Can politicians and citizens deliberate together? Evidence from a local deliberative mini-public


Paper by Kimmo Grönlund, Kaisa Herne, Maija Jäske, and Mikko Värttö: “In a deliberative mini-public, a representative number of citizens receive information and discuss given policy topics in facilitated small groups. Typically, mini-publics are most effective politically and can have the most impact on policy-making when they are connected to democratic decision-making processes. Theorists have put forward possible mechanisms that may enhance this linkage, one of which is involving politicians within mini-publics with citizens. However, although much research to date has focussed on mini-publics with many citizen participants, there is little analysis of mini-publics with politicians as coparticipants. In this study, we ask how involving politicians in mini-publics influences both participating citizens’ opinions and citizens’ and politicians’ perceptions of the quality of the mini-public deliberations. We organised an online mini-public, together with the City of Turku, Finland, on the topic of transport planning. The participants (n = 171) were recruited from a random sample and discussed the topic in facilitated small groups (n = 21). Pre- and postdeliberation surveys were collected. The effect of politicians on mini-publics was studied using an experimental intervention: in half of the groups, local politicians (two per group) participated, whereas in the other half, citizens deliberated among themselves. Although we found that the participating citizens’ opinions changed, no trace of differences between the two treatment groups was reported. We conclude that politicians, at least when they are in a clear minority in the deliberating small groups, can deliberate with citizens without negatively affecting internal inclusion and the quality of deliberation within mini-publics….(More)”.

New Days Future Kit


Toolbox by the Danish Design Center: “The New Days’ Future Kit is a toolbox with guides, materials, and visual tools that make it possible to bring diverse groups together to work experimentally, concretely, and co-creatively with aging and care of the future.

An essential part of the kit is the collection of speculative fragments from the future that consist of small glimpses, artifacts, and tales. The physical version contains actual versions of the artifacts and materials. These are introduced and used actively in workshops with us.

The toolkit is relevant for anyone working in the public or private sector with care. The digital version of the toolkit presented here is meant as an inspiration. The elements will provoke you and challenge your thoughts and ambitions for the future of care. If the tools make you curious, reach out to us and we’ll arrange a targeted workshop for you.

The toolbox results from a long-running process of exploring and learning from alternative and desirable futures and translating the insights into innovative experiments in the present…(More)”.

Open Data Governance and Its Actors: Theory and Practice


Book by Maxat Kassen: “This book combines theoretical and practical knowledge about key actors and driving forces that help to initiate and advance open data governance. Using Finland and Sweden as case studies, it sheds light on the roles of key actors in the open data movement, enabling researchers to understand the key operational elements of data-driven governance. It also examines the most salient manifestations of related networking activities, the motivations of stakeholders, and the political and socioeconomic readiness of the public, private and civic sectors to advance such policies. The book will appeal to e-government experts, policymakers and political scientists, as well as academics and students of public administration, public policy, and open data governance…(More)”.

Facial recognition needs a wider policy debate


Editorial Team of the Financial Times: “In his dystopian novel 1984, George Orwell warned of a future under the ever vigilant gaze of Big Brother. Developments in surveillance technology, in particular facial recognition, mean the prospect is no longer the stuff of science fiction.

In China, the government was this year found to have used facial recognition to track the Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority. In Hong Kong, protesters took down smart lamp posts for fear of their actions being monitored by the authorities. In London, the consortium behind the King’s Cross development was forced to halt the use of two cameras with facial recognition capabilities after regulators intervened. All over the world, companies are pouring money into the technology.

At the same time, governments and law enforcement agencies of all hues are proving willing buyers of a technology that is still evolving — and doing so despite concerns over the erosion of people’s privacy and human rights in the digital age. Flaws in the technology have, in certain cases, led to inaccuracies, in particular when identifying women and minorities.

The news this week that Chinese companies are shaping new standards at the UN is the latest sign that it is time for a wider policy debate. Documents seen by this newspaper revealed Chinese companies have proposed new international standards at the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU, a Geneva-based organisation of industry and official representatives, for things such as facial recognition. Setting standards for what is a revolutionary technology — one recently described as the “plutonium of artificial intelligence” — before a wider debate about its merits and what limits should be imposed on its use, can only lead to unintended consequences. Crucially, standards ratified in the ITU are commonly adopted as policy by developing nations in Africa and elsewhere — regions where China has long wanted to expand its influence. A case in point is Zimbabwe, where the government has partnered with Chinese facial recognition company CloudWalk Technology. The investment, part of Beijing’s Belt and Road investment in the country, will see CloudWalk technology monitor major transport hubs. It will give the Chinese company access to valuable data on African faces, helping to improve the accuracy of its algorithms….

Progress is needed on regulation. Proposals by the European Commission for laws to give EU citizens explicit rights over the use of their facial recognition data as part of a wider overhaul of regulation governing artificial intelligence are welcome. The move would bolster citizens’ protection above existing restrictions laid out under its general data protection regulation. Above all, policymakers should be mindful that if the technology’s unrestrained rollout continues, it could hold implications for other, potentially more insidious, innovations. Western governments should step up to the mark — or risk having control of the technology’s future direction taken from them….(More)”.

Defining concepts of the digital society


A special section of Internet Policy Review edited by Christian Katzenbach and Thomas Christian Bächle: “With this new special section Defining concepts of the digital society in Internet Policy Review, we seek to foster a platform that provides and validates exactly these overarching frameworks and theories. Based on the latest research, yet broad in scope, the contributions offer effective tools to analyse the digital society. Their authors offer concise articles that portray and critically discuss individual concepts with an interdisciplinary mindset. Each article contextualises their origin and academic traditions, analyses their contemporary usage in different research approaches and discusses their social, political, cultural, ethical or economic relevance and impact as well as their analytical value. With this, the authors are building bridges between the disciplines, between research and practice as well as between innovative explanations and their conceptual heritage….(More)”

Algorithmic governance
Christian Katzenbach, Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society
Lena Ulbricht, Berlin Social Science Center

Datafication
Ulises A. Mejias, State University of New York at Oswego
Nick Couldry, London School of Economics & Political Science

Filter bubble
Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology

Platformisation
Thomas Poell, University of Amsterdam
David Nieborg, University of Toronto
José van Dijck, Utrecht University

Privacy
Tobias Matzner, University of Paderborn
Carsten Ochs, University of Kassel

Belgian experiment that Aristotle would have approved of


The Economist: “In a sleepy corner of Belgium, a democratic experiment is under way. On September 16th, 24 randomly chosen Germanophones from the country’s eastern fringe took their seats in a Citizens’ Council. They will have the power to tell elected officials which issues matter, and for each such issue to task a Citizens’ Assembly (also chosen at random) with brainstorming ideas on how to solve them. It’s an engaged citizen’s dream come true.

Belgium’s German-speakers are an often-overlooked minority next to their Francophone and Flemish countrymen. They are few in number—just 76,000 people out of a population of 11m—yet have a distinct identity, shaped by their proximity to Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Thanks to Belgium’s federal system the community is thought to be the smallest region of the EU with its own legislative powers: a parliament of 25 representatives and a government of four decides on policies related to issues including education, sport, training and child benefits.

This new system takes democracy one step further. Based on selection by lottery—which Aristotle regarded as real democracy, in contrast to election, which he described as “oligarchy”—it was trialled in 2017 and won enthusiastic reviews from participants, officials and locals.

Under the “Ostbelgien Model”, the Citizens’ Council and the assemblies it convenes will run in parallel to the existing parliament and will set its legislative agenda. Parliamentarians must consider every proposal that wins support from 80% of the council, and must publicly defend any decision to take a different path.

Some see the project as a tool that could counter political discontent by involving ordinary folk in decision-making. But for Alexander Miesen, a Belgian senator who initiated the project, the motivation is cosier. “People would like to share their ideas, and they also have a lot of experience in their lives which you can import into parliament. It’s a win-win,” he says.

Selecting decision-makers by lottery is unusual these days, but not unknown: Ireland randomly selected the members of the Citizens’ Assembly that succeeded in breaking the deadlock on abortion laws. Referendums are a common way of settling important matters in several countries. But in Eupen, the largest town in the German-speaking region, citizens themselves will come up with the topics and policies which parliamentarians then review, rather than expressing consent to ideas proposed by politicians. Traditional decision-makers still have the final say, but “citizens can be sure that their ideas are part of the process,” says Mr Miesen….(More)”.

Finland’s model in utilising forest data


Report by Matti Valonen et al: “The aim of this study is to depict the Finnish Forest Centre’s Metsään.fiwebsite’s background, objectives and implementation and to assess its needs for development and future prospects. The Metsään.fi-service included in the Metsään.fi-website is a free e-service for forest owners and corporate actors (companies, associations and service providers) in the forest sector, which aim is to support active decision-making among forest owners by offering forest resource data and maps on forest properties, by making contacts with the authorities easier through online services and to act as a platform for offering forest services, among other things.

In addition to the Metsään.fi-service, the website includes open forest data services that offer the users national forest resource data that is not linked with personal information.

Private forests are in a key position as raw material sources for traditional and new forest-based bioeconomy. In addition to wood material, the forests produce non-timber forest products (for example berries and mushrooms), opportunities for recreation and other ecosystem services.

Private forests cover roughly 60 percent of forest land, but about 80 percent of the domestic wood used by forest industry. In 2017 the value of the forest industry production was 21 billion euros, which is a fifth of the entire industry production value in Finland. The forest industry export in 2017 was worth about 12 billion euros, which covers a fifth of the entire export of goods. Therefore, the forest sector is important for Finland’s national economy…(More)”.

Handbook of Research on Politics in the Computer Age


Book edited by Ashu M. G. Solo: “Technology and particularly the Internet have caused many changes in the realm of politics. Aspects of engineering, computer science, mathematics, or natural science can be applied to politics. Politicians and candidates use their own websites and social network profiles to get their message out. Revolutions in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa have started in large part due to social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Social networking has also played a role in protests and riots in numerous countries. The mainstream media no longer has a monopoly on political commentary as anybody can set up a blog or post a video online. Now, political activists can network together online.

The Handbook of Research on Politics in the Computer Age is a pivotal reference source that serves to increase the understanding of methods for politics in the computer age, the effectiveness of these methods, and tools for analyzing these methods. The book includes research chapters on different aspects of politics with information technology, engineering, computer science, or math, from 27 researchers at 20 universities and research organizations in Belgium, Brazil, Cape Verde, Egypt, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, and the United States of America. Highlighting topics such as online campaigning and fake news, the prospective audience includes, but is not limited to, researchers, political and public policy analysts, political scientists, engineers, computer scientists, political campaign managers and staff, politicians and their staff, political operatives, professors, students, and individuals working in the fields of politics, e-politics, e-government, new media and communication studies, and Internet marketing….(More)”.

The Public-Data Opportunity: Why Governments Should Share More


Press Release: “The Lisbon Council launches The Public-Data Opportunity: Why Governments Should Share More, a new discussion paper that looks at the state of play for public-sector data sharing – and calls for better protocols and procedures to deliver data-driven service to all Europeans. The paper analyses the importance of data-sharing between European Union public agencies, identifies the barriers and proposes seven policy recommendations that will help lift them. It builds on the research conducted by the “Understanding Value Co-Creation in Public Services for Transforming European Public Administrations” project, or Co-VAL, a 12-partner research consortium, co-funded by the European Union. And was launched at The 2019 Digital Government Conference convened by the Presidency of the European Council of Finland in Helsinki….(More)”

We Need a Fourth Branch of Government


George A. Papandreou at The New York Times: “In ancient times, politics was born of the belief that we can be masters of our own fate, and democracy became a continuing, innovative project to guarantee people a say in public decisions.

Today, however, we live in a paradox. Humanity has created vast wealth and technological know-how that could contribute to solutions for the global common good, yet immense numbers of people are disempowered, marginalized and suffering from a deep sense of insecurity. Working together, we have the ability to reshape the world as we know it. Unfortunately, that power rests in the hands of only a few.

The marginalization we see today is rooted in the globalization promoted by policy models such as the Washington Consensus, which distanced politics and governance from economic power. Companies in the financial, pharmaceutical, agricultural, oil and tech industries are no longer governed by the laws of a single state — they live in a separate global stratosphere, one regulated to suit their interests.

The consequences of all this are huge disparities in wealth and power. There is, for example, an overconcentration of money in media and politics, due to lobbying and outright corruption. And in many countries, democratic institutions have been captured and the will of the people has been compromised….

We could embrace reactive politics, elect authoritarian leaders, build walls, and promote isolationism and racism. This path offers a simple yet illusory way to “take back control,” but in fact accomplishes the opposite: It gives up control to power-hungry demagogues who divide us, weaken civil society and feed us dead-end solutions.

But rather than embrace those false promises, let us instead reinvent and deepen democratic institutions, in order to empower people, tame global capitalism, eliminate inequality and assert control over our international techno-society.

From my experience, an important step toward these goals would be to create a fourth branch of government.

This new deliberative branch, in which all citizens — the “demos” — could participate, would sit alongside the executive, legislative and judicial branches. All laws and decisions would first go through an e-deliberation process before being debated in our city halls, parliaments or congresses.

Inspired by the agora of ideas and debate in ancient Athens, I set up as prime minister a rudimentary “wiki-law” process for deliberating issues online before laws are voted on. Trusting collective wisdom brought insightful and invaluable responses.

In contrast to how social media works today, a similar platform could develop transparent algorithms that use artificial intelligence to promote wholesome debate and informed dialogue while fairly aggregating citizens’ positions to promote consensus building. All who participate in this public e-agora would appear under their true identities — real voices, not bots. Eponymous, not anonymous.

To facilitate debate, forums of professionals could give informed opinions on issues of the day. Public television, newspapers, radio and podcasts could enlighten the conversation. Schools would be encouraged to participate. So-called deliberative polling (again inspired by ancient Athens and developed for modern society by James Fishkin at Stanford University) could improve decision-making by leveraging sustained dialogue among polling participants and experts to produce more informed public opinion. The concept was used by the Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland from 2016 to 2018, a riveting exercise in deliberative democracy that produced breakthroughs on seemingly intractable issues such as abortion.

Today, we are on the verge of momentous global changes, in robotics, A.I., the climate and more. The world’s citizens must debate the ethical implications of our increasingly godlike technological powers….(More)”