New Papers Published: FixMyStreet and the World’s Largest Participatory Budgeting

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Voting in Rio Grande do Sul’s Participatory Budgeting  (picture by Anderson Lopes)

Here are two new published papers that my colleagues Jon Mellon, Fredrik Sjoberg and myself have been working on.

The first, The Effect of Bureaucratic Responsiveness on Citizen Participation, published in Public Administration Review, is – to our knowledge – the first study to quantitatively assess at the individual level the often-assumed effect of government responsiveness on citizen engagement. It also describes an example of how the data provided through digital platforms may be leveraged to better understand participatory behavior. This is the fruit of a research collaboration with MySociety, to whom we are extremely thankful.

Below is the abstract:

What effect does bureaucratic responsiveness have on citizen participation? Since the 1940s, attitudinal measures of perceived efficacy have been used to explain participation. The authors develop a “calculus of participation” that incorporates objective efficacy—the extent to which an individual’s participation actually has an impact—and test the model against behavioral data from the online application Fix My Street (n = 399,364). A successful first experience using Fix My Street is associated with a 57 percent increase in the probability of an individual submitting a second report, and the experience of bureaucratic responsiveness to the first report submitted has predictive power over all future report submissions. The findings highlight the importance of responsiveness for fostering an active citizenry while demonstrating the value of incidentally collected data to examine participatory behavior at the individual level.

An earlier, ungated version of the paper can be found here.

The second paper, Does Online Voting Change the Outcome? Evidence from a Multi-mode Public Policy Referendum, has just been published in Electoral Studies. In an earlier JITP paper (ungated here) looking at Rio Grande do Sul State’s Participatory Budgeting – the world’s largest – we show that, when compared to offline voting, online voting tends to attract participants who are younger, male, of higher income and educational attainment, and more frequent social media users. Yet, one question remained: does the inclusion of new participants in the process with a different profile change the outcomes of the process (i.e. which projects are selected)? Below is the abstract of the paper.

Do online and offline voters differ in terms of policy preferences? The growth of Internet voting in recent years has opened up new channels of participation. Whether or not political outcomes change as a consequence of new modes of voting is an open question. Here we analyze all the votes cast both offline (n = 5.7 million) and online (n = 1.3 million) and compare the actual vote choices in a public policy referendum, the world’s largest participatory budgeting process, in Rio Grande do Sul in June 2014. In addition to examining aggregate outcomes, we also conducted two surveys to better understand the demographic profiles of who chooses to vote online and offline. We find that policy preferences of online and offline voters are no different, even though our data suggest important demographic differences between offline and online voters.

The extent to which these findings are transferable to other PB processes that combine online and offline voting remains an empirical question. In the meantime, nonetheless, these findings suggest a more nuanced view of the potential effects of digital channels as a supplementary means of engagement in participatory processes. I hope to share an ungated version of the paper in the coming days.

DemocracySpot’s Most Read Posts in 2014

Glasses for reading (1936) – Nationaal Archief

(I should have posted this on the 31st, but better late than never)

Below are some of the most read posts in 2014. While I’m at it, I’ll take the opportunity to explain the reduced number of posts in the last few months. Since mid-2014 I have been working with a small team of political and data scientists on a number of research questions at the intersection of technology and citizen engagement (I presented a few preliminary findings here). Following the period of field work, data collection and experiments, we have now started the drafting and peer-review stage of our research. This has been an extremely time-consuming process, which has taken up most of my weekends, when I generally write for this blog.

Still, one of my new year’s resolutions is precisely to better discipline myself to post more regularly. And I am hopeful that the publication of our upcoming research will make up for the recent reduction in posts. We will start to disseminate our results soon, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s a selection of the five most read posts in 2014.

The Problem with Theory of Change

Technology and Citizen Engagement: Friend or Foe? 

A Brilliant Story of Participation, Technology and Development Outcomes

When Citizen Engagement Saves Lives (and what we can learn from it) 

Social Accountability: What Does the Evidence Really Say?

10 Most Read Posts in 2013

Below is a selection of the 10 most read posts at DemocracySpot in 2013. Thanks to all of those who stopped by throughout the year, and happy 2014.

1. Does transparency lead to trust? Some evidence on the subject.

2. The Foundations of Motivation for Citizen Engagement

3. Open Government, Feedback Loops, and Semantic Extravaganza

4. Open Government and Democracy

5. What’s Wrong with e-Petitions and How to Fix them

6. Lawrence Lessig on Sortition and Citizen Participation

7. Unequal Participation: Open Government’s Unresolved Dilemma

8. The Effect of SMS on Participation: Evidence from Uganda

9. The Uncertain Relationship Between Open Data and Accountability

10. Lisbon Revisited: Notes on Participation

Italian Politics 2.0: The Multifaceted Effect of the Internet on Political Participation

We investigate the impact of the diffusion of high-speed Internet on different forms of political participation, using data from Italy. We exploit differences in the availability of ADSL broadband technology across municipalities, using the exogenous variation induced by the fact that the cost of providing ADSL-based Internet services in a given municipality depends on its relative position in the pre-existing voice telecommunications infrastructure. We first show that broadband Internet had a substantial negative effect on turnout in parliamentary elections between 1996 and 2008. However, we also find that it was positively associated with other forms of political participation, both online and offline: the emergence of local online grassroots protest movements, and turnout in national referenda (largely opposed by mainstream parties). We then show that the negative effect of Internet on turnout in parliamentary elections is essentially reversed after 2008, when the local grassroots movements coalesce into the Five-Star Movement (M5S) electoral list. Our findings are consistent with the view that: 1) The effect of Internet availability on political participation changes across different forms of engagement; 2) It also changes over time, as new political actors emerge who can take advantage of the new technology to tap into the existence of a disenchanted or demobilized contingent of voters; and 3) These new forms of mobilization eventually feed back into the mainstream electoral process, converting “exit” back into “voice”.

Read full paper here [PDF].

The Foundations of Motivation for Citizen Engagement

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Discussions about incentives to participate are increasingly common, but they are as shallow as most conversations nowadays about the subject of “feedback loops”. And very little reflection is actually dedicated to questions such as why, when and how people participate.

This is why this talk by Judd Antin, User Experience Researcher at Facebook, is one of the best I’ve heard lately. He goes a step further than making commonsensical assumptions, and examines the issue of motivations to participate in a more critical and systematic manner. When it comes to technology mediated processes, Judd is actually one of the few people looking seriously at the issue of incentives/motivations to participate.

In the talk Judd begins by arguing that “(…) the foundations of motivation in the age of social media, they are kind of the same as the foundations of motivation before the age of social media.” I cannot help but agree and sympathize with the statement. It is particularly annoying to  hear on a daily basis claims suggesting that individual and social processes are fundamentally altered by technologies, and “how new” this field is. “I don’t fool myself into thinking that this is a brand new world”, remarks Judd. Too bad so many are fooling themselves these days.

Judd’s take on incentives to participate is particularly sobering for some cheerleaders of gamification,  highlighting the limits of instrumental rewards and the need to focus on issues such as group identification, efficacy and – importantly – simplicity.

Finally, and on a more anecdotal note, it is interesting to see how some issues are similar across different spaces. At some point Judd points out that the “dislike” button is one of the features most requested by Facebook users. In a similar vein, one of the most requested features for e-Petitions platforms is the possibility to sign “against” a petition.

In both cases, these requests have been largely ignored. My feeling is that the implications for these choices of design for collective action are far from neutral, and these are issues that we should be looking at more closely.

In any case, Judd’s talk is great, and so are his articles: you can find a list of his most recent ones below.

Title / Author Year
SYSTEM FOR CUSTOM USER-GENERATED ACHIEVEMENT BADGES BASED ON ACTIVITY FEEDS
J Antin, EF Churchill, DA Shamma, M De Sa
US Patent 20,130,086,484
2013
Social desirability bias and self-reports of motivation: a study of amazon mechanical turk in the US and India
J Antin, A Shaw
Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing …
2012
Profanity use in online communities
S Sood, J Antin, E Churchill
Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing …
2012
Using Crowdsourcing to Improve Profanity Detection
SO Sood, J Antin, E Churchill
AAAI Spring Symposium Series, 69-74
2012
Local experts and online review sites
J Antin, M de Sa, EF Churchill
Proceedings of the acm 2012 conference on computer supported cooperative …
2012
Some of all human knowledge: gender and participation in peer production
A Forte, J Antin, S Bardzell, L Honeywell, J Riedl, S Stierch
Proceedings of the ACM 2012 conference on Computer Supported Cooperative …
2012
Apples to Oranges?: Comparing across studies of open collaboration/peer production
J Antin, EH Chi, J Howison, S Paul, A Shaw, J Yew
Proceedings of the 7th International Symposium on Wikis and Open …
2011
Gender differences in Wikipedia editing
J Antin, R Yee, C Cheshire, O Nov
Proceedings of the 7th International Symposium on Wikis and Open …
2011
Mobile augmented reality: video prototyping
M de Sá, J Antin, D Shamma, EF Churchill
Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference extended abstracts on Human …
2011
My kind of people?: perceptions about wikipedia contributors and their motivations
J Antin
Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference on Human factors in computing …
2011
Workshop on online reputation: context, privacy, and reputation management
J Antin, EF Churchill, BC Chen
Proceedings of the 20th international conference companion on World wide web …
2011
Technology-Mediated Contributions: Editing Behaviors Among New Wikipedians
J Antin, C Cheshire, O Nov
2011
Automatic identification of personal insults on social news sites
SO Sood, EF Churchill, J Antin
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
2011
Badges in social media: A social psychological perspective
J Antin, E Churchill
Human Factors, 1-4
2011
Toy Psychology-Using gaming tactics to shape our online behavior may not be as effective as some have hoped.
J Antin
Technology Review-Massachussets Institute ofTechnology-English Edition, 11
2011
General and Familiar Trust in Websites
C Cheshire, J Antin, KS Cook, E Churchill
Knowledge, Technology & Policy, 1-21
2010
Everyday favors: A case study of a local online gift exchange system
E Suhonen, A Lampinen, C Cheshire, J Antin
Proceedings of the 16th ACM international conference on Supporting group …
2010
Behaviors, adverse events, and dispositions: An empirical study of online discretion and information control
C Cheshire, J Antin, E Churchill
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 61 (7 …
2010
NONE OF US IS AS LAZY AS ALL OF US
C Cheshire, J Antin
Information, Communication & Society 13 (4), 537-555
2010
With a little help from my friends: Self‐interested and prosocial behavior on MySpace Music
J Antin, M Earp
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 61 (5 …
2010

Are ‘Good’ Citizens ‘Good’ Participants?

Article by Catherine Bolzendahl and Hilde Coffé recently published at Political Studies (2013):

Are ‘Good’ Citizens ‘Good’ Participants? Testing Citizenship Norms and Political Participation across 25 Nations. 

Abstract:

Whereas research on political participation typically investigates a variety of socio-economic and attitudinal characteristics, this cross-national study focuses on the relevance of norms when explaining political participation. We examine respondents’ normative beliefs about the importance of various measures of ‘good citizenship’, and their relationship to three modes of political engagement (activism, party membership and voting). We find assigning higher importance to paying taxes/obeying the law is negatively linked to all forms of participation, whereas the opposite is true for norms about the importance of voting and being active in associations. Greater emphasis on norms about understanding others and shopping politically is positively associated with political activism but not with more institutional forms of participation. The relationship between norms and participation differs somewhat across nations, with the most differences between Eastern European respondents and those from Western European and Western non-European respondents. In line with theories on democratic learning, we find that the relationship between citizenship norms and participation is often weakest among Eastern Europeans. Conclusions about the subjective and variable nature of democratic citizenship are discussed.

An interesting finding is the weak link between the duty to “keep a watch on the actions of government” and most types of participation (i.e. political activism and electoral participation). I cannot help but speculate about the extent to which these findings may help to explain why generally it is relatively easier to engage citizens in participatory processes (e.g. participatory budgeting) than have them monitor the outcomes of these same processes (e.g. oversight of budget execution).

Another possible reading is that the citizen who participates is different from the citizen who monitors. One of the practical implications of this would be that we should consider segmenting audiences (and outreach efforts) according to specific stages of the policy cycle.

Read the full article here.