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)”.

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)”

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)”.

Citizens’ voices for better health and social policies


Olivia Biermann et al at PLOS Blog Speaking of Medicine: “Citizen engagement is important to make health and social policies more inclusive and equitable, and to contribute to learning and responsive health and social systems. It is also valuable in understanding the complexities of the social structure and how to adequately respond to them with policies. By engaging citizens, we ensure that their tacit knowledge feeds into the policy-making process. What citizens know can be valuable in identifying feasible policy options, understanding contextual factors, and putting policies into practice. In addition, the benefit of citizen engagement extends much beyond improving health policy-making processes by making them more participatory and inclusive; being engaged in policy-making processes can build patients’ capacity and empower them to speak up for their own and their families’ health and social needs, and to hold policy-makers accountable. Moreover, apart from being involved in their own care, citizen-patients can contribute to quality improvement, research and education.

Most studies on citizen engagement to date originate from high-income countries. The engagement methods used are not necessarily applicable in low- and middle-income countries, and even the political support, the culture of engagement and established citizen engagement processes might be different. Still, published processes of engaging citizens can be helpful in identifying key components across different settings, e.g. in terms of levels of engagement, communication channels and methods of recruitment. Contextualizing the modes of engagement between and within countries is a must.

Examples of citizen engagement

There are many examples of ad hoc citizen engagement initiatives at local, national and international levels. Participedia, a repository of public participation initiatives around the globe, showcases that the field of citizen engagement is extremely vibrant.  In the United Kingdom, the Citizens’ Council of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) provides NICE with a public perspective on overarching moral and ethical issues that NICE has to take into account when producing guidance. In the United States of America, the National Issues Forum supports the implementation of deliberative forums on pressing national policy issues. Yet, there are few examples that have long-standing programs of engagement and that engage citizens in evidence-informed policymaking.

A pioneer in engaging citizens in health policy-making processes is the McMaster Health Forum in Hamilton, Canada. The citizens who are invited to engage in a “citizen panel” first receive a pre-circulated, plain-language briefing document to spark deliberation about a pressing health and social-system issue. During the panels, citizens then discuss the problem and its causes, options to address it and implementation considerations. The values that they believe should underpin action to address the issue are captured in a panel summary which is used to inform a policy dialogue on the same topic, also organized by the McMaster Health Forum….(More)”.

Examining Civic Engagement Links to Health


Findings from the Literature and Implications for a Culture of Health by the Rand Corporation: “The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is leading a pioneering effort to advance a culture of health that “enables all in our diverse society to lead healthier lives, now and for generations to come.” The RWJF Culture of Health Action Framework is divided into four Action Areas, and civic engagement (which RWJF defines broadly as participating in activities that advance the public good) is identified as one of the three drivers for the Action Area, Making Health a Shared Value, along with mindset and expectations, and sense of community. Civic engagement can serve as a mechanism for translating changes in a health-related mindset and sense of community into tangible actions that could lead to new health-promoting partnerships, improvements in community health conditions, and the degree of integration among health services and systems for better health outcomes.

The authors of this report seek a closer focus on the causal relationship between civic engagement and health and well-being — that is, whether better health and well-being might promote more civic engagement, whether civic engagement might promote health or well-being, or perhaps both.

In this report, authors conduct a structured review to understand what the scientific literature presents about the empirical relationship between health and civic engagement. The authors specifically examine whether health is a cause of civic engagement, a consequence of it, or both; what causal mechanisms underlie this link; and where there are gaps in knowledge for the field….(More)”

The hidden assumptions in public engagement: A case study of engaging on ethics in government data analysis


Paper by Emily S. Rempel, Julie Barnett and Hannah Durrant: “This study examines the hidden assumptions around running public-engagement exercises in government. We study an example of public engagement on the ethics of combining and analysing data in national government – often called data science ethics. We study hidden assumptions, drawing on hidden curriculum theories in education research, as it allows us to identify conscious and unconscious underlying processes related to conducting public engagement that may impact results. Through participation in the 2016 Public Dialogue for Data Science Ethics in the UK, four key themes were identified that exposed underlying public engagement norms. First, that organizers had constructed a strong imagined public as neither overly critical nor supportive, which they used to find and engage participants. Second, that official aims of the engagement, such as including publics in developing ethical data regulations, were overshadowed by underlying meta-objectives, such as counteracting public fears. Third, that advisory group members, organizers and publics understood the term ‘engagement’ in varying ways, from creating interest to public inclusion. And finally, that stakeholder interests, particularly government hopes for a positive report, influenced what was written in the final report. Reflection on these underlying mechanisms, such as the development of meta-objectives that seek to benefit government and technical stakeholders rather than publics, suggests that the practice of public engagement can, in fact, shut down opportunities for meaningful public dialogue….(More)”.

Capturing citizen voice online: Enabling smart participatory local government


Tooran Alizadeh, Somwrita Sarkar and Sandy Burgoyne in Cities: “Social media and online communication have changed the way citizens engage in all aspects of lives from shopping and education, to how communities are planned and developed. It is no longer one-way or two- way communication. Instead, via networked all-to-all communication channels, our citizens engage on urban issues in a complex and more connected way than ever before. So government needs new ways to listen to its citizens. The paper comprises three components. Firstly, we build on the growing discussions in the literature focused on smart cities, on one hand, and social media research, on the other, to capture the diversity of citizen voices and better inform decision-making. Secondly, with the support of the Australian Federal Government and in collaboration with the local government partners, we collect citizen voices from Twitter on selected urban projects. Thirdly, we present preliminary findings in terms of quantity and quality of publicly available online data representing citizen concerns on the urban matters. By analyzing the sentiments of the citizen voices captured online, clustering them into topic areas, and then reevaluating citizen’s sentiments within each cluster, we elaborate the scope and value of technologically-enabled opportunities in terms of enabling participatory local government decision making processes….(More)”.

Political innovation, digitalisation and public participation in party politics


Paper by Lisa Schmidthuber, Dennis Hilgers,  and Maximilian Rapp: “Citizen engagement is seen as a way to address a range of societal challenges, fiscal constraints, as well as wicked problems, and increasing public participation in political decisions could help to address low levels of trust in politicians and decreasing satisfaction with political parties. This paper examines the perceived impacts of an experiment by the Austrian People’s Party which, in response to reaching a historic low in the polls, opened up its manifesto process to public participation via digital technology. Analysis of survey data from participants found that self-efficacy is positively associated with participation intensity but negatively related to satisfaction. In contrast, collective efficacy is related to positive perceptions of public participation in party politics but does not influence levels of individual participation. Future research is needed to explore the outcomes of political innovations that use digital technologies to enable public participation on voting behaviour, party membership and attitudes to representative democracy….(More)”.