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Announcing "WeGov," Covering Technology in Politics and Governance Worldwide

BY Micah L. Sifry and Andrew Rasiej | Monday, April 16 2012

Welcome to WeGov, the newest experiment at Personal Democracy Media and a special new section of techPresident that we are launching today with the financial support of the Omidyar Network.

This new section of techPresident has a simple but ambitious goal: To report on the stories of efforts around the world to reshape politics and governance using technology, and to assess the impact of those efforts.

We live in a time when any civic activist with a good idea about how to make government and society work better needs little more than basic computer skills to launch their project into the public arena. It is also a time when government agencies and private companies alike are exploring open platforms that offer new forms of public engagement, either passively through open data or more actively by creating tools that blend government, private and public inputs. Everything from government policy-making to investigative reporting to local social services and civic life are being upended and reconfigured. After years of theorizing about the potential of the networked public sphere to change life as we know it, talk is now being joined by action, and thinking by doing. People around the world are now beginning to experience increases in transparency, accountability, and civic participation; changes which now can be measured.

Currently, the information available about this emerging movement is scattered across several sites and sometimes hard to find. Often, the reporting available is incomplete or out-of-date. As a result, many individuals and groups often end up having to reinvent the wheel, either repeating mistakes or developing redundant technologies to support their projects or initiatives. Furthermore, they aren’t able to benefit from the experience, advice, support, and technologies of peers working on similar projects.

To help address these problems, and to expand our coverage of the worldwide transparency movement, we’re launching this new WeGov section as a combination news-blog and online resource center that would be a hub of current reporting, analysis and background materials on the groups working all over the world on government transparency, anti-corruption, open data, civic hacking, and what we often call “We-Government” projects.

We’re thrilled that David Eaves, a Canadian author and consultant with deep experience in this arena, will be joining our team as a senior editor, in charge of writing a weekly column along with stewarding the contributions of other writers and staff who we will be adding to our team in the coming days. Over the next year, our goal is to deliver regular in-depth feature stories along with a daily news digest pointing to important developments around the world as they occur, a weekly email update focused on all things WeGov, and a repository of articles and related resources, organized along a common-sense taxonomy that will help people interested in drilling down on a particular topic to tap into the best work available.

We are deeply grateful to our friends at the Omidyar Network, a strategic leader in supporting all kinds of innovative WeGov-type projects, many of which are oriented around transparency and accountability in the United States, South America, parts of Europe, India, and Africa. Our commitment to ON is to deliver the best journalism that we can do, and they in turn have ensured us complete editorial freedom to cover this entire arena as we see fit. We are under no obligation to cover specific ON-funded projects, and our team will strive to report as fairly and accurately as we can. For those of our readers who are familiar with how ON works with its grantees--and in the interests of full transparency--the metrics that PDM is obligated to meet as a condition of ON’s support pertain to growing the audience for our stories, growing a large email list of subscribers to a weekly WeGov digest, and to obtaining additional financial support for our WeGov from other potential funders as proof of the value of our coverage. In other words, we have to provide content of demonstrable value, but we are free to do so according to the best independent judgment of our staff.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll have more news as we build out the rest of our WeGov editorial team, and as we work to produce a more distinct look and feel for this new section. We look forward to your feedback and suggestions.

News Briefs

RSS Feed tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

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