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Stefaan Verhulst for the Conversation: How social media data can improve people’s lives - if used responsibly

Last week, The Conversation published a new piece from Network chief of research Stefaan Verhulst on the growing use of social media data to improve people's lives around the world. Verhulst begins the article by describing a data collaborative launched in Malawi where the Red Cross improved its aid and relief distribution thanks to a mapping effort built on Facebook's population density data.

He goes on to describe the broader opportunity space created by the use of social media data to solve public problems: 

"The Malawi partnership is just one manifestation of the concept of data collaboratives. We have defined this as a new form of collaboration beyond the public-private partnership model, in which participants from different sectors  —  including private companies, research institutions, and government agencies  —  can exchange data to help solve public problems.

While such collaboratives are emerging in a number of sectors and areas, the Malawi case is an example of a particular kind of collaborative. It’s what we might call a social media data collaborative.

While much attention has been paid to the impact of social media on politics, much value can be generated from social media data for governing as well, but only when done responsibly.

Users of social media are today disclosing and sharing an unprecedented amount of data. Facebook alone collects 98 unique personal data points from its users, and Twitter processes about 6,000 tweets every second.

With an estimated 2.51 billion social media users across the world, a staggering amount of information is being gleaned about individuals and their interactions from social networking platforms.

There is little doubt that much of the data stored by social media companies could, if made available in a responsible manner, provide groups working for the public interest with new insights and avenues for action. Unfortunately, at present such groups have only limited access to data, and their data science expertise remains similarly limited.

Data collaboratives like the Missing Maps project represent a new, contemporary model of corporate social responsibility."

 Read more here

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Hollie Russon-Gilman in Stanford Social Innovation Review: The Moment for Participatory Democracy

This week, associate Network member Hollie Russon-Gilman shared "three civic engagement models that can help bring the voices of everyday citizens into public life" in a piece for Stanford Social Innovation Review. The article, "The Moment for Participatory Democracy," explores examples of 1) giving citizens government data (e.g., What Works Cities); 2) giving citizens a direct line to their representatives (e.g., Crown Townhall); and giving citizens a seat at the table: 

"There are also several promising models for citizens to serve as co-producers of policy. Participatory budgeting, for example, lets community residents allocate a portion of taxpayer dollars to public projects. New York City—supported by the Participatory Budgeting Project, and Community Voices Heard—is home to the largest participatory budgeting effort to date and recently enabled online voting for projects.

Another promising model is the Citizens’ Jury method, pioneered by the Jefferson Center. Three counties in rural Minnesota are using this method as a foundation for Rural Climate Dialogues—regular gatherings where local residents hear from rural experts, work directly with their neighbors to design actionable community and policy recommendations, and share their feedback with public officials at a statewide meeting of rural Minnesota citizens, state agency representatives, and nonprofit organizations. Participants also pledge to fulfill local action to mitigate climate change. One participant says, 'Before I was a part of these events, I really didn’t think there was anything I could do about [climate change]. I was always just one of those who thought, "It’s too big of an issue. It’s happening. My hands are tied." [By participating in] these events, I realize that there are things we can do, even me personally, my community.'”

Read more here

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee Wins 2017 Turing Award

Last week, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) announced that Sir Tim Berners-Lee is this year's recipient of the Turing Award – the so-called Nobel Prize of of computing. ACM chose Sir Tim as the Turing Award winner in its 50th anniversary year for “inventing the World Wide Web, the first web browser, and the fundamental protocols and algorithms allowing the web to scale.” Sir Tim will also receive a $1 million prize provided by Google. 

In response to the announcement, Sir Tim said:

“I’m humbled to receive the namesake award of a computing pioneer who showed that what a programmer could do with a computer is limited only by the programmer themselves. It is an honor to receive an award like the Turing that has been bestowed to some of the most brilliant minds in the world.”

Sir Tim will officially receive his award at the ACM annual banquet in San Francisco on June 24th. 

Read more here

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Karim Lakhani Shares the Truth About Blockchain in Harvard Business Review

In the January-February issue of Harvard Business Review, Network member Karim Lakhani and fellow Harvard Business School professor Marco Iansiti explore the potential impacts of the emergent "foundational" technology. While bullish on blockchain's ability to fundamentally alter (and improve) a wide array of private and public sector processes, including but not limited to financial ones:

"With blockchain, we can imagine a world in which contracts are embedded in digital code and stored in transparent, shared databases, where they are protected from deletion, tampering, and revision. In this world every agreement, every process, every task, and every payment would have a digital record and signature that could be identified, validated, stored, and shared. Intermediaries like lawyers, brokers, and bankers might no longer be necessary. Individuals, organizations, machines, and algorithms would freely transact and interact with one another with little friction. This is the immense potential of blockchain."

Lakhani and Iansiti are also clear-eyed in their assessment of the hype surrounding blockchain, and caution that its most transformative impacts are likely years away. They argue:

"True blockchain-led transformation of business and government, we believe, is still many years away. That’s because blockchain is not a 'disruptive' technology, which can attack a traditional business model with a lower-cost solution and overtake incumbent firms quickly. Blockchain is a foundational technology: It has the potential to create new foundations for our economic and social systems. But while the impact will be enormous, it will take decades for blockchain to seep into our economic and social infrastructure. The process of adoption will be gradual and steady, not sudden, as waves of technological and institutional change gain momentum."

In seeking to understand how blockchain is likely to evolve and impact society, Lakhani and Iasanti consider other foundational technologies, like TCP/IP (transmission control protocol/internet protocol), the technical infrastructure that makes the Internet possible. Based on their analysis, they find that two dimensions will primarily affect how blockchain use cases are likely to evolve:  

"The first is novelty—the degree to which an application is new to the world. The more novel it is, the more effort will be required to ensure that users understand what problems it solves. The second dimension is complexity, represented by the level of ecosystem coordination involved—the number and diversity of parties that need to work together to produce value with the technology. For example, a social network with just one member is of little use; a social network is worthwhile only when many of your own connections have signed on to it. Other users of the application must be brought on board to generate value for all participants. The same will be true for many blockchain applications. And, as the scale and impact of those applications increase, their adoption will require significant institutional change."

Read more here.

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New Paper from Stefaan Verhulst: Data Collaboratives as “Bazaars”? A Review of Coordination Problems and Mechanisms to Match Demand for Data with Supply

In the latest issue of Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy, Network Chief of Research Stefaan Verhulst, Iryna Susha of Örebro University and Marijn Janssen from the Delft University of Technology explore challenges and coordination mechanisms to advance the field of data collaboratives. Data collaboratives are a new form of collaboration, beyond the public-private partnership model, in which participants from different sectors — in particular companies – exchange their data to create public value. 

Abstract: 

Purpose
In “data collaboratives” private and public organizations coordinate their activities to leverage data to address a societal challenge. This paper focuses on analyzing challenges and coordination mechanisms of data collaboratives.

Design/methodology/approach
This study uses coordination theory to identify and discuss the coordination problems and coordination mechanisms associated with data collaboratives. We also use a taxonomy of data collaborative forms from a previous empirical study to discuss how different forms of data collaboratives may require different coordination mechanisms.

Findings
The study analyzed data collaboratives from the perspective of organizational and task levels. At the organizational level we argue that data collaboratives present an example of the bazaar form of coordination. At the task level we identified five coordination problems and discussed potential coordination mechanisms to address them, such as coordination by negotiation, by third party, by standardization, to name a few.

Research limitations/implications
This study is one of the first few to systematically analyze the phenomenon of “data collaboratives”.

Practical implications
This study can help practitioners understand better the coordination challenges they may face when initiating a data collaborative and to develop successful data collaboratives by using coordination mechanisms to mitigate these challenges.

Originality/value
Data collaboratives is a novel form of data-driven initiatives which have seen rapid experimentation lately. This study draws attention to this concept in academic literature and highlights some of the complexities of organizing them in practice.

Read more here

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Letter from Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Three Challenges for the Web, According to Its Inventor

Sunday marked the 28th anniversary of the World Wide Web. To mark the anniversary, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the Web's inventor and a member of the Research Network, shared a letter on the World Wide Web Foundation website focusing especially on three new trends believes "we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all of humanity."

First, "We’ve lost control of our personal data: 'The current business model for many websites offers free content in exchange for personal data. Many of us agree to this – albeit often by accepting long and confusing terms and conditions documents – but fundamentally we do not mind some information being collected in exchange for free services. But, we’re missing a trick. As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realise if we had direct control over this data, and chose when and with whom to share it. What’s more, we often do not have any way of feeding back to companies what data we’d rather not share – especially with third parties – the T&Cs are all or nothing."

Second, "It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web: "Today, most people find news and information on the web through just a handful of social media sites and search engines. These sites make more money when we click on the links they show us. And, they choose what to show us based on algorithms which learn from our personal data that they are constantly harvesting. The net result is that these sites show us content they think we’ll click on – meaning that misinformation, or ‘fake news’, which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases can spread like wildfire. And through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain."

Third, "Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding: Political advertising online has rapidly become a sophisticated industry. The fact that most people get their information from just a few platforms and the increasing sophistication of algorithms drawing upon rich pools of personal data, means that political campaigns are now building individual adverts targeted directly at users. One source suggests that in the 2016 US election, as many as 50,000 variations of adverts were being served every single day on Facebook, a near-impossible situation to monitor. And there are suggestions that some political adverts – in the US and around the world – are being used in unethical ways – to point voters to fake news sites, for instance, or to keep others away from the polls. Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?"

Read more here.

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Stefaan Verhulst Interviewed on First Episode of Global Partners Digital's In Beta Podcast

Network chief of research Stefaan Verhulst recently appeared on the inaugural episode of Global Partners Digital (GPD) podcast, In beta. GPD is a "social purpose company dedicated to fostering a digital environment underpinned by human rights and democratic values." GPD created the In beta podcast to "host interesting conversations with interesting people in our field, outside of the conventions of traditional policy discourse; which can sometimes work to confine people in silos, and discourage more open, experimental thinking."

In this first episode, Verhulst and Charles Bradley, GPD's executive director, discuss whether or not policymaking is stuck in the 19th century.

Listen below and learn more about In beta here.  

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Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis: Geoff Mulgan Proposes a Constructive Direction for Politics and Policy after Brexit and Trump

In a new essay on the Nesta blog, Geoff Mulgan proposes a theory aimed at providing a "constructive direction for politics and policy after Brexit and Trump." The piece seeks to provide a blueprint for better understanding the opposing forces currently at play (i.e., the remnants of previous political order vs. the current, often populist shocks upending the system) and articulating a plausible, more broadly beneficial path forward across domains like health, education and democracy itself.

Mulgan begins his essay by referencing Francis Fukuyama's theory about how the end of the Cold War (and the triumph of liberal democracy and the free market") marked the "end of history." Fukuyama's proposition builds on the philosophy Georg Hegel. Mulgan similarly draws on the Hegelian tradition to understand our current global geopolitical moment: 

"Now, following the political convulsions of 2016, we’re at a very different turning point, which many are trying to make sense of. I want to suggest that we can again usefully turn to Hegel, but this time to his idea that history evolves in dialectical ways, with successive phases of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

This framework fits well with where we stand today.  The ‘thesis’ that has dominated mainstream politics for the last generation – and continues to be articulated shrilly by many proponents – is the claim that the combination of globalisation, technological progress and liberalisation empowers the great majority. 

The antithesis, which, in part, fuelled the votes for Brexit and Trump, as well as the rise of populist parties and populist authoritarian leaders in Europe and beyond, is the argument that this technocratic combination merely empowers a minority and disempowers the majority of citizens.

A more progressive synthesis - which I will outline - then has to address the flaws of the thesis and the grievances of the antithesis, in fields ranging from education and health to democracy and migration, dealing head on with questions of power and its distribution: questions about who has power, and who feels powerful."

Read more here

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Henry Farrell on Europe's Far Right in the Washington Post's Monkey Cage Blog

In his latest article for The Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog, Henry Farrell, along with Abraham Newman, examines the current state of the far-right European parties and their relationship to the European Union. In particular, they examine the issue through the lens of France's National Front, which has been accused of misusing European Parliament expenses, and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the leader of the Brexit movement. Farrell and Newman find that most anti-European Union parties tend to benefit greatly from the existence of the EU, and, indeed, might not be capable of continued existence without the coalition. 

They conclude: 

"As both the UKIP and National Front stories demonstrate, there are two things that far-right parties like about the European Union — its election resources and its money. It seems paradoxical that the European Union is paying the parties that want to dig its grave. Indeed, the trouble that the National Front is in may reflect the fact that some European authorities are unwilling to continue this arrangement. The National Front is certainly not the only party guilty of sketchy behavior with European Parliament money — the fact that the Parliament has gone after it, triggering the French investigation, may have as much to do with politics as the desire to uproot corrupt practices."

Read more here

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New Journal Article on "Being Digitally Invisible" Published by ASU Center for Policy Informatics

A team from Arizona State University's Center for Policy Informatics (CPI), led by Network Associate Member Justin Longo and including Network member Erik Johnston, has just published their research on the concept of “digitally invisible” in the journal Policy & Internet (open access is available here).

With the emergence of “policy analytics” – involving the combination of new data sources (e.g., from mobile smartphones, Internet of Everything (IoE) devices, and electronic payment cards) with new data analytics techniques – as a powerful force for informing and directing public policy, the team explored the possibility that a new type of digital divide was also possible: where those who do not use or own devices like smartphones, IoE devices, and transaction cards do not show up in the “big data” sets that policy analytics presumes. If true, this may result in policy analytics being biased, and policy interventions being misdirected as a result.

Along with CPI colleagues Evan Kuras, Holly Smith, and David Hondula, Longo and Johnson set out to determine whether the concept of the digitally invisible could be shown empirically through an exploratory study with the participation of homeless individuals in Phoenix and the Phoenix Rescue Mission, in the context of extreme heat exposure.

“For those without a smartphone, without a bank account or credit card, without regular and ubiquitous Internet-connected computer access, living beneath and beyond the network of sensors, monitors and data capture points, their existence is being rendered increasingly invisible, with policy developed using a policy analytics approach biased against them, even if unintentionally”, Longo said in a recent blog post. “As a result, policymaking will be blind to their existence and policy based on incomplete evidence will not reflect their reality.”

Abstract: Policy analytics combines new data sources, such as from mobile smartphones, Internet of Everything devices, and electronic payment cards, with new data analytics techniques for informing and directing public policy. However, those who do not own these devices may be rendered digitally invisible if data from their daily actions are not captured. We explore the digitally invisible through an exploratory study of homeless individuals in Phoenix, Arizona, in the context of extreme heat exposure. Ten homeless research participants carried a temperature-sensing device during an extreme heat week, with their individually experienced temperatures (IETs) compared to outdoor ambient temperatures. A nonhomeless, digitally connected sample of 10 university students was also observed, with their IETs analyzed in the same way. Surveys of participants complement the temperature measures. We found that homeless individuals and university students interact differently with the physical environment, experiencing substantial differences in individual temperatures relative to outdoor conditions, potentially leading to differentiated health risks and outcomes. They also interact differently with technology, with the homeless having fewer opportunities to benefit from digital services and lower likelihood to generate digital data that might influence policy analytics. Failing to account for these differences may result in biased policy analytics and misdirected policy interventions.

Read more here.

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Stefaan Verhulst in Stanford Social Innovation Review: Corporate Social Responsibility for a Data Age

Yesterday, Stanford Social Innovation Review published a piece from Network chief of research Stefaan Verhulst on a new form of "Corporate Social Responsibility for a Data Age." The piece, which builds on a talk given by Verhulst at TEDx MidAtlantic and the GovLab's recently launched DataCollaboratives.org website, discusses the need for a new conception of data responsibility in our age of data-driven problem-solving (and data-driven risks). 

After proposing a conception of Data Responsibility comprising a duty to share, a duty to protect and a duty to act, Verhulst offers four immediate steps to enable the necessary culture shift within companies, governments and other data-holding entities:

  1. Data holders should issue a public commitment to data responsibility so that it becomes the default—an expected, standard behavior within organizations.
  2. Organizations should hire data stewards to determine what and when to share, and how to protect and act on data.
  3. We must develop a data responsibility decision tree to assess the value and risk of corporate data along the data lifecycle.
  4. Above all, we need a data responsibility movement; it is time to demand data responsibility to ensure data improves and safeguards people’s lives. 

Read more here

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Geoff Mulgan Joins New Council on the Future of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Announced at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Geoff Mulgan joins a group of 25 international, cross-sector experts in the newly established council on the Future of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The initiative is aimed at better understanding the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution.

From the council description: 

"This council will explore the Fourth Industrial Revolution as an opportunity to change models of innovation-driven entrepreneurship for the better, and create an environment that makes entrepreneurship more inclusive, while maximizing the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s benefits to the society and minimizing the risks that come with it."

Members include: 

  • Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive, Nesta
  • Valerie Casey, Founder and Executive Director, The Designers Accord
  • Bhaskar Chakravorti, Senior Associate Dean, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
  • Hongbo Chen, Vice-Dean, Tuspark Research Institute for Innovation, Tsinghua University
  • Tracy De Groose, Chief Executive Officer, Dentsu Aegis Network Ltd
  • Rocio Fonseca, Executive Director, Start-Up Chile
  • David Halabisky, Economist, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • Huda Al Hashimi, Assistant Director-General, Strategy and Innovation, Office of the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates
  • Susan Hauser, Corporate Vice-President, Enterprise and Partner Group, Microsoft Corporation
  • Victor Hwang, Vice-President, Entrepreneurship, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
  • Eugene Kandel, Chief Executive Officer, Start-Up Nation Central
  • Mark Kendall, Chairman, University of Queensland Innovation Champions, The University of Queensland
  • Neelie Kroes, Non-Executive Member of the Board, Open Data Institute
  • R. May Lee, Dean, School of Entrepreneurship and Management, ShanghaiTech University
  • Atul Mehta, Global Head, Telecom Media Technology, Venture Capital and Funds, International Finance Corporation (IFC)
  • Ovais Naqvi, Managing Director, The Abraaj Group
  • Catalina Ortiz, Consultant
  • Rapelang Rabana, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Rekindle Learning
  • Navi Radjou, Chief Executive Officer, NR Advisors
  • Allon Raiz, Chief Executive Officer, Raizcorp
  • Tom Simmons, Enterprise Fellow, University of Cambridge
  • Ashish J. Thakkar, Chair, Global Entrepreneurs Council, United Nations Foundation
  • Peter Tufano, Dean, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford
  • Jeffrey Wong, Global Chief Innovation Officer, EY
  • Wong Poh-Kam, Professor, Department of Strategy and Policy, National University of Singapore (NUS)

Read more here

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New Report from Lee Rainie and Pew Research Center: Code-Dependent: Pros and Cons of the Algorithm Age

Yesterday, Lee Rainie, Network member and director of Pew's Internet, Science and Technology Research, and Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center's Janna Anderson released a new report on the Algorithm Age. The report seeks to better understand the pros and cons of our increasing reliance on algorithms across many aspects of life. Rainie and Anderson note that, "Algorithms are often elegant and incredibly useful tools used to accomplish tasks. They are mostly invisible aids, augmenting human lives in increasingly incredible ways. However, sometimes the application of algorithms created with good intentions leads to unintended consequences."

Rainie and Anderson uncovered a number of overarching themes relevant to our Algorithm Age, all examined in detail in the report: 

  1. Algorithms will continue to spread everywhere
  2. Good things lie ahead
  3. Humanity and human judgment are lost when data and predictive modeling become paramount
  4. Biases exist in algorithmically-organized systems
  5. Algorithmic categorizations deepen divides
  6. Unemployment will rise
  7. The need grows for algorithmic literacy, transparency and oversight

Read more here.

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Beth Simone Noveck in Governing: Launching the Data Justice Network

In her latest column for Governing, Network chair Beth Simone Noveck describes the GovLab's newly launched Data Justice Network. The piece, written together with Batu Sayici, the GovLab's director of user experience, makes the case for expert networking technologies to "potentially transform how justice practitioners gain and share knowledge." As data-driven decision-making takes hold across governance sectors, including criminal justice, Noveck and Sayici argue that the ability to identify and consult with those possessing relevant data expertise can increase the chances of success for a criminal justice data project.

Noveck and Sayici provide background on the project: 

"During President Obama's administration, the White House championed a Data-Driven Justice (DDJ) initiative focused on helping state and local jurisdictions identify and make better use of their own and others' data. But after investing in and focusing on collecting data, state and local governments are struggling to determine how to move from collection to responsible and effective use and analysis. In a 2012 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of criminal-justice professionals, only 39 percent reported even employing researchers on staff to evaluate performance, and the survey revealed wide disparities in the embrace of data-driven decision-making. More recently, in a Governance Lab survey of criminal-justice coordinating councils, 53 percent reported that they did some data analysis at the individual agency level, but a full 22 percent reported that they did no data analysis at all.

To help rectify this situation, the Justice Management Institute and the GovLab, in collaboration with the National Association of Counties, the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, Code for America and the Sunlight Foundation, have launched the Data Justice Network, a knowledge-exchange platform that aims to accelerate data-driven justice reforms by facilitating better collaboration among criminal-justice practitioners and policymakers."

They go on to describe the goals and functionalities of the network: 

"The platform, built with support from a grant by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, allows justice officials to find colleagues with relevant experience in working with data -- ranging from high-level strategy, coordination, regulatory and legal compliance to working with vendors, analytics and reporting -- as well as justice-specific experience in areas such as crime prevention, pretrial procedures, mental health treatment and recidivism reduction. Users can share their innovative projects to gain visibility and inspire others while learning from their peers about what works, what doesn't and how to implement new programs."

Read more here.

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Research Network Participation at World Economic Forum 2017 in Davos

At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Network chair Beth Simone Noveck and Network member Sir Tim Berners-Lee took part in a number of sessions, including the “Shaping Davos” event, focusing on how technology can help to solve global problems. Both spoke about meeting the challenges facing a more globalized and dynamic internet environment, along with the great potentials new internet technologies hold.

Berners-Lee emphasized the need to counter cyber abuse in a nuanced yet powerful way: “Sir Tim Berners-Lee told the BBC that those who ‘make life absolutely miserable’ for women on the net should be named so they could be sued...offenders must be ‘judged by an open, accountable judicial process.'”

Among other engagements, Noveck tackled the question “How can emerging economies lead the way on embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution to catalyse sustainable growth and inclusion?” The session was developed with the Global Shapers Community, focusing on global issues and local solutions. It is part of a series of live events connecting to 16 cities worldwide.

View the WEF agenda and presentations here.

Read more about Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s participation here.

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Journal Article on Github for Open Governance Published from Work Undertaken at ASU Center for Policy Informatics

In 2014 a team from Arizona State University's Center for Policy Informatics (CPI), supported by Network member Erik Johnston and led by Network Associate Member Justin Longo, began researching how GitHub might be used in public sector organizations to facilitate open knowledge sharing and collaboration. The results of that research have now been published in the journal Canadian Public Administration (open access is available here).

GitHub is the largest web-based source code project hosting service on the Internet, principally used for distributed version control of software and website development projects. In recent years, increasing attention was being paid to the use of GitHub as a platform for document collaboration, with the possibility that it could serve to revolutionize the practice of knowledge sharing within organizations and be a mechanism for open governance.

Along with CPI colleague Tanya Kelley (now a postdoc at the University of Michigan), Longo set out to understand how GitHub was being used in public sector organizations and how it might be used in future. Longo and Kelley also published a series of three blog posts on the Brookings Institution TechTank blog (starting here) where they speculated on what tools like GitHub might mean for public sector organizations.

“The history of computer-supported collaborative work platforms is littered with really cool interfaces that failed to appeal to users. The experience to date with GitHub in Canadian governments reflects this, as far as our research shows”, Longo said in a recent blog post. “But while it’s tempting to dismiss GitHub, as it currently exists, as ill-suited as a collaboration tool to support document writing, it holds a lot of potential as a useful platform for facilitating collaboration in the public sector.”

Abstract: GitHub is a web-based digital project hosting service that facilitates collaboration. We introduce how GitHub works and assess how it has been used in the public sector in Canada based on interviews with federal government leaders and a survey of Canadian public service GitHub users. With little research to date on public sector use of GitHub, and none on its use in Canadian governments, we explore the early experience with this collaboration tool and consider the possible implications for collaboration in government.

Read more here

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The GovLab Launches DataCollaboratives.org – New Resource on Creating Public Value by Sharing Data

This week, the GovLab, through different partnerships with UNICEF (focused on creating data collaboratives to improve children's lives) and Omidyar Network (studying new ways to match open-data demand and supply to increase impact), launched DataCollaboratives.org. Data Collaboratives are a new form of collaboration built on cross-sector data sharing to solve public problems. 

Network chair Beth Simone Noveck described the potential of data collaboratives: "Recent years have seen exponential growth in the amount of data generated and stored around the world, and there is increasing acknowledgement that big data could play a key role in helping to address issues such as world hunger, disaster relief, and disease prevention if data were made widely available to those in positions to glean insights from the information and act upon it." 

The new resource collects over 70 examples of data collaboratives in place around the world, a guide for establishing a data collaborative, a rundown of incentives for the private sector to participate, and information on risks and strategies for mitigating them. 

"According to Stefaan Verhulst, The GovLab's co-founder and director of research and the head of its Data Collaboratives Initiative, the diverse examples detailed on the site clearly demonstrate the potential of data collaboration as an emerging model of inter-sector digital philanthropy.

'In the coming months and years, they will be essential vehicles for harnessing the vast stores of privately held data toward the public good,' Verhulst said."

Read the press release here

Read the launch blog post here

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Disunited Kingdom – Henry Farrell's Feature on Brexit in the Latest Democracy

For the Winter issue of Democracy, Henry Farrell explores the weakening of political parties in the United Kingdom and Europe – culminating in Brexit. The article, "Disunited Kingdom," tracks the shifts of political parties over time, with an eye toward explaining how Brexit became a reality, and how "the Labour Party [became] so weak that the Conservatives do not need to worry about Labour defeating them in the next election, or perhaps in the election after that. This means that UK political debate over the next decade will be an internal fight between more or less authoritarian versions of the right."

The current political situation in the U.K., the quickly approaching reality of Brexit and the the lack of trust in political parties leads Farrell to believe that a new debate about Britain's place in the EU and the establishment of a new political could occur before long:

"...the question of the UK rejoining is likely to come up again, as the costs of continued exclusion become clearer. Britain’s strategic situation in the world economy has not changed—it is far more dependent on Europe than it would like to admit. More than 4 million UK citizens signed a petition to run the referendum again—those who voted for Brexit tended to be old, while those who voted in favor of remaining in the EU tended to be young.

This might create political opportunities for an opposition party that wanted to oppose May’s vision of Britain by advocating a more populist vision of the EU—one in which people had free movement, but technocracy was curtailed and ordinary people had a better chance to shape policy. Such a vision might help mobilize the very large numbers of British people who wanted to remain within the EU around an active and positive agenda. It might also answer Mair’s dilemma—by proposing reforms that would once again build bridges of mutual accountability between citizens and their elected representatives. Finally, it might create alliances with other nascent reformers that are starting to think through the problems of Europe. Perhaps a reformed Labour Party could build on such a vision or something like it, but there is precious little evidence of it right now. Even if it did, there is no guarantee that this vision would lead to election victory."

Read more here

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New Draft Paper from Geoff Mulgan: A New Family of Data Commons?

Based on a November talk given at ESADE in Barcelona, this week, Nesta's Geoff Mulgan shared a draft paper, "A New Family of Data Commons?" for public comment. The paper is part of Nesta's ongoing work on the topic, which seeks "to design and test out new ways of combining data that give citizens greater control, while also making it easier to generate public value through linking data together."

Mulgan offers seven central areas where the establishment of a data commons can have a positive impact:

  • Help with everyday choices for individuals and families
  • Help with everyday choices for organisations
  • Prediction and prevention of harms
  • Better services
  • Better coordination of big systems
  • Better policy
  • More accountable power

He also predicts that four types of data commons will emerge in the coming years:

  • Personal data commons
  • Public data commons
  • Knowledge commons
  • City Data Commons

Read more here

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Sheena Iyengar for Columbia Business School's Ideas at Work: How Choice Failed Us

Last week, Network member Sheena Iyengar shared insights from the science of choice relevant to the 2016 U.S. presidential election for Columbia Business School's Ideas at Work publication. In particular, Iyengar seeks to answer the question, "did choice fail us in this election?"

Iyengar uses the piece to examine the role of choice in Trump's election, from the Republican primaries when Trump faced 16 other opponents, to a general election between two of the least popular candidates in history: 

"A number of studies by social scientists, including Simona Botti, Ann McGill, and myself, have shown that we have a much harder time choosing amongst options that we don’t like than options we do. The reason for this, simply put, is that when we’re choosing amongst desirable options, our job is fun: we get to identify the one that’s the best. We add up the pros and cons of each option and pick the one with the highest score.

But when we’re choosing amongst undesirable options, the entire process turns laborious. When faced with adding up all the cons and deciding which option we think is less bad, we’re demotivated. Instead of comparing our choices, we direct our energy instead to resentment and frustration. We complain endlessly about the choices themselves.

And this complaining feels great when it’s part of a chorus of complaints. Recall how much solidarity there was between Americans and the media about how awful our choices were and how little attention was given to the differences — albeit cons — between those options. Now, we’re left scratching our heads and asking to be reminded: what do we know about the first 100 days of the winner, again?" 

She concludes with a consideration of the move from too many choices to too few choices, as well as the widely option to not choose (or, in this case, vote):

"After the election, which saw the lowest voter turnout in 20 years, this was what I heard, to my surprise, from so many people: they were proud to have abstained from voting. These were the Americans who spent their energy, during the days leading up to the choice, wishing the choice away instead of doing the work of making a difficult decision.

Ultimately, I’m not trying to say what was the right or the wrong choice. The way choice failed us here was first too much and then too little, causing us to lose track of how, or perhaps even why, we choose.

As modern citizens of democracies, we are free to choose and free not to choose. But either choice leaves us equally complicit in the final outcome, and failing to reckon with that outcome looks less like an exercise of freedom than a rejection of freedom itself."

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