New methods help identify what drives sensitive or socially unacceptable behaviors


Mary Guiden at Physorg: “Conservation scientists and statisticians at Colorado State University have teamed up to solve a key problem for the study of sensitive behaviors like poaching, harassment, bribery, and drug use.

Sensitive behaviors—defined as socially unacceptable or not compliant with rules and regulations—are notoriously hard to study, researchers say, because people often do not want to answer direct questions about them.

To overcome this challenge, scientists have developed indirect questioning approaches that protect responders’ identities. However, these methods also make it difficult to predict which sectors of a population are more likely to participate in sensitive behaviors, and which factors, such as knowledge of laws, education, or income, influence the probability that an individual will engage in a sensitive behavior.

Assistant Professor Jennifer Solomon and Associate Professor Michael Gavin of the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources at CSU, and Abu Conteh from MacEwan University in Alberta, Canada, have teamed up with Professor Jay Breidt and doctoral student Meng Cao in the CSU Department of Statistics to develop a new method to solve the problem.

The study, “Understanding the drivers of sensitive behavior using Poisson regression from quantitative randomized response technique data,” was published recently in PLOS One.

Conteh, who, as a doctoral student, worked with Gavin in New Zealand, used a specific technique, known as quantitative randomized response, to elicit confidential answers to questions on behaviors related to non-compliance with natural resource regulations from a protected area in Sierra Leone.

In this technique, the researcher conducting interviews has a large container containing pingpong balls, some with numbers and some without numbers. The interviewer asks the respondent to pick a ball at random, without revealing it to the interviewer. If the ball has a number, the respondent tells the interviewer the number. If the ball does not have a number, the respondent reveals how many times he illegaly hunted animals in a given time period….

Armed with the new computer program, the scientists found that people from rural communities with less access to jobs in urban centers were more likely to hunt in the reserve. People in communities with a greater proportion people displaced by Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war were also more likely to hunt illegally….(More)”

The researchers said that collaborating across disciplines was and is key to addressing complex problems like this one. It is commonplace for people to be noncompliant with rules and regulations and equally important for social scientists to analyze these behaviors….(More)”

Nudging compliance in government: A human-centered approach to public sector program design


Article by Michelle Cho, Joshua Schoop, Timothy Murphy: “What are the biggest challenges facing government? Bureaucracy? Gridlock? A shrinking pool of resources?

Chances are compliance—when people act in accordance with preset rules, policies, and/or expectations—doesn’t top the list for many. Yet maybe it should. Compliance touches nearly every aspect of public policy implementation. Over the past 10 years, US government spending on compliance reached US$7.5 billion.

Even the most sophisticated and well-planned policies often require cooperation and input from real humans to be successful. From voluntary tax filing at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to reducing greenhouse emissions at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to achieving the public policy outcomes decision-makers intend, compliance is fundamental.

Consider these examples of noncompliance and their costs:

  • Taxes. By law, the IRS requires all income-earning, eligible constituents to file and pay their owed taxes. Tax evasion—the illegal nonpayment or underpayment of tax—cost the federal government an average of US$458 billion per year between 2008 and 2010.3 The IRS believes it will recover just 11 percent of the amount lost in that time frame.
  • The environment. The incorrect disposal of recyclable materials has cost more than US$744 million in the state of Washington since 2009.4 The city audit in San Diego found that 76 percent of materials disposed of citywide are recyclable and estimates that those recyclables could power 181,000 households for a year or conserve 3.4 million barrels of oil.5

Those who fail to comply with these rules could face direct and indirect consequences, including penalties and even jail time. Yet a significant subset of the population still behaves in a noncompliant manner. Why?

Behavioral sciences offer some clues. Through the combination of psychology, economics, and neuroscience, behavioral sciences demonstrate that people do not always do what is asked of them, even when it seems in their best interest to do so. Often, people choose a noncompliant path because of one of these reasons: They are unaware of their improper behavior, they find the “right” choice is too complex to decipher, or they simply are not intrinsically motivated to make the compliant choice.

For any of these reasons, when a cognitive hurdle emerges, some people resort to noncompliant behavior. But these hurdles can be overcome. Policymakers can use these same behavioral insights to understand why noncompliance occurs and alternatively, employ behavioral-inspired tools to encourage compliant behavior in a more agile and resource-efficient fashion.

In this spirit, leaders can take a more human-centered approach to program design by using behavioral science lessons to develop policies and programs in a manner that can make compliance easier and more appealing. In our article, we discuss three common reasons behind noncompliance and how better, more human-centered design can help policymakers achieve more positive results….(More)”.

Quantum Information Science: Applications, Global Research and Development, and Policy Considerations


Report from the Congressional Research Service: “Quantum information science (QIS) combines elements of mathematics, computer science, engineering, and physical sciences, and has the potential to provide capabilities far beyond what is possible with the most advanced technologies available today.
Although much of the press coverage of QIS has been devoted to quantum computing, there is more to QIS. Many experts divide QIS technologies into three application areas:

  • Sensing and metrology,
  • Communications, and
  • Computing and simulation.

… Today, QIS is a component of the National Strategic Computing Initiative (Presidential Executive Order 13702), which was established in 2015. Most recently, in September 2018, the National Science and Technology Council issued the National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science. The policy opportunities identified in this strategic overview include:

  • choosing a science-first approach to QIS,
  • creating a “quantum-smart” workforce,
  • deepening engagement with the quantum industry,
  • providing critical infrastructure,
  • maintaining national security and economic growth, and
  • advancing international cooperation.

This report provides an overview of QIS technologies: sensing and metrology, communications, and computing and simulation. It also includes examples of existing and potential future applications; brief summaries of funding and selected R&D initiatives in the United States and elsewhere around the world; a description of U.S. congressional activity; and a discussion of related policy considerations….(More)”.

What difference does data make? Data management and social change


Paper by Morgan E. Currie and Joan M. Donovan: “The purpose of this paper is to expand on emergent data activism literature to draw distinctions between different types of data management practices undertaken by groups of data activists.

The authors offer three case studies that illuminate the data management strategies of these groups. Each group discussed in the case studies is devoted to representing a contentious political issue through data, but their data management practices differ in meaningful ways. The project Making Sense produces their own data on pollution in Kosovo. Fatal Encounters collects “missing data” on police homicides in the USA. The Environmental Data Governance Initiative hopes to keep vulnerable US data on climate change and environmental injustices in the public domain.

In analysing our three case studies, the authors surface how temporal dimensions, geographic scale and sociotechnical politics influence their differing data management strategies….(More)”.

It’s time to let citizens tackle the wickedest public problems


Gabriella Capone at apolitcal (a winner of the 2018 Apolitical Young Thought Leaders competition): “Rain ravaged Gdańsk in 2016, taking the lives of two residents and causing millions of euros in damage. Despite its 700-year history of flooding the city was overwhelmed by these especially devastating floods. Also, Gdańsk is one of the European coasts most exposed to rising sea levels. It needed a new approach to avoid similar outcomes for the next, inevitable encounter with this worsening problem.

Bringing in citizens to tackle such a difficult issue was not the obvious course of action. Yet this was the proposal of Dr. Marcin Gerwin, an advocate from a neighbouring town who paved the way for Poland’s first participatory budgeting experience.

Mayor Adamowicz of Gdańsk agreed and, within a year, they welcomed about 60 people to the first Citizens Assembly on flood mitigation. Implemented by Dr. Gerwin and a team of coordinators, the Assembly convened over four Saturdays, heard expert testimony, and devised solutions.

The Assembly was not only deliberative and educational, it was action-oriented. Mayor Adamowicz committed to implement proposals on which 80% or more of participants agreed. The final 16 proposals included the investment of nearly $40 million USD in monitoring systems and infrastructure, subsidies to incentivise individuals to improve water management on their property, and an educational “Do Not Flood” campaign to highlight emergency resources.

It may seem risky to outsource the solving of difficult issues to citizens. Yet, when properly designed, public problem-solving can produce creative resolutions to formidable challenges. Beyond Poland, public problem-solving initiatives in Mexico and the United States are making headway on pervasive issues, from flooding to air pollution, to technology in public spaces.

The GovLab, with support from the Tinker Foundation, is analysing what makes for more successful public problem-solving as part of its City Challenges program. Below, I provide a glimpse into the types of design choices that can amplify the impact of public problem-solving….(More)

Tricky Design: The Ethics of Things


Book edited by Tom Fisher and Lorraine Gamman: “Tricky Things responds to the burgeoning of scholarly interest in the cultural meanings of objects, by addressing the moral complexity of certain designed objects and systems.

The volume brings together leading international designers, scholars and critics to explore some of the ways in which the practice of design and its outcomes can have a dark side, even when the intention is to design for the public good. Considering a range of designed objects and relationships, including guns, eyewear, assisted suicide kits, anti-rape devices, passports and prisons, the contributors offer a view of design as both progressive and problematic, able to propose new material and human relationships, yet also constrained by social norms and ideology. 

This contradictory, tricky quality of design is explored in the editors’ introduction, which positions the objects, systems, services and ‘things’ discussed in the book in relation to the idea of the trickster that occurs in anthropological literature, as well as in classical thought, discussing design interventions that have positive and negative ethical consequences. These will include objects, both material and ‘immaterial’, systems with both local and global scope, and also different processes of designing. 

This important new volume brings a fresh perspective to the complex nature of ‘things‘, and makes a truly original contribution to debates in design ethics, design philosophy and material culture….(More)”

The Nail Finds a Hammer: Self-Sovereign Identity, Design Principles, and Property Rights in the Developing World


Report by Michael Graglia, Christopher Mellon and Tim Robustelli: “Our interest in identity systems was an inevitable outgrowth of our earlier work on blockchain-based1 land registries.2 Property registries, which at the simplest level are ledgers of who has which rights to which asset, require a very secure and reliable means of identifying both people and properties. In the course of investigating solutions to that problem, we began to appreciate the broader challenges of digital identity and its role in international development. And the more we learned about digital identity, the more convinced we became of the need for self-sovereign identity, or SSI. This model, and the underlying principles of identity which it incorporates, will be described in detail in this paper.

We believe that the great potential of SSI is that it can make identity in the digital world function more like identity in the physical world, in which every person has a unique and persistent identity which is represented to others by means of both their physical attributes and a collection of credentials attested to by various external sources of authority. These credentials are stored and controlled by the identity holder—typically in a wallet—and presented to different people for different reasons at the identity holder’s discretion. Crucially, the identity holder controls what information to present based on the environment, trust level, and type of interaction. Moreover, their fundamental identity persists even though the credentials by which it is represented may change over time.

The digital incarnation of this model has many benefits, including both greatly improved privacy and security, and the ability to create more trustworthy online spaces. Social media and news sites, for example, might limit participation to users with verified identities, excluding bots and impersonators.

The need for identification in the physical world varies based on location and social context. We expect to walk in relative anonymity down a busy city street, but will show a driver’s license to enter a bar, and both a driver’s license and a birth certificate to apply for a passport. There are different levels of ID and supporting documents required for each activity. But in each case, access to personal information is controlled by the user who may choose whether or not to share it.

Self-sovereign identity gives users complete control of their own identities and related personal data, which sits encrypted in distributed storage instead of being stored by a third party in a central database. In older, “federated identity” models, a single account—a Google account, for example—might be used to log in to a number of third-party sites, like news sites or social media platforms. But in this model a third party brokers all of these ID transactions, meaning that in exchange for the convenience of having to remember fewer passwords, the user must sacrifice a degree of privacy.

A real world equivalent would be having to ask the state to share a copy of your driver’s license with the bar every time you wanted to prove that you were over the age of 21. SSI, in contrast, gives the user a portable, digital credential (like a driver’s license or some other document that proves your age), the authenticity of which can be securely validated via cryptography without the recipient having to check with the authority that issued it. This means that while the credential can be used to access many different sites and services, there is no third-party broker to track the services to which the user is authenticating. Furthermore, cryptographic techniques called “zero-knowledge proofs” (ZKPs) can be used to prove possession of a credential without revealing the credential itself. This makes it possible, for example, for users to prove that they are over the age of 21 without having to share their actual birth dates, which are both sensitive information and irrelevant to a binary, yes-or-no ID transaction….(More)”.

The Nail Finds a Hammer: Self-Sovereign Identity, Design Principles, and Property Rights in the Developing World


Report by Michael Graglia, Christopher Mellon and Tim Robustelli: “Our interest in identity systems was an inevitable outgrowth of our earlier work on blockchain-based1 land registries.2 Property registries, which at the simplest level are ledgers of who has which rights to which asset, require a very secure and reliable means of identifying both people and properties. In the course of investigating solutions to that problem, we began to appreciate the broader challenges of digital identity and its role in international development. And the more we learned about digital identity, the more convinced we became of the need for self-sovereign identity, or SSI. This model, and the underlying principles of identity which it incorporates, will be described in detail in this paper.

We believe that the great potential of SSI is that it can make identity in the digital world function more like identity in the physical world, in which every person has a unique and persistent identity which is represented to others by means of both their physical attributes and a collection of credentials attested to by various external sources of authority. These credentials are stored and controlled by the identity holder—typically in a wallet—and presented to different people for different reasons at the identity holder’s discretion. Crucially, the identity holder controls what information to present based on the environment, trust level, and type of interaction. Moreover, their fundamental identity persists even though the credentials by which it is represented may change over time.

The digital incarnation of this model has many benefits, including both greatly improved privacy and security, and the ability to create more trustworthy online spaces. Social media and news sites, for example, might limit participation to users with verified identities, excluding bots and impersonators.

The need for identification in the physical world varies based on location and social context. We expect to walk in relative anonymity down a busy city street, but will show a driver’s license to enter a bar, and both a driver’s license and a birth certificate to apply for a passport. There are different levels of ID and supporting documents required for each activity. But in each case, access to personal information is controlled by the user who may choose whether or not to share it.

Self-sovereign identity gives users complete control of their own identities and related personal data, which sits encrypted in distributed storage instead of being stored by a third party in a central database. In older, “federated identity” models, a single account—a Google account, for example—might be used to log in to a number of third-party sites, like news sites or social media platforms. But in this model a third party brokers all of these ID transactions, meaning that in exchange for the convenience of having to remember fewer passwords, the user must sacrifice a degree of privacy.

A real world equivalent would be having to ask the state to share a copy of your driver’s license with the bar every time you wanted to prove that you were over the age of 21. SSI, in contrast, gives the user a portable, digital credential (like a driver’s license or some other document that proves your age), the authenticity of which can be securely validated via cryptography without the recipient having to check with the authority that issued it. This means that while the credential can be used to access many different sites and services, there is no third-party broker to track the services to which the user is authenticating. Furthermore, cryptographic techniques called “zero-knowledge proofs” (ZKPs) can be used to prove possession of a credential without revealing the credential itself. This makes it possible, for example, for users to prove that they are over the age of 21 without having to share their actual birth dates, which are both sensitive information and irrelevant to a binary, yes-or-no ID transaction….(More)”.

An open-science crowdsourcing approach for producing community noise maps using smartphones


Judicaël Picaut at al at Building and Environment: “An alternative method is proposed for the assessment of the noise environment, on the basis of a crowdsourcing approach. For this purpose, a smartphone application and a spatial data infrastructure have been specifically developed in order to collect physical data (noise indicators, GPS positions, etc.) and perceptual data (pleasantness), without territorial limits, of the sound environment.

As the project is developed within an Open Science framework, all source codes, methodologies, tools and raw data are freely available, and if necessary, can be duplicated for any specific use. In particular, the collected data can be used by the scientific community, cities, associations, or any institution, which would like to develop new tools for the evaluation and representation of sound environments. In this paper, all the methodological and technical issues are detailed, and a first analysis of the collected data is proposed….(More)”.

The causal effect of trust


Paper by Björn Bartling, Ernst Fehr, David Huffman and Nick Netzer: “Trust affects almost all human relationships – in families, organizations, markets and politics. However, identifying the conditions under which trust, defined as people’s beliefs in the trustworthiness of others, has a causal effect on the efficiency of human interactions has proven to be difficult. We show experimentally and theoretically that trust indeed has a causal effect. The duration of the effect depends, however, on whether initial trust variations are supported by multiple equilibria.

We study a repeated principal-agent game with multiple equilibria and document empirically that an efficient equilibrium is selected if principals believe that agents are trustworthy, while players coordinate on an inefficient equilibrium if principals believe that agents are untrustworthy. Yet, if we change the institutional environment such that there is a unique equilibrium, initial variations in trust have short-run effects only. Moreover, if we weaken contract enforcement in the latter environment, exogenous variations in trust do not even have a short-run effect. The institutional environment thus appears to be key for whether trust has causal effects and whether the effects are transient or persistent…(More)”.