Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Swindon UK Builds Municipal Wi-Fi

Keep building those community-wide public Wi-Fi hotspots! Next up—Swindon in Wiltshire, U.K.. 1400 access points, free 20Mb access for up to two hours a day, all to build a framework for expanding more connectivity for business and government:

Swindon council leader Rod Bluh said the project would lay the groundwork for some exciting potential new ‘wired up’ public services that could be offered by the council and partner bodies in future. “The really exciting part of the project is the applications we can roll off the back of it: business security at a very low cost, energy monitoring services, even medical services. I think this has got the capacity to change the way the public sector does business, and parts of the private sector” [Tristan Parker, "‘Mesh’ Scheme Offers New Model For Free Local Wi-Fi," E-Government Bulletin, 2009.11.30].

Universal Web access means local governments can use the Web more to inform and involve their citizens. I think Jefferson would dig that.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Web 2.0 to Replace Political Parties?

E-Gov Bulletin from the UK suggests that social networks could sweep away political parties. Dr. Ian Kearns, former Head of the e-Government Programme at the Institute for Public Policy Research, tells the House of Commons' Parliamentary IT Committee that Web 2.0 is giving people the tools to recognize and use their power to organize and campaign.

Dr. Kearns is speaking in the British parliamentary context where third parties have a reasonable shot at making a difference. I'm not sure social networks would have as easy of a time upending one of our two dominant parties. However, his point that parties can (and must!) take advantage of the technology is proven by the Howard Dean and Barack Obama presidential campaigns. The Internet and social apps (plus a good spreadsheet) put as much organizing power in the hands of two local advocates in a back office as could have been mustered by a national campaign office a couple decades ago.

While the technology is powerful, Dr. Kearns emphasizes that the big shift is in how we use the technology, how we expect to be involved in the information process. Yes, it's the consumer-producer-conducer paradigm shift! Politicans need to get out of "broadcast" mode and recognize that politics is much more a two-way, participatory endeavor. The new politics is all about openness and engagement. If you're running for office, you can't just put up a website; you have to invite your voters in to build that website—to build its content—for you.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Electronic Participatory Budgeting: UK Reads Me!

My MWDSI 2009 paper was a day late and a euro short, thanks to Freiburg im Breisgau, but the U.K.'s still thought my discussion of electronic participatory budgeting was worth reading... and publishing! Editor Dan Jellinek boiled it down to an essay (stripping out all those boring old APA citations) and posted it in Headstar's E-Government Bulletin Live online newsletter. Cool!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Participatory Redistricting in Ohio!

Check out the Ohio Redistricting Competition: anyone (in Ohio or elsewhere) can log on and try heir hand at setting the boundaries for Ohio's legislative districts. The Secretary of State worked with a couple of legislators and Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and Ohio Citizen Action to put this contest together. Entrants put together maps that will be scored by these criteria:

  1. Compactness (25 points)
  2. Communities of Interest (25 pts)
  3. Competitiveness (12.5 pts)
  4. Representational Fairness (12.5 pts)
The districts also have to meet legal thresholds of population equality (as close as possible), contiguity (point-contiguity not enough!), and provision of at least one "majority-minority" Congressional district (National Voting Rights Act).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Participatory Budgeting: More Resources!

Catching up with notes from the Facebook participatory budgeting group:

Beyond Elections: a documentary by Silvia Leindecker and Michael Fox that asks a very simple question: What is democracy? Chapter 1 is all about participatory budgeting:

Open Budget Iowa: Iowa House Democratic Caucus takes a swing at getting some citizen input on the state budget. Pretty straightforward blog, no apparent effort to compile, summarize, or synthesize the citizen input, just posts with long comment lists. New content appears to dwindle; nothing new posted by organizers since end of January. Plus, as I look at the comments, I see lots of citizens dropping suggestions in the box, but not a lot of response from or interaction with legislators.

The UK Participatory Budgeting Unit has its own YouTube channel! See what those clever Brits are up to!

Tiago Peixoto at reviews some state-level quasi-PB initiatives in New York, Arizona, Virginia, Nevada, and Minnesota.

Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia has put up a municipal budget cite to inform citizens and solicit their input in the run-up to his presentation of the city budget in mid-March. The site includes various supporting documents and news stories. Four public fora in February around the city drew 1700 participants. But too many PDFs! The project is supported by U Penn's Penn Project for Civic Engagement.

Open Budget Index: The Open Budget Initiative focuses on budget transparency. They studied 85 countries and found that 80% of those governments fail to give their citizens enough information to effectively monitor their governments' budgets. The U.S. does at least rank fifth, behind the U.K., South Africa, France, and New Zealand. Brazil, the home of PB, ranks eighth (remember, this is federal level, not municipal, where PB is happening).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

838: turning random curiosity into publishable work

Quick notes, 838, meeting with Amit:

  • Come up with a clear list of requirements. Don't sweat the existence of other systems. Go ahead, catalog those other systems, but make the system that meets your reqs.
  • Borrow from large-group collaboration research
  • --making room for more voices, allowing all to speak: recall the introductory survey/requirement idea
  • "social phenomenon is PB itself"
  • education! pre-test and post-test: "What do you think are the key issues in the budget?" test for educating
  • so these other systems exist -- they haven't been studied yet. The focus that makes the paper worthwhile is studying the system in the context of the constructs.
  • But what is your theory? What are you testing? You can't just go out, hand out a survey at random, and get a bunch of data. What is your theory? Go look on AISWorld, find the theory list.

Good E-Government Journals

University of Albany's Center for Technology in Government has a nice list of journals dedicated to digital government research:

CTG also highlights Communications of the ACM, Government Information Quarterly, Information Technology & People, Journal of Government Information, Social Science Computer Review, and The Information Society as good general journals that carry occasional e-gov-relevant research.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stimulus.Virginia.Gov: Step Toward National Participatory Budgeting

So I just finished reading Susan Tanaka's (2007) discussion of "Engaging the Public in National Budgeting." She gives a good summary of the challenges of taking participatory budgeting (PB) to a national scale (at some level, you still need to be able to look all neighbors in the eye, Sale would remind us).

Then I crack open today's news and read that Virginia Governor Tim Kaine has launched Stimulus.Virginia.Gov, a portal where Virginians (and anyone else interested) can submit ideas for how Virginia ought to use its chunk of the stimulus package (which may arrive on Obama's desk by the weekend).

Gov. Kaine opened the site yesterday. As of 16:08 EST today, I find 763 proposals for all sorts of projects:

  • #710: Replace the town of Chilhowie's water tanks ($1,500,000).
  • #725: Keep Aubrey Temple's hardware store open ($50,000).
  • #753: Every penny to direct tax relief ($TBD).
  • #759: Subsidize medication for old folks and fix up hospitals ($100,000,000).
  • #760: resurface roads in Rocky Run ($100,000).
  • #762: replace an organization's furnace with new green equipment ($3,000).
Dang—don't tell me citizens aren't eager to participate in something this complex!

I also find a nice little "Export to Excel" button that would allow me to download the whole list of proposals and sort them by dollar amount, proposer, etc. Bless you, Virginia.

Now this isn't national PB; this is just Virginia looking for ideas on how to spend its portion. But Virginia's a big state, and this is a truckload of money. Every state should be soliciting citizen input this way.

Tanaka, Susan. (2007). "Engaging the Public in National Budgeting: A Non-Governmental Perspective."
OECD Journal on Budgeting (7:2), 139–177.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Public Administration: "Cooperation, Networking, Governance..."

A little public admin from Frederickson (1999):

"Theories and concepts of the clash of interests, of electoral and interest group competition, of games, and of winners and losers have dominated and continue to dominate political science. Public administration is steadily moving away from these theories and concepts toward theories of cooperation, networking, governance, and institution building and maintenance."

Frederickson totally address Stewart (2007) on his citizen participation game theory. Stewart assumes a competition/conflict is afoot, and often, he may be right. But the public administrator's job is not to play that game, but create a new one in which we operate as collaborators. The evolving mission Frederickson describes justifies offering PA a DSS tool to make that happen.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

PB: Justification Chart

I thought of this while reading Bräutigam (2004): a justification chart, with all the good reasons for doing ePB. Actually, there are a couple areas of J: one for PB, one for doing PB by DSS:

Justification Source
"consultation with affected groups was thought to influence the sustainability of policies and improve the prospects for their design and implementation" Bräutigam 2004, p. 656
"shadow of the future": Irish National Economic and Social Council has found that the knowledge that the project continues and that involved parties will be getting together again "has generated an environment of patience and trust" (Bräutigam) which "nurtures reciprocity, facilitates communication, improves flow of trsutworthy information and increase cost of defection" (Robert Putnam, World Bank)
Bräutigam 2004, p. 658
It's our money! Discussing Mauritius: "Here we see a strong link between social expenditures and the revenues that must be generated to pay for them. Ordinary citizens pay taxes... and therefore, because of their revenue role and not just their spending role, have a right to hold the government accountable for its spending."
Bräutigam 2004, p. 663
"The poorest may not have the resources to participate, and may eb at a disadvantage" says Bräutigam—o.k., hook up a DSS to lower those participation costs!
Bräutigam 2004, p. 663
Transparency can increase tax collections: folks see how their money is being used, "may be more likely to pay their taxes."
Bräutigam 2004, p. 666
more info and transparency => easier to push gov't for pro-poor policy by hold to light gov't's failings
Bräutigam 2004, p. 667
PB "can serve an important public education function" (all the more if ePB!)
Bräutigam 2004, p. 667

See if that helps!

PB for Pro-Poor Policy?

Deborah Bräutigam, "The People's Budget? Politics, Participation and Pro-poor Policy," Development Policy Review, Vol. 22, No. 6, pp. 653-668, November 2004.

  • Big finding: the common factor among various places with pro-poor policy is a pro-poor political party (akin to Baiocchi et al.'s 2004 finding of political party as best predictor of PB adoption).
  • (654) PB often focuses on spending: should focus on taxing (consider that in design: work on tax assessment model, customize by user income/wealth... although that gets touchy!)
  • (655) History: early 1990's experts favored exclusionary technocracy: problems more complex, regular folks can't grasp, political pressures push away from difficult choices and well-grounded policy making
  • Reaction (and J!) from former Brazilian Finance Minister Luiz Carlos Bresser Pereira et al.: "if democracy is not to be undermined as a consequence of economic reforms, the representative organisations and institutions must participate actively in the formulation and implementation of the reform program, even if this participation weakens the logic of the economic program or increases its cost"emphasis mine, because that responds to the discussion of the time and expense required to educate and engage lots of citizens
  • (658) Now remember, the fact that PB doesn't necessarily produce pro-poor policy doesn't mean PB is a bad idea. My skidsteer won't put a man on the Moon, but it's still a darn fine piece of equipment. Be clear on what you're trying to achieve.
  • PB comes in corporatist and activist models:
    1. activist model: that's Brazil, where everybody can jump in
    2. corporatist model: check out Ireland and Mauritius, with government panels still comprised of and dealing directly with institutional actors

PB Effects on Civil Society

Gianpaolo Baiocchi, Patrick Heller, and Marcelo Kunrath Silva.
"Making Space for Civil Society: Institutional Reforms and Local Democracy in Brazil."
Social Forces, Volume 86, Number 3, March 2008, pp. 911-936


  • eight-city matched-pair analysis, grids and everything!
  • still qualitative
  • looks at eight Brazilian cities, paired by region, one using PB, other not
  • best predictor of PB adoption: Worker's Party vote share (917)
  • --fits Bräutigam's (2004) finding that political party is a bigger factor than existence of PB itself in promoting pro-poor policy
  • found PB fostered some movement toward more engagement
  • found PB did not move any communities toward greater self-organization among citizens
  • note these PB efforts came from above, the elected Worker's Party govts.
  • in one city, Mauá, "civil society experienced a contraction of sorts": less clientelism (good), but autonomy (bad), but they also did PB wrong: consultative rather than fully participatory; lacked transparency, responsiveness to community needs, and decision-making mandate
  • Happy line for my local research: "...far too little research has focused on local civil societies" (931). Even if I don't cover that element for Baiocchi et al., I provide a case study in that direction, data that can be built on to fill that gap.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ePB and DSS: Reason to Pursue

In INFS 838, we read Arnott and Pervan (2005), who find DSS research declining and often lacking relevance. One symptom: lack of clear mention of client or user. Check my article: pretty clear who the users are. Focus on that area, make it even clearer, talk about impacts on different specific groups of users within the community.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Video: Us Now -- Collaboration, Government, Internet

Go watch Ivo Gormley's Us Now. Heck, it's online!

Here's Sophia Parker on participatory budgeting. She works for a UK outfit called (appropriately) Demos, "The Think Tank for Everyday Democracy":

PB and ICT: Belo Horizonte and Ipatinga

Tiago Peixoto agrees that information and communication technology (ICT) could do a lot to support participatory budgeting. But he finds that ICT in PB is mostly "restricted to the provision of information about the process to the citizens." He sees a trend to do more ICT-enabled PB.

Big example: Belo Horizonte in Brazil. A city of 2.4 million residents (1.7 million voters), Belo Horizonte has been doing PB since 1993. In 2006, they added Digital Participatory Budgeting—e-PB! Participants got to vote for one of four public works projects in each of the city's nine districts. These were no small projects, either: in one district, the choices were a new sports complex, a new library, a big street renovation, and downtown rejuvenation, each tagged at 1.2 million US dollars. (The sports complex won... dang it!) Traditional PB projects in the city were around $(US)340K.

The e-PB included a discussion forum thread for each district. Peixoto considers the total 1210 posts relatively low but notes many more people read than posted (as usual online). Over a 42-day voting period (longer than any one physical PB meeting), the system drew 503,266 votes from 172,938 voters. That's about 10% participation, compared to 1.46% participation in the comparable second round of previous PB efforts. The e-PB budget was one seventh the size of previous efforts.

Thesis thought: We see ICT brought into a situation where PB is already established. Can we use ICT to initiate PB?
Peixoto finds that people kept their votes local—a majority voted only on projects in their home districts. He finds no evidence that richer people participated more often(!). He also says remote voting worked: as many as one third of the votes cast may not have come in if the project had not been online. How's that for boosting participation?

If you're worried about Internet access, Peixoto points out in the comments that "this year's" (I'm unclear 2008 or 2009) e-PB will incorporate phone voting. That doesn't support deliberation, but it brings in the vote. And everybody has a phone.

Down the road in Ipatinga, Teixoto finds Brazilians who've been using ICT in PB since 2001:
Since 2001, the city of Ipatinga has pioneered in using the Internet as a supplementary means for citizens to indicate public works that they wish to see submitted to vote at PB (offline) meetings, where the use of the Internet is correlated with an increase in the level of attendance of women and younger citizens at these face-to-face meetings.
In 2005, Ipatinga added some phone/SMS voting and outreach. The telemarketing worked: "96.8% of citizens who picked up the phone waited until the end of the mayor’s message before hanging up." Areas that got phone calls saw participation at PB meetings go up; areas with no telemarketing saw participation go down.

Teixoto emphasizes that he doesn't want to see online PB replace offline PB. He does suggest it would be interesting to see if online PB can encourage people to participate in the more costly offline PB. Really good stuff to build on!

London Parks PB "Bad Start"?

Tiago Peixoto gives a thumbs mostly down to London's "Vote for Your Park," a participatory budgeting project to allocate ten grants of up to £400K. (The Wandle Valley with St. Helier open spaces, looks like a worthy project.) On the bad side, says Peixoto (a fellow doctoral student in Italy!), the site has no security and no means for discussion. On security, I note the site asks for first and last name, a description of where participants are voting from (home, friend's home, school, Internet café, etc.) and post code, although there the instructions say that visitors to London may enter the post code of the place where they are staying. It thus appears that the system not only does not block votes from non-residents but invites them. Interesting. The Greater London Authority does say it will allow one vote per person and disregard apparently inappropriate votes.

To the good, Peixoto says the local authorities have committed to base funding decisions on the results of the publci input. Peixoto also says that "a bad start" to participatory budgeting "is better than no start at all." London's fault is in design and execution, not in philosophy. Peixoto says working to change design is much easier than working to change philosophy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

E-Gov: Innovation Comes from Local Level

from Ellen Perlman, "Wish Lists for Washington," Governing: Technology, 2009.01.06:

Governing talks to tech managers about what Obama's promised CIO might be able to do for states and locals:

Alan Shark, executive director and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based Public Technology Institute, which assists local governments:

"The simple answer is 'not much,' according to an informal PTI survey of many influential CIOs and CTOs in city and county government across the nation. Most believe, like me, that true innovation is more likely found at the local level, not the federal or state levels. And since we can't print money, our greatest obstacle is in finding funding and other resources [emphasis mine].


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