Nominate a White House Champion of Change for Transformative Civic Engagement

Lisa Ellman and Nick Sinai @ The White House Blog: “But we know that much of the best open government work happens in America’s towns and cities. Every day, local leaders across America’s communities are stepping up in big ways to advance open government goals from the ground up.
This July, the White House will host a “Champions of Change” event to celebrate these local change-agents, whose exemplary leadership is helping to strengthen our democracy and increase participation in our government.
The event will convene extraordinary individuals who are taking innovative approaches to engage citizens and communities in the practice of open government and civic participation.  These leaders will be invited to the White House to celebrate their accomplishments and showcase the steps they have taken to foster a more open, transparent, and participatory government.
Today, we’re asking you to help us identify these standout local leaders by nominating a Champion of Change for Transformative Civic Engagement by noon on Friday, June 21st.  A Champion’s work may involve:

  • Piloting a participatory and democracy-building initiative, such as one that engages citizens in governance beyond elections;
  • Engaging traditionally disengaged communities in local governance;
  • Using new technologies to enhance transparency, participation, and collaboration in government.

We look forward to hearing from you!
Nominate a Transformative Civic Leader as a Champion of Change (under theme of service, choose “Transformative Civic Engagement Leaders”).

How legislatures work – and should work – as public space

Paper by John Parkinson in latest issue of Democratization: “In a democracy, legislatures are not only stages for performances by elected representatives; they are also stages for performances by other players in the public sphere. This article argues that while many legislatures are designed and built as spaces for the public to engage with politics, and while democratic norms require some degree of access, increasingly what are termed “purposive publics” are being superseded by groups who are only publics in an aggregative, accidental sense. The article begins with a conceptual analysis of the ways in which legislatures can be thought of as public spaces, and the in-principle access requirements that follow from them. It then draws on interviews and observational fieldwork in eleven capital cities to discover whether the theoretical requirements are met in practice, revealing further tensions. The conclusions are that accessibility is important; is being downgraded in important ways; but also that access norms stand in tension with the requirement that legislatures function as working buildings if they are to retain their symbolic value. The article ends with two “modest proposals”, one concerning the design of the plazas in front of legislatures, the other concerning a role for the wider public in legislative procedure.”

New Book: Digital Methods

9780262018838New book by Richard Rogers, Director of the Foundation (Amsterdam) and the Digital Methods Initiative: “In Digital Methods, Richard Rogers proposes a methodological outlook for social and cultural scholarly research on the Web that seeks to move Internet research beyond the study of online culture. It is not a toolkit for Internet research, or operating instructions for a software package; it deals with broader questions. How can we study social media to learn something about society rather than about social media use? How can hyperlinks reveal not just the value of a Web site but the politics of association? Rogers proposes repurposing Web-native techniques for research into cultural change and societal conditions. We can learn to reapply such “methods of the medium” as crawling and crowd sourcing, PageRank and similar algorithms, tag clouds and other visualizations; we can learn how they handle hits, likes, tags, date stamps, and other Web-native objects. By “thinking along” with devices and the objects they handle, digital research method! s can follow the evolving methods of the medium.
Rogers uses this new methodological outlook to examine the findings of inquiries into 9/11 search results, the recognition of climate change skeptics by climate-change-related Web sites, the events surrounding the Srebrenica massacre according to Dutch, Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian Wikipedias, presidential candidates’ social media “friends,” and the censorship of the Iranian Web. With Digital Methods, Rogers introduces a new vision and method for Internet research and at the same time applies them to the Web’s objects of study, from tiny particles (hyperlinks) to large masses (social media).”

An Ethnographic Approach to Impact Evaluation: Stop Measuring Outputs, Start Understanding Experiences

Panthea Lee, a principal at Reboot, in TechPresident: “Is open government working? I asked the question in a previous post …Too often, assessing the impact of open government initiatives amounts to measuring outputs: how many developers flocked to a civic tech hackathon; the amount of procurement records feeding corruption hawks and socially-minded graphic designers; or the number of tweets or media mentions about a particular initiative, regardless of whether they are from the same industry blogs and actors covering open government.
Quantitative metrics have their place. They may be useful for gauging the popularity of an initiative. They are almost always used to justify funding for an initiative. But, ultimately, these studies say very little about open government’s actual impact on people….We need to move beyond measuring outputs and toward understanding experiences….
Applied ethnography holds great potential for understanding how individuals experience open government initiatives. Ethnography––“a portrait of people”––is the study of people within their social and cultural contexts. It embraces context, examining how results can be explained by human factors and situational interactions. Ethnography allows us to understand the meaning of participation for different individuals––who is affected or not, and why. (Ethnographic research is often mistakenly equated with “interview studies” or other types of qualitative research. An immersive research approach, it uses techniques such as participant observation, unstructured interviews, and artifact collection to attempt a holistic analysis of human behaviours, interactions, and perceptions over time.)
Take, for example, this ethnographic study of a participatory budgeting initiative in Rome. The study found that through engagement with the participatory budgeting process, some participants “discovered a passion for politics,” leading them to join neighborhood associations and local political parties. Other participants, however, left the budgeting process feeling more cynical about and disengaged from participatory democracy.”

The Internet as Politicizing Instrument

New Issue of Transformations (Editorial): “This issue of Transformations presents essays responding to Marcus Breen’s recent book Uprising: The Internet’s Unintended Consequences. Breen asks whether the Internet can become a politicising instrument for the new online proletariat – the individualised users isolated by the monitor screen. He asks “if the proletariat can use the Internet, is it freed from the moral and social constraints of the past that were imposed by conventional media and its regulation of the public space?” (32) This question raises further issues. Does this freedom translate into an emancipatory politics where the proletariat is able to pursue its own ends, or does it simply reproduce the power relation between the user-subject and the Internet and those who control and manage it. The articles in this issue respond in various ways to these questions.
Marcus Breen’s own article “The Internet and Privatism: Reconstructing the Monitor Space” makes a case for privatism – the restriction of subjective life to isolated or privatised experience, especially in relation to the computer monitor – as the new modality of meaning making in the Internet era. Using approaches associated with cultural and media studies, the paper traces the way the Internet has influenced the shift in the culture towards values associated with the confluence of ideas around the private, best described by privatism.
Fidele Vlavo’s article investigates the central discourses that have constructed the internet as a democratic and public environment removed from state and corporate control. The aim is to call attention to the issues that have limited the development of the internet as a tool for socio-political empowerment. The paper first retraces the early discursive constructions that insist on representing the internet as a decentralised and open structure. It also questions the role played by the digerati (or cyber elite) in the formulation of contradictory demands for public interests, self-governance, and entrepreneurial rights. Finally, it examines the emergence of two early virtual communities and their attempts to facilitate free speech and self-regulation. In the context of activists advocating freedom of expression and government institutions re-organizing legislation to control the Internet, the examination of these discourses provides a useful starting point for the (re)assessment of the potential of direct online mobilization.
Emit Snake-Being’s article examines the limits of the Internet as a politicising instrument by showing how Internet users are subject to the controls of the search engine algorithm, managed by elite groups whose purpose is to reproduce themselves in terms of neo-liberal capitalism. Invoking recent political events in the Middle East and in London in which a wired proletariat sought to resist and overturn political authorities through Internet communication, Snake-Beings argues that such events are compromised by the fact that they owe their possibility to Internet providers and their commercial imperatives. Snake-Being’s article, as well as most of the other articles in this issue, offers a timely reminder not only of the possibilities, but of the limits of the Internet as a politicising instrument for progressive, emancipatory politics.
Frances Shaw’s paper concerns the way in which the logic of surveillance operates in contested sites in cities where live coverage of demonstrations against capitalism leads to confrontation between demonstrators and police. Through a detailed account of the “Occupy Sydney” demonstration in 2011, Shaw shows how both demonstrators and police engaged in tactics of surveillance and resistance to counter each other’s power and authority. In an age of instant communication and global surveillance, freedom of movement and freedom from surveillance in public spaces is drawn into the logics of power mediated by mobile ‘phones and computer based communication technology.
Karyl Ketchum’s paper offers detailed analysis of two Internet sites to show how the proletarianisation of the Internet is gendered in terms of male interests. Picking up on Breen’s argument that Internet proletarianisation leads to an open system that “supports both anything and anyone,” she argues that, in the domain of online pornography, this new-found freedom turns out to be “the power of computer analytics to harness and hone the shifting meanings of white Western Enlightenment masculinities in new globalising postcolonial contexts, economies and geopolitical struggles.” Furthermore, Ketchum shows how this default to male interests was also at work in American reporting of the Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. The YouTube video posted by a young Egyptian woman, Asmaa Mahfouz, which sparked the revolution in Egypt that eventually overthrew the Mubarak government, was not given due coverage by the Western media, so that “women like Mahfouz all but disappear from Western accounts of the Arab Spring.”
Liden and Giritli Nygren’s paper addresses the challenges to the theories of the political sphere posed by a digital society. It is suggested that this is most evident at the intersection between understandings of technology, performativities, and politics that combines empirical closeness with abstract understandings of socio-political and cultural contexts. The paper exemplifies this by reporting on a study of online citizen dialogue in the making, in this case concerning school planning in a Swedish municipality. Applying these theoretical perspectives to this case provides some key findings. The technological design is regarded as restricting the potential dialogue, as is outlined in different themes where the participants enact varying positions—taxpayers, citizen consumers, or local residents. The political analysis stresses a dialogue that lacks both polemic and public perspectives, and rather is characterized by the expression of different special interests. Together, these perspectives can provide the foundation for the development of applying theories in a digital society.
The Internet and Privatism: Reconstructing the Monitor Space (Marcus Breen)
The Digital Hysterias of Decentralisation, Entrepreneurship and Open Community (Fidele Vlavo)
From Ideology to Algorithm: the Opaque Politics of the Internet (Emit Snake-Beings)
“Walls of Seeing”: Protest Surveillance, Embodied Boundaries, and Counter-Surveillance at Occupy Sydney (Frances Shaw)
Gendered Uprisings: Desire, Revolution, and the Internet’s “Unintended Consequences”(Karyl E. Ketchum)
Analysing the Intersections between Technology, Performativity, and Politics: the Case of Local Citizen Dialogue (Gustav Lidén and Katarina Giritli Nygren)”

Deepbills project

Cato Institute: “The Deepbills project takes the raw XML of Congressional bills (available at FDsys and Thomas) and adds additional semantic information to them in inside the text.

You can download the continuously-updated data at

Congress already produces machine-readable XML of almost every bill it proposes, but that XML is designed primarily for formatting a paper copy, not for extracting information. For example, it’s not currently possible to find every mention of an Agency, every legal reference, or even every spending authorization in a bill without having a human being read it….
Currently the following information is tagged:

  • Legal citations…
  • Budget Authorities (both Authorizations of Appropriations and Appropriations)…
  • Agencies, bureaus, and subunits of the federal government.
  • Congressional committees
  • Federal elective officeholders (Congressmen)”

The open parliament in the age of the internet

Worldbank’s Tiago Peixoto reviewing Cristiano Faria’s book on Open Parliaments : “There are many reasons to read Cristiano’s piece, one of them being the scarcity of literature dealing with the usage of ICT by the legislative branch. I was honoured to be invited to write the preface to this book, in which I list a few other reasons why I think this book is very worthwhile reading. I have reproduced the preface below, with the addition of some hyperlinks.
Towards the end of the 18th Century, not long after the French Revolution, engineer Claude Chappe invented the optical telegraph. Also known as the Napoleonic Telegraph, this technological innovation enabled the transmission of messages over great distances at unprecedented speeds for its time. This novelty did not go unnoticed by the intellectuals of the period: the possibility of establishing a telegraph network that could connect individuals at high speed and lowered costs was seen as a unique opportunity for direct democracy to flourish.
The difficulties associated with direct democracy, so eloquently expressed by Rousseau just a few years earlier, no longer seemed relevant: simply opening the code used by the telegraph operators would suffice for a whirlpool of ideas to flow between citizens and government, bringing a new era of participatory decision-making. Events, however, took a different turn, and as time went by the enthusiasm for a democratic renewal faded away.
In the course of the centuries that followed, similar stories abounded. The emergence of each new ICT gave rise to a period of enthusiasm surrounding a renewal in politics and government, only to be followed by bitter disillusionment. While the causes of these historical experiences are multiple, it is safe to say that the failure of these technologies to deliver their much-heralded potential is underscored by a lack of understanding of the role of political institutions. These institutions are, inexorably, sources of obstacles and challenges that go beyond the reach of technological solutions.
Indeed, one could argue that despite the historical evidence, even today a certain amount of ingenuity permeates the majority of academic works in the domain of electronic democracy and open government, overestimating technological innovation and neglecting the role of institutions, actors, and their respective strategies.
Not falling prey to the techno-determinist temptation but rather carrying out an analysis grounded in institutions, organizational processes and actors’ strategies, is one of the many strengths of Cristiano Faria’s work…”

What Our Words Tell Us

David Brooks in the New York Times: “About two years ago, the folks at Google released a database of 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008. You can type a search word into the database and find out how frequently different words were used at different epochs….

I’d like to tell a story about the last half-century, based on studies done with this search engine. The first element in this story is rising individualism. A study by Jean M. Twenge, W. Keith Campbell and Brittany Gentile found that between 1960 and 2008 individualistic words and phrases increasingly overshadowed communal words and phrases. That is to say, over those 48 years, words and phrases like “personalized,” “self,” “standout,” “unique,” “I come first” and “I can do it myself” were used more frequently. Communal words and phrases like “community,” “collective,” “tribe,” “share,” “united,” “band together” and “common good” receded.

The second element of the story is demoralization. A study by Pelin Kesebir and Selin Kesebir found that general moral terms like “virtue,” “decency” and “conscience” were used less frequently over the course of the 20th century. Words associated with moral excellence, like “honesty,” “patience” and “compassion” were used much less frequently. The Kesebirs identified 50 words associated with moral virtue and found that 74 percent were used less frequently as the century progressed. Certain types of virtues were especially hard hit. Usage of courage words like “bravery” and “fortitude” fell by 66 percent. Usage of gratitude words like “thankfulness” and “appreciation” dropped by 49 percent. Usage of humility words like “modesty” and “humbleness” dropped by 52 percent. Usage of compassion words like “kindness” and “helpfulness” dropped by 56 percent. Meanwhile, usage of words associated with the ability to deliver, like “discipline” and “dependability” rose over the century, as did the usage of words associated with fairness. The Kesebirs point out that these sorts of virtues are most relevant to economic production and exchange.

Daniel Klein of George Mason University has conducted one of the broadest studies with the Google search engine. He found further evidence of the two elements I’ve mentioned. On the subject of individualization, he found that the word “preferences” was barely used until about 1930, but usage has surged since. On the general subject of demoralization, he finds a long decline of usage in terms like “faith,” “wisdom,” “ought,” “evil” and “prudence,” and a sharp rise in what you might call social science terms like “subjectivity,” “normative,” “psychology” and “information.” Klein adds the third element to our story, which he calls “governmentalization.” Words having to do with experts have shown a steady rise. So have phrases like “run the country,” “economic justice,” “nationalism,” “priorities,” “right-wing” and “left-wing.” The implication is that politics and government have become more prevalent.

So the story I’d like to tell is this: Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked. The atomization and demoralization of society have led to certain forms of social breakdown, which government has tried to address, sometimes successfully and often impotently.”

NSF-funded Research on Elections and Cooperation

John Sides @ the Monkey Cage: “Much of politics is about collective action, whereby groups of people need to cooperate in order to produce an outcome.  One of the biggest challenges is getting people to cooperate in providing a public good, which by its nature can be shared by everyone regardless of whether they’ve cooperated in the first place.
One way to enforce cooperation is via some central authority that’s external to the group (like a government).  Another way, prominent in Elinor Ostrom’s work, is via internal policing by peers within the group.
In this NSF-funded study by Guy Grossman and Delia Baldassarri show that a third way can work as well: developing a leadership or authority structure within the group itself.  More importantly, they show that the success of such an authority depends on politics itself.  Leaders need to be elected to induce cooperation.The study was conducted among Ugandans who are members of farmer organizations and experience directly the challenges of cooperating to produce public goods.  Grossman and Baldassarri not only examined how these people behaved when asked to play a simple “public goods game” in a quasi-laboratory setting, but how they actually behaved within their farmer organization in real life.  In both contexts, members cooperated significantly more when leaders were democratically elected—as was true in one experimental condition of the public goods game—or when they perceived the leadership of their farmer organization as more legitimate.
For more in this week’s presentation of NSF-funded research recently published in the American Journal of Political Science, see here, here, and here.]”

Data Edge

Steven Weber, professor in the School of Information and Political Science department at UC Berkeley, in Policy by the Numbers“It’s commonly said that most people overestimate the impact of technology in the short term, and underestimate its impact over the longer term.
Where is Big Data in 2013? Starting to get very real, in our view, and right on the cusp of underestimation in the long term. The short term hype cycle is (thankfully) burning itself out, and the profound changes that data science can and will bring to human life are just now coming into focus. It may be that Data Science is right now about where the Internet itself was in 1993 or so. That’s roughly when it became clear that the World Wide Web was a wind that would blow across just about every sector of the modern economy while transforming foundational things we thought were locked in about human relationships, politics, and social change. It’s becoming a reasonable bet that Data Science is set to do the same—again, and perhaps even more profoundly—over the next decade. Just possibly, more quickly than that….
Can data, no matter how big, change the world for the better? It may be the case that in some fields of human endeavor and behavior, the scientific analysis of big data by itself will create such powerful insights that change will simply have to happen, that businesses will deftly re-organize, that health care will remake itself for efficiency and better outcomes, that people will adopt new behaviors that make them happier, healthier, more prosperous and peaceful. Maybe. But almost everything we know about technology and society across human history argues that it won’t be so straightforward.
…join senior industry and academic leaders at DataEDGE at UC Berkeley on May 30-31 to engage in what will be a lively and important conversation aimed at answering today’s questions about the data science revolution—and formulating tomorrow’s.