In the Mood for Democracy? Democratic Support as Thermostatic Opinion


Paper by Christopher Claassen: “Public support has long been thought crucial for the survival of democracy. Existing research has argued that democracy moreover appears to create its own demand: the presence of a democratic system coupled with the passage of time produces a public who supports democracy. Using new panel measures of democratic mood varying over 135 countries and up to 30 years, this paper finds little evidence for such a positive feedback effect of democracy on support. Instead, it demonstrates a thermostatic effect: increases in democracy depress democratic mood, while decreases cheer it. Moreover, it is increases in the liberal, counter-majoritarian aspects of democracy, not the majoritarian, electoral aspects that provoke this backlash from citizens. These novel results challenge existing research on support for democracy, but also reconcile this research with the literature on macro-opinion….(More)”.

Introducing the Partner State: Public-Civil Partnerships for a Better City


Blog by Dirk Holemans: “Imagine: an urban politician wants to insist that some streets become car-free during summer. Even if there are good reasons – better air quality, kids get room to play – the result is quite predictable. The residents of those designated streets would revolt, for different reasons. Some would feel ignored as citizens, others would stand by their right to drive their car to their door, etc. Result: the politician has to withdraw the proposal, disappointed by these negative reactions. So, the gap between politics and people widens further.

But what happens if an independent network of collaborating citizens, businesses and local organisations, supported by the city government, develops a positive narrative for the idea of a Living Street? If they emphasise that a Living Street will be the sustainable place that inhabitants have always dreamed of? What if they offer people who are interested and want to test the idea on their street the possibility to do just that, if they can convince their neighbours to support this potentially great idea? In the city of Ghent we know the answer to this question. Since 2013, in the summer several streets have been transformed into car-free ‘places’ for the community, creating room for picnic benches, playgrounds for children, etc.

The Living Streets is not a top-down project, nor a bottom-up citizens’ initiative. It’s a form of co-creation between residents, the city and other organisations. Residents join forces, get to know each other better and go to work on the challenges of their street (more meeting space, isolation of older residents, traffic, unsafe street layout etc). For the city government, Living Streets are a testing ground for parking solutions, street furniture and the search for new forms of resident participation. The civil servants also roll up their sleeves. They seek solutions, help mediate in conflicts, make their expertise available and translate experiences into new policies.

Living Streets are one of the examples of how the city of Ghent, just as other cities like Bologna and Barcelona, is changing the traditional top-down politics of our modern society. In the latter approach, the provision of services, the introduction of innovations or management of resources, tend to be presented as a stark choice between state organisations or market mechanisms. This binary division ignores a crucial third possibility – that of interventions by autonomous citizens – and underestimates the many possibilities of citizens and (local) authorities working together….(More)”.

Open Parliaments Around the World. Open Parliaments’ Tools in Comparative Perspective


Book by Rafael Rubio and Ricardo Vela: “…over the past few years Parliaments across the world have started to explore new forms of developing their traditional functions, assuming what some consider new functions, to try and respond to these demands. In this regard information and communication technologies have show their capacity to support and modernize institutional activity. In the past few years there are very few countries who have not experienced technological advances in the parliamentary realm. It is possible to discover new ideas, new tools, new practices and an increasing number of parliaments use technology to carry out their representative tasks with greater efficiency, drawing them closer to citizens. It still remains to be seen as to whether they have created a real change in parliamentary practice….

Born to be mirrors of public opinion, Parliaments are places in which national sovereignty resides and as such, communication is a key aspect of its DNA. It is thus not surprising that new technologies have special weight in the configuration of Open Parliament. However, the model for Open Parliament is not only about increasing the technology used by and in the Parliament, nor just about its implementation. When they are implanted in a passive way, new technologies often end up being used to replace representation, which constitutes one of the most frequent errors in the initial process of adapting to technologies: putting reality at the service of the tool and not the other way round. Not everything that is possible to carry out is interesting or appropriate, even if it is new and innovative. It makes no sense to start developing functions that adapt to what technology is capable of doing, and losing sight of the needs that technology serves….(More)”.

Three Companies Innovating Democracy


Matt Harder at Beyond Voting: “….Below, we’ll explore three websites that allow citizens to communicate better with their governing systems.

Countable.us makes it easier to know what your representatives are voting on, and to tell them how you think they should vote. For each upcoming bill, you can suggest a yea or nay to your representative via email or can even send video messages. Each bill also has a lively debate section so the yeas and nays can share, upvote their opinions and learn from each other. The result is seeing more informed and better arguments in favor of your preferences, and perhaps more importantly, against.

IssueVoter.us is similar to Countable in that you give your opinions to your representatives. But IssueVoter puts a different spin on it by giving you a “scorecard” highlighting how closely your representatives votes align to your preferences. The site is still new, so the functionality is not as great as it could be, but the concept is worth note.

Bang the Table focuses on engagement at a local level. They create civic engagement dashboards for cities that allow residents to stay informed and share opinions about city projects. They offer several levels of engagement, from simply dispensing information for the city to engaging citizens in collective discussions and decision making. Fayetteville, AR used them to make the engagement page Speak Up Fayetteville, which informed citizens about projects such as the Cultural Arts Corridor.

While none of these are driving massive change just yet, it’s easy to imagine how they could be enormously impactful if embraced at scale. First, they will all have to figure out how to design websites which are appealing enough to bring the masses, yet meaningful enough to benefit decision-makers. We’re stuck in the in-between phase where the internet is the most powerful communication medium, but we haven’t learned to utilize it for productive democratic purposes….(More)”.

Techno-optimism and policy-pessimism in the public sector big data debate


Paper by Simon Vydra and Bram Klievink: “Despite great potential, high hopes and big promises, the actual impact of big data on the public sector is not always as transformative as the literature would suggest. In this paper, we ascribe this predicament to an overly strong emphasis the current literature places on technical-rational factors at the expense of political decision-making factors. We express these two different emphases as two archetypical narratives and use those to illustrate that some political decision-making factors should be taken seriously by critiquing some of the core ‘techno-optimist’ tenets from a more ‘policy-pessimist’ angle.

In the conclusion we have these two narratives meet ‘eye-to-eye’, facilitating a more systematized interrogation of big data promises and shortcomings in further research, paying appropriate attention to both technical-rational and political decision-making factors. We finish by offering a realist rejoinder of these two narratives, allowing for more context-specific scrutiny and balancing both technical-rational and political decision-making concerns, resulting in more realistic expectations about using big data for policymaking in practice….(More)”.

Here’s a prediction: In the future, predictions will only get worse


Allison Schrager at Quartz: “Forecasts rely on data from the past, and while we now have better data than ever—and better techniques and technology with which to measure them—when it comes to forecasting, in many ways, data has never been more useless. And as data become more integral to our lives and the technology we rely upon, we must take a harder look at the past before we assume it tells us anything about the future.

To some extent, the weaknesses of data has always existed. Data are, by definition, information about what has happened in the past. Because populations and technology are constantly changing, they alter how we respond to incentives, policy, opportunities available to us, and even social cues. This undermines the accuracy of everything we try to forecast: elections, financial markets, even how long it will take to get to the airport.

But there is reason to believe we are experiencing more change than before. The economy is undergoing a major structural change by becoming more globally integrated, which increases some risks while reducing others, while technology has changed how we transact and communicate. I’ve written before how it’s now impossible for the movie industry to forecast hit films. Review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes undermines traditional marketing plans and the rise of the Chinese market means film makers must account for different tastes. Meanwhile streaming has changed how movies are consumed and who watches them. All these changes mean data from 10, or even five, years ago tell producers almost nothing about movie-going today.

We are in the age of big data that offers to promise of more accurate predictions. But it seems in some of the most critical aspects of our lives, data has never been more wrong….(More)”.

Publics in Emerging Economies Worry Social Media Sow Division, Even as They Offer New Chances for Political Engagement


Aaron Smith, Laura Silver, Courtney Johnson, Kyle Taylor and Jingjing Jiang at Pew Research: “In recent years, the internet and social media have been integral to political protests, social movements and election campaigns around the globe. Events from the Arab Spring to the worldwide spread of#MeToo have been aided by digital connectivity in both advanced and emerging economies. But popular social media and messaging platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp have drawn attention for their potential role in spreading misinformation, facilitating political manipulation by foreign and domestic actors, and increasing violence and hate crimes.

Recently, the Sri Lankan government shut down several of the country’s social media and messaging services immediately after Easter day bombings at Catholic churches killed and wounded hundreds. Some technology enthusiasts praised the decision but wondered if this development marked a change from pro-democracy, Arab Spring-era hopes that digital technology would be a liberating tool to a new fear that it has become “a force that can corrode” societies.

In the context of these developments, a Pew Research Center survey of adults in 11 emerging economies finds these publics are worried about the risks associated with social media and other communications technologies – even as they cite their benefits in other respects. Succinctly put, the prevailing view in the surveyed countries is that mobile phones, the internet and social media have collectively amplified politics in both positive and negative directions – simultaneously making people more empowered politically andpotentially more exposed to harm.

Chart showing that people in emerging economies see social media giving them political voice but also increasing the risk of manipulation.

When it comes to the benefits, adults in these countries see digital connectivity enhancing people’s access to political information and facilitating engagement with their domestic politics. Majorities in each country say access to the internet, mobile phones and social media has made people more informed about current events, and majorities in most countries believe social media have increased ordinary people’s ability to have a meaningful voice in the political process. Additionally, half or more in seven of these 11 countries say technology has made people more accepting of those who have different views than they do.

But these perceived benefits are frequently accompanied by concerns about the limitations of technology as a tool for political action or information seeking. Even as many say social media have increased the influence of ordinary people in the political process, majorities in eight of these 11 countries feel these platforms have simultaneously increased the risk that people might be manipulated by domestic politicians. Around half or more in eight countries also think these platforms increase the risk that foreign powers might interfere in their country’s elections….(More)”.

The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State leave the Community behind


Book by Raghuram Rajan: “….In The Third Pillar he offers up a magnificent big-picture framework for understanding how these three forces–the state, markets, and our communities–interact, why things begin to break down, and how we can find our way back to a more secure and stable plane. 

The “third pillar” of the title is the community we live in. Economists all too often understand their field as the relationship between markets and the state, and they leave squishy social issues for other people. That’s not just myopic, Rajan argues; it’s dangerous. All economics is actually socioeconomics – all markets are embedded in a web of human relations, values and norms. As he shows, throughout history, technological phase shifts have ripped the market out of those old webs and led to violent backlashes, and to what we now call populism. Eventually, a new equilibrium is reached, but it can be ugly and messy, especially if done wrong. 

Right now, we’re doing it wrong. As markets scale up, the state scales up with it, concentrating economic and political power in flourishing central hubs and leaving the periphery to decompose, figuratively and even literally. Instead, Rajan offers a way to rethink the relationship between the market and civil society and argues for a return to strengthening and empowering local communities as an antidote to growing despair and unrest. Rajan is not a doctrinaire conservative, so his ultimate argument that decision-making has to be devolved to the grass roots or our democracy will continue to wither, is sure to be provocative. But even setting aside its solutions, The Third Pillar is a masterpiece of explication, a book that will be a classic of its kind for its offering of a wise, authoritative and humane explanation of the forces that have wrought such a sea change in our lives….(More)”.

Facebook will open its data up to academics to see how it impacts elections


MIT Technology Review: “More than 60 researchers from 30 institutions will get access to Facebook user data to study its impact on elections and democracy, and how it’s used by advertisers and publishers.

A vast trove: Facebook will let academics see which websites its users linked to from January 2017 to February 2019. Notably, that means they won’t be able to look at the platform’s impact on the US presidential election in 2016, or on the Brexit referendum in the UK in the same year.

Despite this slightly glaring omission, it’s still hard to wrap your head around the scale of the data that will be shared, given that Facebook is used by 1.6 billion people every day. That’s more people than live in all of China, the most populous country on Earth. It will be one of the largest data sets on human behavior online to ever be released.

The process: Facebook didn’t pick the researchers. They were chosen by the Social Science Research Council, a US nonprofit. Facebook has been working on this project for over a year, as it tries to balance research interests against user privacy and confidentiality.

Privacy: In a blog post, Facebook said it will use a number of statistical techniques to make sure the data set can’t be used to identify individuals. Researchers will be able to access it only via a secure portal that uses a VPN and two-factor authentication, and there will be limits on the number of queries they can each run….(More)”.

Politics and Technology in the Post-Truth Era


Book edited by Anna Visvizi and Miltiadis D. Lytras: “Advances in information and communication technology (ICT) have directly impacted the way in which politics operates today. Bringing together research on Europe, the US, South America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa, this book examines the relationship between ICT and politics in a global perspective.

Technological innovations such as big data, data mining, sentiment analysis, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, social media and blockchain technology are reshaping the way ICT intersects with politics and in this collection contributors examine these developments, demonstrating their impact on the political landscape. Chapters examine topics such as cyberwarfare and propaganda, post-Soviet space, Snowden, US national security, e-government, GDPR, democratization in Africa and internet freedom.


Providing an overview of new research on the emerging relationship between the promise and potential inherent in ICT and its impact on politics, this edited collection will prove an invaluable text for students, researchers and practitioners working in the fields of Politics, International Relations and Computer Science…..(More)”