Lawsuits In The Public Interest Now Have Their Own Crowdfunding Site


Jessica Leber at Fast CoExist: “…Crowdjustice, …aims to serve as a replacement for those who can no longer get help launching a lawsuit. It’s crowdfunding platform where anyone can donate to fund cases that have been vetted by the site.

Operating in the U.K. for now, Crowdjustice will be reserved for civil cases that involve a community interest (rather than a dispute between two people), such as a disability discrimination or human rights case or a fight to save nature from development. Litigants must already have a lawyer who has accepted the case in order to be listed on the platform, which is for now invitation-only.

Niche crowdfunding sites aren’t new, but they’ve had varying success. Salasky believes a site dedicated to legal campaigns is useful because litigation varies from country to country. Another reasons is that on Crowdjustice, the funds raised will go directly into a trust account held by the lawyer for the case—not the individual. “There’s more oversight of what’s happening,” she says. Campaigns will only be funded if the full goal is met, and Crowdjustice takes a 5% cut.

The first case on the site right now is that of Colombian petroleum engineer and whistleblower Gilberto Torres, who wants to hold the oil company BP responsible for his 2002 kidnapping. Though his lawyer will only get a fee if the case wins, the $7,800 crowdfunding campaign is to cover various other costs and court fees….(More).

Measuring ‘governance’ to improve lives


Robert Rotberg at the Conversation: “…Citizens everywhere desire “good governance” – to be governed well within their nation-states, their provinces, their states and their cities.

Governance is more useful than “democracy” if we wish to understand how different political rulers and ruling elites satisfy the aspirations of their citizens.

But to make the notion of “governance” useful, we need both a practical definition and a method of measuring the gradations between good and bad governance.

What’s more, if we can measure well, we can diagnose weak areas of governance and, hence, seek ways to make the weak actors strong.

Governance, defined as “the performance of governments and the delivery of services by governments,” tells us if and when governments are in fact meeting the expectations of their constituents and providing for them effectively and responsibly.

Democracy outcomes, by contrast, are much harder to measure because the meaning of the very word itself is contested and impossible to measure accurately.

For the purposes of making policy decisions, if we seek to learn how citizens are faring under regime X or regime Y, we need to compare governance (not democracy) in those respective places.

In other words, governance is a construct that enables us to discern exactly whether citizens are progressing in meeting life’s goals.

Measuring governance: five bundles and 57 subcategories

Are citizens of a given country better off economically, socially and politically than they were in an earlier decade? Are their various human causes, such as being secure or being free, advancing? Are their governments treating them well, and attempting to respond to their various needs and aspirations and relieving them of anxiety?

Just comparing national gross domestic products (GDPs), life expectancies or literacy rates provides helpful distinguishing data, but governance data are more comprehensive, more telling and much more useful.

Assessing governance tells us far more about life in different developing societies than we would learn by weighing the varieties of democracy or “human development” in such places.

Government’s performance, in turn, is according to the scheme advanced in my book On Governance and in my Index of African Governance, the delivery to citizens of five bundles (divided into 57 underlying subcategories) of political goods that citizens within any kind of political jurisdiction demand.

The five major bundles are Security and Safety, Rule of Law and Transparency, Political Participation and Respect for Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity, and Human Development (education and health)….(More)”

Ways to practice responsible development data


Responsible Data Forum Primer: “This book is offered as a first attempt to understand what responsible data means in the context of international development programming. We have taken a broad view of development, opting not to be prescriptive about who the perfect “target audience” for this effort is within the space. We also anticipate that some of the methods and lessons here may have resonance for related fields and practitioners.

We suggest a number of questions and issues to consider, but specific responsible data challenges will always be identified through individual project contexts. As such, this book is not authoritative, but is intended to support thoughtful and responsible thinking as the development community grapples with relatively new social and ethical challenges stemming from data use.

This book builds on a number of resources and strategies developed in academia, human rights and advocacy, but aims to focus on international development practitioners. As such, we touch upon issues specifically relevant to development practitioners and intermediaries working to improve the lives and livelihoods of people.

The group of contributors working on this book brings together decades of experience in the sector of international development; our first hand experiences of horrific misuse of data within the sector, combined with anecdotal stories of (mis)treatment and usage of data having catastrophic effects within some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, has highlighted for us the need for a book tackling issues of how we can all deal with data in a responsible and respectful way….(More)”

What’s gone wrong with democracy


Essay in The Economist: “Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century. Why has it run into trouble, and what can be done to revive it?….

Even those lucky enough to live in mature democracies need to pay close attention to the architecture of their political systems. The combination of globalisation and the digital revolution has made some of democracy’s most cherished institutions look outdated. Established democracies need to update their own political systems both to address the problems they face at home, and to revitalise democracy’s image abroad. Some countries have already embarked upon this process. America’s Senate has made it harder for senators to filibuster appointments. A few states have introduced open primaries and handed redistricting to independent boundary commissions. Other obvious changes would improve matters. Reform of party financing, so that the names of all donors are made public, might reduce the influence of special interests. The European Parliament could require its MPs to present receipts with their expenses. Italy’s parliament has far too many members who are paid too much, and two equally powerful chambers, which makes it difficult to get anything done.

But reformers need to be much more ambitious. The best way to constrain the power of special interests is to limit the number of goodies that the state can hand out. And the best way to address popular disillusion towards politicians is to reduce the number of promises they can make. The key to a healthier democracy, in short, is a narrower state—an idea that dates back to the American revolution. “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men”, Madison argued, “the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” The notion of limited government was also integral to the relaunch of democracy after the second world war. The United Nations Charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) established rights and norms that countries could not breach, even if majorities wanted to do so.

These checks and balances were motivated by fear of tyranny. But today, particularly in the West, the big dangers to democracy are harder to spot. One is the growing size of the state. The relentless expansion of government is reducing liberty and handing ever more power to special interests. The other comes from government’s habit of making promises that it cannot fulfil, either by creating entitlements it cannot pay for or by waging wars that it cannot win, such as that on drugs. Both voters and governments must be persuaded of the merits of accepting restraints on the state’s natural tendency to overreach. Giving control of monetary policy to independent central banks tamed the rampant inflation of the 1980s, for example. It is time to apply the same principle of limited government to a broader range of policies. Mature democracies, just like nascent ones, require appropriate checks and balances on the power of elected government….

Several places are making progress towards getting this mixture right. The most encouraging example is California. Its system of direct democracy allowed its citizens to vote for contradictory policies, such as higher spending and lower taxes, while closed primaries and gerrymandered districts institutionalised extremism. But over the past five years California has introduced a series of reforms, thanks in part to the efforts of Nicolas Berggruen, a philanthropist and investor. The state has introduced a “Think Long” committee to counteract the short-term tendencies of ballot initiatives. It has introduced open primaries and handed power to redraw boundaries to an independent commission. And it has succeeded in balancing its budget—an achievement which Darrell Steinberg, the leader of the California Senate, described as “almost surreal”.

Similarly, the Finnish government has set up a non-partisan commission to produce proposals for the future of its pension system. At the same time it is trying to harness e-democracy: parliament is obliged to consider any citizens’ initiative that gains 50,000 signatures. But many more such experiments are needed—combining technocracy with direct democracy, and upward and downward delegation—if democracy is to zigzag its way back to health.

John Adams, America’s second president, once pronounced that “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” He was clearly wrong. Democracy was the great victor of the ideological clashes of the 20th century. But if democracy is to remain as successful in the 21st century as it was in the 20th, it must be both assiduously nurtured when it is young—and carefully maintained when it is mature….(More)

User Experience is a Social Justice Issue


Sumana Harihareswara at code4lib: “…Before I worked in open source, I worked in customer service. I saw first-hand how design flaws (in architecture, signage, and websites) could frustrate and drive away customers and make more work for me. Every time I participated in an open source project — AltLaw, GNOME, MediaWiki, and more — I’ve brought that experience with me. I found it particularly striking that small changes on Wikipedia could cause large changes in user behavior, as I discuss in this essay, which is adapted from my keynote speech.
This issue goes beyond software, as I explain with the healthcare and banking examples. The spark that caused me to write the speech was reading Professor Lisa J. Servon’s piece in The Atlantic about the usability of storefront check cashing services; I saw a pattern where poor user experience repels people from crucial and empowering services, and decided, in a flash of anger and inspiration, to write “User Experience is a Human Rights Issue.”…

The Last Mile Problem

The largest hurdles we as technologists face are choosing to make the right things in the first place and choosing to make them usable. In the 1990’s, telecommunications companies laid down a lot of fiber to connect big hubs to one another, but often it took years to connect those hubs to the actual houses and schools and shops and offices, because it was expensive, or because companies were not creative enough to do it well. This is called the “last mile problem,” and I think usability has a similar problem. We have to be creative and disciplined enough to actually provide services in a way that people can use them.
When we’re building services for people, we often have a lot more practice seeing things from the computer’s point of view or from the data’s point of view than from another person’s point of view. In tech, we understand how to build arteries better than we understand how to build capillaries. Personally, I think capillaries are more interesting than arteries. Maybe it’s just personal temperament, but I like all the little surprising details of how people end up experiencing the ripple effects of big new systems, and how users actually interact with the user interface of a service, especially ones that we don’t really think of as having a user interface. Like taxes, or healthcare, or hotels. All these big systems end in little capillaries, where people exchange information or get healed or get whatever they need. And when those capillaries aren’t working correctly, then those people just don’t get what they need. The hubs are connected to each other, but people aren’t connected to the hubs.
Over and over, in lots of different fields, we see that bad usability makes a huge difference. When choosing between two services, people will make very different choices, depending on which service actually seems designed around the user’s needs….(More)”

Big Data for Social Good


Introduction to a Special Issue of the Journal “Big Data” by Catlett Charlie and Ghani Rayid: “…organizations focused on social good are realizing the potential as well but face several challenges as they seek to become more data-driven. The biggest challenge they face is a paucity of examples and case studies on how data can be used for social good. This special issue of Big Data is targeted at tackling that challenge and focuses on highlighting some exciting and impactful examples of work that uses data for social good. The special issue is just one example of the recent surge in such efforts by the data science community. …

This special issue solicited case studies and problem statements that would either highlight (1) the use of data to solve a social problem or (2) social challenges that need data-driven solutions. From roughly 20 submissions, we selected 5 articles that exemplify this type of work. These cover five broad application areas: international development, healthcare, democracy and government, human rights, and crime prevention.

“Understanding Democracy and Development Traps Using a Data-Driven Approach” (Ranganathan et al.) details a data-driven model between democracy, cultural values, and socioeconomic indicators to identify a model of two types of “traps” that hinder the development of democracy. They use historical data to detect causal factors and make predictions about the time expected for a given country to overcome these traps.

“Targeting Villages for Rural Development Using Satellite Image Analysis” (Varshney et al.) discusses two case studies that use data and machine learning techniques for international economic development—solar-powered microgrids in rural India and targeting financial aid to villages in sub-Saharan Africa. In the process, the authors stress the importance of understanding the characteristics and provenance of the data and the criticality of incorporating local “on the ground” expertise.

In “Human Rights Event Detection from Heterogeneous Social Media Graphs,” Chen and Neil describe efficient and scalable techniques to use social media in order to detect emerging patterns in human rights events. They test their approach on recent events in Mexico and show that they can accurately detect relevant human rights–related tweets prior to international news sources, and in some cases, prior to local news reports, which could potentially lead to more timely, targeted, and effective advocacy by relevant human rights groups.

“Finding Patterns with a Rotten Core: Data Mining for Crime Series with Core Sets” (Wang et al.) describes a case study with the Cambridge Police Department, using a subspace clustering method to analyze the department’s full housebreak database, which contains detailed information from thousands of crimes from over a decade. They find that the method allows human crime analysts to handle vast amounts of data and provides new insights into true patterns of crime committed in Cambridge…..(More)

Civic Media Project


Site and Book edited by Eric Gordon and Paul Mihailidis: “Civic life is comprised of the attention and actions an individual devotes to a common good. Participating in a human rights rally, creating and sharing a video online about unfair labor practices, connecting with neighbors after a natural disaster: these are all civic actions wherein the actor seeks to benefit a perceived common good. But where and how civic life takes place, is an open question. The lines between the private and the public, the self-interested and the civic are blurring as digital cultures transform means and patterns of communication around the world.

As the definition of civic life is in flux, there is urgency in defining and questioning the mediated practices that compose it. Civic media are the mediated practices of designing, building, implementing or using digital tools to intervene in or participate in civic life. The Civic Media Project (CMP) is a collection of short case studies from scholars and practitioners from all over the world that range from the descriptive to the analytical, from the single tool to the national program, from the enthusiastic to the critical. What binds them together is not a particular technology or domain (i.e. government or social movements), but rather the intentionality of achieving a common good. Each of the case studies collected in this project reflects the practices associated with the intentional effort of one or many individuals to benefit or disrupt a community or institution outside of one’s intimate and professional spheres.

As the examples of civic media continue to grow every day, the Civic Media Project is intended as a living resource. New cases will be added on a regular basis after they have gone through an editorial process. Most importantly, the CMP is meant to be a place for conversation and debate about what counts as civic, what makes a citizen, what practices are novel, and what are the political, social and cultural implications of the integration of technology into civic lives.

How to Use the Site

Case studies are divided into four sections: Play + CreativitySystems + DesignLearning + Engagement, and Community + Action. Each section contains about 25 case studies that address the themes of the section. But there is considerable crossover and thematic overlap between sections as well. For those adventurous readers, the Tag Cloud provides a more granular entry point to the material and a more diverse set of connections.

We have also developed a curriculum that provides some suggestions for educators interested in using the Civic Media Project and other resources to explore the conceptual and practical implications of civic media examples.

One of the most valuable elements of this project is the dialogue about the case studies. We have asked all of the project’s contributors to write in-depth reviews of others’ contributions, and we also invite all readers to comment on cases and reviews. Do not be intimidated by the long “featured comments” in the Disqus section—these formal reviews should be understood as part of the critical commentary that makes each of these cases come alive through discussion and debate.

The Book

Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice is forthcoming from MIT Press and will serve as the print book companion to the Civic Media Project. The book identifies the emerging field of Civic Media by brining together leading scholars and practitioners from a diversity of disciplines to shape theory, identify problems and articulate opportunities.  The book includes 19 chapters (and 25 case studies) from fields as diverse as philosophy, communications, education, sociology, media studies, art, policy and philanthropy, and attempts to find common language and common purpose through the investigation of civic media….(More)”

The case against human rights


Eric Posner in the Guardian: “We live in an age in which most of the major human rights treaties – there are nine “core” treaties – have been ratified by the vast majority of countries. Yet it seems that the human rights agenda has fallen on hard times. In much of the Islamic world, women lack equality, religious dissenters are persecuted and political freedoms are curtailed. The Chinese model of development, which combines political repression and economic liberalism, has attracted numerous admirers in the developing world. Political authoritarianism has gained ground in Russia, Turkey, Hungary and Venezuela. Backlashes against LGBT rights have taken place in countries as diverse as Russia and Nigeria. The traditional champions of human rights – Europe and the United States – have floundered. Europe has turned inward as it has struggled with a sovereign debt crisis, xenophobia towards its Muslim communities and disillusionment with Brussels. The United States, which used torture in the years after 9/11 and continues to kill civilians with drone strikes, has lost much of its moral authority. Even age-old scourges such as slavery continue to exist. A recent report estimates that nearly 30 million people are forced against their will to work. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
At a time when human rights violations remain widespread, the discourse of human rights continues to flourish…
And yet it is hard to avoid the conclusion that governments continue to violate human rights with impunity. Why, for example, do more than 150 countries (out of 193 countries that belong to the UN) engage in torture? Why has the number of authoritarian countries increased in the last several years? Why do women remain a subordinate class in nearly all countries of the world? Why do children continue to work in mines and factories in so many countries?
The truth is that human rights law has failed to accomplish its objectives. There is little evidence that human rights treaties, on the whole, have improved the wellbeing of people. The reason is that human rights were never as universal as people hoped, and the belief that they could be forced upon countries as a matter of international law was shot through with misguided assumptions from the very beginning. The human rights movement shares something in common with the hubris of development economics, which in previous decades tried (and failed) to alleviate poverty by imposing top-down solutions on developing countries. But where development economists have reformed their approach, the human rights movement has yet to acknowledge its failures. It is time for a reckoning….
It is time to start over with an approach to promoting wellbeing in foreign countries that is empirical rather than ideological. Human rights advocates can learn a lot from the experiences of development economists – not only about the flaws of top-down, coercive styles of forcing people living in other countries to be free, but about how one can actually help those people if one really wants to. Wealthy countries can and should provide foreign aid to developing countries, but with the understanding that helping other countries is not the same as forcing them to adopt western institutions, modes of governance, dispute-resolution systems and rights. Helping other countries means giving them cash, technical assistance and credit where there is reason to believe that these forms of aid will raise the living standards of the poorest people. Resources currently used in fruitless efforts to compel foreign countries to comply with the byzantine, amorphous treaty regime would be better used in this way.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the human rights treaties were not so much an act of idealism as an act of hubris, with more than a passing resemblance to the civilising efforts undertaken by western governments and missionary groups in the 19th century, which did little good for native populations while entangling European powers in the affairs of countries they did not understand. A humbler approach is long overdue.”

Code of Conduct: Cyber Crowdsourcing for Good


Patrick Meier at iRevolution: “There is currently no unified code of conduct for digital crowdsourcing efforts in the development, humanitarian or human rights space. As such, we propose the following principles (displayed below) as a way to catalyze a conversation on these issues and to improve and/or expand this Code of Conduct as appropriate.
This initial draft was put together by Kate ChapmanBrooke Simons and myself. The link above points to this open, editable Google Doc. So please feel free to contribute your thoughts by inserting comments where appropriate. Thank you.
An organization that launches a digital crowdsourcing project must:

  • Provide clear volunteer guidelines on how to participate in the project so that volunteers are able to contribute meaningfully.
  • Test their crowdsourcing platform prior to any project or pilot to ensure that the system will not crash due to obvious bugs.
  • Disclose the purpose of the project, exactly which entities will be using and/or have access to the resulting data, to what end exactly, over what period of time and what the expected impact of the project is likely to be.
  • Disclose whether volunteer contributions to the project will or may be used as training data in subsequent machine learning research
  • ….

An organization that launches a digital crowdsourcing project should:

  • Share as much of the resulting data with volunteers as possible without violating data privacy or the principle of Do No Harm.
  • Enable volunteers to opt out of having their tasks contribute to subsequent machine learning research. Provide digital volunteers with the option of having their contributions withheld from subsequent machine learning studies
  • … “

A World That Counts: Mobilising a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development


Executive Summary of the Report by the UN Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development (IEAG): “Data are the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability. Without high-quality data providing the right information on the right things at the right time; designing, monitoring and evaluating effective policies becomes almost impossible.
New technologies are leading to an exponential increase in the volume and types of data available, creating unprecedented possibilities for informing and transforming society and protecting the environment. Governments, companies, researchers and citizen groups are in a ferment of experimentation, innovation and adaptation to the new world of data, a world in which data are bigger, faster and more detailed than ever before. This is the data revolution.
Some are already living in this new world. But too many people, organisations and governments are excluded because of lack of resources, knowledge, capacity or opportunity. There are huge and growing inequalities in access to data and information and in the ability to use it.
Data needs improving. Despite considerable progress in recent years, whole groups of people are not being counted and important aspects of people’s lives and environmental conditions are still not measured. For people, this can lead to the denial of basic rights, and for the planet, to continued environmental degradation. Too often, existing data remain unused because they are released too late or not at all, not well-documented and harmonized, or not available at the level of detail needed for decision-making.
As the world embarks on an ambitious project to meet new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is an urgent need to mobilise the data revolution for all people and the whole planet in order to monitor progress, hold governments accountable and foster sustainable development. More diverse, integrated, timely and trustworthy information can lead to better decision-making and real-time citizen feedback. This in turn enables individuals, public and private institutions, and companies to make choices that are good for them and for the world they live in.
This report sets out the main opportunities and risks presented by the data revolution for sustain-able development. Seizing these opportunities and mitigating these risks requires active choices, especially by governments and international institutions. Without immediate action, gaps between developed and developing countries, between information-rich and information-poor people, and between the private and public sectors will widen, and risks of harm and abuses of human rights will grow.

An urgent call for action: Key recommendations

The strong leadership of the United Nations (UN) is vital for the success of this process. The Independent Expert Advisory Group (IEAG), established in August 2014, offers the UN Secretary-General several key recommendations for actions to be taken in the near future, summarised below:

  1. Develop a global consensus on principles and standards: The disparate worlds of public, private and civil society data and statistics providers need to be urgently brought together to build trust and confidence among data users. We propose that the UN establish a process whereby key stakeholders create a “Global Consensus on Data”, to adopt principles concerning legal, technical, privacy, geospatial and statistical standards which, among other things, will facilitate openness and information exchange and promote and protect human rights.
  2. Share technology and innovations for the common good: To create mechanisms through which technology and innovation can be shared and used for the common good, we propose
    to create a global “Network of Data Innovation Networks”, to bring together the organisations and experts in the field. This would: contribute to the adoption of best practices for improving the monitoring of SDGs, identify areas where common data-related infrastructures could address capacity problems and improve efficiency, encourage collaborations, identify critical research gaps and create incentives to innovate.
  3. New resources for capacity development: Improving data is a development agenda in
    its own right, and can improve the targeting of existing resources and spur new economic opportunities. Existing gaps can only be overcome through new investments and the strengthening of capacities. A new funding stream to support the data revolution for sustainable development should be endorsed at the “Third International Conference on Financing for Development”, in Addis Ababa in July 2015. An assessment will be needed of the scale of investments, capacity development and technology transfer that is required, especially for low income countries; and proposals developed for mechanisms to leverage the creativity and resources of the private sector. Funding will also be needed to implement an education program aimed at improving people’s, infomediaries’ and public servants’ capacity and data literacy to break down barriers between people and data.
  4. Leadership for coordination and mobilisation: A UN-led “Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data” is proposed, tomobiliseandcoordinate the actions and institutions required to make the data revolution serve sustainable development, promoting several initiatives, such as:
    • A “World Forum on Sustainable Development Data” to bring together the whole data ecosystem to share ideas and experiences for data improvements, innovation, advocacy and technology transfer. The first Forum should take place at the end of 2015, once the SDGs are agreed;
    • A “Global Users Forum for Data for SDGs”, to ensure feedback loops between data producers and users, help the international community to set priorities and assess results;
    • Brokering key global public-private partnerships for data sharing.
  5. Exploit some quick wins on SDG data: Establishing a “SDGs data lab” to support the development of a first wave of SDG indicators, developing an SDG analysis and visualisation platform using the most advanced tools and features for exploring data, and building a dashboard from diverse data sources on ”the state of the world”.

Never again should it be possible to say “we didn’t know”. No one should be invisible. This is the world we want – a world that counts.”