How not to conduct a consultation – and why asking the public is not always such a great idea


Agnes Batory & Sara Svensson at Policy and Politics: “Involving people in policy-making is generally a good thing. Policy-makers themselves often pay at least lip-service to the importance of giving citizens a say. In the academic literature, participatory governance has been, with some exaggeration, almost universally hailed as a panacea to all ills in Western democracies. In particular, it is advocated as a way to remedy the alienation of voters from politicians who seem to be oblivious to the concerns of the common man and woman, with an ensuing decline in public trust in government. Representation by political parties is ridden with problems, so the argument goes, and in any case it is overly focused on the act of voting in elections – a one-off event once every few years which limits citizens’ ability to control the policy agenda. On the other hand, various forms of public participation are expected to educate citizens, help develop a civic culture, and boost the legitimacy of decision-making. Consequently, practices to ensure that citizens can provide direct input into policy-making are to be welcomed on both pragmatic and normative grounds.  

I do not disagree with these generally positive expectations. However, the main objective of my recent article in Policy and Politics, co-authored with Sara Svensson, is to inject a dose of healthy scepticism into the debate or, more precisely, to show that there are circumstances in which public consultations will achieve anything but greater legitimacy and better policy-outcomes. We do this partly by discussing the more questionable assumptions in the participatory governance literature, and partly by examining a recent, glaring example of the misuse, and abuse, of popular input….(More)”.

Number of fact-checking outlets surges to 188 in more than 60 countries


Mark Stencel at Poynter: “The number of fact-checking outlets around the world has grown to 188 in more than 60 countries amid global concerns about the spread of misinformation, according to the latest tally by the Duke Reporters’ Lab.

Since the last annual fact-checking census in February 2018, we’ve added 39 more outlets that actively assess claims from politicians and social media, a 26% increase. The new total is also more than four times the 44 fact-checkers we counted when we launched our global database and map in 2014.

Globally, the largest growth came in Asia, which went from 22 to 35 outlets in the past year. Nine of the 27 fact-checking outlets that launched since the start of 2018 were in Asia, including six in India. Latin American fact-checking also saw a growth spurt in that same period, with two new outlets in Costa Rica, and others in Mexico, Panama and Venezuela.

The actual worldwide total is likely much higher than our current tally. That’s because more than a half-dozen of the fact-checkers we’ve added to the database since the start of 2018 began as election-related partnerships that involved the collaboration of multiple organizations. And some those election partners are discussing ways to continue or reactivate that work— either together or on their own.

Over the past 12 months, five separate multimedia partnerships enlisted more than 60 different fact-checking organizations and other news companies to help debunk claims and verify information for voters in MexicoBrazilSweden,Nigeria and the Philippines. And the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network assembled a separate team of 19 media outlets from 13 countries to consolidate and share their reporting during the run-up to last month’s elections for the European Parliament. Our database includes each of these partnerships, along with several others— but not each of the individual partners. And because they were intentionally short-run projects, three of these big partnerships appear among the 74 inactive projects we also document in our database.

Politics isn’t the only driver for fact-checkers. Many outlets in our database are concentrating efforts on viral hoaxes and other forms of online misinformation — often in coordination with the big digital platforms on which that misinformation spreads.

We also continue to see new topic-specific fact-checkers such as Metafact in Australia and Health Feedback in France— both of which launched in 2018 to focus on claims about health and medicine for a worldwide audience….(More)”.

Of Governance and Revenue: Participatory Institutions and Tax Compliance in Brazil


Paper by Michael Touchton, Brian Wampler and Tiago C. Peixoto: “Traditionally, governments seek to mobilize tax revenues by expanding their enforcement of existing tax regimes and facilitating tax payments. However, enforcement and facilitation can be costly and produce diminishing marginal returns if citizens are unwilling to pay their taxes. This paper addresses gaps in knowledge about tax compliance, by asking a basic question: what explains why citizens and businesses comply with tax rules? To answer this question, the paper shows how the voluntary adoption of two different types of participatory governance institutions influences municipal tax collection in Brazil. Municipalities that voluntarily adopt participatory institutions collect significantly higher levels of taxes than similar municipalities without these institutions. The paper provides evidence that moves scholarship on tax compliance beyond enforcement and facilitation paradigms, while offering a better assessment of the role of local democratic institutions for government performance and tax compliance….(More)”.

Open government and citizen engagement: From theory to action


Camilo Romero Galeano at apolitical: “…According to the 2016 Corruption Perception Index analysing the behaviour of 178 countries, 69% of countries evaluated again raised the alarm about what has been referred to as “the cancer of the public service”.

The scandals of misappropriation of public funds, illicit enrichment of public officials, the slippery labyrinths of procurement and all kinds of practices that challenge ethics in the public service are daily news around the world.

Colombia and the department of Nariño suffer from the same problems. Bad practices of traditional politics and chiefdoms have ended up destroying the trust that citizens once had in political institutions. Corruption and its devastating effects always end up undermining people’s dignity.

With this as the current state of affairs, and in our capacity as a subnational government, we have designed hand in hand with the citizens of Nariño a new government program. It  is based on an approach to innovation called “New Government” that relies on three pillars: open government; social innovation; and collaborative economy.

The new program has been endorsed by more than 300,000 voters and subsequently concretised in our roadmap for the territory: “Nariño heart of the World”. The creation of this policy document brought together 31,700 participants and involved travelling around the 13 subregions that compose the 64 municipalities in Nariño.

In this way, citizen participation has become an essential tool in the fight against corruption.

Our open government strategy is called GANA — Gobierno Abierto de Nariño (in English, “Win — Open Government of Nariño”). The strategy takes a step forward in ensuring cabinet officials become transparent and publicly declare private assets. Citizens can now find out the financial conditions in which public officials begin and finish their administrative periods. Each one of us….(More)”

Applying crowdsourcing techniques in urban planning: A bibliometric analysis of research and practice prospects


Paper by Pinchao Liao et al in Cities: “Urban planning requires more public involvement and larger group participation to achieve scientific and democratic decision making. Crowdsourcing is a novel approach to gathering information, encouraging innovation and facilitating group decision-making. Unfortunately, although previous research has explored the utility of crowdsourcing applied to urban planning theoretically, there are still rare real practices or empirical studies using practical data. This study aims to identify the prospects for implementing crowdsourcing in urban planning through a bibliometric analysis on current research.

First, database and keyword lists based on peer-reviewed journal articles were developed. Second, semantic analysis is applied to quantify co-occurrence frequencies of various terms in the articles based on the keyword lists, and in turn a semantic network is built.

Then, cluster analysis was conducted to identify major and correlated research topics, and bursting key terms were analyzed and explained chronologically. Lastly, future research and practical trends were discussed.

The major contribution of this study is identifying crowdsourcing as a novel urban planning method, which can strengthen government capacities by involving public participation, i.e., turning governments into task givers. Regarding future patterns, the application of crowdsourcing in urban planning is expected to expand to transportation, public health and environmental issues. It is also indicated that the use of crowdsourcing requires governments to adjust urban planning mechanisms….(More)”.

Journalism Initiative Crowdsources Feedback on Failed Foreign Aid Projects


Abigail Higgins at SSIR: “It isn’t unusual that a girl raped in northeastern Kenya would be ignored by law enforcement. But for Mary, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, it should have been different—NGOs had established a hotline to report sexual violence just a few years earlier to help girls like her get justice. Even though the hotline was backed by major aid institutions like Mercy Corps and the British government, calls to it regularly went unanswered.

“That was the story that really affected me. It touched me in terms of how aid failures could impact someone,” says Anthony Langat, a Nairobi-based reporter who investigated the hotline as part of a citizen journalism initiative called What Went Wrong? that examines failed foreign aid projects.

Over six months in 2018, What Went Wrong? collected 142 reports of failed aid projects in Kenya, each submitted over the phone or via social media by the very people the project was supposed to benefit. It’s a move intended to help upend the way foreign aid is disbursed and debated. Although aid organizations spend significant time evaluating whether or not aid works, beneficiaries are often excluded from that process.

“There’s a serious power imbalance,” says Peter DiCampo, the photojournalist behind the initiative. “The people receiving foreign aid generally do not have much say. They don’t get to choose which intervention they want, which one would feel most beneficial for them. Our goal is to help these conversations happen … to put power into the hands of the people receiving foreign aid.”

What Went Wrong? documented eight failed projects in an investigative series published by Devex in March. In Kibera, one of Kenya’s largest slums, public restrooms meant to improve sanitation failed to connect to water and sewage infrastructure and were later repurposed as churches. In another story, the World Bank and local thugs struggled for control over the slum’s electrical grid….(More)”

Here’s a prediction: In the future, predictions will only get worse


Allison Schrager at Quartz: “Forecasts rely on data from the past, and while we now have better data than ever—and better techniques and technology with which to measure them—when it comes to forecasting, in many ways, data has never been more useless. And as data become more integral to our lives and the technology we rely upon, we must take a harder look at the past before we assume it tells us anything about the future.

To some extent, the weaknesses of data has always existed. Data are, by definition, information about what has happened in the past. Because populations and technology are constantly changing, they alter how we respond to incentives, policy, opportunities available to us, and even social cues. This undermines the accuracy of everything we try to forecast: elections, financial markets, even how long it will take to get to the airport.

But there is reason to believe we are experiencing more change than before. The economy is undergoing a major structural change by becoming more globally integrated, which increases some risks while reducing others, while technology has changed how we transact and communicate. I’ve written before how it’s now impossible for the movie industry to forecast hit films. Review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes undermines traditional marketing plans and the rise of the Chinese market means film makers must account for different tastes. Meanwhile streaming has changed how movies are consumed and who watches them. All these changes mean data from 10, or even five, years ago tell producers almost nothing about movie-going today.

We are in the age of big data that offers to promise of more accurate predictions. But it seems in some of the most critical aspects of our lives, data has never been more wrong….(More)”.

The European Lead Factory: Collective intelligence and cooperation to improve patients’ lives


Press Release: “While researchers from small and medium-sized companies and academic institutions often have enormous numbers of ideas, they don’t always have enough time or resources to develop them all. As a result, many ideas get left behind because companies and academics typically have to focus on narrow areas of research. This is known as the “Innovation Gap”. ESCulab (European Screening Centre: unique library for attractive biology) aims to turn this problem into an opportunity by creating a comprehensive library of high-quality compounds. This will serve as a basis for testing potential research targets against a wide variety of compounds.

Any researcher from a European academic institution or a small to medium-sized enterprise within the consortium can apply for a screening of their potential drug target. If a submitted target idea is positively assessed by a committee of experts it will be run through a screening process and the submitting party will receive a dossier of up to 50 potentially relevant substances that can serve as starting points for further drug discovery activities.

ESCulab will build Europe’s largest collaborative drug discovery platform and is equipped with a total budget of € 36.5 million: Half is provided by the European Union’s Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) and half comes from in-kind contributions from companies of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries an Associations (EFPIA) and the Medicines for Malaria Venture. It builds on the existing library of the European Lead Factory , which consists of around 200,000 compounds, as well as around 350,000 compounds from EFPIA companies. The European Lead Factory aims to initiate 185 new drug discovery projects through the ESCulab project by screening drug targets against its library.

… The platform has already provided a major boost for drug discovery in Europe and is a strong example of how crowdsourcing, collective intelligence and the cooperation within the IMI framework can create real value for academia, industry, society and patients….(More)”

The 100 Questions Initiative: Sourcing 100 questions on key societal challenges that can be answered by data insights


100Q Screenshot

Press Release: “The Governance Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering announced the launch of the 100 Questions Initiative — an effort to identify the most important societal questions whose answers can be found in data and data science if the power of data collaboratives is harnessed.

The initiative, launched with initial support from Schmidt Futures, seeks to address challenges on numerous topics, including migration, climate change, poverty, and the future of work.

For each of these areas and more, the initiative will seek to identify questions that could help unlock the potential of data and data science with the broader goal of fostering positive social, environmental, and economic transformation. These questions will be sourced by leveraging “bilinguals” — practitioners across disciplines from all over the world who possess both domain knowledge and data science expertise.

The 100 Questions Initiative starts by identifying 10 key questions related to migration. These include questions related to the geographies of migration, migrant well-being, enforcement and security, and the vulnerabilities of displaced people. This inaugural effort involves partnerships with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Commission, both of which will provide subject-matter expertise and facilitation support within the framework of the Big Data for Migration Alliance (BD4M).

“While there have been tremendous efforts to gather and analyze data relevant to many of the world’s most pressing challenges, as a society, we have not taken the time to ensure we’re asking the right questions to unlock the true potential of data to help address these challenges,” said Stefaan Verhulst, co-founder and chief research and development officer of The GovLab. “Unlike other efforts focused on data supply or data science expertise, this project seeks to radically improve the set of questions that, if answered, could transform the way we solve 21st century problems.”

In addition to identifying key questions, the 100 Questions Initiative will also focus on creating new data collaboratives. Data collaboratives are an emerging form of public-private partnership that help unlock the public interest value of previously siloed data. The GovLab has conducted significant research in the value of data collaboration, identifying that inter-sectoral collaboration can both increase access to information (e.g., the vast stores of data held by private companies) as well as unleash the potential of that information to serve the public good….(More)”.

Virtual Briefing at the Supreme Court


Paper by Alli Orr Larsen and Jeffrey L. Fisher: “The open secret of Supreme Court advocacy in a digital era is that there is a new way to argue to the Justices. Today’s Supreme Court arguments are developed online: They are dissected and explored in blog posts, fleshed out in popular podcasts, and analyzed and re-analyzed by experts who do not represent parties or have even filed a brief in the case at all. This “virtual briefing” (as we call it) is intended to influence the Justices and their law clerks but exists completely outside of traditional briefing rules. This article describes virtual briefing and makes a case that the key players inside the Court are listening. In particular, we show that the Twitter patterns of law clerks indicate they are paying close attention to producers of virtual briefing, and threads of these arguments (proposed and developed online) are starting to appear in the Court’s decisions.

We argue that this “crowdsourcing” dynamic to Supreme Court decision-making is at least worth a serious pause. There is surely merit to enlarging the dialogue around the issues the Supreme Court decides – maybe the best ideas will come from new voices in the crowd. But the confines of the adversarial process have been around for centuries, and there are significant risks that come with operating outside of it particularly given the unique nature and speed of online discussions. We analyze those risks in this article and suggest it is time to think hard about embracing virtual briefing — truly assessing what can be gained and what will be lost along the way….(More)”.