The coloniality of collaboration: sources of epistemic obedience in data-intensive astronomy in Chile

Paper by Sebastián Lehuedé: “Data collaborations have gained currency over the last decade as a means for data- and skills-poor actors to thrive as a fourth paradigm takes hold in the sciences. Against this backdrop, this article traces the emergence of a collaborative subject position that strives to establish reciprocal and technical-oriented collaborations so as to catch up with the ongoing changes in research.

Combining insights from the modernity/coloniality group, political theory and science and technology studies, the article argues that this positionality engenders epistemic obedience by bracketing off critical questions regarding with whom and for whom knowledge is generated. In particular, a dis-embedding of the data producers, the erosion of local ties, and a data conformism are identified as fresh sources of obedience impinging upon the capacity to conduct research attuned to the needs and visions of the local context. A discursive-material analysis of interviews and field notes stemming from the case of astronomy data in Chile is conducted, examining the vision of local actors aiming to gain proximity to the mega observatories producing vast volumes of data in the Atacama Desert.

Given that these observatories are predominantly under the control of organisations from the United States and Europe, the adoption of a collaborative stance is now seen as the best means to ensure skills and technology transfer to local research teams. Delving into the epistemological dimension of data colonialism, this article warns that an increased emphasis on collaboration runs the risk of reproducing planetary hierarchies in times of data-intensive research….(More)”.

Foreign Policy by Canadians: a unique national experiment

Blogpost by James Fishkin: “…Foreign Policy by Canadians was a national field experiment (with a control group that was not invited to deliberate, but which answered the same questions before and after.) The participants and the control group matched up almost perfectly before deliberation, but after deliberation, the participants had reached their considered judgments (while the control group had hardly changed at all). YouGov recruited and surveyed an excellent sample of deliberators, nationally representative in demographics and attitudes (as judged by comparison to the control groups). The project was an attempt to use social science to give an informed and representative input to policy. It was particularly challenging in that foreign policy is an area where most of the public is less engaged and informed even than it is on domestic issues (outside of times of war or severe international crises). Hence, we would argue that Deliberative Polling is particularly appropriate as a form of public input on these topics.

This project was also distinctive in some other ways. First, all the small group discussions by the 444 nationally representative deliberators were conducted via our new video based automated moderator platform. Developed here at Stanford with Professor Ashish Goel and “Crowdsourced Democracy Team” in Management Science and Engineering, it facilitates many small groups of ten or so to self-moderate their discussions. It controls access to the queue for the microphone (limiting each contribution to 45 seconds), it orchestrates the discussion to move from one policy proposal to the next on the list, it periodically asks the participants if they have covered both the arguments in favor and against the proposal, it intervenes if people are being uncivil (a rare occurrence in these dialogues) and it guides the group into formulating its questions for the plenary session experts. This was only the second national application of the online platform (the first was in Chile this past year) and it was the first as a controlled experiment.

A second distinctive aspect of Foreign Policy by Canadians is that the agenda was formulated in both a top-down and a bottom-up manner. While a distinguished advisory group offered input on what topics were worth exploring and on the balance and accuracy of the materials, those materials were also vetted by chapters of the Canadian International Council in different parts of the country. Those meetings deliberated about how the draft materials could be improved. What was left out? Were the most important arguments on either side presented? The meetings of CIC chapters agreed on recommendations for revision and those recommendations were reflected in the final documents and proposals for discussion. I think this is “deliberative crowdsourcing” because the groups had to agree on their most important recommendations based on shared discussion. These meetings were also conducted with our automated deliberation platform….(More)”.

Analytical modelling and UK Government policy

Paper by Marie Oldfield & Ella Haig:  “In the last decade, the UK Government has attempted to implement improved processes and procedures in modelling and analysis in response to the Laidlaw report of 2012 and the Macpherson review of 2013. The Laidlaw report was commissioned after failings during the Intercity West Coast Rail (ICWC) Franchise procurement exercise by the Department for Transport (DfT) that led to a legal challenge of the analytical models used within the exercise. The Macpherson review looked into the quality assurance of Government analytical models in the context of the experience with the Intercity West Coast franchise competition. This paper examines what progress has been made in the 8 years since the Laidlaw report in model building and best practise in government and proposes several recommendations for ways forward. This paper also discusses the Lords Science and Technology Committees of June 2020 that analysed the failings in the modelling of COVID. Despite going on to influence policy, many of the same issues raised within the Laidlaw and Macpherson Reports were also present in the Lords Science and Technology Committee enquiry. We examine the technical and organisational challenges to progress in this area and make recommendations for a way forward….(More)”.

Text Your Government: Participatory Cell Phone Technology in Ghana

Article by Emily DiMatteo: “Direct citizen engagement can be transformed with innovative technological tools. As communities search for new ways to connect citizens to democratic processes, using existing technological devices such as cell phones can reach a number of citizens—including those typically excluded from policy processes. This occurred in Ghana when a technology startup and social enterprise called VOTO Mobile (now Viamo) created polling and information sharing software that uses mobile phone SMS texts and voice calls. Since its founding in 2010, the Ghana-based company has worked to use mobile technology to advance democratic engagement and good governance through new communication channels between citizens and their government.

Previous methods to overcome public participation challenges in Ghana include using public radio. However, when VOTO Mobile evaluated technological capabilities in several districts, cell phones offered a new way to engage. The option to contact citizens via text or voice call also helped remove certain barriers to participation in political processes, including distance, language and literacy. In 2012-2013, VOTO Mobile facilitated a project called the, “Mobile for Social Inclusive Government,” to increase citizen engagement and participation. The project used the company’s software to disseminate local information and conduct citizen surveys in four Ghanaian districts: Tamale, Savelugu, Wa and Yendi. VOTO Mobile partnered with civil society organizations including Savana Signatures, GINKS and Amplify Governance, as well as District Assemblies in local district governments.

Participant selection for the project utilized pre-existing District Assembly membership data across the four districts to contact citizens to participate. This outreach also was supplemented by the project’s partner organizations and ultimately involved more than 2,000 participants. In using VOTO Mobile’s technological platform of interactive text and voice call surveys, the project gathered feedback from citizens as they shared concerns with their local government. There was a large focus on input from marginalized populations across the districts including women, young people and people with disabilities. In addition to the cell phone surveys, the platform enabled online consultations between citizens and local district officials in place of face-to-face visits.

As a result, local district governments were able to crowdsource information directly from citizens, leading to increased citizen input in subsequent policy formulation and planning processes….(More)”.

Street Experiments

About: “City streets are increasingly becoming spaces for experimentation, for testing “in the wild” a seemingly unstoppable flow of “disruptive” mobility innovations such as mobility platforms for shared mobility and ride/hailing, electric and autonomous vehicles, micro-mobility solutions, etc. But also, and perhaps more radically, for recovering the primary function of city streets as public spaces, not just traffic channels.

City street experiments are:

“intentional, temporary changes of the street use, regulation and/or form, aimed at exploring systemic change in urban mobility”

​They offer a prefiguration of what a radically different arrangement of the city´s mobility system and public space could look like and allow moving towards that vision by means of “learning by doing”.

The S.E.T. platform offers a collection of Resources for implementing and supporting street experiments. As well as a special section of COVID-19 devoted to the best practices of street experiments that offered solutions and strategies for cities to respond to the current pandemic and a SET Guidelines Kit that provides insights and considerations on creating impactful street experiments with long-term effects….(More)”.

How can governments boost citizen-led projects?

Justin Tan at GovInsider: “The visual treat of woks tossing fried carrot cake, the dull thuds of a chopper expertly dicing up a chicken, the fragrant lime aroma of grilled sambal stingray. The sensory playgrounds of Singapore’s hawker centres are close to many citizens’ homes and hearts, and have even recently won global recognition by UNESCO.

However, the pandemic has left many hawkers facing slow business. While restaurants and fast food chains have quickly caught on to food delivery services, many elderly hawkers were left behind in the digital race.

28 year-old Singaporean M Thirukkumaran developed an online community map called “Help Our Hawkers” that provides information on digitally-disadvantaged hawkers near users’ locations, such as opening hours and stall information. GovInsider caught up with him to learn how it was built and how governments can support fellow civic hackers…

Besides creating space for civic innovation, governments can step in to give particularly promising projects a boost with their resources and influence, Thiru says.

Most community-led projects need to rely on cloud services such as AWS, which can be expensive for a small team to bear, he explains. Government subsidies or grants may help to ease the cost for digital infrastructure.

In Thiru’s case, the map needed to be rolled out quickly to be useful. He chose to build his tool with Google Maps to speed up the process, as many users are already familiar with it.

Another way that governments can help is through getting more visibility to these community-led projects with their wide reach, Thiru suggests. Community projects commonly face a “cold start” dilemma. This arises where the community tool needs data for it to be useful, but citizens also hesitate to spend time on a tool if it is not useful in the first place.

Thiru jump started his tool by contributing a few stalls on his own. With more publicity with government campaigns, the process could be sped up considerably, he shares….(More)”.

America’s ‘Smart City’ Didn’t Get Much Smarter

Article by Aarian Marshall: “In 2016, Columbus, Ohio, beat out 77 other small and midsize US cities for a pot of $50 million that was meant to reshape its future. The Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge was the first competition of its kind, conceived as a down payment to jump-start one city’s adaptation to the new technologies that were suddenly everywhere. Ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft were ascendant, car-sharing companies like Car2Go were raising their national profile, and autonomous vehicles seemed to be right around the corner.

“Our proposed approach is revolutionary,” the city wrote in its winning grant proposal, which pledged to focus on projects to help the city’s most underserved neighborhoods. It laid out plans to experiment with Wi-Fi-enabled kiosks to help residents plan trips, apps to pay bus and ride-hail fares and find parking spots, autonomous shuttles, and sensor-connected trucks.

Five years later, the Smart City Challenge is over, but the revolution never arrived. According to the project’s final report, issued this month by the city’s Smart Columbus Program, the pandemic hit just as some projects were getting off the ground. Six kiosks placed around the city were used to plan just eight trips between July 2020 and March 2021. The company EasyMile launched autonomous shuttles in February 2020, carrying passengers at an average speed of 4 miles per hour. Fifteen days later, a sudden brake sent a rider to the hospital, pausing service. The truck project was canceled. Only 1,100 people downloaded an app, called Pivot, to plan and reserve trips on ride-hail vehicles, shared bikes and scooters, and public transit.

The discrepancy between the promise of whiz-bang technology and the reality in Columbus points to a shift away from tech as a silver bullet, and a newer wariness of the troubles that web-based applications can bring to IRL streets. The “smart city” was a hard-to-pin-down marketing term associated with urban optimism. Today, as citizens think more carefully about tech-enabled surveillance, the concept of a sensor in every home doesn’t look as shiny as it once did….(More)”.

Stewarding innovation portfolios for the ecosystem: catalysing collective system change

Case study by Emily Wise: “…Future by Lund (FBL) is an innovation platform located in the city of Lund, in southern Sweden. The municipality of Lund spearheads this collaborative effort (with more than 50 partners) to catalyse innovative solutions for sustainable and attractive cities and to strengthen the innovation culture of the ecosystem in Lund. Since its start in 2013, FBL has developed its system leadership function – scouting trends and identifying opportunities, matching relevant actors and catalyzing collaborative action, and developing a community of actors (companies, universities, research institutes, innovation support actors) and portfolio of activities that (collectively) contribute to a more sustainable and attractive city. For instance, FBL gathered a group of actors and facilitated initial activities to develop an electric road – moving from idea to national demonstrator over the course of six years. FBL played a similar “initial catalyst” role in developing a new energy solution – Ectogrid.

FBL is one of six innovation platforms supported through a programme at Sweden’s innovation agency – Vinnova, which is soon coming to its end. The funding and other support from Vinnova have helped FBL build its capacity to proactively foster innovation activities that respond to challenges and sustainable development aims that can only be addressed in collaboration with others – operating in between municipal and other organisational mandates, in the more exploratory, uncertain, and bottom-up areas of innovation activity (see figure below).

Figure 1: Future by Lund – leading in between organisations…(More)”.

Need Public Policy for Human Gene Editing, Heatwaves, or Asteroids? Try Thinking Like a Citizen

Article by Nicholas Weller, Michelle Sullivan Govani, and Mahmud Farooque: “In a ballroom at the Arizona Science Center one afternoon in 2017, more than 70 Phoenix residents—students, teachers, nurses, and retirees—gathered around tables to participate in a public forum about how cities can respond to extreme weather such as heat waves. Each table was covered in colorful printouts with a large laminated poster resembling a board game. Milling between the tables were decisionmakers from local government and the state. All were taking part in a deliberative process called participatory technology assessment, or pTA, designed to break down the walls between “experts” and citizens to gain insights into public policy dilemmas involving science, technology, and uncertainty.

Foreshadowing their varied viewpoints and experiences, participants prepared differently for the “extreme weather” of the heavily air conditioned ballroom, with some gripping cardigans around their shoulders while others were comfortable in tank tops. Extreme heat is something all the participants were familiar with—Phoenix is one of the hottest cities in the country—but not everyone understood the unequal way that heat and related deaths affect different parts of the Valley of the Sun. Though a handful of the participants might have called themselves environmentalists, most were not regular town-hall goers or political activists. Instead, they represented a diverse cross section of people in Phoenix. All had applied to attend—motivated by a small stipend, the opportunity to have their voice heard, or a bit of both.

Unlike typical town hall setups, where a few bold participants tend to dominate questioning and decisionmakers often respond by being defensive or vague, pTA gatherings are deliberately organized to encourage broad participation and conversation. To help people engage with the topic, the meeting was divided into subgroups to examine the story of Heattown, a fictionalized name for a real but anonymized community contending with the health, environmental, and economic impacts of heat waves. Then each group began a guided discussion of the different characters living in Heattown, vulnerabilities of the emergency-response and infrastructure systems, and strategies for dealing with those vulnerabilities….(More)”.

Platform Workers, Data Dominion and Challenges to Work-life Quality

Paper by Mabel Choo and Mark Findlay: “Originally this short reflection was intended to explore the relationship between the under-regulated labour environment of gig workers and their appreciation of work-life quality. It was never intended as a comprehensive governance critique of what is variously known as independent, franchised, or autonomous service delivery transactions facilitated through platform providers. Rather it was to represent a suggestive snapshot of how workers in these contested employment contexts viewed the relevance of regulation (or its absence) and the impact that new forms of regulation might offer for work-life quality.

By exploring secondary source commentary on worker experiences and attitudes it became clear that profound information deficits regarding how their personal data was being marketed meant that expecting any detailed appreciation of regulatory need and potentials was unrealistic from such a disempowered workforce. In addition, the more apparent was the practice of the platforms re-using and marketising this data without the knowledge or informed consent of the data subjects (service providers and customers) the more necessary it seemed to factor in this commercialisation when regulatory possibilities are to be considered.

The platform providers have sheltered their clandestine use of worker data (whether it be from pervasive surveillance or transaction histories) behind dubious discourse about disruptive economies, non-employment responsibilities, and the distinction between business and private data. In what follows we endeavor to challenge these disempowering interpretations and assertions, while arguing the case that at the very least data subjects need to know what platforms do with the data they produce and have some say in its re-use. In proposing these basic pre-conditions for labour transactions, we hope that work-life experience can be enhanced. Many of the identified needs for regulation and suggestions as to the form it should take are at this point declaratory in the paper, and as such require more empirical modelling to evaluate their potential influences in bettering work-life quality….(More)”