Number of fact-checking outlets surges to 188 in more than 60 countries


Mark Stencel at Poynter: “The number of fact-checking outlets around the world has grown to 188 in more than 60 countries amid global concerns about the spread of misinformation, according to the latest tally by the Duke Reporters’ Lab.

Since the last annual fact-checking census in February 2018, we’ve added 39 more outlets that actively assess claims from politicians and social media, a 26% increase. The new total is also more than four times the 44 fact-checkers we counted when we launched our global database and map in 2014.

Globally, the largest growth came in Asia, which went from 22 to 35 outlets in the past year. Nine of the 27 fact-checking outlets that launched since the start of 2018 were in Asia, including six in India. Latin American fact-checking also saw a growth spurt in that same period, with two new outlets in Costa Rica, and others in Mexico, Panama and Venezuela.

The actual worldwide total is likely much higher than our current tally. That’s because more than a half-dozen of the fact-checkers we’ve added to the database since the start of 2018 began as election-related partnerships that involved the collaboration of multiple organizations. And some those election partners are discussing ways to continue or reactivate that work— either together or on their own.

Over the past 12 months, five separate multimedia partnerships enlisted more than 60 different fact-checking organizations and other news companies to help debunk claims and verify information for voters in MexicoBrazilSweden,Nigeria and the Philippines. And the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network assembled a separate team of 19 media outlets from 13 countries to consolidate and share their reporting during the run-up to last month’s elections for the European Parliament. Our database includes each of these partnerships, along with several others— but not each of the individual partners. And because they were intentionally short-run projects, three of these big partnerships appear among the 74 inactive projects we also document in our database.

Politics isn’t the only driver for fact-checkers. Many outlets in our database are concentrating efforts on viral hoaxes and other forms of online misinformation — often in coordination with the big digital platforms on which that misinformation spreads.

We also continue to see new topic-specific fact-checkers such as Metafact in Australia and Health Feedback in France— both of which launched in 2018 to focus on claims about health and medicine for a worldwide audience….(More)”.

Of Governance and Revenue: Participatory Institutions and Tax Compliance in Brazil


Paper by Michael Touchton, Brian Wampler and Tiago C. Peixoto: “Traditionally, governments seek to mobilize tax revenues by expanding their enforcement of existing tax regimes and facilitating tax payments. However, enforcement and facilitation can be costly and produce diminishing marginal returns if citizens are unwilling to pay their taxes. This paper addresses gaps in knowledge about tax compliance, by asking a basic question: what explains why citizens and businesses comply with tax rules? To answer this question, the paper shows how the voluntary adoption of two different types of participatory governance institutions influences municipal tax collection in Brazil. Municipalities that voluntarily adopt participatory institutions collect significantly higher levels of taxes than similar municipalities without these institutions. The paper provides evidence that moves scholarship on tax compliance beyond enforcement and facilitation paradigms, while offering a better assessment of the role of local democratic institutions for government performance and tax compliance….(More)”.

Information Sharing as a Dimension of Smartness: Understanding Benefits and Challenges in Two Megacities


Paper by J. Ramon Gil-Garcia, Theresa A. Pardo, and Manuel De Tuya: “Cities around the world are facing increasingly complex problems.

These problems frequently require collaboration and information sharing across agency boundaries.

In our view, information sharing can be seen as an important dimension of what is recently being called smartness in cities and enables the ability to improve decision making and day-to-day operations in urban settings. Unfortunately, what many city managers are learning is that there are important challenges to sharing information both within their city and with others.

Based on nonemergency service integration initiatives in New York City and Mexico City, this article examines important benefits from and challenges to information sharing in the context of what the participants characterize as smart city initiatives, particularly in large metropolitan areas.

The research question guiding this study is as follows: To what extent do previous findings about information sharing hold in the context of city initiatives, particularly in megacities?

The results provide evidence on the importance of some specific characteristics of cities and megalopolises and how they affect benefits and challenges of information sharing. For instance, cities seem to have more managerial flexibility than other jurisdictions such as state governments.

In addition, megalopolises have most of the necessary technical skills and financial resources needed for information sharing and, therefore, these challenges are not as relevant as in other local governments….(More)”.

Open government and citizen engagement: From theory to action


Camilo Romero Galeano at apolitical: “…According to the 2016 Corruption Perception Index analysing the behaviour of 178 countries, 69% of countries evaluated again raised the alarm about what has been referred to as “the cancer of the public service”.

The scandals of misappropriation of public funds, illicit enrichment of public officials, the slippery labyrinths of procurement and all kinds of practices that challenge ethics in the public service are daily news around the world.

Colombia and the department of Nariño suffer from the same problems. Bad practices of traditional politics and chiefdoms have ended up destroying the trust that citizens once had in political institutions. Corruption and its devastating effects always end up undermining people’s dignity.

With this as the current state of affairs, and in our capacity as a subnational government, we have designed hand in hand with the citizens of Nariño a new government program. It  is based on an approach to innovation called “New Government” that relies on three pillars: open government; social innovation; and collaborative economy.

The new program has been endorsed by more than 300,000 voters and subsequently concretised in our roadmap for the territory: “Nariño heart of the World”. The creation of this policy document brought together 31,700 participants and involved travelling around the 13 subregions that compose the 64 municipalities in Nariño.

In this way, citizen participation has become an essential tool in the fight against corruption.

Our open government strategy is called GANA — Gobierno Abierto de Nariño (in English, “Win — Open Government of Nariño”). The strategy takes a step forward in ensuring cabinet officials become transparent and publicly declare private assets. Citizens can now find out the financial conditions in which public officials begin and finish their administrative periods. Each one of us….(More)”

Hacking Corruption


Paper by Tamar Ziff and Maria Fernanda Pérez Argüello: “Across the Americas, corruption scandals have eroded citizens’ trust in their governing officials and institutions, leading elected leaders to promise they will root out graft. Against this backdrop of a growing citizen backlash against corruption, the Peruvian government designated “Democratic Governance against Corruption” as the central theme of the 2018 Summit of the Americas—the triennial meeting of heads of state from countries in the Americas. The Summit produced a Lima Declaration with 57 concrete actions to strengthen the fight against corruption in the Americas, including one–Commitment 17–specifically dedicated to promoting the use of new technologies to promote transparency and government accountability.

A new report by the Inter-American Dialogue’s Peter D. Bell Rule of Law program and the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council aims to advance Commitment 17 by examining the promise of tech solutions to assist the fight against corruption, specifically in public procurement. The report provides examples of a number of such solutions, as well as identifying obstacles to their more widespread adoption and proposing appropriate policy responses….(More)”

Can tracking people through phone-call data improve lives?


Amy Maxmen in Nature: “After an earthquake tore through Haiti in 2010, killing more than 100,000 people, aid agencies spread across the country to work out where the survivors had fled. But Linus Bengtsson, a graduate student studying global health at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, thought he could answer the question from afar. Many Haitians would be using their mobile phones, he reasoned, and those calls would pass through phone towers, which could allow researchers to approximate people’s locations. Bengtsson persuaded Digicel, the biggest phone company in Haiti, to share data from millions of call records from before and after the quake. Digicel replaced the names and phone numbers of callers with random numbers to protect their privacy.

Bengtsson’s idea worked. The analysis wasn’t completed or verified quickly enough to help people in Haiti at the time, but in 2012, he and his collaborators reported that the population of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, dipped by almost one-quarter soon after the quake, and slowly rose over the next 11 months1. That result aligned with an intensive, on-the-ground survey conducted by the United Nations.

Humanitarians and researchers were thrilled. Telecommunications companies scrutinize call-detail records to learn about customers’ locations and phone habits and improve their services. Researchers suddenly realized that this sort of information might help them to improve lives. Even basic population statistics are murky in low-income countries where expensive household surveys are infrequent, and where many people don’t have smartphones, credit cards and other technologies that leave behind a digital trail, making remote-tracking methods used in richer countries too patchy to be useful.

Since the earthquake, scientists working under the rubric of ‘data for good’ have analysed calls from tens of millions of phone owners in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya and at least two dozen other low- and middle-income nations. Humanitarian groups say that they’ve used the results to deliver aid. And researchers have combined call records with other information to try to predict how infectious diseases travel, and to pinpoint locations of poverty, social isolation, violence and more (see ‘Phone calls for good’)….(More)”.

Platforms that trigger innovation


Report by the Caixa Foundation: “…The Work4Progress programme thus supports the creation of “Open Innovation Platforms for the creation of employment in Peru, India and Mozambique” by means of collaborative partnerships between local civil society organisations, private sector, administration, universities and Spanish NGOs.

The main innovation of this programme is the incorporation of new tools and methodologies in: (1) listening and identification of community needs, (2) the co-creation and prototyping of new solutions, (3) the exploration of instruments for scaling, (4) governance, (5) evolving evaluation systems and (6) financing strategies. The goal of all of the above is to try to incorporate innovation strategies comprehensively in all components.

Work4Progress has been designed with a Think-and-Do-Tank mentality. The
member organisations of the platforms are experimenting in the field, while a group of international experts helps us to obtain this knowledge and share it with centres of thought and action at international level. In fact, this is the objective of this publication: to share the theoretical framework of the programme, to connect these ideas with concrete examples and to continue to strengthen the meeting point between social innovation and development cooperation.

Work4Progress is offered as a ‘living lab’ to test new methodologies that may be useful for other philanthropic institutions, governments or entities specialising in international development….(More)”.

Open data could have helped us learn from another mining dam disaster


Paulo A. de Souza Jr. at Nature: “The recent Brumadinho dam disaster in Brazil is an example of infrastructure failure with catastrophic consequences. Over 300 people were reported dead or missing, and nearly 400 more were rescued alive. The environmental impact is massive and difficult to quantify. The frequency of these disasters demonstrates that the current assets for monitoring integrity and generating alerting managers, authorities and the public to ongoing change in tailings are, in many cases, not working as they should. There is also the need for adequate prevention procedures. Monitoring can be perfect, but without timely and appropriate action, it will be useless. Good management therefore requires quality data. Undisputedly, management practices of industrial sites, including audit procedures, must improve, and data and metadata available from preceding accidents should be better used. There is a rich literature available about design, construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of tailing facilities. These include guidelines, standards, case studies, technical reports, consultancy and audit practices, and scientific papers. Regulation varies from country to country and in some cases, like Australia and Canada, it is controlled by individual state agencies. There are, however, few datasets available that are shared with the technical and scientific community more globally; particularly for prior incidents. Conspicuously lacking are comprehensive data related to monitoring of large infrastructures such as mining dams.

Today, Scientific Data published a Data Descriptor presenting a dataset obtained from 54 laboratory experiments on the breaching of fluvial dikes because of flow overtopping. (Re)use of such data can help improve our understanding of fundamental processes underpinning industrial infrastructure collapse (e.g., fluvial dike breaching, mining dam failure), and assess the accuracy of numerical models for the prediction of such incidents. This is absolutely essential for better management of floods, mitigation of dam collapses, and similar accidents. The authors propose a framework that could exemplify how data involving similar infrastructure can be stored, shared, published, and reused…(More)”.

Selling civic engagement: A unique role for the private sector?


Rebecca Winthrop at Brookings: “Much has been written on the worrisome trends in Americans’ faith and participation in our nation’s democracy. According to the World Values Survey, almost 20 percent of millennials in the U.S. think that military rule or an authoritarian dictator is a “fairly good” form of government, and only 29 percent believe that living in a country that is governed democratically is “absolutely important.” In the last year, trust in American democratic institutions has dropped—only 53 percent of Americans view American democracy positively. This decline in faith and participation in our democracy has been ongoing for some time, as noted in the 2005 collection of essays, “Democracy At Risk: How Political Choices Undermine Citizen Participation, and What We Can Do About It.” The essays chart the “erosion of the activities and capacities of citizenship” from voting to broad civic engagement over the past several decades.

While civil society and government have been the actors most commonly addressing this worrisome trend, is there also a constructive role for the private sector to play? After all, compared to other options like military or authoritarian rule, a functioning democracy is much more likely to provide the conditions for free enterprise that business desires. One only has to look to the current events in Venezuela for a quick reminder of this.

Many companies do engage in a range of activities that broadly support civic engagement, from dedicating corporate social responsibility (CSR) dollars to civically-minded community activities to supporting employee volunteerism. These are worthy activities and should certainly continue, but given the crisis of faith in the foundations of our democratic process, the private sector could play a much bigger role in helping support a movement for renewed understanding of and participation in our political process. Many of the private sector’s most powerful tools for doing this lie not inside companies’ CSR portfolios but in their unique expertise in selling things. Every day companies leverage their expertise in influence—from branding to market-segmentation—to get Americans to use their products and services. What if this expertise were harnessed toward promoting civic understanding and engagement?

Companies could play a particularly useful role by tapping new resources to amplify existing good work and build increasing interest in civic engagement. Two ways of doing this could include the below….(More)”

Group decisions: When more information isn’t necessarily better


News Release from the Santa Fee Institute: “In nature, group decisions are often a matter of life or death. At first glance, the way certain groups of animals like minnows branch off into smaller sub-groups might seem counterproductive to their survival. After all, information about, say, where to find some tasty fish roe or which waters harbor more of their predators, would flow more freely and seem to benefit more minnows if the school of fish behaved as a whole. However, new research published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B sheds light on the complexity of collective decision-making and uncovers new insights into the benefits of the internal structure of animal groups.

In their paper, Albert Kao, a Baird Scholar and Omidyar Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute, and Iain Couzin, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and Chair of Biodiversity and Collective Behavior at the University of Konstanz, simulate the information-sharing patterns of animals that prefer to interact with certain individuals over others. The authors’ modeling of such animal groups upends previously held assumptions about internal group structure and improves upon our understanding of the influence of group organization and environment on both the collective decision-making process and its accuracy.

Modular — or cliquey — group structure isolates the flow of communication between individuals, so that only certain animals are privy to certain pieces of information. “A feature of modular structure is that there’s always information loss,” says Kao, “but the effect of that information loss on accuracy depends on the environment.”

In simple environments, the impact of these modular groups is detrimental to accuracy, but when animals face many different sources of information, the effect is actually the opposite. “Surprisingly,” says Kao, “in complex environments, the information loss even helps accuracy in a lot of situations.” More information, in this case, is not necessarily better.

“Modular structure can have a profound — and unexpected — impact on the collective intelligence of groups,” says Couzin. “This may indeed be one of the reasons that we see internal structure in so many group-living species, from schooling fish and flocking birds to wild primate groups.”

Potentially, these new observations could be applied to many different kinds of social networks, from the migration patterns of birds to the navigation of social media landscapes to the organization of new companies, deepening our grasp of complex organization and collective behavior….(More)”.

(The paper, “Modular structure within groups causes information loss but can improve decision accuracy,” is part of a theme issue in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B entitled “Liquid Brains, Solid Brains: How distributed cognitive architectures process information.” The issue was inspired by a Santa Fe Institute working group and edited by Ricard Solé (Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Melanie Moses (University of New Mexico), and Stephanie Forrest (Arizona State University).