There Are Better Ways to Do Democracy

Article by Peter Coy: “The Brexit disaster has stained the reputation of direct democracy. The United Kingdom’s trauma began in 2016, when then-Prime Minister David Cameron miscalculated that he could strengthen Britain’s attachment to the European Union by calling a referendum on it. The Leave campaign made unkeepable promises about Brexit’s benefits. Voters spent little time studying the facts because there was a vanishingly small chance that any given vote would make the difference by breaking a tie. Leave won—and Google searches for “What is the EU” spiked after the polls closed.

Brexit is only one manifestation of a global problem. Citizens want elected officials to be as responsive as Uber drivers, but they don’t always take their own responsibilities seriously. This problem isn’t new. America’s Founding Fathers worried that democracy would devolve into mob rule; the word “democracy” appears nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.

While fears about democratic dysfunction are understandable, there are ways to make voters into real participants in the democratic process without giving in to mobocracy. Instead of referendums, which often become lightning rods for extremism, political scientists say it’s better to make voters think like jurors, whose decisions affect the lives and fortunes of others.

Guided deliberation, also known as deliberative democracy, is one way to achieve that. Ireland used it in 2016 and 2017 to help decide whether to repeal a constitutional amendment that banned abortion in most cases. A 99-person Citizens’ Assembly was selected to mirror the Irish population. It met over five weekends to evaluate input from lawyers and obstetricians, pro-life and pro-choice groups, and more than 13,000 written submissions from the public, guided by a chairperson from the Irish supreme court. Together they concluded that the legislature should have the power to allow abortion under a broader set of conditions, a recommendation that voters approved in a 2018 referendum; abortion in Ireland became legal in January 2019.

Done right, deliberative democracy brings out the best in citizens. “My experience shows that some of the most polarising issues can be tackled in this manner,” Louise Caldwell, an Irish assembly member, wrote in a column for the Guardian in January. India’s village assemblies, which involve all the adults in local decision-making, are a form of deliberative democracy on a grand scale. A March article in the journal Science says that “evidence from places such as Colombia, Belgium, Northern Ireland, and Bosnia shows that properly structured deliberation can promote recognition, understanding, and learning.” Even French President Emmanuel Macron has used it, convening a three-month “great debate” to solicit the public’s views on some of the issues raised by the sometimes-violent Yellow Vest movement. On April 8, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe presented one key finding: The French have “zero tolerance” for new taxes…(More)”.

Statistics Estonia to coordinate data governance

Article by Miriam van der Sangen at CBS: “In 2018, Statistics Estonia launched a new strategy for the period 2018-2022. This strategy addresses the organisation’s aim to produce statistics more quickly while minimising the response burden on both businesses and citizens. Another element in the strategy is addressing the high expectations in Estonian society regarding the use of data. ‘We aim to transform Statistics Estonia into a national data agency,’ says Director General Mägi. ‘This means our role as a producer of official statistics will be enlarged by data governance responsibilities in the public sector. Taking on such responsibilities requires a clear vision of the whole public data ecosystem and also agreement to establish data stewards in most public sector institutions.’…

the Estonian Parliament passed new legislation that effectively expanded the number of official tasks for Statistics Estonia. Mägi elaborates: ‘Most importantly, we shall be responsible for coordinating data governance. The detailed requirements and conditions of data governance will be specified further in the coming period.’ Under the new Act, Statistics Estonia will also have more possibilities to share data with other parties….

Statistics Estonia is fully committed to producing statistics which are based on big data. Mägi explains: ‘At the moment, we are actively working on two big data projects. One project involves the use of smart electricity meters. In this project, we are looking into ways to visualise business and household electricity consumption information. The second project involves web scraping of prices and enterprise characteristics. This project is still in an initial phase, but we can already see that the use of web scraping can improve the efficiency of our production process.’ We are aiming to extend the web scraping project by also identifying e-commerce and innovation activities of enterprises.’

Yet another ambitious goal for Statistics Estonia lies in the field of data science. ‘Similarly to Statistics Netherlands, we established experimental statistics and data mining activities years ago. Last year, we developed a so-called think-tank service, providing insights from data into all aspects of our lives. Think of birth, education, employment, et cetera. Our key clients are the various ministries, municipalities and the private sector. The main aim in the coming years is to speed up service time thanks to visualisations and data lake solutions.’ …(More)”.

Open Justice: Public Entrepreneurs Learn to Use New Technology to Increase the Efficiency, Legitimacy, and Effectiveness of the Judiciary

The GovLab: “Open justice is a growing movement to leverage new technologies – including big data, digital platforms, blockchain and more – to improve legal systems by making the workings of courts easier to understand, scrutinize and improve. Through the use of new technology, open justice innovators are enabling greater efficiency, fairness, accountability and a reduction in corruption in the third branch of government. For example, the open data portal ‘Atviras Teismas’ Lithuania (translated ‘open court’ Lithuania) is a platform for monitoring courts and judges through performance metrics’. This portal serves to make the courts of Lithuania transparent and benefits both courts and citizens by presenting comparative data on the Lithuanian Judiciary.

To promote more Open Justice projects, the GovLab in partnership with the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judiciary (TEPJF) of Mexico, launched an historic, first of its kind, online course on Open Justice. Designed primarily for lawyers, judges, and public officials – but also intended to appeal to technologists, and members of the public – the Spanish-language course consists of 10 modules.

Each of the ten modules comprises:

  1. A short video-based lecture
  2. An original Open Justice reader
  3. Associated additional readings
  4. A self-assessment quiz
  5. A demonstration of a platform or tool
  6. An interview with a global practitioner

Among those featured in the interviews are Felipe Moreno of Jusbrasil, Justin Erlich of OpenJustice California, Liam Hayes of Aurecon, UK, Steve Ghiassi of Legaler, Australia, and Sara Castillo of Poder Judicial, Chile….(More)”.

Rethink government with AI

Helen Margetts and Cosmina Dorobantu at Nature: “People produce more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day. Businesses are harnessing these riches using artificial intelligence (AI) to add trillions of dollars in value to goods and services each year. Amazon dispatches items it anticipates customers will buy to regional hubs before they are purchased. Thanks to the vast extractive might of Google and Facebook, every bakery and bicycle shop is the beneficiary of personalized targeted advertising.

But governments have been slow to apply AI to hone their policies and services. The reams of data that governments collect about citizens could, in theory, be used to tailor education to the needs of each child or to fit health care to the genetics and lifestyle of each patient. They could help to predict and prevent traffic deaths, street crime or the necessity of taking children into care. Huge costs of floods, disease outbreaks and financial crises could be alleviated using state-of-the-art modelling. All of these services could become cheaper and more effective.

This dream seems rather distant. Governments have long struggled with much simpler technologies. Flagship policies that rely on information technology (IT) regularly flounder. The Affordable Care Act of former US president Barack Obama nearly crumbled in 2013 when, the website enabling Americans to enrol in health insurance plans, kept crashing. Universal Credit, the biggest reform to the UK welfare state since the 1940s, is widely regarded as a disaster because of its failure to pay claimants properly. It has also wasted £837 million (US$1.1 billion) on developing one component of its digital system that was swiftly decommissioned. Canada’s Phoenix pay system, introduced in 2016 to overhaul the federal government’s payroll process, has remunerated 62% of employees incorrectly in each fiscal year since its launch. And My Health Record, Australia’s digital health-records system, saw more than 2.5 million people opt out by the end of January this year over privacy, security and efficacy concerns — roughly 1 in 10 of those who were eligible.

Such failures matter. Technological innovation is essential for the state to maintain its position of authority in a data-intensive world. The digital realm is where citizens live and work, shop and play, meet and fight. Prices for goods are increasingly set by software. Work is mediated through online platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo. Voters receive targeted information — and disinformation — through social media.

Thus the core tasks of governments, such as enforcing regulation, setting employment rights and ensuring fair elections require an understanding of data and algorithms. Here we highlight the main priorities, drawn from our experience of working with policymakers at The Alan Turing Institute in London….(More)”.

Nudging the dead: How behavioural psychology inspired Nova Scotia’s organ donation scheme

Joseph Brean at National Post: “Nova Scotia’s decision to presume people’s consent to donating their organs after death is not just a North American first. It is also the latest example of how deeply behavioural psychology has changed policy debates.

That is a rare achievement for science. Governments used to appeal to people’s sense of reason, religion, civic duty, or fear of consequences. Today, when they want to change how their citizens behave, they use psychological tricks to hack their minds.

Nudge politics, as it came to be known, has been an intellectual hit among wonks and technocrats ever since Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for destroying the belief people make decisions based on good information and reasonable expectations. Not so, he showed. Not even close. Human decision-making is an organic process, all but immune to reason, but strangely susceptible to simple environmental cues, just waiting to be exploited by a clever policymaker….

Organ donation is a natural fit. Nova Scotia’s experiment aims to solve a policy problem by getting people to do what they always tend to do about government requests — nothing.

The cleverness is evident in the N.S. government’s own words, which play on the meaning of “opportunity”: “Every Nova Scotian will have the opportunity to be an organ and tissue donor unless they opt out.” The policy applies to kidneys, pancreas, heart, liver, lungs, small bowel, cornea, sclera, skin, bones, tendons and heart valves.

It is so clever it aims to make progress as people ignore it. The default position is a positive for the policy. It assumes poor pickup. You can opt out of organ donation if you want. Nova Scotia is simply taking the informed gamble that you probably won’t. That is the goal, and it will make for a revealing case study.

Organ donation is an important question, and chronically low donation rates can reasonably be called a crisis. But most people make their personal choice “thoughtlessly,” as Kahneman wrote in the 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

He referred to European statistics which showed vast differences in organ donation rights between neighbouring and culturally similar countries, such as Sweden and Denmark, or Germany and Austria. The key difference, he noted, was what he called “framing effects,” or how the question was asked….(More)”.

OECD survey reveals many people unhappy with public services and benefits

Report by OECD: “Many people in OECD countries believe public services and social benefits are inadequate and hard to reach. More than half say they do not receive their fair share of benefits given the taxes they pay, and two-thirds believe others get more than they deserve. Nearly three out of four people say they want their government to do more to protect their social and economic security.  

These are among the findings of a new OECD survey, “Risks that Matter”, which asked over 22,000 people aged 18 to 70 years old in 21 countries about their worries and concerns and how well they think their government helps them tackle social and economic risks.

This nationally representative survey finds that falling ill and not being able to make ends meet are often at the top of people’s lists of immediate concerns. Making ends meet is a particularly common worry for those on low incomes and in countries that were hit hard by the financial crisis. Older people are most often worried about their health, while younger people are frequently concerned with securing adequate housing. When asked about the longer-term, across all countries, getting by in old age is the most commonly cited worry.

The survey reveals a dissatisfaction with current social policy. Only a minority are satisfied with access to services like health care, housing, and long-term care. Many believe the government would not be able to provide a proper safety net if they lost their income due to job loss, illness or old age. More than half think they would not be able to easily access public benefits if they needed them.

“This is a wake-up call for policy makers,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “OECD countries have some of the most advanced and generous social protection systems in the world. They spend, on average, more than one-fifth of their GDP on social policies. Yet, too many people feel they cannot count fully on their government when they need help. A better understanding of the factors driving this perception and why people feel they are struggling is essential to making social protection more effective and efficient. We must restore trust and confidence in government, and promote equality of opportunity.”

In every country surveyed except Canada, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, most people say that their government does not incorporate the views of people like them when designing social policy. In a number of countries, including Greece, Israel, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovenia, this share rises to more than two-thirds of respondents. This sense of not being part of the policy debate increases at higher levels of education and income, while feelings of injustice are stronger among those from high-income households.

Public perceptions of fairness are worrying. More than half of respondents say they do not receive their fair share of benefits given the taxes they pay, a share that rises to three quarters or more in Chile, Greece, Israel and Mexico. At the same time, people are calling for more help from government. In almost all countries, more than half of respondents say they want the government to do more for their economic and social security. This is especially the case for older respondents and those on low incomes.

Across countries, people are worried about financial security in old age, and most are willing to pay more to support public pension systems… (More)”.

What Would More Democratic A.I. Look Like?

Blog post by Andrew Burgess: “Something curious is happening in Finland. Though much of the global debate around artificial intelligence (A.I.) has become concerned with unaccountable, proprietary systems that could control our lives, the Finnish government has instead decided to embrace the opportunity by rolling out a nationwide educational campaign.

Conceived in 2017, shortly after Finland’s A.I. strategy was announced, the government wants to rebuild the country’s economy around the high-end opportunities of artificial intelligence, and has launched a national programto train 1 percent of the population — that’s 55,000 people — in the basics of A.I. “We’ll never have so much money that we will be the leader of artificial intelligence,” said economic minister Mika Lintilä at the launch. “But how we use it — that’s something different.”

Artificial intelligence can have many positive applications, from being trained to identify cancerous cells in biopsy screenings, predict weather patterns that can help farmers increase their crop yields, and improve traffic efficiency.

But some believe that A.I. expertise is currently too concentrated in the hands of just a few companies with opaque business models, meaning resources are being diverted away from projects that could be more socially, rather than commercially, beneficial. Finland’s approach of making A.I. accessible and understandable to its citizens is part of a broader movement of people who want to democratize the technology, putting utility and opportunity ahead of profit.

This shift toward “democratic A.I.” has three main principles: that all society will be impacted by A.I. and therefore its creators have a responsibility to build open, fair, and explainable A.I. services; that A.I. should be used for social benefit and not just for private profit; and that because A.I. learns from vast quantities of data, the citizens who create that data — about their shopping habits, health records, or transport needs — have a right to say and understand how it is used.

A growing movement across industry and academia believes that A.I. needs to be treated like any other “public awareness” program — just like the scheme rolled out in Finland….(More)”.

Participatory Budgeting and Progressive Cities: Are London and Paris Listening to Their Own Voices?

Chapter by Cécile Doustaly in The Rise of Progressive Cities East and West: “Cities around the world have taken the process of local politics outside the field of professional expertise and legitimate culture to allow for greater local participation. In the context of increased urban change, funding cuts and administrative reforms but also citizen’s political disaffection, methodologies to engage inhabitants with their neighbourhoods have been developed in France and Britain over the last 15 years. This chapter focuses on one of the most efficient and popular of such schemes worldwide, participatory budgeting, which chimes surprisingly well with New Public Management practices.

The untapped field of research enquiry lies in understanding developments in participatory budgeting in London and Paris, with an attention to the wider context and scale (from global to national, city, districts and neighbourhoods levels). Conclusions highlight that participatory budgeting needs clear political insight, willpower, funding and local tailoring to be successfully implemented and questions its capacity to outlive change in political parties and leaders. The chapter then identifies the conditions and variables for such programmes to encourage progressive cities characterized by more conviviality, inclusion, distributive justice and environmental sustainability.

The chapter isolates elements of progressivism in PB in London and Paris whose models grew further apart in the period until 2016. While Paris has refined its practice year on, London boroughs community budgets have become scarce, as a result of lack of public funding and democratic empowerment, confirming the view that “economic growth [is] a failing and insufficient criteria to create good governance and liveable cities, as opposed to civic involvement” (Cho and Douglass, Introduction). Participatory budgeting is therefore a flexible instrument which can wave without having left much trace or trigger more wide-ranging improvements and further democratic rights….(More)”.

State Capability, Policymaking and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Demos Helsinki: “The world as we know it is built on the structures of the industrial era – and these structures are falling apart. Yet the vision of a new, sustainable and fair post-industrial society remains unclear. This discussion paper is the result of a collaboration between a group of organisations interested in the implications of the rapid technological development to policymaking processes and knowledge systems that inform policy decisions.

In the discussion paper, we set out to explore what the main opportunities and concerns that accompany the Fourth Industrial Revolution for policymaking and knowledge systems are particularly in middle-income countries. Overall, middle-income countries are home to five billion of the world’s seven billion people and 73 per cent of the world’s poor people; they represent about one-third of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and are major engines of global growth (World Bank 2018).

The paper is co-produced with Capability (Finland), Demos Helsinki (Finland), HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation (Switzerland), Politics & Ideas (global), Southern Voice (global), UNESCO Montevideo (Uruguay) and Using Evidence (Canada).

The guiding questions for this paper are:

– What are the critical elements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

– What does the literature say about the impact of this revolution on societies and economies, and in particular on middle-income countries?

– What are the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in middle-income countries?

– What does the literature say about the challenges for governance and the ways knowledge can inform policy during the Fourth Industrial Revolution?…(More)”.

Full discussion paper“State Capability, Policymaking and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Do Knowledge Systems Matter?”

Twentieth Century Town Halls: Architecture of Democracy

Book by Jon Stewart: “This is the first book to examine the development of the town hall during the twentieth century and the way in which these civic buildings have responded to the dramatic political, social and architectural changes which took place during the period. Following an overview of the history of the town hall as a building type, it examines the key themes, variations and lessons which emerged during the twentieth century. This is followed by 20 case studies from around the world which include plans, sections and full-colour illustrations. Each of the case studies examines the town hall’s procurement, the selection of its architect and the building design, and critically analyses its success and contribution to the type’s development. The case studies include:

Copenhagen Town Hall, Denmark, Martin Nyrop

Stockholm City Hall, Sweden, Ragnar Ostberg

Hilversum Town Hall, the Netherlands, Willem M. Dudok

Walthamstow Town Hall, Britain, Philip Dalton Hepworth

Oslo Town Hall, Norway, Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulsson

Casa del Fascio, Como, Italy, Guiseppe Terragni

Aarhus Town Hall, Denmark, Arne Jacobsen with Eric Moller

Saynatsalo Town Hall, Finland, Alvar Aalto

Kurashiki City Hall, Japan, Kenzo Tange

Toronto City Hall, Canada, Viljo Revell

Boston City Hall, USA, Kallmann, McKinnell and Knowles

Dallas City Hall, USA, IM Pei

Mississauga City Hall, Canada, Ed Jones and Michael Kirkland

Borgoricco Town Hall, Italy, Aldo Rossi

Reykjavik City Hall, Iceland, Studio Granda

Valdelaguna Town Hall, Spain, Victor Lopez Cotelo and Carlos Puente Fernandez

The Hague City Hall, the Netherlands, Richard Meier

Iragna Town Hall, Switzerland, Raffaele Cavadini

Murcia City Hall, Spain, Jose Rafael Moneo

London City Hall, UK, Norman Foster…(More)”.