SAM, the first A.I. politician on Messenger

 at Digital Trends: “It’s said that all politicians are the same, but it seems safe to assume that you’ve never seen a politician quite like this. Meet SAM, heralded as the politician of the future. Unfortunately, you can’t exactly shake this politician’s hand, or have her kiss your baby. Rather, SAM is the world’s first Virtual Politician (and a female presence at that), “driven by the desire to close the gap between what voters want and what politicians promise, and what they actually achieve.”

The artificially intelligent chat bot is currently live on Facebook Messenger, though she probably is most helpful to those in New Zealand. After all, the bot’s website notes, “SAM’s goal is to act as a representative for all New Zealanders, and evolves based on voter input.” Capable of being reached by anyone at just about anytime from anywhere, this may just be the single most accessible politician we’ve ever seen. But more importantly, SAM purports to be a true representative, claiming to analyze “everyone’s views [and] opinions, and impact of potential decisions.” This, the bot notes, could make for better policy for everyone….(More)”.

Use of the websites of parliaments to promote citizen deliberation in the process of public decision-making. Comparative study of ten countries

Santiago Giraldo Luquet in Communications and Society: “This study develops a longitudinal research (2010-2015) on 10 countries – 5 European countries (France, United Kingdom, Sweden, Italy and Spain) and 5 American countries (Argentina, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia and the USA). The aim is to compare how the parliaments use its official websites in order to promote the political participation process in the citizenship. The study focuses on the deliberation axe (Macintosh, 2004, Hagen, 2000, Vedel, 2003, 2007) and in the way that representative institutions define a digital strategy to create an online public sphere.

Starting with the recognition of Web 2.0 as a debate sphere and as a place of reconfiguration of the traditional –and utopian- Greek Agora, the study adopts the ‘deliberate’ political action axe to evaluate, qualitatively and quantitatively -using a content analysis methodology- the use of the Web 2.0 tools made by the legislative bodies of the analysed countries. The article shows how, which and what parliaments use Web 2.0 tools – integrated in their web page – as a scenario that allows deliberation at the different legislative processes that integrate the examined political systems. Finally, the comparative results show the main differences and similarities between the countries, as well as a tendency to reduce deliberation tools offering by representative institutions in the countries sampled…(More)”.

Are you doing what’s needed to get the state to respond to its citizens? Or are you part of the problem?

Vanessa Herringshaw at Making All Voices Count: ” …I’ve been reading over the incredibly rich and practically-orientated research and practice papers already on the Making All Voices Count website, and some of those coming out soon. There’s a huge amount of useful and challenging learning, and I’ll be putting out a couple of papers summarising some important threads later this year.

But as different civic tech and accountability actors prepare to come together in Brighton for Making All Voices Count’s final learning event later this week, I’m going to focus here on three things that really stood out and would benefit from the kind of ‘group grappling’ that such a gathering can best support. And I aim to be provocative!

  1. Improving state responsiveness to citizens is a complex business – even more than we realised – and a lot more complex than most interventions are designed to address. If we don’t address this complexity, our interventions won’t work. And that risks making things worse, not better.
  2. It’s clear we need to make more of a shift from narrow, ‘tactical’ approaches to more complex, systems-based ‘strategic’ approaches. Thinking is developing on how to do this in theory. But it’s not clear that our current institutional approaches will support, or even allow, a major shift in practice.
  3. So when we each look at our individual roles and those of our organisations, are we part of the solution, or part of the problem?

Let’s look at each of these in turn….(More)”

Polish activists turn to digital democracy

 in the Financial Times: “Opponents of the Polish government have mounted a series of protests on issues ranging from reform of the judiciary to an attempt to ban abortion. In February, they staged yet another, less public but intensely emotive, battle — to save the country’s trees.

At the beginning of the year, a new law allowed property owners to cut trees on their land without official permission. As a result, hundreds of trees disappeared from the centres of Polish cities as more valuable treeless plots were sold off to developers. In parallel, the government authorised extensive logging of the ancient forest in Bialowieza, a Unesco world heritage site.

“People reacted very emotionally to these practices,” says Wojciech Sanko, a co-ordinator at Code for Poland, a programme run by ePanstwo (eState), the country’s biggest non-governmental organisation in this field.

The group aims to deploy new technology tools designed to explain local and national policies, and to make it easier for citizens to take part in public life. As no one controlled the tree-cutting, for example, Mr Sanko thought technology could at least help to monitor it. First, he wanted to set up a simple digital map of trees cut in Warsaw. But as the controversial liberalisation of tree-cutting was reversed, the NGO together with local activists decided to work on another project — to map trees still standing, along with data about species and their absorption of carbon dioxide associated with climate change.

The group has also started to create an app for activists in Bialowieza forest: an open-source map that will gather all documentation from civic patrols monitoring the site, and will indicate the exact places of logging.

A trend towards recruiting technology for civic projects has been slowly gathering pace in a country that is hard to describe as socially-engaged: only 59 per cent of Poles say they have done volunteer work for the community, according to a 2016 survey by the Centre of Public Opinion Research.

Election turnout barely surpasses 50 per cent. Yet since the election of the rightwing Law and Justice government in 2015, which has introduced rapid and controversial reforms across all domains of public life, citizens have started to take a closer look at politicians and their actions.

In addition to the tree map, Code for Poland has developed a website that aggregates public data, such as tax spending or air pollution.

Mr Sanko underlines, however, that Code for Poland is much more about local communities than national politics. Many of the group’s projects are small scale, ranging from a mobile app for an animal shelter in Gdansk and a tool that shows people where they can take their garbage.

Piotr Micula, board member of Miasto Jest Nasze (The City is Ours), an urban movement in Warsaw, says that increasing access to data is fuelling the development of civic tech. “Even as a small organisation, we try to use big data and visualise it,” he says….(More)”.

The role of eGovernment in deepening the single market

Briefing by the European Parliamentary Research Service: “This briefing recognises the role of cross-border and cross-sector use of electronic identification (eID) and trust services in advancing the digitisation of public services in Europe as well as the potential impact of the implementation of the ‘once-only’ principle in public administrations. The eGovernment Action Plan 2016-2020 includes several concrete actions to help boost the Digital Single Market, underpinned by the ‘digital-by-default, ‘once-only’ and ‘cross-border by default’ principles. The publication comes at a relevant time, when Member States are preparing for a ministerial meeting and to sign a Ministerial Declaration (on eGovernment) early next month….The role of eGovernment in deepening the single market briefing is available and accesible through the link….(More)”.

Civic Tech in the Global South

New book edited by Tiago Peixoto: “Civic Tech in the Global South is comprised of one study and three field evaluations of civic tech initiatives in developing countries. The study reviews evidence on the use of 23 digital platforms designed to amplify citizen voices to improve service delivery, highlighting citizen uptake and the degree of responsiveness by public service providers. The initiatives are an SMS-based polling platform run by UNICEF in Uganda, a complaints-management system run by the water sector in Kenya, and an internet-based participatory budgeting program in Brazil. Based on these experiences, the authors examine: i) the extent to which technologies have promoted inclusiveness, ii) the effect of these initiatives on public service delivery, and iii) the extent to which these effects can be attributed to technology….(More)”.

Rise of the Government Chatbot

Zack Quaintance at Government Technology: “A robot uprising has begun, except instead of overthrowing mankind so as to usher in a bleak yet efficient age of cold judgment and colder steel, this uprising is one of friendly robots (so far).

Which is all an alarming way to say that many state, county and municipal governments across the country have begun to deploy relatively simple chatbots, aimed at helping users get more out of online public services such as a city’s website, pothole reporting and open data. These chatbots have been installed in recent months in a diverse range of places including Kansas City, Mo.; North Charleston, S.C.; and Los Angeles — and by many indications, there is an accompanying wave of civic tech companies that are offering this tech to the public sector.

They range from simple to complex in scope, and most of the jurisdictions currently using them say they are doing so on somewhat of a trial or experimental basis. That’s certainly the case in Kansas City, where the city now has a Facebook chatbot to help users get more out of its open data portal.

“The idea was never to create a final chatbot that was super intelligent and amazing,” said Eric Roche, Kansas City’s chief data officer. “The idea was let’s put together a good effort, and put it out there and see if people find it interesting. If they use it, get some lessons learned and then figure out — either in our city, or with developers, or with people like me in other cities, other chief data officers and such — and talk about the future of this platform.”

Roche developed Kansas City’s chatbot earlier this year by working after hours with Code for Kansas City, the local Code for America brigade — and he did so because since in the four-plus years the city’s open data program has been active, there have been regular concerns that the info available through it was hard to navigate, search and use for average citizens who aren’t data scientists and don’t work for the city (a common issue currently being addressed by many jurisdictions). The idea behind the Facebook chatbot is that Roche can program it with a host of answers to the most prevalent questions, enabling it to both help interested users and save him time for other work….

In North Charleston, S.C., the city has adopted a text-based chatbot, which goes above common 311-style interfaces by allowing users to report potholes or any other lapses in city services they may notice. It also allows them to ask questions, which it subsequently answers by crawling city websites and replying with relevant links, said Ryan Johnson, the city’s public relations coordinator.

North Charleston has done this by partnering with a local tech startup that has deep roots in the area’s local government. The company is called Citibot …

With Citibot, residents can report a pothole at 2 a.m., or they can get info about street signs or trash pickup sent right to their phones.

There are also more complex chatbot technologies taking hold at both the civic and state levels, in Los Angeles and Mississippi, to be exact.

Mississippi’s chatbot is called Missi, and its capabilities are vast and nuanced. Residents can even use it for help submitting online payments. It’s accessible by clicking a small chat icon on the side of the website.

Back in May, Los Angeles rolled out Chip, or City Hall Internet Personality, on the Los Angeles Business Assistance Virtual Network. The chatbot aims to assist visitors by operating as a 24/7 digital assistant for visitors to the site, helping them navigate it and better understand its services by answering their inquiries. It is capable of presenting info from anywhere on the site, and it can even go so far as helping users fill out forms or set up email alerts….(More)”

Let the People Know the Facts: Can Government Information Removed from the Internet Be Reclaimed?

Paper by Susan Nevelow Mart: “…examines the legal bases of the public’s right to access government information, reviews the types of information that have recently been removed from the Internet, and analyzes the rationales given for the removals. She suggests that the concerted use of the Freedom of Information Act by public interest groups and their constituents is a possible method of returning the information to the Internet….(More)”.

Civic Tech for Urban Collaborative Governance

Hollie Russon-Gilman in PS: Political Science & Politics: “This article aims to contribute to a burgeoning field of ‘civic technology’ to identify precise pathways through which multi-stakeholder partnerships can foster, embed, and encourage more collaborative governance, outlining a research agenda to guide next steps. Instead of looking at technology as a civic panacea or, at the other extreme, as an irrelevant force, this article takes seriously both the democratic potential and the political constraints of the use of technology for more collaborative governance. The article begins by delineating contours of a civic definition of technology focused on generating public good, provides case study examples of civic tech deployed in America’s cities, raises research questions to inform future multi-stakeholder partnerships, and concludes with implications for the public sector workforce and ecosystem.”…(More)”.

Using Collaboration to Harness Big Data for Social Good

Jake Porway at SSIR: “These days, it’s hard to get away from the hype around “big data.” We read articles about how Silicon Valley is using data to drive everything from website traffic to autonomous cars. We hear speakers at social sector conferences talk about how nonprofits can maximize their impact by leveraging new sources of digital information like social media data, open data, and satellite imagery.

Braving this world can be challenging, we know. Creating a data-driven organization can require big changes in culture and process. Some nonprofits, like Crisis Text Line and Watsi, started off boldly by building their own data science teams. But for the many other organizations wondering how to best use data to advance their mission, we’ve found that one ingredient works better than all the software and tech that you can throw at a problem: collaboration.

As a nonprofit dedicated to applying data science for social good, DataKind has run more than 200 projects in collaboration with other nonprofits worldwide by connecting them to teams of volunteer data scientists. What do the most successful ones have in common? Strong collaborations on three levels: with data science experts, within the organization itself, and across the nonprofit sector as a whole.

1. Collaborate with data science experts to define your project. As we often say, finding problems can be harder than finding solutions. ….

2. Collaborate across your organization to “build with, not for.” Our projects follow the principles of human-centered design and the philosophy pioneered in the civic tech world of “design with, not for.” ….

3. Collaborate across your sector to move the needle. Many organizations think about building data science solutions for unique challenges they face, such as predicting the best location for their next field office. However, most of us are fighting common causes shared by many other groups….

By focusing on building strong collaborations on these three levels—with data experts, across your organization, and across your sector—you’ll go from merely talking about big data to making big impact….(More).