Crowdfunding gives rise to projects truly in public domain


USA Today: “Crowdfunding, the cyberpractice of pooling individuals’ money for a cause, so far has centered on private enterprise. It’s now spreading to public spaces and other community projects that are typically the domain of municipalities.

The global reach and speed of the Internet are raising not just money but awareness and galvanizing communities.

SmartPlanet.com recently reported that crowdfunding capital projects is gaining momentum, giving communities part ownership of everything from a 66-story downtown skyscraper in Bogota to a bridge in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Several websites such as neighborland.com and neighbor.ly are platforms to raise money for projects ranging from planting fruit trees in San Francisco to building a playground that accommodates disabled children in Parsippany, N.J.

“Community groups are increasingly ready to challenge cities’ plans,” says Bryan Boyer, an independent consultant and adviser to The Finnish Innovation Fund SITRA, a think tank. “We’re all learning to live in the context of a networked society.”

Crowdfund
Crowdfunder, which connects entrepreneurs and investors globally, just launched a local version — CROWDFUNDx.”

What the Obama Campaign's Chief Data Scientist Is Up to Now


Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic: “By all accounts, Rayid Ghani’s data work for President Obama’s reelection campaign was brilliant and unprecedented. Ghani probably could have written a ticket to work at any company in the world, or simply collected speaking fees for a few years telling companies how to harness the power of data like the campaign did.
But instead, Ghani headed to the University of Chicago to bring sophisticated data analysis to difficult social problems. Working with Computation Institute and the Harris School of Public Policy, Ghani will serve as the chief data scientist for the Urban Center for Computation and Data.”

Feel the force


The Economist: “Three new books look at power in the digital age…
To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. By Evgeny Morozov. PublicAffairs; 415 pages; $28.99. Allen Lane; £20.
Who Owns the Future? By Jaron Lanier. Simon and Schuster; 397 pages; $28. Allen Lane; £20.
The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business. By Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. Knopf; 319 pages; $26.95. John Murray; £25.

Open government data shines a light on hospital billing and health care costs


hospital-costsAlex Howard: “If transparency is the best disinfectant, casting sunlight upon the cost of care in hospitals across the United States will make the health care system itself healthier.
The Department of Health and Human Services has released open data that compares the billing for the 100 most common treatments and procedures performed at more than 3000 hospital in the U.S. The Medicare provider charge data shows significant variation within communies and across the country for the same procedures.
One hospital charged $8,000, another $38,000 — for the same condition. This data is enabling newspapers like the Washington Post to show people the actual costs of health care and create  interactive features that enable  people to search for individual hospitals and see how they compare. The New York Times explored the potential reasons behind wild disparities in billing at length today, from sicker patients to longer hospitalizations to higher labor costs.”

A Page From the Tri-Sector Athlete Playbook: Designing a Pro-Bono Partnership Model for Cities and Public Agencies


Jeremy Goldberg: “Leaders in our social systems and institutions are faced with many of the same challenges of the past century, but they are tasked to solve them within new fiscal realities. In the United States these fiscal realities are tied to the impact of the most recent economic recession coupled with declining property and tax revenues. While these issues seem largely to be “problems” that many perceive to belong to our government, leadership across sectors has had to respond and adapt in numerous ways, some of which unfortunately include pay and hiring-freezes, lay-offs and cuts to important public services and programs related to education, parks and safety.
Fortunately, within this “new normal” there are examples of leadership within the public and private sector confronting these challenges head-on through innovative public-private partnerships (p3s). For example, municipal governments are turning to opportunities like IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge, which provides funding and a team of IBM employees to assist the city in solving specific public problems. Other cities such as Boston, Louisville and San Francisco have established initiatives, projects and Offices of Civic Innovation where government, technologists, communities and residents are collaborating to solve problems through open-data initiatives and platforms.
This new generation of innovative P3s demonstrates the inherent power of what Joseph Nye coined a tri-sector athlete — someone who is able and experienced in business, government and the social sector. Today, unlike any other time before, tri-sector athletes are demonstrating that business as usual just won’t cut it. These athletes, myself included, believe it’s the perfect moment for civic innovation, the perfect time civic collaboration, and the perfect moment for an organization like Fuse Corps to lead the national civic entrepreneurship movement… and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

D4D Challenge Winners announced


development=prize-pic_0Global Pulse Blog: “The winners of the Data for Development challenge – an international research challenge using a massive anonymized dataset provided by telecommunications company Orange – were announced at the NetMob 2013 Conference in Boston last week….
In this post we’ll look at the winners and how their research could be put to use.

Best Visualization prize winner: “Exploration and Analysis of Massive Mobile Phone Data: A Layered Visual Analytics Approach” –

Best Development prize winner: “AllAboard: a System for Exploring Urban Mobility and Optimizing Public Transport Using Cellphone Data”

Best Scientific prize winner: “Analyzing Social Divisions Using Cell Phone Data”

First prize winner: “Exploiting Cellular Data for Disease Containment and Information Campaigns Strategies in Country-Wide Epidemics””

New NAS Report: Copyright in the Digital Era: Building Evidence for Policy


0309278953National Academies of Sciences: “Over the course of several decades, copyright protection has been expanded and extended through legislative changes occasioned by national and international developments. The content and technology industries affected by copyright and its exceptions, and in some cases balancing the two, have become increasingly important as sources of economic growth, relatively high-paying jobs, and exports. Since the expansion of digital technology in the mid-1990s, they have undergone a technological revolution that has disrupted long-established modes of creating, distributing, and using works ranging from literature and news to film and music to scientific publications and computer software.

In the United States and internationally, these disruptive changes have given rise to a strident debate over copyright’s proper scope and terms and means of its enforcement–a debate between those who believe the digital revolution is progressively undermining the copyright protection essential to encourage the funding, creation, and distribution of new works and those who believe that enhancements to copyright are inhibiting technological innovation and free expression.

Copyright in the Digital Era: Building Evidence for Policy examines a range of questions regarding copyright policy by using a variety of methods, such as case studies, international and sectoral comparisons, and experiments and surveys. This report is especially critical in light of digital age developments that may, for example, change the incentive calculus for various actors in the copyright system, impact the costs of voluntary copyright transactions, pose new enforcement challenges, and change the optimal balance between copyright protection and exceptions.”

Cognitive Democracy


Equity of material, social, and cultural resources and making use of cognitive diversity to solve complex problems.

NYU had a LaPietra Dialogue on “Social Media and Political Participation” (#SMaPP_LPD). The purpose of the dialogue:

“We are only beginning to scratch the surface of developing theories linking social media usage to political participation and actually beginning to test causal relationships. At the same time, the data being generated by users of social media represents a completely unprecedented source of data recording how hundreds of millions of people around the globe interact with politics, the likes of which social scientists have never, ever seen; it is not too much of a stretch to say we are at a similar place to the field of biology just as the human genome was first being decoded. Thus the challenges are enormous, but the opportunities – and importance of the task – are just as important….The conference will serve to introduce cutting edge work being conducted in a field that barely existed five years ago to the public and students, to introduce the scholars participating in the conference to each other’s work, and also to play a role in building connections among the scholarly community working in this field.”

Among the presenters was Henry Farrell from George Washington University who drafted a paper with Cosma Shalizi on “Cognitive Democracy and the Internet” (an earlier version appeared on the Crooked Timber Blog).

In essence, the paper is focused on which social institutions (hierarchies, markets, or democracies) are better positioned to solve complex problems (resonating with The GovLab Research’s mapping of contemporary problems that drives government innovation).

“We start instead with a pragmatist question whether these institutions are useful in helping us solve diifficult social problems. Some political problems are simple: the solutions might not be easy to put into practice, but the problems are easy to analyze. But the most vexing problems are usually ones without any very obvious solutions. How do we change legal rules and social norms in order to mitigate the problems of global warming? How do we regulate financial markets so as to minimize the risk of new crises emerging, and limit the harm of those that happen? How do we best encourage the spread of human rights internationally?

These problems all share two important features. First, they are social. That is, they are problems which involve the interaction of many human beings, with different interests, desires, needs and perspectives. Second, they are complex problems, in the sense that scholars of complexity understand the term. To borrow the defi nition of Page (2011, p. 25), they involve diverse entities that interact in a network or contact structure (italics in the original).”

They subsequently critique the capacity of hierarchies and markets to address these “social problems.” Of particular interest is their assessment of the current “nudge” theories:

“Libertarian paternalism is flawed, not because it restricts peoples’ choices, but because it makes heroic assumptions about choice architects’ ability to figure out what the choices should be, and blocks the architects’ channels for learning better. Libertarian paternalism may still have value where people likely do want, e.g., to save more or take more exercise, but face commitment problems, or when other actors have an incentive to misinform these people or to structure their choices in perverse ways in the absence of a “good” default. However, it will be far less useful, or even actively pernicious, in complex situations, where many actors with different interests make interdependent choices”

The bulk of the paper focuses on the value and potential of democracy to solve problems (where diversity has a high premium). With regard to the current state of our democratic institutions, the paper observes that

“We have no reason to think that actually-existing democratic structures are as good as they could be, or even close. If nothing else, designing institutions is, itself, a highly complex problem, where even the most able decision-makers have little ability to foresee the consequences of their actions. Even when an institution works well at one time, it does so in a context of other institutions and social and physical conditions, which are all constantly changing. Institutional design and reform, then, is always a matter of more or less ambitious “piecemeal social experiments”, to use the phrase of Popper…As emphasized by Popper, and independently by Knight and Johnson, one of the strengths of democracy is its ability to make, monitor, and learn from such experiments”.

Taking into account current advances in technology, Farrell and Shalizi state:

“One of the great aspects of the current moment, for cognitive democracy, is that it has become (comparatively) very cheap and easy for such experiments to be made online, so that this design space can be explored.”

They subsequently conclude emphasizing the need for “cognitive democracy” :

“Democracy, we have argued, has a capacity unmatched among other macro-institutions to actually experiment, and to make use of cognitive diversity in solving complex problems. To realize these potentials, democratic structures must themselves be shaped so that social interaction and cognitive function reinforce each other. But the cleverest institutional design in the world will not help unless the resources (material, social, cultural) needed for participation are actually broadly shared. This is not, or not just, about being nice or equitable; cognitive diversity is not something we can afford to waste.”

Frameworks for a Location–Enabled Society


Annual CGA Conference “Location-enabled devices are weaving “smart grids” and building “smart cities;” they allow people to discover a friend in a shopping mall, catch a bus at its next stop, check surrounding air quality while walking down a street, or avoid a rain storm on a tourist route – now or in the near future. And increasingly they allow those who provide services to track, whether we are walking past stores on the street or seeking help in a natural disaster.
The Centre for Spatial Law and Policy based in Washington, DC, the Center for Geographic Analysis, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University are co-hosting a two-day program examining the legal and policy issues that will impact geospatial technologies and the development of location-enabled societies. The event will take place at Harvard University on May 2-3, 2013…The goal is to explore the different dimensions of policy and legal concerns in geospatial technology applications, and to begin in creating a policy and legal framework for a location-enabled society. Download the conference program brochure.
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