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filtered by: civic tech


D&S advisor Ethan Zuckerman provides a transcript on his recent speech about journalism and civics.

One final thing: we have this tendency in journalism right now to feel very sorry for ourselves. This is a field that we are all enormously proud to be part of. This is a field that is harder and harder to make a living in, and I see more and more news organizations essentially saying, “You’re going to miss us. We’re going away. I just want to warn you.”


D&S affiliate Anthony Townsend writes about city charter reform.

The civic tech gang for some reason — probably because it is their target and they are nibbling off what they think they can actually achieve in the short run — hasn’t really articulated the fault lines in its interactions with city governments. When I listen to those exchanges it seems a little too cozy, as if the civic tech players are just waiting to be brought into government to drive the change from within.


D&S affiliate Anthony Townsend writes about his research in data and city charters.

Now, there’s a number of organizations that are working hard on pushing cities up this maturity hill. CityMart is figuring out how to help cities overhaul their innovation process from within. Bloomberg Philanthropies is driving hard to get city governments to focus on achieving measurable innovation. But its all too much within the existing framework of governance systems that are usually fundamental dysfunctional, structurally incapable of delivering. Digital maturity seems to want to engage a larger conversation about the transformation of governance that is missing. No one seems to be willing to go out on a limb — with the exception of the radical political movements like Podemos and Syria (but they haven’t engaged the smart city meme in any real way yet) — and call the whole incremental update campaign into question. (n.b. while the Pirate Party has engaged ‘smart’ in a legitimate way, they don’t represent a coherent political movement in my opinion).


D&S affiliate Anthony Townsend writes more on city charters and big data.

The point is… what we now think of as ‘hidebound obsolete bureaucracy’ was no so long ago the cutting edge analytics and evidence-based administrative technology of its day. It’s outlived its usefulness for sure, but these zombie public organizations will shamble on for a long time without a better vision that can plot a transition path to within the reform process that’s required by law.


Code is key to civic life, but we need to start looking under the hood and thinking about the externalities of our coding practices, especially as we’re building code as fast as possible with few checks and balances.

Points: “Be Careful What You Code For” is danah boyd’s talk from Personal Democracy Forum 2016 (June 9, 2016); her remarks have been modified for Points. danah exhorts us to mind the externalities of code and proposes audits as a way to reckon with the effects of code in high stakes areas like policing. Video is available here.


D&S Advisor Andrew McGlaughlin reflects on Facebook’s approach to implementing their Free Basics program:

In opening a door to the Internet, Facebook doesn’t need to be a gatekeeper The good news, though, is that Facebook could quite easily fix its two core flaws and move forward with a program that is effective, widely supported, and consistent with Internet ideals and good public policy.

Rather than mandating an application process, vetting supplicants, and maintaining and making happy a list of approved service providers, Facebook could simply enforce all of its service restrictions through code. Entirely consistent with principles of network neutrality, Facebook could provide a stripped-down browser that only renders, for example, mobile-optimized websites built in HTML, but not Javascript, iframes, video files, flash applets, images over a certain size, etc. Facebook can publish the technical specs for its low-bandwidth browser; ideally, those specs would map directly to existing open web standards and best practices for mobile web pages and other services. When the user wants to go to a site or service, the browser makes the request and the target server delivers its response — if the browser can render what the server sends, it does; if it can’t, it tells the user as much. As the operators of websites and online services notice a surge in users with these kinds of Free Basics browsers, they will work to ensure their mobile web offering renders the way they want it to.

In this gatekeeper-less model, neither the user nor the online service has to ask Facebook’s permission to connect with each other. And that’s what makes all the difference. Rather than referring to an approved set of ~300 companies, the word “Basics” in Free Basics would denote any site or service anywhere in the world that provides a standards-compliant, low-bandwidth, mobile-optimized version.


D&S Board Member Anil Dash contrasts two recent approaches to making internet connectivity more widely available. Comparing the efforts to build consensus behind Facebook’s Free Basics initiative to LinkNYC, the recently-launched program to bring free broadband wifi to New York City, Dash views each situation as a compelling example of who gets heard, and when, any time a big institution tries to create a technology infrastructure to serve millions of people.

There’s one key lesson we can take from these two attempts to connect millions of people to the Internet: it’s about building trust. Technology infrastructure can be good or bad, extractive or supportive, a lifeline or a raw deal. Objections to new infrastructure are often dismissed by the people pushing them, but people’s concerns are seldom simply about advertising or bring skeptical of corporations. There are often very good reasons to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Whether we believe in the positive potential of getting connected simply boils down to whether we feel the people providing that infrastructure have truly listened to us. The good news is, we have clear examples of how to do exactly that.


D&S fellow Natasha Singer writes about new online apps designed to give college students additional options for reporting sexual assaults. Colleges and Universities are embracing these apps as they continue to look for more concrete data about sexual violence on their campuses and seek to provide students with more ways to report an assault.

Students at participating colleges can use its site, called Callisto, to record details of an assault anonymously. The site saves and time-stamps those records. That allows students to decide later whether they want to formally file reports with their schools — identifying themselves by their school-issued email addresses — or download their information and take it directly to the police. The site also offers a matching system in which a user can elect to file a report with the school electronically only if someone else names the same assailant.

Callisto’s hypothesis is that some college students — who already socialize, study and shop online — will be more likely initially to document a sexual assault on a third-party site than to report it to school officials on the phone or in person.

 

 


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