Rethinking gamified democracy as frictional: a comparative examination of the Decide Madrid and vTaiwan platforms

Paper by Yu-Shan Tseng: “Gamification in digital design harnesses game-like elements to create rewarding and competitive systems that encourage desirable user behaviour by influencing users’ bodily actions and emotions. Recently, gamification has been integrated into platforms built to fix democratic problems such as boredom and disengagement in political participation. This paper draws on an ethnographic study of two such platforms – Decide Madrid and vTaiwan – to problematise the universal, techno-deterministic account of digital democracy. I argue that gamified democracy is frictional by nature, a concept borrowed from cultural and social geographies. Incorporating gamification into interface design does not inherently enhance the user’s enjoyment, motivation and engagement through controlling their behaviours. ‘Friction’ in the user experience includes various emotional predicaments and tactical exploitation by more advanced users. Frictional systems in the sphere of digital democracy are neither positive nor negative per se. While they may threaten systemic inclusivity or hinder users’ abilities to organise and implement policy changes, friction can also provide new impetus to advance democratic practices…(More)”.

Measuring costs and benefits of citizen science

Article by Kathy Tzilivakis: “It’s never been easy to accurately measure the impact of any scientific research, but it’s even harder for citizen science projects, which don’t follow traditional methods. Public involvement places citizen science in a new era of data collection, one that requires a new measurement plan.

As you read this, thousands of ordinary people across Europe are busy tagging, categorizing and counting in the name of science. They may be reporting crop yields, analyzing plastic waste found in nature or monitoring the populations of wildlife. This relatively new method of public participation in scientific enquiry is experiencing a considerable upswing in both quality and scale of projects.

Of course, people have been sharing observations about the natural world for millennia—way before the term “citizen science” appeared on the cover of sociologist Alan Irwin‘s 1995 book “Citizen Science: A Study of People, Expertise, and Sustainable Development. “

Today, citizen science is on the rise with bigger projects that are more ambitious and better networked than ever before. And while collecting seawater samples and photographing wild birds are two well-known examples of citizen science, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Citizen science is evolving thanks to new data collection techniques enabled by the internet, smartphones and social media. Increased connectivity is encouraging a wide range of observations that can be easily recorded and shared. The reams of crowd-sourced data from members of the public are a boon for researchers working on large-scale and geographically diverse projects. Often it would be too difficult and expensive to obtain this data otherwise.

Both sides win because scientists are helped to collect much better data and an enthusiastic public gets to engage with the fascinating world of science.

But success has been difficult to define, let alone to translate into indicators for assessment. Until now.

A group of EU researchers has taken on the challenge of building the first integrated and interactive platform to measure costs and benefits of citizen science….

“The platform will be very complex but able to capture the characteristics and the results of projects, and measure their impact on several domains like society, economy, environment, science and technology and governance,” said Dr. Luigi Ceccaroni, who is coordinating the Measuring Impact of Citizen Science (MICS) project behind the platform. Currently at the testing stage, the platform is slated to go live before the end of this year….(More)”

From “democratic erosion” to “a conversation among equals”

Paper by Roberto Gargarella: “In recent years, legal and political doctrinaires have been confusing the democratic crisis that is affecting most of our countries with a mere crisis of constitutionalism (i.e., a crisis in the way our system of “checks and balances” works). Expectedly, the result of this “diagnostic error” is that legal and political doctrinaires began to propose the wrong remedies for the democratic crisis. Usually, they began advocating for the “restoration” of the old system of “internal controls” or “checks and balances”, without paying attention to the democratic aspects of the crisis that would require, instead, the strengthening of “popular” controls and participatory mechanisms that favored the gradual emergence of a “conversation among equals”. In this work, I focus my attention on certain institutional alternatives – citizens’ assemblies and the like- that may help us overcome the present democratic crisis. In particular, I examine the recent practice of citizens’ assemblies and evaluate their functioning…(More)”.

Inclusive policy making in a digital age: The case for crowdsourced deliberation

Blog by Theo Bass: “In 2016, the Finnish Government ran an ambitious experiment to test if and how citizens across the country could meaningfully contribute to the law-making process.

Many people in Finland use off-road snowmobiles to get around in the winter, raising issues like how to protect wildlife, keep pedestrians safe, and compensate property owners for use of their land for off-road traffic.

To hear from people across the country who would be most affected by new laws, the government set up an online platform to understand problems they faced and gather solutions. Citizens could post comments and suggestions, respond to one another, and vote on ideas they liked. Over 700 people took part, generating around 250 policy ideas.

The exercise caught the attention of academics Tanja Aitamurto and Hélène Landemore. In 2017, they wrote a paper coining the term crowdsourced deliberation — an ‘open, asynchronous, depersonalized, and distributed kind of online deliberation occurring among self‐selected participants’ — to describe the interactions they saw on the platform.

Many other crowdsourced deliberation initiatives have emerged in recent years, although they haven’t always been given that name. From France to Taiwan, governments have experimented with opening policy making and enabling online conversations among diverse groups of thousands of people, leading to the adoption of new regulations or laws.

So what’s distinctive about this approach and why should policy makers consider it alongside others? In this post I’ll make a case for crowdsourced deliberation, comparing it to two other popular methods for inclusive policy making…(More)”.

Opening up Science—to Skeptics

Essay by Rohan R. Arcot  and Hunter Gehlbach: “Recently, the soaring trajectory of science skepticism seems to be rivaled only by global temperatures. Empirically established facts—around vaccines, elections, climate science, and the like—face potent headwinds. Despite the scientific consensus on these issues, much of the public remains unconvinced. In turn, science skepticism threatens our health, the health of our democracy, and the health of our planet.  

The research community is no stranger to skepticism. Its own members have been questioning the integrity of many scientific findings with particular intensity of late. In response, we have seen a swell of open science norms and practices, which provide greater transparency about key procedural details of the research process, mitigating many research skeptics’ misgivings. These open practices greatly facilitate how science is communicated—but only between scientists. 

Given the present historical moment’s critical need for science, we wondered: What if scientists allowed skeptics in the general public to look under the hood at how their studies were conducted? Could opening up the basic ideas of open science beyond scholars help combat the epidemic of science skepticism?  

Intrigued by this possibility, we sought a qualified skeptic and returned to Rohan’s father. If we could chaperone someone through a scientific journey—a person who could vicariously experience the key steps along the way—could our openness assuage their skepticism?…(More)”.

Internet ‘algospeak’ is changing our language in real time, from ‘nip nops’ to ‘le dollar bean’

Article by Taylor Lorenz: “Algospeak” is becoming increasingly common across the Internet as people seek to bypass content moderation filters on social media platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch.

Algospeak refers to code words or turns of phrase users have adopted in an effort to create a brand-safe lexicon that will avoid getting their posts removed or down-ranked by content moderation systems. For instance, in many online videos, it’s common to say “unalive” rather than “dead,” “SA” instead of “sexual assault,” or “spicy eggplant” instead of “vibrator.”

As the pandemic pushed more people to communicate and express themselves online, algorithmic content moderation systems have had an unprecedented impact on the words we choose, particularly on TikTok, and given rise to a new form of internet-driven Aesopian language.

Unlike other mainstream social platforms, the primary way content is distributed on TikTok is through an algorithmically curated “For You” page; having followers doesn’t guarantee people will see your content. This shift has led average users to tailor their videos primarily toward the algorithm, rather than a following, which means abiding by content moderation rules is more crucial than ever.

When the pandemic broke out, people on TikTok and other apps began referring to it as the “Backstreet Boys reunion tour” or calling it the “panini” or “panda express” as platforms down-ranked videos mentioning the pandemic by name in an effort to combat misinformation. When young people began to discuss struggling with mental health, they talked about “becoming unalive” in order to have frank conversations about suicide without algorithmic punishment. Sex workers, who have long been censored by moderation systems, refer to themselves on TikTok as “accountants” and use the corn emoji as a substitute for the word “porn.”

As discussions of major events are filtered through algorithmic content delivery systems, more users are bending their language. Recently, in discussing the invasion of Ukraine, people on YouTube and TikTok have used the sunflower emoji to signify the country. When encouraging fans to follow them elsewhere, users will say “blink in lio” for “link in bio.”

Euphemisms are especially common in radicalized or harmful communities. Pro-anorexia eating disorder communities have long adopted variations on moderated words to evade restrictions. One paper from the School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology found that the complexity of such variants even increased over time. Last year, anti-vaccine groups on Facebook began changing their names to “dance party” or “dinner party” and anti-vaccine influencers on Instagram used similar code words, referring to vaccinated people as “swimmers.”

Tailoring language to avoid scrutiny predates the Internet. Many religions have avoided uttering the devil’s name lest they summon him, while people living in repressive regimes developed code words to discuss taboo topics…(More)”.

Can the use of minipublics backfire? Examining how policy adoption shapes the effect of minipublics on political support among the general public

Paper by Lisa van Dijk and Jonas Lefevere: “Academics and practitioners are increasingly interested in deliberative minipublics and whether these can address widespread dissatisfaction with contemporary politics. While optimism seems to prevail, there is also talk that the use of minipublics may backfire. When the government disregards a minipublic’s recommendations, this could lead to more dissatisfaction than not asking for its advice in the first place. Using an online survey experiment in Belgium (n = 3,102), we find that, compared to a representative decision-making process, a minipublic tends to bring about higher political support when its recommendations are fully adopted by the government, whereas it generates lower political support when its recommendations are not adopted. This study presents novel insights into whether and when the use of minipublics may alleviate or aggravate political dissatisfaction among the public at large….(More)”

The Bristol Approach for Citizen Engagement in the Energy Market

Interview by Sebastian Klemm with Lorraine Hudson Anna Higueras and Lucia Errandonea:”… the Twinergy engagement framework with 5 iterative steps:

  1. Identification of the communities.
  2. Co-Design Technologies and Incentives for participating in the project.
  3. Deploy Technologies at people’s home and develop new skills within the communities.
  4. Measure Changes with a co-assessment approach.
  5. Reflect on Outcomes to improve engagement and delivery.

KWMC and Ideas for Change have worked with pilot leaders, through interviews and workshops, to understand their previous experience with engagement methods and gather knowledge about local contexts, citizens and communities who will be engaged.

The Citizen Engagement Framework includes a set of innovative tools to guide pilot leaders in planning their interventions. These tools are the EDI matrix, the persona cards, scenario cards and a pilot timeline.

  1. The EDI Matrix that aims to foster reflection in the recruitment process ensuring that everyone has equal opportunities to participate.
  2. The Persona Cards that prompt an in-depth reflection about participants background, motivations and skills.
  3. The Scenario Cards to imagine possible situations that could be experienced during the pilot program.
  4. Pilot Timeline that provides an overview of key activities to be conducted over the course of the pilot and supports planning in advance….(More)”.

Trust the Science But Do Your Research: A Comment on the Unfortunate Revival of the Progressive Case for the Administrative State

Essay by Mark Tushnet: “…offers a critique of one Progressive argument for the administrative state, that it would base policies on what disinterested scientific inquiries showed would best advance the public good and flexibly respond to rapidly changing technological, economic, and social conditions. The critique draws on recent scholarship in the field of Science and Technology Studies, which argues that what counts as a scientific fact is the product of complex social, political, and other processes. The critique is deployed in an analysis of the responses of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration to some important aspects of the COVD crisis in 2020.

A summary of the overall argument is this: The COVID virus had characteristics that made it exceptionally difficult to develop policies that would significantly limit its spread until a vaccine was available, and some of those characteristics went directly to the claim that the administrative state could respond flexibly to rapidly changing conditions. But, and here is where the developing critique of claims about scientific expertise enters, the relevant administrative agencies were bureaucracies with scientific staff members, and what those bureaucracies regard as “the science” was shaped in part by bureaucratic and political considerations, and the parts that were so shaped were important components of the overall policy response.

Part II describes policy-relevant characteristics of knowledge about the COVID virus and explains why those characteristics made it quite difficult for more than a handful of democratic nations to adopt policies that would effectively limit its penetration of their populations. Part III begins with a short presentation of the aspects of the STS critique of claims about disinterested science that have some bearing on policy responses to the pandemic. It then provides an examination shaped by that critique of the structures of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, showing how those structural features contributed to policy failures. Part IV concludes by sketching how the STS critique might inform efforts to reconstruct rather than deconstruct the administrative state, proposing the creation of Citizen Advisory Panels in science-based agencies…(More)”.

Public Meetings Thwart Housing Reform Where It Is Needed Most

Interview with Katherine Levine Einstein by Jake Blumgart: “Public engagement can have downsides. Neighborhood participation in the housing permitting process makes existing political inequalities worse, limits housing supply and contributes to the affordability crisis….

In 2019, Katherine Levine Einstein and her co-authors at Boston University produced the first in-depth study of this dynamic, Neighborhood Defenders, providing a unique insight into how hyper-local democracy can produce warped land-use outcomes. Governing talked with her about the politics of delay, what kind of regulations hamper growth and when community meetings can still be an effective means of public feedback.

Governing: What could be wrong with a neighborhood meeting? Isn’t this democracy in its purest form? 

Katherine Levine Einstein: In this book, rather than look at things in their ideal form, we actually evaluated how they are working on the ground. We bring data to the question of whether neighborhood meetings are really providing community voice. One of the reasons that we think of them as this important cornerstone of American democracy is because they are supposedly providing us perspectives that are not widely heard, really amplifying the voices of neighborhood residents.

What we’re able to do in the book is to really bring home the idea that the people who are showing up are not actually representative of their broader communities and they are unrepresentative in really important ways. They’re much more likely to be opposed to new housing, and they’re demographically privileged on a number of dimensions….

What we find happens in practice is that even in less privileged places, these neighborhood meetings are actually amplifying more privileged voices. We study a variety of more disadvantaged places and what the dynamics of these meetings look like. The principles that hold in more affluent communities still play out in these less privileged places. You still hear from voices that are overwhelmingly opposed to new housing. The voices that are heard are much more likely to be homeowners, white and older…(More)”.