Foundations of Information Ethics


Book by John T. F. Burgess and Emily J. M. Knox: “As discussions about the roles played by information in economic, political, and social arenas continue to evolve, the need for an intellectual primer on information ethics that also functions as a solid working casebook for LIS students and professionals has never been more urgent. This text, written by a stellar group of ethics scholars and contributors from around the globe, expertly fills that need. Organized into twelve chapters, making it ideal for use by instructors, this volume from editors Burgess and Knox

  • thoroughly covers principles and concepts in information ethics, as well as the history of ethics in the information professions;
  • examines human rights, information access, privacy, discourse, intellectual property, censorship, data and cybersecurity ethics, intercultural information ethics, and global digital citizenship and responsibility;
  • synthesizes the philosophical underpinnings of these key subjects with abundant primary source material to provide historical context along with timely and relevant case studies;
  • features contributions from John M. Budd, Paul T. Jaeger, Rachel Fischer, Margaret Zimmerman, Kathrine A. Henderson, Peter Darch, Michael Zimmer, and Masooda Bashir, among others; and
  • offers a special concluding chapter by Amelia Gibson that explores emerging issues in information ethics, including discussions ranging from the ethics of social media and social movements to AI decision making…(More)”.

Design Tweak Yields 18 Percent Rise in SNAP Enrollment


Zack Quaintance at Government Technology: “A new study has found that a small human-centered design tweak made by government can increase the number of eligible people who enroll for food benefits.

The study — conducted by the data science firm Civis Analytics and the nonprofit food benefits enrollment advocacy group mRelief — was conducted in Los Angeles County from January to April of this year. It was designed to test a pair of potential improvements. The first was the ability to schedule a call directly with the CalFresh office, which handles food benefits enrollment in California. The second was the ability to schedule a call along with a text reminder to schedule a call. The study was conducted via a randomized control trial that ultimately included about 2,300 people.

What the research found was an 18 percent increase in enrollment within the group that was given the chance to schedule a call. Subsequently, text reminders showed no increase of any significance….(More)”.

What If There Were More Policy Futures Studios?


Essay by Lucy Kimbell: “Unexpected election results are intersecting in new and often disturbing ways with enduring issues such as economic and social inequalities; climate change; global movements of people fleeing war, poverty and environmental change; and the social and cultural consequences of long-term cuts in public funding. These developments are punctuated by dramatic events such as war, terrorist attacks and disasters such as floods, fires and other effects of changes in rainfall and temperature. Many of the available public policy visions of the future fail to connect with people’s day-to-day realities and challenges they face. Where could alternative visions and more effective public policy solutions come from? And what roles can design and futures practices play in constituting these?

For people using design-based and arts-based approaches in relation to social and public policy issues, the practices, structures and processes associated with institutions making public policy present a paradox. On
the one hand, creative methods can enable people to participate in assessing how things are, in ways that are meaningful to them, and imagining how things could be different, and to do so in collaboration with people they might not ordinarily engage with. Workshops and spaces for exploring futures such as design jams, hackathons, digital platforms, exhibitions and co-working hubs can open up a distributed creative capacity for negotiating potentialities in relation to current actualities. The strong emphasis in design on how people experience issues – understanding things on their terms, informed by the principles of ethnography – can open up participation, critique and creativity. Such practices can surface and open up difficult questions about institutions and how they work….(More)”.

Co-Creation Of Public Services: Why And How


Paper by David Osimo and Francesco Mureddu: “Co-creation” and “design thinking” are trendy themes – the topic of innumerable conferences and a growing number of academic papers. But how do we turn co-creation into a reality for Europe’s 508 million citizens? In Co-Creation of Public Services: Why and How, Co-VAL’s new Policy Brief, co-authors Francesco Mureddu and David Osimo propose a ten-step roadmap for delivering genuinely user-centric digital government. The authors argue that it is time to put co-creation at the core of government functioning.

According to the authors, “today, co-creation is a mature subject. There is an extended theoretical and applied research effort underway, led in many places by members of the Co-VAL consortium, whose research informed the new policy brief.  And there is a solid professional community, ready to deliver, and staffed by people with clearly identified job profiles, such as “user researcher” and “service designer.” There are even success stories of entire countries that scaled up design thinking at national level, such as Italy’s Government Commissioner and Digital Transformation Team and the United Kingdom’s legendary Government Digital Services.”…(More)”.

From market multilateralism to governance by goal setting: SDGs and the changing role of partnerships in a new global order


Paper by Benedicte Bull and Desmond McNeill: “Business has been involved in cooperation with multilateral organizations through public-private partnerships (PPPs) since the late 1990s. With their adoption of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), multilateral institutions increasingly consider partnerships as a means to achieve their goals given their own limited implementation capacity. However, the global economic order has changed significantly since the first expansion of PPPs, particularly due to growing participation by non-western states and companies. This article asks how this shift has changed the eagerness to form partnerships, as well as their qualitative content. It analyzes the 3964 partnerships in the SDG partnership registry, focusing on the subset of them that includes business partners. We divide these into five groups: local implementation, resource mobilization, advocacy, policy, and operational partnerships.

We study PPPs involving companies from different varieties of capitalism—private, market based forms, and state-led forms of capitalism. We find that PPPs are still dominated by companies and other actors from Western countries. Moreover, business participate more in U.S.- and Canadianled partnerships than others. We also find strong differences regarding what category of PPPs that companies from different backgrounds engage in, and discuss the linkages between varieties of capitalism and PPP participation…(More)”.

Open Verification


Article by Eyal Weizman: “More than a decade ago, I would have found the idea of a forensic institute to be rather abhorrent. Coming from the field of left activism and critical spatial practice, I felt instinctively oriented against the authority of established truths. Forensics relies on technical expertise in normative and legal frameworks, and smacks full of institutional authority. It is, after all, one of the fundamental arts of the state, the privilege of its agencies: the police, the secret services, or the military. Today, counter-intuitively perhaps, I find myself running Forensic Architecture, a group of architects, filmmakers, coders, and journalists which operates as a forensic agency and makes evidence public in different forums such as the media, courts, truth commissions, and cultural venues.

This reorientation of my thought practice was a response to changes in the texture of our present and to the nature of contemporary conflict. An evolving information and media environment enables authoritarian states to manipulate and distort facts about their crimes, but it also offers new techniques with which civil society groups can invert the forensic gaze and monitor them. This is what we call counter-forensics.

We do not yet have a satisfactory name for the new reactionary forces—a combination of digital racism, ultra-nationalism, self-victimhood, and conspiracism—that have taken hold across the world and become manifest in countries such as Russia, Poland, Hungary, Britain, Italy, Brazil, the US, and Israel, where I most closely experienced them. These forces have made the obscuring, blurring, manipulation, and distortion of facts their trademark. Whatever form of reality-denial “post truth” is, it is not simply about lying. Lying in politics is sometimes necessary. Deception, after all, has always been part of the toolbox of statecraft, and there might not be more of it now than in previous times.  The defining characteristics of our era might thus not be an extraordinary dissemination of untruths, but rather, ongoing attacks against the institutional authorities that buttress facts: government experts, universities, science laboratories, mainstream media, and the judiciary.

Because questioning the authority of state institutions is also what counter-forensics is about—we seek to expose police and military cover-ups, government lies, and instances in which the legal system has been aligned against state victims—we must distinguish it from the tactics of those political forces mentioned above.

Dark Epistemology

While “post truth” is a seemingly new phenomenon, for those working to expose state crimes at the frontiers of contemporary conflicts, it has long been the constant condition of our work. As a set of operations, this form of denial compounds the traditional roles of propaganda and censorship. It is propaganda because it is concerned with statements released by states to affect the thoughts and conducts of publics. It is not the traditional form of propaganda though, framed in the context of a confrontation between blocs and ideologies. It does not aim to persuade or tell you anything, nor does it seek to promote the assumed merits of one system over the other—equality vs. freedom or east vs. west—but rather to blur perception so that nobody knows what is real anymore. The aim is that when people no longer know what to think, how to establish facts, or when to trust them, those in power can fill this void by whatever they want to fill it with.

“Post truth” also functions as a new form of censorship because it blocks one’s ability to evaluate and debate facts. In the face of governments’ increasing difficulties in cutting data out of circulation and in suppressing political discourse, it adds rather than subtracts, augmenting the level of noise in a deliberate maneuver to divert attention….(More)”.

Three Companies Innovating Democracy


Matt Harder at Beyond Voting: “….Below, we’ll explore three websites that allow citizens to communicate better with their governing systems.

Countable.us makes it easier to know what your representatives are voting on, and to tell them how you think they should vote. For each upcoming bill, you can suggest a yea or nay to your representative via email or can even send video messages. Each bill also has a lively debate section so the yeas and nays can share, upvote their opinions and learn from each other. The result is seeing more informed and better arguments in favor of your preferences, and perhaps more importantly, against.

IssueVoter.us is similar to Countable in that you give your opinions to your representatives. But IssueVoter puts a different spin on it by giving you a “scorecard” highlighting how closely your representatives votes align to your preferences. The site is still new, so the functionality is not as great as it could be, but the concept is worth note.

Bang the Table focuses on engagement at a local level. They create civic engagement dashboards for cities that allow residents to stay informed and share opinions about city projects. They offer several levels of engagement, from simply dispensing information for the city to engaging citizens in collective discussions and decision making. Fayetteville, AR used them to make the engagement page Speak Up Fayetteville, which informed citizens about projects such as the Cultural Arts Corridor.

While none of these are driving massive change just yet, it’s easy to imagine how they could be enormously impactful if embraced at scale. First, they will all have to figure out how to design websites which are appealing enough to bring the masses, yet meaningful enough to benefit decision-makers. We’re stuck in the in-between phase where the internet is the most powerful communication medium, but we haven’t learned to utilize it for productive democratic purposes….(More)”.

Ebola outbreak demonstrates science’s need to ‘nudge’


Anjana Ahuja at the Financial Times: “It should be a moment of cautious optimism: a second promising vaccine has become available to tackle the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Instead, there is uncertainty and angst. Clinicians desperately want to see the new vaccine deployed. But officials in the DRC, unnerved by public reaction to an earlier experimental vaccine, worry that introducing a second one might stoke public suspicions and destabilise containment efforts.

Experts met in the capital Kinshasa last week to work out which way to jump. The dilemma illustrates that human behaviour can be as destructive to global health as any deadly pathogen. Addressing diseases — even the organ-destroying horror that is Ebola — is no longer a matter of merely concocting a vaccine but also persuading people to roll up their sleeves for it. Some academics are even calling for the World Health Organization to establish its own “nudge unit” to apply lessons from behavioural science. While dealing with disease outbreaks “require[s] modifying or working with human behaviour”, they wrote recently in Scientific American, “the global response to these threats lacks a coherent focus on behavioural insights.”…(More)”

How to Transition Social Solutions to Government


Bvudzai Magadzire, Melissa West, Emily Lawrence, Julia Guerette & Barbara Jones-Singer at the Stanford Social Innovation Review: ” …At the core of our framework is the idea that solutions must exist within an “enabling context.” The enabling context comprises external conditions such as a country’s level of political stability, government independence, and economic prosperity. Each of these can have a major effect on whether a government entity succeeds in sustaining a solution after an NGO or private-sector partner exits. While these external factors are generally outside most organizations’ control, monitoring them can inform decisions about how to invest time and resources, with the aim of minimizing their negative impacts on a government’s ability to sustain projects.

We are using tools like the PESTLE framework to help identify external factors that could impact the success of programs, as well as reviewing resources from USAIDWorld BankWorld Health Organization, and other agencies to better understand the political, economic, and social context for transitioning solutions to our government partners. For instance, the government of Malawi has made high-level political commitments to support maternal, adolescent, and child health, but as a low-income country, it has limited funds to spend on health. Thus, reducing costs is critical. VillageReach initially developed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the telecommunications provider Airtel—one of two major mobile service providers in Malawi. Since signing the MOU in 2015, Airtel has covered all incoming call and promotional text costs of the hotline, allowing callers to call CCPF for free from any Airtel phone. The government is now managing the MOU with Airtel as part of the transition process.

As organizations assess a social solution’s readiness for transition to government, they should consider both the external environment and each of the solution elements. (Illustration by The Medium)

The second tier of our framework combines all the elements integral to a solution’s success that (unlike the enabling context) are within the control of an implementing organization. We call this the “integrated solution,” and it has six elements:

  • Solution design: This includes standard operating procedures, guidelines, templates, and job and skill descriptions needed to manage and operate the solution. We are developing a toolkit specifically to support the government in managing CCPF.
  • Resource availability: This includes the financial and human resources, as well as infrastructure like buildings and equipment, needed to transition, operate, and maintain the solution. For CCPF, we are supporting the development of a memorandum of understanding between the government and the telecommunications provider Airtel to ensure that the company continues to cover the costs of calls to the hotline.
  • Financial management: This covers developing and managing budgets, estimating and managing costs, and disbursing funds in a timely fashion. This process has been important for understanding exactly which budgets need what amount of funds to ensure that operations continue.
  • Government strategy: This includes sector (in our case, health-sector) and related government strategies that support the solution’s transition, operation, and maintenance. For CCPF, we needed to ensure that these aligned with Malawi’s broader strategic plan for the health sector.
  • Policy and regulatory strategies: These are laws and regulations that affect the solution’s transition, operation, and maintenance. For CCPF, we needed to ensure that the cadre of hotline workers fit into government staffing protocols and that we could legally share certain types of health information with callers.
  • Organizational structure: This includes managerial roles and responsibilities, management effectiveness, and governance. CCPF established a steering committee to help maintain alignment and accountability.

Organizations should evaluate and plan for the enabling context and integrated solution concurrently—ideally prior to or early on in the process of developing their solution, and periodically throughout its life….(More)”

Identity in the Decentralized Web


Blog by Jim Nelson: “The idea is that web sites will verify you much as a bartender checks your ID before pouring a drink.  The bar doesn’t store a copy of your card and the bartender doesn’t look at your name or address; only your age is pertinent to receive service.  The next time you enter the bar the bartender once again asks for proof of age, which you may or may not relinquish. That’s the promise of self-sovereign identity.

At the Decentralized Web Summit, questions and solutions were bounced around in the hopes of solving this fundamental problem.  Developers spearheading the next web hashed out the criteria for decentralized identity, including:

  • secure: to prevent fraud, maintain privacy, and ensure trust between all parties
  • self-sovereign: individual ownership of private information
  • consent: fine-tuned control over what information third-parties are privy to
  • directed identity: manage multiple identities for different contexts (for example, your doctor can access certain aspects while your insurance company accesses others)
  • and, of course, decentralized: no central authority or governing body holds private keys or generates identifiers

One problem with decentralized identity is that these problems often compete, pulling in polar directions.

Courtesy of Jolocom

For example, while security seems like a no-brainer, with self-sovereign identity the end-user is in control (and not Facebook, Google, or Twitter).  It’s incumbent on them to secure their information. This raises questions of key management, data storage practices, and so on. Facebook, Google, and Twitter pay full-time engineers to do this job; handing that responsibility to end-users shifts the burden to someone who may not be so technically savvy.  The inconvenience of key management and such also creates more hurdles for widespread adoption of the decentralized web.

The good news is, there are many working proposals today attempting to solve the above problems.  One of the more promising is DID (Decentralized Identifier).

A DID is simply a URI, a familiar piece of text to most people nowadays.  Each DID references a record stored in a blockchain. DIDs are not tied to any particular blockchain, and so they’re interoperable with existing and future technologies.  DIDs are cryptographically secure as well.

DIDs require no central authority to produce or validate.  If you want a DID, you can generate one yourself, or as many was you want.  In fact, you should generate lots of them.  Each unique DID gives the user fine-grained control over what personal information is revealed when interacting with a myriad of services and people.

If you’re interested to learn more, I recommend reading Michiel Mulders’ article on DIDs, “the Internet’s ‘missing identity layer’.”  The DID working technical specification is being developed by the W3C.  And those looking for code and community, check out the Decentralized Identity Foundation…(More)”.