Bright Spots in Community Engagement


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:

Bright spots slideshare – final from Knight Foundation

The transformation of democratic taxation states into post-democratic banking states


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.”
 

Visual argumentation


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.”

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The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism


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.”

Procurement needs better data now


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.”

Mental Geography, Wonky Maps and a Long Way Ahead


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…”

Big Data can help keep the peace


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.”

The politics of Open Data sets


Tim Davies in The Guardian: “In practice, datasets themselves are political objects, and policies to open up datasets are the product of politics. If you look beyond the binary fight over whether government data should be open or not, then you will find a far more subtle set of political questions over the what and the how of opening data. Datasets are built from the categories and relationships that the database designer (or their political masters) decide are important…. The design of a dataset has a big impact on the policy that can be made with it. The practical and political decisions that went into constructing a dataset do not disappear when that dataset is opened, but are instead carried with it.”

June 1: National Day of Civic Hacking


From Peter Welsch at the White House: “On the first weekend in June, civic activists, technology experts, and entrepreneurs around the country will gather together for the National Day of Civic Hacking. By combining their expertise with new technologies and publicly released data, participants hope to build tools that help others in their own neighborhoods and across the United States”.

Apply for the National Day of Civic Hacking at the White House. The deadline for applications is 5:00pm on Friday, April 19.

New Report on "Europeans Engagement in Participatory Democracy"


From the intro (Flash Eurobarometer) :“This report examines the extent to which European citizens engage in participatory
democracy, and the extent to which they believe that political decision-making can be influenced through their own actions and through those of non-governmental  organisations (NGOs).
The first section examines the respondents’views of NGOs and similar associations,  asking whether such groups have the power to influence local, national and EU decision-making. Respondents are also
asked whether NGOs share their own interests and values, and whether European citizens need these types of organisations.
In the second section, the discussion switches to the perceived effectiveness of various means of influencing political decision-making, especially voting in local, national and European elections. Respondents are also asked to consider whether joining an NGO is an effective way of exerting influence.
The third and final section covers citizens’ engagement in political decision-making, examining whether respondents seek to express their views by signing petitions or by communicating through social media, for example. Finally, the discussion turns to the level of participation in NGOs and other associations, such as Trade Unions.”