EdBoard – Literacy and Coding, ‘Resetting’ the Net, Nanodegrees, the NY Times’ CMS, Measuring Innovation, and Robot Cars and Moral Decision Making

The GovLab Editorial Board Meetings (“EdBoard”) showcase news and events that encourage thought and discussion about The GovLab’s work.

EdBoard is a twice-weekly opportunity for The GovLab team to reflect on a) how approaches and technologies could help solve problems differently, and b) how news items relate to our projects with an eye toward ensuring our work creates real-world impacts. More than anything, EdBoard is about getting people talking.

EdBoard is held on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Each EdBoard is led by one or two members of The GovLab team. We will post recaps of each week’s EdBoards on our blog.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Robyn Caplan

Raja, Tasneem. Is Coding the New Literacy? Mother Jones. June 16, 2014.

  • Summary
    • The writer contends that rather than just teach kids how to code, we need to teach them computational thinking. Computational thinking is not just how to code (i.e. the syntax), but knowing how to identify a problem, design a system to solve it, and understand human behavior (or how humans interact with information).
  • Why it’s relevant for the GovLab
    • Promoting computational literacy throughout the general population is integral for the work being done at The GovLab. For instance, open data – a major focus of The GovLab’s current research – can be a powerful driver towards transparency and accountability, if citizens have the tools to be able to interpret the data available.
  • Main highlight from discussion
    • One challenge of open data is finding a way to increase data literacy, and the number of people who can actively engage with open data. Without providing citizens with the skills to interact with open data, there is a danger that access will remain limited to a small subset of the population, and that current gaps in code literacy – particularly the gender gap – could potentially undermine the strength of open data programs.

Antony Declercq

Astra, Taylor. Google and Yahoo want to ‘reset the net’. But can it work? The Guardian. June 16, 2014.

  • Summary
    • While the Reset the Net campaign addressed issues of privacy and mass surveillance and highlighted the importance of encryption tools for Internet users, the author of this article writes that Reset the Net “skirted a fundamental problem” by not challenging the business models that drive privacy invasion.
  • Why it’s relevant for the GovLab
    • The GovLab recognizes that changing governance requires more than choosing between “this policy” or “that policy”. Rather, as the author of this article argues, we must bring all stakeholders around the table to deconstruct policy problems and create comprehensive, evidence-based solutions.
  • Main highlight from discussion
    • As the GovLab focuses heavily on the uses of data for governance and on Internet governance more generally, we often are reminded of the scale and complexity of issues like privacy and surveillance. This article prompted discussions on what kinds of stakeholders – businesses, governments, NGOs, users, etc. – need to be involved in global debates around privacy.

Nanodegrees. Udacity.

  • Summary
    • This is not an article but a tool. Nanodegrees are “industry credentials” for computer scientists and web-developers which are recognized by companies and earned by completing online programs including personalized support and real-life “capstone” projects.
  • Why it’s relevant for the GovLab
    • The GovLab Academy focuses on both identifying the skills and knowledge that can make governing institutions more effective and training individuals to acquire those skills and knowledge, effectively creating a “pipeline” of individuals to work in areas related to open governance. This often raises the question of what kinds of credentials – i.e. “nanodegrees” – could and should be recognized by public institutions.
  • Main highlight from discussion
    • Alan Kantrow, the GovLab’s Chief Learning and Communications Officer, pointed out that an important component of such “nanodegree” or “microcredential” programs is the pre-recognition of institutions that are willing to accept such credentials as accurately appraising a person’s skills or experience. This led to further discussion about what kinds of skills a person might need in order to effectively work in open governance areas as well as how those skills could be “captured” through new forms of credentials and certifications.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Basilio Valdehuesa

Vnenchak, Luke. Scoop: A Glimpse Into the New York Times CMS. Open Blog, New York Times. June 17, 2014.

  • Summary
    • A review of the workings of the New York Times’ Content Management System – a tool for managing and processing its news articles, from draft to published form – and how it is evolving to meet current and future demands.
  • Why it’s relevant for the GovLab
    • One of GovLab’s main commodities is information, much of which is digested and processed for public consumption on a frequent basis; this piece serves as a reminder that the technology we use to manage our information forms the framework of our organization.
  • Main highlight from discussion
    • The collaborative nature of New York Times’ CMS technology – many hands go into its use – is a reminder of how collaborative our work is at GovLab, and how our ideas and information are gathered, drafted, edited and presented only through the hands of many of our team members working together. What and how GovLab organizes and presents its work will always be up for discussion, improvement and further development.

Kaplan, Soren. How to Measure Innovation (To Get Real Results). Co.Design Blog, Fast Company. June 17, 2014.

  • Summary
    • This piece is about the difficulty of measuring innovation – identifying what Kaplan calls the “innovation metric gap” – and proposes ways to close this gap through results-based measurement.
  • Why it’s relevant for the GovLab
    • It prompts the question, “how do we measure innovation at the GovLab?”
  • Main highlight from discussion
    • The articles prompted discussions on what sort of metric exactly, would be best to measure innovation at the GovLab: would a metric for measuring individual performance management be useful? A metric for measuring the impact of our work? This latter question was agreed on as a question we can and should define and develop further.

Luis Daniel

Lin, Patrick. The Robot Car of Tomorrow May Just Be Programmed to Hit You. Wired. May 6, 2014.

  • Summary
    • In the future, your self-driving car may be programmed to minimize the loss of life by deciding to put you in danger rather than someone else on the street.
  • Why it’s relevant for the GovLab
    • Programming these types of algorithms that make moral decisions will require a legal framework that does not exist yet. Similarly, GovLab is faced with a lot of circumstances where the legal framework for governance and technology issues have not yet been created, much less perfected.
  • Main highlight from discussion
    • Oftentimes new technologies come with a lot of unintended consequences and present us with unexplored legal territory. It is important to think about these two things when adopting new technologies and crafting policy – traditional or algorithmic – related to their use.

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