GovLab Blog

Converting Ideas Into Action: Next Steps for Smarter Crowdsourcing Against Corruption

Over the past eight weeks, The GovLab, in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Mexico’s Secretariat of the Civil Service (Secretaría de la Función Pública, or SFP), held a series of online conferences to generate new, actionable ideas in the fight against corruption in Mexico.
Using The GovLab’s Smarter Crowdsourcing method, a collaborative problem-solving technique pairing the agility and diversity of crowdsourcing with the curation of relevant know-how in a format designed to produce effective and implementable outcomes, the series brought together over 100 global experts from 25 different countries with representatives from the Mexican government and civil society leaders.  These stakeholders and specialists convened virtually to share insights and identify innovative yet practical strategies capable of achieving measurable progress against corruption in six separate challenge areas:

  • Measuring Corruption and Its Costs
  • Fostering Openness and Integrity in the Judiciary
  • Facilitating Citizen Participation in Policymaking
  • Ensuring Whistleblower Support and Protection
  • Increasing the Effectiveness of Prosecution
  • Tracking and Analyzing Money Flows

These six areas were delineated following a rigorous research and evaluation process carried out by the Governance Innovation Clinic at the Yale Law School, created and led by The GovLab’s Director Professor Beth Simone Noveck. Graduate students in the Clinic, along with GovLab Research Fellows, conducted interviews and documented each issue extensively in an effort to define the problem of corruption by its root causes. In turn, the briefs they developed would anchor a specialized online session to focus the invited experts on identifying workable solutions in the form of new policies and services.
Each of the conferences centered around a robust, deliberative dialogue moderated by Professor Noveck between approximately two dozen specialists from multiple disciplines along with the government officials in Mexico who will subsequently be responsible for the implementation of the most promising ideas. The following paragraphs offer a glimpse of the actionable recommendations discussed under each theme:
Smarter Crowdsourcing - Whistleblowing Conference

Experts gather online for the fourth anti-corruption conference on whistleblowing.

Measuring Corruption and Its Costs: The first conference addressed the scarcity of adequate, objective and real-time measures of corruption. During the conference, the experts discussed which indicators should be measured, who should collect this information, what strategies should be used for measuring, and what incentives should be set in place to reinforce accurate and effective measurements. One recommendation was that Mexican authorities, members of academia, and civil society should employ big data tools to capture information from rich online data that already exists.
Fostering Openness and Integrity in the Judiciary: The next conference tackled the issue of corruption in the judiciary, specifically how to increase transparency, reduce undue political influence, and strengthen judicial oversight. Among the potential solutions was the idea to employ technology to enable the public to oversee and participate in the selection, evaluation and removal of judges. In addition, conference participants expressed the belief that digital platforms providing standardized data on the performance of judges and courts could help identify and prevent malfeasance.
Facilitating Citizen Participation in Policymaking: The third discussion focused on the lack of public engagement opportunities in anti-corruption efforts and how to gather permanent and sustained contributions from citizens. Reviewing their experiences using platforms, conference participants suggested establishing a means of communication between the Federal Government of Mexico and its citizens by designing a collaborative online platform that allows individuals and communities to propose, to any government agency, policies and mechanisms to address corruption risks. Participants also discussed a solution geared toward managing citizen participation efforts, where they suggested that Mexican authorities develop a series of materials and events to promote receptiveness of citizens’ input to create, and improve and adjust anti-corruption efforts within the government.
Ensuring Whistleblower Support and Protection: The focus on public engagement was also present in the fourth conference, which focused on a shortage of trustworthy whistleblowing mechanisms. To incentivize reporting, participants proposed the idea of developing secure online platforms that are co-managed by government and civil society organizations to protect anonymity and increase accountability. They also argued that the burden for successful reporting should be shifted from whistleblowers to managers. Accordingly, participants suggested that organizations focus on training managers to respond to disclosures appropriately and provide timely follow-up.
Increasing the Effectiveness of Prosecution: Complementing an earlier discussion about corruption in the judiciary, the next problem considered was the current weakness in the prosecution of corrupt officials and strategies for bolstering the integrity and efficacy of prosecution of public corruption. For instance, a general repository of best practices for prosecuting corruption could provide key references to build solid cases. Additionally, another solution focused on ways of building up forensic data science skills within the office of the prosecutor.
Tracking and Analyzing Money Flows: The final conference addressed the problem of accurately tracking and recording money flows in public procurement and public financing. In order to strengthen the quantity and quality of money flow records, conference participants suggested developing financial incentives to encourage voluntary disclosure of corporate beneficial ownership and other legal entity data. Participants also focused attention on methods of analyzing money flows, and recommended developing customized machine learning algorithms that could run on open data to detect corruption in public procurement. The feasibility of utilizing blockchain technology was also the subject of debate.
Recognizing there is a large gap between a good idea and a workable new public policy or citizen service, the next phase of the Smarter Crowdsourcing project focuses on prioritizing among the innovative proposals, researching the most promising ideas, and developing these ideas into detailed implementation plans that lay out the specific “how to’s” for acting on the selected proposals.
Details regarding the design of the Smarter Crowdsourcing conferences can be found here.

GovLab Blog

The GovLab Welcomes a New Director of Communications

Innovative Action-Research Center Expands Communications Team to Amplify Its Work in Open Data and Open Governance
The GTimi Lewis Photoovernance Lab is pleased to announce that Timi Lewis has joined as Director of Communications. Timi will lead public relations, social media, digital media, and external engagement for the action-research center based at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Thanks to a programmatic grant from Omidyar Network her work will also help showcase innovative projects on the potential of data to improve people’s lives.

Previously, Timi was Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Housing Partnership Network, an affordable housing collaborative. She also worked as an Associate with Brunswick Group, a global strategic communications firm, and served as Director of Corporate Affairs and Strategic Planning for NYC Media, the official television, radio and digital network of the City of New York.
Additionally, Timi was a Project Manager for corporate social responsibility at Ernst & Young, and an international trade Consultant for Ernst & Young, Arthur Andersen, and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She also worked as a Communications Consultant, and is a current member and former board member of New York Women in Communications. Timi holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in public policy from Duke University, and a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
“The GovLab is about developing and applying evidence of how to unlock data and people’s expertise in the pursuit of solving public problems more effectively and legitimately. Sharing the insights we’ve gained empowers others to use technology to positively impact people’s lives,” said Stefaan Verhulst, Co-Founder and Chief Research and Development Officer at The GovLab. “Timi is a wonderful addition to the team and will be an important point of connection to our stakeholders — from project partners and companies, to governments, academics and media.”
“We’re very excited to welcome Timi to The GovLab family and look forward to collaborating with her to share what we are learning and doing with public partners to re-imagine governing and democracy in the 21st century,” said Beth Simone Noveck, Co-Founder and Director of The GovLab. “Having Timi on board will help us innovate in how we communicate, harnessing the power of people and data to accelerate how we learn and to amplify and accelerate how we spread those learnings.”
The GovLab launched in 2013 with the goal to strengthen the ability of institutions (including but not limited to governments) and people to work more openly, collaboratively, effectively, and legitimately to make better decisions and solve public problems. The center innovated several processes and methodologies that focus on improving people and institutions under the rubric of smarter governance through data, collective intelligence, and design thinking.
Interdisciplinary by nature, The GovLab’s many projects reach across sectors, geographies, and levels of government. Examples of current GovLab projects include Open Data in Developing Economies, a year-long research collaboration that produced a ground-breaking report and interactive Periodic Table of Open Data based on insights learned from 12 in-depth case studies. The GovLab has also pioneered Smarter Crowdsourcing, a technique that combines elements of crowdsourcing with the power of curation to identify formal and informal experts and bring them together in a way that produces impactful and implementable outcomes. Finally, The GovLab Academy provides learning experiences, mentoring and support to empower civic and policy entrepreneurs to develop impactful real-word projects.
Across its project areas and research, The GovLab seeks to transform governance through increased availability and use of data, and by incorporating technology and the intelligence, expertise and capacity of people into the problem-solving process.
“I’m constantly amazed by the innovation and entrepreneurship at The GovLab,” said Timi Lewis, new Director of Communications at The GovLab. “Every day we’re moving from theory to ideas, and ideas to actionable plans that help people around the globe solve big problems, real-time, in real ways. It’s an honor to join the team and do my part to advance our work.”
To learn more about The GovLab, visit

GovLab Blog

Why We Should Care About Bad Data

At a time of open and big data, data-led and evidence-based policy making has great potential to improve problem solving but will have limited, if not harmful, effects if the underlying components are riddled with bad data.
Why should we care about bad data? What do we mean by bad data? And what are the determining factors contributing to bad data that if understood and addressed could prevent or tackle bad data? These questions were the subject of my short presentation during a recent webinar on  Bad Data: The Hobgoblin of Effective Government, hosted by the American Society for Public Administration and moderated by Richard Greene (Partner, Barrett and Greene Inc.). Other panelists included Ben Ward (Manager, Information Technology Audits Unit, California State Auditor’s Office) and Katherine Barrett (Partner, Barrett and Greene Inc.). The webinar was a follow-up to the excellent Special Issue of Governing on Bad Data written by Richard and Katherine.
The quality of data impacts the quality of decisions made using that data.
As governance practices around the world move closer to a standard of data-driven policy making, curbing practices that can lead to bad data is critical. Not only does bad data threaten the reliability of data-driven policy making, it has myriad other ill effects – from creating civil liberties concerns, to undermining trust in government, to increased costs, waste and inefficiencies. For instance, according to CrowdFlower, data scientists spend nearly two-thirds of their time cleaning and organizing bad data instead of analyzing and creating insights.
Bad data occurs across the Data Value Chain
Data Value Chain - The GovLab
Bad Data and The Data Value Chain developed by Stefaan Verhulst, The GovLab.
Bad data can be the result of many different information manipulation practices.  As such, understanding the different manifestations of bad data across the Data Value Chain can help us address current issues with bad data, and prevent future challenges. Precautions taken at the Collection, Processing, Sharing, Analyzing, and Using phases of the data value chain to address issues such as bad data entry, poor modeling or misinterpretation can markedly increase the quality, accuracy, and ultimately the utility of open data.
These bad data manifestations don’t occur in a vacuum, but result from various factors such as:

  • Outdated technologies, programming mistakes and misconfigurations;
  • Limited individual or institutional norms and standards of quality;
  • Legal confusion or gaps;
  • Misaligned incentives or interests.

The need for a culture of data quality
The webinar’s main objective was to draw attention to the potentially serious problem posed by bad data. Although not always considered a high-priority topic, it nonetheless merits urgent attention as we are adopting data-driven policy making or releasing more open data. Bad data lowers trust, creates liabilities and civil liberties concerns, increases costs, and can in some cases produce serious harm or even loss of life.
Being aware of and addressing the determining factors listed above would provide for progress yet represent only a starting point. In many ways, efforts to tackle bad data are still in their infancy. As data volumes and our society’s reliance on data increase, so too will the impacts of the problem. It is likely, too, that greater awareness will lead to new strategies for managing and reducing bad data.
Those strategies may include new technical tools, but they will almost certainly involve new policies, norms and expectations, too. The coming years are likely to witness greater attention and action by governments regarding the problem of bad data. To be successful, those actions need to be the result of a conversation across sectors and industries. My presentation and the webinar can be seen as input to the still-developing conversation towards the creation of a “data quality culture.”

Full presentation: Bad Data: Why Do We Care? The Move Toward Data-Driven Government 
Click here to listen to the full webinar (am afraid for subscribers only). For more information about open data, visit: