The Digital, Data and Technology Playbook

Guidance by the UK Government: “Digital, data and technology (DDaT) underpins everything we do and the government provides vital services for millions of citizens every day. The public sector is estimated to spend £46 billion on digital in 2021/22. To ensure that spend meets the needs of our users in this rapidly evolving world, we need to continually strive for excellence by thinking about our products and services in new ways.

The Digital, Data and Technology Playbook is focused on getting things right from the start. Setting projects and programmes up for success can take more time upfront but we know from past experience that this early investment can be repaid many times over by enabling us to avoid costly mistakes later on.

Changing our approach to procurement in this sector will allow us to learn from successes and failures across government and industry. In order to decide on the correct delivery model, a robust assessment needs to be done of the options available (see Delivery Model Assessment in Chapter 5).

This mixed model of delivery is key. We will use the market’s expertise and capability to supplement agile teams and our commercial processes must be designed to enable this. Following the policies and principles in this Playbook, we will work with our suppliers to take an outcome-based approach and deliver innovative solutions which are focused on the user and create the best possible value for our citizens.

The Digital, Data and Technology Playbook sets out 11 key policy reforms which will transform how we assess, procure and manage our products and services. This includes:

  • online public services such as applying for a driver’s licence
  • business systems ranging from simple database applications through to large transactional systems supporting the operation of tax collection and benefits payments.
  • back-office systems such as finance, human resources, and facilities management systems
  • infrastructure which provides all the basic tools of the modern working environment such as computers and email

We will work together across government and industry to implement and drive the consistent application of the best practice and policies set out in this Playbook and deliver transformational change….(More)”.

Social-media reform is flying blind

Paper by Chris Bail: “As Russia continues its ruthless war in Ukraine, pundits are speculating what social-media platforms might have done years ago to undermine propaganda well before the attack. Amid accusations that social media fuels political violence — and even genocide — it is easy to forget that Facebook evolved from a site for university students to rate each other’s physical attractiveness. Instagram was founded to facilitate alcohol-based gatherings. TikTok and YouTube were built to share funny videos.

The world’s social-media platforms are now among the most important forums for discussing urgent social problems, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, COVID-19 and climate change. Techno-idealists continue to promise that these platforms will bring the world together — despite mounting evidence that they are pulling us apart.

Efforts to regulate social media have largely stalled, perhaps because no one knows what something better would look like. If we could hit ‘reset’ and redesign our platforms from scratch, could we make them strengthen civil society?

Researchers have a hard time studying such questions. Most corporations want to ensure studies serve their business model and avoid controversy. They don’t share much data. And getting answers requires not just making observations, but doing experiments.

In 2017, I co-founded the Polarization Lab at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. We have created a social-media platform for scientific research. On it, we can turn features on and off, and introduce new ones, to identify those that improve social cohesion. We have recruited thousands of people to interact with each other on these platforms, alongside bots that can simulate social-media users.

We hope our effort will help to evaluate some of the most basic premises of social media. For example, tech leaders have long measured success by the number of connections people have. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar has suggested that humans struggle to maintain meaningful relationships with more than 150 people. Experiments could encourage some social-media users to create deeper connections with a small group of users while allowing others to connect with anyone. Researchers could investigate the optimal number of connections in different situations, to work out how to optimize breadth of relationships without sacrificing depth.

A related question is whether social-media platforms should be customized for different societies or groups. Although today’s platforms seem to have largely negative effects on US and Western-Europe politics, the opposite might be true in emerging democracies (P. Lorenz-Spreen et al. Preprint at; 2021). One study suggested that Facebook could reduce ethnic tensions in Bosnia–Herzegovina (N. Asimovic et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 118, e2022819118; 2021), and social media has helped Ukraine to rally support around the world for its resistance….(More)”.

The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is: A History, a Philosophy, a Warning

Book by Justin E. H. Smith: “Many think of the internet as an unprecedented and overwhelmingly positive achievement of modern human technology. But is it? In The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is, Justin Smith offers an original deep history of the internet, from the ancient to the modern world—uncovering its surprising origins in nature and centuries-old dreams of radically improving human life by outsourcing thinking to machines and communicating across vast distances. Yet, despite the internet’s continuing potential, Smith argues, the utopian hopes behind it have finally died today, killed by the harsh realities of social media, the global information economy, and the attention-destroying nature of networked technology.

Ranging over centuries of the history and philosophy of science and technology, Smith shows how the “internet” has been with us much longer than we usually think. He draws fascinating connections between internet user experience, artificial intelligence, the invention of the printing press, communication between trees, and the origins of computing in the machine-driven looms of the silk industry. At the same time, he reveals how the internet’s organic structure and development root it in the natural world in unexpected ways that challenge efforts to draw an easy line between technology and nature.

Combining the sweep of intellectual history with the incisiveness of philosophy, The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is cuts through our daily digital lives to give a clear-sighted picture of what the internet is, where it came from, and where it might be taking us in the coming decades….(More)”.

Broadband Internet and social capital

Paper by Andrea Geraci, Mattia Nardotto, Tommaso Reggiani and FabioSabatini: “We study the impact of broadband penetration on social capital in the UK. Our empirical strategy exploits a technological feature of the telecommunication infrastructure that generated substantial variation in the quality of Internet access across households. The speed of a domestic connection rapidly decays with the distance of a user’s line from the network’s node serving the area. Merging information on the topology of the network with geocoded longitudinal data about individual social capital from 1997 to 2017, we show that access to fast Internet caused a significant decline in civic and political engagement. Overall, our results suggest that broadband penetration crowded out several dimensions of social capital….(More)”.

GovTech Case Studies: Solutions that Work

Worldbank: “A series of GovTech case study notes — GovTech Case Studies: Solutions that Work — provides a better understanding of GovTech focus areas by introducing concrete experiences of adopting GovTech solutions, lessons learned and what worked or did not work.

Take a sneak peek at the first set of case studies which explores GovTech solutions implemented in Brazil, Cambodia, Georgia, Lesotho, Myanmar, and Nigeria….


Read Brazil GovTech Case Study…(More)”.

Web3 and the Trap of ‘For Good’

Article by By Scott Smith & Lina Srivastava : “There are three linked challenges baked into Web3 that any proponent of positive social impact must solve.

1. Decentralized tech doesn’t equal distributed power. Web3 has become synonymous with the decentralized web, and one of the selling points of Web3 technologies is decentralization or shared ownership of web infrastructure. But in reality, ownership is too often centralized by and for those with resources already, the wealthy (even if only coin-wealthy) and corporations.

As the example of NFT marketplace OpenSea demonstrates, risks are too easily distributed onto the users, even as the gains remain very much centralized for platform owners and a small minority of participants. Even Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin has issued warnings about power concentration in Web3 token-based economies, saying crypto “whales” can have too much power in these economies. Systems become inherently extractive unless ownership is shared and distributed by a majority, particularly by those who are traditionally most vulnerable to exploitation.

For this reason, equitable power structures must be proactively designed in Web3 systems.

2. A significant percentage of existing power holders are already building their Web3 business models on exploitation and extraction. At present, these business models mine energy and other resources to the detriment of our climate and environment and of energy-poor communities, in some cases actively resuscitating wasteful or harmful power projects. They do so without addressing these concerns in their core business model (or even by creating offsets, a less desirable alternative but still better than nothing).

These models are meant to avoid accountability to platform users or vulnerable communities in either economic or environmental terms. But they nevertheless ask for our trust?

3. Building community trust takes more than decentralization. Those who are building over distributed technologies often claim it as a solution to a trust deficit, that “trust” is inherent to the systems. Except that it isn’t…(More)”

Controversy Mapping: A Field Guide

Book by Tommaso Venturini, and Anders Kristian Munk: “As disputes concerning the environment, the economy, and pandemics occupy public debate, we need to learn to navigate matters of public concern when facts are in doubt and expertise is contested.

Controversy Mapping is the first book to introduce readers to the observation and representation of contested issues on digital media. Drawing on actor-network theory and digital methods, Venturini and Munk outline the conceptual underpinnings and the many tools and techniques of controversy mapping. They review its history in science and technology studies, discuss its methodological potential, and unfold its political implications. Through a range of cases and examples, they demonstrate how to chart actors and issues using digital fieldwork and computational techniques. A preface by Richard Rogers and an interview with Bruno Latour are also included.

A crucial field guide and hands-on companion for the digital age, Controversy Mapping is an indispensable resource for students and scholars of media and communication, as well as activists, journalists, citizens, and decision makers…(More)”.

How Tech Despair Can Set You Free

Essay by Samuel Matlack: “One way to look at the twentieth century is to say that nations may rise and fall but technical progress remains forever. Its sun rises on the evil and on the good, and its rain falls on the just and on the unjust. Its sun can be brighter than a thousand suns, scorching our enemies, but, with some time and ingenuity, it can also power air conditioners and 5G. One needs to look on the bright side, living by faith and not by sight.

The century’s inquiring minds wished to know whether this faith in progress is meaningfully different from blindness. Ranking high among those minds was the French historian, sociologist, and lay theologian Jacques Ellul, and his answer was simple: No.

In America, Ellul became best known for his book The Technological Society. The book’s signature term was “technique,” an idea he developed throughout his vast body of writing. Technique is the social structure on which modern life is built. It is the consciousness that has come to govern all human affairs, suppressing questions of ultimate human purposes and meaning. Our society no longer asks why we should do anything. All that matters anymore, Ellul argued, is how to do it — to which the canned answer is always: More efficiently! Much as a modern machine can be said to run on its own, so does the technological society. Human control of it is an illusion, which means we are on a path to self-destruction — not because the social machine will necessarily kill us (although it might), but because we are fast becoming soulless creatures…(More)”.

Global Cooperation on Digital Governance and the Geoeconomics of New Technologies in a Multi-polar World

A special collection of papers by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and King’s College London (KCL) resulting from: “… a virtual conference as part of KCL’s Project for Peaceful Competition. It brought together an intellectually and geographically diverse group of experts to discuss the geoeconomics of new digital technologies and the prospects for governance of the technologies in a multi-polar world. The papers prepared for discussion at the conference are collected in this series. An introduction summarizes (in heavily abbreviated form) the principal analytical conclusions emerging from the conference, together with the main policy recommendations put forward by participants….(More)”.

Technology is revolutionizing how intelligence is gathered and analyzed – and opening a window onto Russian military activity around Ukraine

Craig Nazareth at The Conversation: “…Through information captured by commercial companies and individuals, the realities of Russia’s military posturing are accessible to anyone via internet search or news feed. Commercial imaging companies are posting up-to-the-minute, geographically precise images of Russia’s military forces. Several news agencies are regularly monitoring and reporting on the situation. TikTok users are posting video of Russian military equipment on rail cars allegedly on their way to augment forces already in position around Ukraine. And internet sleuths are tracking this flow of information.

This democratization of intelligence collection in most cases is a boon for intelligence professionals. Government analysts are filling the need for intelligence assessments using information sourced from across the internet instead of primarily relying on classified systems or expensive sensors high in the sky or arrayed on the planet.

However, sifting through terabytes of publicly available data for relevant information is difficult. Knowing that much of the data could be intentionally manipulated to deceive complicates the task.

Enter the practice of open-source intelligence. The U.S. director of national intelligence defines Open-Source Intelligence, or OSINT, as the collection, evaluation and analysis of publicly available information. The information sources include news reports, social media posts, YouTube videos and satellite imagery from commercial satellite operators.

OSINT communities and government agencies have developed best practices for OSINT, and there are numerous free tools. Analysts can use the tools to develop network charts of, for example, criminal organizations by scouring publicly available financial records for criminal activity.

Private investigators are using OSINT methods to support law enforcement, corporate and government needs. Armchair sleuths have used OSINT to expose corruption and criminal activity to authorities. In short, the majority of intelligence needs can be met through OSINT…

Even with OSINT best practices and tools, OSINT contributes to the information overload intelligence analysts have to contend with. The intelligence analyst is typically in a reactive mode trying to make sense of a constant stream of ambiguous raw data and information.

Machine learning, a set of techniques that allows computers to identify patterns in large amounts of data, is proving invaluable for processing OSINT information, particularly photos and videos. Computers are much faster at sifting through large datasets, so adopting machine learning tools and techniques to optimize the OSINT process is a necessity.

Identifying patterns makes it possible for computers to evaluate information for deception and credibility and predict future trends. For example, machine learning can be used to help determine whether information was produced by a human or by a bot or other computer program and whether a piece of data is authentic or fraudulent…(More)”.