, Regents Professor of history and population studies at the University of Minnesota, has relied on census data for decades. Through the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, he and his team have regularized census data dating to 1850, providing consistency between questionnaires as the forms have changed, and enabling researchers to analyze data across years.

“All of the sudden, Title 13 gets equated with differential privacy — it’s not,” he said, adding that if you make a guess about someone’s identity from looking at census data, you are probably wrong. “That has been regarded in the past as protection of privacy. They want to make it so that you can’t even guess.”

“There is a trade-off between usability and risk,” he added. “I am concerned they may go far too far on privileging an absolutist standard of risk.”

In a working paper published Friday, he said that with the number of private services offering personal data, a prospective hacker would have little incentive to turn to public data such as the census “in an attempt to uncover uncertain, imprecise and outdated information about a particular individual.”…(More)”.

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)”

Fostering innovation in public procurement through public private partnerships

Paper by Nunzia Carbonara in the Journal of Public Procurement: “The prevailing view in the studies on Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) is that PPPs can improve the quality and efficiency of infrastructure services and facilitates innovation in infrastructure developments. Although researchers highlight the potentiality of PPP models for stimulating innovation, they do not prove whether and in which conditions the PPP model is capable of developing innovative solutions. This paper aims to provide answers to the following key research questions: Which are the PPP features that favor innovation? How properly structure a PPP to foster innovation?

With this aim, drawing upon the main streams of studies on innovation, the authors develop a conceptual framework that identifies the PPP features that can influence the innovativeness. Second, they define how these PPP features have to be structured to foster innovation.

The authors find that a wider involvement of the private sector will increase the level of innovation. The industry structure exerts opposite forces on innovation: the dominance of large-sized firms is positively related to innovative output, whereas the market concentration negatively affects innovation. Performance-based contracts should be used in the context of PPP instead of traditional contracts. Finally, the authors find that, to fully exploit the networking effects on innovation, cooperation and trusting among partners involved in PPPs should be enhanced….(More)”.

The Innovation System of the Public Service of Canada

OECD: Today, the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) is pleased to announce the release of The Innovation System of the Public Service of Canada, the first of the OECD’s reviews of a national public sector innovation system….Some of the key findings and observations from the report include:

  • The Government of Canada starts with a strong base, having a long demonstrated history of innovation. The civil service also has a longstanding awareness and appreciation of the need for innovation.
  • There has been an ongoing recognition that the Public Service of Canada needs to continue to adapt and be responsive. Respective Clerks (the Heads of the Public Service) have repeatedly identified the need to go further.
  • Much of the ‘low-hanging’ fruit (i.e. activities to support public sector innovation such as awards, efforts to remove hurdles, introduction of new tools) has already been picked, but this is unlikely to lead to long term sustainability.
  • The innovation system is still relatively fragmented, in that most actors are experiencing the same system in different ways. New approaches are needed.
  • The Canadian Public Service has made some significant steps towards a more systemic approach to public sector innovation. However, it is likely that without continuous efforts and direction the innovation system will not be able to consistently and reliably contribute to the delivery of the best outcomes for citizens.

Given that much is still being learnt about public sector innovation, the report avoids a prescriptive approach as to what should be done. It identifies potential areas of intervention, but recognises that the context will continue to evolve, and that the specific actions taken should be matched to the ambitions and intent of the Public Service of Canada.

An innovation system is made up of many parts and contributed to by many actors. The effectiveness of the innovation system – i.e. its ability to consistently and reliably develop and deliver innovative solutions that contribute to achieving the goals and priorities of the government – will depend on collective effort, involving action from different actors at the individual, organisational, and system levels.

While a range of options are put forward, the aim of this review, and the guidance included within it, is to help provide a reflection of the system so that all actors can see themselves within it. This can provide a contribution to the ongoing discussion and deliberation about what the collective aim for innovation is within the Public Service of Canada, and how everyone can play a part, and be supported in that….(More)”.

Library of Congress Launches Crowdsourcing Platform

Matt Enis at the Library Journal: “The Library of Congress (LC) last month launched, a new crowdsourcing platform that will improve discovery and access to the Library’s digital collections with the help of volunteer transcription and tagging. The project kicked off with the “Letters to Lincoln Challenge,” a campaign encouraging volunteers to transcribe 10,000 digitized versions of documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln, which will make these materials full-text searchable for the first time….

The new project is the earliest example of LC’s new Digital Strategy, which complements the library’s new 2019–23 strategic plan. Announced in October, the strategic plan, “Enriching the User Experience,” outlines four high-level goals—expanding access, enhancing services, optimizing resources, and measuring results—while the digital strategy outlines how LC plans to accomplish these goals with its digital resources, described as “throwing open the treasure chest, connecting, and investing in our future”…

LC aims to use crowdsourcing to enrich the user experience in two key ways, Zwaard said.

“First, it helps with the legibility of our collections,” she explained. “The Library of Congress is home to so many historic treasures, but the handwriting can be hard to read…. For example, we have this amazing letter from Abraham Lincoln to his first fiancée. It’s really quite lovely, but at a glance, if you’re not familiar with historic handwriting, it’s hard to read.”…

Second, crowdsourcing “invites people into the collections,” she added. “The library is very optimized around answering specific research questions. One of the things we’re thinking about is how to serve users who don’t have a specific research question—who just want to see all of the cool stuff. We have so much cool stuff! But it can be hard for people to find purchase when they are just browsing and don’t have anything specific in mind. One of the ways we can [showcase interesting content] is by offering them a window into the collections by asking for their help.”…

To facilitate ongoing engagement with these varied projects, LC has set up an online forum on History Hub, a site hosted by the National Archives, to encourage participants to ask questions, discuss projects, and meet other volunteers. … is not LC’s first crowdsourcing project. Followers of the library’s official Flickr account have added tens of thousands of descriptive tags to digitized historical photos since the account debuted in 2007. And last year, the debut of—which aims to encourage creative use of LOC’s digital collections—included the Beyond Words crowdsourcing project developed by LC software developer Tong Wang….(More)”

Nudging compliance in government: A human-centered approach to public sector program design

Article by Michelle Cho, Joshua Schoop, Timothy Murphy: “What are the biggest challenges facing government? Bureaucracy? Gridlock? A shrinking pool of resources?

Chances are compliance—when people act in accordance with preset rules, policies, and/or expectations—doesn’t top the list for many. Yet maybe it should. Compliance touches nearly every aspect of public policy implementation. Over the past 10 years, US government spending on compliance reached US$7.5 billion.

Even the most sophisticated and well-planned policies often require cooperation and input from real humans to be successful. From voluntary tax filing at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to reducing greenhouse emissions at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to achieving the public policy outcomes decision-makers intend, compliance is fundamental.

Consider these examples of noncompliance and their costs:

  • Taxes. By law, the IRS requires all income-earning, eligible constituents to file and pay their owed taxes. Tax evasion—the illegal nonpayment or underpayment of tax—cost the federal government an average of US$458 billion per year between 2008 and 2010.3 The IRS believes it will recover just 11 percent of the amount lost in that time frame.
  • The environment. The incorrect disposal of recyclable materials has cost more than US$744 million in the state of Washington since 2009.4 The city audit in San Diego found that 76 percent of materials disposed of citywide are recyclable and estimates that those recyclables could power 181,000 households for a year or conserve 3.4 million barrels of oil.5

Those who fail to comply with these rules could face direct and indirect consequences, including penalties and even jail time. Yet a significant subset of the population still behaves in a noncompliant manner. Why?

Behavioral sciences offer some clues. Through the combination of psychology, economics, and neuroscience, behavioral sciences demonstrate that people do not always do what is asked of them, even when it seems in their best interest to do so. Often, people choose a noncompliant path because of one of these reasons: They are unaware of their improper behavior, they find the “right” choice is too complex to decipher, or they simply are not intrinsically motivated to make the compliant choice.

For any of these reasons, when a cognitive hurdle emerges, some people resort to noncompliant behavior. But these hurdles can be overcome. Policymakers can use these same behavioral insights to understand why noncompliance occurs and alternatively, employ behavioral-inspired tools to encourage compliant behavior in a more agile and resource-efficient fashion.

In this spirit, leaders can take a more human-centered approach to program design by using behavioral science lessons to develop policies and programs in a manner that can make compliance easier and more appealing. In our article, we discuss three common reasons behind noncompliance and how better, more human-centered design can help policymakers achieve more positive results….(More)”.