The Arab Spring and Egyptian Revolution Makers: Predictors of Participation

By Mansoor Moaddel

This paper juxtaposes two clusters of theories; political conflict, resource mobilization, organizational, and political opportunity theories, on the one hand, and mass society, structural-functional, and relative deprivation theories, on the other. It assesses their explanatory power in predicting participation in revolutionary movements. It uses survey data from a nationally representative sample of 3,143 Egyptian adults who rated their participation in the revolutionary movement against President Mubarak from 1, no participation, to 10, utmost participation. The analysis of the data identified three sets of variables that are linked to participation: attitudes against the government and attitudes in favor of alternative sociopolitical orders, individual efficacy, dysphoric emotions, and immorality; such mediums of communicative power as the Internet, mobiles, and opposition newspapers; and demographics, including being male, residing in the urban area, and living impressionable years under President Mubarak. The socioeconomic status having an inverted-U relationship with participation suggests that the revolution was led by members of the middle class. The data, however, provides support for contradictory hypotheses drawn from both clusters of theories. The analysis thus suggests rethinking about predictors of participation. This entails departing from the conception that presumes the participants as monolithic individuals rather than manifold and heterogeneous, a new look at the relationship between immorality and participation, and a refocus on the monolithic state as  the unifying element in the revolutionary process.

Download the paper here [PDF]

Cyberactivism through Social Media: Twitter, YouTube, and the Mexican Political Movement “I’m Number 132”

By Sandoval-Almazan & Gil-Garcia (2012)

Social media is increasingly important for political and social activism in Mexico. In particular, Twitter has played a significant role in influencing government decision making and shaping the relationships between governments, citizens, politicians, and other stakeholders. Within the last few months, some commentators even argue that Mexican politics has a new influential actor: “I’m Number 132” (a studentbased social movement using Twitter and YouTube). After the Arab Spring and the uprisings that have led to significant political changes in Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran, the Mexican case could provide new insights to understand these social movements. Understanding the students’ political mobilization “I’m Number 132” in the context of the 2012 presidential election in Mexico, and how they have been using social media tools to communicate their concerns and organize protests across the country, could help us to explain why and how these social meda-enabled political movements emerge and evolve.

Download the full paper here [PDF].

Mobile phones and SMS: some data on inclusiveness

I just came across some interesting analysis in a study about SMS usage among low-income populations in Asia, by Juhee Kang (Michigan State University)  and Moutusy Maity (Indian Institute of Management Lucknow). The study uses data collected through a survey conducted in 2011 with 9,066 low-income mobile phone users (bottom of the pyramid) from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Picture by juicyrai on flickr.

Some of the numbers provided should serve as a reminder that having a mobile phone does not necessarily mean that a person uses SMS. In other words, if you think your project is inclusive “because it uses SMS” and “nearly everybody has a mobile phone”, think twice: there’s a chance your project is not as inclusive as you’d like to think.

A few excerpts from “Texting among the Bottom of the Pyramid: Facilitators and Barriers to SMS Use among the Low-income Mobile Users in Asia”:

Of the total 9,066 respondents, 54.3 percent own a personal mobile phone (N=4926).

Approximately thirty two percent (32.2%) of the mobile owners have ever used SMS.

While the distribution of the users is similar between urban and rural, it was found that a large proportion
of the non-users live in rural areas (73%).

The reported daily income was higher among the users (USD2.88, SD=2.80) than among the non-users (USD 1.51, SD=2.58).

The non-users tend to have lower education as 83 percent of the non-users had only primary schooling or no formal education.

The users also have a higher level of access to other media such as TV, radio and personal computers than the non-users.

And some sobering conclusions that development practitioners should bear in mind:

We argue that the quantity of mobile phones in the Global South does not automatically translate into the high quality impact of mobile communication. In fact, the path between mobile access and developmental impact seems to consist of multiple stages of mobile service adoption and utilisation. While many development practitioners currently make positive assessments about the growing penetration of mobile phones in developing countries, it is still uncertain how these mobile phones can bring positive benefits to the poor, and what types of services can lead to socioeconomic development.

Making a mere provision of information via SMS may not reach the mobile owners who use mobile phones mainly for voice calls, in particular the poorest and the least educated of the poor. The study found that the barriers to SMS adoption are beyond the issues of affordability and literacy and the problem lies in the current limitations on usability and the lack of familiarity with text-based communications.

You can read the full study here [PDF].

Interests, Information and Minority Influence in Deliberation

Good paper [PDF] by Daniel Myers (University of Michigan)

Interests, Information and Minority Influence in Deliberation

Daniel Myers (2012)

Abstract:

The ability of citizens to share information is essential to the success of deliberative institutions. This paper builds on game-theoretic models of strategic information transmission to offer a theory of how the interests that deliberators have in the outcome of deliberation can cause some citizens to be unable to share information or influence the deliberative process. Specifically, this paper argues that whether a person is able to share information depends on whether that person is in the majority or the minority in terms of their interest in the outcome of deliberation. Deliberating groups will discount information that is provided by members of the minority, even when this information is an important contribution to deliberation. I offer the first empirical test of this kind of model in realistic deliberative conditions using two experiments, a laboratory experiment and a field experiment, and find that arguments that are made by members of the minority are less influential than the same arguments when they are made by members of the majority. The paper concludes by discussing the implications of these findings for the equality and epistemic quality of deliberative institutions.

Pippa Norris – Making Democratic Governance Work

Here’s something new by Pippa Norris. Definitely worth reading

“Making Democratic Governance Work : How Regimes Shape Prosperity, Welfare, and Peace”

This book focuses on three core questions. Is democratic governance good for economic prosperity? Has this type of regime accelerated progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, social welfare, and human development? Does it generate a peace-dividend and reduce conflict at home? Despite the importance of understanding these questions and the vast research literature generated, remarkably little consensus has emerged about any of these issues. Within the international community, democracy and governance are widely advocated as intrinsically desirable and important goals. Nevertheless, alternative schools of thought continue to dispute their consequences – and thus the most effective strategy for achieving a range of critical developmental objectives. Some believe that human development is largely determined by structural conditions in each society, such as geographic location, natural resources, and the reservoir of human capital, so that regimes have minimal impact. Others advocate promoting democracy to insure that leaders are responsive to social needs and accountable to citizens for achieving better schools, clinics, and wages. Yet others counter that governance capacity is essential for delivering basic public services, and state-building is essential in post-conflict reconstruction prior to holding elections. This book advances the argument that both liberal democracy and state capacity need to be strengthened in parallel to ensure effective development, within the constraints posed by structural conditions. Liberal democracy allows citizens to express their demands, to hold public officials to account, and to rid themselves of incompetent, corrupt, or ineffective leaders. Yet rising public demands that cannot be met by the state are a recipe for frustration, generating disillusionment with incumbent officeholders, or, if discontent spreads to becomes more diffuse, with the way that the regime works, or even ultimately with the promise of liberal democracy ideals. Thus governance capacity is also predicted to play a vital role in advancing human security, so that states have the capacity to respond effectively to citizen’s demands. The argument is demonstrated using systematic evidence gathered from countries worldwide during recent decades and selected cases illustrating the effects of regime change on development.

You can order the book here. 

Does access to information enhance accountability?

This paper [PDF] examines whether access to information enhances political accountability. Based upon the results of Brazil’s recent anti-corruption program that randomly audits municipal expenditures of federally-transferred funds, it estimates the effects of the disclosure of local government corruption practices upon the re-election success of incumbent mayors. Comparing municipalities audited before and after the elections, we show that the audit policy reduced the incumbent’s likelihood of re-election by approximately 20 percent, and was more pronounced in municipalities with radio stations. These findings highlight the value of information and the role of the media in reducing informational asymmetries in the political process. 

Ferraz, Claudio, and Frederico Finan. 2008. “Exposing Corrupt Politicians: The Effects of Brazil’s Publicly Released Audits on Electoral Outcomes.” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 123(2): 703–45.

I Paid a Bribe. So What?

I Paid a Bribe

As is often the case for many people these days, the first time I saw the Indian version of “I Paid a Bribe” I was quite excited about it. The overarching principle is simple: if you paid a bribe, you report it (it’s more than that, but you can check it out on the website for yourself).

I find these websites particularly interesting in the sense that anger and frustration (in that case having to pay a bribe) may be good drivers of action, as suggested by some political behavior research (see for instance here and here).

This morning I was pleasantly surprised to discover through the website that there are already four other websites of this kind (in Kenya, Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Pakistan) and two others are to be launched soon (in Philippines and Mongolia). Although scalability has very little to do with impact – a point that is often ignored – it is always good to find out that people in other places are trying to actually do something to tackle corruption.

Korupedia

Korupedia

Nevertheless, it is still not clear for me what the working hypothesis of these websites is (let alone their actual impact). Or, as pseudo-intellectuals nowadays put it, I am not sure what their “theory of change” is. Below is a non-comprehensive list of how these websites may be – hypothetically – efficient in the reduction of corruption:

1) By giving visibility to corruption, governments are more likely to take effective measures to reduce corruption.

2) Public agents will be less likely to ask for bribes given the possibility that their act may be publicly reported.

3) Individuals and societal agents themselves will mobilize against corruption as they realize that corruption is an endemic problem in their country.

The different hypotheses are by no means mutually exclusive. However, singling out each one of them is important for at least three reasons.

First, clarifying the mechanism through which one expects to address an issue facilitates the development of a more efficient strategy. For instance, if what you expect is that government will be more likely to take action once corruption is publicized, you should deploy specific actions towards governmental actors who are in positions to make a difference.

Second, understanding the underlying mechanisms by which change is expected to happen provides us with a reality check of how effective these initiatives may actually be. Will politicians and government officials become more inclined to combat corruption once they “find out” that there is too much corruption in the country? Will public officials be less likely to engage in corrupt activities due to the fact that it can be reported on a third party website? The answers to these questions are not as straightforward as they might appear to be, and identifying any change on that front may be particularly challenging.

This brings us to a third and particularly important issue, which refers to assessing the impact of these initiatives. Surely, measuring the effect that such websites may have on the overall level of corruption in a country is a complicated task. For instance, supposing such websites gain significant popularity in their countries, the increased visibility of corruption may have a seemingly paradoxical effect: while the actual number of corruption cases may decrease as the risk of publicization becomes a real one, citizens may come to perceive increases in levels of corruption as cases that previously would have been undisclosed come to their attention. In that case, for example, the use of the corruption perception index would be of little utility to assess variance in corruption levels across countries.

Nevertheless, finding alternative methods to track the impact of these initiatives is only possible if one has a clear understanding of the ways in which these innovations are supposed to operate in order to have an impact on corruption. For example, if we expect government to take action as the issue gains visibility, tracking the real number of administrative procedures (e.g. investigations, sanctions) related to corruption might be a start (although more would be needed to infer any causality).

The difficulty of assessment is clear, particularly for organizations that are in many cases under-resourced and struggling to keep their operations going. But not doing it will always be counter-productive in the long term. Without any evidence of impact, as sexy as these initiatives may seem, they will not survive the “so what” question.

The Guardian on Participatory Budgeting

The Guardian has come up with an interesting piece on Porto Alegre’s participatory budgeting, highlighting some of the benefits (well-known to some) of the process:

The effects have been overwhelmingly positive. Within seven years, the percentage of locals with access to sewers doubled from 46 to 95. The rate of roadbuilding, particularly in the favelas, rose five-fold. Tax evasion fell, as people saw what their money was being spent on.

Read the full article here.

 

Participatory Budgeting: Seven Defining Characteristics

I am often asked for definitions of participatory budgeting. Normally, I use the following definition in my texts:

“Participatory budgeting (PB) can be broadly defined as the participation of citizens in the decision-making process of budget allocation and in the monitoring of public spending.”

Nevertheless, while easy to understand, this definition opens the door to a big (and annoying) interpretation problem: some might think that simple budget consultations are the same as participatory budgeting, and they are not.

In my opinion, there are no perfect definitions, with different authors stressing different points. Based on the literature that I have read, I think that participatory budgeting – at least ideally – should present the following seven characteristics:

1) Public budgets are the object of the process, or at least part of it (it is not urban planning)

2) Citizen participation has a direct impact on the budget (it is not a consultation)

3) Citizens decide on the rules governing the process

4) The process has a deliberative element (it is not like the Swiss fiscal referendum for example)

5) A redistributive logic is embedded in the design of the process (e.g. poorest districts / areas get more money and vice-versa)

6) The process is institutionally designed to ensure that citizens can monitor public spending

7) The process is repeated periodically (e.g. on a yearly basis)

Of course, I am probably missing and adding elements that many scholars would point out. Some might fairly consider my interpretation as too orthodox: a number of initiatives that we call PB rarely combine all seven elements.

Just in case, a few other definitions / descriptions of the process:

Here’s a practical definition, based on five criteria:

“(1) The financial and/or budgetary dimension must be discussed; participatory budgeting is dealing with scarce resources.

(2) The city level has to be involved, or a (decentralised) district with an elected body and some power over administration (the neighbourhood level is not enough).

(3) It has to be a repeated process (one meeting or one referendum on financial issues are not examples of participatory budgeting).

(4) The process must include some form of public deliberation within the framework of specific meetings/ forums (the opening of administrative meetings or classical representative instances to normal citizens is not participatory budgeting).

(5) Some accountability on the output is required.”

Source: Sintomer, Y., C. Herzberg and G. Allegretti, 2011. Learning from the South: Participatory Budgeting Worldwide – an Invitation to Global Cooperation. Dialog Global, No. 25  [PDF]

Another one is from a seminal article by Boaventura de Souza, based on guiding principles. An important element in this definition: citizens are the ones who decide the internal rules that govern the participatory process.

“The participatory budgeting is a structure and a process of community participation based on three major principles and on a set of institutions that function as mechanisms or channels of sustained popular participation in the decision-making process of the municipal government. The three principles are:

a) All citizens are entitled to participate, community organizations having no special status or prerogative in this regard;

b) Participation is governed by a combination of direct and representative democracy rules and takes place through regularly functioning institutions whose internal rules are decided upon by the participants;

c) Investment resources are allocated according to an objective method based on a combination of “general criteria” – substantial criteria established by the participatory institutions to define priorities – and “technical criteria” – criteria of technical or economic viability as defined by the executive and federal, state, or city legal norms – that are up to the executive to implement.”

Source: Santos, Boaventura de Souza. 1998. “Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre: Toward a Redistributive Democracy.” Politics & Society [PDF]

Another definition, by the PB veteran Brian Wampler, stresses a major element often forgotten by scholars and advocates: the monitoring of public spending. Another important element refers to the redistributive nature of PB (e.g. poorest neighborhoods get more money).

“Participatory Budgeting (PB) programs are innovative policymaking processes. Citizens are directly involved in making policy decisions. Forums are held throughout the year so that citizens have the opportunity to allocate resources, prioritize broad social policies, and monitor public spending. These programs are designed incorporate citizens into the policymaking process, spur administrative reform, and distribute public resources to low-income neighborhoods. Social and political exclusion is challenged as lowincome and traditionally excluded political actors are given the opportunity to make policy decisions. Governments and citizens initiate these programs to (i) promote public learning and active citizenship, (ii) achieve social justice through improved policies and resources allocation, and (iii) reform the administrative apparatus.”

Source: Wampler, B. 2000. “A Guide to Participatory Budgeting.” Paper presented at the Conference on the Participatory Budget, Porto Alegre, Brazil. [PDF]

A couple of other, shorter definitions:

• One often used by advocates in the US:

“Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. [...]”

Source: http://www.watsonblogs.org/participatorybudgeting/aboutpb.html

• Another one used by the PB Unit in the UK (and the Department of Communities and Local Government – DCLG UK Govt.):

“Participatory budgeting directly involves local people in making decisions on the spending and priorities for a defined public budget. PB processes can be defined by geographical area (whether that’s neighbourhood or larger) or by theme. This means engaging residents and community groups representative of all parts of the community to discuss and vote on spending priorities, make spending proposals, and vote on them, as well giving local people a role in the scrutiny and monitoring of the process and results to inform subsequent PB decisions on an annual or repeatable basis.”

I hope that helps.

Mapping Social & Environmental Risks in Rio de Janeiro

From the InSTEDD iLab Latin America blog

The main idea behind this project was to create a simple, low cost way to allow the youth living in the favelas to digitally map the socio-environmental risk factors that threatened their communities. We needed to do it in a way that would be publicly visIble so that the government and the public could be aware and respond.

Below a video on the first stage of the initiative

Definitely something to follow up on. It would be interesting to find out more about how they are planning to asses the impact of the initiative. In my very limited experience, most mapping initiatives are exciting to see but fail to show a link between outputs (e.g. maps) and tangible outcomes (i.e. impact). Let’s hope this initiative is one of the exceptions.