Why We Engage: How Theories of Human Behavior Contribute to Our Understanding of Civic Engagement in a Digital Era


New paper by Gordon, Eric and Baldwin-Philippi, Jessica and Balestra, Martina: “…Just as the rapidly evolving landscape of connectivity and communications technology is transforming the individual’s experience of the social sphere, what it means to participate in civic life is also changing, both in how people do it and how it is measured. Civic engagement includes all the ways in which individuals attend to the concerns of public life, how one learns about and participates in all of the issues and contexts beyond one’s immediate private or intimate sphere. New technologies and corresponding social practices, from social media to mobile reporting, are providing different ways to record, share, and amplify that attentiveness. Media objects or tools that impact civic life can be understood within two broad types: those designed specifically with the purpose of community engagement in mind (for instance, a digital game for local planning or an app to give feedback to city council) or generic tools that are subsequently appropriated for engaging a community (such as Twitter or Facebook’s role in the Arab Spring or London riots). Moreover, these tools can mediate any number of relationships between or among citizens, local organizations, or government institutions. Digitally mediated civic engagement runs the gamut of phenomena from organizing physical protests using social media (e.g., Occupy), to using digital tools to hack institutions (e.g., Anonymous), to using city-produced mobile applications to access and coproduce government services, to using digital platforms for deliberating. Rather than try to identify what civic media tools look like in the midst of such an array of possibilities (by focusing on in depth examples or case studies), going forward we will instead focus on how digital tools expand the context of civic life and motivations for engagement, and what participating in civic life looks like in a digital era.
We present this literature review as a means of exploring the intersection of theories of human behavior with the motivations for and benefits of engaging in civic life. We bring together literature from behavioral economics, sociology, psychology and communication studies to reveal how civic actors, institutions, and decision-making processes have been traditionally understood, and how emerging media tools and practices are forcing their reconsideration.

Privacy in the 21st Century: From the “Dark Ages” to “Enlightenment”?


Paper by P. Kitsos and A. Yannoukakou in the International Journal of E-Politics (IJEP): “The events of 9/11 along with the bombarding in Madrid and London forced governments to resort to new structures of privacy safeguarding and electronic surveillance under the common denominator of terrorism and transnational crime fighting. Legislation as US PATRIOT Act and EU Data Retention Directive altered fundamentally the collection, processing and sharing methods of personal data, while it granted increased powers to police and law enforcement authorities concerning their jurisdiction in obtaining and processing personal information to an excessive degree. As an aftermath of the resulted opacity and the public outcry, a shift is recorded during the last years towards a more open governance by the implementation of open data and cloud computing practices in order to enhance transparency and accountability from the side of governments, restore the trust between the State and the citizens, and amplify the citizens’ participation to the decision-making procedures. However, privacy and personal data protection are major issues in all occasions and, thus, must be safeguarded without sacrificing national security and public interest on one hand, but without crossing the thin line between protection and infringement on the other. Where this delicate balance stands, is the focal point of this paper trying to demonstrate that it is better to be cautious with open practices than hostage of clandestine practices.”

Selected Readings on Crowdsourcing Opinions and Ideas


The Living Library’s Selected Readings series seeks to build a knowledge base on innovative approaches for improving the effectiveness and legitimacy of governance. This curated and annotated collection of recommended works on the topic of crowdsourcing was originally published in 2013.

As technological advances give individuals greater ability to share their opinions and ideas with the world, citizens are increasingly expecting government to consult with them and factor their input into the policy-making process. Moving away from the representative democracy system created in a less connected time, e-petitions; participatory budgeting (PB), a collaborative, community-based system for budget allocation; open innovation initiatives; and Liquid Democracy, a hybrid of direct and indirect democracy, are allowing citizens to make their voices heard between trips to the ballot box.

Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Annotated Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Bergmann, Eirikur. “Reconstituting Iceland – Constitutional Reform Caught in a New Critical Order in the Wake of Crisis.” in Academia.edu, (presented at the Political Legitimacy and the Paradox of Regulation, Leiden University, 2013). http://bit.ly/1aaTVYP.
  •  This paper explores the tumultuous history of Iceland’s “Crowdsourced Constitution.” The since-abandoned document was built upon three principles: distribution of power, transparency and responsibility.
  •  Even prior to the draft being dismantled through political processes, Bergmann argues that an overenthusiastic public viewed the constitution as a stronger example of citizen participation than it really was: “Perhaps with the delusion of distance the international media was branding the production as the world’s first ‘crowdsourced’ constitution, drafted by the interested public in clear view for the world to follow…This was however never a realistic description of the drafting. Despite this extraordinary open access, the Council was not able to systematically plough through all the extensive input as [it] only had four months to complete the task.”
  • Bergmann’s paper illustrates the transition Iceland’s constitution has undertaken in recent years: moving form a paradigmatic example of crowdsourcing opinions to a demonstration of the challenges inherent in bringing more voices into a realm dominated by bureaucracy and political concerns.
Gassmann, Oliver, Ellen Enkel, and Henry Chesbrough. “The Future of Open Innovation.” R&D Management 40, no. 3 (2010): 213– 221. http://bit.ly/1bk4YeN.
  • In this paper – an introduction to a special issue on the topic – Gassmann, Enkel and Chesbrough discuss the evolving trends in open innovation. They define the concept, referencing previous work by Chesbrough et al., as “…the purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively.”
  • In addition to examining the existing literature for the field, the authors identify nine trends that they believe will define the future of open innovation for businesses, many of which can also be applied to governing insitutions:
    • Industry penetration: from pioneers to mainstream
    • R&D intensity: from high to low tech
    • Size: from large firms to SMEs
    • Processes: from stage gate to probe-and-learn
    • Structure: from standalone to alliances
    • Universities: from ivory towers to knowledge brokers  Processes: from amateurs to professionals
    • Content: from products to services
    • Intellectual property: from protection to a tradable good
Gilman, Hollie Russon. “The Participatory Turn: Participatory Budgeting Comes to America.” Harvard University, 2012. https://bit.ly/2BhaeVv.
  •  In this dissertation, Gilman argues that participatory budgeting (PB) produces better outcomes than the status quo budget process in New York, while also transforming how those who participate understand themselves as citizens, constituents, Council members, civil society leaders and community stakeholders.
  • The dissertation also highlights challenges to participation drawing from experience and lessons learned from PB’s inception in Porto Alege, Brazil in 1989. While recognizing a diversity of challenges, Gilman ultimately argues that, “PB provides a viable and informative democratic innovation for strengthening civic engagement within the United States that can be streamlined and adopted to scale.”
Kasdan, Alexa, and Cattell, Lindsay. “New Report on NYC Participatory Budgeting.” Practical Visionaries. Accessed October 21, 2013. https://bit.ly/2Ek8bTu.
  • This research and evaluation report is the result of surveys, in-depth interviews and observations collected at key points during the 2011 participatory budgeting (PB) process in New York City, in which “[o]ver 2,000 community members were the ones to propose capital project ideas in neighborhood assemblies and town hall meetings.”
  • The PBNYC project progressed through six main steps:
    •  First Round of Neighborhood Assemblies
    • Delegate Orientations
    • Delegate Meetings
    • Second Round of Neighborhood Assemblies
    • Voting
    • Evaluation, Implementation & Monitoring
  •  The authors also discuss the varied roles and responsibilities for the divers stakeholders involved in the process:
    • Community Stakeholders
    • Budget Delegates
    • District Committees
    • City-wide Steering Committee  Council Member Offices
Masser, Kai. “Participatory Budgeting as Its Critics See It.” Burgerhaushalt, April 30, 2013. http://bit.ly/1dppSxW.
  • This report is a critique of the participatory budgeting (PB) process, focusing on lessons learned from the outcomes of a pilot initiative in Germany.
  • The reports focuses on three main criticisms leveled against PB:
    • Participatory Budgeting can be a time consuming process that is barely comprehensive to the people it seeks to engage, as a result there is need for information about the budget, and a strong willingness to participate in preparing it.
    • Differences in the social structure of the participants inevitably affect the outcome – the process must be designed to avoid low participation or over-representation of one group.
    • PB cannot be sustained over a prolonged period and should therefore focus on one aspect of the budgeting process. The article points to outcomes that show that citizens may find it considerably more attractive to make proposals on how to spend money than on how to save it, which may not always result in the best outcomes.
OECD. “Citizens as Partners: Information, Consultation and Public Participation in Policy-making.” The IT Law Wiki. http://bit.ly/1aIGquc.
  • This OECD policy report features discussion on the concept of crowdsourcing as a new form or representation and public participation in OECD countries, with the understanding that it creates avenues for citizens to participate in public policy-making within the overall framework of representative democracy.
  • The report provides a wealth of comparative information on measures adopted in OECD countries to strengthen citizens’ access to information, to enhance consultation and encourage their active participation in policy-making.

Tchorbadjiiski, Angel. “Liquid Democracy.” Rheinisch-Westf alische Technische Hochschule Aachen Informatik 4 ComSy, 2012. http://bit.ly/1eOsbIH.

  • This thesis presents discusses how Liquid Democracy (LD) makes it for citizens participating in an election to “either take part directly or delegate [their] own voting rights to a representative/expert. This way the voters are not limited to taking one decision for legislative period as opposed to indirect (representative) democracy, but are able to actively and continuously take part in the decision-making process.”
  • Tchorbadjiiski argues that, “LD provides great flexibility. You do not have to decide yourself on the program of a political party, which only suits some aspects of your opinion.” Through LD, “all voters can choose between direct and indirect democracy creating a hybrid government form suiting their own views.”
  • In addition to describing the potential benefits of Liquid Democracy, Tchorbadjiiski focuses on the challenge of maintaining privacy and security in such a system. He proposes a platform that “allows for secure and anonymous voting in such a way that it is not possible, even for the system operator, to find out the identity of a voter or to prevent certain voters (for example minority groups) from casting a ballot.”

Findings from the emerging field of Transparency Research


Tiago Peixoto: “HEC Paris has just hosted the 3rd Global Conference on Transparency Research, and they have made the list of accepted papers available. …
As one goes through the papers,  it is clear that unlike most of the open government space, when it comes to research, transparency is treated less as a matter of technology and formats and more as a matter of social and political institutions.  And that is a good thing.”
This year’s papers are listed below:

Open Government and Its Constraints


Blog entry by Panthea Lee: “Open government” is everywhere. Search the term and you’ll find OpenGovernment.orgOpenTheGovernment.orgOpen Government InitiativeOpen Gov Hub and the Open Gov Foundation; you’ll find open government initiatives for New York CityBostonKansasVirginiaTennessee and the list goes on; you’ll find dedicated open government plans for the White HouseState DepartmentUSAIDTreasuryJustice DepartmentCommerceEnergy and just about every other major federal agency. Even the departments of Defense and Homeland Security are in on open government.
And that’s just in the United States.
There is Open Government AfricaOpen Government in the EU and Open Government Data. The World Bank has an Open Government Data Toolkit and recently announced a three-year initiative to help developing countries leverage open data. And this week, over 1,000 delegates from over 60 countries are in London for the annual meeting of the Open Government Partnership, which has grown from 8 to 60 member states in just two years….
Many of us have no consensus or clarity on just what exactly “open government” iswhat we hope to achieve from it or how to measure our progress. Too often, our initiatives are designed through the narrow lenses of our own biases and without a concrete understanding of those they are intended for — both those in and out of government.
If we hope to realize the promise of more open governments, let’s be clear about the barriers we face so that we may start to overcome them.
Barrier 1: “Open Gov” is…?
Open government is… not new, for starters….
Barrier 2: Open Gov is Not Inclusive
The central irony of open government is that it’s often not “open” at all….
Barrier 3: Open Gov Lacks Empathy
Open government practitioners love to speak of “the citizen” and “the government.” But who exactly are these people? Too often, we don’t really know. We are builders, makers and creators with insufficient understanding of whom we are building, making and creating for…On the flip side, who do we mean by “the government?” And why, gosh darn it, is it so slow to innovate? Simply put, “the government” is comprised of individual people working in environments that are not conducive to innovation….
For open government to realize its potential, we must overcome these barriers.”

The GovLab Academy: A Community and Platform for Learning and Teaching Governance Innovations


Press Release: “Today the Governance Lab (The GovLab) launches The GovLab Academy at the Open Government Partnership Annual Meeting in London.
Available at www.thegovlabacademy.org, the Academy is a free online community for those wanting to teach and learn how to solve public problems and improve lives using innovations in governance. A partnership between The GovLab  at New York University and MIT Media Lab’s Online Learning Initiative, the site launching today offers curated videos, podcasts, readings and activities designed to enable the purpose driven learner to deepen his or her practical knowledge at her own pace.
The GovLab Academy is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “The GovLab Academy addresses a growing need among policy makers at all levels – city, federal and global – to leverage advances in technology to govern differently,” says Carol Coletta, Vice President of Community and National Initiatives at the Knight Foundation.  “By connecting the latest technological innovations to a community of willing mentors, the Academy has the potential to catalyze more experimentation in a sector that badly needs it.”
Initial topics include using data to improve policymaking and cover the role of big data, urban analytics, smart disclosure and open data in governance. A second track focuses on online engagement and includes practical strategies for using crowdsourcing to solicit ideas, organize distributed work and gather data.  The site features both curated content drawn from a variety of sources and original interviews with innovators from government, civil society, the tech industry, the arts and academia talking about their work around the world implementing innovations in practice, what worked and what didn’t, to improve real people’s lives.
Beth Noveck, Founder and Director of The GovLab, describes its mission: “The Academy is an experiment in peer production where every teacher is a learner and every learner a teacher. Consistent with The GovLab’s commitment to measuring what works, we want to measure our success by the people contributing as well as consuming content. We invite everyone with ideas, stories, insights and practical wisdom to contribute to what we hope will be a thriving and diverse community for social change”.”

New U.S. Open Government National Action Plan


The White House Fact Sheet: “In September 2011, President Obama joined the leaders of seven other nations in announcing the launch of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) – a global effort to encourage transparent, effective, and accountable governance.
Two years later, OGP has grown to 60 countries that have made more than 1000 commitments to improve the governance of more than two billion people around the globe.  OGP is now a global community of government reformers, civil society leaders, and business innovators working together to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms and advance good governance…
Today at the OGP summit in London, the United States announced a new U.S. Open Government National Action Plan that includes six ambitious new commitments that will advance these efforts even further.  Those commitments include expanding open data, modernizing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), increasing fiscal transparency, increasing corporate transparency, advancing citizen engagement and empowerment, and more effectively managing public resources.
Expand Open Data:  Open Data fuels innovation that grows the economy and advances government transparency and accountability.  Government data has been used by journalists to uncover variations in hospital billings, by citizens to learn more about the social services provided by charities in their communities, and by entrepreneurs building new software tools to help farmers plan and manage their crops.  Building upon the successful implementation of open data commitments in the first U.S. National Action Plan, the new Plan will include commitments to make government data more accessible and useful for the public, such as reforming how Federal agencies manage government data as a strategic asset, launching a new version of Data.gov, and expanding agriculture and nutrition data to help farmers and communities.
Modernize the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA):  The FOIA encourages accountability through transparency and represents a profound national commitment to open government principles.  Improving FOIA administration is one of the most effective ways to make the U.S. Government more open and accountable.  Today, the United States announced a series of commitments to further modernize FOIA processes, including launching a consolidated online FOIA service to improve customers’ experience and making training resources available to FOIA professionals and other Federal employees.
Increase Fiscal Transparency:   The Administration will further increase the transparency of where Federal tax dollars are spent by making federal spending data more easily available on USASpending.gov; facilitating the publication of currently unavailable procurement contract information; and enabling Americans to more easily identify who is receiving tax dollars, where those entities or individuals are located, and how much they receive.
Increase Corporate Transparency:  Preventing criminal organizations from concealing the true ownership and control of businesses they operate is a critical element in safeguarding U.S. and international financial markets, addressing tax avoidance, and combatting corruption in the United States and abroad.  Today we committed to take further steps to enhance transparency of legal entities formed in the United States.
Advance Citizen Engagement and Empowerment:  OGP was founded on the principle that an active and robust civil society is critical to open and accountable governance.  In the next year, the Administration will intensify its efforts to roll back and prevent new restrictions on civil society around the world in partnership with other governments, multilateral institutions, the philanthropy community, the private sector, and civil society.  This effort will focus on improving the legal and regulatory framework for civil society, promoting best practices for government-civil society collaboration, and conceiving of new and innovative ways to support civil society globally.
More Effectively Manage Public Resources:   Two years ago, the Administration committed to ensuring that American taxpayers receive every dollar due for the extraction of the nation’s natural resources by committing to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  We continue to work toward achieving full EITI compliance in 2016.  Additionally, the U.S. Government will disclose revenues on geothermal and renewable energy and discuss future disclosure of timber revenues.
For more information on OGP, please visit www.opengovpartnership.org or follow @opengovpart on Twitter.”
See also White House Plans a Single FOIA Portal Across Government

Open Data Barometer


Press Release by the Open Data Research Network: “New research by World Wide Web Foundation and Open Data Institute shows that 55% of countries surveyed have open data initiatives in place, yet less than 10% of key government datasets across the world are truly open to the public…the Open Data Barometer. This 77-country study, which considers the interlinked areas of policy, implementation and impact, ranks the UK at number one. The USA, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark and Norway (tied) make up the rest of the top five. Kenya is ranked as the most advanced developing country, outperforming richer countries such as Ireland, Italy and Belgium in global comparisons.

The Barometer reveals that:

  • 55% of countries surveyed have formal open data policies in place.

  • Valuable but potentially controversial datasets – such as company registers and land registers – are among the least likely to be openly released. It is unclear whether this stems from reluctance to drop lucrative access charges, or from desire to keep a lid on politically sensitive information, or both. However, the net effect is to severely limit the accountability benefits of open data.

  • When they are released, government datasets are often issued in inaccessible formats. Across the nations surveyed, fewer that than 1 in 10 key datasets that could be used to hold governments to account, stimulate enterprise, and promote better social policy, are available and truly open for re-use.

The research also makes the case that:

  • Efforts should be made to empower civil society, entrepreneurs and members of the public to use government data made available, rather than simply publishing data online.

  • Business activity and innovation can be boosted by strong open data policies.  In Denmark, for example, free of charge access to address data has had a significant economic impact. In 2010, an evaluation recorded an estimated financial benefit to society of EUR 62 million against costs of EUR 2million.”

Crowdsourcing the sounds of cities’ quiet spots


Springwise: “Finding a place in the city to collect your thoughts and enjoy some quietude is a rare thing. While startups such as Breather are set to open up private spaces for work and relaxation in several US cities, a new project called Stereopublic is hoping to map the ones already there, recruiting citizens to collect the sounds of those spaces.
Participants can download the free iOS app created by design studio Freerange Future, which enables them to become an ‘earwitness’. When they discover a tranquil spot in their city, they can use their GPS co-ordinates to record its exact location on the Stereopublic map, as well as record a 30-second sound clip and take a photo to give others a better idea of what it’s like. The team then works with sound experts to create quiet tours of each participating city, which currently includes Adelaide, London, LA, New York City, Singapore and 26 other global cities. The video below offers some more information about the project:

 

Open Data Index provides first major assessment of state of open government data


Press Release from the Open Knowledge Foundation: “In the week of a major international summit on government transparency in London, the Open Knowledge Foundation has published its 2013 Open Data Index, showing that governments are still not providing enough information in an accessible form to their citizens and businesses.
The UK and US top the 2013 Index, which is a result of community-based surveys in 70 countries. They are followed by Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. Of the countries assessed, Cyprus, St Kitts & Nevis, the British Virgin Islands, Kenya and Burkina Faso ranked lowest. There are many countries where the governments are less open but that were not assessed because of lack of openness or a sufficiently engaged civil society. This includes 30 countries who are members of the Open Government Partnership.
The Index ranks countries based on the availability and accessibility of information in ten key areas, including government spending, election results, transport timetables, and pollution levels, and reveals that whilst some good progress is being made, much remains to be done.
Rufus Pollock, Founder and CEO of the Open Knowledge Foundation said:

Opening up government data drives democracy, accountability and innovation. It enables citizens to know and exercise their rights, and it brings benefits across society: from transport, to education and health. There has been a welcome increase in support for open data from governments in the last few years, but this Index reveals that too much valuable information is still unavailable.

The UK and US are leaders on open government data but even they have room for improvement: the US for example does not provide a single consolidated and open register of corporations, while the UK Electoral Commission lets down the UK’s good overall performance by not allowing open reuse of UK election data.
There is a very disappointing degree of openness of company registers across the board: only 5 out of the 20 leading countries have even basic information available via a truly open licence, and only 10 allow any form of bulk download. This information is critical for range of reasons – including tackling tax evasion and other forms of financial crime and corruption.
Less than half of the key datasets in the top 20 countries are available to re-use as open data, showing that even the leading countries do not fully understand the importance of citizens and businesses being able to legally and technically use, reuse and redistribute data. This enables them to build and share commercial and non-commercial services.
To see the full results: https://index.okfn.org. For graphs of the data: https://index.okfn.org/visualisations.”