UK citizens' climate assembly to meet for first time


Sandra Laville in The Guardian: “Ordinary people from across the UK – potentially including climate deniers – will take part in the first ever citizens’ climate assembly this weekend.

Mirroring the model adopted in France by Emmanuel Macron, 110 people from all walks of life will begin deliberations on Saturday to come up with a plan to tackle global heating and meet the government’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The assembly was selected to be a representative sample of the population after a mailout to 30,000 people chosen at random. About 2,000 people responded saying they wanted to be considered for the assembly, and the 110 members were picked by computer.

They come from all age brackets and their selection reflects a 2019 Ipsos Mori poll of how concerned the general population is by climate change, where responses ranged from not at all to very concerned. Of the assembly members, three people are not at all concerned, 16 not very concerned, 36 fairly concerned, 54 very concerned, and one did not know, organisers said.

The selection process meant those chosen could include climate deniers or sceptics, according to Sarah Allan, the head of engagement at Involve, which is running the assembly along with the Sortition Foundation and the e-democracy project mySociety.

“It is really important that it is representative of the UK population,” said Allen. “Those people, just because they’re sceptical of climate change, they’re going to be affected by the steps the government takes to get to net zero by 2050 too and they shouldn’t have their voice denied in that.”

The UK climate assembly differs from the French model in that it was commissioned by six select committees, rather than by the prime minister. Their views, which will be produced in a report in the spring, will be considered by the select committees but there is no guarantee any of the proposals will be taken up by government.

Allen said it was rare for members of a citizens’ assembly to get locked into dissent. She pointed to the success of the Irish citizens’ assembly in 2016, which helped break the deadlock in the abortion debate. “This climate assembly is going to come up with recommendations that are going to be really invaluable in highlighting public preferences,” she said….(More)”.

Belgium’s experiment in permanent forms of deliberative democracy


Article by Min Reuchamps: In December 2019, the parliament of the Region of Brussels in Belgium amended its internal regulations to allow the formation of ‘deliberative committees’ composed of a mixture of members of the Regional Parliament and randomly selected citizens. This initiative follows innovative experiences in the German-speaking Community of Belgium, known as Ostbelgien, and the city of Madrid in establishing permanent forums of deliberative democracy earlier in 2019. Ostbelgien is now experiencing its first cycle of deliberations, whereas the Madrid forum has been short-lived after having been cancelled, after two meetings, by the new governing coalition of the city.

The experimentation in establishing permanent forums for direct citizen involvement constitutes an advance from hitherto deliberative processes which were one-off experiments, i.e. non-permanent procedures. The relatively large size of the Brussels Region, with over 1 200 000 inhabitants, means that the lessons will be key in understanding the opportunities and risks of ‘deliberative committees’ and their potential scalability….

Under the new rules, the Regional Parliament can setup a parliamentary committee composed of 15 (12 in the Cocof) parliamentarians and 45 (36 in the Cocof) citizens to draft recommendations on a given issue. Any inhabitant in Brussels who has attained 16 years of age has the chance to have a direct say in matters falling under the jurisdiction of the Brussels Regional Parliament and the Cocof. The citizen representatives will be drawn by lot in two steps:

  • A first draw among the whole population, so that every inhabitant has the same chance to be invited via a formal invitation letter from the Parliament;
  • A second draw among all the persons who have responded positively to the invitation by means of a sampling method following criteria to ensure a diverse and representative selection, at least in terms of gender, age, official languages of the Brussels-Capital Region, geographical distribution and level of education.

The participating parliamentarians will be the members of the standing parliamentary committee that covers the topic under deliberation. In the regional parliament, each standing committee is made up of 15 members (including both Dutch- and French-speakers), and in the Cocof Parliament, each standing committee is made of 12 members (only French-speakers)….(More)”.

The Handbook of Public Sector Communication


Book edited by Vilma Luoma-aho and María José Canel: “Research into public sector communication investigates the interaction between public and governmental entities and citizens within their sphere of influence. Today’s public sector organizations are operating in environments where people receive their information from multiple sources. Although modern research demonstrates the immense impact public entities have on democracy and societal welfare, communication in this context is often overlooked. Public sector organizations need to develop “communicative intelligence” in balancing their institutional agendas and aims of public engagement. The Handbook of Public Sector Communication is the first comprehensive volume to explore the field. This timely, innovative volume examines the societal role, environment, goals, practices, and development of public sector strategic communication.

International in scope, this handbook describes and analyzes the contexts, policies, issues, and questions that shape public sector communication. An interdisciplinary team of leading experts discusses diverse subjects of rising importance to public sector, government, and political communication. Topics include social exchange relationships, crisis communication, citizen expectations, measuring and evaluating media, diversity and inclusion, and more. Providing current research and global perspectives, this important resource:

  • Addresses the questions public sector communicators face today
  • Summarizes the current state of public sector communication worldwide
  • Clarifies contemporary trends and practices including mediatization, citizen engagement, and change and expectation management
  • Addresses global challenges and crises such as corruption and bureaucratic roadblocks
  • Provides a framework for measuring communication effectiveness…(More)”.

The wisdom of crowds: What smart cities can learn from a dead ox and live fish


Portland State University: “In 1906, Francis Galton was at a country fair where attendees had the opportunity to guess the weight of a dead ox. Galton took the guesses of 787 fair-goers and found that the average guess was only one pound off of the correct weight — even when individual guesses were off base.

This concept, known as “the wisdom of crowds” or “collective intelligence,” has been applied to many situations over the past century, from people estimating the number of jellybeans in a jar to predicting the winners of major sporting events — often with high rates of success. Whatever the problem, the average answer of the crowd seems to be an accurate solution.

But does this also apply to knowledge about systems, such as ecosystems, health care, or cities? Do we always need in-depth scientific inquiries to describe and manage them — or could we leverage crowds?

This question has fascinated Antonie J. Jetter, associate professor of Engineering and Technology Management for many years. Now, there’s an answer. A recent study, which was co-authored by Jetter and published in Nature Sustainability, shows that diverse crowds of local natural resource stakeholders can collectively produce complex environmental models very similar to those of trained experts.

For this study, about 250 anglers, water guards and board members of German fishing clubs were asked to draw connections showing how ecological relationships influence the pike stock from the perspective of the anglers and how factors like nutrients and fishing pressures help determine the number of pike in a freshwater lake ecosystem. The individuals’ drawings — or their so-called mental models — were then mathematically combined into a collective model representing their averaged understanding of the ecosystem and compared with the best scientific knowledge on the same subject.

The result is astonishing. If you combine the ideas from many individual anglers by averaging their mental models, the final outcomes correspond more or less exactly to the scientific knowledge of pike ecology — local knowledge of stakeholders produces results that are in no way inferior to lengthy and expensive scientific studies….(More)”.

Collective Intelligence in City Design


Idea by Helena Rong and Juncheng Yang: “We propose an interactive design engagement platform which facilitates a continuous conversation between developers, designers and end users from pre-design and planning phases all the way to post-occupancy, adopting a citizen-centric and inclusive-oriented approach which would stimulate trust-building and invite active participation from end users from different age, ethnicity, social and economic background to participate in the design and development process. We aim to explore how collective intelligence through citizen engagement could be enabled by data to allow new collectives to emerge, confronting design as an iterative process involving scalable cooperation of different actors. As a result, design is a collaborative and conscious practice not born out of a single mastermind of the architect. Rather, its agency is reinforced by a cooperative ideal involving institutions, enterprises and single individuals alike enabled by data science….(More)”

How people decide what they want to know


Tali Sharot & Cass R. Sunstein in Nature: “Immense amounts of information are now accessible to people, including information that bears on their past, present and future. An important research challenge is to determine how people decide to seek or avoid information. Here we propose a framework of information-seeking that aims to integrate the diverse motives that drive information-seeking and its avoidance. Our framework rests on the idea that information can alter people’s action, affect and cognition in both positive and negative ways. The suggestion is that people assess these influences and integrate them into a calculation of the value of information that leads to information-seeking or avoidance. The theory offers a framework for characterizing and quantifying individual differences in information-seeking, which we hypothesize may also be diagnostic of mental health. We consider biases that can lead to both insufficient and excessive information-seeking. We also discuss how the framework can help government agencies to assess the welfare effects of mandatory information disclosure….(More)”.

Experimenting with Public Engagement Platforms in Local Government


Paper by Seongkyung Cho et al: “Cities are venues for experimentation with technology (e.g., smart cities) and democratic governance. At the intersection of both trends is the emergence of new online platforms for citizen engagement. There is little evidence to date on the extent to which these are being used or the characteristics associated with adopters at the leading edge. With rich data on civic engagement and innovation from a 2016 International City/County Management Association (ICMA) survey, we explore platform use in U.S. local governments and relationships with offline civic engagement, innovation, and local characteristics. We find that use of online participatory platforms is associated with offline participation, goals for civic engagement, and city size, rather than evidence that this is related to a more general orientation toward innovation….(More)”.

Navigation Apps Changed the Politics of Traffic


Essay by Laura Bliss: “There might not be much “weather” to speak of in Los Angeles, but there is traffic. It’s the de facto small talk upon arrival at meetings or cocktail parties, comparing journeys through the proverbial storm. And in certain ways, traffic does resemble the daily expressions of climate. It follows diurnal and seasonal patterns; it shapes, and is shaped, by local conditions. There are unexpected downpours: accidents, parades, sports events, concerts.

Once upon a time, if you were really savvy, you could steer around the thunderheads—that is, evade congestion almost entirely.

Now, everyone can do that, thanks to navigation apps like Waze, which launched in 2009 by a startup based in suburban Tel Aviv with the aspiration to save drivers five minutes on every trip by outsmarting traffic jams. Ten years later, the navigation app’s current motto is to “eliminate traffic”—to untie the knots of urban congestion once and for all. Like Google Maps, Apple Maps, Inrix, and other smartphone-based navigation tools, its routing algorithm weaves user locations with other sources of traffic data, quickly identifying the fastest routes available at any given moment.

Waze often describes itself in terms of the social goods it promotes. It likes to highlight the dedication of its active participants, who pay it forward to less-informed drivers behind them, as well as its willingness to share incident reports with city governments so that, for example, traffic engineers can rejigger stop lights or crack down on double parking. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve operated from a sense of civic responsibility within our means,” wrote Waze’s CEO and founder Noam Bardin in April 2018.

But Waze is a business, not a government agency. The goal is to be an indispensable service for its customers, and to profit from that. And it isn’t clear that those objectives align with a solution for urban congestion as a whole. This gets to the heart of the problem with any navigation app—or, for that matter, any traffic fix that prioritizes the needs of independent drivers over what’s best for the broader system. Managing traffic requires us to work together. Apps tap into our selfish desires….(More)”.

This essay is adapted from SOM Thinkers: The Future of Transportation, published by Metropolis Books.

Pocket Democracy: Developing a User-Friendly App for Following Local Politics


Paper by Jenny Lindholm & Janne Berg: “Democratic innovations have been suggested as one way of increasing public participation in political processes. Civic technology may provide resources for improving transparency, publicity, and accountability in political processes. This paper is about the development of a smartphone application that provides users with information on municipal politics and representatives. We develop the application using a user-centered design approach. Thus, we establish its functions by hearing the end-users and considering their goals in the design process. We conducted three focus groups to find out what features end-users would like to see in an app. Six features were present in all three focus group discussions: receiving information, expressing opinions, creating/answering polls, receiving notifications, following issues and receiving emergency messages….(More)”.

Dollars for Profs: How to Investigate Professors’ Conflicts of Interest


ProPublica: “When professors moonlight, the income may influence their research and policy views. Although most universities track this outside work, the records have rarely been accessible to the public, potentially obscuring conflicts of interests.

That changed last month when ProPublica launched Dollars for Profs, an interactive database that, for the first time ever, allows you to look up more than 37,000 faculty and staff disclosures from about 20 public universities and the National Institutes of Health.

We believe there are hundreds of stories in this database, and we hope to tell as many as possible. Already, we’ve revealed how the University of California’s weak monitoring of conflicts has allowed faculty members to underreport their outside income, potentially depriving the university of millions of dollars. In addition, using a database of NIH records, we found that health researchers have acknowledged a total of at least $188 million in financial conflicts of interest since 2012.

We hope journalists all over the country will look into the database and find more. Here are tips for local education reporters, college newspaper journalists and anyone else who wants to hold academia accountable on how to dig into the disclosures….(More)”.