The Colombian Anti-Corruption Referendum: Why It Failed?


Paper by Michael Haman: “The objective of this article is to analyze the results of the anti-corruption referendum in Colombia in 2018. Colombia is a country with a significant corruption problem. More than 99% of the voters who came to the polls voted in favor of the proposals. However, the anti-corruption referendum nonetheless failed because not enough citizens were mobilized to participate. The article addresses the reasons why turnout was very low…

Conclusions: I find that the more transparent a municipality, the higher the percentage of the municipal electorate that voted for proposals in the anti-corruption referendum. Moreover, I find that in municipalities where support for Sergio Fajardo in the presidential election was higher and support for Iván Duque was lower, support for the referendum proposals was higher. Also, turnout was lower in municipalities with higher poverty rates and higher homicide rates…(More)”.

Civic Duty Days: One Way Employers Can Strengthen Democracy


Blog by Erin Barnes: “As an employer, I’m always looking for structural ways to support my team in their health and wellbeing. We know that individual health is so often tied to community health: strong communities mean, among other things, better health outcomes, reduced crime, and better education for our children, so making space for my team to be able to be active participants in their neighborhoods gives them and their families better health outcomes. So, from my perspective, allowing time to give back to the community is just as important as providing sick days.

When my cofounder Brandon Whitney and I started ioby — a nonprofit focused on building civic leadership in our neighborhoods — we wanted our internal organizational values to reflect our mission. For example, we’ve always given Election Day off, and Brandon created ioby’s Whole Person Policy inspired by the work of Parker Palmer. And a few years ago, after a series of high-profile killings of people of color by police made it difficult for many of our staff to feel fully present at work while also showing up for those in their community who were struggling with pain and grief, we decided to add an additional 5 days of Paid Time Off (PTO) for civic duty.

At ioby, a Civic Duty Day is not the same as jury duty. Civic Duty Days are designed to give ioby staff the time to do what we need to do to be active participants involved in everyday democracy. Activities can include neighborhood volunteering, get-out-the-vote volunteering, fundraising, self-care and community-care to respond to local and national emergencies, writing letters, meeting with local elected officials, making calls, going to a healing workshop, and personal health to recover from civic duty activities that fall on weekends.

A couple weeks ago, at a retreat with other nonprofit leaders, we were discussing structural ways to increase civic participation in the United States. Given that nearly 15% of Americans cite lack of time as their reason for not voting, and 75% of Americans cite it as their reason for not volunteering, employers can make a big difference in how Americans show up in public life.

I asked my team what sorts of things they’ve used Civic Duty Days for. In addition to the typical answers about park cleanups, phone banking, door knocking and canvassing, postcard writing, attending demonstrations like the Women’s March and the Climate Strike, I heard some interesting stories.

  • One ioby staff person used her Civic Duty Days to attend Reverse Ride Alongs where she acts as a guide with cadets for the entire day. This program allows cadets to see the community they will be serving and for the community to have a voice in how they see policing and what ways best to be approached by new police officers.
  • An ioby staff person used Civic Duty Days to attend trial for an activist who was arrested for protesting; this would have been impossible to attend otherwise since trials are often during the day.
  • Another ioby staff person used his days to stay home with his kids while his wife attended demonstrations….(More)”

A Strong Democracy Is a Digital Democracy


 Audrey Tang in the New York Times: “Democracy improves as more people participate. And digital technology remains one of the best ways to improve participation — as long as the focus is on finding common ground and creating consensus, not division.

These are lessons Taiwan has taken to heart in recent years, with the government and the tech community partnering to create online platforms and other digital initiatives that allow everyday citizens to propose and express their opinion on policy reforms. Today, Taiwan is crowdsourcing democracy to create a more responsive government.

Fittingly, this movement, which today aims to increase government transparency, was born in a moment of national outrage over a lack of openness and accountability in politics.

On March 18, 2014, hundreds of young activists, most of them college students, occupied Taiwan’s legislature to express their profound opposition to a new trade pact with Beijing then under consideration, as well as the secretive manner in which it was being pushed through Parliament by the Kuomintang, the ruling party.

Catalyzing what came to be known as the Sunflower Movement, the protesters demanded that the pact be scrapped and that the government institute a more transparent ratification process.

The occupation, which drew widespread public support, ended a little more than three weeks later, after the government promised greater legislative oversight of the trade pact. (To this day, the pact has yet to be approved by Taiwan’s legislature.) A poll released after the occupation, however, showed that 76 percent of the nation remained dissatisfied with the Kuomintang government, illustrating the crisis of trust caused by the trade deal dispute.

To heal this rift and communicate better with everyday citizens, the administration reached out to a group of civic-minded hackers and coders, known as g0v (pronounced “gov-zero”), who had been seeking to improve government transparency through the creation of open-source tools. The organization had come to the attention of the government during the Sunflower occupation, when g0v hackers had worked closely with the protesters.

In December 2014, Jaclyn Tsai, a government minister focused on digital technology, attended a g0v-sponsored hackathon and proposed the establishment of a neutral platform where various online communities could exchange policy ideas.

Several contributors from g0v responded by partnering with the government to start the vTaiwan platform in 2015. VTaiwan (which stands for “virtual Taiwan”) brings together representatives from the public, private and social sectors to debate policy solutions to problems primarily related to the digital economy. Since it began, vTaiwan has tackled 30 issues, relying on a mix of online debate and face-to-face discussions with stakeholders. Though the government is not obligated to follow vTaiwan’s recommendations (a policy that may soon change), the group’s work often leads to concrete action….(More)”.

Merging the ‘Social’ and the ‘Public’: How Social Media Platforms Could Be a New Public Forum


Paper by Amélie Pia Heldt: “When Facebook and other social media sites announced in August 2018 they would ban extremist speakers such as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for violating their rules against hate speech, reactions were strong. Either they would criticize that such measures were only a drop in the bucket with regards to toxic and harmful speech online, or they would despise Facebook & Co. for penalizing only right-wing speakers, hence censoring political opinions and joining some type of anti-conservative media conglomerate. This anecdote foremost begged the question: Should someone like Alex Jones be excluded from Facebook? And the question “should” includes the one of “may Facebook exclude users for publishing political opinions?”.

As social media platforms take up more and more space in our daily lives, enabling not only individual and mass communication, but also offering payment and other services, there is still a need for a common understanding with regards to the social and communicative space they create in cyberspace. By common I mean on a global scale since this is the way most social media platforms operate or aim for (see Facebook’s mission statement: “bring the world closer together”). While in social science a new digital sphere was proclaimed and social media platforms can be categorized as “personal publics”, there is no such denomination in legal scholarship that is globally agreed upon. Public space can be defined as a free room between the state and society, as a space for freedom. Generally, it is where individuals are protected by their fundamental rights while operating in the public sphere. However, terms like forum, space, and sphere may not be used as synonyms in this discussion. Under the First Amendment, the public forum doctrine mainly serves the purposes of democracy and truth and could be perpetuated in communication services that promote direct dialogue between the state and citizens. But where and by whom is the public forum guaranteed in cyberspace? The notion of the public space in cyberspace is central and it constantly evolves as platforms become broader in their services, hence it needs to be examined more closely. When looking at social media platforms we need to take into account how they moderate speech and subsequently how they influence social processes. If representative democracies are built on the grounds of deliberation, it is essential to safeguard the room for public discourse to actually happen. Are constitutional concepts for the analog space transferable into the digital? Should private actors such as social media platforms be bound by freedom of speech without being considered state actors? And, accordingly, create a new type of public forum?

The goal of this article is to provide answers to the questions mentioned….(More)”.

GROW Citizens’ Observatory: Leveraging the power of citizens, open data and technology to generate engagement, and action on soil policy and soil moisture monitoring


Paper by M. Woods et al: “Citizens’ Observatories (COs) seek to extend conventional citizen science activities to scale up the potential of citizen sensing for environmental monitoring and creation of open datasets, knowledge and action around environmental issues, both local and global. The GROW CO has connected the planetary dimension of satellites with the hyperlocal context of farmers and their soil. GROW has faced three main interrelated challenges associated with each of the three core audiences of the observatory, namely citizens, scientists and policy makers: one is sustained citizen engagement, quality assurance of citizen-generated data and the challenge to move from data to action in practice and policy. We discuss how each of these challenges were overcome and gave way to the following related project outputs: 1) Contributing to satellite validation and enhancing the collective intelligence of GEOSS 2) Dynamic maps and visualisations for growers, scientists and policy makers 3) Social-technical innovations data art…(More)”.

We Need a Fourth Branch of Government


George A. Papandreou at The New York Times: “In ancient times, politics was born of the belief that we can be masters of our own fate, and democracy became a continuing, innovative project to guarantee people a say in public decisions.

Today, however, we live in a paradox. Humanity has created vast wealth and technological know-how that could contribute to solutions for the global common good, yet immense numbers of people are disempowered, marginalized and suffering from a deep sense of insecurity. Working together, we have the ability to reshape the world as we know it. Unfortunately, that power rests in the hands of only a few.

The marginalization we see today is rooted in the globalization promoted by policy models such as the Washington Consensus, which distanced politics and governance from economic power. Companies in the financial, pharmaceutical, agricultural, oil and tech industries are no longer governed by the laws of a single state — they live in a separate global stratosphere, one regulated to suit their interests.

The consequences of all this are huge disparities in wealth and power. There is, for example, an overconcentration of money in media and politics, due to lobbying and outright corruption. And in many countries, democratic institutions have been captured and the will of the people has been compromised….

We could embrace reactive politics, elect authoritarian leaders, build walls, and promote isolationism and racism. This path offers a simple yet illusory way to “take back control,” but in fact accomplishes the opposite: It gives up control to power-hungry demagogues who divide us, weaken civil society and feed us dead-end solutions.

But rather than embrace those false promises, let us instead reinvent and deepen democratic institutions, in order to empower people, tame global capitalism, eliminate inequality and assert control over our international techno-society.

From my experience, an important step toward these goals would be to create a fourth branch of government.

This new deliberative branch, in which all citizens — the “demos” — could participate, would sit alongside the executive, legislative and judicial branches. All laws and decisions would first go through an e-deliberation process before being debated in our city halls, parliaments or congresses.

Inspired by the agora of ideas and debate in ancient Athens, I set up as prime minister a rudimentary “wiki-law” process for deliberating issues online before laws are voted on. Trusting collective wisdom brought insightful and invaluable responses.

In contrast to how social media works today, a similar platform could develop transparent algorithms that use artificial intelligence to promote wholesome debate and informed dialogue while fairly aggregating citizens’ positions to promote consensus building. All who participate in this public e-agora would appear under their true identities — real voices, not bots. Eponymous, not anonymous.

To facilitate debate, forums of professionals could give informed opinions on issues of the day. Public television, newspapers, radio and podcasts could enlighten the conversation. Schools would be encouraged to participate. So-called deliberative polling (again inspired by ancient Athens and developed for modern society by James Fishkin at Stanford University) could improve decision-making by leveraging sustained dialogue among polling participants and experts to produce more informed public opinion. The concept was used by the Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland from 2016 to 2018, a riveting exercise in deliberative democracy that produced breakthroughs on seemingly intractable issues such as abortion.

Today, we are on the verge of momentous global changes, in robotics, A.I., the climate and more. The world’s citizens must debate the ethical implications of our increasingly godlike technological powers….(More)”

Why policy networks don’t work (the way we think they do)


Blog by James Georgalakis: “Is it who you know or what you know? The literature on evidence uptake and the role of communities of experts mobilised at times of crisis convinced me that a useful approach would be to map the social network that emerged around the UK-led mission to Sierra Leone so it could be quantitatively analysed. Despite the well-deserved plaudits for my colleagues at IDS and their partners in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Wellcome Trust and elsewhere, I was curious to know why they had still met real resistance to some of their policy advice. This included the provision of home care kits for victims of the virus who could not access government or NGO run Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs).

It seemed unlikely these challenges were related to poor communications. The timely provision of accessible research knowledge by the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform has been one of the most celebrated aspects of the mobilisation of anthropological expertise. This approach is now being replicated in the current Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  Perhaps the answer was in the network itself. This was certainly indicated by some of the accounts of the crisis by those directly involved.

Social network analysis

I started by identifying the most important looking policy interactions that took place between March 2014, prior to the UK assuming leadership of the Sierra Leone international response and mid-2016, when West Africa was finally declared Ebola free. They had to be central to the efforts to coordinate the UK response and harness the use of evidence. I then looked for documents related to these events, a mixture of committee minutes, reports and correspondence , that could confirm who was an active participant in each. This analysis of secondary sources related to eight separate policy processes and produced a list of 129 individuals. However, I later removed a large UK conference that took place in early 2016 at which learning from the crisis was shared.  It appeared that most delegates had no significant involvement in giving policy advice during the crisis. This reduced the network to 77….(More)”.

The Passion Economy and the Future of Work


Li Jin at Andreessen-Horowitz: “The top-earning writer on the paid newsletter platform Substack earns more than $500,000 a year from reader subscriptions. The top content creator on Podia, a platform for video courses and digital memberships, makes more than $100,000 a month. And teachers across the US are bringing in thousands of dollars a month teaching live, virtual classes on Outschool and Juni Learning.

These stories are indicative of a larger trend: call it the “creator stack” or the “enterprization of consumer.” Whereas previously, the biggest online labor marketplaces flattened the individuality of workers, new platforms allow anyone to monetize unique skills. Gig work isn’t going anywhere—but there are now more ways to capitalize on creativity. Users can now build audiences at scale and turn their passions into livelihoods, whether that’s playing video games or producing video content. This has huge implications for entrepreneurship and what we’ll think of as a “job” in the future….(More)”.

Individualism and Governance of the Commons


Paper by Meina Cai et al: “Individualistic cultures are associated with economic growth and development. Do they also improve governance of the commons? According to the property rights literature, conservation is more likely when the institutions of property arise from a spontaneous process in response to local problems. We argue that individualistic cultures contribute to conservation by encouraging property rights entrepreneurship: efforts by individuals and communities to resolve commons dilemmas, including their investment of resources in securing political recognition of spontaneously arising property rights. We use the theory to explain cross-country rates of change in forest cover. Using both subjective measures of individualistic values and the historical prevalence of disease as instruments for individualism, we find that individualistic societies have higher reforestation rates than collectivist ones, consistent with our theory…(More)”.

The crowd in crowdsourcing: Crowdsourcing as a pragmatic research method


Lina Eklund, Isabell Stamm, Wanda Katja Liebermann at First Monday:
“Crowdsourcing, as a digital process employed to obtain information, ideas, and solicit contributions of work, creativity, etc., from large online crowds stems from business, yet is increasingly used in research. Engaging with previous literature and a symposium on academic crowdsourcing this study explores the underlying assumptions about crowdsourcing as a potential academic research method and how these affect the knowledge produced. Results identify crowdsourcing research as research about and with the crowd, explore how tasks can be productive, reconfiguring, and evaluating, and how these are linked to intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, we also identify three types of platforms: commercial platforms, research-specific platforms, and project specific platforms. Finally, the study suggests that crowdsourcing is a digital method that could be considered a pragmatic method; the challenge of a sound crowdsourcing project is to think about the researcher’s relationship to the crowd, the tasks, and the platform used….(More)”.