How to build democracy with technology away from elections

There is a lot to be said for a British general election. It is brutally fast in delivering the people’s verdict. It uses technology that everyone can understand and is impossible to hack remotely. And in returning to Rick Wakeman’s prog-rock classic, the BBC has given it back its theme music.

But elections alone are a pretty thin form of democracy. Those who shifted from Labour to vote Conservative did so because of Jeremy Corbyn, because of the party’s far-left manifesto, because of Brexit, because they like Boris Johnson or a mix of these and others. The reasons will come out in surveys and interviews, but aren’t a formal part of the results and the government can ignore them. Continue reading “How to build democracy with technology away from elections”

Searching for specialist search services

General search engines are an amazing free service that participants in one piece of research valued as being worth US$17,530 a year. (Not sure about that, although DuckDuckGo did help me find said piece of research in seconds.) But as I write for Computer Weekly, professionals can benefit from more-focused search services.

Several of these specialist search services are aimed at journalists. Krzana focuses on recent material, linked to geography and subject to minimise time wasted by journalists in Birmingham sifting out news from the city of the same name in Alabama. The Inject Project aims to provide related but different material, such as similar stories in another country. (More on both these services from the NUJ Freelance newsletter here.) Image library Shutterstock has launched services that let users search for images with images. Continue reading “Searching for specialist search services”

Ministry fails to do justice to data protection

When I pitched a data journalism project to PublicTechnology.net and Civil Service World on government departments and personal data breaches, I didn’t expect the biggest perpetrator to be the Ministry of Justice, or that its 3,184 incidents in 2017-18 would be 27 times the number of the second-placed Ministry of Defence.

The ministry has two reasonable arguments for such high numbers. Firstly, it reports every data breach while some departments do not. Secondly, it directly runs the justice system in England and Wales through HM Courts and Tribunal Service, which was responsible for 70% of its breaches. If the Department of Health and Social Care ran health and social care directly, it would have a much higher figure too. Continue reading “Ministry fails to do justice to data protection”

Reinventing higher education: ‘Can we use AI to give the lecturer superpowers?’

Article by SA Mathieson, Guardian Labs, (Transforming the student experience series paid for by Jisc), 9 April 2019

Technology sometimes makes people’s lives more impersonal. But in higher education it is leading in the other direction, as large group lectures are replaced with tutorials, digital resources and software-based coaching.

“We believe the technologies that are coming will reinvent higher education teaching,” says Paul Feldman, chief executive of Jisc, a membership organisation that provides digital solutions for UK education and research. “We think it will turn the whole thing on its head.” Continue reading “Reinventing higher education: ‘Can we use AI to give the lecturer superpowers?’”

Supporting students: the role of data analysis in improving welfare

Article by SA Mathieson, Guardian Labs, (Transforming the student experience series paid for Jisc), 8 March 2019

Students are increasingly concerned about their mental health. One in six people aged 17 to 19 in England has a mental disorder, according to NHS Digital, and students are increasingly reporting mental health conditions to their institutions – 57,305 disclosed one in 2016-17, nearly six times as many as in 2007-08, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Dr Dominique Thompson, who worked as a university GP for nearly two decades and now advises universities on mental health, believes that students are under increasing pressure from an overly competitive society and a tyranny of perfectionism, all magnified by social media. “People are accepting that we have to do more for our young people,” she says. Continue reading “Supporting students: the role of data analysis in improving welfare”