Accountability.Org: Online Disclosure by Nonprofits

Paper by Joannie Tremblay-Boire and Aseem Prakash: “Why do some nonprofits signal their accountability via unilateral website disclosures? We develop an Accountability Index to examine the websites of 200 U.S. nonprofits ranked by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. We expect nonprofits’ incentives for website disclosures will be shaped by their organizational and sectoral characteristics. Our analysis suggests that nonprofits appearing frequently in the media disclose more accountability information while nonprofits larger in size disclose less. Religion-related nonprofits tend to disclose less information, suggesting that religious bonding enhances trust and reduce incentives for self-disclosure. Health nonprofits disclose less information, arguably because government-mandated disclosures reduce marginal benefits from voluntary disclosures. Education nonprofits, on the other hand, tend to disclose more accountability information perhaps because they supply credence goods. This research contributes to the emerging literature on websites as accountability mechanisms by developing a new index for scholars to use and proposing new hypotheses based on the corporate social responsibility literature.”

Understanding Smart Data Disclosure Policy Success: The Case of Green Button

New Paper by Djoko Sigit Sayogo and Theresa Pardo: “Open data policies are expected to promote innovations that stimulate social, political and economic change. In pursuit of innovation potential, open datahas expanded to wider environment involving government, business and citizens. The US government recently launched such collaboration through a smart data policy supporting energy efficiency called Green Button. This paper explores the implementation of Green Button and identifies motivations and success factors facilitating successful collaboration between public and private organizations to support smart disclosure policy. Analyzing qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with experts involved in Green Button initiation and implementation, this paper presents some key findings. The success of Green Button can be attributed to the interaction between internal and external factors. The external factors consist of both market and non-market drivers: economic factors, technology related factors, regulatory contexts and policy incentives, and some factors that stimulate imitative behavior among the adopters. The external factors create the necessary institutional environment for the Green Button implementation. On the other hand, the acceptance and adoption of Green Button itself is influenced by the fit of Green Button capability to the strategic mission of energy and utility companies in providing energy efficiency programs. We also identify the different roles of government during the different stages of Green Button implementation.”
[Recipient of Best Management/Policy Paper Award, dgo2013]

The Future of Co-Creation and Crowdsourcing

New paper by Nick van Breda and Jan Spruijt: “This article reviews how co-creation is developing over the world and how different businesses are able to use co-creation. To give a clear sight of that, stories of companies, marketers and trend watchers will be used to tell about this phenomenon called crowdsourcing and co-creation. Marketers found a method to combine co-creation with the existing method of creating something new. Based on research we can now predict how co-creation will develop over the following years.
The evolution of co-creation is more exciting than we previously thought and we think that these results have to do with how the internet and social media have developed. A revolution is coming up and organizations will see an increase in turnover based on fast innovation and participation by the crowd.
We are living a world with a new dimension: a dimension where large organizations have no reason for existence when customers aren’t satisfied with their purchase, the organization’s service and most of all their feeling of participation. Consumers feel that they should have the power to change visions and missions of the old fashioned marketing way: the manipulative way to earn money. A dimension where 24/7 online is the key to succeed, fast responses to questions and remarks. In this time if continuous changes, creativity is a must.”

The Real-Time City? Big Data and Smart Urbanism

New paper by Rob Kitchin from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUI Maynooth) – NIRSA: “‘Smart cities’ is a term that has gained traction in academia, business and government to describe cities that, on the one hand, are increasingly composed of and monitored by pervasive and ubiquitous computing and, on the other, whose economy and governance is being driven by innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, enacted by smart people. This paper focuses on the former and how cities are being instrumented with digital devices and infrastructure that produce ‘big data’ which enable real-time analysis of city life, new modes of technocratic urban governance, and a re-imagining of cities. The paper details a number of projects that seek to produce a real-time analysis of the city and provides a critical reflection on the implications of big data and smart urbanism”

City Data: Big, Open and Linked

Working Paper by Mark S. Fox (University of Toronto): “Cities are moving towards policymaking based on data. They are publishing data using Open Data standards, linking data from disparate sources, allowing the crowd to update their data with Smart Phone Apps that use Open APIs, and applying “Big Data” Techniques to discover relationships that lead to greater efficiencies.
One Big City Data example is from New York City (Schönberger & Cukier, 2013). Building owners were illegally converting their buildings into rooming houses that contained 10 times the number people they were designed for. These buildings posed a number of problems, including fire hazards, drugs, crime, disease and pest infestations. There are over 900,000 properties in New York City and only 200 inspectors who received over 25,000 illegal conversion complaints per year. The challenge was to distinguish nuisance complaints from those worth investigating where current methods were resulting in only 13% of the inspections resulting in vacate orders.
New York’s Analytics team created a dataset that combined data from 19 agencies including buildings, preservation, police, fire, tax, and building permits. By combining data analysis with expertise gleaned from inspectors (e.g., buildings that recently received a building permit were less likely to be a problem as they were being well maintained), the team was able to develop a rating system for complaints. Based on their analysis of this data, they were able to rate complaints such that in 70% of their visits, inspectors issued vacate orders; a fivefold increase in efficiency…
This paper provides an introduction to the concepts that underlie Big City Data. It explains the concepts of Open, Unified, Linked and Grounded data that lie at the heart of the Semantic Web. It then builds on this by discussing Data Analytics, which includes Statistics, Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning. Finally we discuss Big Data as the extension of Data Analytics to the Cloud where massive amounts of computing power and storage are available for processing large data sets. We use city data to illustrate each.”

E-petition systems and political participation: About institutional challenges and democratic opportunities

New paper by Knud Böhle and Ulrich Riehm in First Monday: “The implementation of e–petition systems holds the promise to increase the participative and deliberative potential of petitions. The most ambitious e–petition systems allow for electronic submission, make publicly available the petition text, related documents and the final decision, allow supporting a petition by electronically co–signing it, and provide electronic discussion forums. Based on a comprehensive survey (2010/2011) of parliamentary petition bodies at the national level covering the 27 member states of the European Union (EU) plus Norway and Switzerland, the state of public e–petitioning in the EU is presented, and the relevance of e–petition systems as a means of political participation is discussed….
The most interesting finding is that some petition systems — by leveraging the potential of the Internet — further the involvement of the public considerably. This happens in two ways: first by nudging e–petition systems in the direction of lightweight instruments of direct democracy and second by making the institution itself more open, transparent, accountable, effective, and responsive through the involvement of the public. Both development paths might also lead to expectations that eventually cannot be complied with by the petition body without more substantial transformations of the institution. This or that might happen. Empirically, we ain’t seen almost nothing yet.”

Targeting Transparency

New paper by David Weil, Mary Graham, and Archon Fung in Science Magazine: “When rules, taxes, or subsidies prove impractical as policy tools, governments increasingly employ “targeted transparency,” compelling disclosure of information as an alternative means of achieving specific objectives. For example, the U.S. Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires calories be posted on menus to enlist both restaurants and patrons in the effort to reduce obesity. It is crucial to understand when and how such targeted transparency works, as well as when it is inappropriate. Research about its use and effectiveness has begun to take shape, drawing on social and behavioral scientists, economists, and legal scholars. We explore questions central to the performance of targeted transparency policies.

Targeted transparency differs from broader “right-to-know” and “open-government” policies that span from the 1966 Freedom of Information Act to the Obama Administration’s “open-government” initiative encouraging officials to make existing data sets readily available and easy to parse as an end in itself (1, 2). Targeted transparency offers a more focused approach often used to introduce new scientific evidence of public risks into market choices. Government compels companies or agencies to disclose information in standardized formats to reduce specific risks, to ameliorate externalities arising from a failure of consumers or producers to fully consider social costs associated with a product, or to improve provision of public goods and services. Such policies are more light-handed than conventional regulation, relying on the power of information rather than on enforcement of rules and standards or financial inducements….”

See also the Transparency Policy Project at

Does transparency lead to trust? Some evidence on the subject.

Tiago Peixoto at DemocracySpot: “As open government gains traction in the international agenda, it is increasingly common to come across statements that assume a causal relationship in which transparency leads to trust in government. But to what extent are claims that transparency leads to trust backed up by evidence?
Judging from some recent publications on the subject, such a relationship is not as straightforward as sadvocates would like. In fact, in a number of cases, the evidence points in another direction: that is, transparency may ultimately decrease trust.
Below is a brief overview of research that has been carried out on the subject…
Surely, transparency remains an essential – although quite insufficient – ingredient of accountability. On the trust issue, one could easily think of a number of scenarios in which it is actually better that citizens do not trust their governments. In fact, systems of checks and balances and oversight institutions are not specifically conceived under the logic of trust. Quite on the contrary, such institutional designs assume some level of suspicion vis-à-vis governments: as put in the Federalist Paper No. 51, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
Granted, in some cases a perfect world in which citizens trust their governments may well be desirable. It may even be that transparency leads – in the long run – to increased trust: a great way to sell transparency to governments. But if we want to walk the talk of evidence-based policymaking, we may consider dropping the trust rhetoric. At least for now.”

Technocracy within Representative Democracy

Christina Ribbhagen’s new paper on “Technocracy within Representative Democracy: Technocratic Reasoning and Justification among Bureaucrats and Politicians”: ” How can you possibly have ‘Technocracy within Representative Democracy’, as suggested in the title of this thesis? Shouldn’t the correct title be ‘Technocracy or Representative Democracy’, the sceptic might ask? Well, if technocracy is strictly defined, as rule by an elite of (technical) experts, the sceptic obviously has a point. Democracy means rule by the people (demos) and not rule by (technical) experts. However, in tune with Laird (1990; see also Fischer 2000), I argue that merely establishing the absence of a simple technocratic ruling class is only half the story; instead a more subtle interpretation of technocracy is needed.
Laird (1990, p. 51) continues his story by stating that: ‘The problem of technocracy is the problem of power relations and how those relations are affected by the importance of esoteric knowledge in modern society. The idea that such knowledge is important is correct. The idea that it is important because it leads to the rise of a technically skilled ruling class is mistaken. The crucial issue is not who gains power but who loses it. Technocracy is not the rise of experts, it is the decline of citizens’. Or as formulated by Fischer (2000), ‘One of the most important contemporary functions of technocratic politics, it can be argued, rests not so much on its ascent to power (in the traditional sense of the term) as on the fact that its growing influence shields the elites from political pressure from below’. The crucial issue for the definition of technocracy then is not who governs, rather it lies in the mode of politics. As argued by Fischer (2000), too often writers have dismissed the technocratic thesis on the grounds that experts remain subordinate to top-level economic and political elites. A consequence of this, he continues, is that this argument ‘overlooks the less visible discursive politics of technocratic expertise. Not only does the argument fail to appreciate the way this technical, instrumental mode of inquiry has come to shape our thinking about public problems, but it neglects the ways these modes of thought have become implicitly embedded in our institutional discourses and practices’ (p. 17). Thus, technocracy here should not be understood as ‘rule by experts’, but rather ‘government by technique’ focusing on the procedures and content of politics, suggesting that technocratic reasoning and justification has gained ground and dominates the making of public policy (Boswell, 2009; Fischer, 1990; Meynaud, 1969; Radaelli, 1999b;). To be sure, indirectly this will have consequences as to who will win or lose power. A policy issue or process that is technocratically framed is likely to disempower those lacking information and expertise within the area (Fischer, 1990; Laird, 19903), while supplying those with information and expertise with a ‘technocratic key’ (Uhrwing, 2001) leading to the door of political power.”

The "audience" as participative, idea generating, decision making citizens: will they transform government?

Paper by Teresa Harrison in latest issue of the Journal “Participations“: “From a purely technical perspective, no one, including Tim Berners-Lee, has ever been able to pinpoint exactly what makes Web 2.0 unique. What may be most accurate to say, is that the enormous popularity of social networking and other social media technologies hinges on a radical reconceptualisation of the audience, now routinely incorporated into ICT applications. Once treated as passive consumers of content created by others, designers of these applications now appreciate and exploit, the fact that new media users (formerly known as the “audience”) actively create content online to serve their own goals, frequently as they interact with others. Users of Web 2.0 applications display and tinker with their identities, express themselves on all kinds of topics, invent new products and ideas, and, as Don Tapscott, Tim O’Reilly and legions of other business gurus hasten to remind us, are willing, so far at least, to lend their problem solving, creative efforts and intellectual products to businesses seeking to innovate, or just looking for free marketing. Hoping to harness this largely uncompensated labour, organisations of all types (both commercial and non-profit) have been quick to find ways to attract these “producers” to their projects.
Governments have not been the swiftest in this regard, however, they may present the most ambitious and optimistic agenda for involving internet users. Nations around the world now hope to use new media to engage their citizens in some variation of participatory governance. Where once the prospects for “town hall style democracy,” were doomed by the limitations and inefficiencies of one-way media transactions, the networked interactivity of social media now makes it technically feasible to invite citizen participation on a routine basis. What is not yet clear is how citizens will react over the long term to these invitations and what kinds of social issues and software applications will best attract and immerse them into new citizenship practices.”