Nominate a White House Champion of Change for Transformative Civic Engagement


Lisa Ellman and Nick Sinai @ The White House Blog: “But we know that much of the best open government work happens in America’s towns and cities. Every day, local leaders across America’s communities are stepping up in big ways to advance open government goals from the ground up.
This July, the White House will host a “Champions of Change” event to celebrate these local change-agents, whose exemplary leadership is helping to strengthen our democracy and increase participation in our government.
The event will convene extraordinary individuals who are taking innovative approaches to engage citizens and communities in the practice of open government and civic participation.  These leaders will be invited to the White House to celebrate their accomplishments and showcase the steps they have taken to foster a more open, transparent, and participatory government.
Today, we’re asking you to help us identify these standout local leaders by nominating a Champion of Change for Transformative Civic Engagement by noon on Friday, June 21st.  A Champion’s work may involve:

  • Piloting a participatory and democracy-building initiative, such as one that engages citizens in governance beyond elections;
  • Engaging traditionally disengaged communities in local governance;
  • Using new technologies to enhance transparency, participation, and collaboration in government.

We look forward to hearing from you!
Nominate a Transformative Civic Leader as a Champion of Change (under theme of service, choose “Transformative Civic Engagement Leaders”).

The "audience" as participative, idea generating, decision making citizens: will they transform government?


Paper by Teresa Harrison in latest issue of the Journal “Participations“: “From a purely technical perspective, no one, including Tim Berners-Lee, has ever been able to pinpoint exactly what makes Web 2.0 unique. What may be most accurate to say, is that the enormous popularity of social networking and other social media technologies hinges on a radical reconceptualisation of the audience, now routinely incorporated into ICT applications. Once treated as passive consumers of content created by others, designers of these applications now appreciate and exploit, the fact that new media users (formerly known as the “audience”) actively create content online to serve their own goals, frequently as they interact with others. Users of Web 2.0 applications display and tinker with their identities, express themselves on all kinds of topics, invent new products and ideas, and, as Don Tapscott, Tim O’Reilly and legions of other business gurus hasten to remind us, are willing, so far at least, to lend their problem solving, creative efforts and intellectual products to businesses seeking to innovate, or just looking for free marketing. Hoping to harness this largely uncompensated labour, organisations of all types (both commercial and non-profit) have been quick to find ways to attract these “producers” to their projects.
Governments have not been the swiftest in this regard, however, they may present the most ambitious and optimistic agenda for involving internet users. Nations around the world now hope to use new media to engage their citizens in some variation of participatory governance. Where once the prospects for “town hall style democracy,” were doomed by the limitations and inefficiencies of one-way media transactions, the networked interactivity of social media now makes it technically feasible to invite citizen participation on a routine basis. What is not yet clear is how citizens will react over the long term to these invitations and what kinds of social issues and software applications will best attract and immerse them into new citizenship practices.”

How legislatures work – and should work – as public space


Paper by John Parkinson in latest issue of Democratization: “In a democracy, legislatures are not only stages for performances by elected representatives; they are also stages for performances by other players in the public sphere. This article argues that while many legislatures are designed and built as spaces for the public to engage with politics, and while democratic norms require some degree of access, increasingly what are termed “purposive publics” are being superseded by groups who are only publics in an aggregative, accidental sense. The article begins with a conceptual analysis of the ways in which legislatures can be thought of as public spaces, and the in-principle access requirements that follow from them. It then draws on interviews and observational fieldwork in eleven capital cities to discover whether the theoretical requirements are met in practice, revealing further tensions. The conclusions are that accessibility is important; is being downgraded in important ways; but also that access norms stand in tension with the requirement that legislatures function as working buildings if they are to retain their symbolic value. The article ends with two “modest proposals”, one concerning the design of the plazas in front of legislatures, the other concerning a role for the wider public in legislative procedure.”

Transparency, E-Government, and Accountability Some Issues and Considerations


New Paper in Public Performance & Management Review: “Greater use of information and communications technology and e-government can increase governmental transparency. This, in turn, may invite citizen participation, foster e-governance, and facilitate e-democracy. However, beyond a certain point, more government openness may be dysfunctional if it reduces operational capacity. This article claims that in the real world, where the proverbial question is “Why can’t government be like business?,” many public managers are challenged by the need to perform a balancing act between the pursuit of greater openness and private-sector efficiency. The article concludes that there is a need to develop theories, models, and trainings to assist managers in addressing this balancing challenge.”

An Ethnographic Approach to Impact Evaluation: Stop Measuring Outputs, Start Understanding Experiences


Panthea Lee, a principal at Reboot, in TechPresident: “Is open government working? I asked the question in a previous post …Too often, assessing the impact of open government initiatives amounts to measuring outputs: how many developers flocked to a civic tech hackathon; the amount of procurement records feeding corruption hawks and socially-minded graphic designers; or the number of tweets or media mentions about a particular initiative, regardless of whether they are from the same industry blogs and actors covering open government.
Quantitative metrics have their place. They may be useful for gauging the popularity of an initiative. They are almost always used to justify funding for an initiative. But, ultimately, these studies say very little about open government’s actual impact on people….We need to move beyond measuring outputs and toward understanding experiences….
Applied ethnography holds great potential for understanding how individuals experience open government initiatives. Ethnography––“a portrait of people”––is the study of people within their social and cultural contexts. It embraces context, examining how results can be explained by human factors and situational interactions. Ethnography allows us to understand the meaning of participation for different individuals––who is affected or not, and why. (Ethnographic research is often mistakenly equated with “interview studies” or other types of qualitative research. An immersive research approach, it uses techniques such as participant observation, unstructured interviews, and artifact collection to attempt a holistic analysis of human behaviours, interactions, and perceptions over time.)
Take, for example, this ethnographic study of a participatory budgeting initiative in Rome. The study found that through engagement with the participatory budgeting process, some participants “discovered a passion for politics,” leading them to join neighborhood associations and local political parties. Other participants, however, left the budgeting process feeling more cynical about and disengaged from participatory democracy.”

Deepbills project


Cato Institute: “The Deepbills project takes the raw XML of Congressional bills (available at FDsys and Thomas) and adds additional semantic information to them in inside the text.

You can download the continuously-updated data at http://deepbills.cato.org/download

Congress already produces machine-readable XML of almost every bill it proposes, but that XML is designed primarily for formatting a paper copy, not for extracting information. For example, it’s not currently possible to find every mention of an Agency, every legal reference, or even every spending authorization in a bill without having a human being read it….
Currently the following information is tagged:

  • Legal citations…
  • Budget Authorities (both Authorizations of Appropriations and Appropriations)…
  • Agencies, bureaus, and subunits of the federal government.
  • Congressional committees
  • Federal elective officeholders (Congressmen)”

The open parliament in the age of the internet


Worldbank’s Tiago Peixoto reviewing Cristiano Faria’s book on Open Parliaments : “There are many reasons to read Cristiano’s piece, one of them being the scarcity of literature dealing with the usage of ICT by the legislative branch. I was honoured to be invited to write the preface to this book, in which I list a few other reasons why I think this book is very worthwhile reading. I have reproduced the preface below, with the addition of some hyperlinks.
***
Towards the end of the 18th Century, not long after the French Revolution, engineer Claude Chappe invented the optical telegraph. Also known as the Napoleonic Telegraph, this technological innovation enabled the transmission of messages over great distances at unprecedented speeds for its time. This novelty did not go unnoticed by the intellectuals of the period: the possibility of establishing a telegraph network that could connect individuals at high speed and lowered costs was seen as a unique opportunity for direct democracy to flourish.
The difficulties associated with direct democracy, so eloquently expressed by Rousseau just a few years earlier, no longer seemed relevant: simply opening the code used by the telegraph operators would suffice for a whirlpool of ideas to flow between citizens and government, bringing a new era of participatory decision-making. Events, however, took a different turn, and as time went by the enthusiasm for a democratic renewal faded away.
In the course of the centuries that followed, similar stories abounded. The emergence of each new ICT gave rise to a period of enthusiasm surrounding a renewal in politics and government, only to be followed by bitter disillusionment. While the causes of these historical experiences are multiple, it is safe to say that the failure of these technologies to deliver their much-heralded potential is underscored by a lack of understanding of the role of political institutions. These institutions are, inexorably, sources of obstacles and challenges that go beyond the reach of technological solutions.
Indeed, one could argue that despite the historical evidence, even today a certain amount of ingenuity permeates the majority of academic works in the domain of electronic democracy and open government, overestimating technological innovation and neglecting the role of institutions, actors, and their respective strategies.
Not falling prey to the techno-determinist temptation but rather carrying out an analysis grounded in institutions, organizational processes and actors’ strategies, is one of the many strengths of Cristiano Faria’s work…”

How Generation X is Shaping Government


Governing Magazine: “Local governments are in the midst of a sea change when it comes to public participation and citizen engagement. Forced by the recession and recovery of the last five years to make dramatic cuts to their budgets, they’ve reached out to try to understand better what their residents value most. Presented with a new and ever-evolving array of technological tools — Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and public-participation sites like MindMixer, Peak Democracy and Nextdoor — they’re using them to publicize their own concerns and, increasingly, to draw out public sentiment. They’ve discovered the “civic technology” movement, with its groups like Code for America and events like next month’s National Day of Civic Hacking, which encourage citizens with tech skills to use government data to build apps useful to residents, neighborhoods and cities.
What may be most interesting about all this, however, is that it’s occurring precisely as another momentous shift is taking place: As they go through their 30s and 40s, members of Generation X are moving into more active roles as citizens and into upper management ranks in local government. While it’s too much to say that this generational change is the force driving local governments’ more expansive view of public engagement, the blending of the two trends is no coincidence. It shouldn’t be surprising that this generation, which long ago shook off its disengaged-slacker stereotype to become known for its entrepreneurialism, DIY ethic, skepticism about bureaucracy and comfort with collaborating over far-flung networks, would now be pressing local government to think in new ways about the work of democracy.”

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”

Finding the Common Good in an Era of Dysfunctional Governance


New Essay by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein in the Spring 2013 issue of Daedalus (a journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences):

“The framers designed a constitutional system in which the government would play a vigorous role in securing the liberty and well-being of a large and diverse population. They built a political system around a number of key elements, including debate and deliberation, divided powers competing with one another, regular order in the legislative process, and avenues to limit and punish corruption. America in recent years has struggled to adhere to each of these principles, leading to a crisis of governability and legitimacy. The roots of this problem are twofold. The first is a serious mismatch between our political parties, which have become as polarized and vehemently adversarial as parliamentary parties, and a separation-of-powers governing system that makes it extremely difficult for majorities to act. The second is the asymmetric character of the polarization. The Republican Party has become a radical insurgency—ideologically extreme, scornful of facts and compromise, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. Securing the common good in the face of these developments will require structural changes but also an informed and strategically focused citizenry.”