Coding Democracy: How Hackers Are Disrupting Power, Surveillance, and Authoritarianism

Book by Maureen Webb: “Hackers have a bad reputation, as shady deployers of bots and destroyers of infrastructure. In Coding Democracy, Maureen Webb offers another view. Hackers, she argues, can be vital disruptors. Hacking is becoming a practice, an ethos, and a metaphor for a new wave of activism in which ordinary citizens are inventing new forms of distributed, decentralized democracy for a digital era. Confronted with concentrations of power, mass surveillance, and authoritarianism enabled by new technology, the hacking movement is trying to “build out” democracy into cyberspace.

Webb travels to Berlin, where she visits the Chaos Communication Camp, a flagship event in the hacker world; to Silicon Valley, where she reports on the Apple-FBI case, the significance of Russian troll farms, and the hacking of tractor software by desperate farmers; to Barcelona, to meet the hacker group XNet, which has helped bring nearly 100 prominent Spanish bankers and politicians to justice for their role in the 2008 financial crisis; and to Harvard and MIT, to investigate the institutionalization of hacking. Webb describes an amazing array of hacker experiments that could dramatically change the current political economy. These ambitious hacks aim to displace such tech monoliths as Facebook and Amazon; enable worker cooperatives to kill platforms like Ubergive people control over their data; automate trust; and provide citizens a real say in governance, along with capacity to reach consensus. Coding Democracy is not just another optimistic declaration of technological utopianism; instead, it provides the tools for an urgently needed upgrade of democracy in the digital era….(More)”.

How to predict citizen engagement in urban innovation projects?

Blogpost by Julien Carbonnell: “Citizen engagement in decision-making has proven to be a key factor for success in a smart city project and a must-have of contemporary democratic regimes. While inhabitants are all daily internet users, they widely inform themselves about their political electives’ achievements during the mandate, interact with each other on social networks, and by word-of-mouth on messaging apps or phone calls to form an opinion.

Unfortunately, most of the smart cities’ rankings lack resources to evaluate the citizen engagement dynamic around the urban innovations deployed. Indeed this data can’t be found on official open data portals, focused instead on cities’ infrastructure and quality of life. These include the number of metro stations, the length of bike lanes, air pollution, and tap water quality. Some of them also include field investigation such as the amount of investment in this or that urban area and communication dynamics about a new smart city project.

If this kind of formal information provides a good overview of the official state of development of a city, it does not give any insight from the inhabitants themselves and sounds out the street vibes of a city.

So, I’ve been working on filling this gap for the last 3 years and share in Democracy Studio all the elements of my method and tools built for conducting such analysis. To do so, I have notably been collecting inhabitants’ participation in a survey study in three case study cities: Taipei (Taiwan), Tel Aviv (Israel), and Tallinn (Estonia). I collected 366 answers by contacting inhabitants randomly online (Facebook groups, direct messages on LinkedIn, and through messaging apps) and in-person, in events related to my field of interest (Smart-City and Urban Innovation Startups). The resulting variables have been integrated into machine learning models, which finally performed a very satisfying prediction of the citizen engagement in my case studies….(More)”.

The miracle of the commons

Chapter by Michelle Nijhuis: “In December 1968, the ecologist and biologist Garrett Hardin had an essay published in the journal Science called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. His proposition was simple and unsparing: humans, when left to their own devices, compete with one another for resources until the resources run out. ‘Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest,’ he wrote. ‘Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.’ Hardin’s argument made intuitive sense, and provided a temptingly simple explanation for catastrophes of all kinds – traffic jams, dirty public toilets, species extinction. His essay, widely read and accepted, would become one of the most-cited scientific papers of all time.

Even before Hardin’s ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ was published, however, the young political scientist Elinor Ostrom had proven him wrong. While Hardin speculated that the tragedy of the commons could be avoided only through total privatisation or total government control, Ostrom had witnessed groundwater users near her native Los Angeles hammer out a system for sharing their coveted resource. Over the next several decades, as a professor at Indiana University Bloomington, she studied collaborative management systems developed by cattle herders in Switzerland, forest dwellers in Japan, and irrigators in the Philippines. These communities had found ways of both preserving a shared resource – pasture, trees, water – and providing their members with a living. Some had been deftly avoiding the tragedy of the commons for centuries; Ostrom was simply one of the first scientists to pay close attention to their traditions, and analyse how and why they worked.

The features of successful systems, Ostrom and her colleagues found, include clear boundaries (the ‘community’ doing the managing must be well-defined); reliable monitoring of the shared resource; a reasonable balance of costs and benefits for participants; a predictable process for the fast and fair resolution of conflicts; an escalating series of punishments for cheaters; and good relationships between the community and other layers of authority, from household heads to international institutions….(More)”.

Democracy in a Pandemic: Participation in response to Covid

Open Access Book by Involve: “Covid-19 has highlighted limitations in our democratic politics – but also lessons for how to deepen our democracy and more effectively respond to future crises.

In the face of an emergency, the working assumption all too often is that only a centralised, top-down response is possible. This book exposes the weakness of this assumption, making the case for deeper participation and deliberation in times of crises. During the pandemic, mutual aid and self-help groups have realised unmet needs. And forward-thinking organisations have shown that listening to and working with diverse social groups leads to more inclusive outcomes.

Participation and deliberation are not just possible in an emergency. They are valuable, perhaps even indispensable. 

This book draws together a diverse range of voices of activists, practitioners, policy makers, researchers and writers. Together they make visible the critical role played by participation and deliberation during the pandemic and make the case for enhanced engagement during and beyond emergency contexts.

Another, more democratic world can be realised in the face of a crisis. The contributors to this book offer us meaningful insights into what this could look like….(More)”.

When Machines Can Be Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Book by Katherine B Forrest on “Justice in the Age of Artificial Intelligence”: “This book explores justice in the age of artificial intelligence. It argues that current AI tools used in connection with liberty decisions are based on utilitarian frameworks of justice and inconsistent with individual fairness reflected in the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence. It uses AI risk assessment tools and lethal autonomous weapons as examples of how AI influences liberty decisions. The algorithmic design of AI risk assessment tools can and does embed human biases. Designers and users of these AI tools have allowed some degree of compromise to exist between accuracy and individual fairness.

Written by a former federal judge who lectures widely and frequently on AI and the justice system, this book is the first comprehensive presentation of the theoretical framework of AI tools in the criminal justice system and lethal autonomous weapons utilized in decision-making. The book then provides a comprehensive explanation as to why, tracing the evolution of the debate regarding racial and other biases embedded in such tools. No other book delves as comprehensively into the theory and practice of AI risk assessment tools….(More)”.

Media Is Us: Understanding Communication and Moving beyond Blame

Book by Elizaveta Friesem: “Media is usually seen as a feature of the modern world enabled by the latest technologies. Scholars, educators, parents, and politicians often talk about media as something people should be wary of due to its potential negative impact on their lives. But do we really understand what media is?

Elizaveta Friesem argues that instead of being worried about media or blaming it for what’s going wrong in society, we should become curious about uniquely human ways we communicate with each other. Media Is Us proposes five key principles of communication that are relevant both for the modern media and for people’s age-old ways of making sense of the world.

In order to understand problems of the contemporary society revealed and amplified by the latest technologies, we will have to ask difficult questions about ourselves. Where do our truths and facts come from? How can we know who is to blame for flaws of the social system? What can we change about our own everyday actions to make the world a better place? To answer these questions we will need to rethink not only the term “media” but also the concept of power. The change of perspective proposed by the book is intended to help the reader become more self-aware and also empathic towards those who choose different truths.

Concluding with practical steps to build media literacy through the ACE model—from Awareness to Collaboration through Empathy—this timely book is essential for students and scholars, as well as anyone who would use the new understanding of media to decrease the current levels of cultural polarization….(More)”.

Future Directions for Citizen Science and Public Policy

Open Access Book by The Centre for Science and Policy: “…The OED tells us that citizen science is “scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions.” However, even this definition raises many questions for policy makers trying to figure out how they might make use of it: “What is the difference between a volunteer in a scientific study and a citizen scientist?” they might ask. “Are all forms of public engagement with science considered citizen science?” or “What does it look like in practice?” – or even “Why do I need to bother engaging citizen science at all?”

This collection of essays presents a range of perspectives on these questions, and we hope it will encourage greater use of citizen science by governments. The authors have been brought together by the Centre for
Science and Policy (CSaP) through a series of seminars, lectures and an online conference. Three observations were made time and again:

  • First, there has been an extraordinary flourishing of citizen science during the past two decades. Huge numbers have participated in projects ranging from spotting patterns in protein structures to monitoring local air pollution; from garden bird surveys to deciphering the handwritten notes from the archives of philosophers; and from tracing radioactive contamination to spotting new planets in distant galaxies.
  • Second, there is a growing imperative in government to find new ways to involve citizens as partners in the development and delivery of policy.
  • Third, that while public funds have supported the expansion of citizen science’s contributions to scientific research, there have been surprisingly few experiments drawing on citizen science to contribute to the business of government itself…(More)”

Introduction to Modern Statistics

Free-to-download book by Mine Cetinkaya-Rundel and Johanna Hardin: “…a re-imagining of a previous title, Introduction to Statistics with Randomization and Simulation. The new book puts a heavy emphasis on exploratory data analysis (specifically exploring multivariate relationships using visualization, summarization, and descriptive models) and provides a thorough discussion of simulation-based inference using randomization and bootstrapping, followed by a presentation of the related Central Limit Theorem based approaches. Other highlights include:

Web native book. The online book is available in HTML, which offers easy navigation and searchability in the browser. The book is built with the bookdown package and the source code to reproduce the book can be found on GitHub. Along with the bookdown site, this book is also available as a PDF and in paperback. Read the book online here.

Tutorials. While the main text of the book is agnostic to statistical software and computing language, each part features 4-8 interactive R tutorials (for a total of 32 tutorials) that walk you through the implementation of the part content in R with the tidyverse for data wrangling and visualisation and the tidyverse-friendly infer package for inference. The self-paced and interactive R tutorials were developed using the learnr R package, and only an internet browser is needed to complete them. Browse the tutorials here.

Labs. Each part also features 1-2 R based labs. The labs consist of data analysis case studies and they also make heavy use of the tidyverse and infer packages. View the labs here.

Datasets. Datasets used in the book are marked with a link to where you can find the raw data. The majority of these point to the openintro package. You can install the openintro package from CRAN or get the development version on GitHub. Find out more about the package here….(More)”.

Solving Public Problems

Book by Beth Simone Noveck (The GovLab): “The challenges societies face today, from inequality to climate change to systemic racism, cannot be solved with yesterday’s toolkit. Solving Public Problems shows how readers can take advantage of digital technology, data, and the collective wisdom of our communities to design and deliver powerful solutions to contemporary problems.  
Offering a radical rethinking of the role of the public servant and the skills of the public workforce, this book is about the vast gap between failing public institutions and the huge number of public entrepreneurs doing extraordinary things—and how to close that gap.  
Drawing on lessons learned from decades of advising global leaders and from original interviews and surveys of thousands of public problem solvers, Beth Simone Noveck provides a practical guide for public servants, community leaders, students, and activists to become more effective, equitable, and inclusive leaders and repair our troubled, twenty-first-century world….(More)”

Take the free online course presented by The GovLab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

Citizen participation in budgeting and beyond: Deliberative Practices and their Impact in Contemporary Cases

Open Access book by Joanna Podgórska-Rykała and Jacek Sroka: “…The basic questions which the theory and practice of public policy try to answer is the question about desires in democratic conditions and at the same time an effective formula for balancing centralization and decentralization in decision-making processes. […]

Participatory budgeting, as one of possible variants of deliberation, is one of those phenomena of public life, the quality of which depends on the relations of the parties involved. The shape of these relationships only to a limited extent depends on the ways of their current practice, because these methods are causally conditioned, and the causes lie in cultural constructions. That is why these relations are not easy to study; it is difficult to reach that deep, because it is difficult to both model the conceptualization of the problem and the methodological approach to such research. These are one of the most difficult and, at the same time, the most promising research areas of public policy. We hope that this book will contribute to their partial exploration…(More)”.