A weekly curation of new findings and developments on innovation in governance.

Table of Contents

Big Data. Big Obstacles.

May 21, 2015 10:12 pm

Dalton Conley et al. in the Chronicle of Higher Education: “After decades of fretting over declining response rates to traditional surveys (the mainstay of 20th-century social research), an exciting new era would appear to be dawning thanks to the rise of big data. Social contagion can be studied by scraping Twitter feeds; peer effects are tested on Facebook; long-term trends in inequality and mobility can be assessed by linking tax records across years and generations; social-psychology experiments can be run on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service; and cultural change can be mapped by studying the rise and fall of specific Google search terms. In many ways there has been no better time to be a scholar in sociology, political science, economics, or related fields.

However, what should be an opportunity for social science is now threatened by a three-headed monster of privatization, amateurization, and Balkanization. A coordinated public effort is needed to overcome all of these obstacles.

While the availability of social-media data may obviate the problem of declining response rates, it introduces all sorts of problems with the level of access that researchers enjoy. Although some data can be culled from the web—Twitter feeds and Google searches—other data sit behind proprietary firewalls. And as individual users tune up their privacy settings, the typical university or independent researcher is increasingly locked out. Unlike federally funded studies, there is no mandate for Yahoo or Alibaba to make its data publicly available. The result, we fear, is a two-tiered system of research. Scientists working for or with big Internet companies will feast on humongous data sets—and even conduct experiments—and scholars who do not work in Silicon Valley (or Alley) will be left with proverbial scraps….

To address this triple threat of privatization, amateurization, and Balkanization, public social science needs to be bolstered for the 21st century. In the current political and economic climate, social scientists are not waiting for huge government investment like we saw during the Cold War. Instead, researchers have started to knit together disparate data sources by scraping, harmonizing, and geo­coding any and all information they can get their hands on.

Currently, many firms employ some well-trained social and behavioral scientists free to pursue their own research; likewise, some companies have programs by which scholars can apply to be in residence or work with their data extramurally. However, as Facebook states, its program is “by invitation only and requires an internal Facebook champion.” And while Google provides services like Ngram to the public, such limited efforts at data sharing are not enough for truly transparent and replicable science….(More)”


Full Post: Big Data. Big Obstacles.

WFP And OCHA Join Forces To Make Data More Accessible

May 21, 2015 09:02 pm

World Food Programme Press Release: “The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have teamed up to provide access to global data on hunger and food insecurity. The data can be used to understand the type of food available in certain markets, how families cope in the face of food insecurity and how WFP provides food assistance in emergencies to those in need.

The data is being made available through OCHA’s Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX), an open platform for sharing crisis data. The collaboration between WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian organization fighting hunger worldwide, and OCHA began at the height of the Ebola crisis when WFP shared its data on food market prices in affected countries in West Africa.

With funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WFP has since been able to make large amounts of its data available dynamically, making it easier to integrate with other systems, including HDX.

From there, HDX built an interactive visualization for Food Prices data that allows a range of users, from the general public to a data scientist, to explore the data in insightful ways. The same visualization is also available on the WFP VAM Shop….(More)

Full Post: WFP And OCHA Join Forces To Make Data More Accessible

World of Labs

May 21, 2015 04:47 pm

NESTA: “Governments across the world are creating innovation teams and labs to help them find new ways of tackling the complex challenges of the 21st century. If you want to get a sense of the scale of this global trend then check out this searchable global map of innovation labs worldwide.

There are about 80 in total represented here – colour-coded for the level of government (blue for local, green for regional, red national and yellow international). In this map I’ve concentrated on labs inside government excluding the dozens of public and social innovation labs (#psilabs) like Nesta, MaRS Solutions Lab or The GovLab that work alongside the public sector though they themselves are outside it. I’ve probably left lots of government i-teams and labs out of this list – so please suggest more and I’ll add them in.

Public innovation labs can claim to be a global movement not just in sheer numbers of teams and labs worldwide but also because of the momentum behind the creation of new ones, at a current rate of least one a month. Though some of the most celebrated examples e.g. Denmark’s MindLab are well into their second decade about a third of the labs set out here have been born in the last two years.

The early wave of scenario-based creative “future centres” (like the Netherlands-based De Werf)  was soon followed by the kind of design-based lab that continues to dominate much of the thinking and practice in the field.  But lately this has been complemented by a new wave of teams using other tools (data and technology or behavioural economics) as well as the more hybrid approach often adopted by innovation delivery teams at a municipal level, particularly in the US. At a global level the shift to a lab-based approach in development policy has been particularly marked….(More)”

Full Post: World of Labs

You Can’t Handle the (Algorithmic) Truth

May 21, 2015 04:42 pm

 at Slate: “Critics of “algorithms” are everywhere. Algorithms tell you how to vote.Algorithms can revoke your driver’s license and terminate your disability benefits. Algorithms predict crimes. Algorithms ensured you didn’t hear about #FreddieGray on Twitter. Algorithms are everywhere, and, to hear critics, they are trouble. What’s the problem? Critics allege that algorithms are opaque, automatic, emotionless, and impersonal, and that they separate decision-makers from the consequences of their actions. Algorithms cannot appreciate the context of structural discrimination, are trained on flawed datasets, and are ruining lives everywhere. There needs to be algorithmic accountability. Otherwise, who is to blame when a computational process suddenly deprives someone of his or her rights and livelihood?

But at heart, criticism of algorithmic decision-making makes an age-old argument about impersonal, automatic corporate and government bureaucracy. The machinelike bureaucracy has simply become the machine. Instead of a quest for accountability, much of the rhetoric and discourse about algorithms amounts to a surrender—an unwillingness to fight the ideas and bureaucratic logic driving the algorithms that critics find so creepy and problematic. Algorithmic transparency and accountability can only be achieved if critics understand that transparency (no modifier is needed) is the issue. If the problem is that a bureaucratic system is impersonal, unaccountable, creepy, and has a flawed or biased decision criteria, then why fetishize and render mysterious the mere mechanical instrument of the system’s will?…(More)”

Full Post: You Can’t Handle the (Algorithmic) Truth

Shifting from research governance to research ethics: A novel paradigm for ethical review in community-based research

May 21, 2015 10:58 am

Paper by Jay Marlowe and Martin Tolich: “This study examines a significant gap in the role of providing ethical guidance and support for community-based research. University and health-based ethical review committees in New Zealand predominantly serve as ‘gatekeepers’ that consider the ethical implications of a research design in order to protect participants and the institution from harm. However, in New Zealand, community-based researchers routinely do not have access to this level of support or review. A relatively new group, the New Zealand Ethics Committee (NZEC), formed in 2012, responds to the uneven landscape of access for community-based research. By offering ethical approval inclusive of the review of a project’s study design outside institutional settings, NZEC has endeavoured to move beyond a gatekeeping research governance function to that of bridge-building. This change of focus presents rich possibilities but also a number of limitations for providing ethical review outside conventional institutional contexts. This paper reports on the NZEC’s experience of working with community researchers to ascertain the possibilities and tensions of shifting ethics review processes from research governance to a focus on research ethics in community-based participatory research….(More)”

Full Post: Shifting from research governance to research ethics: A novel paradigm for ethical review in community-based research

Confronting the hype. The use of crisis mapping for community development

May 21, 2015 10:56 am

Paper by Ana Brandusescu and Renée E Sieber: “Crisis mapping has emerged as a method of connecting and empowering citizens during emergencies. This article explores the hyperbole behind crisis mapping as it extends into more long-term or ‘chronic’ community development practices. We critically examined developer issues and participant (i.e. community organization) usage within the context of local communities. We repurposed the predominant crisis mapping platform Crowdmap for three cases of community development in Canadian anglophone and francophone. Our case studies show mixed results about the actual cost of deployment, the results of disintermediation, and local context with the mapping application. Lastly, we discuss the relationship of hype, temporality, and community development as expressed in our cases…(More)”

Full Post: Confronting the hype. The use of crisis mapping for community development

Behavioural Approaches: How Nudges Lead to More Intelligent Policy Design

May 20, 2015 09:07 pm

Paper by Peter John, Forthcoming in Contemporary Approaches to Public Policy, edited by Philippe Zittoun and B. Guy Peters : “This paper reviews the use of behavioural ideas to improve public policy. There needs to be a behavioural take on decision-making itself so that policies are designed in more effective ways. it recounts the beginnings of behavioural sciences as currently conceived and then setting out the massive expansion of interest that has come about since that time. It reports on how such ideas have had a large impact on governments at all levels across the world, but also noting how decision-making itself has been influenced by more policy-relevant ideas. The paper discusses the paradox that the very decision-makers themselves are subject to the same biases as the objects of behavioural economics, which might imply limitations in the choices of such interventions. Here the text of the chapter reengages with the classics of decision-making theory. The chapter notes how behavioural sciences need not depend on a top down approach but can incorporate citizen voice. The paper reviews how citizens and other groups can use behavioural cues to alter the behaviour of policy-makers in socially beneficial ways. The paper discusses how behaviourally informed measures could be integrated within the policy making process in ways that advance the effective use of evidence and nudge decision to make better policies….(More)

Full Post: Behavioural Approaches: How Nudges Lead to More Intelligent Policy Design

Platforms connect talented Instagrammers with good causes

May 20, 2015 09:04 pm

Springwise: “….a number of charities using social media campaigns to spread awareness about their causes. Only last week we covered the #EndangeredEmoji campaign from WWF, which uses Twitter and emojis to highlight the plight of seventeen endangered species. Now, two startups — Gramforacause and Gramming For Good — are turning to the photocentric platform Instagram to connect photographers with non-profits, helping spread the word about their causes through social photography.

Each startup curates a service tailored to the needs of the nonprofit — whether that be providing photos to populate the feed, an Instagram takeover or simply spreading the word on a photographer’s own account. When matching a photographer, both companies consider preferred photography type — phone, DSLR or film — their expected rate of pay and where their passions lie….

Website: & “

Full Post: Platforms connect talented Instagrammers with good causes

Contest Aims to Harness Low-Cost Devices to Help the Poor

May 20, 2015 08:42 am

Steve Lohr in the New York Times: “The timing and technology are right to bring the power of digital sensing to the poor to improve health, safety and education.

That is the animating assumption behind a new project announced on Tuesday. The initiative is led by Unicef and ARM, the British chip designer whose microprocessors power most smartphones and tablets. They are being joined by Frog, the San Francisco-based product strategy and design firm, along with people described as coaches and advisers from companies and organizations including Google, Orange, Singularity University, the Red Cross and the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The long-term ambition is to jump-start an industrial ecosystem for sensing and data technology that serves the needs of mothers and children in developing nations.

The project, called Wearables for Good, is beginning with a contest to generate ideas. Applications can be submitted online on the project’s website until August 4. Two winners will be selected in the fall. Each will receive $15,000, and assistance and advice from ARM, Frog and others on translating their ideas into a product and perhaps a company.

The online application lists the required characteristics for device ideas. They should be, according to the form, “cost-effective, rugged and durable, low-power and scalable.” The form offers no price limits, but it is safe to assume the project is looking for devices priced far less than an Apple Watch or a Fitbit device.

…. the Wearables for Good project goes further, focusing less on aggregated data and more on personal monitoring. “This is the next level of what we’re doing,” said Erica Kochi, co-founder of Unicef Innovation, which pursues technology initiatives that advance the agency’s goals….(More)”

Full Post: Contest Aims to Harness Low-Cost Devices to Help the Poor

Legislation Lab

May 19, 2015 09:35 pm

Legislation Lab is a platform for encouraging public awareness and discussion of upcoming legislation. We offer citizens easy access to legislation and provide a participatory model to collect their feedback,

  • Citizen can read through the different sections of the legislation, compare it to related international experiences.
  • Participants voice their opinions through voting, commenting and proposing changes.
  • Real-time, automated data analysis provides visibility into the opinions and demographics of participants.
  • Legislation Lab works on a transparent participation model, proving authenticity through transparency. All contributions are clearly identified with their source and aggregate demographics are provided clearly and openly.

All law documents in Legislation Lab are under the stewardship of a law facilitator. Law facilitators come from a variety of backgrounds including government, organizations, or even the general public. GovRight works with law facilitators to help them import legislation and to promote a meaningful discussion with citizens….

Legislation Lab is the product of years of experience by GovRight in the implementation of meaningful public discourse and participation in government.

Case Study:

In early 2011 citizens of Morocco took to the streets to denounce social injustice, unemployment, and corruption and to call for a genuine constitutional monarchy. In March, King Mohammed VI announced the launch of constitutional reforms, but for the average citizen of Morocco there was little opportunity to voice their opinion on the content or direction of these reforms.

To address this, Tarik Nesh-Nash (GovRight co-founder & CEO) launched with a partner, a participatory platform to collect the opinions of average Moroccan citizens on changes to the constitution. Within two months was visited by more than 200,000 visitors and received more than 10,000 comments and proposals. Contributors were a broad demographic of Moroccan citizens ranging from all regions of the country…(More)”

Full Post: Legislation Lab

Launching the Police Data Initiative

May 19, 2015 08:33 am

Megan Smith and Roy L. Austin, the White House: “Last December, President Obama launched the Task Force on 21st Century Policing to better understand specific policing challenges and help communities identify actions they can take to improve law enforcement and enhance community engagement. Since that time, we have seen law enforcement agencies around the country working harder than ever to make the promise of community policing real.

Many of the Task Force’s recommendations emphasize the opportunity for departments to better use data and technology to build community trust. As a response, the White House has launched the Police Data Initiative, which has mobilized 21 leading jurisdictions across the country to take fast action on concrete deliverables responding to these Task Force recommendations in the area of data and technology. Camden is one such jurisdiction.

By finding innovative work already underway in these diverse communities and bringing their leaders together with top technologists, researchers, data scientists and design experts, the Police Data Initiative is helping accelerate progress around data transparency and analysis, toward the goal of increased trust and impact. Through the Initiative, key stakeholders are establishing a community of practice that will allow for knowledge sharing, community-sourced problem solving, and the establishment of documented best practices that can serve as examples for police departments nationwide….

Commitment highlights include:

1. Use open data to build transparency and increase community trust.

  • All 21 police departments have committed to release a combined total of 101 data sets that have not been released to the public. The types of data include uses of force, police pedestrian and vehicle stops, officer involved shootings and more, helping the communities gain visibility into key information on police/citizen encounters.
    • Code for America and others are helping on this. For information on how Police Departments can jumpstart their open police data efforts, click here.
  • To make police open data easy to find and use, the Police Foundation and ESRI are building a public safety open data portal to serve, in part, as a central clearinghouse option for police open data, making it easily accessible to law enforcement agencies, community groups and researchers.
  • Code for America and CI Technologies will work together to build an open source software tool to make it easier for the 500+ U.S. law enforcement agencies using IA Pro police integrity software to extract and open up data.
  • To make it easier for agencies to share data with the public about policing, Socrata will provide technical assistance to cities and agencies who are working toward increased transparency.
  • To help this newly released data come alive for communities through mapping, visualizations and other tools, city leaders, non-profit organizations, and private sector partners will host open data hackathons in cities around the country. In New Orleans, Operation Spark, a non-profit organization that teaches at-risk New Orleans youth software development skills, will work with data opened by the New Orleans Police Department at a weeklong code academy.
  • Presidential Innovation Fellows working with the U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Chief Data Scientist will work collaboratively with key stakeholders, such as Code for America and the Sunlight Foundation, to develop and release an Open Data Playbook for police departments that they can use as a reference for open data best practices and case studies.
  • The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is working with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to use open data to provide a full picture of key policing activities, including stops, searches and use-of-force trends, information and demographics on neighborhoods patrolled, and more. This partnership will build on a website and tools already developed by the Southern Coalition for Justice which provide visualization and search functions to make this data easily accessible and understandable.
  • The International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Police Foundation, and Code for America have committed to helping grow a community of practice for law enforcement agencies and technologists around open data and transparency in police community interactions.

2. Internal accountability and effective data analysis.

  • While many police departments have systems in place, often called “early warning systems,” to identify officers who may be having challenges in their interactions with the public and link them with training and other assistance, there has been little to no research to determine which indicators are most closely linked to bad outcomes. To tackle this issue, twelve police departments committed to sharing data on police/citizen encounters with data scientists for in-depth data analysis, strengthening the ability of police to intervene early and effectively: Austin, TX; Camden, NJ; Charlotte, NC; Dallas, TX; Indianapolis, IN; Knoxville, TN; LA City; LA County; Louisville, KY; New Orleans, LA; Philadelphia, PA; and Richmond, CA….(More)

Full Post: Launching the Police Data Initiative

Ways to practice responsible development data

May 19, 2015 08:21 am

Responsible Data Forum Primer: “This book is offered as a first attempt to understand what responsible data means in the context of international development programming. We have taken a broad view of development, opting not to be prescriptive about who the perfect “target audience” for this effort is within the space. We also anticipate that some of the methods and lessons here may have resonance for related fields and practitioners.

We suggest a number of questions and issues to consider, but specific responsible data challenges will always be identified through individual project contexts. As such, this book is not authoritative, but is intended to support thoughtful and responsible thinking as the development community grapples with relatively new social and ethical challenges stemming from data use.

This book builds on a number of resources and strategies developed in academia, human rights and advocacy, but aims to focus on international development practitioners. As such, we touch upon issues specifically relevant to development practitioners and intermediaries working to improve the lives and livelihoods of people.

The group of contributors working on this book brings together decades of experience in the sector of international development; our first hand experiences of horrific misuse of data within the sector, combined with anecdotal stories of (mis)treatment and usage of data having catastrophic effects within some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, has highlighted for us the need for a book tackling issues of how we can all deal with data in a responsible and respectful way….(More)”

Full Post: Ways to practice responsible development data

Technology and the Resilience of Metropolitan Regions

May 19, 2015 08:02 am

Book edited by Michael A. Pagano: “Can today’s city govern well if its citizens lack modern technology? How important is access to computers for lowering unemployment? What infrastructure does a city have to build in order to attract new business? Michael A. Pagano curates engagement with such questions by public intellectuals, academics, policy analysts, and citizens. Each essay explores the impact and opportunities technology provides in government and citizenship, health care, workforce development, service delivery to citizens, and metropolitan growth. As the authors show, rapidly emerging technologies and access to such technologies shape the ways people and institutions interact in the public sphere and private marketplace. The direction of metropolitan growth and development, in turn, depends on access to appropriate technology scaled and informed by the individual, household, and community needs of the region.

An in-depth and perceptive collection, Technology and the Resilience of Metropolitan Regions confronts the increasing challenges faced by metropolitan regions not only in governing, but in ensuring a sustainable and acceptable quality of life for their citizens.

Contributors are Randy Blankenhorn, Bénédicte Callan, Jane E. Fountain, Chen-Yu Kao, Sandee Kastrul, Karen Mossberger, Daniel X. O’Neil, Michelle Stohlmeyer Russell, Kuang-Ting Tai, Alfred Tatum, Stephanie Truchan, Darrell M. West, and Howard Wial….(More)”

Full Post: Technology and the Resilience of Metropolitan Regions

From Paint to Pixels

May 18, 2015 10:39 am

Jacoba Urist at the Atlantic: “A growing number of artists are using data from self-tracking apps in their pieces, showing that creative work is as much a product of its technology as of its time….A growing community of “data artists” is creating conceptual works using information collected by mobile apps, GPS trackers, scientists, and more.

Data artists generally fall into two groups: those who work with large bodies of scientific data and those who are influenced by self-tracking. The Boston-based artist Nathalie Miebach falls into the former category: She transforms weather patterns into complex sculptures and musical scores. Similarly, David McCandless, who believes the world suffers from a “data glut,” turns military spending budgets into simple, striking diagrams. On one level, the genre aims to translate large amounts of information into some kind of aesthetic form. But a number of artists, scholars, and curators also believe that working with this data isn’t just a matter of reducing human beings to numbers, but also of achieving greater awareness of complex matters in a modern world….

Current tools make self-tracking more efficient than ever, but data artists are hardly the first to express themselves through their daily activities—or to try to find meaning within life’s monotony. The Italian Mannerist painter Jacopo Pontormo kept records of his daily life from January 1554 to October 1556. In it, he detailed the amount of food he ate, the weather, symptoms of illness, friends he visited, even his bowel movements. In the 1970s, the Japanese conceptualistOn Kawara produced his self-observation series, I Got Up, I Went, and I Met(recently shown at the Guggenheim), in which he painstakingly records the rhythms of his day. Kawara stamped postcards with the time he awoke, traced his daily trips onto photocopied maps, and listed the names of people he encountered for nearly 12 years….(More)

Full Post: From Paint to Pixels

Designing digital democracy: a short guide

May 18, 2015 08:13 am

Geoff Mulgan at NESTA: “I’ve written quite a few blogs and pieces on digital technology and democracy – most recently on the relevance of new-style political parties.

Here I look at the practical question of how parliaments, assemblies and governments should choose the right methods for greater public engagement in decisions.

One prompt is the Nesta-led D-CENT project which is testing out new tools in several countries, and there’s an extraordinary range of engagement experiments underway around the world, from Brazil’s parliament to the Mayor of Paris. Tools like Loomio for smallish groups, and Your Priorities and DemocracyOS for larger ones, are well ahead of their equivalents a few years ago.

A crucial question is whether the same tools work well for different types of issue or context. The short answer is ‘no’. Here I suggest some simple formulae to ensure that the right tools are used for the right issues; I show why hybrid forms of online and offline are the future for parliaments and parties; and why the new tools emphasise conversation rather than only votes.

Clarity on purpose

First, it’s important to be clear what wider engagement is for. Engagement is rarely a good in itself. More passionate engagement in issues can be a powerful force for progress. But it can be the opposite, entrenching conflicts and generating heat rather than light….

Clarity on who you want to reach

Second, who do you want to reach? Even in the most developed nations and cities there are still very practical barriers of reach – despite the huge spread of broadband, mobiles and smart phones…..

Clarity on what tools for what issues – navigating ‘Belief and Knowledge Space’

Third, even if there were strong habits of digital engagement for the whole population it would not follow that all issues should be opened up for the maximum direct participation. A useful approach is to distinguish issues according to two dimensions.

The first dimension differentiates issues where the public has expertise and experience from ones where the knowledge needed to make decisions is very specialised. There are many issues on which crowds simply don’t have much information let alone wisdom, and any political leader who opened up decision making too far would quickly lose the confidence of the public.

The second dimension differentiates issues which are practical and pragmatic from ones where there are strongly held and polarised opinions, mainly determined by underlying moral beliefs rather than argument and evidence. Putting these together gives us a two dimensional space on which to map any public policy issue, which could be described as the ‘Belief and Knowledge Space’…..

Diagram: Belief and Knowledge spaces


Clarity on requisite scale

Fourth, engagement looks and feels very different at different scales. …

Clarity on identity and anonymity

…. So any designer of democratic engagement tools has to decide what levels of anonymity should apply at each stage. We might choose to allow anonymity at early stages of consultations, but require people to show and validate identities at later stages (eg. to confirm they actually live in the neighbourhood or city involved), certainly as any issue comes closer to decisions. The diagram below summarises these different steps, and the block chain tools being used in the D-CENT pilots bring these issues to the fore.

The 2010s are turning out to be a golden age of democratic innovation. That’s bringing creativity and excitement but also challenges, in particular around how to relate the new forms to the old ones, online communities to offline ones, the democracy of voice and numbers and the democracy of formal representation….(More)

Full Post: Designing digital democracy: a short guide

How to Get People to Pitch In

May 17, 2015 09:14 pm

Erez Yoeli, Syon Bhanot, Gordon Kraft-Todd And David Rand in The New York Times: “…The “Pigouvian” approach to encouraging cooperation, named after the economist who first suggested it nearly a century ago, is to change the price — i.e., the personal cost of cooperating: Make water more expensive, tax carbon or pay people to vaccinate their kids.

But Californians are stubbornly unresponsive to higher water prices. Estimates suggest that a 10 percent increase in price would result in reductions in water use of 2 to 4 percent. That’s not nothing, but it implies that huge, politically infeasible price increases would be needed to address the state’s needs.

This problem isn’t unique to Californians and their effort to save water. In a recent review of field experiments that promote cooperation in the journal Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, we found that changing the material costs and benefits of cooperation often doesn’t work. Researchers have tried various forms of payments — paying cash, handing out T-shirts — and they’ve tried providing information on how to cooperate, with only limited success.

What does consistently work may be surprising: interventions based not on money, but on leveraging social concerns.

There are two ways to do this, both building on people’s desire for others to think highly of them. One is to make people’s cooperative (or selfish) choices more observable to others, like neighbors or co-workers. The second works in the opposite direction, providing people with information about how others around them are behaving (this is called a “descriptive social norm”).

To see how this might work, consider the California drought. The state could set up a website where homeowners pledge publicly to reduce their water consumption by 15 percent. Those who do would get a lawn sign that would say something like, “My lawn is yellow because I took a pledge to help California. Join me at”

And what about norms? Innovative companies and public utilities are already on the case. A San Francisco-based firm, WaterSmart Software, sends mailers that allow homeowners to compare their water use to their neighbors’. Estimates suggest that these mailers reduce water use by 2 to 5 percent — the same as a 10 percent price increase.

Why do social interventions work? Research on the evolution of cooperation provides an answer. Beyond helping our families — the people to whom we’re genetically related — making others better off is not our main motivation to give. Instead, we cooperate because it makes us look good. This can be going on consciously or, more often, subconsciously (a gut feeling of guilt when your neighbor sees you turning on your sprinkler).

When your choices are observable by others, it makes it possible for good actions to benefit your reputation. Similarly, norms make you feel you’re expected to cooperate in a given situation, and that people may think poorly of you if they learn you are not doing your part….(More)”

Full Post: How to Get People to Pitch In

Chicago uses new technology to solve this very old urban problem

May 17, 2015 12:12 pm

 at Fortune: “Chicago has spent 12 years collecting data on resident complaints. Now the city is harnessing that data to control the rat population, stopping infestations before residents spot rats in the first place.

For the past three years, Chicago police have been analyzing 911 calls to better predict crime patterns across the city and, in one case, actually forecasted a shootout minutes before it occurred.

Now, the city government is turning its big data weapons on the city’s rat population.

The city has 12 years of data on the resident complaints, ranging from calls about rodent sitting to graffiti. Those clusters of data lead the engineers to where the rats can potentially breed. The report is shared with the city’s sanitation team, which later cleans up the rat-infested areas.

“We discovered really interesting relationship that led to developing an algorithm about rodent prediction,” says Brenna Berman, Chicago’s chief information officer. “It involved 31 variables related to calls about overflowing trash bins and food poisoning in restaurants.”

The results, Berman says, are 20% more efficient versus the old responsive model.

Governing cities in the 21st century is a difficult task. It needs a political and economic support. In America, it was only in the early 1990s—when young adults started moving from the suburbs back to the cities—that the academic and policy consensus shifted back toward urban centers. Since then, cities are facing an influx of new residents, overwhelming the service providing agencies. To meet that demand amid the recent budget sequestration, cities like New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Chicago are constantly elevating the art of governance through innovative policies.

Due to this new model, in Chicago, you might not even spot a rat. The city’s Department of Innovation and Technology analyzes big chunks of data to an extent where the likelihood of a rodent infestation is thwarted seven days ahead of resident rat-sightings…(More)”

Full Post: Chicago uses new technology to solve this very old urban problem

Handbook Of Digital Politics

May 16, 2015 02:29 pm

Book edited by Stephen Coleman and Deen Freelon: “It would be difficult to imagine how a development as world-changing as the emergence of the Internet could have taken place without having some impact upon the ways in which politics is expressed, conducted, depicted and reflected upon. The Handbook of Digital Politics explores this impact in a series of chapters written by some of the world’s leading Internet researchers. This volume is a must-read for students, researchers and practitioners interested in the changing landscape of political communication….Politics is continually changing in the digital era, largely based on a range of new and comprehensive empirical findings. This cutting-edge Handbook includes the very latest research on the relationship between digital information, communication technologies and politics.

Written by leading scholars in the field the chapters explore, in seven parts, theorizing digital politics, government and policy, collective action and civic engagement, political talk, journalism, internet governance and expanding the frontiers of digital politics research. Their key focus throughout is with the political nature behind the ways in which society implements digital technologies, and each of the chapters help the reader to discover this. …(More)

Full Post: Handbook Of Digital Politics

Development Tracker

May 16, 2015 09:00 am

City of Victoria: “Welcome to the new Development Tracker, a tool to help keep you informed on developments happening in your neighbourhood and community.

To get started, click the icon below. You will be directed to a start menu, where you can choose to sort by neighbourhood, or view all current rezoning applications. All applications will have a list of completed and upcoming milestones, as well as plans and other documents to give you more information on what each project is all about….(More)”

Full Post: Development Tracker

The Future of Citizen Engagement: five trends transforming government

May 16, 2015 08:10 am

Catherine Andrews at GovLoop: “Every year, citizen engagement seems to improve. New technologies are born; new innovations connect citizens with the government; new ideas start to take root.

It’s 2015, and citizen engagement has gone far beyond basic social media and town halls. As we make our way through the 21st century, citizen engagement is continuing to evolve. New platforms and concepts such as geographic information systems (GIS), GitHub, open data, human-centered design and novel uses of social media have challenged the traditional notions of citizen engagement and pushed government into uncharted territories. As citizens become more tech-savvy, this growth is only continuing.

This GovLoop guide will dive into five of the latest and newest trends in citizen engagement. From the customer experience to the Internet of Things, we’ll highlight the most innovative ways federal, state and local governments are connecting with citizens….(More)”

Full Post: The Future of Citizen Engagement: five trends transforming government

The Governance Lab

Polytechnic School of Engineering
New York University
2 MetroTech Center
Floor 9
Brooklyn, NY 11201

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