Five Hacks for Digital Democracy – Beth Simone Noveck in Nature

This week, Network chair Beth Simone Noveck shared a new piece in Nature offering Five Hacks for Digital Democracy. The piece argues that, "We need to change the processes by which we make policy and deliver services for the public good. Empirical yet agile research in the wild is the route to knowing how."

Before diving into her five hacks to improve digital democracy – 1) data-driven decisionmaking; 2) open government data; 3) responsible data use; 4) citizen engagement; and 5) incentives – Noveck calls for more applied research on governance innovation, with a particular focus on the work of the Research Network on Opening Governance: 

"To get beyond conventional democratic models of representation or referendum, and, above all, to improve learning in the civil service, we must build on these pockets of promise and evolve. That requires knowledge of what works and when. But there is a dearth of research on the impact of technology on public institutions. One reason is a lack of suitable research methods. Many academics prefer virtual labs with simulated conditions that are far from realistic. Field experiments have long been used to evaluate the choice between two policies. But much less attention is paid to how public organizations might operate differently with new technologies.

The perfect must not be the enemy of the good. Even when it is impractical to create a control group and run parallel interventions in the same institution, comparisons can yield insights. For instance, one could compare the effect of using citizen commenting on legislative proposals in the Brazilian parliament with similar practices in the Finnish parliament.

Of course, some leaders have little interest in advancing more than their own power. But many more politicians and public servants are keen to use research-based evidence to guide how they use technology to govern in the public interest.

The MacArthur Foundation in Chicago, Illinois, has started funding a research network — a dozen academics and public servants — to study the possibilities of using new technology to govern more transparently and in partnership with citizens (see More collaboration among universities and across disciplines is needed. New research platforms — such as the Open Governance Research Exchange, developed by the Governance Lab, the UK-based non-profit mySociety and the World Bank — can offer pathways for sharing research findings and co-creating methodologies."

Read more here.


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New Opening Governance Stream on the Washington Post Monkey Cage Blog

This week, Henry Farrell, Network member and associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, launched a new stream on The Washington Post Monkey Cage blog focusing on questions of 21st Century democracy and the world of Opening Governance studied by the Research Network.

The first post in the Opening Governance stream at the Monkey Cage – 
"Hungary’s government wants to shut down its most prominent university. That may be backfiring" – examines the drivers and effects of a shift toward illiberal democracy within the European Union: 

"When Hungary’s government passed a law last week which was effectively intended to shut down Budapest’s Central European University, it surely anticipated that there would be a backlash. It probably did not anticipate mass demonstrations, or senior European politicians threatening to suspend Hungary’s membership of the European Union. Here is how Hungary’s government has gotten into this mess.

Over the past several years, Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has made it clear that he doesn’t believe in liberal democracy — the kind of democracy that characterizes consolidated democratic states, such as the United States and the countries of Western Europe. In a notorious speech in 2014, Orban proclaimed that liberal democracies were not globally competitive anymore. Instead, Orban said that he looked to states such as Russia, Turkey and China as examples of success, and argued that it should be possible to build an ‘illiberal democracy’ within the European Union. Instead of the liberal belief that disagreement is part and parcel of democratic politics, illiberal democracy looks to strong nationalism and a purportedly united population as the basis for democracy."

[Read more]

The second entry – "Most forensic science isn’t real science. Try telling that to the criminal justice system" – features an interview with University of Pittsburgh Law professor David A. Harris:

"Earlier this week, the Justice Department announced that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was ending the National Commission on Forensic Science and suspending a review of controversial evidence techniques, opting instead for a new in-house strategy. While Sessions praised the commission’s work, his decision has been widely interpreted as a rebuff to Obama-era efforts to bring higher scientific standards to the forensic techniques that are used in the criminal justice system. David A. Harris, the John E. Murray Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh’s law faculty, has written “Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science” on the debates over forensics and scientific method. I conducted a short email interview with him on controversies over applying scientific knowledge to forensics and what abolishing the commission means."

[Read more]

Going forward, findings from the Network, analyses of current events from an Opening Governance perspective, and interviews with leading scholars working across disciplines relevant to innovation in governance will appear on the Monkey Cage blog. 

Sign up for the Monkey Cage newsletter here

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Upgrading democracy: What's possible and what can guide governments

Cross-posted from Nesta blog

Today we're publishing an overview of digital innovations in democracy – to make sense of what’s possible, what’s working and what can guide governments, parliaments, parties and local governments.    

This is a topic I’ve been fascinated by for years – over 20 years ago I wrote and edited a collection on how ‘lean democracy’ could use digital tools; I’ve been involved in many experiments; I was first chair of the organisation Involve; and most recently through Nesta’s DCENT project have been involved in building a range of practical tools for democracy that have been widely used.  

I’d like to be able to claim that all of the important questions are now answered. But the truth is that we are still in an early experimental stage of what’s likely to be quite a slow transition.

Indeed, seen in the long view it’s amazing how little has changed.

Democratic institutions today look much as they have done for decades, if not centuries

The Houses of Parliament, the US Congress, and some of the West’s oldest parliaments have been largely untouched by successive waves of new technology. We still live in a world where debates require speakers to be physically present, there is little use of digital information and data sharing during parliamentary sessions, and where UK MPs vote by walking through corridors.

The UK Parliament building in particular is conspicuous for the absence of screens, good internet connectivity and the other IT infrastructure which would enable a 21st century working environment comparable to the offices of almost any modern business.

Almost every other sphere of life - finance, tourism, shopping, work and our social relationships - has been dramatically transformed by the rise of new information and communication tools, particularly social media, or by the opportunities opened through increased access to and use of data, or novel approaches to solving problems, such as via crowdsourcing or the rise of the sharing economy.  

Digital plays a big role in campaigning; but much less in the everyday business of democracy

The lack of change wouldn’t matter if democracy was clearly working well. But many argue that this gap between the way in which citizens go about their daily lives and the way in which politics and democracy are carried out has contributed to declining trust and confidence in democratic institutions. Large minorities in the US and Europe no longer see democracy as a good system of government, particularly young people.

So are digital technologies the answer, the way to get greater participation, better decisions, and more trust? Yes, and no.  

Over the last two decades, there have been thousands of experiments. In some areas, such as campaigning or monitoring the actions of MPs, there is a rich field of innovation, with myriad apps, platforms and websites gaining significant numbers of users. Petitions sites, for example, can be found across much of the world in one form or another.

Other experiments have focused on areas such as participatory budgeting, opening up the problem-solving process for a range of social issues, to a focus on how digital can enhance the more traditional activities of parliamentary and democratic work, such as voting or case management.

The reality has not lived up to early hopes and expectations. Although campaigning tools have mobilised hundreds of millions of people to influence parties and parliaments, the tools closer to everyday democracy have tended to involve fairly small and unrepresentative numbers of citizens and have been used for relatively marginal issues. Part of the reason is that the controllers of democracy effectively have a monopoly – it’s up to them whether new methods can come in; a pattern very different to consumer markets.

The reformers have also made mistakes. Often they have been too linear and mechanistic in assuming that technology was the solution, rather than focusing on the combination of technology and new organisational models. They have failed to learn the lesson of the 1990s that democracy is a cluster of things, including media, civil society, and habits of compromise, as well as formal mechanisms of voting.

And many were insufficiently attuned to the very different ways in which different types of argument and debate take place, some framed by interests, others by very technical knowledge, others still very much framed by moral positions, (see my earlier blog on this).

Some of the experiments have also run into the same problem as social media - a tendency to polarise opinions rather than bridge divides, as people gravitate towards others who share their political affiliations, as false information circulates, and dialogue hardens against opposing positions rather than helping people to understand different views.

The current debate on filter bubbles has brought these issues to much greater prominence.

'Digital Democracy: The Tools Transforming Political Engagement' shares lessons from Nesta’s research into some of the pioneering innovations in digital democracy which are taking place across Europe and beyond.

Our aim was to address two main questions: How and to what extent are digital tools being used by parliaments, municipal governments and political parties to engage citizens to improve the quality and legitimacy of their decision-making? And, what can be learned from recent digital democracy initiatives about how to get the most from digital tools and create an effective platform for participation?

Our case studies look at initiatives that aim to engage citizens in deliberations, proposals and decision-making. We’ve learned that most of the best examples combine online and offline; that they break democracy down into stages, so that understanding and diagnosis precede prescription; that they encourage people to engage with others who disagree with them rather than just expressing views; and that they tap into expertise as well as opinion.

These don’t yet add up to a comprehensive blueprint for the future. But they do point very clearly to what should be part of the strategy of every democratic institution, from parliaments and councils to parties – conscious experiment and evolution of a digital strand in everything they do.



Five reflections on building a more inclusive democracy via the web

Cross-posted from Nesta

Last week Nesta hosted two small events on digital democracy in London with support from the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance. We invited speakers from four inspiring global initiatives in digital engagement to share lessons and discuss key themes in the future of technology and democracy. With stories and perspectives from Brazil, Iceland, Taiwan, France and the UK, here’s a summary of what we learned.

1. Despite potential pitfalls, new tools and methods can help us to facilitate large-scale, productive conversations

Given a political context of surging populism across the globe, there was a deep concern in the room that digital tools risk amplifying ideological or inflammatory sentiments within society. In response to this we heard about tool-based innovations for debate, like or Your Priorities, that are specifically designed to incentivise more broadly appealing and positive forms of opinion sharing online. Cap Collectif’s tool breaks all topics into their ‘problems’, ‘causes’ and ‘solutions’, making debates more focused and easier to navigate.

But there was also a clear sense that better online conversations require much more than reliance on the tools. Well designed engagement exercises involve careful planning, multiple stages for interaction and active moderation.

One interesting approach was described by Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s Digital Minister and creator of the participatory policymaking process known as vTaiwan. She talked us through her method for bringing people out of the filter bubble and into large, multi-stakeholder deliberations that encourage more careful and reasoned arguments. Instead of simply opening an online space and asking for unstructured comments, vTaiwan begins with several weeks designated to nothing but agreeing on definitions, collective sharing of the facts and compiling evidence related to the topic (with validity of evidence continuously confirmed and updated by a small group of facilitators).

By crowdsourcing secure empirical foundations for the consultation, Minister Tang argued that we can create online environments where participants are more likely to call others out for sharing sensationalist rhetoric on the platform.

Spiralling upwards. Source: Twitter

Spiralling upwards. Source: Twitter

2. Digital cannot ensure perfect representation, but it can ensure better reasoning of the arguments

Representation was an important concern for the audience, and here most of the speakers confirmed the hard truth that, for the moment, purely web-based forms of participation are biased towards the more educated, and those with more time on their hands (usually older people).

At this point it’s worth remembering that the purpose of public engagement isn’t always democratic legitimacy: sometimes it’s ok to focus on quality over quantity. You might be looking to use the crowd to arrive at higher quality decisions on a given topic, in which case you’ll be better off targeting a specific audience rather than aiming to engage a fully representative sample of the population.

Parlement et Citoyens, for instance, reach out to specific communities or stakeholders of a proposed law or regulation. This might be people with a particular occupation (i.e. teachers or nurses), public or private organisations, or perhaps a group of people with a set of technical expertise. Nicolas Patte from Parlement et Citoyens called this prioritising ‘representation of the arguments’ rather than representation of the population, though of course it’s still important to reflect on who participated and why.

What, then, of the promise that digital democracy will be a catalyst for building more widespread involvement, efficacy and trust in politics? All in all, tech enthusiasts need to retain a degree of modesty here. One speaker mentioned that web-based methods should only be used where there is a reasonable assumption that the key stakeholders have access to the internet – for example, it will be better to engage widely on topics related to the digital economy or internet rights rather than on welfare policy (at least for now).

If you can’t guarantee that your stakeholders will be ‘netizens’, then resources should be set aside for proper offline methods of outreach and engagement (see Paris’s participatory budgeting process).

This shouldn’t be fuel for the naysayers. There are hundreds of opportunities where better use of digital tools would still involve more people than the mechanisms already in place. What’s more:

3. While digital is not a replacement for offline methods of outreach, it can help to improve them

Online tools can augment offline work by creating a coherent, transparent and altogether more accessible exercise in public engagement.



In another example from Taiwan described by Minister Tang, Taipei City Council held a mixed online-offline consultation with stakeholders about policy for the allocation of social housing. In offline workshops, interactive live-streaming tools were used to engage broader audiences and enrich the physical debate. This is an important addition in situations where people might wish to join the meeting but cannot, say, because of caring responsibilities or distance.

At the same time, transcription tools like SayIt were used in real time to record and archive the conversations in a structured and searchable format. The job of the facilitator was to compile and summarise offline and online channels, creating a clear and comprehensive electronic record of all the conversations and decisions made over the course of the process.

This is also a method which Barcelona en Comu have employed on a regular basis through the Decidim.Barcelona platform, which clearly summarises consultations according to both offline proposals - in workshops organised across the city - and online proposals made on the site.

4. Digital allows us to get close to a perfect balance of involvement and transparency

A big error that can be made with digital engagement is to create a consultation that’s basically a black box. If digital democracy is going to play any role in the reversing widespread distrust in politics then the engagement has to create new, meaningful channels of communication between people and representatives. 

It goes without saying that it won’t be possible to implement everyone’s ideas, but time and resources should be devoted to showing people that a certain number of suggestions are being processed, considered and that their implementation or rejection is being clearly justified. Gunnar from the Citizens Foundation in Iceland spoke about Better Reykjavik, a website for bottom-up idea generation to improve the city. Partnering with the City Council, Better Reykjavik collects, processes and responds to the top 15 ideas made on the platform every month, communicating each stage of the process to the authors of those ideas by email.

In other examples: The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies hires ‘legislative consultants’ who act as communicators but also technical translators between the people who participate online and the complex aspects of law-making in the Chamber.

Crowdsourcing questions from the audience. Source:

Crowdsourcing questions from the audience. Source:

Minister Tang uses Wiselike: a public, interactive approach to receiving questions or suggestions. It reduces the ‘noise’ of a traditional forum by only displaying questions which she has actually answered. This kind of tool might be an easy and simple way to improve interaction and accountability by councillors and representatives across the UK.

5. The new age of more inclusive democracy is still young - what’s needed now is rigorous trial and error

If the field of digital democracy is to grow, then more efforts are needed to experiment and build upon past successes and failures. However, it’s not going to be an easy sell persuading budget-stricken local authorities to experiment with democratic innovation. Tips for running a lower-cost pilot include:

  • having the political buy-in or will from a councillor, mayor or minister to give the process meaning in the eyes of the public.

  • not wasting money building new tools, but making use of the hundreds of open-source and free tools, or affordable proprietary services, that already exist (e.g. D-CENTMySociety tools, Delib or Cap Collectif’s consultation service);

  • collaborating actively with skills and expertise within civil society (e.g. DotEveryoneNotinwestminster) or even mobilising volunteers (e.g. the West Midlands People’s Plan, which was created by Liam Byrne MP and Tom Happold with little more than £100).

The story for UK Parliament is rather different. The multi-billion pound restoration of the Palace of Westminster has so far focused mainly on the bricks and mortar. But it could offer so much more, namely a chance to blend the most promising democratic innovations with the best of Parliament’s institutions and traditions.

What we need now is a broader debate, involving representatives, about how restoration and renewal can be used to foster a whole new range of participatory experiments that inform and involve the public in the long-term future of parliament.

Both Nesta and The Hansard Society have made the case for the ‘decant’ space to become a lab for democratic innovations, at a tiny fraction of the overall budget. There is clear international inspiration in this regard, like the Brazilian Hacker Lab described by our speaker Cirstiano Ferri. His Lab, located within parliament, is a semi-public space for hackathons, user-testing and collaboration among civil society and parliamentary staff. The good news is that parliament has plenty of expertise and is already creating a suite of innovative and useful tools in this area.


If you’re interested to hear more about the global case studies mentioned above, keep an eye out for our upcoming report, which dives into each of them in more detail.

Also, if you’re in Scotland on February 9th, we’re hosting a similar day with speakers, discussion and ideas for tools and methods to inspire practitioners. Feel free to send me an email at to find out more.



When is the crowd wise or can the people ever be trusted?

Whether, and to what extent you think a crowd can be wise has implications for the kinds of engagement you might advocate.

Democratic theory has tended to take a pretty dim view of people and their ability to make decisions. Many political philosophers believe that people are at best uninformed and at worst, ignorant and incompetent.  This view is a common justification for our system of representative democracy – people can’t be trusted to make decisions so this responsibility should fall to those who have the expertise, knowledge or intelligence to do so.    

Think back to what Edmund Burke said on the subject in his speech to the Electors of Bristol in 1774, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” He reminds us that “government and legislation are matters of reason and judgement, and not of inclination”. Others, like the journalist Charles Mackay, whose book on economic bubbles and crashes, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, had an even more damning view of the crowd’s capacity to exercise either judgement or reason.

The thing is, if you believe that ‘the crowd’ isn’t wise then there isn’t much point in encouraging participation – these sorts of activities can only ever be tokenistic or a way of legitimising the decisions taken by others.

There are then those political philosophers who effectively argue that citizens’ incompetence doesn’t matter. They argue that the aggregation of views – through voting – eliminates ‘noise’ which enables you to arrive at optimal decisions. The larger the group, the better its decisions will be.  The corollary of this view is that political decision making should involve mass participation and regular referenda – something akin to the Swiss model.   

Another standpoint is to say that there is wisdom within crowds – it’s just that it’s domain specific, unevenly distributed and quite hard to transfer. This idea was put forward by Friedrich Hayek in his seminal 1945 essay on The Use of Knowledge in Society in which he argues that:

…the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form, but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess. The economic problem of society is thus not merely a problem of how to allocate ‘given’ resources……it is a problem of the utilization of knowledge not given to anyone in its totality.

Hayek argued that it was for this reason that central planning couldn’t work since no central planner could ever aggregate all the knowledge distributed across society to make good decisions.

More recently, Eric Von Hippel built on these foundations by introducing the concept of information stickiness; information is ‘sticky’ if it is costly to move from one place to another. One type of information that is frequently ‘sticky’ is information about users’ needs and preferences.[1] This helps to account for why manufacturers tend to develop innovations which are incremental - meeting already identified needs - and why so many organisations are engaging users in their innovation processes:  if knowledge about needs and tools for developing new solutions can be co-located in the same place (i.e. the user) then the cost of transferring sticky information is eliminated.

These assumptions about the distributed nature of knowledge underpin both concepts of open innovation and collective intelligence.  The latter was popularised by James Surowiecki in his book The Wisdom of Crowds, in which he argued that crowdsourcing is a superior method for, among other things, sampling and forecasting. Essentially, he describes the phenomenon of aggregating information in groups, where the information it aggregates doesn’t have to be perfect and you don’t need smart participants to get smart aggregate decisions. The concept of open innovation has similar theoretical foundations and is based on the idea that a single organisation can’t contain all the knowledge and skills required to develop new products and services and should source these ideas externally.

If one subscribes to the view that knowledge is widely distributed across society, then the task for policymakers is to tap into this expertise, which then has implications for the kind of engagement that’s necessary - it could mean a greater focus on crowdsourcing or collaboration with small groups of expert citizens rather than, for example, mass voting or polling.  

There is growing evidence on how crowdsourcing can be used by governments to solve clearly defined technical, scientific or informational problems. Evidently there are significant needs and opportunities for governments to better engage citizens to solve these types of problems.

There’s also a growing body of evidence on how digital tools can be used to support and promote collective intelligence.  

Nesta’s recent research on the subject has examined how innovative patient organisations are working as collectives to assemble and analyse information involved in healthcare, and in particular in managing long term conditions. Some of these patient organisations are already supporting the development of peer relationships, driving landmark research programmes, sharing skills and unlocking the energy and expertise of patients.  Indeed, our research demonstrates that where citizens are highly motivated regarding specific issues they can and do self-organise to access, interpret and distribute large amounts of complex information and take decisive action in innovative campaigns. 

But what about problems which are normative or values based? Can the tools and principles of open innovation be applied to democratic institutions such as parliaments and political parties which are arenas for contestation about the public good, and not simply marketplaces for ideas?

For example, experts can tell you how to build a nuclear power station but they can’t really tell you whether you should build power stations since that isn’t a purely technical question. In these cases, it’s not entirely straightforward what a ‘good decision’ might look like.  If there is no such thing as an objectively correct answer then why not open it up to the crowd – especially where there is significant public appetite? If you take the Hayekian view, the crowd are more likely to come to an optimal decision than a group of elected representatives.

However, is the aggregation of votes really the best mechanism for getting a smart answer? As our ongoing research suggests, in some cases, it’s just as useful to understand the plurality of opinions and relative priorities as it is to understand the majority view. So, for example, if you simply ask people how a city should spend its infrastructure budget you will probably get a list of ideas and lots of comments without really any understanding of people’s relative priorities. However, if you structure a participatory budgeting process to enable people to vote and comment on their favourite ideas, and rank their priorities, then public officials will  have far greater information on which to make decisions.  

For some questions, there are no straightforward yes or no answers. Where the question is particularly complex, it might be as useful to know why people vote in a particular direction,  as much as whether they vote yes or no. In some cases, a completely legitimate answer might be ‘maybe, it depends’.  One good example of this is the recent referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Even though a majority of the voting public voted to leave the EU, it’s not at all clear why we voted to leave. The yes/no vote didn’t give an indication of people’s relative priorities in terms of trade, controls on immigration, sovereignty, public spending or the myriad other issues discussed during the campaign. There is currently no consensus on what brexit means and there is no mandate for one type of brexit over another since the referendum didn’t ask the public what it might want from a new kind of relationship with the EU.

So, the critical task for public officials is to have greater clarity over the purpose of engagement -  in order to better understand which methods of engagement should be used and what kinds of  groups should be targeted.  

At the same time, the central question for researchers is when and how to tap into collective intelligence: what tools and approaches can be used when we’re looking at arenas which are often sites of contestation? Should this input be limited to providing information and expertise to be used by public officials or representatives, or should these distributed experts exercise some decision making power too? And when we’re dealing with value based judgements when should we rely on large scale voting as a mechanism for making ‘smarter’ decisions and when are deliberative forms of engagement more appropriate? These are all issues we’re exploring as part of our ongoing programme of work on democratic innovations.


[1] This kind of information is sticky for other reasons: it might be highly contextualised or require the use of existing skills or knowledge.



NEW e-BOOK: The Global Impact of Open Data

Key Findings from Detailed Case Studies Around the World

By Stefaan Verhulst, and Andrew Young

Publisher: O’Reilly

Released: September 2016

Open data has spurred economic innovation, social transformation, and fresh forms of political and government accountability in recent years, but few people understand how open data works. This comprehensive 459-page report, developed with support from Omidyar Network, presents detailed case studies of open data projects throughout the world, along with in-depth analysis of what works and what doesn’t.

Authors Andrew Young and Stefaan Verhulst, both with The GovLab at New York University, explain how these projects have made governments more accountable and efficient, helped policymakers find solutions to previously intractable public problems, created new economic opportunities, and empowered citizens through new forms of social mobilization.

This e-Book includes:

  • Recommendations and implementation steps for policymakers, entrepreneurs, and activists looking to leverage open data
  • Key challenges, such as resource shortages and inadequate privacy or security protections
  • Four conditions that enable open data to work—including organizational partnerships and collaborations
  • Case studies of open data projects for improving government in Brazil, Sweden, Slovakia, and other countries
  • Projects for empowering citizens in Tanzania, Kenya, Mexico, and Uruguay
  • New business opportunities enabled by open weather, geo-location, and market research data
  • Public problem-solving efforts built on open data for Ebola in Sierra Leone, dengue fever in Singapore, and earthquakes in New Zealand

Download the e-Book for free here

The e-Book is the result of the Open Data’s Impact project conducted in collaboration with Omidyar Network. More information on the project can be found at



Digital democracy - where to next?

By Julie Simon and Theo Bass – Reposted from Nesta Blog

Politics is in crisis. Disillusionment, a lack of trust in politicians, apathy, falling turnout at elections and a surge in populist movements around Europe. What is the way out of this miasma?

Digital tools and technologies have transformed the way we live and work. Could they transform our politics too? New technologies are not likely to be a silver bullet to the current predicament, but the lesson from cities across Europe is that they can play a critical role in engaging new groups of people, empowering citizens and forging a new relationship between cities and local residents.

Many of those involved in this new wave of digital democracy came together earlier this summer at the Democratic Cities event in Madrid to discuss the future of politics and democracy. The event also marked the end of D-CENT, a 3-year EU funded project with partners from across Europe, including the Citizens Foundation, Forum Virium Helsinki, Open Knowledge Foundation, Thoughtworks and Centre d’economie de la Sorbonne.

The project, led by Nesta, developed a set of open source, distributed and privacy-aware tools for direct democracy and economic empowerment. These include tools which enable citizens to receive real time notifications about issues relevant to them, work collaboratively to propose and draft policies, decide and vote on proposals, and allocate resources through participatory budgeting processes.

Take, for example, Objective8, a tool for online crowdsourcing of proposals and collaborative policy drafting; or Mooncake, which provides a single newsfeed to help bring together comments, media, and notifications from other D-CENT tools. For privacy awareness, Stonecutter is a secure single sign-on for D-CENT which gives users control over the personal data they share; and Agora Voting is a cryptographically secure, verifiable and transparent online voting software, which opens the ballot boxes and tallies the results while preserving secrecy. The D-CENT project also ran workshops and worked with a number of partners to pilot and improve digital platforms in ReykjavikHelsinkiBarcelona and Madrid.

The Democratic Cities event was an opportunity to hear about the outcomes of the D-CENT project, but also to learn from digital democracy pioneers from further afield. For example, we heard how - a tool that collects opinion and then visualises consensus and disagreements within a crowd - was recently used by about 600 participants to map different stakeholders’ views and inform new changes to local Uber regulations in Taipei.

WAGL, a “politics start-up” in South Korea built a tool for direct citizen input into the now famous 192 hour filibuster of an anti-terror bill. We also heard how Wellington City Council used Loomio to engage local residents in agreeing a set of principles for the city’s local alcohol management strategy.

The Net Party, the original pioneers of the now widely used DemocracyOS platform, shared their story of building a large following through online and offline methods, and how they secured the political buy-in to pilot their technology within the Buenos Aires legislature. You can listen back and watch some of these stories, along with a handful of others, here.

What have we learned so far?

If this field of digital democracy is to mature - with cities, parliaments and political parties adopting these tools to engage and empower citizens in their everyday decisions and deliberations - digital activists will need to consider the following issues.

1. Keeping users engaged and informed

Advocates will need to follow three tips for encouraging participation. First, tools should be kept simple. Successful upvoting tools like Plaza Podemos (on Reddit) and Your Priorities make barriers to engagement low through simple and intuitive interfaces. Second, users should be trusted with meaningful questions - asking trivial questions is likely to yield trivial answers (Boaty McBoatface is a useful yardstick in this regard).

Third, users should be kept engaged with information about how their input was used. This is particularly difficult where the volume of input is high, where time and staff resources are limited, or where the path of legislation is slow and complex. Nonetheless, these insights remind us to keep the scale, expectations and intended goals of the project as clear as possible from the outset.

2. Finding common standards for evaluation

One of the striking features of the discussion was an absence of information about impact. Where is the evidence? Given the now massive list of examples available it’s important that projects learn from others, share best practice, and, crucially, share failures. Previous work in this area has highlighted that honest discussion around failures can be difficult for projects seeking adoption in an already reluctant political environment. Another difficulty is when the design of a tool is over-emphasised (i.e. look at my beautiful code) at the expense of how the project aims to actually attract participation and achieve impact.

Defining ‘impact’ can be challenging in this space: in most cases, the number of participants is used as the only measure. Other, more difficult questions need to be asked, such as: did the process improve the quality or legitimacy of decision making? Did it help to improve the quality of debate and inform citizens about important political issues? Did it succeed in improving public trust? The World Bank has recently published a useful, and more detailed framework for digital engagement evaluation.

3. Blending online and offline engagement

Some of the most successful digital platforms at the city level, like Decide.MadridDecidim.Barcelona and Better Reykjavik, have their roots in bottom-up forms of political engagement (originating from Ahora Madrid, Guanyem Barcelona/ Barcelona En Comu and the Best Party, respectively). City governments elsewhere should learn from this: offline engagement is especially important where accessing hard-to-reach groups is concerned. They must also work with social movements and civil society organisations in order to actively reach out to local residents and pilot digital tools in local communities.

This mindset was well captured by Aik van Eemeren from Amsterdam’s Chief Technology Office who said “technology doesn’t own the city, it’s just an enabler”. All this links back to engagement. It’s not all about the tool - a key challenge is working with communities so that they see the value in using it.

4. Broader engagement vs smarter engagement

Other questions arose about the types of crowds necessary to foster collective intelligence. In larger-scale exercises (often above the city level) the shared experiences and knowledge of participants is reduced, segregation of opinion is widened and ownership of the process is more uncertain.

Is the logic of large crowds reconcilable with the logic of policy-making processes in these cases? One study of a crowdsourcing exercise on off-road traffic law in Finland found that “massive, atomic [and] diverse input” was detrimental to the quality of the end result. To make these processes worthwhile, we might need stronger political will; we might need better methods of idea synthesis and aggregation; or perhaps we should seek smaller crowds with more distinct hierarchies of talent and expertise? This is one of the issues Nesta is exploring as part of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance.

Further questions then arise about legitimacy. It was generally assumed among the Democratic Cities attendees, and in the democracy field more generally, that engagement is a good in of itself, and that engagement strategies derive their legitimacy by involving as many people as possible. That is, the more people who were engaged by the process, the more legitimate the process and the decision ultimately taken.

However, there are inevitably some collective problems where a smaller group of participants - who have relevant experience or expertise - can alone improve the quality of decision making. What if processes are perceived as less legitimate but lead to better quality decision making or the inverse, where some processes are seen as legitimate, but lead to poorer quality decision making? This potential tension is something we will consider further over the coming months.  

What next?

We’re currently looking at inspiring examples of digital democracy from around the world to distill key lessons for political parties, city governments and national parliaments. We want to understand how digital tools can be used to improve the quality and legitimacy of decision making and how they can be embedded into existing democratic structures and institutions.   

If you have a project you’d like to talk with us about, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below, or send us a message at or or send a message via Twitter.



The GovLab Embarks to Expand Open Data 500 Study in Collaboration with Columbia Business School

Which companies are using Open Data, and how are they related?

The GovLab Embarks to Expand Open Data 500 Study in Collaboration with Graduate Business School of Columbia University

Two years ago the GovLab developed the first-ever census of open data companies in the US: the Open Data 500. Today, in collaboration with the Graduate Business School of Columbia University, the GovLab is launching the next iteration which will have two goals. One, we will update and expand the Open Data 500 company profiles. Two, we we will solicit new insights through additional survey questions with the goal of increasing our understanding of the effect of open data on generating new businesses and its impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem of startups, investors and capital.

CONTEXT: As of 2016, the U.S. Government has released freely over 130,000 datasets on topics ranging from consumer complaints to trade to food access. Despite the increased supply of open data, little is known about the demand and who is using it for economic value creation; whether and how open data is fueling new areas of entrepreneurship. 

OPEN DATA 500: In 2014, GovLab launched the Open Data 500 (OD500), the first comprehensive study to identify and analyze U.S. companies that are using open government data to develop new products and services. Our goal was to identify at minimum 500 companies that use open data as a key business resource. The result was the first ever census of open data companies in the US. The Open Data 500 U.S. has since surpassed the initial goal of 500, and the number continues to grow to nearly 700 companies. Leveraging the OD500 dataset, the GovLab also completed an additional study in 2015 of how small- and medium-sized enterprises are using open data as a business asset. 

The OD500 Global Network: Several international partners have joined the GovLab to conduct similar efforts in their country within the context of the OD500 Global Network. Each partner organization uses the OD500 infrastructure and methodology, enabling them the to analyze the use of open data in their country in a manner that is both globally comparative and domestically specific. The network consists of AustraliaCanadaItalyMexico and South Korea. If you have an interest in joining the Network, contact us at:

NEW AND EXPANDED STUDY: Since the initial release of our findings we have seen a rapid increase in data supply and use. To take stock of latest developments and to increase our understanding of the impact of open data across the larger entrepreneurial community, the GovLab in collaboration with Columbia Business School is revisiting the existing OD500 dataset. During the summer of 2016, companies currently listed in our database will be sent a short survey. In addition, we hope to identify additional companies to add to our growing list of open data companies. 

Led by Sheena S. Iyengar, S. T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia Business School, and Patrick Bergemann, a Postdoctoral Research Scholar, the survey expansion takes place within the mandate of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance.

Professor Iyengar: “Despite the release of tens of thousands of government datasets, there is currently no understanding of the impact this information is having on innovation, entrepreneurship and the economy in general. Through the expansion of the Open Data 500, we can finally begin to assess these potentially large effects and connect public policy with real economic outcomes.”

“The original Open Data 500 study showed that open data is already a major national resource and business driver. With our survey expansion, we want to better understand how and under what conditions open data really works. We plan to share insights with government, businesses and policymakers in order to improve the release of more and better data,” says Stefaan Verhulst, co-Founder and Chief Research and Development Officer of the GovLab at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, where he is responsible for building a research foundation on how to transform governance using advances in science and technology.


Does your company use open government data as a key business resource? If so, please contact us at We are interested in hearing from you and including your company in our directory of open data companies.

If you are an open data researcher and/or you have a question you would like to pose to open data companies, please write to us at

The GovLab is an action research organization based at NYU Tandon School of Engineering with a mission to improve people’s lives by changing the way we govern. Our goal is to strengthen the ability of institutions – including but not limited to governments – and people to work more openly, collaboratively, effectively and legitimately to make better decisions and solve public problems.



New Platform for Sharing Research on Opening Governance: The Open Governance Research Exchange (OGRX)

Last week,  The GovLab, in collaboration with founding partners mySociety and the World Bank’s Digital Engagement Evaluation Team launched the Open Governance Research Exchange (OGRX), a new platform for sharing research and findings on innovations in governance.

From crowdsourcing to nudges to open data to participatory budgeting, more open and innovative ways to tackle society’s problems and make public institutions more effective are emerging. Yet little is known about what innovations actually work, when, why, for whom and under what conditions.

And anyone seeking existing research is confronted with sources that are widely dispersed across disciplines, often locked behind pay walls, and hard to search because of the absence of established taxonomies. As the demand to confront problems in new ways grows so too does the urgency for making learning about governance innovations more accessible. 

As part of GovLab’s broader effort to move from “faith-based interventions” toward more “evidence-based interventions,” OGRX curates and makes accessible the most diverse and up-to-date collection of findings on innovating governance. At launch, the site features over 350 publications spanning a diversity of governance innovation areas, including but not limited to:

Specifically, OGRX provides:

  • A platform for researchers to share findings and methodologies;
  • A repository of theoretical and applied research on open and innovative governance techniques and tools;
  • A diversity of publication types – from research reports and journal articles to books and dissertations;
  • A taxonomy for browsing research by type of innovation, objective, region, sector or tool
  • The ability to submit new research for inclusion on the site; and
  • A community for those interested and committed to studying the impact of governance innovations and a place for those with research questions to connect to those with projects to study.

The platform is intended to provide value for a number of different users operating at the intersection of technology and governance, such as:

  • Researchers, who can stay up to date on new findings and methodological approaches in the field of open governance research; and share their work with an interested, like-minded audience;
  • Policymakers, who can learn about what works in governance innovation to the end of applying those lessons in real-world institutions;
  • Technologists, who can identify areas where their skills could be applied to the public benefit; and
  • Students of policy or technology, who can use the platform to study new ways of solving problems.

The continued expansion and development of site will be informed by submissions from the emerging open governance research community and coordinated by an Editorial Board comprising:

A variety of partners, including the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance, Arizona State University Center for Policy Informatics, and Centre for Innovation at Leiden University, are also guiding the continued development of the site.

Visit to explore the latest research findings, submit your own work for inclusion on the platform, and share knowledge with others interested in using science and technology to improve the way we govern.



Insights on Collective Problem-Solving, Part 3: Complexity, Categorization and Lessons from Academia

Over the last two years, a group of scholars from disciplines including political science, political theory, cognitive psychology, information science, statistics and computer science have met under the auspices of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance. The goal of these meetings has been to bring the insights of different disciplines to bear on fundamental problems of collective problem solving. How do we best solve collective problems? How should we study and think about collective intelligence? How can we apply insights to real world problems? A wide body of work leads us to believe that complex problems are most likely to be solved when people with different viewpoints and sets of skills come together. This means that we can expect that the science of collective problem solving too will be improved when people from diverse disciplinary perspectives work together to generate new insights on shared problems.

Complexity theorists have devoted enormous energy and attention to thinking about how complex problems, in which different factors interact in ways that are hard to predict, can best be solved. One key challenge is categorizing problems, so as to understand which approaches are best suited to addressing them.

Scott Page is the Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and one of the world’s foremost experts on diversity and problem-solving. I asked him a series of questions about how we might use insights from academic research to think better about how problem solving works.

Henry: One of the key issues of collective problem-solving is what you call the 'problem of problems' – the question of identifying which problems we need to solve. This is often politically controversial – e.g., it may be hard to get agreement that global warming, or inequality, or long prison sentences are a problem. How do we best go about identifying problems, given that people may disagree?
Scott: In a recent big think paper on the potential of diversity for collective problem solving in Scientific American, Katherine Phillips writes that group members must feel validated, that they must share a commitment to the group, and they must have a common goal if they are going to contribute. This implies that you won't succeed in getting people to collaborate by setting an agenda from on high and then seeking to attract diverse people to further that agenda.
One way of starting to tackle the problem of problems is to steal a rule of thumb from Getting to Yes, by getting to think people about their broad interests rather than the position that they're starting from. People often agree on their fundamental desires but disagree on how they can be achieved. For example, nearly everyone wants less crime, but they may disagree over whether they think the solution to crime involves tackling poverty or imposing longer prison sentences. If you can get them to focus on their common interest in solving crime rather than their disagreements, you're more likely to get them to collaborate usefully.

Segregation amplifies the problem of problems. We live in towns and neighborhoods segregated by race, income, ideology, and human capital. Democrats live near Democrats and Republicans near Republicans. Consensus requires integration. We must work across ideologies. Relatedly, opportunity requires more than access. Many people grow up not knowing any engineers, dentists, doctors, lawyers, and statisticians. This isolation narrows the set of careers they consider and it reduces the diversity of many professions. We cannot imagine lives we do not know.

Henry: Once you get past the problem of problems, you still need to identify which kind of problem you are dealing with. You identify three standard types of problems: solution problems, selection problems and optimization problems. What – very briefly – are the key differences between these kinds of problems?

Scott: I'm constantly pondering the potential set of categories in which collective intelligence can emerge. I'm teaching a course on collective intelligence this semester and the undergraduates and I developed an acronym SCARCE PIGS to describe the different types of domains. Here's the brief summary:

  • Predict: when individuals combine information, models, or measurements to estimate a future event, guess an answer, or classify an event. Examples might involve betting markets, or combined efforts to guess a quantity, such as Francis Galton's example of people at a fair trying to guess the weight of a steer.
  • Identify: when individuals have local, partial, or possibly erroneous knowledge and collectively can find an object. Here, an example is DARPA's Red Balloon project.
  • Solve: when individuals apply and possibly combine higher order cognitive processes and analytic tools for the purpose of finding or improving a solution to a task. Innocentive and similar organizations provide examples of this.
  • Generate: when individuals apply diverse representations, heuristics, and knowledge to produce something new. An everyday example is creating a new building.
  • Coordinate: when individuals adopt similar actions, behaviors, beliefs, or mental frameworks by learning through local interactions. Ordinary social conventions such as people greeting each other are good examples.
  • Cooperate: when individuals take actions, not necessarily in their self interest, that collectively produce a desirable outcome. Here, think of managing common pool resources (e.g. fishing boats not overfishing an area that they collectively control).
  • Arrange: when individuals manipulate items in a physical or virtual environment for their own purposes resulting in an organization of that environment. As an example, imagine a student co-op which keeps twenty types of hot sauce in its pantry. If each student puts whichever hot sauce she uses in the front of the pantry, then on average, the hot sauces will be arranged according to popularity, with the most favored hot sauces in the front and the least favored lost in the back.
  • Respond: when individuals react to external or internal stimuli creating collective responses that maintains system level functioning. For example, when yellow jackets attack a predator to maintain the colony, they are displaying this kind of problem solving.
  • Emerge: when individual parts create a whole that has categorically distinct and new functionalities. The most obvious example of this is the human brain.

Henry: You argue that even though collective problem solving is crucial, it is not a core research topic for most academic disciplines. Why is this so?

Scott: Collective problem solving crosses too many domains. It appears in economics, organizational behavior, engineering, psychology, sociology, neuroscience, computer science, engineering, and even ecology. Yet, it is not the main focus of any of these disciplines. No discipline has any reason to take leadership and none can ignore it. I think this is beneficial. It broadens the study of collective problem solving.

Henry: What would a true science of collective problem-solving look like?

Scott: I think a science of collective problem solving is beginning to take shape. Ideally, there would be a collection of core models that organize our thinking and have some empirical purchase. There would also be multiple categorical distinctions – disjunctive and conjunctive tasks – that help us to differentiate types of problems. Good social science will always be messy. There needs to be a mixture of 'lumping' and 'splitting.' Sometimes, we will make scientific progress by lumping several different kinds of problems together, and emphasizing what they have in common. Other times, we will do better by splitting, separating different kinds of problems from each other and focusing on their unique features.

Read Part 2

Read Part 1.



Join Us at These Upcoming Network Events: Assessing the Impacts of Civic Technology and Making Innovation and Growth Policy Work

Members of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance are participating in two exciting events in the next month that will bring together interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners looking to accelerate innovation in governance around the world.

First, chief of research Stefaan Verhulst, Network coordinator Andrew Young and Network member Erik Johnston are participating in this week’s ‘The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference 2016 (TICTeC),’ hosted by mySociety. The second annual event will be held at the World Trade Centre in Barcelona and “will focus on the impact that civic technology and digital democracy are having upon citizens, decision makers and governments around the world.” Participants will “discuss themes of engagement, participation, institution, social behaviour, politics, community, digital capability, communication and ethics relating to the use and study of civic technology.” Verhulst, Young and Johnston will discuss lessons learned and research strategies developed over the first two years of the Network, and also launch the Open Governance Research Exchange (OGRX) – a platform for sharing research on innovations in governance developed in partnership with the GovLab, mySociety and the World Bank Digital Engagement Evaluation Team. The Research Network is also a network partner behind OGRX. You can view the full TICTeC agenda here.

Second, next month, Nesta, in collaboration with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the World Bank, is hosting the IGL Global Conference ‘Making Innovation and Growth Policy Work.’ On May 25th, “policy makers, practitioners and researchers” will come together “to learn about the latest programmes and understand how becoming more experimental will lead to more impactful policies.” Participants – including Network members Geoff Mulgan and Karim Lakhani – will “showcase some of the latest trends and cutting-edge ideas in innovation and growth policy, and discuss how to develop and support these in practice.” You can view the full event agenda here.



Insights on Collective Problem-Solving, Part 2: StackExchange and Online Q&A

Over the last two years, a group of scholars from disciplines including political science, political theory, cognitive psychology, information science, statistics and computer science have met under the auspices of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance. The goal of these meetings has been to bring the insights of different disciplines to bear on fundamental problems of collective problem solving. How do we best solve collective problems? How should we study and think about collective intelligence? How can we apply insights to real world problems? A wide body of work leads us to believe that complex problems are most likely to be solved when people with different viewpoints and sets of skills come together. This means that we can expect that the science of collective problem solving too will be improved when people from diverse disciplinary perspectives work together to generate new insights on shared problems.

Kristina Lerman is an Associate Research Professor at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering's Computer Science Department. One of her major research interests is online problem-solving sites like StackExchange, where people ask questions aimed at solving e.g. programming problems, and others try to help them. These sites provide rich data that we can use to study problem-solving in the wild. I asked her a series of questions aimed at discovering what we can learn from StackExchange, and how Stack Exchange users face characteristic problems in identifying good answers.

Henry: What is StackExchange?

Kristina: StackExchange is a question-answer forum where participants ask questions on a variety of topics for other participants to answer them.

Henry: What can researchers interested in collective problem-solving learn from studying it and other similar sites?

Kristina: StackExchange has many features for collaborative knowledge creation, which help community as a whole to discover best questions and answers. Specifically, participants can vote for answers (and questions) they find helpful, and question askers can accept the answer they consider the best. StackExchange then features prominently the answers that the community liked, making the best answers "float to the top" so to speak.

Henry: Your research finds that the more answers there are to a given question, the more likely it is that users will rely on simple heuristics to figure out what the best answers are. Which heuristics they use, and why might this be problematic?

Kristina: The order in which the answer is presented affects how many votes it receives. That's because people pay more attention to items in top positions – this is known as position bias to psychologists. People are also more likely to choose answers that occupy a larger fraction of screen space as the best answer. We link this to an ‘availability heuristic’ – wordier answers are considered more salient. Next in importance is social proof bias – after an answer is accepted by the asker, voters are more likely to vote for it than before.

While these heuristics could sometimes be useful proxies for answer quality – for example, wordier answers may be more comprehensive, that's why people like them – it might be better for participants to read and evaluate all answers to the question, not just to automatically choose the most visible answer.

Henry:  How can the builders of collective problem-solving sites and institutions mitigate these problems?

Kristina: Knowing the limitations of collective computation points to designs that could mitigate these limits. For example, perhaps StackExchange should initially randomize the order in which answers are presented to ensure the answers are thoroughly evaluated. As enough evidence accumulates about answer quality, they could then rank order them to make it easier to discover good answers.

Click here for Part 1.


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Insights on Collective Problem-Solving, Part 1: Juries as Problem-Solving Institutions

Over the last two years, a group of scholars from disciplines including political science, political theory, cognitive psychology, information science, statistics and computer science have met under the auspices of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance. The goal of these meetings has been to bring the insights of different disciplines to bear on fundamental problems of collective problem solving. How do we best solve collective problems? How should we study and think about collective intelligence? How can we apply insights to real world problems? A wide body of work leads us to believe that complex problems are most likely to be solved when people with different viewpoints and sets of skills come together. This means that we can expect that the science of collective problem solving too will be improved when people from diverse disciplinary perspectives work together to generate new insights on shared problems. 

Political theorists are beginning to think in different ways about institutions such as juries. Here, the crucial insights will involve how these institutions can address the traditional concerns of political theory, such as justice and recognition, while also solving the complex problem of figuring out how best to resolve disputes, and establishing the guilt or innocence of parties in criminal cases. 

Melissa Schwartzberg is an associate professor of political science at New York University, working on the political theory of democratic decision making. I asked her a series of questions about the jury as a problem solving institution.
Henry: One of the most common forms of collective problem solving in our every day lives are juries - citizens are supposed to come together to decide on a legal verdict. How did juries come into being?
Melissa: Juries date at least to ancient Greece. In the sixth century BCE, Solon is thought to have instantiated a people's court, the heliaia, to hear public suits (graphai), for which 6,000 citizens were eligible to serve. Under Cleisthenes, in the fifth century, the heliai became a set of "People's Courts," the dikasteria. These courts and the assembly (ecclesia) constituted the two fundamental institutions of classical Athenian democracy.
Henry: Juries imply that we respect citizens equally - every citizen is in principle equally likely to be selected for jury service. Yet they are also supposed to deliver good verdicts. Are there ever situations in which these two principles - respect for the equality of citizens' ability to judge, and the desire to reach the 'right' verdict – come into conflict with each other?
Melissa: One way to answer this question is to examine the sorts of judgments juries are asked to render. Note, for instance, that the civil jury itself is relatively rare worldwide, and even in the United States is in serious decline. There are many reasons why the use of civil juries is diminishing, but some have called for the abolition of civil juries on the grounds that they are incompetent, particularly in complex cases involving technical evidence. Yet the seventh amendment of the United States constitution provides for civil jury trials, and the ability to serve as a member of a jury was hard-won, particularly for African-Americans and women. So even in that familiar context, we might confront a tradeoff between rendering just verdicts and protecting the rights of citizens to judge.
Henry: You think that it may be a bad idea to require that juries reach unanimous verdicts. Why?
Melissa: We tend to think unanimous verdicts are "more legitimate": that is, unanimity reflects agreement among the members of the jury, and signals to the rest of us that we should have confidence that the verdict is just. However, one primary concern about the unanimity requirement for verdicts is that it seems to yield some risk of coercion for "holdout" members of the jury. That is, a lone juror who opposes the verdict that the rest of the jury wishes to reach may be subject to brow-beating, and even threats, and is likely to capitulate. So a unanimous vote is not always evidence of "true" consensus. Reducing the threshold so that one or two jurors can dissent without hanging the jury might enable them to vote their conscience, while still preserving the ability of the jury to render a verdict; the dissent might also be valuable on appeal. And when we have a unanimous verdict under a weaker threshold, we can properly draw the sort of confidence in the verdict that unanimity is supposed to offer us.
Henry: Are there any general ways for figuring out the kinds of issues that juries (based on random selection of citizens and some voting rule) are good at deciding on, and the issues that they might have problems with?
Melissa: This is a difficult question, in part because we don't have unmediated access to the "true state of the world": our evidence about jury competence essentially derives from the correlation of jury verdicts with what the judge would have rendered, but obviously that doesn't mean that the judge was correct. One way around the question is to ask instead what, historically, have been the reasons why we would wish to assign judgment to laypersons: what the "jury of one's peers" signifies. Placing a body of ordinary citizens between the state and the accused serves an important protective device, so the use of the jury is quite clearly not all about judgment. But there is a long history of thinking that juries have special access to local knowledge - the established norms, practices, and expectations of a community, but in early periods knowledge of the parties and the alleged crime - that helps to shed light on why we still think "vicinage" is important.

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How to Train Public Entrepreneurs? 10 Lessons Learned

By Beth Simone Noveck and Dinorah Cantú-Pedraza

Cross-posted from Medium

Over the last three years, in a series of Masters-level courses and online (and offline) workshops and coaching programs funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The GovLab and its network of 25 world-class coaches and over 100 mentors helped 446 participants in more than a dozen US cities and thirty countries to take a public interest technology project from idea to implementation. In the process, we’ve learned a lot about the need for new ways of training the next generation of leaders and problem solvers

Our participants come from more than 30 different countries

Our participants come from more than 30 different countries

Our aim has been to aid public entrepreneurs — passionate and innovative people who wish to take advantage of new technology to do good in the world. That’s why we measure success, not by the number of participants in a class, but by the projects participants create and the impact those projects have on communities.

Hence after fifteen years of doing face-to-face project based clinical learning with professional and student public entrepreneurs in engineering, law, communications and policy schools, we launched the GovLab Academy — an online “university” — to help more people cross the chasm from passionate idea to practical reality.

See the projects our alumni are working on:

What We Are Learning

Lesson 1: There is growing, and unmet, demand for training a new kind of public servant: the public entrepreneur.

The GovLab Academy, http://thegovlabacademy.or

The GovLab Academy, http://thegovlabacademy.or

In response to the diverse demand from public officials, social entrepreneurs and students underserved by traditional professional school education, the GovLab evolved the Academy from a typical MOOC platform for delivering bundled and unbundled content about governance innovations, such as crowdsourcing and open data, into a hands-on program for training and coaching focused on helping those working in the public interest take a project from idea to implementation. Thanks to support from the Knight Foundation, we have been able to offer these coaching programs at no cost to participants.

Deep questions remain about the ability for many areas of government and civil society to identify, cultivate and retain individuals with the necessary skills for success in a world increasingly driven by information technology. — NetGain

Lesson 2: Tap the distributed supply of talent and expertise to accelerate learning.

Some of our Academy Faculty and Mentors

Some of our Academy Faculty and Mentors

Unlike a traditional university where participants are constrained by the limits of a single faculty, an online training program offers a platform for making diverse know-how available across institutional boundaries. We draw upon experts with deep skills and extensive networks to help would-be innovators, among them faculty from New York University, Harvard, Arizona State, Columbia, Stanford, USC and other universities (many of whom, like me, also replicated the curriculum with their brick and mortar students) as well as practitioners and those with extensive practice experience.

Imagine being a social innovator in California or Caracas and learning first hand from Samir K. Brahmachari, creator of the global tuberculosis Open Source Drug Discovery crowdsourcing project, or Francois Grey, Coordinator of the Citizen Cyberscience Centre, Geneva and leader of the citizen science movement. Imagine being a government official in Quito or Dallas and getting help from Alan Kantrow, former head of Knowledge Management at McKinsey.

With ease, the Internet brings the mountain to Mohammed to enable people to learn from those with experience as well as credentials. By awarding our own certificates, we are able to bring together faculty from across many institutions who otherwise would not have been able to collaborate.

Lesson 3: Create new methods for training public entrepreneurs to solve problems.

After much experimentation and measurement, we have come to focus on an approach to learning that includes:

  • Rigorous up-front diagnosis of impediments to implementation that allow us to customize learning;
  • Emphasis on specific and evidence-based problem definition to ensure that the project solves a well-defined problem;
  • A combination of subject-matter and skills-based training to address both deficits in knowledge about innovation and in know-how about the means to apply that knowledge to one’s own project;
  • A heavy dose of peer-to-peer support where similarly situated public entrepreneurs counsel, support, and puzzle through challenges together;
  • Mentoring and coaching from those with a track record of leading successful social change;
  • High-quality original and curated content, including eight different pedagogical tools. Why have one size fits all syllabi when we can use both human curation and expert systems like the Crowdsourcing Design Advisor to automate the process of giving people manageable materials customized to their needs?

Over 90% of participants tell us — this works.

Lesson 4: Develop tools to help public interest innovators “cross the chasm” from idea to implementation.

The Business Model Canvas is a template to capture a business in a single and simple diagram. It is designed to help a startup plan how to cross the cash poor “valley of death” from concept to product launch. But when you are passionate about solving a public problem, there are also common deathtraps, including:

  • Defining the problem clearly enough to develop a solution that really works;
  • Knowing how to navigate bureaucracies, legal regimes, and institutions to get things done;
  • Developing compelling materials to persuade the naysayers — what we like to call the “no machines” — within those bureaucracies;
  • Identifying how to measure what works.
The GovLab Public Projects Canvas

The GovLab Public Projects Canvas

Based on our experience teaching civic innovators, the GovLab developed the Public Projects Canvas, an interactive worksheet to help those working on civic projects for the common good become more impactful. It is the tool participants find the most helpful. The Canvas is available in multiple languages and is shareable, editable and commentable by team members, peers, coaches and mentors.

Lesson 5: Teach collaboration and partnering for change.

Peer-to-peer learning is a significant component of how people learn to be effective. In the Academy, we bring together a dozen teams and individuals working on a common challenge for mutual learning and support. Unlike in a traditional university, where the emphasis is on individual work product, in the Academy we pair people with mentors whose deep networks and subject matter expertise help them find partners and powerful champions to get things done. We encourage participants to put ego to one side and to “write the letter they want someone else to send” to make things happen in the real world.

Lesson 6: In order to be successful, public entrepreneurs must be able to define the problem — a skill widely lacking.

Effective solutions are developed only when one has a clear definition of the problem to be tackled. Hence our pedagogy emphasizes problem definition and we frequently help people rewrite their problem statements three or more times, using such tools as the GovLab Academy Canvas and The Problem Definition ToolKit.

If you are looking for a class that will help you think more deeply and practically about a problem you’d like to solve for, I encourage you to check out SPPT and GovLab’s other course offerings. Through the class, I learned how to better articulate a problem, communicate my ideas and generate support. — Academy Participant

I am completely addicted to the class. The readings and videos have been excellent, and I’ve enjoyed the chats the various online participants have had during classes. I was actually yelling at the screen some when Dr. Kantrow was discussing problem identification..his comments resonated with me because I’ve seen so many government professionals skip problem identification and analysis all together [sic] and just jump right into brainstorming project ideas. This was especially true when homeland security funding hit the table and, rather than devising a plan for wisely investing it, it seemed to become a race for local governments to just grab chunks by writing up project after project, with no real consideration for the problems, their magnitude, or the extent to which the military-style toy they wanted to buy (for example) would mitigate the problem. Grrrrr… — Academy Participant

Lesson 7: Connecting innovators and alumni with one another generates a lasting public infrastructure that can help solve problems more effectively.

Network of Innovators: the skill-sharing network for government & civic innovators worldwide. Profile view.

Network of Innovators: the skill-sharing network for government & civic innovators worldwide. Profile view.

To be effective, people need to do more than read about new ways of working. They need and want to connect with individuals who have done it before. So when a Congressional staffer, for example, wants to post a new bill online for public comment, she wants to talk to those in Iceland or Colombia about their experiences — good and bad — with posting draft constitutions and laws online. To support this desire for peer-to-peer learning, we built an expert network called the Network of Innovators (NoI). NoI is a skill sharing platform that matches public entrepreneurs with complementary skills. Participants are encouraged to join the Network and “pay it forward” by helping others.

Lesson 8: Pedagogical priorities include making problem solving more data driven and evidence based.

Getting stuff done in government does not afford the luxury of academic style research. But experimenting with taxpayer dollars also cannot be undertaken without evidence of what works. To help everyone learn how to use data and evidence to define their problem and understand possible solutions, we started to develop a toolkit and guidance on Rapid Results Research to help teams get smarter faster. Such bench research skills are supported by accelerating learning from others with related experience.



Lesson 9: The demand and supply are global — requiring a global mindset and platform to learn what has worked elsewhere and why.

Yoshi Manale presenting his project to the Tech Procurement Coaching Program group

Yoshi Manale presenting his project to the Tech Procurement Coaching Program group

Effective projects get developed when people learn from peers in other cities and countries. So we are bringing together people working on common problems from around the world into conversation to challenge one another’s assumptions.

It was a great use of technology to bring us all together via Zoom. It opened up several interesting discussions that exposed me to ideas about FOIA and my project on state/local transparency/secrecy. It exposed me to people I probably would never have met otherwise, whose ideas and expertise I plan to tap. And it helped me get a broader understanding of how a project such as mine might proceed. — Academy Participant

For example, in a course led by Clay Johnson, teams from New York City, Mexico City, Pittsburgh and London were so eager to keep talking that they requested to extend the program by four weeks as they all tried to improve their governments’ tech procurement processes.

Lesson 10: Collaboration and coordination among anchor organizations is key to meeting the demand and coordinating the supply.

We cannot do this work alone. Success comes from collaboration between partners with commitments to solving the world’s hardest problems. Here are some of the ways we are collaborating:

Combining Coaching and Prizes — For those sponsoring a prize-backed challenge, such as One.Org, the Citizen Cyberscience Centre, and theCrowdcrafting platform, who are trying to stimulate the use of citizen science to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we offer the coaching that helps the winners take an innovation, like an app, from a cool idea to an implementable project.

Creating New Communities of Practice — Working with the Organization of American States, which is investing in building the next generation of innovative leaders in Latin America, we are coaching these OAS Fellows to realize the vision for their projects. We have also partnered with Nesta and MindLab to coach a cohort of new public lab practitioners.

Agile Networks of Expertise — Through a curated call for help to global experts, the GovLab Academy is helping the City of Quito to prepare for the possible explosion of the Cotopaxi volcano by quickly assembling dozens of global experts to provide advice and mentoring, leading to the development of a new suite of citizen reporting tools.

University for the Public Good: Making a Dent in the Universe

Our next step is to replicate and scale what works to make a concerted effort to tackle hard problems.

Imagine what a new kind of university dedicated to the public good might look like. Even as we launch new coaching programs to help more people become agents of change, our bigger goal is to make a dent in really hard problems from reforming the criminal justice system to advancing humanitarian interventions to fighting inequality by empowering more people to become effective public entrepreneurs.

To do so, we want to multiply project coaching and mentoring initiatives — focused on solving specific problems and enabling people to use innovative techniques to do so — and to create the scalable platforms and interventions that provide sustained engagement for many more public entrepreneurs to the end of catalyzing real change in more communities.

The world’s national, state and local governments don’t have the right digital skills in the right quantities to meet the challenges of the coming century. This is a Big Problem. — A Manifesto for Public Technology, Tom Steinberg, founder of

In the process of creating our homespun “public good university,” we also hope to convince traditional universities to change how they teach. At NYU Tandon School of Engineering, we already offer Capstone programs for graduate students focusing on public entrepreneurship and using the same methods. We need more engineering programs focusing on public interest problems, more law and public policy schools including technology in their toolkit, and more cross-over between these disciplines.

But we don’t have to wait until we rebuild ancient universities and hidebound degree programs when we can create new pop-up universities for social good like the Academy.

For more about the Academy read our one-pager, our slides and our full report.


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Opening Governance in the Private Sector

By Jay Horwitz and Anita McGahan

The opening of governance is transforming large multinational companies, small enterprises, and every type of private-sector enterprise in between.   At the same time, the opening of governance is calling into question whether corporations are needed at all to take up opportunities for creating value, especially when those opportunities are tied to big data.

What does it mean to open governance in the private sector?  At the most basic level, the idea of opening governance involves questioning whether the large and cumbersome decision-making processes that saddle most companies are necessary.  In some cases, companies are so inefficient as vehicles for making something happen that they are not necessary at all.  For example, the open-source software movement has generated countless algorithms by engaging programmers who want nothing more than to have their code used. 

In most cases, though, opening governance offers companies new ways of organizing to lower costs, improve operations, increase customer relevance, and generate new revenue.  Costs go down when crowdsourcing replaces expensive marketing analysis; when big data expose supply-chain problems; and when field managers are given more authority because their decisions can be communicated quickly up an organizational hierarchy.   All of these opportunities can make companies more agile.   For example, in banking, big data makes it easier to monitor and assess the performance of loans to small-business customers.  Because the costs of lending are lower and because monitoring is more effective, a bank can justify delegating more authority to branch managers to make the loans in the first place.

Opening governance improves operations as well.  Through “innovation jams,” online-suggestion boxes, and employee competitions, companies are crowdsourcing ideas about how to jettison outdated processes and procedures.  Data collected online point to hot spots and bottlenecks in just about every facet of an organization’s operations.  Starbucks, for example, used big-data and analytics to identify an opportunity to improve delivery times on drinks to rushing commuters by allowing online ordering of drinks in advance. 

Many companies have improved the relevance of their offerings to customers by opening governance.  Prominent companies have built new businesses by giving end-users the means and incentive to provide information about where they’ve been (e.g. Yelp and Foursquare), what they like (e.g. Reddit, Amazon, Netflix), who they are friends with (e.g. Facebook), who they are influenced by (e.g. Spotify, Twitter), and who they have business relationships with (e.g. Linkedin).  By synthesizing customer feedback, these organizations are offering tailored services that are immediately relevant, and then delivering those services with unprecedented speed.  Uber has turned the taxi industry on its head by making rides easier to order, track, and pay for.

Opening governance has also opened up unprecedented sources of value.  In healthcare, the secure transmission of radiology data enables quicker and more accurate X-ray analysis.  Because physicians and other health providers can communicate securely, they can consult with one another more widely.  The improvements in patient care are remarkable: earlier diagnosis, more accurate diagnosis, better treatment plans, greater treatment compliance, and fewer complications.  Analogous revenue improvements are emerging in a wide range of core service industries including education, finance, transportation, retail, logistics, distribution, media, entertainment, and lodging to name a few.

Revenue enhancement is also exploding in manufacturing.  In the automotive industry, 3-D printing systems enable greater vehicle customization, but only when decision systems are set up to convey customer preferences back through the distribution chain.  Here, opening governance is defined by the restructuring of resource-allocation decisions into algorithms for running manufacturing lines based on real-time data on customer preferences.  What opening governance does is substitute the interventions of factory managers with optimized, machine-generated instructions on which cars to build when.  The opening of governance becomes the third leg to complement big data and analytics. 

Just as in the public sector, the opening of governance in the private sector means greater transparency and accountability in top-management decision-making.  The movement from the collection of big data toward effective inference requires exposing algorithms, such as when an airline tells you why you weren’t upgraded despite being first on the list. Making effective inferences and getting the algorithm right is critical, as anyone who was denied a seat on an airplane can tell you. 

Given the range of issues, the scope of the opportunity, and the consequences of getting this wrong, we need to deploy a generation of talented doctoral students and faculty to tackle opening governance.  That’s just what we are seeking to do.

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Opening Governance Networking Reception in Washington, D.C.

On March 21, from 5:30-7:00pm, join us at OpenGov Hub to meet, share knowledge, and explore potential collaborations with members of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance

Convened and organized by the GovLab, and made possible by a three-year 5 million USD grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Network seeks to build an empirical foundation and fundamental understanding of how the redesign of democratic institutions influences effectiveness and legitimacy in governance, to the end of improving people’s lives. A core group of twelve members is complemented by an advisory network of academics, technologists, and current and former government officials. Through both face-to-face and online collaboration, the Network is focused on assessing existing innovations in governing and experimenting with new practices and, eventually new norms, for how our institutions make decisions at the local, national, and international level.

This reception will give a chance for the Network, the GovLab, and the OpenGov Hub's network of 35 member organizations promoting transparency, accountability, and civic participation around the world to explore collaboration opportunities with one another.

Register here



Studying Data-Driven and Collaborative Innovation in Governance

By Andrew Young and Stefaan Verhulst

Two years ago, the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance was launched to build an empirical foundation and fundamental understanding of how the redesign of democratic institutions influences effectiveness and legitimacy in governance, to the end of improving people’s lives. Much has changed since. Interest in open government has increased rapidly and the need to innovate in how we solve problems is now well understood at all levels of decision-making: local, state, national and international. Despite the growth in innovation efforts little is known about what works and why.

To address these knowledge deficits, the Network’s efforts are focused on the questions found in its common Research Agenda, organized around two central hypotheses:

  • Collaborative Innovation – When institutions open themselves to diverse participation and better coordinate efforts with other stakeholders, governing decisions are more effective and legitimate.
  • Data-Driven Innovation – When governing institutions leverage data to inform decision-making they are more legitimate and effective, and when institutions open data to the public, new public value is created.

To test these hypotheses and the many research questions that exist under them, the Network and its members are active in five key areas:

  1. Promoting collaboration – both within the Network itself and with others from the emerging field of opening governance, working to break down barriers between disciplines to jointly solve problems, answer questions and create value.
  2. Documenting the paradigm shift – identifying, curating, and broadening the awareness of the key examples, scholarship and evidence in the field of opening governance.    
  3. Increasing the understanding of variables of impact – through both action and desk research, identifying, collecting, and testing the diversity of elements that can impact the success or failure of innovative open governance efforts.
  4. Training – providing both the current and next generation of public problem solvers (within and outside government) the skills, research insights and guidance needed to increase their impact.  
  5. Promoting the uptake of findings – taking results gained through research – often research undertaken in a real-world setting with institutional partners – and driving the application of relevant findings in other governing contexts. 

In the below, we describe a selection of outputs and outcomes along these five lines, which provide a glimpse at the work and impacts of the Research Network over the last past year. 

1. Promoting collaboration

“Opening Governance” was the organizing theme of the 75th meeting of the Academy of Management, the largest gathering of business-school professors in the world. Chaired by Network member Anita McGahan, the meeting brought together over 10,000 people under this theme, and yielded the most paper submissions received in the history of AoM.

The Network organized a series of workshops bringing together scholars working on questions with democratic choice together with scholars working on machine learning and related forms of data analysis. The goal is to help galvanize debates between data scientists and political scientists and theorists that could generate new ways of addressing common problems.

The Network played an important role in the development of ResearchStack, a common framework and open source community around health-related crowdsourcing and citizen-science. Network member Deborah Estrin drove efforts to bring the benefits of ResearchKit to the Android mobile platform so that research studies can include appropriate demographic representation. 

2. Documenting the paradigm shift

Through a number of efforts, including the weekly GovLab Digest, the Network has sought to act as the curator and knowledge-broker for relevant happenings in the field.

Americans’ Views on Open Government Data,an original report from the Pew Research Foundation built from a nationally-representative survey of American adults  focused on their attitudes about open government and open data and behaviors related to them. 

The Network, in partnership with Omidyar Network developed 19 case studies on the global impacts of open data and a Key Findings Paper documenting the lessons learned across these diverse cases.

3. Increasing the understanding of variables of impact

Across its two core lines of research, the Network’s efforts were especially targeted at deepening the field’s understanding of: Collective Intelligence (particularly as it relates to healthcare patient networks); Empathy in Decisionmaking; Globally Distributed Governance Practices; Open Innovation (prizes and incentives); Private Entrepreneurship in the Public Interest; Technologies of Expertise; Data-Driven Governance of Healthcare; Open Data impacts; Small Data; and Data Collaboratives.

The Network has studied variables of impact within and across these themes through a number of projects and products, including three books published by Network members in 2015: Innovation for Health Urbanization – co-edited by Anita McGahan; Governance in the Information Era: Theories and Practice of Policy Informatics – edited by Erik Johnston; and Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing – by Beth Simone Noveck. Additionally, Network members released research papers and book chapters across a diversity of topic areas and outlets. A compendium of some of these papers will be released soon. 

Beyond traditional academic writing, the Network and its members launched or continued the development of a number of collaborative platforms to enable research into variables of open governance impact, including:

  • Netmundial Solutions Map, a tool designed to support information sharing and collaboration across Internet governance issues.
  • Crosscloud, a set of protocols and tools that gives individuals better control of their own data. Building on standard Semantic Web and Linked Data Technologies, Crosscloud will allow individuals to choose whom can access their personal data and move their data to other systems as needed.
  • Pushcart, a prototype system to address one of the most critical and broad issues around governance and health, namely nutrition. The Pushcart system leverages individual household grocery shopping data to drive scalable personalized behavioral interventions.

4. Training

Many Network members acted as faculty in the GovLab Academy’s Coaching Programs, which are geared to the purpose-driven participant inside and outside of government (both individuals and teams) passionate about a public problem and already undertaking a project. The programs are designed to help participants develop a project from idea to implementation. As part of the GovLab Academy training efforts, the Network provided targeted disaster response and preparation mentorship and training for officials in the city of Quito, Ecuador in preparation for the eruption of volcano Cotopaxi.

Closely related to its focus on documenting the paradigm shift and promoting the uptake of findings, the Network works to identify and share best practices in the broader field. At this year’s Open Government Partnership Summit in Mexico City, for instance, the Network led a session focused on assessing the impacts of open governance initiatives. The assembled policymakers, academics and institutional actors were guided through an impact assessment exercise and trained in how to apply such methodologies to their everyday work.

Additionally, at the LabWorks 2015 conference in London, the Network led “Masterclass Workshops” with global innovation lab practitioners on:

  • Data for Innovation: A coaching session on the ways in which open and shared data can help the labs community act on opportunities for innovating governance and address barriers to impact.
  • Crowdsourcing Wisely: Moving beyond crowdsourcing widely to strategically target opportunities for participation to the individuals and groups most able to have an impact on the innovation objectives of the labs community.
  • LabTech: Developing common frameworks and tools for labs to spur innovation through the opening, sharing, and leveraging of data.

5. Promoting the uptake of findings

In the broadest terms, the Network is seeking to bring the interdisciplinary ideas and findings, across the two central lines of research, to communities inside and outside government that can put them to best use. 

At events like At the Roots of Collective Intelligence, The Coming Age of the Internet of Things, and the Network-organized Data-Driven and and Collaborative Solutions Public Forum, the Network sought to promote the operationalization of its findings within and outside the existing field. 

The Network also sought to play a direct role in promoting the uptake of open governance findings within governments: 

  • In collaboration with Leiden University’s Peace Informatics Lab, and the World Economic Forum Data-Driven Development initiative, the Network analyzed a series of terms and conditions for both public and private data challenges. The analysis was conducted in coordination with UN Global Pulse, and was used as an input for the Data for Climate Action Challenge launched at the COP21 Paris Climate Conference.
  • The Network held a meeting with high-level UK Cabinet Office officials to discuss leveraging data-driven and collaborative innovation to two central priority areas for the new Cameron administration.
  • The United States Department of Education’s "Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education," National Education Technology Plan (NETP) was developed with input from a diversity of expert advisors, including Network chair Beth Simone Noveck.
  • The Network engaged the U.S. government innovation prize community at the 5th anniversary event both to launch Network of Innovators and to discuss strategies for inserting research and impact assessment into future prize-backed challenges.
  • White House Fact Sheet: In October 2015, the Obama Administration released a new Fact Sheet to coincide with the anniversary event. Included in the fact sheet is the following: “The GovLab and MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance will launch an expert network for prizes and challenges. The Governance Lab (GovLab) and MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance will develop and launch the Network of Innovators (NoI) expert networking platform. NoI will make easily searchable the know-how of innovators on topics ranging from developing prize-backed challenges, opening up data, and use of crowdsourcing for public good. Platform users will answer questions about their skills and experiences, creating a profile that enables them to be matched to those with complementary knowledge to enable mutual support and learning. A beta version for user testing within the Federal prize community will launch in early October, with a full launch at the end of October. NoI will be open to civil servants around the world.”
  • On Friday, March 20, 2015, the Network hosted the Accelerating Data Collaboratives Workshop with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The workshop brought together government agencies, companies, and experts to identify synergies and understand best practices in sharing public and private data for public good. Participants included: Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, DJ Patil, Deputy CTO for Data Policy and Chief Data Scientist, and Chris Moody, VP of Data Strategy at Twitter, among others.
  • The Network forged community partnerships with Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Arizona Department of Health Services, National Weather Service Phoenix Forecast Office, Arizona Department of Transportation, Phoenix Heat Relief Network, Maricopa Association of Governments, Maricopa County Air Quality Department around a number of projects on urban planning and improving intervention programs to reduce extreme heat health incidents (e.g., cooling center networks, public health warning systems). These partnerships led to the passage of Phoenix's $31.5 billion transportation plan in August 2015. 



Join us at the Internet Governance Forum in Brazil

If you are scheduled to attend the Internet Governance Forum next week in Brazil, please join us at the workshop “NETmundial Solutions Map”, taking place from 16:30 to 18:00 on Monday, November 9  in workshop room 5 – jointly organized by The GovLab and Global Partners Digital.

The NETmundial Solutions Map is a crowd-sourced Internet governance information-sharing resource launched by the NETmundial Initiative. The platform is meant to act as a tool where information on Internet governance issues can be shared and curated by its users as to enable collaborative and innovative approaches to how we steer the further evolution of the Internet.

The session will provide participants with an opportunity to learn about the status of the initiative, but also test its many features and provide user feedback. Just like the Internet governance ecosystem, the Map relies on bottom-up participation to create value.

Check it out and start contributing today at!

Let’s map internet governance together.



Exploring the Role of Data in "The Coming Age of the Internet of Things"

Yesterday, the NYU Tandon School of Engineering hosted Vint Cerf, one of the "fathers of the Internet" and the Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google for a discussion on "The Coming Age of the Internet of Things." Cerf's keynote discussion focused particularly on the need for citizens to gain greater understanding and control of how their personal information is being used as more and more devices – from personal fitness trackers to washing machines – are connected to the Internet.

Following the keynote, Cerf participated in a panel discussion on the Internet of Things with the Network chair and director of the GovLab Beth Simone Noveck and Cornell Tech computer science professor and Network member Deborah Estrin. In a post for The Wall Street Journal's CIO Report, Steven Norton described the panel discussion:

"In a panel discussion following Mr. Cerf’s keynote, a group of Internet of Things researchers touted the public and commercial benefits of being able to access reams of user-generated data. But some on the panel, which included Mr. Cerf, Cornell Tech computer science professor Deborah Estrin and Tandon School professor Beth Simone Noveck, cautioned against making data available solely to private interests, an outcome that could restrict consumer privacy and hamper public research efforts.

'Ultimately and finally this is an issue about control,' said Ms. Noveck, who directs The Governance Lab at NYU. 'This is about getting our own data back about ourselves.' She also stressed the importance of finding ways to share societal information collected by private companies – such as weather and temperature data – with government and researchers to more effectively address policy issues."

Read more here.



What We Learned at the 5th Anniversary Event

At the the recent “All Hands on Deck: Solving Complex Problems through Prizes and Challenges,” an event hosted by Georgetown University in collaboration with the White House, Case Foundation and Joyce Foundation to mark the 5th anniversary of, the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance embarked on a fact-finding mission with the diversity of practitioners of prize-backed contests and grand challenges assembled at the event.

The event, which brought together over 150 Federal, state, and local government leaders, as well as representatives from civil society and the private sector, featured panels, talks and workshops. You can look back at the discussions held during the event at #publicprizes and watch videos of plenary talks and workshops here.


The Network members in attendance – Jesper Christiansen, Erik Johnston and Andrew Young – used the opportunity to pose two central questions to the assembled practitioners: 1) What questions in the field of prizes and challenges make you think, “If only we knew…”; and 2) What’s next for the field?


The responses collected – from players in the field like New York City’s Chief Technology Officer Minerva Tantoco and U.S. Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation Tom Kalil – will be used to create a detailed research agenda and roadmap to guide future research into and pilot projects built around prizes and challenges. This effort will build on previous work by the Network to articulate the current state of research in the field. Some of the major findings surfaced at the event are listed below.

In the field of prizes and challenges, if only we knew…

  • to accelerate cross-sector collaboration around prize development.

  • to foster institutional readiness to act on the innovative solutions provided by prize winners.

  • to communicate to diverse stakeholders – inside and outside of government – that big public problems are shared among actors across sectors.

  • to motivate government officials to understand and maintain the quality of data that could prove useful to solvers outside of government.

  • to make innovations like prizes and challenges the best practice and standard operating procedure in relevant government areas.

  • to maintain long-term interest from the solver community in prizes that can take years to move from announcement to solution.

  • cases when the solution to a given problem is well known, how to avoid simply deferring opportunity costs to the private sector instead of leveraging internal government capabilities.  

What’s next in the field?

  • A greater focus on mobilizing diverse incentives for participation beyond prize money.

  • Moves to foster greater inclusiveness in the solver community.

  • Increased co-creation of prizes and challenges through partnerships between government, civil society and private sector stakeholders.

  • A higher level of involvement among the public, particularly the expert public, in the development of the problem definitions for prizes and challenges.

  • A more streamlined process for verifying and judging solutions, reducing undue expenditures in that area of prizes.

To date, more than 72 different Federal agencies, departments and bureaus have led prize-backed challenges in the U.S., with other levels of government and actors in the private and civil sectors adding even more efforts to the total work. The U.S. Federal Government’s efforts have catalyzed tens of thousands of citizen solvers to work toward solutions to major public problems. In the lead up to the event, highlighted 15 of the biggest success stories arising from the platform to date, including solutions related to oil spill cleanup, detecting salmonella in food and breast cancer treatment.

To mark the anniversary, the White House also released a Fact Sheet highlighting new commitments to expand and foster the innovation prize community. The GovLab and Research Network’s Network of Innovators platform, which was launched in the U.S. prize community during the event, was one of the included commitments.