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.

Wikipedia Recent Changes Map


The Verge: “By watching a new visualization, known plainly as the Wikipedia Recent Changes Map, viewers can see the location of every unregistered Wikipedia user who makes a change to the open encyclopedia. It provides a voyeuristic look at the rate that knowledge is contributed to the website, giving you the faintest impression of the Spaniard interested in the television show Jackass or the Brazilian who defaced the page on the Jersey Devil to feature a photograph of the new pope. Though the visualization moves quickly, it’s only displaying about one-fifth of the edits being made: Wikipedia doesn’t reveal location data for registered users, and unregistered users make up just 15 to 20 percent of all contribution, according to studies of the website.”

Building Cities Using The Power Of The Crowd

PSFK: “Rodrigo Nino, CEO of Prodigy Network, spoke at PSFK CONFERENCE 2013 about building a crowd funded skyscraper in the city of Bogota, Colombia. With a population of over 10 million, Bogota is a quickly growing metropolitan center. This growth is predominately horizontal rather than vertical, which is creating a problems involving traffic and pollution. With 1.7 million daily commuters heading into the center of the city, the average commute from door to door in Bogota is between 75 to 90 minutes every day. This problem of horizontal growth is the biggest issue facing cities in emerging markets. The solution is to go vertical, building skyscrapers to create greater density and centralization.

The issue is raising enough capital to build such structures, and generally necessitates the involvement of large and powerful institutional investors. However, Nino envisions another way, which puts the power in the hands of the people of Bogota. By turning to crowd funding to build a skyscraper, the residents themselves become the owners of the project. In order to make this a reality, Nino has been combating the misconceptions that crowd funding can only be used to finance small projects, that it is only for local communities, and that crowd funding in real estate is not safe.”


Just the Facts (on the value of IT to society)

New publication from the the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF):

“A prominent economist once stated, “computer chips, potato chips, what’s the difference.” The short answer is “a lot.” Fifty-five years after the invention of the integrated circuit and 28 years after the first dot-com website was registered, information and communications technology (IT) remains a central driver of innovation and prosperity.

This fact sheet lists 53 documented economic benefits of IT, from jobs and output to competitiveness and innovation. Read the Fact Sheet.”

Presentation: Innovations for Citizen Engagement in Fragile States

World Bank presentation by Soren Gigler: “This presentation provides an overview about several cases how innovations in ICTs can be leveraged to improve the delivery of public services to poor communities. Under which conditions can technologies be transformational in fragile states? What are the opportunities and critical challenges in particular in the context of fragile states? The presentation was part of the session on Using Innovative Approaches for Enhancing Citizen Engagement in Fragile States on May 1, 2013 during the World Bank Group Fragility Forum 2013”

New Open Data Executive Order and Policy

The White House: “The Obama Administration today took groundbreaking new steps to make information generated and stored by the Federal Government more open and accessible to innovators and the public, to fuel entrepreneurship and economic growth while increasing government transparency and efficiency.
Today’s actions—including an Executive Order signed by the President and an Open Data Policy released by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy—declare that information is a valuable national asset whose value is multiplied when it is made easily accessible to the public.  The Executive Order requires that, going forward, data generated by the government be made available in open, machine-readable formats, while appropriately safeguarding privacy, confidentiality, and security.
The move will make troves of previously inaccessible or unmanageable data easily available to entrepreneurs, researchers, and others who can use those files to generate new products and services, build businesses, and create jobs….
Along with the Executive Order and Open Data Policy, the Administration announced a series of complementary actions:
• A new Data.Gov.  In the months ahead, Data.gov, the powerful central hub for open government data, will launch new services that include improved visualization, mapping tools, better context to help locate and understand these data, and robust Application Programming Interface (API) access for developers.
• New open source tools to make data more open and accessible.  The US Chief Information Officer and the US Chief Technology Officer are releasing free, open source tools on Github, a site that allows communities of developers to collaboratively develop solutions.  This effort, known as Project Open Data, can accelerate the adoption of open data practices by providing plug-and-play tools and best practices to help agencies improve the management and release of open data.  For example, one tool released today automatically converts simple spreadsheets and databases into APIs for easier consumption by developers.  Anyone, from government agencies to private citizens to local governments and for-profit companies, can freely use and adapt these tools starting immediately.
• Building a 21st century digital government.  As part of the Administration’s Digital Government Strategy and Open Data Initiatives in health, energy, education, public safety, finance, and global development, agencies have been working to unlock data from the vaults of government, while continuing to protect privacy and national security.  Newly available or improved data sets from these initiatives will be released today and over the coming weeks as part of the one year anniversary of the Digital Government Strategy.
• Continued engagement with entrepreneurs and innovators to leverage government data.  The Administration has convened and will continue to bring together companies, organizations, and civil society for a variety of summits to highlight how these innovators use open data to positively impact the public and address important national challenges.  In June, Federal agencies will participate in the fourth annual Health Datapalooza, hosted by the nonprofit Health Data Consortium, which will bring together more than 1,800 entrepreneurs, innovators, clinicians, patient advocates, and policymakers for information sessions, presentations, and “code-a-thons” focused on how the power of data can be harnessed to help save lives and improve healthcare for all Americans.
For more information on open data highlights across government visit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/library/docsreports”

Human-Based Evolutionary Computing

Abstract of new paper by Jeffrey V. Nickerson on Human-Based Evolutionary Computing (in Handbook of Human Computation, P. Michelucci, eds., Springer, Forthcoming): “Evolution explains the way the natural world changes over time. It can also explain changes in the artificial world, such as the way ideas replicate, alter, and merge. This analogy has led to a family of related computer procedures called evolutionary algorithms. These algorithms are being used to produce product designs, art, and solutions to mathematical problems. While for the most part these algorithms are run on computers, they also can be performed by people. Such human-based evolutionary algorithms are useful when many different ideas, designs, or solutions need to be generated, and human cognition is called for”

Civilized Discourse Construction Kit

Jeff Atwood at “Coding Horror“: “Forum software? Maybe. Let’s see, it’s 2013, has forum software advanced at all in the last ten years? I’m thinking no.
Forums are the dark matter of the web, the B-movies of the Internet. But they matter. To this day I regularly get excellent search results on forum pages for stuff I’m interested in. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t end up on some forum, somewhere, looking for some obscure bit of information. And more often than not, I find it there….

At Stack Exchange, one of the tricky things we learned about Q&A is that if your goal is to have an excellent signal to noise ratio, you must suppress discussion. Stack Exchange only supports the absolute minimum amount of discussion necessary to produce great questions and great answers. That’s why answers get constantly re-ordered by votes, that’s why comments have limited formatting and length and only a few display, and so forth….

Today we announce the launch of Discourse, a next-generation, 100% open source discussion platform built for the next decade of the Internet.


The goal of the company we formed, Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc., is exactly that – to raise the standard of civilized discourse on the Internet through seeding it with better discussion software:

  • 100% open source and free to the world, now and forever.
  • Feels great to use. It’s fun.
  • Designed for hi-resolution tablets and advanced web browsers.
  • Built in moderation and governance systems that let discussion communities protect themselves from trolls, spammers, and bad actors – even without official moderators.”