Democracy Beyond Voting and Protests


Sasha Fisher at Project Syndicate: “For over a decade now, we have witnessed more elections and, simultaneously, less democracy. According to Bloomberg, elections have been occurring more frequently around the world. Yet Freedom House finds that some 110 countries have experienced declines in political and civil rights over the past 13 years.

As democracy declines, so does our sense of community. In the United States, this is evidenced by a looming loneliness epidemicand the rapid disappearance of civic institutions such as churches, eight of which close every day. And though these trends are global in nature, the US exemplifies them in the extreme.

This is no coincidence. As Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out in the 1830s, America’s founders envisioned a country governed not by shared values, but by self-interest. That vision has since defined America’s institutions, and fostered a hyper-individualistic society.

Growing distrust in governing institutions has fueled a rise in authoritarian populist movements around the world. Citizens are demanding individual economic security and retreating into an isolationist mentality. ...

And yet we know that “user engagement” works, as shown by countless studies and human experiences. For example, an evaluation conducted in Uganda found that the more citizens participated in the design of health programs, the more the perception of the health-care system improved. And in Indonesia, direct citizen involvement in government decision-making has led to higher satisfaction with government services....

While the Western world suffers from over-individualization, the most notable governance and economic innovations are taking place in the Global South. In Rwanda, for example, the government has introduced policies to encourage grassroots solutions that strengthen citizens’ sense of community and shared accountability. Through monthly community-service meetings, families and individuals work together to build homes for the needy, fix roads, and pool funds to invest in better farming practices and equipment.

Imagine if over 300 million Americans convened every month for a similar purpose. There would suddenly be billions more citizen hours invested in neighbor-to-neighbor interaction and citizen action.

This was one of the main effects of the Village Savings and Loan Associations that originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Within communities, members have access to loans to start small businesses and save for a rainy day. The model works because it leverages neighbor-to-neighbor accountability. Likewise, from Haiti to Liberia to Burundi and beyond, community-based health systems have proven effective precisely because health workers know their neighbors and their needs. Community health workers go from home to home, checking in on pregnant mothers and making sure they are cared for. Each of these solutions uses and strengthens communal accountability through shared engagement – not traditional vertical accountability lines.

If we believe in the democratic principle that governments must be accountable to citizens, we should build systems that hold us accountable to each other – and we must engage beyond elections and protests. We must usher in a new era of community-driven democracy – power must be decentralized and placed in the hands of families and communities.

When we achieve community-driven democracy, we will engage with one another and with our governments – not just on special occasions, but continuously, because our democracy and freedom depend on us….(More)” (See also Index on Trust in Institutions)

How Tech Utopia Fostered Tyranny


Jon Askonas at The New Atlantis: “The rumors spread like wildfire: Muslims were secretly lacing a Sri Lankan village’s food with sterilization drugs. Soon, a video circulated that appeared to show a Muslim shopkeeper admitting to drugging his customers — he had misunderstood the question that was angrily put to him. Then all hell broke loose. Over a several-day span, dozens of mosques and Muslim-owned shops and homes were burned down across multiple towns. In one home, a young journalist was trapped, and perished.

Mob violence is an old phenomenon, but the tools encouraging it, in this case, were not. As the New York Times reported in April, the rumors were spread via Facebook, whose newsfeed algorithm prioritized high-engagement content, especially videos. “Designed to maximize user time on site,” as the Times article describes, the newsfeed algorithm “promotes whatever wins the most attention. Posts that tap into negative, primal emotions like anger or fear, studies have found, produce the highest engagement, and so proliferate.” On Facebook in Sri Lanka, posts with incendiary rumors had among the highest engagement rates, and so were among the most highly promoted content on the platform. Similar cases of mob violence have taken place in India, Myanmar, Mexico, and elsewhere, with misinformation spread mainly through Facebook and the messaging tool WhatsApp.

Follow The New AtlantisThis is in spite of Facebook’s decision in January 2018 to tweak its algorithm, apparently to prevent the kind of manipulation we saw in the 2016 U.S. election, when posts and election ads originating from Russia reportedly showed up in newsfeeds of up to 126 million American Facebook users. The company explained that the changes to its algorithm will mean that newsfeeds will be “showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation,” and “less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.” But these changes, which Facebook had tested out in countries like Sri Lanka in the previous year, may actually have exacerbated the problem — which is that incendiary content, when posted by friends and family, is guaranteed to “spark conversation” and therefore to be prioritized in newsfeeds. This is because “misinformation is almost always more interesting than the truth,” as Mathew Ingram provocatively put it in the Columbia Journalism Review.

How did we get here, from Facebook’s mission to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”? Riot-inducing “fake news” and election meddling are obviously far from what its founders intended for the platform. Likewise, Google’s founders surely did not build their search engine with the intention of its being censored in China to suppress free speech, and yet, after years of refusing this demand from Chinese leadership, Google has recently relented rather than pull their search engine from China entirely. And YouTube’s creators surely did not intend their feature that promotes “trending” content to help clickbait conspiracy-theory videos go viral.

These outcomes — not merely unanticipated by the companies’ founders but outright opposed to their intentions — are not limited to social media. So far, Big Tech companies have presented issues of incitement, algorithmic radicalization, and “fake news” as merely bumps on the road of progress, glitches and bugs to be patched over. In fact, the problem goes deeper, to fundamental questions of human nature. Tools based on the premise that access to information will only enlighten us and social connectivity will only make us more humane have instead fanned conspiracy theories, information bubbles, and social fracture. A tech movement spurred by visions of libertarian empowerment and progressive uplift has instead fanned a global resurgence of populism and authoritarianism.

Despite the storm of criticism, Silicon Valley has still failed to recognize in these abuses a sharp rebuke of its sunny view of human nature. It remains naïvely blind to how its own aspirations for social engineering are on a spectrum with the tools’ “unintended” uses by authoritarian regimes and nefarious actors….(More)”.

Index: Open Data


By Alexandra Shaw, Michelle Winowatan, Andrew Young, and Stefaan Verhulst

The Living Library Index – inspired by the Harper’s Index – provides important statistics and highlights global trends in governance innovation. This installment focuses on open data and was originally published in 2018.

Value and Impact

  • The projected year at which all 28+ EU member countries will have a fully operating open data portal: 2020

  • Between 2016 and 2020, the market size of open data in Europe is expected to increase by 36.9%, and reach this value by 2020: EUR 75.7 billion

Public Views on and Use of Open Government Data

  • Number of Americans who do not trust the federal government or social media sites to protect their data: Approximately 50%

  • Key findings from The Economist Intelligence Unit report on Open Government Data Demand:

    • Percentage of respondents who say the key reason why governments open up their data is to create greater trust between the government and citizens: 70%

    • Percentage of respondents who say OGD plays an important role in improving lives of citizens: 78%

    • Percentage of respondents who say OGD helps with daily decision making especially for transportation, education, environment: 53%

    • Percentage of respondents who cite lack of awareness about OGD and its potential use and benefits as the greatest barrier to usage: 50%

    • Percentage of respondents who say they lack access to usable and relevant data: 31%

    • Percentage of respondents who think they don’t have sufficient technical skills to use open government data: 25%

    • Percentage of respondents who feel the number of OGD apps available is insufficient, indicating an opportunity for app developers: 20%

    • Percentage of respondents who say OGD has the potential to generate economic value and new business opportunity: 61%

    • Percentage of respondents who say they don’t trust governments to keep data safe, protected, and anonymized: 19%

Efforts and Involvement

  • Time that’s passed since open government advocates convened to create a set of principles for open government data – the instance that started the open data government movement: 10 years

  • Countries participating in the Open Government Partnership today: 79 OGP participating countries and 20 subnational governments

  • Percentage of “open data readiness” in Europe according to European Data Portal: 72%

    • Open data readiness consists of four indicators which are presence of policy, national coordination, licensing norms, and use of data.

  • Number of U.S. cities with Open Data portals: 27

  • Number of governments who have adopted the International Open Data Charter: 62

  • Number of non-state organizations endorsing the International Open Data Charter: 57

  • Number of countries analyzed by the Open Data Index: 94

  • Number of Latin American countries that do not have open data portals as of 2017: 4 total – Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua

  • Number of cities participating in the Open Data Census: 39

Demand for Open Data

  • Open data demand measured by frequency of open government data use according to The Economist Intelligence Unit report:

    • Australia

      • Monthly: 15% of respondents

      • Quarterly: 22% of respondents

      • Annually: 10% of respondents

    • Finland

      • Monthly: 28% of respondents

      • Quarterly: 18% of respondents

      • Annually: 20% of respondents

    •  France

      • Monthly: 27% of respondents

      • Quarterly: 17% of respondents

      • Annually: 19% of respondents

        •  
    • India

      • Monthly: 29% of respondents

      • Quarterly: 20% of respondents

      • Annually: 10% of respondents

    • Singapore

      • Monthly: 28% of respondents

      • Quarterly: 15% of respondents

      • Annually: 17% of respondents 

    • UK

      • Monthly: 23% of respondents

      • Quarterly: 21% of respondents

      • Annually: 15% of respondents

    • US

      • Monthly: 16% of respondents

      • Quarterly: 15% of respondents

      • Annually: 20% of respondents

  • Number of FOIA requests received in the US for fiscal year 2017: 818,271

  • Number of FOIA request processed in the US for fiscal year 2017: 823,222

  • Distribution of FOIA requests in 2017 among top 5 agencies with highest number of request:

    • DHS: 45%

    • DOJ: 10%

    • NARA: 7%

    • DOD: 7%

    • HHS: 4%

Examining Datasets

  • Country with highest index score according to ODB Leaders Edition: Canada (76 out of 100)

  • Country with lowest index score according to ODB Leaders Edition: Sierra Leone (22 out of 100)

  • Number of datasets open in the top 30 governments according to ODB Leaders Edition: Fewer than 1 in 5

  • Average percentage of datasets that are open in the top 30 open data governments according to ODB Leaders Edition: 19%

  • Average percentage of datasets that are open in the top 30 open data governments according to ODB Leaders Edition by sector/subject:

    • Budget: 30%

    • Companies: 13%

    • Contracts: 27%

    • Crime: 17%

    • Education: 13%

    • Elections: 17%

    • Environment: 20%

    • Health: 17%

    • Land: 7%

    • Legislation: 13%

    • Maps: 20%

    • Spending: 13%

    • Statistics: 27%

    • Trade: 23%

    • Transport: 30%

  • Percentage of countries that release data on government spending according to ODB Leaders Edition: 13%

  • Percentage of government data that is updated at regular intervals according to ODB Leaders Edition: 74%

  • Number of datasets available through:

  • Number of datasets classed as “open” in 94 places worldwide analyzed by the Open Data Index: 11%

  • Percentage of open datasets in the Caribbean, according to Open Data Census: 7%

  • Number of companies whose data is available through OpenCorporates: 158,589,950

City Open Data

  • New York City

  • Singapore

    • Number of datasets published in Singapore: 1,480

    • Percentage of datasets with standardized format: 35%

    • Percentage of datasets made as raw as possible: 25%

  • Barcelona

    • Number of datasets published in Barcelona: 443

    • Open data demand in Barcelona measured by:

      • Number of unique sessions in the month of September 2018: 5,401

    • Quality of datasets published in Barcelona according to Tim Berners Lee 5-star Open Data: 3 stars

  • London

    • Number of datasets published in London: 762

    • Number of data requests since October 2014: 325

  • Bandung

    • Number of datasets published in Bandung: 1,417

  • Buenos Aires

    • Number of datasets published in Buenos Aires: 216

  • Dubai

    • Number of datasets published in Dubai: 267

  • Melbourne

    • Number of datasets published in Melbourne: 199

Sources

  • About OGP, Open Government Partnership. 2018.  

Seven design principles for using blockchain for social impact


Stefaan Verhulst at Apolitical: “2018 will probably be remembered as the bust of the blockchain hype. Yet even as crypto currencies continue to sink in value and popular interest, the potential of using blockchain technologies to achieve social ends remains important to consider but poorly understood.

In 2019, business will continue to explore blockchain for sectors as disparate as finance, agriculture, logistics and healthcare. Policymakers and social innovators should also leverage 2019 to become more sophisticated about blockchain’s real promise, limitations  and current practice.

In a recent report I prepared with Andrew Young, with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, we looked at the potential risks and challenges of using blockchain for social change — or “Blockchan.ge.” A number of implementations and platforms are already demonstrating potential social impact.

The technology is now being used to address issues as varied as homelessness in New York City, the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and government corruption around the world.

In an illustration of the breadth of current experimentation, Stanford’s Center for Social Innovation recently analysed and mapped nearly 200 organisations and projects trying to create positive social change using blockchain. Likewise, the GovLab is developing a mapping of blockchange implementations across regions and topic areas; it currently contains 60 entries.

All these examples provide impressive — and hopeful — proof of concept. Yet despite the very clear potential of blockchain, there has been little systematic analysis. For what types of social impact is it best suited? Under what conditions is it most likely to lead to real social change? What challenges does blockchain face, what risks does it pose and how should these be confronted and mitigated?

These are just some of the questions our report, which builds its analysis on 10 case studies assembled through original research, seeks to address.

While the report is focused on identity management, it contains a number of lessons and insights that are applicable more generally to the subject of blockchange.

In particular, it contains seven design principles that can guide individuals or organisations considering the use of blockchain for social impact. We call these the Genesis principles, and they are outlined at the end of this article…(More)”.

Implementing Public Policy: Is it possible to escape the ‘Public Policy Futility’ trap?


Blogpost by Matt Andrews:

Screen Shot 2018-12-06 at 6.29.15 PM

“Polls suggest that governments across the world face high levels of citizen dissatisfaction, and low levels of citizen trust. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer found, for instance, that only 43% of those surveyed trust Canada’s government. Only 15% of those surveyed trust government in South Africa, and levels are low in other countries too—including Brazil (at 24%), South Korea (28%), the United Kingdom (36%), Australia, Japan, and Malaysia (37%), Germany (38%), Russia (45%), and the United States (47%). Similar surveys find trust in government averaging only 40-45% across member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and suggest that as few as 31% and 32% of Nigerians and Liberians trust government.

There are many reasons why trust in government is deficient in so many countries, and these reasons differ from place to place. One common factor across many contexts, however, is a lack of confidence that governments can or will address key policy challenges faced by citizens.

Studies show that this confidence deficiency stems from citizen observations or experiences with past public policy failures, which promote jaundiced views of their public officials’ capabilities to deliver. Put simply, citizens lose faith in government when they observe government failing to deliver on policy promises, or to ‘get things done’. Incidentally, studies show that public officials also often lose faith in their own capabilities (and those of their organizations) when they observe, experience or participate in repeated policy implementation failures. Put simply, again, these public officials lose confidence in themselves when they repeatedly fail to ‘get things done’.

I call the ‘public policy futility’ trap—where past public policy failure leads to a lack of confidence in the potential of future policy success, which feeds actual public policy failure, which generates more questions of confidence, in a vicious self fulfilling prophecy. I believe that many governments—and public policy practitioners working within governments—are caught in this trap, and just don’t believe that they can muster the kind of public policy responses needed by their citizens.

Along with my colleagues at the Building State Capability (BSC) program, I believe that many policy communities are caught in this trap, to some degree or another. Policymakers in these communities keep coming up with ideas, and political leaders keep making policy promises, but no one really believes the ideas will solve the problems that need solving or produce the outcomes and impacts that citizens need. Policy promises under such circumstances center on doing what policymakers are confident they can actually implement: like producing research and position papers and plans, or allocating inputs toward the problem (in a budget, for instance), or sponsoring visible activities (holding meetings or engaging high profile ‘experts’ for advice), or producing technical outputs (like new organizations, or laws). But they hold back from promising real solutions to real problems, as they know they cannot really implement them (given past political opposition, perhaps, or the experience of seemingly interactable coordination challenges, or cultural pushback, and more)….(More)”.

Long Live the Human Network Effect


Julia Hobsbawm at Strategy + Business: “Picture the scene. The eyes of the world are on the Tham Luang cave system in Thailand, near the border with Myanmar. Trapped on a rock ledge deep inside is the Wild Boars soccer team of 12 boys and their coach, who had ventured into the caves about two weeks earlier. It is monsoon season. Water is rising and oxygen levels are falling. Not all of the boys can even swim. Time is running out.

Elon Musk proposes building a “kid-sized submarine” to assist the rescue effort. Musk’s solution is politely declined by Thai authorities as “not practical.” In fact, by the time Musk’s sub arrives, most of the boys are already out, alive. One of the most audacious, moving, complex, and successful rescue operations in history relied not on a single technology or hero but on the collaboration of many people, working together in a spontaneous network.

This web of connections came together organically and quickly, unassisted by algorithms, in a unique collaboration led by humans. It was a stunning example of what physicist Albert-László Barabási calls “scale-free networks”: networks that reproduce exponentially by their very nature. The exact same network effects that can be lethal in spreading a virus can be productive — beautiful, even — in creating a web of diverse human skills quickly. Networks, as Barabási puts it, “are everywhere. You just have to look for them.”…

Networks that come together like this and use technology, community, and communications in a timely manner are an example of what the U.N. calls its “leave no one behind” strategy for achieving sustainable development goals. I consider it an example of social health in action: They are the kinds of collaborations that help us live full and productive lives. And in business, there is an exciting opportunity to harness social health and the power of networks to help solve problems.

This kind of social health network, perhaps unsurprisingly, is very visible in innovations in the healthcare sector. A digital health community called The Mighty, for example, is a forum to find information about rare illnesses and connect people facing similar challenges, so that they might learn from the experiences of others. It now has 90 million engagements on its website per month and a new member joins every 20 seconds….(More)”.

Advancing Open Data for Open Governance in Asia


Paper by Michael P. Cañares: “The record of countries in the region in terms of transparency and accountability is dismal. In the latest Corruption Perceptions Index released by Transparency International, more than half of the country in the region scored below 50, with at least a quarter of these are countries considered with systemic corruption problems. Nevertheless, there have been significant attempts of several countries to install transparency measures and project a commitment towards greater openness. At least a dozen of countries has right to information laws that provide citizens’ fundamental access to government information and several have installed open data policies and are implementing e-government programs or practices. But access of citizens to data and information to hold governments to account, demand for better services, and strengthen citizen participation in governance remain elusive.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. OGP’s vision is that more governments become more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens, with the goal of improving the quality of governance, as well as the quality of services that citizens receive. Since its inception in 2011, OGP today brings together 75 countries and 15 subnational governments with over 2,500 commitments to make their governments more open and accountable. In Asia, only the governments of Indonesia, the Philippines, and South Korea are participating countries along with two subnational pilots, Seoul and Bojonegoro. These governments have launched initiatives to involve citizens in the planning and budgeting processes, proactively disclose budget and other public financial information, and engage citizens in monitoring of public service delivery. But these countries remain the exception rather than the norm….(More)”.

Creating Smart Cities


Book edited by Claudio Coletta, Leighton Evans, Liam Heaphy, and Rob Kitchin: “In cities around the world, digital technologies are utilized to manage city services and infrastructures, to govern urban life, to solve urban issues and to drive local and regional economies. While “smart city” advocates are keen to promote the benefits of smart urbanism – increased efficiency, sustainability, resilience, competitiveness, safety and security – critics point to the negative effects, such as the production of technocratic governance, the corporatization of urban services, technological lock-ins, privacy harms and vulnerability to cyberattack.

This book, through a range of international case studies, suggests social, political and practical interventions that would enable more equitable and just smart cities, reaping the benefits of smart city initiatives while minimizing some of their perils.

Included are case studies from Ireland, the United States of America, Colombia, the Netherlands, Singapore, India and the United Kingdom. These chapters discuss a range of issues including political economy, citizenship, standards, testbedding, urban regeneration, ethics, surveillance, privacy and cybersecurity. This book will be of interest to urban policymakers, as well as researchers in Regional Studies and Urban Planning…(More)”.

The biggest pandemic risk? Viral misinformation


Heidi J. Larson at Nature: “A hundred years ago this month, the death rate from the 1918 influenza was at its peak. An estimated 500 million people were infected over the course of the pandemic; between 50 million and 100 million died, around 3% of the global population at the time.

A century on, advances in vaccines have made massive outbreaks of flu — and measles, rubella, diphtheria and polio — rare. But people still discount their risks of disease. Few realize that flu and its complications caused an estimated 80,000 deaths in the United States alone this past winter, mainly in the elderly and infirm. Of the 183 children whose deaths were confirmed as flu-related, 80% had not been vaccinated that season, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I predict that the next major outbreak — whether of a highly fatal strain of influenza or something else — will not be due to a lack of preventive technologies. Instead, emotional contagion, digitally enabled, could erode trust in vaccines so much as to render them moot. The deluge of conflicting information, misinformation and manipulated information on social media should be recognized as a global public-health threat.

So, what is to be done? The Vaccine Confidence Project, which I direct, works to detect early signals of rumours and scares about vaccines, and so to address them before they snowball. The international team comprises experts in anthropology, epidemiology, statistics, political science and more. We monitor news and social media, and we survey attitudes. We have also developed a Vaccine Confidence Index, similar to a consumer-confidence index, to track attitudes.

Emotions around vaccines are volatile, making vigilance and monitoring crucial for effective public outreach. In 2016, our project identified Europe as the region with the highest scepticism around vaccine safety (H. J. Larson et al. EBioMedicine 12, 295–301; 2016). The European Union commissioned us to re-run the survey this summer; results will be released this month. In the Philippines, confidence in vaccine safety dropped from 82% in 2015 to 21% in 2018 (H. J. Larson et al. Hum. Vaccines Immunother. https://doi.org/10.1080/21645515.2018.1522468; 2018), after legitimate concerns arose about new dengue vaccines. Immunization rates for established vaccines for tetanus, polio, tetanus and more also plummeted.

We have found that it is useful to categorize misinformation into several levels….(More).

Many Around the World Are Disengaged From Politics


Richard Wike and Alexandra Castillo at Pew Research Center: “An engaged citizenry is often considered a sign of a healthy democracy. High levels of political and civic participation increase the likelihood that the voices of ordinary citizens will be heard in important debates, and they confer a degree of legitimacy on democratic institutions. However, in many nations around the world, much of the public is disengaged from politics.

To better understand public attitudes toward civic engagement, Pew Research Center conducted face-to-face surveys in 14 nations encompassing a wide range of political systems. The study, conducted in collaboration with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) as part of their International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), includes countries from Africa, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Because it does not represent every region, the study cannot reflect the globe as a whole. But with 14,875 participants across such a wide variety of countries, it remains a useful snapshot of key, cross-national patterns in civic life.

The survey finds that, aside from voting, relatively few people take part in other forms of political and civic participation. Still, some types of engagement are more common among young people, those with more education, those on the political left and social network users. And certain issues – especially health care, poverty and education – are more likely than others to inspire political action. Here are eight key takeaways from the survey, which was conducted from May 20 to Aug. 12, 2018, via face-to-face interviews.

Most people vote, but other forms of participation are much less common. Across the 14 nations polled, a median of 78% say they have voted at least once in the past. Another 9% say they might vote in the future, while 7% say they would never vote.

With at least 9-in-10 reporting they have voted in the past, participation is highest in three of the four countries with compulsory voting (Brazil, Argentina and Greece). Voting is similarly high in both Indonesia (91%) and the Philippines (91%), two countries that do not have compulsory voting laws.

The lowest percentage is found in Tunisia (62%), which has only held two national elections since the Jasmine Revolution overthrew long-serving President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and spurred the Arab Spring protests across the Middle East.

Chart showing that beyond voting, political participation is relatively low.

Attending a political campaign event or speech is the second most common type of participation among those surveyed – a median of 33% have done this at least once. Fewer people report participating in volunteer organizations (a median of 27%), posting comments on political issues online (17%), participating in an organized protest (14%) or donating money to a social or political organization (12%)….(More)”.