The Global State of Democracy Report 2021


IDEA Report: “The world is becoming more authoritarian as non-democratic regimes become even more brazen in their repression and many  democratic governments suffer from backsliding by adopting their tactics of restricting free speech and weakening the rule of law, exacerbated by what threatens to become a “new normal” of Covid-19 restrictions. For the fifth consecutive year, the number of countries moving in an authoritarian direction exceeds the number of countries moving in a democratic direction. In fact, the number moving in the direction of authoritarianism is three times the number moving towards democracy. …

Yet, democracy is resilient.

Protest and civic action are alive and well.  Pro-democracy movements have braved repression around the world, and global social movements for tackling climate change and fighting racial inequalities have emerged. In spite of restrictions, more than three-quarters of countries have experienced protests during the pandemic.  

Many democracies have proved resilient to the pandemic, introducing or expanding democratic innovations and adapting their practices and institutions in record time. Countries around the world rapidly activated Special Voting Arrangements to allow citizens to continue to hold elections in exceedingly difficult conditions….(More)”

Perspectives on Platform Regulation


Open Access Book edited by Judit Bayer, Bernd Holznage, Päivi Korpisaari and Lorna Woods: “Concepts and Models of Social Media GovernanceOnline social media platforms set the agenda and structure for public and private communication in our age. Their influence and power is beyond any traditional media empire. Their legal regulation is a pressing challenge, but currently, they are mainly governed by economic pressures. There are now diverse legislative attempts to regulate platforms in various parts of the world. The European Union and most of its Member States have historically relied on soft law, but are now looking to introduce regulation.

Leading researchers of the field analyse the hard questions and the responses given by various states. The book offers legislative solutions from various parts of the world, compares regulatory concepts and assesses the use of algorithms….(More)”.

Decolonizing Innovation


Essay by Tony Roberts and Andrea Jimenez Cisneros: “In order to decolonize global innovation thinking and practice, we look instead to indigenous worldviews such as Ubuntu in Southern Africa, Swaraj in South Asia, and Buen Vivir in South America. Together they demonstrate that a radically different kind of innovation is possible.

The fate of Kenya’s Silicon Savannah should serve as a cautionary tale about exporting Western models to the Global South.

The fate of Kenya’s Silicon Savannah should serve as a cautionary tale about exporting Western models to the Global South. The idea of an African Silicon Valley emerged around 2011 amidst the digital technology ecosystem developing in Nairobi. The success of Nairobi’s first innovation hub inspired many imitators and drove ambitious plans by the government to build a new innovation district in the city. The term “Silicon Savannah” captured these aspirations and featured in a series of blog posts, white papers, and consultancy reports. Advocates argued that Nairobi could leapfrog other innovation centers due to lower entry barriers and cost advantages.

These promises caught the attention of many tech entrepreneurs and policymakers—including President Barack Obama, who cohosted the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya. As part of its Silicon Savannah vision, the Kenyan government proposed to build a “smart city” called Konza Technopolis in the south of Nairobi. This government-led initiative—designed with McKinsey consultants—was supposed to help turn Kenya into a “middle-income country providing a high quality life to all its citizens by the year 2030.” The city was proposed to attract investors, create jobs at a mass scale, and use technology to manage the city effectively and efficiently. Its website identified Konza as the place where “Africa’s silicon savannah begins.” Years later, the dream remains unfulfilled. As Kenyan writer Carey Baraka’s has recently detailed, the plan has only reinforced existing inequalities as it caters mainly to international multinationals and the country’s wealthy elite.

One of the most important lessons to be derived from studying such efforts to import foreign technologies and innovation models is that they inevitably come with ideological baggage. Silicon Valley is not just a theoretical model for economic growth: it represents a whole way of life, carrying with it all kinds of implications for how people think about themselves, each other, and their place in the world. Venture capital pitching sessions prize what is most monetizable, what stands to deliver the greatest return on investment, and what offers the earliest exit opportunities. Breznitz is right to criticize this way of thinking, but similar worries arise about his own examples, which say little about environmental sustainability or maintaining the integrity of local communities. Neoliberal modes of private capital accumulation are not value neutral, and we must be sensitive to the way innovation models are situated in uneven structures of power, discourse, and resource distribution…(More)”.

Randomistas vs. Contestistas


Excerpt by By Beth Simone Noveck: “Social scientists who either run experiments or conduct systematic reviews tend to be fervent proponents of the value of RCTs. But that evidentiary hierarchy—what some people call the “RCT industrial complex”—may actually lead us to discount workable solutions just because there is no accompanying RCT.

A trawl of the solution space shows that successful interventions developed by entrepreneurs in business, philanthropy, civil society, social enterprise, or business schools who promote and study open innovation, often by developing and designing competitions to source ideas, often come from more varied places. Uncovering these exciting social innovations lays bare the limitations of confining a definition of what works only to RCTs.

Many more entrepreneurial and innovative solutions are simply not tested with an RCT and are not the subject of academic study. As one public official said to me, you cannot saddle an entrepreneur with having to do a randomized controlled trial (RCT), which they do not have the time or know-how to do. They are busy helping real people, and we have to allow them “to get on with it.”

For example, MIT Solve, which describes itself as a marketplace for socially impactful innovation designed to identify lasting solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. It catalogs hundreds of innovations in use around the world, like Faircap, a chemical-free water filter used in Mozambique, or WheeLog!, an application that enables individuals and local governments to share accessibility information in Tokyo.

Research funding is also too limited (and too slow) for RCTs to assess every innovation in every domain. Many effective innovators do not have the time, resources, or know-how to partner with academic researchers to conduct a study, or they evaluate projects by some other means.

There are also significant limitations to RCTs. For a start, systematic evidence reviews are quite slow, frequently taking upward of two years, and despite published standards for review, there is a lack of transparency. Faster approaches are important. In addition, many solutions that have been tested with an RCT clearly do not work. Interestingly, the first RCT in an area tends to produce an inflated effect size….(More)”.

If We Can Report on the Problem, We Can Report on the Solution


David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg in the New York Times: “After 11 years and roughly 600 columns, this is our last….

David Bornstein: Tina, in a decade reporting on solutions, what’s the most important thing you learned?

Tina Rosenberg: This is a strange lesson for a column about new ideas and innovation, but I learned that they’re overrated. The world (mostly) doesn’t need new inventions. It needs better distribution of what’s already out there.

Some of my favorite columns were about how to take old ideas or existing products and get them to new people. As one of our columns put it, “Ideas Help No One on a Shelf. Take Them to the World.” There are proven health strategies, for example, that never went anywhere until some folks dusted them off and decided to spread them. It’s not glamorous to copy another idea. But those copycats are making a big difference.

David: I totally agree. The opportunity to learn from other places is hugely undertapped.

I mean, in the United States alone, there are over 3,000 counties. The chance that any one of them is struggling with big problems — mental health, addiction, climate change, diabetes, Covid-19, you name it — is pretty much 100 percent. But the odds that any place is actually using one of the most effective approaches to deal with its problems is quite low.

As you know, I used to be a computer programmer, and I’m still a stats nerd. With so many issues, there are “positive deviants” — say, 2 percent or 3 percent of actors who are getting significantly better results than the norm. Finding those outliers, figuring out what they’re doing that’s different, and sharing the knowledge can really help. I saw this in my reporting on childhood traumachronic homelessness and hospital safety, to name a few areas….(More)”

Adopting Agile in State and Local Governments


Report by Sukumar Ganapati: “Agile emerged initially as a set of values and principles for software development formalized in 2001 with the Agile Manifesto. For two decades, it helped revolutionize software development. Today, Agile approaches have been adapted to government services beyond software development, offering a new way of thinking and delivering in areas such as project management, policymaking, human resources, and procurement. 

The basics of Agile and associated methods have been covered in previous IBM Center for The Business of Government reports. These reports provide a good overview of Agile principles, use of Lean, and application of user-centered design. They provide insights into the evolution of Agile adoption in public sector over the last two decades. This new report, Adopting Agile in State and Local Governments, by Sukumar Ganapati of Florida International University, examines the adoption of Agile among state and local governments. State and local governments have increasingly adopted Agile methods in the last decade, applying them across a range of applications. At the same time, they vary widely in terms of their maturity levels in the adoption and implementation.

Professor Ganapati identifies three broad phases in this lifecycle of Agile maturity among public agencies in general.  The three phases are not clear cut, with distinctive breaks between where one phase ends and the next one begins. Rather, they could be conceived as a continuum, as public agencies evolve through the lifecycle of implementing Agile. The report highlights the evolution of the use of Agile methods in two states (Connecticut and California) and two local cities (New York and Austin). The cases show the rich contextual evolution of Agile and how the methods are applied for using technology to streamline enterprise processes and to address social policy problems. The four case studies show different trajectories of adopting Agile in state and local governments. The strategies for adopting and implementing Agile methods broadly differ in the three lifecycle phases of infancy, adolescence, and adulthood. The case studies offer lessons for enabling strategies to adopt Agile across these three phases…(More)”.

A Paradigm Shift in the Making: Designing a New WTO Transparency Mechanism That Fits the Current Era


Paper by Yaxuan Chen: “The rules-based multilateral trading system has been suffering from transparency challenges for decades. The theory of data technology provides a new perspective to assess the transparency provisions on their design, historic rationale, and evolution in light of the multilateral efforts for improvement since the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 1947). The development of frontier digital and data technologies, including mobile devices and sensors, new cryptographic technologies, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence, have completely changed the landscape of data collection, storage, processing, and analysis. In light of the new business models of international trade, trade administration, and governance, opportunities for addressing transparency challenges in the multilateral trading system have arisen.

While providing solutions to transparency problems of the past, data technology applications could trigger new transparency challenges in trade and governance. For instance, questions arise as to whether developing countries would be able to access or provide trade information with the same quantity, understandability, and timeliness as more developed countries. This is in addition to the emerging transparency expectations of the current era, with the pandemic as an immediate challenge and the rise of “real-time” economy in a broader context. For the multilateral trading system to stay relevant, innovations for a holistic global mechanism for supply chain transparency, the transformation of council and committee operations, a smart design for technical assistance to tackle the digital divide, automated and real-time dispute resolution options and further integration of inclusiveness and sustainability considerations into trade disciplines should be explored….(More)”.

User-Centricity: What It Means, How It Works, Why It’s Needed


Policy Brief by UserCentriCities project: “.. looks critically at the need for putting citizens at the heart of digital government – and analyses six successful projects in key European cities: Bologna (Emilia Romagna Region), Espoo, Milan, Murcia, Rotterdam and Tallinn. Building on lessons learned in a year of structured interviews with leading officials in the UserCentriCities project, the policy brief looks at key trends driving breakthroughs in digital-service delivery – in the public and private sector – and proposes a five-point roadmap for greater Europe-national-local collaboration in the service of citizens. The policy brief will launch at The 2021 UserCentriCities Summit, in the presence of Boštjan Koritnik, minister for public administration of Slovenia, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union….(More)”.

Embrace Complexity Through Behavioral Planning


Article by Ruth Schmidt and Katelyn Stenger: “…Designing for complexity also requires questioning assumptions about how interventions work within systems. Being wary of three key assumptions about persistence, stability, and value can help behavioral designers recognize changes over time, complex system dynamics, and oversimplified definitions of success that may impact the effectiveness of interventions.

When behavioral designers overlook these assumptions, the solutions they recommend risk being short-sighted, nonstrategic, and destined to be reactive rather than proactive. Systematically confronting and planning for these projections, on the other hand, can help behavioral designers create and situate more resilient interventions within complex systems.

In a recent article, we explored why behavioral science is still learning to grapple with complexity, what it loses when it doesn’t, and what it could gain by doing so in a more strategic and systematic way. This approach—which we call “behavioral planning”—borrows from business strategy practices like scenario planning that play out assumptions about plausible future conditions to test how they might impact the business environment. The results are then used to inform “roughly right” directional decisions about how to move forward…(More)”

How 12th-century Genoese merchants invented the idea of risk


Essay by Karla Mallette: “Lately, we have all become risk assessment and risk management experts, thinking, talking and Tweeting about the chances we take when we engage in once-mundane activities. It’s hard to imagine doing without risk: the analytical instrument we use to calculate the advisability of undertakings that can result in gain or loss. Yet when the word risk entered the languages of western Europe during the 12th century (at roughly the same time as other words used to jigger the scales of Fortune: hazard and chance), it took some time to catch on. Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540) – the two great writers of the Italian 15th and 16th centuries who wrote about contingency and power while everything was collapsing around them – did not use the Italian rischio in the works for which they are best remembered, even though the Italians were early adopters of the word and the speculative behaviours it names.

The first known usage of the Latin word resicum – cognate and distant ancestor of the English risk – occurs in a notary contract recorded in Genoa on 26 April 1156. The captain of a ship contracts with an investor to travel to Valencia with the sum invested. The contract allocates the ‘resicum’ to the investor. In a typical arrangement, the captain received 25 per cent of the profit at the end of the journey. The investor or investors pocketed the resicum payout: the remaining 75 per cent. This contract also reminds us that the medieval Italian ship’s crew was an egalitarian society. It specifies that the voyage would be extended from Valencia to trade at Alexandria before returning to Genoa, but only if a majority of the men on board agreed.

Resicum worked a kind of practical magic in these early contracts. Canon law forbade the payment of interest on loans in medieval Europe (as Islamic law did in the eastern and southern Mediterranean). By inventing a bonus paid to the investor in the event of the successful completion of a journey, the resicum provided a workaround for venture capitalists and for the captain seeking capital. It also gave those who could not journey an opportunity to earn investment income. A small but significant proportion of the investors in these maritime contracts were retired seamen or women. Finally, it parcelled out the risk assumed by those who undertook the trans-Mediterranean journey…(More)”.