The Guardian: “Since 2010 David Cameron’s pet project has been tasked with finding ways to improve society’s behaviour – and now the ‘nudge unit’ is going into business by itself. But have its initiatives really worked?….
The idea behind the unit is simpler than you might believe. People don’t always act in their own interests – by filing their taxes late, for instance, overeating, or not paying fines until the bailiffs call. As a result, they don’t just harm themselves, they cost the state a lot of money. By looking closely at how they make their choices and then testing small changes in the way the choices are presented, the unit tries to nudge people into leading better lives, and save the rest of us a fortune. It is politics done like science, effectively – with Ben Goldacre’s approval – and, in many cases, it appears to work….”
The White House Blog: “We can’t talk about We the People without getting into the numbers — more than 8 million users, more than 200,000 petitions, more than 13 million signatures. The sheer volume of participation is, to us, a sign of success.
And there’s a lot we can learn from a set of data that rich and complex, but we shouldn’t be the only people drawing from its lessons.
So starting today, we’re making it easier for anyone to do their own analysis or build their own apps on top of the We the People platform. We’re introducing the first version of our API, and we’re inviting you to use it.
Get started here: petitions.whitehouse.gov/developers
This API provides read-only access to data on all petitions that passed the 150 signature threshold required to become publicly-available on the We the People site. For those who don’t need real-time data, we plan to add the option of a bulk data download in the near future. Until that’s ready, an incomplete sample data set is available for download here.”
Next City reports: “…opening up government can get expensive. That’s why two developers this week launched the Department of Better Technology, an effort to make open government tools cheaper, more efficient and easier to engage with.
As founder Clay Johnson explains in a post on the site’s blog, a federal website that catalogues databases on government contracts, which launched last year, cost $181 million to build — $81 million more than a recent research initiative to map the human brain.
The first undertaking of Johnson and his partner, GovHub co-founder Adam Becker, is a tool meant to make it simpler for businesses to find government projects to bid on, as well as help officials streamline the process of managing procurements. In a pilot experiment, Johnson writes, the pair found that not only were bids coming in faster and at a reduced price, but more people were doing the bidding.
Per Johnson, “many of the bids that came in were from businesses that had not ordinarily contracted with the federal government before.”
The Department of Better Technology will accept five cities to test a beta version of this tool, called Procure.io, in 2013.”
The last few years, we have seen a variety of experimentation with new ways to engage citizens in the decisions making process especially at the local or community level. Little is known however on what works and why. The National League of Cities, working with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, released a report today reviewing the impact of experimentation within 14 communities in the US, highlighting several “bright spots”. The so-called scans focus on four aspects of community engagement:
The use of new tools and strategies
The ability to reach a broad spectrum of people, including those not typically “engaged”
Notable successes and outcomes
Sustainable efforts to use a range of strategies
A slide-deck summarizing the findings of the report:
John Keane, Professor of Politics, in The Conversation: “The extraordinary bounce-back reveals the most disturbing, but least obvious, largely invisible, feature of the unfinished European crisis: the transformation of democratic taxation states into post-democratic banking states.
What is meant by this mouthful? The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter long ago pointed out how modern European states (at first they were monarchies, later most became republics) fed upon taxes extracted from their subject populations. The point is still emphasised by government and politics textbooks. Usually this is done by noting that under democratic conditions elected governments are expected to satisfy the needs and respond to the demands of citizens by providing various goods and services paid for through taxation granted by their consent. Behind this observation stands the presumption that the creation and circulation of money is the prerogative of the state. ‘Money is a creature of the legal order’, wrote Georg Friedrich Knapp in his classic State Theory of Money (1905)….
Slowly but surely, in most European democracies, the power to create and regulate money has effectively been privatised. Without much public commentary or public resistance, governments of recent decades have surrendered their control over a vital resource, with the result that commercial banks and credit institutions now have much more ‘spending power’ than elected governments. In a most interesting new book, the acclaimed historian Harold James has described how this out-flanking of European states by banks and credit institutions was reinforced at the supra-national level, disastrously it turns out, by the formation of the independent European Central Bank….
The principle of no taxation without representation was one of the most important of these innovations. Born of deep tensions between citizen creditors and monarchs in the prosperous Low Countries, it proved to be revolutionary. In late 16th-century cities such as Amsterdam and Bruges, influential men with money to invest demanded, as citizens, that they should only agree to lend money to governments, and to pay their taxes, if in return they were granted the power to decide who governs them. The principle was first formulated in the name of democracy (democratie) in a remarkable Dutch-language pamphlet called The Discourse (it’s analysed in detail in The Life and Death of Democracy. Its author is unknown….
Sure, these political proposals and reforms are better than nothing, but if my short history of banks and democracy is plausible then it suggests that a much tougher and more innovative program of democratisation is needed. If the aim is to ‘throw as many wrenches as possible into the works of haute finance’ (Wolfgang Streeck), then organised pressures from below, from both voters and civil society networks, will be vital.”
Volta: “Visualising arguments helps people assemble their throughts and get to grip with complex problems according to The Argumentation Factory, based in Amsterdam. Their Argument Maps, constructed for government agencies, NGOs and commercial organizations, are designed to enable people to make better decisions and share and communicate information. Dutch research organisation TNO, in association with The Argumentation Factory, have launched the European Shale Gas Argument Map detailing the pros and cons of the production of shale gas for EU member states with shale gas resources. Their map is designed to provide the foundation for an open discussion and help the user make a balaced assessment.”
Paper by NetLab (Toronto University) scholars in the latest issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication: “We review the evidence from a number of surveys in which our NetLab has been involved about the extent to which the Internet is transforming or enhancing community. The studies show that the Internet is used for connectivity locally as well as globally, although the nature of its use varies in different countries. Internet use is adding on to other forms of communication, rather than replacing them. Internet use is reinforcing the pre-existing turn to societies in the developed world that are organized around networked individualism rather than group or local solidarities. The result has important implications for civic involvement.”
Howard Rolfe, procurement director for East of England NHS Collaborative Procurement Hub, in The Guardian: “Knowledge management is fundamental to any organisation and procurement in the NHS is no exception. Current systems are not joined up and don’t give the level of information that should be expected. Management in many NHS trusts cannot say how effective procurement is within their organisation because they don’t have a dashboard of information that tells them, for example, the biggest spend areas, who is placing the order, what price is paid and how that price compares.
Systems now exist that could help answer these questions and increase board and senior management focus on this area of huge spend….The time for better data is now, the opportunity is at the top of political and management agendas and the need is overwhelming. What is the solution? The provision of effective knowledge management systems is key and will facilitate improvements in information, procurement and collaborative aggregation by providing greater visibility of spend and reduction of administrative activity.”
Paper by Alan Dix at GeoHCI Workshop at CHI 2013, April 27–28, 2013: ” It has never been easier to create your own maps, creating data mashups with Google Maps and similar tools and embedding them in web pages. This has benefited tourism and commerce, and has also revolutionised many areas of social activism, allowing open government data and other public (or leaked) data to be visualised in ways that may subvert or offer alternative views to the official narrative. However, like all maps, digital mapping embodies a particular politics and world view…”
NextGov story: “Some of the same social media analyses that have helped Google and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spot warning signs of a flu outbreak could be used to detect the rumblings of violent conflict before it begins, scholars said in a paper released this week.
Kenyan officials used essentially this system to track hate speech on Facebook, blogs and Twitter in advance of that nation’s 2013 presidential election, which brought Uhuru Kenyatta to power.
Similar efforts to track Syrian social media have been able to identify ceasefire violations within 15 minutes of when they occur, according to the paper on New Technology and the Prevention of Violence and Conflict prepared by the United States Agency for International Development, the United Nations Development Programme and the International Peace Institute and presented at the United States Institute of Peace Friday.”