The Colombian Anti-Corruption Referendum: Why It Failed?


Paper by Michael Haman: “The objective of this article is to analyze the results of the anti-corruption referendum in Colombia in 2018. Colombia is a country with a significant corruption problem. More than 99% of the voters who came to the polls voted in favor of the proposals. However, the anti-corruption referendum nonetheless failed because not enough citizens were mobilized to participate. The article addresses the reasons why turnout was very low…

Conclusions: I find that the more transparent a municipality, the higher the percentage of the municipal electorate that voted for proposals in the anti-corruption referendum. Moreover, I find that in municipalities where support for Sergio Fajardo in the presidential election was higher and support for Iván Duque was lower, support for the referendum proposals was higher. Also, turnout was lower in municipalities with higher poverty rates and higher homicide rates…(More)”.

Civic Duty Days: One Way Employers Can Strengthen Democracy


Blog by Erin Barnes: “As an employer, I’m always looking for structural ways to support my team in their health and wellbeing. We know that individual health is so often tied to community health: strong communities mean, among other things, better health outcomes, reduced crime, and better education for our children, so making space for my team to be able to be active participants in their neighborhoods gives them and their families better health outcomes. So, from my perspective, allowing time to give back to the community is just as important as providing sick days.

When my cofounder Brandon Whitney and I started ioby — a nonprofit focused on building civic leadership in our neighborhoods — we wanted our internal organizational values to reflect our mission. For example, we’ve always given Election Day off, and Brandon created ioby’s Whole Person Policy inspired by the work of Parker Palmer. And a few years ago, after a series of high-profile killings of people of color by police made it difficult for many of our staff to feel fully present at work while also showing up for those in their community who were struggling with pain and grief, we decided to add an additional 5 days of Paid Time Off (PTO) for civic duty.

At ioby, a Civic Duty Day is not the same as jury duty. Civic Duty Days are designed to give ioby staff the time to do what we need to do to be active participants involved in everyday democracy. Activities can include neighborhood volunteering, get-out-the-vote volunteering, fundraising, self-care and community-care to respond to local and national emergencies, writing letters, meeting with local elected officials, making calls, going to a healing workshop, and personal health to recover from civic duty activities that fall on weekends.

A couple weeks ago, at a retreat with other nonprofit leaders, we were discussing structural ways to increase civic participation in the United States. Given that nearly 15% of Americans cite lack of time as their reason for not voting, and 75% of Americans cite it as their reason for not volunteering, employers can make a big difference in how Americans show up in public life.

I asked my team what sorts of things they’ve used Civic Duty Days for. In addition to the typical answers about park cleanups, phone banking, door knocking and canvassing, postcard writing, attending demonstrations like the Women’s March and the Climate Strike, I heard some interesting stories.

  • One ioby staff person used her Civic Duty Days to attend Reverse Ride Alongs where she acts as a guide with cadets for the entire day. This program allows cadets to see the community they will be serving and for the community to have a voice in how they see policing and what ways best to be approached by new police officers.
  • An ioby staff person used Civic Duty Days to attend trial for an activist who was arrested for protesting; this would have been impossible to attend otherwise since trials are often during the day.
  • Another ioby staff person used his days to stay home with his kids while his wife attended demonstrations….(More)”

We Need a Fourth Branch of Government


George A. Papandreou at The New York Times: “In ancient times, politics was born of the belief that we can be masters of our own fate, and democracy became a continuing, innovative project to guarantee people a say in public decisions.

Today, however, we live in a paradox. Humanity has created vast wealth and technological know-how that could contribute to solutions for the global common good, yet immense numbers of people are disempowered, marginalized and suffering from a deep sense of insecurity. Working together, we have the ability to reshape the world as we know it. Unfortunately, that power rests in the hands of only a few.

The marginalization we see today is rooted in the globalization promoted by policy models such as the Washington Consensus, which distanced politics and governance from economic power. Companies in the financial, pharmaceutical, agricultural, oil and tech industries are no longer governed by the laws of a single state — they live in a separate global stratosphere, one regulated to suit their interests.

The consequences of all this are huge disparities in wealth and power. There is, for example, an overconcentration of money in media and politics, due to lobbying and outright corruption. And in many countries, democratic institutions have been captured and the will of the people has been compromised….

We could embrace reactive politics, elect authoritarian leaders, build walls, and promote isolationism and racism. This path offers a simple yet illusory way to “take back control,” but in fact accomplishes the opposite: It gives up control to power-hungry demagogues who divide us, weaken civil society and feed us dead-end solutions.

But rather than embrace those false promises, let us instead reinvent and deepen democratic institutions, in order to empower people, tame global capitalism, eliminate inequality and assert control over our international techno-society.

From my experience, an important step toward these goals would be to create a fourth branch of government.

This new deliberative branch, in which all citizens — the “demos” — could participate, would sit alongside the executive, legislative and judicial branches. All laws and decisions would first go through an e-deliberation process before being debated in our city halls, parliaments or congresses.

Inspired by the agora of ideas and debate in ancient Athens, I set up as prime minister a rudimentary “wiki-law” process for deliberating issues online before laws are voted on. Trusting collective wisdom brought insightful and invaluable responses.

In contrast to how social media works today, a similar platform could develop transparent algorithms that use artificial intelligence to promote wholesome debate and informed dialogue while fairly aggregating citizens’ positions to promote consensus building. All who participate in this public e-agora would appear under their true identities — real voices, not bots. Eponymous, not anonymous.

To facilitate debate, forums of professionals could give informed opinions on issues of the day. Public television, newspapers, radio and podcasts could enlighten the conversation. Schools would be encouraged to participate. So-called deliberative polling (again inspired by ancient Athens and developed for modern society by James Fishkin at Stanford University) could improve decision-making by leveraging sustained dialogue among polling participants and experts to produce more informed public opinion. The concept was used by the Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland from 2016 to 2018, a riveting exercise in deliberative democracy that produced breakthroughs on seemingly intractable issues such as abortion.

Today, we are on the verge of momentous global changes, in robotics, A.I., the climate and more. The world’s citizens must debate the ethical implications of our increasingly godlike technological powers….(More)”

Robotic Bureaucracy: Administrative Burden and Red Tape in University Research


Essay by Barry Bozeman and Jan Youtie: “…examines university research administration and the use of software systems that automate university research grants and contract administration, including the automatic sending of emails for reporting and compliance purposes. These systems are described as “robotic bureaucracy.” The rise of regulations and their contribution to administrative burden on university research have led university administrators to increasingly rely on robotic bureaucracy to handle compliance. This article draws on the administrative burden, behavioral public administration, and electronic communications and management literatures, which are increasingly focused on the psychological and cognitive bases of behavior. These literatures suggest that the assumptions behind robotic bureaucracy ignore the extent to which these systems shift the burden of compliance from administrators to researchers….(More)”.

The Passion Economy and the Future of Work


Li Jin at Andreessen-Horowitz: “The top-earning writer on the paid newsletter platform Substack earns more than $500,000 a year from reader subscriptions. The top content creator on Podia, a platform for video courses and digital memberships, makes more than $100,000 a month. And teachers across the US are bringing in thousands of dollars a month teaching live, virtual classes on Outschool and Juni Learning.

These stories are indicative of a larger trend: call it the “creator stack” or the “enterprization of consumer.” Whereas previously, the biggest online labor marketplaces flattened the individuality of workers, new platforms allow anyone to monetize unique skills. Gig work isn’t going anywhere—but there are now more ways to capitalize on creativity. Users can now build audiences at scale and turn their passions into livelihoods, whether that’s playing video games or producing video content. This has huge implications for entrepreneurship and what we’ll think of as a “job” in the future….(More)”.

Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It


Book by Richard Stengel: “Disinformation is as old as humanity. When Satan told Eve nothing would happen if she bit the apple, that was disinformation. But the rise of social media has made disinformation even more pervasive and pernicious in our current era. In a disturbing turn of events, governments are increasingly using disinformation to create their own false narratives, and democracies are proving not to be very good at fighting it.

During the final three years of the Obama administration, Richard Stengel, the former editor of Time and an Under Secretary of State, was on the front lines of this new global information war. At the time, he was the single person in government tasked with unpacking, disproving, and combating both ISIS’s messaging and Russian disinformation. Then, in 2016, as the presidential election unfolded, Stengel watched as Donald Trump used disinformation himself, weaponizing the grievances of Americans who felt left out by modernism. In fact, Stengel quickly came to see how all three players had used the same playbook: ISIS sought to make Islam great again; Putin tried to make Russia great again; and we all know about Trump.

In a narrative that is by turns dramatic and eye-opening, Information Wars walks readers through of this often frustrating battle. Stengel moves through Russia and Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and introduces characters from Putin to Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Mohamed bin Salman to show how disinformation is impacting our global society. He illustrates how ISIS terrorized the world using social media, and how the Russians launched a tsunami of disinformation around the annexation of Crimea – a scheme that became the model for their interference with the 2016 presidential election. An urgent book for our times, Information Wars stresses that we must find a way to combat this ever growing threat to democracy….(More)”.

Nowcasting


naʊˈkæstɪŋ

A method of describing the present or the near future by analyzing datasets that are not traditionally included in the analysis (e.g. web searches, reviews, social media data, etc.)

Nowcasting is a term that originates in meteorology, which refers to “the detailed description of the current weather along with forecasts obtained by extrapolation for a period of 0 to 6 hours ahead.” Today, nowcasting is also used in other fields, such as macroeconomics and health, to provide more up-to-date statistics.

Traditionally, macroeconomic statistics are collected on a quarterly basis and released with a substantial lag. For example, GDP data for euro area “is only available at quarterly frequency and is released six weeks after the close of the quarter.” Further, economic datasets from government agencies such as the US Census Bureau “typically appear only after multi-year lags, and the public-facing versions are aggregated to the county or ZIP code level.

The arrival of big data era has shown some promise to improve nowcasting. A paper by Edward L. Glaeser, Hyunjin Kim, and Michael Luca presents “evidence that Yelp data can complement government surveys by measuring economic activity in close to real time, at a granular level, and at almost any geographic scale.” In the paper, the authors concluded:

“Our analyses of one possible data source, Yelp, suggests that these new data sources can be a useful complement to official government data. Yelp can help predict contemporaneous changes in the local economy. It can also provide a snapshot of economic change at the local level. It is a useful addition to the data tools that local policy-makers can access.

“Yet our analysis also highlights the challenges with the idea of replacing the Census altogether at any point in the near future. Government statistical agencies invest heavily in developing relatively complete coverage, for a wide set of metrics. The variation in coverage inherent in data from online platforms make it difficult to replace the role of providing official statistics that government data sources play.

“Ultimately, data from platforms like Yelp –combined with official government statistics – can provide valuable complementary datasets that will ultimately allow for more timely and granular forecasts and policy analyses, with a wider set of variables and more complete view of the local economy.”

Another example comes from the United States Federal Reserve (The Fed), which used data from payroll-processing company ADP to payroll employment. This data is traditionally provided by Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey. Despite being “one of the most carefully conducted measures of labor market activity and uses an extremely large sample, it is still subject to significant sampling error and nonsampling errors.” The Fed sought to improve the reliability of this survey by including data provided by ADP. The study found that combining CES and ADP data “reduces the error inherent in both data sources.”

However, nowcasting using big data comes with some limitations. Several researchers evaluated the accuracy of Google Flu Trends (GFT) in the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons. GFT uses flu-related google searches to make its prediction. The study found that GFT data showed significant overestimation compared to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) flu trends prediction.

Jesse Dunietz wrote in Nautilus describing how to address the limitations of big data and make nowcasting efforts more accurate: 

“But when big data isn’t seen as a panacea, it can be transformative. Several groups, like Columbia University researcher Jeffrey Shaman’s, for example, have outperformed the flu predictions of both the CDC and GFT by using the former to compensate for the skew of the latter. “Shaman’s team tested their model against actual flu activity that had already occurred during the season,” according to the CDC. By taking the immediate past into consideration, Shaman and his team fine-tuned their mathematical model to better predict the future. All it takes is for teams to critically assess their assumptions about their data.”

Secure Shouldn’t Mean Secret: A Call for Public Policy Schools to Share, Support, and Teach Data Stewardship


Paper by Maggie Reeves and Robert McMillan: “The public has long benefitted from researchers using individual-level administrative data (microdata) to answer questions on a gamut of issues related to the efficiency, effectiveness, and causality of programs and policies. However, these benefits have not been pervasive because few researchers have had access to microdata, and their tools, security practices, and technology have rarely been shared. With a clear push to expand access to microdata for purposes of rigorous analysis (Abraham et al., 2017; ADRF Network Working Group Participants, 2018), public policy schools must grapple with imperfect options and decide how to support secure data facilities for their faculty and students. They also must take the lead to educate students as data stewards who can navigate the challenges of microdata access for public policy research.

This white paper outlines the essential components of any secure facility, the pros and cons of four types of secure microdata facilities used for public policy research, the benefits of sharing tools and resources, and the importance of training. It closes with a call on public policy schools to include data stewardship as part of the standard curriculum…(More)”.

Democratic Transparency in the Platform Society


Chapter by Robert Gorwa and Timothy Garton Ash: “Following an host of major scandals, transparency has emerged in recent years as one of the leading accountability mechanisms through which the companies operating global platforms for user-generated content have attempted to regain the trust of the public, politicians, and regulatory authorities. Ranging from Facebook’s efforts to partner with academics and create a reputable mechanism for third party data access and independent research to the expanded advertising disclosure tools being built for elections around the world, transparency is playing a major role in current governance debates around free expression, social media, and democracy.

This article thus seeks to (a) contextualize the recent implementation of transparency as enacted by platform companies with an overview of the ample relevant literature on digital transparency in both theory and practice; (b) consider the potential positive governance impacts of transparency as a form of accountability in the current political moment; and (c) reflect upon the potential shortfalls of transparency that should be considered by legislators, academics, and funding bodies weighing the relative benefits of policy or research dealing with transparency in this area…(More)”.

The Urban Institute Data Catalog


Data@Urban: “We believe that data make the biggest impact when they are accessible to everyone.

Today, we are excited to announce the public launch of the Urban Institute Data Catalog, a place to discover, learn about, and download open data provided by Urban Institute researchers and data scientists. You can find data that reflect the breadth of Urban’s expertise — health, education, the workforce, nonprofits, local government finances, and so much more.

Built using open source technology, the catalog holds valuable data and metadata that Urban Institute staff have created, enhanced, cleaned, or otherwise added value to as part of our work. And it will provide, for the first time, a central, searchable resource to find many of Urban’s published open data assets.

We hope that researchers, data analysts, civic tech actors, application developers, and many others will use this tool to enhance their work, save time, and generate insights that elevate the policy debate. As Urban produces data for research, analysis, and data visualization, and as new data are released, we will continue to update the catalog.

We’re thrilled to put the power of data in your hands to better understand and respond to many critical issues facing us locally and nationally. If you have comments about the tool or the data it contains, or if you would like to share examples of how you are using these data, please feel free to contact us at datacatalog@urban.org.

Here are some current highlights of the Urban Data Catalog — both the data and research products we’ve built using the data — as of this writing:

– LODES data: The Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Origin-Destination Employment Statistics (LODES) from the US Census Bureau provide detailed information on workers and jobs by census block. We have summarized these large, dispersed data into a set of census tract and census place datasets to make them easier to use. For more information, read our earlier Data@Urban blog post.

– Medicaid opioid data: Our Medicaid Spending and Prescriptions for the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder and Opioid Overdose dataset is sourced from state drug utilization data and provides breakdowns by state, year, quarter, drug type, and brand name or generic drug status. For more information and to view our data visualization using the data, see the complete project page.

– Nonprofit and foundation data: Members of Urban’s National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) compile, clean, and standardize data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on organizations filing IRS forms 990 or 990-EZ, including private charities, foundations, and other tax-exempt organizations. To read more about these data, see our previous blog posts on redesigning our Nonprofit Sector in Brief Report in R and repurposing our open code and data to create your own custom summary tables….(More)”.