Regarding the above picture of DRC government troops with their mobile phones, Alexis Madrigal from the Atlatinc wrote in his column last year:
I don’t know what to say about this photograph aside from suggesting that an enterprising PhD student write a dissertation on “Cell Phones in War.” How are fighting, killing, and controlling territory different when you can call your brother after battle, post a photo of your squadron on the march to Facebook, or play Angry Birds between skirmishes?
Part of the answer to Alexis’ question comes in a newly published article in the American Political Science Review by postdoctoral fellow Jan Pierskalla and PhD candidate Florian Hollenbach (ht the Monkey Cage).
In a nutshell, the authors’ findings suggest that cell phone coverage in Africa increases the likelihood of political violence. The abstract is below:
The spread of cell phone technology across Africa has transforming effects on the economic and political sphere of the continent. In this paper, we investigate the impact of cell phone technology on violent collective action. We contend that the availability of cell phones as a communication technology allows political groups to overcome collective action problems more easily and improve in-group cooperation, and coordination. Utilizing novel, spatially disaggregated data on cell phone coverage and the location of organized violent events in Africa, we are able to show that the availability of cell phone coverage signiﬁcantly and substantially increases the probability of violent conﬂict. Our ﬁndings hold across numerous different model speciﬁcations and robustness checks, including cross-sectional models, instrumental variable techniques, and panel data methods.
It will be interesting to see how this paper resonates with different audiences, such as the ICT4D community and political scientists. Some have already started to question the methodology and underlying assumptions in the paper.
But despite the findings of this study, like it or not, at some point technology cheerleaders will have to come to terms with a simple fact: if technology helps us overcome problems of collective action, there’s no reason to believe that this can only happen when it comes to virtuous collective action. And it shouldn’t take a PhD to know that.
Read the full paper here [PDF].
Whistleblower laws are becoming important governance tools in both the public and private sectors. To examine the effectiveness of whistleblower laws and their awareness, this study creates a unique internet-based measure of awareness about whistleblower laws and provisions, focusing on the United States. Placing the analysis within the larger corruption literature, our results show that greater whistleblower awareness results in more observed corruption and this holds across specifications. Internet awareness of whistleblower laws appears to be more effective at exposing corruption than the quantity and quality of whistleblower laws themselves.
And a few excerpts from the conclusion, which highlights the role of the internet:
Couching the empirical analysis within the extant literature on the causes of corruption, our results show that greater internet awareness about whistleblower laws results in more corruption coming to light and being successfully prosecuted. In terms of magnitude, an increase in whistleblower hits by one sample standard deviation would increase average corruption convictions per million population by nearly thirty over a decade-long period. Interestingly, the internet awareness about corruption seems relatively more effective at exposing corruption than the quantity and quality of whistleblower laws themselves. Further, the direct government resources allocated to controlling crime and the indirect efforts via whistleblower awareness are found to be complementary. These findings are generally robust to alternate specifications, including an allowance for potential endogeneity of whistleblower awareness, and to broader measures of internet whistleblower awareness. (…)
The results for the United States in terms of the effectiveness of whistleblower laws in exposing corruption should be of interest to policy makers everywhere, especially in other nations that do not have adequate protections for whistleblowers. As internet diffusion grows and the digital divide narrows, it would be interesting to see a further impact of whistleblower awareness and, more generally, of the internet.
Read the full paper here [PDF].
Events like the IRS targeting of conservative groups dramatize how far we have to go to reinvent citizenship. We need a long-term process of revitalizing a civic culture in government if civil servants are to work collaboratively with lay citizens in "authoring the next chapter" of America.
Some argue that IRS and State Department actions evidence moral lapses. Thus, in his New York Times column, David Brooks warns about what happens "when government workers lose touch with the human context of their job." Brooks argues that there is a "values problem in the federal government."
We discovered a deeper problem, described in detail in Building America: The Democratic Promise of Public Work, which I co-authored with Nan Kari. When I coordinated the "New Citizenship" project with the White House Domestic Policy Council from 1993-1995, analyzing the gap between citizens and government, we heard many versions of the sense of growing distance described by Jerome Delli Priscoli, senior policy analyst for the Institute for Water Resources in the Army Corps of Engineers. As he put it, "We've lost the 'civil' in civil service."
Paul Light, a leading analyst of government practices, described the developments in more detail. "In the 50s an administrative view, descending from scientific management, completely took hold. Civil servants lost their flexibility. In government, the notion was that narrow spans of control are the only way to organize human endeavor."
Government employees, in Light's view, were once motivated by an ethos of public service which stressed their civic identities. But this ethos largely disappeared, replaced by a focus on specialization and service to citizens conceived as customers. Such a focus makes government the center of the action and the public the object of action.
"Departments and agencies have plenty of advocates for doing things for citizens and to citizens," Light argued. "But there are today almost no voices for seeing government workers as citizens themselves, working with other citizens." Thus, he added, "citizens are viewed in partial terms - as clients and customers, taxpayers and voters - but too rarely as whole actors, capable of judgment and problem solving."
This loss of the ability to see citizens as "whole actors" has spread widely, in a dynamic which South African intellectual Xolela Mangcu calls technocratic creep. As early as the 1920s, for instance, YMCAs began to trade in their identity as a movement of citizens served by civic-minded "secretaries" for a new identity -- institutions comprised of huge buildings and scientifically trained exercise professionals who provide "programs" for paying members.
Schools, colleges, businesses, congregations, as well as government agencies followed suit. What were once anchoring institutions through which people developed a sense of agency in the world have turned into service providers for customers and clients.
In a recent study for the Kettering Foundation, Richard Harwood and John Creighton found that even leaders of nonprofits with strong community-serving missions, such as strengthening local schools and helping vulnerable children, feel enormous pressure to turn inward, evaluate success by using narrow definitions of service delivery, and avoid real partnerships with lay citizens in their work. Kettering program officer Derek Barker terms this dynamic the "colonization of civil society."
The lesson: It will take civic change in many settings -- not simply in government -- to reinvent citizenship.
Harry C. Boyte is Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College and a Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Want to print this infographic? Click here.
While it's no secret that Americans tend to hold federal policymakers in disregard, they are much more likely to trust their local city or county officials. Local officials are close to home, and local government is often only so far as the next public hearing or city council meeting.
Local officials recognize this connection between their constituents’ trust and government’s proximity to the people. New research in California by Public Agenda suggests that, in communities across America’s most populous state, local officials are interested in engaging citizens in more thoughtful, robust and inclusive ways.
The research includes a survey, interviews and focus groups with local, elected and nonelected public officials throughout California, as well as with leaders of community-based and civic organizations. What these leaders and officials have to say offers important considerations for public engagement in communities around the country.
Nearly 8 in ten California public officials say they're interested in learning about public engagement practices that have worked elsewhere, and 85 percent report that their views toward public engagement have changed since their careers began. Many say they have come to understand and value public engagement more over time.
Yet both local officials and civic leaders see hurdles to improving their efforts to engage residents in public decisions. Sometimes officials and civic leaders-- potential partners in engagement-- disagree about the root of the problems they face.
Regardless, local officials and civic leaders share concern for a disconnect between the public and local decision makers, and desire greater public participation and stronger collaboration. The research suggests some avenues for improvement.
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What is the state of public participation in local government decision making in California? Two new Public Agenda reports present the shared — and divergent — perspectives of public officials and the leaders of civic organizations on the issue.
The research indicates:
- Public meetings often do not meet the needs of residents or local officials.
- Large segments of the public are often missing from the decision-making process — especially low-income populations, immigrants and young people.
- Local officials and civic leaders in California share concern for a disconnect between the public and local decision makers.
- Both also desire greater public participation and stronger collaboration.
These and related findings, as well as recommendations for improving public engagement, can help local public officials, leaders of civic and community-based organizations, and funders investing in civic engagement or community development. The research and recommendations can inform the efforts of these and other parties involved with public engagement in or beyond California.
The reports document and analyze the results of research with more than 1,400 individuals conducted by Public Agenda in partnership with the Institute for Local Government and Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University. This study was funded by The James Irvine Foundation.
Find Out More
Download research highlights in a highly visual, printable infographic, as well as the two full reports:
- "Testing the Waters" - perspectives from local officials
- "Beyond Business as Usual" - civic leader points of view
Executive summaries are also available for both reports.
One model for better public engagement that we've seen work in scores of communities across the country is the Community Conversation.
Community Conversations are carefully constructed dialogues that bring diverse members of the public together to work through an important and pressing public issue and explore possible solutions. Community Conversations are rooted in collaboration between government officials and civic leaders. These Conversations provide local officials and civic leaders an opportunity to engage a broad cross section of a community in productive, action-oriented deliberation.
Add Your Voice
Download the Report on Civic Leaders
Media Type: PDF
This study suggests that California's civic and community-based organizations are looking for newer and better ways to engage the public and may be ready for stronger collaborations with local government.
The recent announcement that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have passed the long-feared milestone of 400 parts per million creates a new sense of urgency about what is to be done.
In the face of the climate crisis, many express panic. "It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster," Columbia University scientist Maureen Raymo told the New York Times. The crisis threatens a barren wilderness.
We need a way of acting sufficient to the challenge. Here, the biblical story of the years in the Wilderness, in which the fractious and "stiff-necked" people of Israel agreed to a covenant with God and created a new way of life, offers resources. It is a story shared by Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The usual response to the climate challenge is, instead, a polarizing politics which pits a victimized people against evil, oppressive power. Thus, Wendell Berry, environmental activist and farmer as well as prolific author of novels, stories, poems, essays and recipient of the National Humanities Medal, argued in his 2012 Jefferson Lecture at the National Endowment for the Humanities that "we Americans have been divided into two kinds: 'boomers' and 'stickers.'"
"Boomers," in his view, "motivated by greed, the desire for money, property, and power," are driving us toward ecological disaster. Under their rule, "our country has been pillaged for the enrichment of those who have claimed the right to own or exploit it without limit." In contrast, "stickers" are "those who settle and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in." They are the only hope for Berry.
Berry's Jefferson Lecture, as well as his other writings, hold insight. But its politics, dividing society into evil doers vs. innocents, leads to acrimony, not a way through the climate crisis.
It is crucial to develop a politics which can enlist the large majority in making change. Otherwise change on the scale required simply will not occur. Such politics has cultural roots.
Today's polarizing politics on the environment, like on many other issues, draws implicitly or explicitly on the Exodus narrative, the epic struggle of the Jews against their bondage in Egypt. In this story, "the Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter" (Exodus 1:13-14). The Pharaoh embodies evil. Again and again his "heart is hardened."
The escalating plagues visited upon the Egyptians, from water turned into blood through death of their firstborn and their drowning in the Red Sea, are justifiable acts of a righteous God. "Terror and dread fell upon them," sings Moses and the Israelites. "By the might of your arm, they became still as a stone" (Exodus 15: 16). This story of deliverance from oppression has become a central model of freedom struggles over centuries.
But in the first five books of the Bible, what Christians call the Pentateuch and what Jews and Muslims call the Torah, the struggle against oppression is paired with the years in the Wilderness which prepare Israel for the promised land.
The Wilderness narrative recounts many other aspects of forming a people and creating a common life, beyond battles against oppression.
For instance, it includes the Golden Rule, "love your neighbor as yourself." It has stories of creating governance structures which decentralize power from Moses, whose commands, channeling God's, were once unquestioned. Decentralization begins with Jethro, Moses' father in law, not himself an Israelite, who advises Moses not to make all the decisions (Exodus 18: 13-26).
The Wilderness story includes Israel's agreement to a new covenant, based on observing the Ten Commandments and associated laws. These create foundations for "the way of the lord." It has vivid passages of energetic creation, such as building the Tabernacle. "So they came, both men and women ... the people of Israel whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work" (Exodus 36:22, 29).
The years included backsliding, rebellion and regret. "The people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes ... 'O that we had meat to eat!'" (Numbers 11: 1, 4). Moses in turn complains to God: "Where am I to get meat to give to all this people ... the burden is too heavy" (Numbers 11:13-14).
An important generational shift occurs. The Moses Generation, shaped by Egypt, gives way to the "Joshua Generation," which grew up in the Wilderness. Only Caleb and Joshua of the Moses Generation make it to the Promised Land.
The narrative makes the point that the work of revitalizing the way of the Lord will never end. Jubilee, declared by God, is to occur every 50 years. It involves forgiveness of debts, liberty to captives, and lands returned to the common tribal pools. "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine," declared the Lord (Leviticus 25:23).
On the threshold of the Promised Land, Moses calls for remembering, in ways relevant today.
"God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs ... a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees ... a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper ... Take heed lest you forget ... the great and terrible wilderness" (Deuteronomy 8:7-9).
The current environmental crisis also demands that we remember. It grows from long-developing patterns of consumerism, energy production, decision-making structures and today's American Dream.
There is no way to avoid major disruptions in the face of climate changes, in a "good land" of material abundance and deeply entrenched consumer life styles.
But there are memories of more cooperative and egalitarian and less materialistic moments in history. And there are contemporary examples of the kind of politics we need to revitalize them.
For instance, Minnesota United for All Families organized advocates of gay marriage last year to defeat a constitutional amendment that would prohibit gay marriage, after 30 defeats in other states. The campaign used a relational citizen politics which refused to demonize opponents and involved more than a million conversations. "We learned that a politics of empowerment beats a politics of vilification," said Richard Carlbom, campaign director.
This politics also was championed by the great civil rights leader Thelma Craig. She insisted that radical culture change requires "80% of the people," not a mere majority.
A 21st century Wilderness Politics needs to remember, in the tradition of Moses. To address the challenge of climate change, we need to replace the current politics of polarization with a constructive politics that can galvanize energies across the political spectrum.
Harry C. Boyte Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College and a Senior Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Marie Strӧm is a graduate student in systematic theology at Luther Seminar, and a former democracy educator in Africa.
Young America’s current view of government does not bode well for the future of our democracy. According to a new Harvard poll of 18-29 year-olds, these so-called millennials are becoming more polarized, more distrustful and more cynical about politics than in previous years.
The difference between the way young Democrats and Republicans view the President has never been more dramatic than in the last six months, the poll release said. The President’s approval rating among young Democrats is 85 percent, versus 11 percent among young Republicans. This divide has been growing in recent years, with the gap widening by 11 percentage points since last year.
Millennials also consistently rated the country’s institutions poorly. Only 22 percent would trust the federal government (as a whole) to do the right thing, and just 18 percent would trust Congress. The president and Supreme Court garnered a bit more trust (39 percent and 40 percent, respectively), with the military rated most trustworthy (54 percent said they would trust them to do the right thing).
Cynicism for the political process as a whole has increased at a rapid pace. The poll found that nearly half of millennials (48 percent) don’t believe their votes will make a real difference, up from 29 percent just a year ago.
While this study does raise myriad reasons for concern and action, the picture is more complicated and less gloomy than it suggests. Millenials have high rates of volunteerism and political activism, and they are arguably masters at networking and collaboration. Some say that this combination may actually break down the partisan divide.
Still, Harvard's survey does merit a genuine discussion of ways we can keep division, distrust and cynicism from taking hold.
So how could we counteract it? Perhaps by first examining the causes we can identify some solutions and find a more favorable prognosis.
Possible Causes for Division and Discontent Among Millennials
One potential source for growing cynicism among the young may be the lack of progress when it comes to our lagging economy. The consequences of our current weak economy have been felt acutely by the young, who also face the ballooning cost of higher education, often staggering student loan debt, the reality that a degree or credential is increasingly required for employment in any field, and the ill fortune of belonging to a generation that will not be better off than their parents. While college graduates seem to have weathered the recession well, they are often underemployed or working jobs below their skill level. For young people without a college degree, the unemployment rate is much higher.
Meanwhile, these underemployed and unemployed youth watch as policymakers avoid making the important decisions necessary to setting this country on a viable economic path. No wonder this group is so frustrated by the current political system.
In general, this generation hasn’t seen progress on most major reform movements in their lifetime. People’s political attitudes often coalesce at the beginning of their adulthood, when they enter the political process, said Trey Grayson, Harvard’s director of the Institute of Politics, which means that millennials could already be conditioned to doubt and distrust.
Shortfalls in the civic education that young people received (or failed to receive) in secondary school may be a contributing factor as well. Civic education can foster pride in the democratic process, encourage active citizenship and build a constituency of inspired leaders for tomorrow. However, signs indicate that students' civic mastery is faltering, and, nationally, our education system's emphasis on civic education has dwindled.
Outside of formal schooling, young people have few opportunities to develop civic skills. In fact, we can likely attribute millennial polarization in part to the political isolation they experience socially. Only 12 percent of millennials surveyed said that their most recent significant other had different political beliefs from their own, and 72 percent reported that all or most of their friends share their politics, according to the Harvard Crimson. Birds of a feather tend to flock together, sure, but homogenization of social groups doesn’t typically encourage the types of critical discussions that have to happen in order to come to terms with tough issues.
It may be the case that the Internet and other digital tools can help improve civic engagement and encourage political activities that bring people of differing politics together. As of yet, however, such technology has failed to broaden the reach of engagement beyond those who are already civically active. Furthermore, research indicates that online commenting tends to negatively affect civil discourse and reduce objectivity.
Improving the Outlook for Millennials and our Political Future
Whatever the myriad for the younger generation’s increasingly polarized, distrustful and cynical attitudes toward public life, there are no clear and simple solutions. Here are some principles previously discussed in our work that we believe are likely to help:
- Advocate for problem solving over gridlock among our nation's leaders
- Explore ways to harness technology to improve civic education and increase across-the-aisle engagement
- Pursue practices for (re)building trust
We've also seen many instances where community leaders help citizens engage in thoughtful, civil dialogue with people diverse views. Such conversations often have a marked effect on participants, who come away understanding why others have views counter to their own, accepting that there are no easy answers, and seeing their political opponents as people instead of caricatures. Can such a model be used in the higher education classroom to instill a respect for civil dialogue in our nation's college students?
These ideas are certainly not exhaustive. Do you have any others?
Concentrating on ways to shift the political perspective of our future leaders will be a continuous process. Yet not doing so may let them succumb to deep, lifelong polarization and will be detrimental to the health of our society. Let’s get a jump on them while they're young.