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:

 

Bright Spots of open government to be recognised at global summit


Press Release of the UK Cabinet Office: “The 7 shortlisted initiatives vying for the Bright Spots award show how governments in Open Government Partnership countries are working with citizens to sharpen governance, harness new technologies to increase public participation and improve government responsiveness.
At the Open Government Partnership summit in London on 31 October 2013 and 1 November 2013, participants will be able to vote for one of the shortlisted projects. The winning project – the Bright Spot – will be announced in the summit’s final plenary session….
The shortlisted entries for the Bright Spots prize – which will be awarded at the London summit – are:

  • Chile – ChileAtiende

The aim of ChileAtiende has been to simplify government to citizens by providing a one-stop shop for accessing public services. Today, ChileAtiende has more than 190 offices across the whole country, a national call centre and a digital platform, through which citizens can access multiple services and benefits without having to navigate multiple government offices.

  • Estonia – People’s Assembly

The People’s Assembly is a deliberative democracy tool, designed to encourage input from citizens on the government’s legislative agenda. This web-based platform allows ordinary citizens to propose policy solutions to problems including fighting corruption. Within 3 weeks, 1,800 registered users posted nearly 6,000 ideas and comments. Parliament has since set a timetable for the most popular proposals to be introduced in the formal proceedings.

  • Georgia – improvements to the Freedom of Information Act

Civil society organisations in Georgia have successfully used the government’s participation in OGP to advocate improvements to the country’s Freedom of Information legislation. Government agencies are now obliged to proactively publish information in a way that is accessible to anyone, and to establish an electronic request system for information.

  • Indonesia – complaints portal

LAPOR! (meaning “to report” in Indonesian) is a social media channel where Indonesian citizens can submit complaints and enquiries about development programmes and public services. Comments are transferred directly to relevant ministries or government agencies, which can respond via the website. LAPOR! now has more than 225,350 registered users and receives an average of 1,435 inputs per day.

  • Montenegro – Be Responsible app

“Be Responsible” is a mobile app that allows citizens to report local problems – from illegal waste dumps, misuse of official vehicles and irregular parking, to failure to comply with tax regulations and issues over access to healthcare and education.

  • Philippines – citizen audits

The Citizen Participatory Audit (CPA) project is exploring ways in which citizens can be directly engaged in the audit process for government projects and contribute to ensuring greater efficiency and effectiveness in the use of public resources. 4 pilot audits are in progress, covering public works, welfare, environment and education projects.

  • Romania – transparency in public sector recruitment

The PublicJob.ro website was set up to counter corruption and lack of transparency in civil service recruitment. PublicJob.ro takes recruitment data from public organisations and e-mails it to more than 20,000 subscribers in a weekly newsletter. As a result, it has become more difficult to manipulate the recruitment process.”

Talking About a (Data) Revolution


Dave Banisar at Article 19: “It is important to recognize the utility that data can bring. Data can ease analysis, reveal important patterns and facilitate comparisons. For example, the Transactional Access Clearing House (TRAC – http://www.trac.org) at Syracuse University uses data sets from the US Department of Justice to analyze how the federal government enforces its criminal and civil laws, showing how laws are applied differently across the US.
The (somewhat ICT-companies manufactured) excitement over “E-government” in the late 1990s imagined a brave new e-world where governments would quickly and easily provide needed information and services to their citizens. This was presented as an alternative to the “reactive” and “confrontational” right to information laws but eventually led to the realization that ministerial web pages and the ability to pay tickets online did not lead to open government. Singapore ranks near the top every year on e-government but is clearly not an ‘open government’. Similarly, it is important to recognize that governments providing data through voluntary measures is not enough.
For open data to promote open government, it needs to operate within a framework of law and regulation that ensures that information is collected, organized and stored and then made public in a timely, accurate and useful form.   The information must be more than just what government bodies find useful to release, but what is important for the public to know to ensure that those bodies are accountable.
Otherwise, it is in danger of just being propaganda, subject to manipulation to make government bodies look good. TRAC has had to sue the USA federal government dozens of times under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the government data and after they publish it, some government bodies still claim that the information is incorrect.  Voluntary systems of publication usually fail when they potentially embarrass the bodies doing the publication.
In the countries where open data has been most successful such as the USA and UK, there also exists a legal right to demand information which keeps bodies honest. Most open government laws around the world now have requirements for affirmative publication of key information and they are slowly being amended to include open data requirements to ensure that the information is more easily usable.
Where there is no or weak open government laws, many barriers can obstruct open data. In Kenya, which has been championing their open data portal while being slow to adopt a law on freedom of information, a recent review found that the portal was stagnating. In part, the problem was that in the absence of laws mandating openness, there remains a culture of secrecy and fear of releasing information.
Further, mere access to data is not enough to ensure informed participation by citizens and enable their ability to affect decision-making processes.  Legal rights to all information held by governments – right to information laws – are essential to tell the “why”. RTI reveals how and why decisions and policy are made – secret meetings, questionable contracts, dubious emails and other information. These are essential elements for oversight and accountability. Being able to document why a road was built for political reasons is as crucial for change as recognizing that it’s in the wrong place. The TRAC users, mostly journalists, use the system as a starting point to ask questions or why enforcement is so uneven or taxes are not being collected. They need sources and open government laws to ask these questions.
Of course, even open government laws are not enough. There needs to be strong rights for citizen consultation and participation and the ability to enforce those rights, such as is mandated by the UNECE Convention on Access to Environment Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice (Aarhus Convention). A protocol to that convention has led to a Europe-wide data portal on environmental pollution.
For open data to be truly effective, there needs to be a right to information enshrined in law that requires that information is made available in a timely, reliable format that people want, not just what the government body wants to release. And it needs to be backed up with rights of engagement and participation. From this open data can flourish.  The OGP needs to refocus on the building blocks of open government – good law and policy – and not just the flashy apps.”

Where in the World are Young People Using the Internet?


Georgia Tech: “According to a common myth, today’s young people are all glued to the Internet. But in fact, only 30 percent of the world’s youth population between the ages of 15 and 24 years old has been active online for at least five years. In South Korea, 99.6 percent of young people are active, the highest percentage in the world. The least? The Asian island of Timor Leste with less than 1 percent.

Digital Natives as Percentage of Total Population

Digital natives as a percentage of total population, 2012 (Courtesy: ITU)

Those are among the many findings in a study from the Georgia Institute of Technology and International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The study is the first attempt to measure, by country, the world’s “digital natives.” The term is typically used to categorize young people born around the time the personal computer was introduced and have spent their lives connected with technology.
Nearly 96 percent of American millennials are digital natives. That figure is behind Japan (99.5 percent) and several European countries, including Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands.
But the percentage that Georgia Tech Associate Professor Michael Best thinks is the most important is the number of digital natives as compared to a country’s total population….
The countries with the highest proportion of digital natives among their population are mostly rich nations, which have high levels of overall Internet penetration. Iceland is at the top of the list with 13.9 percent. The United States is sixth (13.1 percent). A big surprise is Malaysia, a middle-income country with one of the highest proportions of digital natives (ranked 4th at 13.4 percent). Malaysia has a strong history of investing in educational technology.
The countries with the smallest estimated proportion of digital natives are Timor-Leste, Myanmar and Sierra Leone. The bottom 10 consists entirely of African or Asian nations, many of which are suffering from conflict and/or have very low Internet availability.”

The Science of Familiar Strangers: Society’s Hidden Social Network


The Physics arXiv Blog “We’ve all experienced the sense of being familiar with somebody without knowing their name or even having spoken to them. These so-called “familiar strangers” are the people we see every day on the bus on the way to work, in the sandwich shop at lunchtime, or in the local restaurant or supermarket in the evening.
These people are the bedrock of society and a rich source of social potential as neighbours, friends, or even lovers.
But while many researchers have studied the network of intentional links between individuals—using mobile-phone records, for example—little work has been on these unintentional links, which form a kind of hidden social network.
Today, that changes thanks to the work of Lijun Sun at the Future Cities Laboratory in Singapore and a few pals who have analysed the passive interactions between 3 million residents on Singapore’s bus network (about 55 per cent of the city’s population).  ”This is the first time that such a large network of encounters has been identied and analyzed,” they say.
The results are a fascinating insight into this hidden network of familiar strangers and the effects it has on people….
Perhaps the most interesting result involves the way this hidden network knits society together. Lijun and co say that the data hints that the connections between familiar strangers grows stronger over time. So seeing each other more often increases the chances that familiar strangers will become socially connected.
That’s a fascinating insight into the hidden social network in which we are all embedded. It’s important because it has implications for our understanding of the way things like epidemics can spread through cities.
Perhaps a more interesting is the insight it gives into how links form within communities and how these can strengthened. With the widespread adoption of smart cards on transport systems throughout the world, this kind of study can easily be repeated in many cities, which may help to tease apart some of the factors that make them so different.”
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1301.5979: Understanding Metropolitan Patterns of Daily Encounters

Medical Care, Aided by the Crowd


New York Times profile of a new crowdsourced service: “Watsi, which started last August, lets people donate as little as $5 toward low-cost, high-impact medical treatment for patients in third-world countries. The procedures range from relatively simple ones like fixing a broken limb to more complicated surgery — say, to remove an eye tumor. But the treatments generally have a high likelihood of success and don’t involve multiple operations or long-term care… Watsi represents the next generation of charities dependent on online donors, evolving the model started by sites like Kiva. With just a few mouse clicks, Kiva users, say, are able to lend money to a restaurant owner in the Philippines — and to examine her loan proposal and repayment schedule, to read about her and see her photograph.”