Citizens’ assemblies: are they the future of democracy?


Article by Eva Talmadge: “…Citizens’ assemblies, a phenomenon that is gaining in popularity around the globe, date back to ancient Athens, where legislative panels, courts and councils were chosen via random selection. In a practice known as sortition, Greek citizens over the age of 30 were enlisted to debate governmental matters from city finances to military strategy. More recently, citizens’ assemblies have convened to hammer out solutions to such issues as homelessness in Los Angeles, the allocation of a $5bn budget in Melbourne, Australia, and the longstanding ban on abortion in Ireland.

In 2017, after meeting over the course of five weekends for deliberation, an Irish citizens’ assembly came up with a recommendation to legalize the procedure. Sixty-six per cent of Irish voters later approved the referendum, ending more than four decades of fruitless political debate.

Modern citizens’ assemblies are typically convened by legislative bodies, which work alongside non-profit groups to reach out to large numbers of citizens at random – sending letters like the one Bajwa received in the mail – then sorting the respondents who express interest according to social and economic factors. The result is a group of people who are randomly selected and reflect the demographics of the population as a whole.

Sortition, a word that might evoke the next chapter in the Hunger Games franchise, offers a revived spin on democracy. Instead of leaving the decision-making up to elected officials, citizens’ assemblies can offer a special interests-free alternative to politics as we know it.

The system is not unlike jury duty. With facilitators in place to provide background information on the issue at hand and encourage everyone’s participation, the group meets over the course of several days to learn about a problem, hear from a range of stakeholders and experts, and come up with recommendations for new legislation…(More)”

Understanding how to build a social licence for using novel linked datasets for planning and research in Kent, Surrey and Sussex: results of deliberative focus groups.


Paper by Elizabeth Ford et al: “Digital programmes in the newly created NHS integrated care boards (ICBs) in the United Kingdom mean that curation and linkage of anonymised patient data is underway in many areas for the first time. In Kent, Surrey and Sussex (KSS), in Southeast England, public health teams want to use these datasets to answer strategic population health questions, but public expectations around use of patient data are unknown….We aimed to engage with citizens of KSS to gather their views and expectations of data linkage and re-use, through deliberative discussions…
We held five 3-hour deliberative focus groups with 79 citizens of KSS, presenting information about potential uses of data, safeguards, and mechanisms for public involvement in governance and decision making about datasets. After each presentation, participants discussed their views in facilitated small groups which were recorded, transcribed and analysed thematically…
The focus groups generated 15 themes representing participants’ views on the benefits, risks and values for safeguarding linked data. Participants largely supported use of patient data to improve health service efficiency and resource management, preventative services and out of hospital care, joined-up services and information flows. Most participants expressed concerns about data accuracy, breaches and hacking, and worried about commercial use of data. They suggested that transparency of data usage through audit trails and clear information about accountability, ensuring data re-use does not perpetuate stigma and discrimination, ongoing, inclusive and valued involvement of the public in dataset decision-making, and a commitment to building trust, would meet their expectations for responsible data use…
Participants were largely favourable about the proposed uses of patient linked datasets but expected a commitment to transparency and public involvement. Findings were mapped to previous tenets of social license and can be used to inform ICB digital programme teams on how to proceed with use of linked datasets in a trustworthy and socially acceptable way…(More)”.

Citizen Participation and Knowledge Support in Urban Public Energy Transition—A Quadruple Helix Perspective


Paper by Peter Nijkamp et al: “Climate change, energy transition needs and the current energy crisis have prompted cities to implement far-reaching changes in public energy supply. The present paper seeks to map out the conditions for sustainable energy provision and use, with a particular view to the role of citizens in a quadruple helix context. Citizen participation is often seen as a sine qua non for a successful local or district energy policy in an urban area but needs due scientific and digital support based on evidence-based knowledge (using proper user-oriented techniques such as Q-analysis). The paper sets out to explore the citizen engagement and knowledge base for drastic energy transitions in the city based on the newly developed “diabolo” model, in which in particular digital tools (e.g., dashboards, digital twins) are proposed as useful tools for the interface between citizens and municipal policy. The approach adopted in this paper is empirically illustrated for local energy policy in the city of Rotterdam…(More)”.

Engineering Personal Data Sharing


Report by ENISA: “This report attempts to look closer at specific use cases relating to personal data sharing, primarily in the health sector, and discusses how specific technologies and considerations of implementation can support the meeting of specific data protection. After discussing some challenges in (personal) data sharing, this report demonstrates how to engineer specific technologies and techniques in order to enable privacy preserving data sharing. More specifically it discusses specific use cases for sharing data in the health sector, with the aim of demonstrating how data protection principles can be met through the proper use of technological solutions relying on advanced cryptographic techniques. Next it discusses data sharing that takes place as part of another process or service, where the data is processed through some secondary channel or entity before reaching its primary recipient. Lastly, it identifies challenges, considerations and possible architectural solutions on intervenability aspects (such as the right to erasure and the right to rectification when sharing data)…(More)”.

Rethinking the impact of open data: A first step towards a European impact assessment for open data


Report for data.europa.eu: “This report is the first in a series of four that aims to establish a standard methodology for open data impact assessments that can be used across Europe. This exercise is key because a consistent definition of the impact of open data does not exist. The lack of a robust, conceptual foundation has made it more difficult for data portals to demonstrate their value through empirical evidence. It also challenges the EU’s ability to understand and compare performance across Member States. Most academic articles that look to explore the impact of data refer to existing open data frameworks, with the open data maturity (ODM) and open data barometer (ODB) ones most frequently represented. These two frameworks distinguish between different kinds of impact, and both mention social, political and economic impacts in particular. The ODM also includes the environmental impact in its framework.

Sometimes, these frameworks diverge from the European Commission’s own recommendations of how best to measure impact, as explained in specific sections of the better regulation guidelines and the better regulation toolbox. They help to answer a critical question for policymakers: do the benefits provided outweigh the costs of assembling and distributing (open) data? Future reports in this series will further explore how to better align existing frameworks, such as the ODM, with these critically important guidelines…(More)”.

Open-source intelligence is piercing the fog of war in Ukraine


The Economist: “…The rise of open-source intelligenceOSINT to insiders, has transformed the way that people receive news. In the run-up to war, commercial satellite imagery and video footage of Russian convoys on TikTok, a social-media site, allowed journalists and researchers to corroborate Western claims that Russia was preparing an invasion. OSINT even predicted its onset. Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute in California used Google Maps’ road-traffic reports to identify a tell-tale jam on the Russian side of the border at 3:15am on February 24th. “Someone’s on the move”, he tweeted. Less than three hours later Vladimir Putin launched his war.

Satellite imagery still plays a role in tracking the war. During the Kherson offensive, synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) satellites, which can see at night and through clouds, showed Russia building pontoon bridges over the Dnieper river before its retreat from Kherson, boats appearing and disappearing as troops escaped east and, later, Russia’s army building new defensive positions along the M14 highway on the river’s left bank. And when Ukrainian drones struck two air bases deep inside Russia on December 5th, high-resolution satellite images showed the extent of the damage…(More)”.

From privacy to partnership


Press Release: “The NHS and other public sector institutions should lead the way in piloting Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) that could help unlock ‘lifesaving’ data without compromising privacy, a report by the Royal Society has said.

From privacy to partnership, the report from the UK’s national academy of science, highlights cases where better use of data could have significant public benefits – from cancer research to reaching net-zero carbon emissions.

PETs encompass a suite of tools, such as a new generation of encryption and synthetic data, that could help deliver those benefits by reducing risks inherent to data use. However, their adoption to date has been limited.

The report, which profiles public sector readiness for PETs, calls for public bodies to champion these technologies in partnership with small-and-medium-sized enterprises, and for the UK government to establish a ‘national strategy for the responsible use of PETs’.

This should support data use for public good through establishment of common standards for PETs, as well as bursaries and prizes to incentivise and accelerate development of a marketplace for their application.

Read the full report.

This builds on the Royal Society’s 2019 Protecting privacy in practice (PDF). Following rapid developments in the field, the new report aims to establish principles and standards for the responsible use of PETs. This includes ensuring PETs are not limited to private sector organisations but are also used in cross-sector data partnerships for collaborative analysis to achieve wider public benefit.

 Healthcare is a key use case identified by the report. Medical technology advances, coupled with comprehensive electronic patient records in the NHS and a strong academic research base, mean “the UK is well positioned to deliver timely and impactful health research and its translation to offer more effective treatments, track and prevent public health risks, utilising health data to improve and save lives,” the report said…(More)”.

Predicting Socio-Economic Well-being Using Mobile Apps Data: A Case Study of France


Paper by Rahul Goel, Angelo Furno, and Rajesh Sharma: “Socio-economic indicators provide context for assessing a country’s overall condition. These indicators contain information about education, gender, poverty, employment, and other factors. Therefore, reliable and accurate information is critical for social research and government policing. Most data sources available today, such as censuses, have sparse population coverage or are updated infrequently. Nonetheless, alternative data sources, such as call data records (CDR) and mobile app usage, can serve as cost-effective and up-to-date sources for identifying socio-economic indicators.
This work investigates mobile app data to predict socio-economic features. We present a large-scale study using data that captures the traffic of thousands of mobile applications by approximately 30 million users distributed over 550,000 km square and served by over 25,000 base stations. The dataset covers the whole France territory and spans more than 2.5 months, starting from 16th March 2019 to 6th June 2019. Using the app usage patterns, our best model can estimate socio-economic indicators (attaining an R-squared score upto 0.66). Furthermore, using models’ explainability, we discover that mobile app usage patterns have the potential to reveal socio-economic disparities in IRIS. Insights of this study provide several avenues for future interventions, including users’ temporal network analysis and exploration of alternative data sources…(More)”.

Why Do Innovations Fail? Lessons Learned from a Digital Democratic Innovation


Paper by Jenny Lindholm and Janne Berg: “Democratic innovations are brought forward by political scientists as a response to worrying democratic deficits. This paper aims to evaluate the design, process, and outcome of digital democratic innovations. We study a mobile application for following local politics. Data is collected using three online surveys with different groups, and a workshop with young citizens. The results show that the app did not fully meet the democratic ideal of inclusiveness at the process stage, especially in reaching young people. However, the user groups that had used the app reported positive democratic effects…(More)”.

Why Europe must embrace participatory policymaking


Article by Alberto Alemanno, Claire Davenport, and Laura Batalla: “Today, Europe faces many threats – from economic uncertainty and war on its eastern borders to the rise of illiberal democracies and popular reactionary politicians.

As Europe recovers from the pandemic and grapples with economic and social unrest, it is at an inflection point; it can either create new spaces to build trust and a sense of shared purpose between citizens and governments, or it can continue to let its democratic institutions erode and distrust grow. 

The scale of such problems requires novel problem-solving and new perspectives, including those from civil society and citizens. Increased opportunities for citizens to engage with policymakers can lend legitimacy and accountability to traditionally ‘opaque’ policymaking processes. The future of the bloc hinges on its ability to not only sustain democratic institutions but to do so with buy-in from constituents.

Yet policymaking in the EU is often understood as a technocratic process that the public finds difficult, if not impossible, to navigate. The Spring 2022 Eurobarometer found that just 53% of respondents believed their voice counts in the EU. The issue is compounded by a lack of political literacy coupled with a dearth of channels for participation or co-creation. 

In parallel, there is a strong desire from citizens to make their voices heard. A January 2022 Special Eurobarometer on the Future of Europe found that 90% of respondents agreed that EU citizens’ voices should be taken more into account during decision-making. The Russian war in Ukraine has strengthened public support for the EU as a whole. According to the Spring 2022 Eurobarometer, 65% of Europeans view EU membership as a good thing. 

This is not to say that the EU has no existing models for citizen engagement. The European Citizens Initiative – a mechanism for petitioning the Commission to propose new laws – is one example of existing infrastructure. There is also an opportunity to build on the success of The Conference on the Future of Europe, a gathering held this past spring that gave citizens the opportunity to contribute policy recommendations and justifications alongside traditional EU policymakers…(More)”