Using real-time indicators for economic decision-making in government: Lessons from the Covid-19 crisis in the UK


Paper by David Rosenfeld: “When the UK went into lockdown in mid-March 2020, government was faced with the dual challenge of managing the impact of closing down large parts of the economy and responding effectively to the pandemic. Policy-makers needed to make rapid decisions regarding, on the one hand, the extent of restrictions on movement and economic activity to limit the spread of the virus, and on the other, the amount of support that would be provided to individuals and businesses affected by the crisis. Traditional, official statistics, such as gross domestic product (GDP) or unemployment, which get released on a monthly basis and with a lag, could not be relied upon to monitor the situation and guide policy decisions.

In response, teams of data scientists and statisticians pivoted to develop alternative indicators, leading to an unprecedented amount of innovation in how statistics and data were used in government. This ranged from monitoring sewage water for signs of Covid-19 infection to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) developing a new range of ‘faster indicators’ of economic activity using online job vacancies and data on debit and credit card expenditure from the Clearing House Automated Payment System (CHAPS).

The ONS received generally positive reviews for its performance during the crisis (The Economist, 2022), in contrast to the 2008 financial crisis when policy-makers did not realise the extent of the recession until subsequent revisions to GDP estimates were made. Partly in response to this, the Independent Review of UK Economic Statistics (HM Treasury, 2016) recommended improvements to the use of administrative data and alternative indicators as well as to data science capability to exploit both the extra granularity and the timeliness of new data sources.

This paper reviews the elements that contributed to successes in using real-time data during the pandemic as well as the challenges faced during this period, with a view to distilling some lessons for future use in government. Section 2 provides an overview of real-time indicators (RTIs) and how they were used in the UK during the Covid-19 crisis. The next sections analyse the factors that underpinned the successes (or lack thereof) in using such indicators: section 3 addresses skills, section 4 infrastructure, and section 5 legal frameworks and processes. Section 6 concludes with a summary of the main lessons for governments that hope to make greater use of RTIs…(More)”.

Co-Producing Sustainability Research with Citizens: Empirical Insights from Co-Produced Problem Frames with Randomly Selected Citizens


Paper by Mareike Blum: “In sustainability research, knowledge co-production can play a supportive role at the science-policy interface (Norström et al., 2020). However, so far most projects involved stakeholders in order to produce ‘useful knowledge’ for policy-makers. As a novel approach, research projects have integrated randomly selected citizens during the knowledge co-production to make policy advice more reflective of societal perspectives and thereby increase its epistemic quality. Researchers are asked to consider citizens’ beliefs and values and integrate these in their ongoing research. This approach rests on pragmatist philosophy, according to which a joint deliberation on value priorities and anticipated consequences of policy options ideally allows to co-develop sustainable and legitimate policy pathways (Edenhofer & Kowarsch, 2015; Kowarsch, 2016). This paper scrutinizes three promises of involving citizens in the problem framing: (1) creating input legitimacy, (2) enabling social learning among citizens and researchers and (3) resulting in high epistemic quality of the co-produced knowledge. Based on empirical data the first phase of two research projects in Germany were analysed and compared: The Ariadne research project on the German Energy Transition, and the Biesenthal Forest project at the local level in Brandenburg, Germany. We found that despite barriers exist; learning was enabled by confronting researchers with problem perceptions of citizens. The step when researchers interpret and translate problem frames in the follow-up knowledge production is most important to assess learning and epistemic quality…(More)”.

A rough guide to being a public entrepreneur in practice


Report by the RSA: “Our health and social care systems have been working to meet people’s needs for over 70 years. Yet the approach to change is often incremental rather than radical or transformational. This means we sometimes ‘muddle through’ with the resources we have. Given the pace of change and long-term trends and challenges on the horizon this approach is no longer sufficient.

There are, however, people, processes and practices that are demonstrating a new kind of public entrepreneurship – responding fast, taking risks and experimenting to meet challenges head on. We’ve seen incredible responses to the pandemic and whilst it’s hit society hard, it’s also accelerated changes that might have otherwise taken decades to implement.

We need to harness the collective potential of creative people more systematically, working across the system to build resilience and support transformational change efforts. Staff commitment and energy is fundamental to spotting the challenges and the opportunities for change, taking action to not only meet the needs of today, but those of tomorrow. Together NHS Lothian and the RSA designed and ran a programme in an attempt to do just that.

This rough guide presents a summary of the insights gained by 12 members of NHS Lothian’s staff who came together to explore how they can support each other to challenge the status quo and find new ways of addressing challenges they face in their work…(More)”.

Designing Digital Participatory Budgeting Platforms: Urban Biking Activism in Madrid


Paper by Maria Menendez-Blanco & Pernille Bjørn: “Civic technologies have the potential to support participation and influence decision-making in governmental processes. Digital participatory budgeting platforms are examples of civic technologies designed to support citizens in making proposals and allocating budgets. Investigating the empirical case of urban biking activists in Madrid, we explore how the design of the digital platform Decide Madrid impacted the collaborative practices involved in digital participatory budgeting. We found that the design of the platform made the interaction competitive, where individuals sought to gain votes for their single proposals, rather than consider the relations across proposals and the larger context of the city decisions, even if the institutional process rewarded collective support. In this way, the platforms’ design led to forms of individualistic, competitive, and static participation, therefore limiting the possibilities for empowering citizens in scoping and self-regulating participatory budgeting collaboratively. We argue that for digital participatory budgeting platforms to support cooperative engagements they must be revisable and reviewable while supporting accountability among participants and visibility of proposals and activities…(More)”.

Democratic innovation and digital participation


Nesta Report: “Overcoming barriers in democratic innovations to harness the collective intelligence of citizens for a 21st-century democracy.

This report sets out the need for democratic innovations and digital participation tools to move beyond one-off pilots toward more embedded and inclusive systems of decision-making.

This is the first comprehensive analysis of the barriers experienced by democratic innovators around the world. Alongside the barriers, we have captured the enablers that can help advance these innovations and tools to their full potential.

The report is published alongside the advancing democratic innovation toolkit which supports institutions, practitioners and technologists to diagnose the barriers that they face and identify the enablers they can use to address them.

This report is based on insights from global examples of digital democratic innovation, and in particular, three pilots from the COLDIGIT project: a citizens’ assembly in Trondheim, Norway; participatory budgeting in Gothenburg, Sweden; and participatory budgeting in Helsinki, Finland.

The work is a collaboration between Nesta, Digidem Lab, University of Gothenburg, University of Helsinki and SINTEF funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)….(More)”.

Belfast to launch ‘Citizen Office of Digital Innovation’


Article by Sarah Wray: The City of Belfast in Northern Ireland has launched a tender to develop and pilot a Citizen Office of Digital Innovation (CODI) – a capacity-building programme to boost resident engagement around data and technology.

The council says the pilot will support a ‘digital citizenship skillset’, enabling citizens to better understand and shape how technology is used in Belfast. It could also lead to the creation of tools that can be used and adapted by other cities under a creative commons licence.

The tender is seeking creative and interactive methods to explore topics such as co-design, citizen science, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and data science, and privacy. It cites examples of citizen-centric programmes elsewhere including Dublin’s Academy of the Near Future and the DTPR standard for visual icons to explain sensors and cameras that are deployed in public spaces…(More)”

Nowcasting daily population displacement in Ukraine through social media advertising data


Pre-Publication Paper by Douglas R. Leasure et al: “In times of crisis, real-time data mapping population displacements are invaluable for targeted humanitarian response. The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 forcibly displaced millions of people from their homes including nearly 6m refugees flowing across the border in just a few weeks, but information was scarce regarding displaced and vulnerable populations who remained inside Ukraine. We leveraged near real-time social media marketing data to estimate sub-national population sizes every day disaggregated by age and sex. Our metric of internal displacement estimated that 5.3m people had been internally displaced away from their baseline administrative region by March 14. Results revealed four distinct displacement patterns: large scale evacuations, refugee staging areas, internal areas of refuge, and irregular dynamics. While this innovative approach provided one of the only quantitative estimates of internal displacement in virtual real-time, we conclude by acknowledging risks and challenges for the future…(More)”.

Hosting an Online World Café to Develop an Understanding of Digital Health Promoting Settings from a Citizen’s Perspective—Methodological Potentials and Challenges


Paper by Joanna Albrecht: “Brown and Isaacs’ World Café is a participatory research method to make connections to the ideas of others. During the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and the corresponding contact restrictions, only digital hostings of World Cafés were possible. This article aims to present and reflect on the potentials and challenges of hosting online World Cafés and to derive recommendations for other researchers. Via Zoom and Conceptboard, three online World Cafés were conducted in August 2021. In the World Cafés, the main focus was on the increasing digitization in settings in the context of health promotion and prevention from the perspective of setting members of educational institutions, leisure clubs, and communities. Between 9 and 13 participants participated in three World Cafés. Hosting comprises the phases of design and preparation, realisation, and evaluation. Generally, hosting an online World Café is a suitable method for participatory engagement, but particular challenges have to be overcome. Overall café hosts must create an equal participation environment by ensuring the availability of digital devices and stable internet access. The event schedule must react flexibly to technical disruptions and varying participation numbers. Further, compensatory measures such as support in the form of technical training must be implemented before the event. Finally, due to the higher complexity of digitalisation, roles of participants and staff need to be distributed and coordinated…(More)”.

(Re)making data markets: an exploration of the regulatory challenges


Paper by Linnet Taylor, Hellen Mukiri-Smith, Tjaša Petročnik, Laura Savolainen & Aaron Martin: “Regulating the data market will be one of the major challenges of the twenty-first century. In order to think about regulating this market, however, we first need to make its dimensions and dynamics more accessible to observation and analysis. In this paper we explore what the state of the sociological and legal research on markets can tell us about the market for data: what kind of market it is, the practices and configurations of actors that constitute it, and what kinds of data are traded there. We start from the subjective opacity of this market to researchers interested in regulation and governance, review conflicting positions on its extent, diversity and regulability, and then explore comparisons from food and medicine regulation to understand the possible normative and practical implications and aims inherent in attempting to regulate how data is shared and traded. We conclude that there is a strong argument for a normative shift in the aims of regulation with regard to the data market, away from a prioritisation of the economic value of data and toward a more nuanced approach that aims to align the uses of data with the needs and rights of the communities reflected in it…(More)”

Forest data governance as a reflection of forest governance: Institutional change and endurance in Finland and Canada


Paper by Salla Rantala, Brent Swallow, Anu Lähteenmäki-Uutela and Riikka Paloniemi: “The rapid development of new digital technologies for natural resource management has created a need to design and update governance regimes for effective and transparent generation, sharing and use of digital natural resource data. In this paper, we contribute to this novel area of investigation from the perspective of institutional change. We develop a conceptual framework to analyze how emerging natural resource data governance is shaped by related natural resource governance; complex, multilevel systems of actors, institutions and their interplay. We apply this framework to study forest data governance and its roots in forest governance in Finland and Canada. In Finland, an emphasis on open forest data and the associated legal reform represents the instutionalization of a mixed open data-bioeconomy discourse, pushed by higher-level institutional requirements towards greater openness and shaped by changing actor dynamics in relation to diverse forest values. In Canada, a strong institutional lock-in around public-private partnerships in forest management has engendered an approach that is based on voluntary data sharing agreements and fragmented data management, conforming with the entrenched interests of autonomous sub-national actors and thus extending the path-dependence of forest governance to forest data governance. We conclude by proposing how the framework could be further developed and tested to help explain which factors condition the formation of natural resource data institutions and subsequently the (re-)distribution of benefits they govern. Transparent and efficient data approaches can be enabled only if the analysis of data institutions is given equal attention to the technological development of data solutions…(More)”.