Hacking Corruption


Paper by Tamar Ziff and Maria Fernanda Pérez Argüello: “Across the Americas, corruption scandals have eroded citizens’ trust in their governing officials and institutions, leading elected leaders to promise they will root out graft. Against this backdrop of a growing citizen backlash against corruption, the Peruvian government designated “Democratic Governance against Corruption” as the central theme of the 2018 Summit of the Americas—the triennial meeting of heads of state from countries in the Americas. The Summit produced a Lima Declaration with 57 concrete actions to strengthen the fight against corruption in the Americas, including one–Commitment 17–specifically dedicated to promoting the use of new technologies to promote transparency and government accountability.

A new report by the Inter-American Dialogue’s Peter D. Bell Rule of Law program and the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council aims to advance Commitment 17 by examining the promise of tech solutions to assist the fight against corruption, specifically in public procurement. The report provides examples of a number of such solutions, as well as identifying obstacles to their more widespread adoption and proposing appropriate policy responses….(More)”

Government support is a key factor for civic technology


Blog Post by Rebecca Rumbul: “Civic tech is on a huge growth curve. There is much more of it about now than there was ten years ago. At the same time, it is changing the scope and reach, and becoming much more mainstream. Ten years ago civic tech was hardly spoken about by anyone. It was largely the domain of ‘outsiders’, by which I mean campaigners and data specialists working outside the mainstream. Today civic tech is an accepted, respected and widely used form of engaging citizens.

The movement over that ten years has mostly been gradual, but over the last couple of years, there has been a really significant shift in how civic tech is viewed both by those within and outside the sector. A wider range of funders are more interested in supporting projects, government seems to have woken up to how civic tech can really be a spur to public engagement, and the word is getting out there to people on the street. Quite literally. At mySociety our FixMyStreet app now garners in the region of six thousand citizen reports of things like potholes and fly-tipping every week.

This maturing of attitudes towards and use of civic tech is wonderful to see. Those pioneers who saw a problem wrote a bit of code and put it online as a way of immediately finding a way to fix the problem have seen their often locally focused efforts contribute to the growth of a global phenomenon in a really short space of time.  And we are in a process here. There is no doubt that civic tech continues to grow and continues to make an impact way beyond its humble beginnings.

But the way civic tech develops is not uniform around the world, and it does need a number of circumstances to converge to make it really sing. That coming together of citizen awareness, government buy-in and funding support is crucial to its success. And there are other important factors too.

We’ve been researching the impact of civic tech around the world, and one of the most interesting things we’ve learned is that the movement is working with institutions much more today than it did five or ten years ago…(More)“.

Opportunities and Challenges of Emerging Technologies for the Refugee System


Research Paper by Roya Pakzad: “Efforts are being made to use information and communications technologies (ICTs) to improve accountability in providing refugee aid. However, there remains a pressing need for increased accountability and transparency when designing and deploying humanitarian technologies. This paper outlines the challenges and opportunities of emerging technologies, such as machine learning and blockchain, in the refugee system.

The paper concludes by recommending the creation of quantifiable metrics for sharing information across both public and private initiatives; the creation of the equivalent of a “Hippocratic oath” for technologists working in the humanitarian field; the development of predictive early-warning systems for human rights abuses; and greater accountability among funders and technologists to ensure the sustainability and real-world value of humanitarian apps and other digital platforms….(More)”

Internet Democracy and Social Change: The Case of Israel


Book by Carmit Wiesslitz: “What role does the Internet play in the activities of organizations for social change? This book examines to what extent the democratic potential ascribed to the Internet is realized in practice, and how civil society organizations exploit the unique features of the Internet to attain their goals. This is the story of the organization members’ outlooks and impressions of digital platforms’ role as tools for social change; a story that debunks a common myth about the Internet and collective action. In a time when social media are credited with immense power in generating social change, this book serves as an important reminder that reality for activists and social change organizations is more complicated. Thus, the book sheds light on the back stage of social change organizations’ operations as they struggle to gain visibility in the infinite sea of civil groups competing for attention in the online public sphere. While many studies focus on the performative dimension of collective action (such as protests), this book highlights the challenges of these organizations’ mundane routines. Using a unique analytical perspective based on a structural-organizational approach, and a longitudinal study that utilizes a decade worth of data related to the specific case of Israel and its highly conflicted and turbulent society, the book makes a significant contribution to study of new media and to theories of Internet, democracy, and social change….(More)”.

Drones to deliver medicines to 12m people in Ghana


Neil Munshi in the Financial Times: “The world’s largest drone delivery network, ferrying 150 different medicines and vaccines, as well as blood, to 2,000 clinics in remote parts of Ghana, is set to be announced on Wednesday.

The network represents a big expansion for the Silicon Valley start-up Zipline, which began delivering blood in Rwanda in 2016 using pilotless, preprogrammed aircraft. The move, along with a new agreement in Rwanda signed in December, takes the company beyond simple blood distribution to more complicated vaccine and plasma deliveries.

“What this is going to show is that you can reach every GPS co-ordinate, you can serve everybody,” said Keller Rinaudo, Zipline chief executive. “Every human in that region or country [can be] within a 15-25 minute delivery of any essential medical product — it’s a different way of thinking about universal coverage.”

Zipline will deliver vaccines for yellow fever, polio, diptheria and tetanus which are provided by the World Health Organisation’s Expanded Project on Immunisation. The WHO will also use the company’s system for future mass immunisation programmes in Ghana.

Later this year, Zipline has plans to start operations in the US, in North Carolina, and in south-east Asia. The company said it will be able to serve 100m people within a year, up from the 22m that its projects in Ghana and Rwanda will cover.

In Ghana, Zipline said health workers will receive deliveries via a parachute drop within about 30 minutes of placing their orders by text message….(More)”.

Open government for all? Co-creating digital public services for older adults through data walks


Paper by Juliane Jarke: “The purpose of this paper is to review interventions/methods for engaging older adults in meaningful digital public service design by enabling them to engage critically and productively with open data and civic tech.

The paper evaluates data walks as a method for engaging non-tech-savvy citizens in co-design work. These were evaluated along a framework considering how such interventions allow for sharing control (e.g. over design decisions), sharing expertise and enabling change.

Within a co-creation project, different types of data walks may be conducted, including ideation walks, data co-creation walks or user test walks. These complement each other with respect to how they facilitate the sharing of control and expertise, and enable change for a variety of older citizens.

Data walks are a method with a low-threshold, potentially enabling a variety of citizens to engage in co-design activities relating to open government and civic tech.

Such methods address the digital divide and further social participation of non-tech-savvy citizens. They value the resources and expertise of older adults as co-designers and partners, and counter stereotypical ideas about age and ageing….(More)”.

Is the Singularity the New Wild West? On Social Entrepreneurship in Extended Reality


Paper by Abigail Devereaux: “Augmented and virtual reality, whose ubiquitous convergence is known as extended reality (XR), are technologies that imbue a user’s apparent surroundings with some degree of virtuality. In this article, we are interested in how social entrepreneurs might utilize innovative technological methods in XR to solve social problems presented by XR. Social entrepreneurship in XR presents novel challenges and opportunities not present in traditional regulatory spaces, as XR changes the environment in which choices are made.

Furthermore, the challenges presented by rapidly advancing XR may require much more agile forms of governance than are available from public institutions, even under widespread algorithmic governance. Social entrepreneurship in blockchain solutions may very well be able to meet some of these challenges, as we show. Thus, we expect a new infrastructure to arise to address challenges presented by XR, built by social entrepreneurs in XR, and that may eventually be used as an alternative to public instantiations of governance. Our central thesis is that the dynamic, immersive, and agile nature of XR both provides an unusually fertile ground for the development of alternative forms of governance and essentially necessitates this development by contrast with relatively inagile institutions of public governance….(More)”.

This tech tells cities when floods are coming–and what they will destroy


Ben Paynter at FastCompany: “Several years ago, one of the eventual founders of One Concern nearly died in a tragic flood. Today, the company specializes in using artificial intelligence to predict how natural disasters are unfolding in real time on a city-block-level basis, in order to help disaster responders save as many lives as possible….

To fix that, One Concern debuted Flood Concern in late 2018. It creates map-based visualizations of where water surges may hit hardest, up to five days ahead of an impending storm. For cities, that includes not just time-lapse breakdowns of how the water will rise, how fast it could move, and what direction it will be flowing, but also what structures will get swamped or washed away, and how differing mitigation efforts–from levy building to dam releases–will impact each scenario. It’s the winner of Fast Company’s 2019 World Changing Ideas Awards in the AI and Data category.

[Image: One Concern]

So far, Flood Concern has been retroactively tested against events like Hurricane Harvey to show that it could have predicted what areas would be most impacted well ahead of the storm. The company, which was founded in Silicon Valley in 2015, started with one of that region’s pressing threats: earthquakes. It’s since earned contracts with cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Cupertino, as well as private insurance companies….

One Concern’s first offering, dubbed Seismic Concern, takes existing information from satellite images and building permits to figure out what kind of ground structures are built on, and what might happen if they started shaking. If a big one hits, the program can extrapolate from the epicenter to suggest the likeliest places for destruction, and then adjust as more data from things like 911 calls and social media gets factored in….(More)”.


Digital Pro Bono: Leveraging Technology to Provide Access to Justice


Paper by Kathleen Elliott Vinson and Samantha A. Moppett: “…While individuals have the constitutional right to legal assistance in criminal cases, the same does not hold true for civil matters. Low-income Americans are unable to gain access to meaningful help for basic legal needs. Although legal aid organizations exist to help low-income Americans who cannot afford legal representation, the resources available are insufficient to meet current civil legal needs. Studies show more than 80 percent of the legal needs of low-income Americans go unaddressed every year. 

This article examines how law students, law schools, the legal profession, legal services’ agencies, and low-income individuals who need assistance, all have a shared interest—access to justice—and can work together to reach the elusive goal in the Pledge of Allegiance of “justice for all.” It illustrates how their collaborative leveraging of technology in innovative ways like digital pro bono services, is one way to provide access to justice. It discusses ABA Free Legal Answers Online, the program that the ABA pioneered to help confront the justice gap in the United States. The program provides a “virtual legal advice clinic” where attorneys answer civil legal questions that low-income residents post on free, secure, and confidential state-specific websites. The article provides a helpful resource of how law schools can leverage this technology to increase access to justice for low-income communities while providing pro bono opportunities for attorneys and students in their state…(More)”.

The trouble with informed consent in smart cities


Blog Post by Emilie Scott: “…Lilian Edwards, a U.K.-based academic in internet law, points out that public spaces like smart cities further dilutes the level of consent in the IoT: “While consumers may at least have theoretically had a chance to read the privacy policy of their Nest thermostat before signing the contract, they will have no such opportunity in any real sense when their data is collected by the smart road or smart tram they go to work on, or as they pass the smart dustbin.”

If citizens have expectations that their interactions in smart cities will resemble the technological interactions they have become familiar with, they will likely be sadly misinformed about the level of control they will have over what personal information they end up sharing.

The typical citizen understands that “choosing convenience” when you engage with technology can correspond to a decrease in their level of personal privacy. On at least some level, this is intended to be a choice. Most users may not choose to carefully read a privacy policy on a smartphone application or a website; however, if that policy is well-written and compliant, the user can exercise a right to decide whether they consent to the terms and wish to engage with the company.

The right to choose what personal information you exchange for services is lost in the smart city.

Theoretically, the smart city can bypass this right because municipal government services are subject to provincial public-sector privacy legislation, which can ultimately entail informing citizens their personal information is being collected by way of a notice.

However, the assumption that smart city projects are solely controlled by the public sector is questionable and verges on problematic. Most smart-city projects in Canada are run via public-private partnerships as municipal governments lack both the budget and the expertise to implement the technology system. Private companies can have leading roles in designing, building, financing, operating and maintaining smart-city projects. In the process, they can also have a large degree of control over the data that is created and used.

In some countries, these partnerships can even result in an unprecedented level of privatization. For example, Cisco Systems debatably has a larger claim over Songdo’s development than the South Korean government. Smart-city public-private partnership can have complex implications for data control even when both partners are highly engaged. Trapeze, a private-sector company in transportation software, cautions the public sector on the unintended transfer of data control when electing private providers to operate data systems in a partnership….

When the typical citizen enters a smart city, they will not know 1.) what personal information is being collected, nor will they know 2.) who is collecting it. The former is an established requirement of informed consent, and the later has debatably never been an issue until the development of smart cities.

While similar privacy issues are playing out in smart cities all around the world, Canada must take steps to determine how its own specific privacy legal structure is going to play a role in responding to these privacy issues in our own emerging smart-city projects….(More)”.