The weekend is right around the corner, and that’s always a reason to be in a good mood. Well, let us add a little more joy to your day, because it’s time for our Reads of the Week! 

Every week, we hand-pick the hottest civic tech and democracy news for you. And this week we have a particularly interesting selection! From smart cities over Artificial Intelligence and WhatsApp to the gilets jaunes, this week’s list covers pretty much every little nook and cranny of the civic tech world. Grab a coffee, find a spot in the sunshine, and let’s dive right in! 

1. “5 Strategies for Rethinking Smart City ROI” by J. Dames

Modern cities face many challenges that their static infrastructures aren’t necessarily built for. Growing populations, shifting demographics and evolving expectations make up only a small part of a growing list of complex problems. Smart connected technology could solve many of these issues, but the concept of smart cities still seems like a distant dream in many communities. Why is that exactly, wonders Dames? 

In this article, he says we should rethink the ROI of smart cities, and he offers 5 recommendations to do exactly that. From starting with small-scale projects to finding the right success-measuring model or understanding the value of “intangible” benefits, this article challenges you to think differently about the way smart cities could benefit us all. A must-read for techies who love to think about the future of cities, and the way we could all live together in smarter, more connected places.

2. “Why we need to focus on how humans interact with AI tools” by T. Snow

The human brain can never be 100% rational, and in decision-making, people “satisfice”: they review the information, process it to the best of their abilities, and rely on their intuition to pick the best solution. Whether this human intuition is productive or irrational and biased is up for debate, but what is certain,  is that over the years, algorithmic decision tools have been introduced to aid people in making important decisions.

In this article, Snow explores how the human reflex to “satisfice” and the rational decision-making approach could work together, and argues for a human-centred implementation of these AI tools. A must-read if you’re interested in AI, the future of tech, or the line between man and machine. 

3. “What’s New in Civic Tech: U.S. Senate Tackles Digital Equity” by Z. Quaintance 

The U.S Senate Democrats are making conscious efforts to foster better digital inclusion across the country. They do so through the Digital Equity Act of 2019, a legislation designed to create new investments for the federal government in projects promoting digital equity. 

Its introduction marks an important milestone in the fight for digital equity, “which means ensuring that all members of a given community have equal access to health care, education and employment through technology.” 

This kind of legislation on a federal level could accelerate efforts in giving everyone access to high-speed internet or placing digital skills training within the school curriculum. A must-read for anyone who believes that politicians should make conscious efforts to include everyone both on- and offline.

4. “Digital democracy as a response to the gilets jaunes – lessons learned” by S. Wray

The gilets jaunes movement in France, which sparked weekly protests for nearly six months, inspired the French government to launch a national consultation enabled by citizen participation technology. How did France channel the anger on its streets into positive public engagement? This article features an interview with French MP Forteza, who dives deeper into the participation process, the outcomes and the challenges of the Grand Débat. 

“Today, the challenges are to create regular participatory tools between government and citizens to manage public policies – not to create participatory tools only when citizens are unhappy towards the government,” says Forteza. This article is a must-read for everyone interested in the French situation, but also in citizen participation as a concept and the future of how citizens and governments will interact.

5. “WhatsApp is a dark version of democracy” by J. Gapper

Whatsapp, the app we all use to keep up with our friends or send updates in the family group chat, has become the “digital equivalent of a living room”. Its private nature makes it a valuable medium, but has also spiked the distribution of fake news and misinformation. 

As Gapper states, “a little misinformation is (not) a terrible thing. It is a mark of free societies that people are permitted to talk some nonsense and to moan about the authorities without being turned in by the neighbours, or by informers. But the speed at which fake news and propaganda can spread across online groups, and the way they are amplified, is different from the analogue world.”

In India, these types of false messages have increased the numbers of lynch violence, while in the U.S., vaccination rates have dropped because concerned parents spread misinformation. In this article, Gapper explores the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘what now’ of this situation. A must-read for social media lovers or, really, anyone who uses Whatsapp.

6. ” Selling Civic Engagement: a unique role for the private sector?” by R. Winthrop

In the last few years, we’ve seen some worrisome trends about the belief and participation in our democracies. The faith in democratic institutions is dropping across the globe, and almost 20% of U.S. millennials believe that military rule or an authoritarian dictator is a “fairly good” form of government. In this article, Winthrop explores the role that the private sector could play in addressing this trend. “After all, compared to other options like military or authoritarian rule, a functioning democracy is much more likely to provide the conditions for free enterprise that business desires,” she states. 

In this article, Winthrop shines a light on two ways that the private sector could build citizens’ interest in civic engagement. A must-read for everyone interested in civic tech and the impact it has on society. 

And look, that’s already the end of our list! If you’re still craving more, check out our previous selections on the blog, download our brand-new comprehensive e-guide on participatory budgeting, or contact our experts to get started with digital participation in your city!

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