46 favorite reads on democracy, civic tech and a few other interesting things

open book lot

I’ve recently been exchanging with some friends on a list of favorite reads from 2020. While I started with a short list, it quickly grew: after all, despite the pandemic, there has been lots of interesting stuff published in the areas that I care about throughout the year. While the final list of reads varies in terms of subjects, breadth, depth and methodological rigor, I picked these 46 for different reasons. These include my personal judgement of their contribution to the field of democracy, or simply a belief that some of these texts deserve more attention than they currently receive. Others are in the list because I find them particularly surprising or amusing.

As the list is long – and probably at this length, unhelpful to my friends – I tried to divide it into three categories: i) participatory and deliberative democracy, ii) civic tech and digital democracy, and iii) and miscellaneous (which is not really a category, let alone a very helpful one, I know). In any case, many of the titles are indicative of what the text is about, which should make it easier to navigate through the list.

These caveats aside, below is the list of some of my favorite books and articles published in 2020:

Participatory and Deliberative Democracy

While I still plan to make a similar list for representative democracy, this section of the list is intentionally focused on democratic innovations, with a certain emphasis on citizens’ assemblies and deliberative modes of democracy. While this reflects my personal interests, it is also in part due to the recent surge of interest in citizens’ assemblies and other modes of deliberative democracy, and the academic production that followed.  

On Civic Tech and Digital Democracy

2020 was the year where the field of civic tech seemed to take a democratic turn, from fixing potholes to fixing democracy.


Finally, a section as random as 2020.

As mentioned before, the list is already too long. But if there’s anything anyone thinks should absolutely be on this list, please do let me know.

New Data: Democrats and Republicans, Who Shows us the Stimulus Online?

A few days ago I posted the results of an assessment of a report from July 2009 by Good Jobs First, a study on the effectiveness and transparency of state websites devoted to tracking stimulus money. The results of my analysis showed that states with lower houses controlled by Democrats are statistically more likely to have more transparent and open stimulus websites.

Right after I posted, I found out that a new version of the report had just been released. The report consists of an updated evaluation of state recovery websites based on data collected in January 2010. Moreover, it deploys a renewed methodology, given the fact that recovery efforts “are further along and the federal government’s recovery.gov website now contains extensive recipient data”.

The overall results of the report demonstrate that considerable improvements have been made by many states since their recovery websites were first created in spring 2009. At the same time, the report shows a persistence of the discrepancies in the quality and quantity of information offered by the different states.

However, of particular interest for the purpose of my analysis, which looks at the factors that influence levels of transparency, are the “ups and downs” that have been identified in the study. In other words, in the new report, several states reached considerably higher scores if compared to the previous report and vice-versa, leading to a reconfiguration of the rankings.

In this respect, it is pertinent to question to what extent this reconfiguration alters the pattern previously identified by my analysis, which shows a statistically significant correlation between the number of Democrats in the lower house of a state and the transparency of that state’s recovery website.

The scatter plot below illustrates the results based on the newest report (January 2009). The horizontal line inside the diagram indicates the average (mean) transparency score of each state, with the points above the horizontal line representing the states scoring above the average and vice-versa. The vertical line divides those states with Republican (left side) and Democrat (right side) majorities in each lower house.

If in July 2009 only two websites from the Republican side scored above the average, in January 2010 four websites score above the average. On the Democrat side, the effects are similar, with some websites significantly increasing their scores, such as Kentucky – which climbed from 47th place in 2009 to 2nd place in 2010 – and Minnesota that rose from 34th to 4th place in the overall ranking.

In fact, the pattern remains unaltered and statistically significant: the more seats held by Democrats in the lower house, the more transparent the state recovery website is likely to be, even when controlling for other factors such as e-government readiness and unemployment levels. The analysis indicates that there is a less than 0.2% chance of the results being random. That is, this new data strengthens the previous findings.

To put it in less technical terms, it seems like citizens living in states with a Democrat majority in the lower house are more likely to know where the recovery money is going in their state. Well, at least for the moment.