Politics & Government

Very few of these experiments use manipulation of information environments on the internet as a way to change people’s behaviour. The Internet seems to hold enormous promise for ‘Nudging’ by redesigning ‘choice environments’.

What makes people join political actions? Iraq War protesters crowd Trafalgar Square in February 2007. Image by DavidMartynHunt.

Experiments—or more technically, Randomised Control Trials—are the most exciting thing on the UK public policy horizon. In 2010, the incoming Coalition Government set up the Behavioural Insights Team in the Cabinet Office to find innovative and cost effective (cheap) ways to change people’s behaviour. Since then the team have run a number of exciting experiments with remarkable success, particularly in terms of encouraging organ donation and timely payment of taxes. With Bad Science author Ben Goldacre, they have now published a Guide to RCTs, and plenty more experiments are planned. This sudden enthusiasm for experiments in the UK government is very exciting. The Behavioural Insights Team is the first of its kind in the world—in the US, there are few experiments at federal level, although there have been a few well publicised ones at local level—and the UK government has always been rather scared of the concept before, there being a number of cultural barriers to the very word ‘experiment’ in British government. Experiments came to the fore in the previous Administration’s Mindscape document. But what made them popular for Public Policy may well have been the 2008 book Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein, which shows that by knowing how people think, it is possible to design choice environments that make it “easier for people to choose what is best for themselves, their families, and their society.” Since then, the political scientist Peter John has published ‘Nudge, Nudge, Think, Think, which has received positive coverage in The Economist: The use of behavioural economics in public policy shows promise and the Financial Times: Nudge, nudge. Think, think. Say no more …; and has been reviewed by the LSE Review of Books: Nudge, Nudge, Think, Think: experimenting with ways to change civic behaviour. But there is one thing missing here. Very few of these experiments use manipulation of information environments on the internet as a way to change people’s behaviour. The Internet…

The Internet can be hugely useful to coordinate disaster relief efforts, or to help rebuild affected communities.

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The 6.2 magnitude earthquake that struck the centre of Christchurch on 22 February 2011 claimed 185 lives, damaged 80% of the central city beyond repair, and forced the abandonment of 6000 homes. It was the third costliest insurance event in history. The CEISMIC archive developed at the University of Canterbury will soon have collected almost 100,000 digital objects documenting the experiences of the people and communities affected by the earthquake, all of it available for study. The Internet can be hugely useful to coordinate disaster relief efforts, or to help rebuild affected communities. Paul Millar came to the OII on 21 May 2012 to discuss the CEISMIC archive project and the role of digital humanities after a major disaster (below). We talked to him afterwards. Ed: You have collected a huge amount of information about the earthquake and people’s experiences that would otherwise have been lost: how do you think it will be used? Paul: From the beginning I was determined to avoid being prescriptive about eventual uses. The secret of our success has been to stick to the principles of open data, open access and collaboration—the more content we can collect, the better chance future generations have to understand and draw conclusions from our experiences, behaviour and decisions. We have already assisted a number of research projects in public health, the social and physical sciences; even accounting. One of my colleagues reads balance sheets the way I read novels, and discovers all sorts of earthquake-related signs of cause and effect in them. I’d never have envisaged such a use for the archive. We have made our ontology is as detailed and flexible as possible in order to help with re-purposing of primary material: we currently use three layers of metadata—machine generated, human-curated and crowd sourced. We also intend to work more seriously on our GIS capabilities. Ed: How do you go about preserving this information during a period of…

Small changes in individual actions can have large effects at the aggregate level; this opens up the potential for drawing incorrect conclusions about generative mechanisms when only aggregated patterns are analysed.

One of the big social science questions is how our individual actions aggregate into collective patterns of behaviour (think crowds, riots, and revolutions). This question has so far been difficult to tackle due to a lack of appropriate data, and the complexity of the relationship between the individual and the collective. Digital trails are allowing Social Scientists to understand this relationship better. Small changes in individual actions can have large effects at the aggregate level; this opens up the potential for drawing incorrect conclusions about generative mechanisms when only aggregated patterns are analysed, as Schelling aimed to show in his classic example of racial segregation. Part of the reason why it has been so difficult to explore this connection between the individual and the collective—and the unintended consequences that arise from that connection—is lack of proper empirical data, particularly around the structure of interdependence that links individual actions. This relational information is what digital data is now providing; however, they present some new challenges to the social scientist, particularly those who are used to working with smaller, cross-sectional datasets. Suddenly, we can track and analyse the interactions of thousands (if not millions) of people with a time resolution that can go down to the second. The question is how to best aggregate that data and deal with the time dimension. Interactions take place in continuous time; however, most digital interactions are recorded as events (i.e. sending or receiving messages), and different network structures emerge when those events are aggregated according to different windows (i.e. days, weeks, months). We still don’t have systematic knowledge on how transforming continuous data into discrete observation windows affects the networks of interaction we analyse. Reconstructing interpersonal networks (particularly longitudinal network data) used to be extremely time consuming and difficult; now it is relatively easy to obtain that sort of network data, but modelling and analysing them is still a challenge. Another problem faced by social…

We are pleased to present seven articles, all of which focus on a substantive public policy issue arising from widespread use of the Internet.

The last 2010 issue of Policy and Internet has just been published! We are pleased to present seven articles, all of which focus on a substantive public policy issue arising from widespread use of the Internet: online political advocacy and petitioning, nationalism and borders online, unintended consequences of the introduction of file-sharing legislation, and the implications of Internet voting and voting advice applications for democracy and political participation. Links to the articles are included below. Happy reading! Helen Margetts: Editorial David Karpf: Online Political Mobilisation from the Advocacy Group’s Perspective: Looking Beyond Clicktivism Elisabeth A. Jones and Joseph W. Janes: Anonymity in a World of Digital Books: Google Books, Privacy, and the Freedom to Read Stefan Larsson and Måns Svensson: Compliance or Obscurity? Online Anonymity as a Consequence of Fighting Unauthorised File-sharing Irina Shklovski and David M. Struthers: Of States and Borders on the Internet: The Role of Domain Name Extensions in Expressions of Nationalism Online in Kazakhstan Andreas Jungherr and Pascal Jürgens: The Political Click: Political Participation through E-Petitions in Germany Jan Fivaz and Giorgio Nadig: Impact of Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) on Voter Turnout and Their Potential Use for Civic Education Anne-Marie Oostveen: Outsourcing Democracy: Losing Control of e-Voting in the Netherlands

We are pleased to present five articles focusing on substantive public policy issues arising from widespread use of the Internet.

Welcome to the third issue of Policy & Internet for 2010. We are pleased to present five articles focusing on substantive public policy issues arising from widespread use of the Internet: regulation of trade in virtual goods; development of electronic government in Korea; online policy discourse in UK elections; regulatory models for broadband technologies in the US; and alternative governance frameworks for open ICT standards. Three of the articles are the first to be published from the highly successful conference ‘Internet, Politics and Policy’ held by the journal in Oxford, 16th-17th September 2010. You may access any of the articles below at no charge. Helen Margetts: Editorial Vili Lehdonvirta and Perttu Virtanen: A New Frontier in Digital Content Policy: Case Studies in the Regulation of Virtual Goods and Artificial Scarcity Joon Hyoung Lim: Digital Divides in Urban E-Government in South Korea: Exploring Differences in Municipalities’ Use of the Internet for Environmental Governance Darren G. Lilleker and Nigel A. Jackson: Towards a More Participatory Style of Election Campaigning: The Impact of Web 2.0 on the UK 2010 General Election Michael J. Santorelli: Regulatory Federalism in the Age of Broadband: A U.S. Perspective Laura DeNardis: E-Governance Policies for Interoperability and Open Standards

ePetitions are an interesting research object because not only is petitioning a rather popular political participation activity offline but also online.

This panel was one of three in the first round of panels and has been focusing on ePetitions. Two contributions from Germany and two contributions from the UK brought a useful comparative perspective to the debate. ePetitions are an interesting research object because not only is petitioning a rather popular political participation activity offline but also online. It is also one of the few eParticipation activities quite a number of governments have been implemented by now, namely the UK, Germany and Scotland. Andreas Jungherr was providing a largely quantitative analysis of co-signature dynamics on the ePetitions website of the German Bundestag, providing some background on how many petitions attract a lot of signatures (only a few) and how many petitions a user signs (usually only one). This provided a background for the summary of a comprehensive study on ePetitioning in the German parliament by Ralf Linder. He offered a somewhat downbeat assessment in that the online system has failed to engage traditionally underrepresented groups of society to petitioning even though it has had impacted on the public debate. Giovanni Navarria was much harsher in his criticism of ePetitioning on the Downing Street site based on his analysis of the petition against the road tax. He concluded that the government was actually wrong in putting such a service onto its website as it had created unrealistic expectations a representative government could not meet. In contrast Panagiotis Panagiotopoulos in his evaluation of local ePetitioning in the Royal Borough of Kingston made a case for petitions on the local level to have the potential to really enhance local government democracy. This is a finding that is particularly important in the light of the UK government mandating online petitioning for all local authorities in the UK.

We are pleased to present six articles that spread across the scope of the journal laid out in the first article of the first issue, The Internet and Public Policy.

Welcome to the second issue of Policy & Internet and the first issue of 2010! We are pleased to present six articles that spread across the scope of the journal laid out in the first article of the first issue, The Internet and Public Policy (Margetts, 2009). Three articles cover some aspect of trust, identified as one of the key values associated with the Internet and likely to emerge in policy trends. The other three articles all bring internet-related technologies to centre stage in policy change. Helen Margetts: Editorial Stephan G. Grimmelikhuijsen: Transparency of Public Decision-Making: Towards Trust in Local Government? Jesper Schlæger: Digital Governance and Institutional Change: Examining the Role of E-Government in China’s Coal Sector Fadi Salem and Yasar Jarrar: Government 2.0? Technology, Trust and Collaboration in the UAE Public Sector Mike Just and David Aspinall: Challenging Challenge Questions: An Experimental Analysis of Authentication Technologies and User Behaviour Ainė Ramonaite: Voting Advice Applications in Lithuania: Promoting Programmatic Competition or Breeding Populism? Thomas M. Lenard and Paul H. Rubin: In Defense of Data: Information and the Costs of Privacy