The Transformative Impact of Data and Communication on Governance: Part 2
My previous TechTank post described the expanding reach of technology and, consequentially, the growing availability of information in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere in less developed countries. Rather than speak of failed states I refer to “areas of limited statehood.” An area of limited statehood involves several possible dimensions of failed service delivery, or an inability to enforce binding rules with legitimate use of force. A slum, for example, even in the heart of a nation’s capital, if it is devoid of public goods like sanitation, security, or even basic infrastructure, is an area of limited statehood. So, too, would vast stretches of rural countryside beyond the reach of the administrative capacity of the national government. The Eastern DR Congo fits this pattern. In this post, I offer examples of the use of technology that at least partially address governance shortfalls in areas of limited statehood. Put another way, I describe how technologies are used to provide for public goods, such as security, sanitation, drinkable water, and economic opportunity.
The Data Mining Techniques That Reveal Our Planet's Cultural Links and Boundaries
MIT Technology Review
The habits and behaviors that define a culture are complex and fascinating. But measuring them is a difficult task. What’s more, understanding the way cultures change from one part of the world to another is a task laden with challenges. The gold standard in this area of science is known as the World Values Survey, a global network of social scientists studying values and their impact on social and political life. Between 1981 and 2008, this survey conducted over 250,000 interviews in 87 societies. That’s a significant amount of data and the work has continued since then. This work is hugely valuable but it is also challenging, time-consuming and expensive.
Megacities' explosive growth poses epic challenges
A historic migration is under way around the world, from the countryside to swelling urban centers. Many of those new arrivals will find a better life. Others won't. For governments, businesses and policymakers trying to manage that explosive growth, pace of this mass urbanization presents an epic challenge. "The urbanization that happened after the industrial revolution in the highly-industrialized countries was much, much more gradual than urbanization is now," said Janice Perlman, an author and founder of the Mega-Cities Project. "Still, there was a lot of chaos and difficulty and a lot of environmental problems. But now it's just accelerated exponentially."
BBC poll: Web brings more freedom and more surveillance
A majority of participants in a global BBC poll believe the internet has brought greater freedom, but more than half of those interviewed also think it is not a safe place to express their opinions. Many believe that greater freedom goes hand in hand with increased government surveillance, according to the study commissioned for the BBC World Service. People in countries with a tradition of media freedom are less likely to think their national media free to report truthfully and without bias. The poll was conducted in 17 countries around the world and is being released as part of Freedom Live, a day of broadcasts on the World Service's 27 language services exploring the idea of freedom and what it means. The results show that freedom, never a simple notion, has become ever more complex in the digital age. The internet and social media mean we can communicate more freely than ever. But we are also under more surveillance than ever before from governments and commercial organisations.
A Subway Map of the Internet
We usually think of the Internet as a web. Its interconnected mesh allows data and ideas to spread around the world. But Mark Graham and Stefano De Sabbata of the Oxford Internet Institute like to reimagine this metaphor through different visualizations. And this time they've created an Internet subway map. Each stop on the subway is a node (a place where data is sent and received like an Internet service provider) assigned to a country. Where there were multiple nodes in one country, Graham and De Sabbata combined them into one stop. The two took node data from cablemap.info. "The map ... aims to provide a global overview of the network, and a general sense of how information traverses our planet," they wrote.
Forget the Quantified Self. We Need to Build the Quantified Us
The ‘Quantified Self’ is a thrilling prospect for some: Massive datasets about oneself can be a new route to self-discovery. But for most of us, the idea of continuous self-tracking is a novelty that results in shallow insights. Just ask anyone who has bought a Fitbit or Jawbone Up which now lies dusty at the bottom of a junk drawer. For the Quantified Self movement to become truly useful, our gadgets will have to move beyond the novelty of gratuitous behavioral data, which we might call a ‘first degree of meaning.’ They’ll have to address a second degree of meaning, where self-tracking helps motivate people toward self-improvement, and a third degree of meaning, where people can use data to make better choices in the moments when a decision is actually being made. We’re moving closer to those goals, but we’re still not thinking rigorously about the challenges involved. So let’s start.
Photo credit: Flickr user fdecomite