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)”.

Distributed, privacy-enhancing technologies in the 2017 Catalan referendum on independence: New tactics and models of participatory democracy

M. Poblet at First Monday: “This paper examines new civic engagement practices unfolding during the 2017 referendum on independence in Catalonia. These practices constitute one of the first signs of some emerging trends in the use of the Internet for civic and political action: the adoption of horizontal, distributed, and privacy-enhancing technologies that rely on P2P networks and advanced cryptographic tools. In this regard, the case of the 2017 Catalan referendum, framed within conflicting political dynamics, can be considered a first-of-its kind in participatory democracy. The case also offers an opportunity to reflect on an interesting paradox that twenty-first century activism will face: the more it will rely on private-friendly, secured, and encrypted networks, the more open, inclusive, ethical, and transparent it will need to be….(More)”.

The Theory and Practice of Social Machines

Book by Nigel Shadbolt, David De Roure, Kieron O’Hara and Wendy Hall: “Social machines are a type of network connected by interactive digital devices made possible by the ubiquitous adoption of technologies such as the Internet, the smartphone, social media and the read/write World Wide Web, connecting people at scale to document situations, cooperate on tasks, exchange information, or even simply to play. Existing social processes may be scaled up, and new social processes enabled, to solve problems, augment reality, create new sources of value, and disrupt existing practice.

This book considers what talents one would need to understand or build a social machine, describes the state of the art, and speculates on the future, from the perspective of the EPSRC project SOCIAM – The Theory and Practice of Social Machines. The aim is to develop a set of tools and techniques for investigating, constructing and facilitating social machines, to enable us to narrow down pragmatically what is becoming a wide space, by asking ‘when will it be valuable to use these methods on a sociotechnical system?’ The systems for which the use of these methods adds value are social machines in which there is rich person-to-person communication, and where a large proportion of the machine’s behaviour is constituted by human interaction….(More)”.

Making NHS data work for everyone

Reform: This report looks at the access and use of NHS data by private sector companies for research or product and service development purposes….

The private sector is an important partner to the NHS and plays a crucial role in the development of healthcare technologies that use data collected by hospitals or GP practices. It provides the skills and know-how to develop data-driven tools which can be used to improve patient care. However, this is not a one-sided exchange as the NHS makes the data available to build these tools and offers medical expertise to make sense of the data. This is known as the “value exchange”. Our research uncovered that there is a lack of clarity over what a fair value exchange looks like. This lack of clarity in conjunction with the lack of national guidance on the types of partnerships that could be developed has led to a patchwork on the ground….

Knowing what the “value exchange” is between patients, the NHS and industry allows for a more informed conversation about what constitutes a fair partnership when there is access to data to create a product or service


  1. Engage with the public
  2. A national strategy
  3. Access to good quality data
  4. Commercial and legal skills…(More)

We Need an FDA For Algorithms

Interview with Hannah Fry on the promise and danger of an AI world by Michael Segal:”…Why do we need an FDA for algorithms?

It used to be the case that you could just put any old colored liquid in a glass bottle and sell it as medicine and make an absolute fortune. And then not worry about whether or not it’s poisonous. We stopped that from happening because, well, for starters it’s kind of morally repugnant. But also, it harms people. We’re in that position right now with data and algorithms. You can harvest any data that you want, on anybody. You can infer any data that you like, and you can use it to manipulate them in any way that you choose. And you can roll out an algorithm that genuinely makes massive differences to people’s lives, both good and bad, without any checks and balances. To me that seems completely bonkers. So I think we need something like the FDA for algorithms. A regulatory body that can protect the intellectual property of algorithms, but at the same time ensure that the benefits to society outweigh the harms.

Why is the regulation of medicine an appropriate comparison?

If you swallow a bottle of colored liquid and then you keel over the next day, then you know for sure it was poisonous. But there are much more subtle things in pharmaceuticals that require expert analysis to be able to weigh up the benefits and the harms. To study the chemical profile of these drugs that are being sold and make sure that they actually are doing what they say they’re doing. With algorithms it’s the same thing. You can’t expect the average person in the street to study Bayesian inference or be totally well read in random forests, and have the kind of computing prowess to look up a code and analyze whether it’s doing something fairly. That’s not realistic. Simultaneously, you can’t have some code of conduct that every data science person signs up to, and agrees that they won’t tread over some lines. It has to be a government, really, that does this. It has to be government that analyzes this stuff on our behalf and makes sure that it is doing what it says it does, and in a way that doesn’t end up harming people.

How did you come to write a book about algorithms?

Back in 2011 in London, we had these really bad riots in London. I’d been working on a project with the Metropolitan Police, trying mathematically to look at how these riots had spread and to use algorithms to ask how could the police have done better. I went to go and give a talk in Berlin about this paper we’d published about our work, and they completely tore me apart. They were asking questions like, “Hang on a second, you’re creating this algorithm that has the potential to be used to suppress peaceful demonstrations in the future. How can you morally justify the work that you’re doing?” I’m kind of ashamed to say that it just hadn’t occurred to me at that point in time. Ever since, I have really thought a lot about the point that they made. And started to notice around me that other researchers in the area weren’t necessarily treating the data that they were working with, and the algorithms that they were creating, with the ethical concern they really warranted. We have this imbalance where the people who are making algorithms aren’t talking to the people who are using them. And the people who are using them aren’t talking to the people who are having decisions made about their lives by them. I wanted to write something that united those three groups….(More)”.

Harnessing Digital Tools to Revitalize European Democracy

Article by Elisa Lironi: “…Information and communication technology (ICT) can be used to implement more participatory mechanisms and foster democratic processes. Often referred to as e-democracy, there is a large range of very different possibilities for online engagement, including e-initiatives, e-consultations, crowdsourcing, participatory budgeting, and e-voting. Many European countries have started exploring ICT’s potential to reach more citizens at a lower cost and to tap into the so-called wisdom of the crowd, as governments attempt to earn citizens’ trust and revitalize European democracy by developing more responsive, transparent, and participatory decisionmaking processes.

For instance, when Anne Hidalgo was elected mayor of Paris in May 2014, one of her priorities was to make the city more collaborative by allowing Parisians to propose policy and develop projects together. In order to build a stronger relationship with the citizens, she immediately started to implement a citywide participatory budgeting project for the whole of Paris, including all types of policy issues. It started as a small pilot, with the city of Paris putting forward fifteen projects that could be funded with up to about 20 million euros and letting citizens vote on which projects to invest in, via ballot box or online. Parisians and local authorities deemed this experiment successful, so Hidalgo decided it was worth taking further, with more ideas and a bigger pot of money. Within two years, the level of participation grew significantly—from 40,000 voters in 2014 to 92,809 in 2016, representing 5 percent of the total urban population. Today, Paris Budget Participatif is an official platform that lets Parisians decide how to spend 5 percent of the investment budget from 2014 to 2020, amounting to around 500 million euros. In addition, the mayor also introduced two e-democracy platforms—Paris Petitions, for e-petitions, and Idée Paris, for e-consultations. Citizens in the French capital now have multiple channels to express their opinions and contribute to the development of their city.

In Latvia, civil society has played a significant role in changing how legislative procedures are organized. ManaBalss (My Voice) is a grassroots NGO that creates tools for better civic participation in decisionmaking processes. Its online platform, ManaBalss.lv, is a public e-participation website that lets Latvian citizens propose, submit, and sign legislative initiatives to improve policies at both the national and municipal level. …

In Finland, the government itself introduced an element of direct democracy into the Finnish political system, through the 2012 Citizens’ Initiative Act (CI-Act) that allows citizens to submit initiatives to the parliament. …

Other civic tech NGOs across Europe have been developing and experimenting with a variety of digital tools to reinvigorate democracy. These include initiatives like Science For You (SCiFY) in Greece, Netwerk Democratie in the Netherlands, and the Citizens Foundation in Iceland, which got its start when citizens were asked to crowdsource their constitution in 2010.

Outside of civil society, several private tech companies are developing digital platforms for democratic participation, mainly at the local government level. One example is the Belgian start-up CitizenLab, an online participation platform that has been used by more than seventy-five municipalities around the world. The young founders of CitizenLab have used technology to innovate the democratic process by listening to what politicians need and including a variety of functions, such as crowdsourcing mechanisms, consultation processes, and participatory budgeting. Numerous other European civic tech companies have been working on similar concepts—Cap Collectif in France, Delib in the UK, and Discuto in Austria, to name just a few. Many of these digital tools have proven useful to elected local or national representatives….

While these initiatives are making a real impact on the quality of European democracy, most of the EU’s formal policy focus is on constraining the power of the tech giants rather than positively aiding digital participation….(More)”

Motivating Participation in Crowdsourced Policymaking: The Interplay of Epistemic and Interactive Aspects

Paper by Tanja Aitamurto and Jorge Saldivar in Proceedings of ACM Human-Computer Interaction (CSCW ’18):  “…we examine the changes in motivation factors in crowdsourced policymaking. By drawing on longitudinal data from a crowdsourced law reform, we show that people participated because they wanted to improve the law, learn, and solve problems. When crowdsourcing reached a saturation point, the motivation factors weakened and the crowd disengaged. Learning was the only factor that did not weaken. The participants learned while interacting with others, and the more actively the participants commented, the more likely they stayed engaged. Crowdsourced policymaking should thus be designed to support both epistemic and interactive aspects. While the crowd’s motives were rooted in self-interest, their knowledge perspective showed common-good orientation, implying that rather than being dichotomous, motivation factors move on a continuum. The design of crowdsourced policymaking should support the dynamic nature of the process and the motivation factors driving it….(More)”.

Chatbots Are a Danger to Democracy

Jamie Susskind in the New York Times: “As we survey the fallout from the midterm elections, it would be easy to miss the longer-term threats to democracy that are waiting around the corner. Perhaps the most serious is political artificial intelligence in the form of automated “chatbots,” which masquerade as humans and try to hijack the political process.

Chatbots are software programs that are capable of conversing with human beings on social media using natural language. Increasingly, they take the form of machine learning systems that are not painstakingly “taught” vocabulary, grammar and syntax but rather “learn” to respond appropriately using probabilistic inference from large data sets, together with some human guidance.

Some chatbots, like the award-winning Mitsuku, can hold passable levels of conversation. Politics, however, is not Mitsuku’s strong suit. When asked “What do you think of the midterms?” Mitsuku replies, “I have never heard of midterms. Please enlighten me.” Reflecting the imperfect state of the art, Mitsuku will often give answers that are entertainingly weird. Asked, “What do you think of The New York Times?” Mitsuku replies, “I didn’t even know there was a new one.”

Most political bots these days are similarly crude, limited to the repetition of slogans like “#LockHerUp” or “#MAGA.” But a glance at recent political history suggests that chatbots have already begun to have an appreciable impact on political discourse. In the buildup to the midterms, for instance, an estimated 60 percent of the online chatter relating to “the caravan” of Central American migrants was initiated by chatbots.

In the days following the disappearance of the columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Arabic-language social media erupted in support for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was widely rumored to have ordered his murder. On a single day in October, the phrase “we all have trust in Mohammed bin Salman” featured in 250,000 tweets. “We have to stand by our leader” was posted more than 60,000 times, along with 100,000 messages imploring Saudis to “Unfollow enemies of the nation.” In all likelihood, the majority of these messages were generated by chatbots.

Chatbots aren’t a recent phenomenon. Two years ago, around a fifth of all tweets discussing the 2016 presidential election are believed to have been the work of chatbots. And a third of all traffic on Twitter before the 2016 referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union was said to come from chatbots, principally in support of the Leave side….

We should also be exploring more imaginative forms of regulation. Why not introduce a rule, coded into platforms themselves, that bots may make only up to a specific number of online contributions per day, or a specific number of responses to a particular human? Bots peddling suspect information could be challenged by moderator-bots to provide recognized sources for their claims within seconds. Those that fail would face removal.

We need not treat the speech of chatbots with the same reverence that we treat human speech. Moreover, bots are too fast and tricky to be subject to ordinary rules of debate. For both those reasons, the methods we use to regulate bots must be more robust than those we apply to people. There can be no half-measures when democracy is at stake….(More)”.

Prototyping for policy

Camilla Buchanan at Policy Lab Blog: “…Prototyping is common in the product and industrial design process – it has also extended to less tangible design sub-specialisms like service design. Prototypes are low fidelity mockups of an imagined idea or solution and they allow for testing before implementation. A product can be tested in cardboard form, a website can be tested through a hand drawn wireframe, a service interaction can be tested with roleplay….

Policy is a more hazy concept, it implies a message or statement of intent which sets a direction of work. Before a policy statement is made there will be some form of strategic conversation. In governments this usually takes place at the political level amongst ministers or within political parties and there is little scope for outsiders to enter these spaces. Policies set by elected officials tend to be high-level statements – as short as a line or two in a manifesto – expressed through speeches or other policy documents like White Papers.

A policy statement therefore expresses a goal and it sets in motion realisations of that goal through laws, programmes or other activities. A short policy statement can determine major programmes of government work for many years. Policy programmes have their own problem spaces to define and there is much to do in order to translate a policy goal into practical activities. Whether consciously or not, policy programmes touch the lives of millions of people and the unintended consequences or conflicting results from the enactment of poor policies can be extremely harmful. The potential benefits of testing policy goals before they are put in place are therefore huge.

The idea of design interacting directly with policy making has been explored in the last five or so years, and the first book on this subject was published in 2014. In government terms this work is very new and there is relatively little precision in current explanations. Prototyping for Policy made space to explore this better….

It is still early days for articulating exactly how and why the “physical making” aspect of design is so important in government contexts but almost all designers working in this way will emphasis it. An obvious benefit to building something real is that operational errors become more evident. And because prototypes make ideas manifest, they can help to build consensus or reveal where it is absent. They are also a way of asking questions and the presence of a prototype often prompts discussion of broader issues.

As an example, the picture below shows staff from the Service Design team at the consultancy OpenRoad in Vancouver considering advanced prototypes of changes to transit fare policy for the city for their client TransLink….(More).

Prototypes of changes to transit fares by OpenRoad

Artificial Intelligence: Public-Private Partnerships join forces to boost AI progress in Europe

European Commission Press Release: “…the Big Data Value Association and euRobotics agreed to cooperate more in order to boost the advancement of artificial intelligence’s (AI) in Europe. Both associations want to strengthen their collaboration on AI in the future. Specifically by:

  • Working together to boost European AI, building on existing industrial and research communities and on results of the Big Data Value PPP and SPARC PPP. This to contribute to the European Commission’s ambitious approach to AI, backed up with a drastic increase investment, reaching €20 billion total public and private funding in Europe until 2020.
  • Enabling joint-pilots, for example, to accelerate the use and integration of big data, robotics and AI technologies in different sectors and society as a whole
  • Exchanging best practices and approaches from existing and future projects of the Big Data PPP and the SPARC PPP
  • Contributing to the European Digital Single Market, developing strategic roadmaps and  position papers

This Memorandum of Understanding between the PPPs follows the European Commission’s approach to AI presented in April 2018 and the Declaration of Cooperation on Artificial Intelligence signed by all 28 Member States and Norway. This Friday 7 December the Commission will present its EU coordinated plan….(More)”.