Data gaps threaten achievement of development goals in Africa


Sara Jerving at Devex: “Data gaps across the African continent threaten to hinder the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, according to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s first governance report released on Tuesday.

The report, “Agendas 2063 & 2030: Is Africa On Track?“ based on an analysis of the foundation’s Ibrahim index of African governance, found that since the adoption of both of these agendas, the availability of public data in Africa has declined. With data focused on social outcomes, there has been a notable decline in education, population and vital statistics, such as birth and death records, which allow citizens to access public services.

The index, on which the report is based, is the most comprehensive dataset on African governance, drawing on ten years of data of all 54 African nations. An updated index is released every two years….

The main challenge in the production of quality, timely data, according to the report, is a lack of funding and lack of independence of the national statistical offices.

Only one country, Mauritius, had a perfect score in terms of independence of its national statistics office – meaning that its office can collect the data it chooses, publish without approval from other arms of the government, and is sufficiently funded. Fifteen African nations scored zero in terms of the independence of their offices….(More)”.

Data Power: tactics, access and shaping


Introduction to the Data Power Special Issue of Online Information Review by Ysabel Gerrard and Jo Bates : “…The Data Power Conference 2017, and by extension the seven papers in this Special Issue, addressed three questions:

  1. How can we reclaim some form of data-based power and autonomy, and advance data-based technological citizenship, while living in regimes of data power?
  2. Is it possible to regain agency and mobilise data for the common good? To do so, which theories help to interrogate and make sense of the operations of data power?
  3. What kind of design frameworks are needed to build and deploy data-based technologies with values and ethics that are equitable and fair? How can big data be mobilised to improve how we live, beyond notions of efficiency and innovation?

These questions broadly emphasise the reclamation of power, retention of agency and ethics of data-based technologies, and they reflect a broader moment in recent data studies scholarship. While early critical research on “big data” – a term that captures the technologies, analytics and mythologies of increasingly large data sets (Boyd and Crawford, 2012) – could only hypothesise the inequalities and deepened forms discrimination that might emerge as data sets grew in volume, many of those predictions have now become real. The articles in this Special Issue ask pressing questions about data power at a time when we have learned that data are too frequently handled in a way that deepens social inequalities and injustices (amongst others, Eubanks, 2018Noble, 2018).

The papers in this Special Issue approach discussions of inequality and injustice through three broad lenses: the tactics people use to confront unequal distributions of (data) power; the access to data that are most relevant and essential for particular social groups, coupled with the changing and uncertain legalities of data access; and the shaping of social relations by and through data, whether through the demands placed on app users to disclose more personal information, the use of data to construct cultures of compliance or through the very methodologies commonly used to organise and label information. While these three themes do not exhaustively capture the range of topics addressed in this Special Issue, at the Data Power Conferences, or within the field at large, they represent an emphasis within data studies scholarship on shedding light on the most pressing issues confronting our increasingly datafied world…(More)”.

Future Government 2030+: Policy Implications and Recommendations


European Commission: “This report provides follow-up insights into the policy implications and offers a set of 57 recommendations, organised in nine policy areas. These stem from a process based on interviews with 20 stakeholders. The recommendations include a series of policy options and actions that could be implemented at different levels of governance systems.

The Future of Government project started in autumn 2017 as a research project of the Joint Research Centre in collaboration with Directorate General Communication Network and Technologies. It explored how we can rethink the social contract according to the needs of today’s society, what elements need to be adjusted to deliver value and good to people and society, what values we need to improve society, and how we can obtain a new sense of responsibility.

Following the “The Future of Government 2030+: A Citizen-Centric Perspective on New Government Models report“, published on 6 March, the present follow-up report provides follow-up insights into the policy implications and offers a set of 54 recommendations, organised in nine policy areas.

The recommendations of this report include a series of policy options and actions that could be implemented at different levels of governance systems. Most importantly, they include essential elements to help us build our future actions on digital government and address foundational governance challenges of the modern online world (i.e regulation of AI ) in the following 9 axes:

  1. Democracy and power relations: creating clear strategies towards full adoption of open government
  2. Participatory culture and deliberation: skilled and equipped public administration and allocation of resources to include citizens in decision-making
  3. Political trust: new participatory governance mechanisms to raise citizens’ trust
  4. Regulation: regulation on technology should follow discussion on values with full observance of fundamental rights
  5. Public-Private relationship: better synergies between public and private sectors, collaboration with young social entrepreneurs to face forthcoming challenges
  6. Public services: modular and adaptable public services, support Member States in ensuring equal access to technology
  7. Education and literacy: increase digital data literacy, critical thinking and education reforms in accordance to the needs of job markets
  8. Big data and artificial intelligence: ensure ethical use of technology, focus on technologies’ public value, explore ways to use technology for more efficient policy-making
  9. Redesign and new skills for public administration: constant re-evaluation of public servants’ skills, foresight development, modernisation of recruitment processes, more agile forms of working.

As these recommendations have shown, collaboration is needed across different policy fields and they should be acted upon as integrated package. The majority of recommendations is intended for the EU policymakers but their implementation could be more effective if done through lower levels of governance, eg. local, regional or even national. (Read full text)… (More).

The Urban Institute Data Catalog


Data@Urban: “We believe that data make the biggest impact when they are accessible to everyone.

Today, we are excited to announce the public launch of the Urban Institute Data Catalog, a place to discover, learn about, and download open data provided by Urban Institute researchers and data scientists. You can find data that reflect the breadth of Urban’s expertise — health, education, the workforce, nonprofits, local government finances, and so much more.

Built using open source technology, the catalog holds valuable data and metadata that Urban Institute staff have created, enhanced, cleaned, or otherwise added value to as part of our work. And it will provide, for the first time, a central, searchable resource to find many of Urban’s published open data assets.

We hope that researchers, data analysts, civic tech actors, application developers, and many others will use this tool to enhance their work, save time, and generate insights that elevate the policy debate. As Urban produces data for research, analysis, and data visualization, and as new data are released, we will continue to update the catalog.

We’re thrilled to put the power of data in your hands to better understand and respond to many critical issues facing us locally and nationally. If you have comments about the tool or the data it contains, or if you would like to share examples of how you are using these data, please feel free to contact us at datacatalog@urban.org.

Here are some current highlights of the Urban Data Catalog — both the data and research products we’ve built using the data — as of this writing:

– LODES data: The Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Origin-Destination Employment Statistics (LODES) from the US Census Bureau provide detailed information on workers and jobs by census block. We have summarized these large, dispersed data into a set of census tract and census place datasets to make them easier to use. For more information, read our earlier Data@Urban blog post.

– Medicaid opioid data: Our Medicaid Spending and Prescriptions for the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder and Opioid Overdose dataset is sourced from state drug utilization data and provides breakdowns by state, year, quarter, drug type, and brand name or generic drug status. For more information and to view our data visualization using the data, see the complete project page.

– Nonprofit and foundation data: Members of Urban’s National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) compile, clean, and standardize data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on organizations filing IRS forms 990 or 990-EZ, including private charities, foundations, and other tax-exempt organizations. To read more about these data, see our previous blog posts on redesigning our Nonprofit Sector in Brief Report in R and repurposing our open code and data to create your own custom summary tables….(More)”.

Identifying Citizens’ Needs by Combining Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Collective Intelligence (CI)


Report by Andrew Zahuranec, Andrew Young and Stefaan G. Verhulst: “Around the world, public leaders are seeking new ways to better understand the needs of their citizens, and subsequently improve governance, and how we solve public problems. The approaches proposed toward changing public engagement tend to focus on leveraging two innovations. The first involves artificial intelligence (AI), which offers unprecedented abilities to quickly process vast quantities of data to deepen insights into public needs. The second is collective intelligence (CI), which provides means for tapping into the “wisdom of the crowd.” Both have strengths and weaknesses, but little is known on how the combination of both could address their weaknesses while radically transform how we meet public demands for more responsive governance.

Today, The GovLab is releasing a new report, Identifiying Citizens’ Needs By Combining AI and CI, which seeks to identify and assess how institutions might responsibly experiment in how they engage with citizens by leveraging AI and CI together.

The report, authored by Stefaan G. Verhulst, Andrew J. Zahuranec, and Andrew Young, builds upon an initial examination of the intersection of AI and CI conducted in the context of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance. …

The report features five in-depth case studies and an overview of eight additional examples from around the world on how AI and CI together can help to: 

  • Anticipate citizens’ needs and expectations through cognitive insights and process automation and pre-empt problems through improved forecasting and anticipation;
  • Analyze large volumes of citizen data and feedback, such as identifying patterns in complaints;
  • Allow public officials to create highly personalized campaigns and services; or
  • Empower government service representatives to deliver relevant actions….(More)”.

The Promise of Data-Driven Drug Development


Report by the Center for Data Innovation: “From screening chemical compounds to optimizing clinical trials to improving post-market surveillance of drugs, the increased use of data and better analytical tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) hold the potential to transform drug development, leading to new treatments, improved patient outcomes, and lower costs. However, achieving the full promise of data-driven drug development will require the U.S. federal government to address a number of obstacles. This should be a priority for policymakers for two main reasons. First, enabling data-driven drug development will accelerate access to more effective and affordable treatments. Second, the competitiveness of the U.S. biopharmaceutical industry is at risk so long as these obstacles exist. As other nations, particularly China, pursue data-driven innovation, especially greater use of AI, foreign life sciences firms could become more competitive at drug development….(More)”.

New York Report Studies Risks, Rewards of the Smart City


GovTech: “The New York state comptroller tasked his staff with analyzing the deployment of new technologies at the municipal level while cautioning local leaders and the public about cyberthreats.

New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced the reportSmart Solutions Across the State: Advanced Technology in Local Governments, during a press conference last week in Schenectady, which was featured in the 25-page document for its deployment of an advanced streetlight network.

“New technologies are reshaping how local government services are delivered,” DiNapoli said during the announcement. “Local officials are stepping up to meet the evolving expectations of residents who want their interactions with government to be easy and convenient.”

The report showcases online bill payment for people to resolve parking tickets, utilities and property taxes; bike-share programs using mobile apps to access bicycles in downtown areas; public Wi-Fi through partnerships with telecommunication companies; and more….The modernization of communities across New York could create possibilities for partnerships between municipalities, counties and the state, she said. The report details how a city might attempt to emulate some of the projects included. Martinez said local government leaders should collaborate and share best practices if they decide to innovate their jurisdictions in similar ways….(More)”.

Social Systems Evidence


Social Systems Evidence is the world’s most comprehensive, continuously updated repository of syntheses of research evidence about the programs, services and products available in a broad range of government sectors and program areas (e.g., climate action, community and social services, economic development and growth, education, environmental conservation, education, housing and transportation) as well as the governance, financial and delivery arrangements within which these programs, services and products are provided, and the implementation strategies that can help to ensure that these programs, services and products get to those who need them. The content contained in Social Systems Evidence covers the Sustainable Development Goals, with the exceptions of the health part of goal 3 (which is already well covered by databases such as ACCESSSS for clinical evidence, Health Evidence for public health evidence, and Health Systems Evidence for the governance, financial and delivery arrangements, and the implementation strategies that determine whether the right programs, services and products get to those who need them).

The types of syntheses in Social Systems Evidence include evidence briefs for policy, overviews of systematic reviews, systematic reviews, systematic reviews in progress (i.e. protocols for systematic reviews), and systematic reviews being planned (i.e. registered titles for systematic reviews). Social Systems Evidence also contains a continuously updated repository of economic evaluations in these same domains.

Documents included in Social Systems Evidence are identified through weekly electronic searches of online bibliographic databases (EBSCOhost, ProQuest and Web of Science) and through manual searches of the websites of high-volume producers of research syntheses relevant to social-system program and service areas (see acknowledgements below).

For all types of documents, Social Systems Evidence provides links to user-friendly summaries, scientific abstracts, and full-text reports (if applicable and when freely available). For each systematic review, Social Systems Evidence also provides an assessment of its methodological quality, and links to the studies contained in the review.

While SSE is free to use and does not require that users have an account, creating an account will allow you to view more than 20 search results, to save documents and searches, and to subscribe to email alerts, among other advanced features. You can create an account by clicking ‘Create account’ on the top banner (for desktop and laptop computers) or in the menu on far right of the banner (for mobile devices).

Social Systems Evidence can save social-system policymakers and stakeholders a great deal of time by helping them to rapidly identify: a synthesis of the best available research evidence on a given topic that has been prepared in a systematic and transparent way, how recently the search for studies was conducted, the quality of the synthesis, the countries in which the studies included in the synthesis were conducted, and the key findings from the synthesis. Social Systems Evidence can also help them to rapidly identify economic evaluations in these same domains…(More)”.

The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation


Report by Philip Howard and Samantha Bradshaw: “…The report explores the tools, capacities, strategies and resources employed by global ‘cyber troops’, typically government agencies and political parties, to influence public opinion in 70 countries.

Key findings include:

  • Organized social media manipulation has more than doubled since 2017, with 70 countries using computational propaganda to manipulate public opinion.
  • In 45 democracies, politicians and political parties have used computational propaganda tools by amassing fake followers or spreading manipulated media to garner voter support.
  • In 26 authoritarian states, government entities have used computational propaganda as a tool of information control to suppress public opinion and press freedom, discredit criticism and oppositional voices, and drown out political dissent.
  • Foreign influence operations, primarily over Facebook and Twitter, have been attributed to cyber troop activities in seven countries: China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
  • China has now emerged as a major player in the global disinformation order, using social media platforms to target international audiences with disinformation.
  • 25 countries are working with private companies or strategic communications firms offering a computational propaganda as a service.
  • Facebook remains the platform of choice for social media manipulation, with evidence of formally organised campaigns taking place in 56 countries….

The report explores the tools and techniques of computational propaganda, including the use of fake accounts – bots, humans, cyborgs and hacked accounts – to spread disinformation. The report finds:

  • 87% of countries used human accounts
  • 80% of countries used bot accounts
  • 11% of countries used cyborg accounts
  • 7% of countries used hacked or stolen accounts…(More)”.

Community Data Dialogues


Sunlight foundation: “Community Data Dialogues are in-person events designed to share open data with community members in the most digestible way possible to start a conversation about a specific issue. The main goal of the event is to give residents who may not have technical expertise but have local experience a chance to participate in data-informed decision-making. Doing this work in-person can open doors and let facilitators ask a broader range of questions. To achieve this, the event must be designed to be inclusive of people without a background in data analysis and/or using statistics to understand local issues. Carrying out this event will let decision-makers in government use open data to talk with residents who can add to data’s value with their stories of lived experience relevant to local issues.

These events can take several forms, and groups both in and outside of government have designed creative and innovative events tailored to engage community members who are actively interested in helping solve local issues but are unfamiliar with using open data. This guide will help clarify how exactly to make Community Data Dialogues non-technical, interactive events that are inclusive to all participants….

A number of groups both in and outside of government have facilitated accessible open data events to great success. Here are just a few examples from the field of what data-focused events tailored for a nontechnical audience can look like:

Data Days Cleveland

Data Days Cleveland is an annual one-day event designed to make data accessible to all. Programs are designed with inclusivity and learning in mind, making it a more welcoming space for people new to data work. Data experts and practitioners direct novices on the fundamentals of using data: making maps, reading spreadsheets, creating data visualizations, etc….

The Urban Institute’s Data Walks

The Urban Institute’s Data Walks are an innovative example of presenting data in an interactive and accessible way to communities. Data Walks are events gathering community residents, policymakers, and others to jointly review and analyze data presentations on specific programs or issues and collaborate to offer feedback based on their individual experiences and expertise. This feedback can be used to improve current projects and inform future policies….(More)“.