An Ethnographic Approach to Impact Evaluation: Stop Measuring Outputs, Start Understanding Experiences
Is open government working?
I asked the question in a previous post. Folks much better informed—Jerry Brito, Tiago Peixoto, and Nathaniel Heller, to name a few—have been asking the question for some time. The answers are not forthcoming.
Too often, assessing the impact of open government initiatives amounts to measuring outputs: how many developers flocked to a civic tech hackathon; the amount of procurement records feeding corruption hawks and socially-minded graphic designers; or the number of tweets or media mentions about a particular initiative, regardless of whether they are from the same industry blogs and actors covering open government.
Quantitative metrics have their place. They may be useful for gauging the popularity of an initiative. They are almost always used to justify funding for an initiative. But, ultimately, these studies say very little about open government’s actual impact … Read More »
Field Diary: For Innovative Legislation on the Front End, States Need Reliable People and Processes on the Backend
Well, folks, the TurboVote and Reboot local elections research roadshow has come to close.
We’ve got gobs and gobs of data, which we’ll look forward to parsing through over the coming week to develop clarity around our findings (more on that soon!). But for now, we’d like to our musings from our final research stop: the City and County of Denver Elections Division in Colorado.
In the “Centennial State,” (named so for its admission into the nation 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence), 72 percent of the voting population statewide votes by mail. If things go as expected, new legislation will make Colorado an all mail-ballot state, in time for next year’s midterm elections.
For those of you unfamiliar with voting by mail, this means that voters in Colorado can request a ballot be sent to them via the … Read More »
Each year, about 60 million people travel to the state of Florida, including one very special subset of visitors: “snowbirds.”
Florida-bound snowbirds are typically retirees from the northeast of the US who spend their winters in search of sunshine and warm weather. With no state income tax requirements, Florida also makes an attractive destination for formal residency, which means snowbirds can vote.
And vote they do.
Similar to older generations in most American states, Florida’s snowbirds are consistent and engaged voters. Turnout for the 2012 presidential election in Martin County, Florida–where Reboot’s elections research team traveled last week–was 78 percent. Snowbirds like their ballots as much as they do their beaches, apparently.
But for all the influence snowbirds have on local elections here, the most interesting tidbit we learned from the Martin County Supervisor of Elections had nothing to … Read More »
It’s 8:00am, and we’re up and running. Reboot Nigeria rises early.
We have a big day ahead of us. We’re working out of our office in Benin City in the Niger Delta. This week, we’re examining public works projects, working on an education-focused radio program we helped launch, training government officials on design research, and prototyping improvements to an elections monitoring platform. It’s a sizeable plate.
But first on the agenda this morning is research. Our focus: roads.
Specifically, we’re trying to understand the process through which public works projects go from inception to execution, and we’re doing so through the prism of road construction. Edo, one of the states we’re working in, has undergone a transformation in the recent years—the current Governor has made road building a key priority. Though only 10 to 15 percent of Nigerian roads are paved, the present … Read More »
This past week our research team traveled to Austin, Texas where we got a first-hand look at how Travis County runs its elections.
We spent time with the Travis County Tax Assessor’s Office, which oversees voter registration and districting activities. We also met with the Clerk’s Office, which is responsible for the implementation of elections. This quirky bureaucratic distinction is a relic of the days when Texas had a poll tax.
We arrived at an opportune time, coinciding with the announcement that Austin is soon to be the proud owner of high-speed internet, compliments of Google Fiber. The press was abuzz discussing the effects Google’s new technology will have on life and economy in this Texan city known largely for the annual SXSW conference.
We too got excited about Austin’s tech upgrade and its potential to impact local elections. … Read More »
In Vermont, March is the season for sugaring—it is when the days are warm and nights are cold that the maple sap starts flowing. In addition to sampling one of state’s better-known food products, our research team got a taste of some pure democracy last week, straight from the tap of “town meeting.”
Only seven states administer elections at the town level, and Vermont is one of them. The other 43 states administer by county. Town meeting—which takes the form of representative democracy in Brattleboro, Vermont—is when local officials are elected, annual budgets are approved, and other affairs are settled. We spent this past week with Brattleboro Town Clerk Annette Cappy, and her small but mighty team in the Clerk’s Office, learning how this approach structures local decision-making.
Brattleboro is unique among Vermont’s towns for holding Representative Town Meeting on the third … Read More »
In recent years, crowdfunding models have offered disruptive examples of collective action problem-solving.
Crowdfunded micro-lending initiatives like Kiva are enabling people all over the world to support entrepreneurs in emerging contexts. In only two years, the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter has helped hundreds of thousands of creators secure the capital they need to bring new ideas, products, services, and stories to the world.
And there are many more mission-driven crowdfunding platforms—Global Giving, Crowdrise, Donors Choose, Raise 5, and Catapult, to name a few.
How could development organizations leverage the emergence of these new models to collectively finance and advance human development outcomes worldwide?
This is a question a cross-divisional team at the World Bank raised among staff as part of this year’s annual Sustainable Development Forum. With Reboot’s support, this team convened a “Crowdfunding for Development” brainstorming workshop to help identify answers … Read More »
From the seemingly unending stream of political brinksmanship emanating from Washington these days, you’d think the country has fallen into a state of partisan warfare. Refreshingly, our visit to Jefferson County’s Election Center this past week provided an encouraging outlook to the contrary.
In this office, dedicated Republicans and Democrats go to work, not to argue with each other, but to get the job done.
Jefferson County—home to the Louisville Cardinals, recently of Final Four fame—is the largest of Kentucky’s 120 counties, with a population of about 747,000 people. Roughly 67 percent of this population is registered to vote.
We were visiting at the invitation of County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw.
Bobbie’s responsibilities cover the usual fare, as far as local election officials go. She is charged with running elections, in addition to a host of other important administrative activities, including overseeing motor vehicles, … Read More »
“Open government” is supposed to be transformative. But how will we know it when we see it? Understanding the impact of open government initiatives will require a transformative approach to evaluation as well.
If you are looking to tackle an information management and system dynamics challenge, become an elections administrator.
As we discovered last week in Boone County, Missouri, these individuals manage a series of paper and digital processes that track who is voting, where they vote, what ballots they need, whether their districts have changed, whether elections regulations have been updated, and hundreds of other pieces of information – sensitive and not – about our voting population. They also schedule elections, recruit and train poll workers, establish polling locations, and update districting lines. They do this at least once a year, and often multiple times per year.
Elections officials like Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren, are beholden to a variety of actors – voters, of course, but also Secretaries of State, and federal and state legislators. Voters demand their services, Secretaries … Read More »