Long Live the Human Network Effect

Julia Hobsbawm at Strategy + Business: “Picture the scene. The eyes of the world are on the Tham Luang cave system in Thailand, near the border with Myanmar. Trapped on a rock ledge deep inside is the Wild Boars soccer team of 12 boys and their coach, who had ventured into the caves about two weeks earlier. It is monsoon season. Water is rising and oxygen levels are falling. Not all of the boys can even swim. Time is running out.

Elon Musk proposes building a “kid-sized submarine” to assist the rescue effort. Musk’s solution is politely declined by Thai authorities as “not practical.” In fact, by the time Musk’s sub arrives, most of the boys are already out, alive. One of the most audacious, moving, complex, and successful rescue operations in history relied not on a single technology or hero but on the collaboration of many people, working together in a spontaneous network.

This web of connections came together organically and quickly, unassisted by algorithms, in a unique collaboration led by humans. It was a stunning example of what physicist Albert-László Barabási calls “scale-free networks”: networks that reproduce exponentially by their very nature. The exact same network effects that can be lethal in spreading a virus can be productive — beautiful, even — in creating a web of diverse human skills quickly. Networks, as Barabási puts it, “are everywhere. You just have to look for them.”…

Networks that come together like this and use technology, community, and communications in a timely manner are an example of what the U.N. calls its “leave no one behind” strategy for achieving sustainable development goals. I consider it an example of social health in action: They are the kinds of collaborations that help us live full and productive lives. And in business, there is an exciting opportunity to harness social health and the power of networks to help solve problems.

This kind of social health network, perhaps unsurprisingly, is very visible in innovations in the healthcare sector. A digital health community called The Mighty, for example, is a forum to find information about rare illnesses and connect people facing similar challenges, so that they might learn from the experiences of others. It now has 90 million engagements on its website per month and a new member joins every 20 seconds….(More)”.

G20/OECD Compendium of good practices on the use of open data for Anti-corruption

OECD: “This compendium of good practices was prepared by the OECD at the request of the G20 Anti-corruption Working Group (ACWG), to raise awareness of the benefits of open data policies and initiatives in: 

  • fighting corruption,
  • increasing public sector transparency and integrity,
  • fostering economic development and social innovation.

This compendium provides an overview of initiatives for the publication and re-use of open data to fight corruption across OECD and G20 countries and underscores the impact that a digital transformation of the public sector can deliver in terms of better governance across policy areas.  The practices illustrate the use of open data as a way of fighting corruption and show how open data principles can be translated into concrete initiatives.

The publication is divided into three sections:

Section 1 discusses the benefits of open data for greater public sector transparency and performance, national competitiveness and social engagement, and how these initiatives contribute to greater public trust in government.

Section 2 highlights the preconditions necessary across different policy areas related to anti-corruption (e.g. open government, public procurement) to sustain the implementation of an “Open by default” approach that could help government move from a perspective that focuses on increasing access to public sector information to one that enhances the publication of open government data for re-use and value co-creation. 

Section 3 presents the results of the OECD survey administered across OECD and G20 countries, good practices on the publishing and reusing of open data for anti-corruption in G20 countries, and lessons learned from the definition and implementation of these initiatives. This chapter also discusses the implications for broader national matters such as freedom of press, and the involvement of key actors of the open data ecosystem (e.g. journalists and civil society organisations) as key partners in open data re-use for anti-corruption…(More)”.

New possibilities for cutting corruption in the public sector

Rema Hanna and Vestal McIntyre at VoxDev: “In their day-to-day dealings with the government, citizens of developing countries frequently encounter absenteeism, demands for bribes, and other forms of low-level corruption. When researchers used unannounced visits to gauge public-sector attendance across six countries, they found that 19% of teachers and 35% of health workers were absent during work hours (Chaudhury et al. 2006). A recent survey found that nearly 70% of Indians reported paying a bribe to access public services.

Corruption can set into motion vicious cycles: the government is impoverished of resources to provide services, and citizens are deprived of the things they need. For the poor, this might mean that they live without quality education, electricity, healthcare, and so forth. In contrast, the rich can simply pay the bribe or obtain the service privately, furthering inequality.

Much of the discourse around corruption focuses on punishing corrupt offenders. But punitive measures can only go so far, especially when corruption is seen as the ‘norm’ and is thus ingrained in institutions. 

What if we could find ways of identifying the ‘goodies’ – those who enter the public sector out of a sense of civic responsibility, and serve honestly – and weeding out the ‘baddies’ before they are hired? New research shows this may be possible....

You can test personality

For decades, questionnaires have dissected personality into the ‘Big Five’ traits of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. These traits have been shown to be predictors of behaviour and outcomes in the workplace (Heckman 2011). As a result, private sector employers often use them in recruiting. Nobel laureate James Heckman and colleagues found that standardized adolescent measures of locus control and self-esteem (components of neuroticism) predict adult earnings to a similar degree as intelligence (Kautz et al. 2014).

Personality tests have also been put to use for the good of the poor: our colleague at Harvard’s Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD), Asim Ijaz Khwaja and collaborators have tested, and then subsequently expanded, personality tests as a basis for identifying reliable borrowers. This way, lenders can offer products to poor entrepreneurs who lack traditional credit histories, but who are nonetheless creditworthy. (See the Entrepreneurial Finance Lab’s website.)

You can test for civic-mindedness and honesty

Out of the personality-test literature grew the Perry Public Sector Motivation questionnaire (Perry 1996), which comprises a series of statements that respondents can state their level of agreement or disagreement with measures of civic-mindedness. The questionnaire has six modules, including “Attraction to Policy Making”, “Commitment to Public Interest”, “Social Justice”, “Civic Duty”, “Compassion”, and “Self-Sacrifice.” Studies have found that scores on the instrument correlate positively with job performance, ethical behaviour, participation in civic organisations, and a host of other good outcomes (for a review, see Perry and Hondeghem 2008).

You can also measure honesty in different ways. For example, Fischbacher and Föllmi-Heusi (2013) formulated a game in which subjectsroll a die and write down the number that they get, receiving higher cash rewards for larger reported numbers. While this does not reveal with certainty if any one subject lied since no one else sees the die, it does reveal how far their reported numbers were from the uniform distribution. Those with high dice high points have a higher probability of having cheated. Implementing this, the authors found that “about 20% of inexperienced subjects lie to the fullest extent possible while 39% of subjects are fully honest.”

These and a range of other tools for psychological profiling have opened up new possibilities for improving governance. Here are a few lessons this new literature has yielded….(More)”.

Open Government Data for Inclusive Development

Chapter by F. van Schalkwyk and M,  Cañares in  “Making Open Development Inclusive”, MIT Press by Matthew L. Smith and Ruhiya Kris Seward (Eds):  “This chapter examines the relationship between open government data and social inclusion. Twenty-eight open data initiatives from the Global South are analyzed to find out how and in what contexts the publication of open government data tend to result in the inclusion of habitually marginalized communities in governance processes such that they may lead better lives.

The relationship between open government data and social inclusion is examined by presenting an analysis of the outcomes of open data projects. This analysis is based on a constellation of factors that were identified as having a bearing on open data initiatives with respect to inclusion. The findings indicate that open data can contribute to an increase in access and participation— both components of inclusion. In these cases, this particular finding indicates that a more open, participatory approach to governance practice is taking root. However, the findings also show that access and participation approaches to open government data have, in the cases studied here, not successfully disrupted the concentration of power in political and other networks, and this has placed limits on open data’s contribution to a more inclusive society.

The chapter starts by presenting a theoretical framework for the analysis of the relationship between open data and inclusion. The framework sets out the complex relationship between social actors, information and power in the network society. This is critical, we suggest, in developing a realistic analysis of the contexts in which open data activates its potential for
transformation. The chapter then articulates the research question and presents the methodology used to operationalize those questions. The findings and discussion section that follows examines the factors affecting the relationship between open data and inclusion, and how these factors
are observed to play out across several open data initiatives in different contexts. The chapter ends with concluding remarks and an attempt to synthesize the insights that emerged in the preceding sections….(More)”.

Better Data for Doing Good: Responsible Use of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence

Report by the World Bank: “Describes opportunities for harnessing the value of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) for social good and how new families of AI algorithms now make it possible to obtain actionable insights automatically and at scale. Beyond internet business or commercial applications, multiple examples already exist of how big data and AI can help achieve shared development objectives, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But ethical frameworks in line with increased uptake of these new technologies remain necessary—not only concerning data privacy but also relating to the impact and consequences of using data and algorithms. Public recognition has grown concerning AI’s potential to create both opportunities for societal benefit and risks to human rights. Development calls for seizing the opportunity to shape future use as a force for good, while at the same time ensuring the technologies address inequalities and avoid widening the digital divide….(More)”.

Using Mobile Network Data for Development: How it works

Blog by Derval Usher and Darren Hanniffy: “…We aim to equip decision makers with data tools so that they have access to the analysis on the fly. But to help this scale we need progress in three areas:

1. The framework to support Shared Value partnerships.

2. Shared understanding of The Proposition and the benefits for all parties.

3. Access to finance and a funding strategy, designing-in innovation.

1. Any Public-Private Partnership should be aligned to achieve impact centered on the SDGs through a Shared Value / Inclusive Business approach. Mobile network operators are consumed with the challenge of maintaining or upgrading their infrastructure, driving device sales and sustaining their agent networks to reach the last mile. Measuring impact against the SDGs has not been a priority. Mobile network operators tend not to seek out partnerships with traditional development donors or development implementers. But there is a growing realisation of the potential and the need to partner. It’s important to move from a service level transactional relationship to a strategic partnership approach.

Private sector partners have been fundamental to the success of UN Global Pulse as these companies are often the custodians of the big data sets from which we develop valuable development and humanitarian insights. Although in previous years our private sector partners were framed primarily as data philanthropists, we are beginning to see a shift in the relationship to one of shared value. Our work generates public value and also insights that can enhance business operations. This shared value model is attracting more private enterprises to engage and to explore their own data, and more broadly to investigate the value of their networks and data as part of the data innovation ecosystem, which the Global Pulse lab network will build on as we move forward.

2. Partners need to be more propositional and less charitable. They need to recognise the fact that earning profit may help ensure the sustainability of digital platforms and services that offer developmental impact. Through partnership we can attract innovative finance, deliver mobile for development programmes, measure impact and create affordable commercial solutions to development challenges that become sustainable by design. Pulse Lab Jakarta and Digicel have been flexible with one another which is important as this partnership has not always been a priority for either side all the time. But we believe in unlocking the power of mobile data for development and therefore continue to make progress.

3. Development and commercial strategies should be more aligned to create an enabling environment. Currently they are not. Private sector needs to become a strategic partner to development where multi-annual development funds align with commercial strategy. Mobile network operators continue to invest in their network particularly in developing countries and the digital platform is coming into being in the markets where Digicel operates. But the platform is new and experience is limited within governments, the development community and indeed even within mobile network operators.

We need to see donors actively engage during the development of multi-annual funding facilities….(More)”.

Data-Driven Development

Report by the World Bank: “…Decisions based on data can greatly improve people’s lives. Data can uncover patterns, unexpected relationships and market trends, making it possible to address previously intractable problems and leverage hidden opportunities. For example, tracking genes associated with certain types of cancer to improve treatment, or using commuter travel patterns to devise public transportation that is affordable and accessible for users, as well as profitable for operators.

Data is clearly a precious commodity, and the report points out that people should have greater control over the use of their personal data. Broadly speaking, there are three possible answers to the question “Who controls our data?”: firms, governments, or users. No global consensus yet exists on the extent to which private firms that mine data about individuals should be free to use the data for profit and to improve services.

User’s willingness to share data in return for benefits and free services – such as virtually unrestricted use of social media platforms – varies widely by country. In addition to that, early internet adopters, who grew up with the internet and are now age 30–40, are the most willing to share (GfK 2017).

Are you willing to share your data? (source: GfK 2017)


On the other hand, data can worsen the digital divide – the data poor, who leave no digital trail because they have limited access, are most at risk from exclusion from services, opportunities and rights, as are those who lack a digital ID, for instance.

Firms and Data

For private sector firms, particularly those in developing countries, the report suggests how they might expand their markets and improve their competitive edge. Companies are already developing new markets and making profits by analyzing data to better understand their customers. This is transforming conventional business models. For years, telecommunications has been funded by users paying for phone calls. Today, advertisers pay for users’ data and attention are funding the internet, social media, and other platforms, such as apps, reversing the value flow.

Governments and Data

For governments and development professionals, the report provides guidance on how they might use data more creatively to help tackle key global challenges, such as eliminating extreme poverty, promoting shared prosperity, or mitigating the effects of climate change. The first step is developing appropriate guidelines for data sharing and use, and for anonymizing personal data. Governments are already beginning to use the huge quantities of data they hold to enhance service delivery, though they still have far to go to catch up with the commercial giants, the report finds.

Data for Development

The Information and Communications for Development report analyses how the data revolution is changing the behavior of governments, individuals, and firms and how these changes affect economic, social, and cultural development. This is a topic of growing importance that cannot be ignored, and the report aims to stimulate wider debate on the unique challenges and opportunities of data for development. It will be useful for policy makers, but also for anyone concerned about how their personal data is used and how the data revolution might affect their future job prospects….(More)”.

Technologies of International Relations

Book edited by Carolin Kaltofen, Madeline Carr and Michele Acuto: “This book examines the role of technology in the core voices for International Relations theory and how this has shaped the contemporary thinking of ‘IR’ across some of the discipline’s major texts. Through an interview format between different generations of IR scholars, the conversations of the book analyse the relationship between technology and concepts like power, security and global order. They explore to what extent ideas about the role and implications of technology help to understand the way IR has been framed and world politics are conceived of today. This innovative text will appeal to scholars in Politics and International Relations as well as STS, Human Geography and Anthropology….(More)” .

Governments fail to capitalise on swaths of open data

Valentina Romei in the Financial Times: “…Behind the push for open data is a desire to make governments more transparent, accountable and efficient — but also to allow businesses to create products and services that spark economic development. The global annual opportunity cost of failing to do this effectively is about $5tn, according to one estimate from McKinsey, the consultancy.

The UK is not the only country falling short, says the Open Data Barometer, which monitors the status of government data across the world. Among the 30 leading governments — those that have championed the open data movement and have made progress over five years — “less than a quarter of the data with the biggest potential for social and economic impact” is truly open. This goal of transparency, it seems, has not proved sufficient for “creating value” — the movement’s latest focus. In 2015, nearly a decade after advocates first discussed the principles of open government data, 62 countries adopted the six Open Data Charter principles — which called for data to be open by default, usable and comparable….

The use of open data has already bore fruit for some countries. In 2015, Japan’s ministry of land, infrastructure and transport set up an open data site aimed at disabled and elderly people. The 7,000 data points published are downloadable and the service can be used to generate a map that shows which passenger terminals on train, bus and ferry networksprovide barrier-free access.

In the US, The Climate Corporation, a digital agriculture company, combined 30 years of weather data and 60 years of crop yield data to help farmers increase their productivity. And in the UK, subscription service Land Insight merges different sources of land data to help individuals and developers compare property information, forecast selling prices, contact land owners and track planning applications…
Open Data 500, an international network of organisations that studies the use and impact of open data, reveals that private companies in South Korea are using government agency data, with technology, advertising and business services among the biggest users. It shows, for example, that Archidraw, a four-year-old Seoul-based company that provides 3D visualisation tools for interior design and property remodelling, has used mapping data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport…(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)”.