Paper by Lisa Oswald: “High-quality discussions can help people acquire an adequate understanding of issues and alleviate mechanisms of opinion polarization. However, the extent to which the quality of the online public discourse contributes is contested. Facing the importance and the sheer volume of online discussions, reliable computational approaches to assess the deliberative quality of online discussions at scale would open a new era of deliberation research. But is it possible to automate the assessment of deliberative quality? I compare structural features of discussion threads and simple text-based measures to established manual content analysis by applying all measures to online discussions on ‘Reddit’ that deal with the 2020 wildfires in Australia and California. I further com pare discussions between two ideologically opposite online communities, one featuring discussions in line with the scientific consensus and one featuring climate change skepticism. While no single computational measure can capture the multidimensional concept of deliberative quality, I find that (1) measures of structural complexity capture engagement and participation as preconditions for deliberation, (2) the length of comments is correlated with manual measures of argumentation, and (3) automated toxicity scores are correlated with manual measures of respect. While the presented computational approaches cannot replace indepth content coding, the findings imply that selected automated measures can be useful, scalable additions to the measurement repertoire for specific dimensions of online deliberation. I discuss implications for communication research and platform regulation and suggest interdisciplinary research to synthesize past content coding efforts using machine learning….(More)”.
Paper by Xiao Hui Tai, Shikhar Mehra & Joshua E. Blumenstock: “This paper documents the rapidly growing empirical literature that can plausibly claim to identify causal effects of transparency or participation in budgeting in a variety of contexts. Recent studies convincingly demonstrate that the power of audits travels well beyond the context of initial field-defining studies, consider participatory budgeting beyond Brazil, where such practices were pioneered, and examine previously neglected outcomes, notably revenues and procurement. Overall, the study of the impacts of fiscal openness has become richer and more nuanced. The most well-documented causal effects are positive: lower corruption and enhanced accountability at the ballot box. Moreover, these impacts have been shown to apply across different settings. This research concludes that the empirical case for open government in this policy area is rapidly growing in strength. This paper sets out challenges related to studying national-level reforms; working directly with governments; evaluating systems as opposed to programs; clarifying the relationship between transparency and participation; and understanding trade-offs for reforms in this area….(More)”.
Essay by Jean-Marie Guéhenno: “I have always been a contrarian. I was a contrarian in 1989 when I wrote my first book, criticizing the idea—then widely held—that democracy had triumphed once and for all. And today I find that I’m a contrarian again with my new book, because everybody is talking about the confrontation between democracies and autocracies and I think that’s missing the point.
Something much more important is happening: the revolution of data, the Internet, and artificial intelligence. I believe we are on the cusp of an earthquake in the history of humanity of a kind that happens only once in hundreds of years. The most recent comparison is the Renaissance, and the pace of change today is much quicker than back then.
The institutions we built in the pre-data age are soon going to be completely overwhelmed, and thinking in terms of the old categories of democracies versus autocracies misses all the new challenges that they will have to face. This is a time of great peril as well as great promise, as was the Renaissance—not only the era of Leonard da Vinci, but also a century of religious wars.
The current revolution of data and algorithms is redistributing power in a way that cannot be compared to any historical shift. Traditionally we think of power concentrating in the hands of the leaders of states or big industrial companies. But power, increasingly, is in the hands of algorithms that are tasked (initially by humans) with learning and changing themselves, and evolve in ways we do not predict.
That means the owners of Google or Facebook or Amazon are not the masters of our destiny in the same sense as previous corporate titans. Similarly, while it is true to some extent that data will give dictators unprecedented power to manipulate society, they may also come to be dominated by the evolution of the algorithms on which they depend.
We see already how algorithms are reshaping politics. Social media has created self-contained tribes which do not speak to each other. The most important thing in democracy is not the vote itself, but the process of deliberation before the vote, and social media is quickly fragmenting the common ground on which such deliberations have been built.
How can societies exert control over how algorithms manage data, and whether they foster hatred or harmony? Institutions that are able to control this new power are not yet really in place. What they should look like will be one of the great debates of the future.
I don’t have the answers: I believe no human mind can anticipate the extent of the transformations that are going to happen. Indeed, I think the very notion that you can know today what will be the right institutions for the future is hubristic. The best institutions (and people) will be those that are most adaptable.
However, I believe that one promising approach is to think in terms of the relationship between the logic of knowledge and the logic of democracy. Take central banks as an example. The average citizen does not have a clue about how monetary policy works. Instead we rely on politicians to task the experts at central banks to try achieve a certain goal—it could be full employment, or a stable currency….(More)”.
Essay by Claudia Chwalisz: “Imagine you receive an invitation one day from your mayor, inviting you to serve as a member of your city’s newly established permanent Citizens’ Assembly. You will be one of 100 others like you — people who are not politicians or even necessarily party members. All of you were drawn by lot through a fair and random process called a civic lottery. Together, you are broadly representative of the community — a mix of bakers, doctors, students, accountants, shopkeepers and more. You are young and old and from many backgrounds — everybody living in the city over age 16 is eligible, and anyone can take part regardless of citizenship status. Essentially, this group of 100 people is a microcosm of the wider public. Your mandate lasts for one year, after which a new group of people will be drawn by lot.
This is not just a thought experiment. Since the 1980s, a wave of such citizens’ assemblies has been building, and it has been gaining momentum since 2010. Over the past four decades, hundreds of thousands of people around the world have received invitations from heads of state, ministers, mayors and other public authorities to serve as members of over 500 citizens’ assemblies and other deliberative processes to inform policy making. Important decisions have been shaped by everyday people about 10-year, $5 billion strategic plans, 30-year infrastructure investment strategies, tackling online hate speech and harassment, taking preventative action against increased flood risks, improving air quality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and many other issues.
As governance systems are failing to address some of society’s most pressing issues and trust between citizens and government is faltering, these new institutions embody the potential of democratic renewal. They create the democratic spaces for everyday people to grapple with the complexity of policy issues, listen to one another and find common ground. In doing so, they create the conditions to overcome polarization and strengthen societal cohesion. They bring out the collective intelligence of society — the principle that many diverse people will come to better decisions than more homogeneous groups…(More)”.
Essay by Malloy Owen: “The metaverse is, as they say, happening. Mark Zuckerberg announced last October that Facebook’s parent company, now called Meta, will take the lead in building out an immersive, interactive, and ubiquitous network of virtual environments that he envisions as the next phase of the Internet. Once the relevant technology has been developed, Zuckerberg promised, users will be able to enter the metaverse in avatar form and interact in three simulated dimensions with a glorious new world of people, places, and things.
It is not surprising that something like the metaverse is coming into being in these uneasy early days of the Biden era: All the master logics of our moment seem to demand it. First, to the extent that it can simulate physical presence, virtual reality promises to enable community across geographic distance. That power has special allure at a time when worries about the pandemic and the environment cast a pall over long-distance travel even as markets continue to disperse friends, family, and business associates far and wide. Second, the metaverse offers further liberation from the material, the given, and the bodily. (In the introduction to Zuckerberg’s metaverse announcement video, a drag queen invites us to “imagine a world where we are represented the way we want to be.”) Third, the metaverse offers sweet escape from a reality that inhabitants of rich countries, especially the young, find increasingly bleak. Rising seas, rusting factories, and a pervasive sense of powerlessness have driven some to bizarre political fantasies, some to opioids, and some to video games. Zuckerberg promises a cheap, safe, convincing simulation where everything is clean, bright, and hopeful and there are always new ideas and pleasures to discover.
Of course, we jaded children of the Information Age have learned to beware of tech lords bearing gifts. “If the product is free, you are the product” is the usual way of expressing this suspicion, and the metaverse will undoubtedly be an attractive platform for the now well-known techniques of targeted advertising. But the familiar saying does not quite capture the new forms of power a constructed virtual world will make available to its builders and managers. “If the product is free, you are a subject” might be a better way to frame our dilemma in the dawning age of the metaverse, which must be understood not only as an economic and political project, but as a theological one.
The modern state was founded on a dream—the dream of perfect knowledge that secures perfect power. A substantial part of the apparatus of state, then, has consisted of mechanisms for collecting and interpreting information. Sovereign governments in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries devoted enormous resources to recording and categorizing facts about people, places, and things within their nations’ borders; today’s systems of computer-enabled mass surveillance, like the National Security Agency’s metadata collection program, simply carry this project forward.
But trying to skim data from a lumpy, rough-edged, and unpredictable world is a frustrating and often fruitless task. As theorists like James C. Scott and Michel Foucault have argued, states have addressed this difficulty by trying to flatten, order, and rationalize the social and natural landscapes under their control. In Scott’s narrative, land, once subject to obscure and variable patterns of customary use, is assigned definite owners; names are standardized into first and last; cities are laid out in grids; illegible dialects are suppressed. In Foucault’s telling, institutions like schools and professions like health care fashion the inward self into a smooth, predictable object of analysis. The easiest way for the state to understand the world is to remake it into something that can be understood. Still, the state has always had the physical world to contend with: Material nature resists and sometimes outright refuses manipulation…(More)”.
Article by Henry Cooke: (New Zealand) “The Government is considering proactively releasing almost all advice to ministers under a planned shakeup to transparency rules, which, if made, would amount to a seismic shift in the way the public sector communicates.
Open government advocates have cautiously welcomed the planned move, but say the devil will be in the detail – as the proactive release regime could end up defanging the Official Information Act (OIA).
The Public Service Commission is consulting with government departments and agencies on a proposal to release to the public all briefings and other advice given to ministers – unless there is a compelling reason not to, such as national security or breaching a commercial agreement, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.
Currently, the Government proactively releases all Cabinet papers within 30 working days of a decision being made, but it does not release the advice that underpins those decisions. The Cabinet papers can also be redacted entirely or in part if the Government believes there is a good reason to do so.
Some advice is proactively released by individual agencies but there is no uniform rule declaring it or any centralised depository. In practice, much of it is released after either the media or opposition requests a copy under the OIA.
The new regime would see all ministerial advice be released without waiting to be asked for it, although it is not clear on what timeframe.
Ministers would also have to proactively release the titles of their briefings on a regular basis, meaning any advice that was not released could be requested under the OIA.
The Public Service Commission – which oversees the sprawling public sector – is also exploring options for a single point of access for these documents, instead of it being spread over many different websites….(More)”.
Book by Yascha Mounk: “Some democracies are highly homogeneous. Others have long maintained a brutal racial or religious hierarchy, with some groups dominating and exploiting others. Never in history has a democracy succeeded in being both diverse and equal, treating members of many different ethnic or religious groups fairly. And yet achieving that goal is now central to the democratic project in countries around the world. It is, Yascha Mounk argues, the greatest experiment of our time.
Drawing on history, social psychology, and comparative politics, Mounk examines how diverse societies have long suffered from the ills of domination, fragmentation, or structured anarchy. So it is hardly surprising that most people are now deeply pessimistic that different groups might be able to integrate in harmony, celebrating their differences without essentializing them. But Mounk shows us that the past can offer crucial insights for how to do better in the future. There is real reason for hope.
It is up to us and the institutions we build whether different groups will come to see each other as enemies or friends, as strangers or compatriots. To make diverse democracies endure, and even thrive, we need to create a world in which our ascriptive identities come to matter less—not because we ignore the injustices that still characterize the United States and so many other countries around the world, but because we have succeeded in addressing them.
The Great Experiment is that rare book that offers both a profound understanding of an urgent problem and genuine hope for our human capacity to solve it. As Mounk contends, giving up on the prospects of building fair and thriving diverse democracies is simply not an option—and that is why we must strive to realize a more ambitious vision for the future of our societies…(More)”.
Paper by Dominik Hierlemann: “Four out of five European citizens want to have a bigger say in EU policymaking. Already now, they can participate in the European Union through elections, citizens’ initiatives, consultations, petitions, dialogues, and the Ombudsman. But how well do these participation instruments work? Do citizens know about them? What is their impact on EU policymaking? This study examines seven EU participation instruments in depth. It finds that the EU offers a patchwork of participation instruments that work well in some respects but remain largely unknown and create little impact. To strengthen the voice of European citizens, the EU should move from its participation patchwork to a coherent participation infrastructure. Voting every five years is not enough. A democratically accountable and legitimate EU depends on the ongoing and effective participation of citizens…(More)”.
Paper by Jinsol Park, J S Butler, and Nicolai Petrovsky: “This study aims to advance our knowledge about the role of public participation in formulating budgetary decisions of local governments. By focusing on participatory budgeting as a prominent form of public participation in the budgetary process, we posit that participatory budgeting serves two important roles in aligning the fiscal outcomes of local governments with citizen preferences: (1) increased transparency of the local budget and (2) improved budget literacy of citizens. This study investigates a link between participatory budgeting and the fiscal outcomes of local governments by utilizing data drawn from Korean local governments for seven fiscal years. Employing instrumental variable regression to address endogeneity, there is strong evidence that public participation and deliberation during the participatory budgeting process have a positive association with the fiscal balance. There is also weak evidence that the authority delegated to participatory budgeting participants affects the fiscal balance. The findings of this study imply that it is the quality of public participation that matters in holding the government accountable for its fiscal decisions…(More)”.
Book by Sheila Jasanoff: “From climate change to the pandemic, uncertainty looms large over our public and personal lives. It is also the core feature of democratic life: while democratic governance seemingly heightens individual power, it exposes our life chances to the uncertain activity of others. We do not exercise control over those to whom we appeal, and yet we are constantly dependent on their actions for the goods in life we seek.
Sheila Jasanoff opens a forum on uncertainty and democracy in this volume, arguing that ideas around our autonomy, our freedom, and our individual agency, particularly in the United States, obscure our dependence on others in so many ways. To recognize this political emotion is to start to see the transformative potential in uncertainty.
The debate that follows explores the ideas about uncertainty and experts in a democracy, as well its scientific, philosophic, and emotional aspects…(More)”.