Riding the Waves or Caught in the Tide? Navigating the Evolving Information Environment


IFLA Trend Report: “In the global information environment, time moves quickly and there’s an abundance of commentators trying to keep up. With each new technological development, a new report emerges assessing its impact on different sectors of society. The IFLA Trend Report takes a broader approach and identifies five high level trends shaping the information society, spanning access to education, privacy, civic engagement and transformation. Its findings reflect a year’s consultation with a range of experts and stakeholders from different disciplines to map broader societal changes occurring, or likely to occur in the information environment.
The IFLA Trend Report is more than a single document – it is a selection of resources to help you understand where libraries fit into a changing society.
From Five Key Trends Which Will Change Our Information Environment:
Trend 1:
New Technologies Will Both Expand and Limit Who Has Access to Information…
Trend 2:
Online Education Will Democratise and Disrupt Global Learning…
Trend 3:
The Boundaries of Privacy and Data Protection Will Be Redefined…
Trend 4:
Hyper-Connected Societies Will Listen to and Empower New Voices and Groups…In hyper-connected societies more opportunities for collective action are being realised – enabling the rise of new voices and promoting the growth of single-issue movements at the expense of traditional political parties. Open government initiatives and access to public sector data are leading to more transparency and citizen-focused public services.
Trend 5:
The Global Information Economy Will Be Transformed by New Technologies…”

Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better


New book by Clive Thompson: “It’s undeniable—technology is changing the way we think. But is it for the better? Amid a chorus of doomsayers, Clive Thompson delivers a resounding “yes.” The Internet age has produced a radical new style of human intelligence, worthy of both celebration and analysis. We learn more and retain it longer, write and think with global audiences, and even gain an ESP-like awareness of the world around us. Modern technology is making us smarter, better connected, and often deeper—both as individuals and as a society.
In Smarter Than You Think Thompson shows that every technological innovation—from the written word to the printing press to the telegraph—has provoked the very same anxieties that plague us today. We panic that life will never be the same, that our attentions are eroding, that culture is being trivialized. But as in the past, we adapt—learning to use the new and retaining what’s good of the old.”

Cyberpsychology and New Media


A thematic reader, edited by Andrew Power, Grainne Kirwan:Cyberpsychology is the study of human interactions with the internet, mobile computing and telephony, games consoles, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and other contemporary electronic technologies. The field has grown substantially over the past few years and this book surveys how researchers are tackling the impact of new technology on human behaviour and how people interact with this technology.

Examining topics as diverse as online dating, social networking, online communications, artificial intelligence, health-information seeking behaviour, education online, online therapies and cybercrime, Cyberpsychology and New Media book provides an in-depth overview of this burgeoning field, and allows those with little previous knowledge to gain an appreciation of the diversity of the research being undertaken in the area.”

Nudge Nation: A New Way to Prod Students Into and Through College


Ben Wildavsky at EducationSector: “Thanks in part to Thaler and Sunstein’s work, the power of nudges has become well-established—including on many college campuses, where students around the country are beginning the fall semester. While online education and software-driven pedagogy on college campuses have received a good deal of attention, a less visible set of technology-driven initiatives also has gained a foothold: behavioral nudges designed to keep students on track to succeed. Just as e-commerce entrepreneurs have drawn on massive troves of consumer data to create algorithms for firms such as Netflix and Amazon, which unbundle the traditional storefront consumer experience through customized, online delivery, architects of campus technology nudges also rely on data analytics or data mining to improve the student experience.

By giving students information-driven suggestions that lead to smarter actions, technology nudges are intended to tackle a range of problems surrounding the process by which students begin college and make their way to graduation.
New approaches are certainly needed….
There are many reasons for low rates of persistence and graduation, including financial problems, the difficulty of juggling non-academic responsibilities such as work and family, and, for some first-generation stu­dents, culture shock. But academic engagement and success are major contributors. That’s why colleges are using behavioral nudges, drawing on data analytics and behavioral psychology, to focus on problems that occur along the academic pipeline:
• Poor student organization around the logistics of going to college
• Unwise course selections that increase the risk of failure and extend time to degree
• Inadequate information about academic progress and the need for academic help
• Unfocused support systems that identify struggling students but don’t directly engage with them
• Difficulty tapping into counseling services
These new ventures, whether originating within colleges or created by outside entrepreneurs, are doing things with data that just couldn’t be done in the past—creating giant databases of student course records, for example, to find patterns of success and failure that result when certain kinds of students take certain kinds of courses.”

Open data for accountable governance: Is data literacy the key to citizen engagement?


at UNDP’s Voices of Eurasia blog: “How can technology connect citizens with governments, and how can we foster, harness, and sustain the citizen engagement that is so essential to anti-corruption efforts?
UNDP has worked on a number of projects that use technology to make it easier for citizens to report corruption to authorities:

These projects are showing some promising results, and provide insights into how a more participatory, interactive government could develop.
At the heart of the projects is the ability to use citizen generated data to identify and report problems for governments to address….

Wanted: Citizen experts

As Kenneth Cukier, The Economist’s Data Editor, has discussed, data literacy will become the new computer literacy. Big data is still nascent and it is impossible to predict exactly how it will affect society as a whole. What we do know is that it is here to stay and data literacy will be integral to our lives.
It is essential that we understand how to interact with big data and the possibilities it holds.
Data literacy needs to be integrated into the education system. Educating non-experts to analyze data is critical to enabling broad participation in this new data age.
As technology advances, key government functions become automated, and government data sharing increases, newer ways for citizens to engage will multiply.
Technology changes rapidly, but the human mind and societal habits cannot. After years of closed government and bureaucratic inefficiency, adaptation of a new approach to governance will take time and education.
We need to bring up a generation that sees being involved in government decisions as normal, and that views participatory government as a right, not an ‘innovative’ service extended by governments.

What now?

In the meantime, while data literacy lies in the hands of a few, we must continue to connect those who have the technological skills with citizen experts seeking to change their communities for the better – as has been done in many a Social Innovation Camps recently (in Montenegro, Ukraine and Armenia at Mardamej and Mardamej Relaoded and across the region at Hurilab).
The social innovation camp and hackathon models are an increasingly debated topic (covered by Susannah Vila, David Eaves, Alex Howard and Clay Johnson).
On the whole, evaluations are leading to newer models that focus on greater integration of mentorship to increase sustainability – which I readily support. However, I do have one comment:
Social innovation camps are often criticized for a lack of sustainability – a claim based on the limited number of apps that go beyond the prototype phase. I find a certain sense of irony in this, for isn’t this what innovation is about: Opening oneself up to the risk of failure in the hope of striking something great?
In the words of Vinod Khosla:

“No failure means no risk, which means nothing new.”

As more data is released, the opportunity for new apps and new ways for citizen interaction will multiply and, who knows, someone might come along and transform government just as TripAdvisor transformed the travel industry.”

Political Scientists Acknowledge Need to Make Stronger Case for Their Field


Beth McMurtrie in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Back in March, Congress limited federal support for political-science research by the National Science Foundation to projects that promote national security or American economic interests. That decision was a victory for Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma who has long aimed to eliminate all NSF grants for political science, arguing that unlike the hard sciences it rarely produces concrete benefits to society.
Congress’s action has led to soul searching within the discipline about how effective academics have been in conveying the value of their work to the public. It has also revived a longstanding debate among political scientists about the shift toward more statistically sophisticated, mathematically esoteric research, and its usefulness outside of academe. Those discussions were out front at the annual conference of the American Political Science Association, held here last week.
Rogers M. Smith, a political-science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was one of 13 members of a panel that discussed the controversy over NSF money for political-science studies. He put the problem bluntly: “We need to make a better case for ourselves.”
Few on the panel, in fact, seemed to think that political science had done a good job on that front. The association has created a task force—led by Arthur Lupia, a political-science professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor—to improve public perceptions of political science’s value. He said his colleagues could learn from organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which holds special sessions for the news media at its annual conference to explain the work of its members to the public.”

Inside Noisebridge: San Francisco’s eclectic anarchist hackerspace


at Gigaom: “Since its formation in 2007, Noisebridge has grown from a few people meeting in coffee shops to an overflowing space on Mission Street where members can pursue projects that even the maddest scientist would approve of…. When Noisebridge opened the doors of its first hackerspace location in San Francisco’s Mission district in 2008, it had nothing but a large table and few chairs found on the street.
Today, it looks like a mad scientist has been methodically hoarding tools, inventions, art, supplies and a little bit of everything else for five years. The 350 people who come through Noisebridge each week have a habit of leaving a mark, whether by donating a tool or building something that other visitors add to bit by bit. Anyone can be a paid member or a free user of the space, and over the years they have built it into a place where you can code, sew, hack hardware, cook, build robots, woodwork, learn, teach and more.
The members really are mad scientists. Anything left out in the communal spaces is fair game to “hack into a giant robot,” according to co-founder Mitch Altman. Members once took a broken down wheelchair and turned it into a brainwave-controlled robot named M.C. Hawking. Another person made pants with a built-in keyboard. The Spacebridge group has sent high altitude balloons to near space, where they captured gorgeous videos of the Earth. And once a month, the Vegan Hackers teach their pupils how to make classic fare like sushi and dumplings out of vegan ingredients….”

What should we do about the naming deficit/surplus?


in mySociety Blog: “As I wrote in my last post, I am very concerned about the lack of comprehensible, consistent language to talk about the hugely diverse ways in which people are using the internet to bring about social and political change….My approach to finding an appropriate name was to look at the way that other internet industry sectors are named, so that I could choose a name that sits nicely next to very familiar sectoral labels….

Segmenting the Civic Power sector

Choosing a single sectoral name – Civic Power – is not really the point of this exercise. The real benefit would come from being able to segment the many projects within this sector so that they are more easy to compare and contrast.

Here is my suggested four part segmentation of the Civic Power sector…:

  1. Decision influencing organisations try to directly shape or change particular decisions made by powerful individuals or organisations.
  2. Regime changing organisations try to replace decision makers, not persuade them.
  3. Citizen Empowering organisations try to give people the resources and the confidence required to exert power for whatever purpose those people see fit, both now and in the future.
  4. Digital Government organisations try to improve the ways in which governments acquire and use computers and networks. Strictly speaking this is just a sub-category of ‘decision influencing organisation’, on a par with an environmental group or a union, but more geeky.”

See also: Open Government – What’s in a Name?

How citizens in Tanzania and DRC are getting better health care and education through open budgets


at ONE: “Earlier this year we asked what you thought were the continent’s most important development priorities, as part of our You Choose campaign.  Health care was very near the top of the list, so now we’re on the case.
We know that better health care will save lives. Preventable and treatable diseases such as AIDS, TB, and malaria continue to kill more than 2 million people in Africa every year.
Open Budgets Save Lives aims to do two things:

  • Encourage African leaders to prioritise health care spending
  • Open up national budgets so that African citizens can see where the money is going

Transparency in government spending is an incredible tool for all of us – allowing citizens and local NGOs to hold governments accountable for spending that lines up with citizens’ priorities.
Giving citizens current, accurate and understandable budget information increases the likelihood that resources will be managed well, and used efficiently. Countries with open budgets are also more likely to line up spending with stated priorities, and ensure policy commitments are funded. Open budgets also help reduce corruption, by making it easier to draw a line between what is supposed to be spent and the results that are achieved.”

Data Science for Social Good


Data Science for Social Good: “By analyzing data from police reports to website clicks to sensor signals, governments are starting to spot problems in real-time and design programs to maximize impact. More nonprofits are measuring whether or not they’re helping people, and experimenting to find interventions that work.
None of this is inevitable, however.
We’re just realizing the potential of using data for social impact and face several hurdles to it’s widespread adoption:

  • Most governments and nonprofits simply don’t know what’s possible yet. They have data – but often not enough and maybe not the right kind.
  • There are too few data scientists out there – and too many spending their days optimizing ads instead of bettering lives.

To make an impact, we need to show social good organizations the power of data and analytics. We need to work on analytics projects that have high social impact. And we need to expose data scientists to the problems that really matter.

The fellowship

That’s exactly why we’re doing the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good summer fellowship at the University of Chicago.
We want to bring three dozen aspiring data scientists to Chicago, and have them work on data science projects with social impact.
Working closely with governments and nonprofits, fellows will take on real-world problems in education, health, energy, transportation, and more.
Over the next three months, they’ll apply their coding, machine learning, and quantitative skills, collaborate in a fast-paced atmosphere, and learn from mentors in industry, academia, and the Obama campaign.
The program is led by a strong interdisciplinary team from the Computation institute and the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.”