Government at a Glance 2019


OECD Report: “Government at a Glance provides reliable, internationally comparative data on government activities and their results in OECD countries. Where possible, it also reports data for Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation and South Africa. In many public governance areas, it is the only available source of data. It includes input, process, output and outcome indicators as well as contextual information for each country.

The 2019 edition includes input indicators on public finance and employment; while processes include data on institutions, budgeting practices and procedures, human resources management, regulatory government, public procurement and digital government and open data. Outcomes cover core government results (e.g. trust, inequality reduction) and indicators on access, responsiveness, quality and citizen satisfaction for the education, health and justice sectors.

Governance indicators are especially useful for monitoring and benchmarking governments’ progress in their public sector reforms.Each indicator in the publication is presented in a user-friendly format, consisting of graphs and/or charts illustrating variations across countries and over time, brief descriptive analyses highlighting the major findings conveyed by the data, and a methodological section on the definition of the indicator and any limitations in data comparability….(More)”.

Urban Slums in a Datafying Milieu: Challenges for Data-Driven Research Practice


Paper by Bijal Brahmbhatt et al: “With the ongoing trend of urban datafication and growing use of data/evidence to shape developmental initiatives by state as well as non-state actors, this exploratory case study engages with the complex and often contested domains of data use. This study uses on-the-ground experience of working with informal settlements in Indian cities to examine how information value chains work in practice and the contours of their power to intervene in building an agenda of social justice into governance regimes. Using illustrative examples from ongoing action-oriented projects of Mahila Housing Trust in India such as the Energy Audit Project, Slum Mapping Exercise and women-led climate resilience building under the Global Resilience Partnership, it raises questions about challenges of making effective linkages between data, knowledge and action in and for slum communities in the global South by focussing on two issues.

First, it reveals dilemmas of achieving data accuracy when working with slum communities in developing cities where populations are dynamically changing, and where digitisation and use of ICT has limited operational currency. The second issue focuses on data ownership. It foregrounds the need for complementary inputs and the heavy requirement for support systems in informal settlements in order to translate data-driven knowledge into actionable forms. Absence of these will blunt the edge of data-driven community participation in local politics. Through these intersecting streams, the study attempts to address how entanglements between southern urbanism, datafication, governance and social justice diversify the discourse on data justice. It highlights existing hurdles and structural hierarchies within a data-heavy developmental register emergent across multiple cities in the global South where data-driven governmental regimes interact with convoluted urban forms and realities….(More)”.

‘Digital colonialism’: why some countries want to take control of their people’s data from Big Tech


Jacqueline Hicks at the Conversation: “There is a global standoff going on about who stores your data. At the close of June’s G20 summit in Japan, a number of developing countries refused to sign an international declaration on data flows – the so-called Osaka Track. Part of the reason why countries such as India, Indonesia and South Africa boycotted the declaration was because they had no opportunity to put their own interests about data into the document.

With 50 other signatories, the declaration still stands as a statement of future intent to negotiate further, but the boycott represents an ongoing struggle by some countries to assert their claim over the data generated by their own citizens.

Back in the dark ages of 2016, data was touted as the new oil. Although the metaphor was quickly debunked it’s still a helpful way to understand the global digital economy. Now, as international negotiations over data flows intensify, the oil comparison helps explain the economics of what’s called “data localisation” – the bid to keep citizens’ data within their own country.

Just as oil-producing nations pushed for oil refineries to add value to crude oil, so governments today want the world’s Big Tech companies to build data centres on their own soil. The cloud that powers much of the world’s tech industry is grounded in vast data centres located mainly around northern Europe and the US coasts. Yet, at the same time, US Big Tech companies are increasingly turning to markets in the global south for expansion as enormous numbers of young tech savvy populations come online….(More)”.

Great Policy Successes


Book by Mallory Compton and Edited by Paul ‘t Hart: “With so much media and political criticism of their shortcomings and failures, it is easy to overlook the fact that many governments work pretty well much of the time. Great Policy Successes turns the spotlight on instances of public policy that are remarkably successful. It develops a framework for identifying and assessing policy successes, paying attention not just to their programmatic outcomes but also to the quality of the processes by which policies are designed and delivered, the level of support and legitimacy they attain, and the extent to which successful performance endures over time. The bulk of the book is then devoted to 15 detailed case studies of striking policy successes from around the world, including Singapore’s public health system, Copenhagen and Melbourne’s rise from stilted backwaters to the highly liveable and dynamic urban centres they are today, Brazil’s Bolsa Familia poverty relief scheme, the US’s GI Bill, and Germany’s breakthrough labour market reforms of the 2000s. Each case is set in context, its main actors are introduced, key events and decisions are described, the assessment framework is applied to gauge the nature and level of its success, key contributing factors to success are identified, and potential lessons and future challenges are identified. Purposefully avoiding the kind of heavy theorizing that characterizes many accounts of public policy processes, each case is written in an accessible and narrative style ideally suited for classroom use in conjunction with mainstream textbooks on public policy design, implementation, and evaluation….(More)”.

The Art of Values-Based Innovation for Humanitarian Action


Chris Earney & Aarathi Krishnan at SSIR: “Contrary to popular belief, innovation isn’t new to the humanitarian sector. Organizations like the Red Cross and Red Crescent have a long history of innovating in communities around the world. Humanitarians have worked both on a global scale—for example, to innovate financing and develop the Humanitarian Code of Conduct—and on a local level—to reduce urban fire risks in informal settlements in Kenya, for instance, and improve waste management to reduce flood risks in Indonesia.

Even in its more-bureaucratic image more than 50 years ago, the United Nations commissioned a report to better understand the role that innovation, science, and technology could play in advancing human rights and development. Titled the “Sussex Manifesto,” the report outlined how to reshape and reorganize the role of innovation and technology so that it was more relevant, equitable, and accessible to the humanitarian and development sectors. Although those who commissioned the manifesto ultimately deemed it too ambitious for its era, the effort nevertheless reflects the UN’s longstanding interest in understanding how far-reaching ideas can elicit fundamental and needed progress. It challenged the humanitarian system to be explicit about its values and understand how those values could lead to radical actions for the betterment of humanity.

Since then, 27 UN organizations have formed teams dedicated to supporting innovation. Today, the aspiration to innovate extends to NGOs and donor communities, and has led to myriad approaches to brainstorming, design thinking, co-creation, and other activities developed to support novelty.

However, in the face of a more-globalized, -connected, and -complex world, we need to, more than ever, position innovation as a bold and courageous way of doing things. It’s common for people to demote innovation as a process that tinkers around the edges of organizations, but we need to think about innovation as a tool for changing the way systems work and our practices so that they better serve communities. This matters, because humanitarian needs are only going to grow, and the resources available to us likely won’t match that need. When the values that underpin our attitudes and behaviors as humanitarians drive innovation, we can better focus our efforts and create more impact with less—and we’re going to have to…(More)”.

Misinformation Has Created a New World Disorder


Claire Wardle at Scientific American: “…Online misinformation has been around since the mid-1990s. But in 2016 several events made it broadly clear that darker forces had emerged: automation, microtargeting and coordination were fueling information campaigns designed to manipulate public opinion at scale. Journalists in the Philippines started raising flags as Rodrigo Duterte rose to power, buoyed by intensive Facebook activity. This was followed by unexpected results in the Brexit referendum in June and then the U.S. presidential election in November—all of which sparked researchers to systematically investigate the ways in which information was being used as a weapon.

During the past three years the discussion around the causes of our polluted information ecosystem has focused almost entirely on actions taken (or not taken) by the technology companies. But this fixation is too simplistic. A complex web of societal shifts is making people more susceptible to misinformation and conspiracy. Trust in institutions is falling because of political and economic upheaval, most notably through ever widening income inequality. The effects of climate change are becoming more pronounced. Global migration trends spark concern that communities will change irrevocably. The rise of automation makes people fear for their jobs and their privacy.

Bad actors who want to deepen existing tensions understand these societal trends, designing content that they hope will so anger or excite targeted users that the audience will become the messenger. The goal is that users will use their own social capital to reinforce and give credibility to that original message.

Most of this content is designed not to persuade people in any particular direction but to cause confusion, to overwhelm and to undermine trust in democratic institutions from the electoral system to journalism. And although much is being made about preparing the U.S. electorate for the 2020 election, misleading and conspiratorial content did not begin with the 2016 presidential race, and it will not end after this one. As tools designed to manipulate and amplify content become cheaper and more accessible, it will be even easier to weaponize users as unwitting agents of disinformation….(More)”.

Credit: Jen Christiansen; Source: Information Disorder: Toward an Interdisciplinary Framework for Research and Policymaking, by Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan. Council of Europe, October 2017

This Is Not an Atlas.


Book by kollektiv orangotango: “This Is Not an Atlas gathers more than 40 counter-cartographies from all over the world. This collection shows how maps are created and transformed as a part of political struggle, for critical research or in art and education: from indigenous territories in the Amazon to the anti-eviction movement in San Francisco; from defending commons in Mexico to mapping refugee camps with balloons in Lebanon; from slums in Nairobi to squats in Berlin; from supporting communities in the Philippines to reporting sexual harassment in Cairo. This Is Not an Atlas seeks to inspire, to document the underrepresented, and to be a useful companion when becoming a counter-cartographer yourself….(More)”.

The Psychology of Prediction


Blog post by Morgan Housel: “During the Vietnam War Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara tracked every combat statistic he could, creating a mountain of analytics and predictions to guide the war’s strategy.

Edward Lansdale, head of special operations at the Pentagon, once looked at McNamara’s statistics and told him something was missing.

“What?” McNamara asked.

“The feelings of the Vietnamese people,” Landsdale said.

That’s not the kind of thing a statistician pays attention to. But, boy, did it matter.

I believe in prediction. I think you have to in order to get out of bed in the morning.

But prediction is hard. Either you know that or you’re in denial about it.

A lot of the reason it’s hard is because the visible stuff that happens in the world is a small fraction of the hidden stuff that goes on inside people’s heads. The former is easy to overanalyze; the latter is easy to ignore.

This report describes 12 common flaws, errors, and misadventures that occur in people’s heads when predictions are made….(More)”.

An open platform centric approach for scalable government service delivery to the poor: The Aadhaar case


Paper by Sandip Mukhopadhyay, Harry Bouwman and Mahadeo PrasadJaiswal: “The efficient delivery of government services to the poor, or Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP), faces many challenges. While a core problem is the lack of scalability, that could be solved by the rapid proliferation of platforms and associated ecosystems. Existing research involving platforms focus on modularity, openness, ecosystem leadership and governance, as well as on their impact on innovation, scale and agility. However, existing studies fail to explore the role of platform in scalable e-government services delivery on an empirical level. Based on an in-depth case study of the world’s largest biometric identity platform, used by millions of the poor in India, we develop a set of propositions connecting the attributes of a digital platform ecosystem to different indicators for the scalability of government service delivery. We found that modular architecture, combined with limited functionality in core modules, and open standards combined with controlled access and ecosystem governance enabled by keystone behaviour, have a positive impact on scalability. The research provides insights to policy-makers and government officials alike, particularly those in nations struggling to provide basic services to poor and marginalised. …(More)”.

Bringing Truth to the Internet


Article by Karen Kornbluh and Ellen P. Goodman: “The first volume of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report notes that “sweeping” and “systemic” social media disinformation was a key element of Russian interference in the 2016 election. No sooner were Mueller’s findings public than Twitter suspended a host of bots who had been promoting a “Russiagate hoax.”

Since at least 2016, conspiracy theories like Pizzagate and QAnon have flourished online and bled into mainstream debate. Earlier this year, a British member of Parliament called social media companies “accessories to radicalization” for their role in hosting and amplifying radical hate groups after the New Zealand mosque shooter cited and attempted to fuel more of these groups. In Myanmar, anti-Rohingya forces used Facebook to spread rumors that spurred ethnic cleansing, according to a UN special rapporteur. These platforms are vulnerable to those who aim to prey on intolerance, peer pressure, and social disaffection. Our democracies are being compromised. They work only if the information ecosystem has integrity—if it privileges truth and channels difference into nonviolent discourse. But the ecosystem is increasingly polluted.

Around the world, a growing sense of urgency about the need to address online radicalization is leading countries to embrace ever more draconian solutions: After the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, the government shut down access to Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social media platforms. And a number of countries are considering adopting laws requiring social media companies to remove unlawful hate speech or face hefty penalties. According to Freedom House, “In the past year, at least 17 countries approved or proposed laws that would restrict online media in the name of fighting ‘fake news’ and online manipulation.”

The flaw with these censorious remedies is this: They focus on the content that the user sees—hate speech, violent videos, conspiracy theories—and not on the structural characteristics of social media design that create vulnerabilities. Content moderation requirements that cannot scale are not only doomed to be ineffective exercises in whack-a-mole, but they also create free expression concerns, by turning either governments or platforms into arbiters of acceptable speech. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, content moderation has become justification for shutting down dissident speech.

When countries pressure platforms to root out vaguely defined harmful content and disregard the design vulnerabilities that promote that content’s amplification, they are treating a symptom and ignoring the disease. The question isn’t “How do we moderate?” Instead, it is “How do we promote design change that optimizes for citizen control, transparency, and privacy online?”—exactly the values that the early Internet promised to embody….(More)”.