Monday, December 5, 2011



I have been told that I am a fast typist but apparently I was not fast enough to get the position of an administrative assistant on  SPENT. Is the game biased? The jury is out on that.  I played the game twice and  worked as a waiter and a laborer and yay :) I survived through the month. The game is a lesson for anyone that cannot empathize with people going through tough times and it reminded me of how lucky I am to have the things I have.  Yes, the game format impacted knowledge presentation because you make a choice and then learn the consequences of your choice. The information provided by the games reinforced my knowledge on issues like homelessness and being a low-income earner
Is the game biased? As I mentioned earlier, the jury is out on that but I must note that the game is not realistic. For instance, in choosing a place to rent the difference between accommodations 50 miles form can afford $800 for accommodation. Still on the subject there was no public transportation- not all the low income earners have cars. Another thing I noticed was when  I got into an accident  had insurance,  I was the given the options of paying for the damages or asking a friend for help. I thought, I have insurance!
Lastly, life is not binary; there should be more options to choose from. Case in point is if my child does not want free lunch in school. I do not have to pay for full price lunch or risk my child going hungry; I could brown bag  lunch for my kid.
In this class, we learned about participatory government and budgeting in Brazil. A game can like this can help different groups understand where the other is coming from without necessarily  visiting individual sites like neighbors did in Brazil.
The game is full of good intentions but may not appeal to conservatives because it looks like a “liberal” agenda (I played this game with a conservative friend and statement above is reported speech)

10k solutions: Cent wise Dollar

My solution is borne out of my experience with ICE.
In a bid to shift provision of services online, government agencies should rethink how to fully utilize and balance personal staff communication with e-services because doing away telephone lines, customer services and using only automated services and internet may end up costing more. For instance staff can address and correct some issues via the phone. T When services are being streamlined, it would do government agencies well to really evaluate the costs of whatever action taken especially when it comes with going with the flow of providing all services online. Back to my experience. I made a payment on behalf of a prospective student to the US and the bank made an error. I was unable to correct the error via the phone and was directed to send a mail. I did sent a mail and got a response that the mail would be treated in 4- 5 days. Yesterday, I got a mail in my post office box with the wrong information sent to me even though I had sent a mail reporting the error. There was no one I could reach via the phone.
In summary, online provision of services is great but it should be in a way that does not impede efficiency and effectiveness.

The three solutions posted on the site that stood out to me are:
energy efficient homes: energy efficient homes solution appealed to me because of my recent interests in urban planning and affordable housing. I had listened to a presentation by a native American on the way they construct their homes and the importance of their cultural identity. The solution proposed a way by which two issues that face native Americans can be resolved- lack of affordable housing and incorporating culture into constructing sustainable housing.
rape defense: rape defense in Africa obviously appealed to me. The writer raises valid points on how to address the issue of rape for young girls in Congo. However, the issue goes beyond helping girls defend themselves against rape but also addressing values and mindsets. We need to teach women how to defend themselves but we also need to address the issue of speaking out.

standardized testing: the young ladies in the video address the problems of standardized tests. We all learn at different paces and understand things differently. Taking a standardized tests  is unfair for students and does not bring out the best in them. I am example of why there should be no standardized tests but it is not a discussion for this blog entry. Anyone who has watched "Blindside” would agree with me because Michael was not doing well in the written tests but when he explained his answers to the teacher, he did well. I believe that standardized tests encourage learning by rote which is no learning. As the ladies suggests, schools can provide test that cater to different students (for some it is visual, for others it is written).

Overall the website has a good layout and is easy to use.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Are crowds really wise?

Surowiecki, James. (2004). Wisdom of Crowds: Why the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business, economies, societies, and nations. New York, NY: Doubleday.
P.272. eISBN 0-307-27505-1.

The first lesson I learned about the Wisdom of Crowds was from my experience buying the book. I purchased the Kindle version of the book and when I got to sections of the book I wanted to highlight, I observed they were already highlighted. I wondered how Amazon had magically done that. I learned that what Amazon did was to aggregate portions that other readers had highlighted. Amazon collected independent ideas from diverse readers and aggregated sections of the book that was more useful to readers.
This is an example of Surowiecki’s argument on the Wisdom of Crowds. Surowiecki’s asserts that experts are overrated because with the right conditions groups are more intelligent than individual experts. He notes that for a crowd to be wise, four features must be present, diversity, independence, decentralization and aggregation, and these four features can be applied to solve cooperation, coordination, and cognition problems.
The book provides proofs on the wisdom of crowds and contends that average is not synonymous with mediocrity. The author does not explicitly define what a wise crowd is or how to build a wise crowd. What he does in the first half of the book is to provide a theory on the wisdom of crowds and discuss the features necessary for a crowd to be wise. Surowiecki discusses the importance of diversity and notes that diversity in a group exists when people have different private information. Independence and individual decision- making is the second concept he discusses. Here, judgments and decisions are formed without distortions such as herd mentality, information cascades, and social proof. As the author notes, if people begin to make the same decisions, they stop being smart. Surowiecki states that decentralization exists “when people are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge” (p.10). He posits that for decentralization to be useful it has to be aggregated. Aggregation is the method by which individual decisions are collated into a collective decision by a benevolent central planner.
      The second part of the book addresses how the wisdom of crowds can be used to cognition, coordination, and cooperation problems. Coordination problems are problems that require the alignment of the actions of different people. People need to take into account their own decisions and the decisions they believe others would make. Examples include; William H Whyte’s study on New York’s pedestrian movement, London’s traffic congestion problem and what day to visit one’s favorite bar as examples of coordination problems Cooperation problems require self interested and skeptical people to work together for a common good. The examples of corruption in Italian soccer, payment of taxes, addressing pollution, and trust in business illustrate this point. Cognition problems have definite solutions and are easily solved by wise crowds because all they require is estimation. The author cites examples of jellybeans in a jar, and numerous economic experiments to explain this point. At the end of the book, the author attempts to draw a link between democracy, informed citizenry and the wisdom of crowds
    The wisdom of crowds is replete with examples and anecdotes that illustrate the author’s contentions. Surowiecki cites Iowa Electronic Markets, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Google, and the emergence of automobiles as exemplars on the value of diversity as a feature of wise crowds. A NFL anecdote and economic experiments are used to explain the importance of independence. A current example that also demonstrates autonomy is boids theory in agent based modeling where boids independently decide where to locate. At the end of the simulation there is cohesion of boids at certain point. The boids make independent decisions that lead them to the average position of other boids. The creation of Linux software is the author’s example of decentralization. The popularity and emergence of open source models, social media sites like Twitter, and crowdsourcing show the effects and merits of decentralization and also illustrate the importance of decentralization. The lack of aggregation on the part of Iraqi insurgents failed to sustain their struggle against the invasion of Iraq. Linus was the aggregator of Linux. If the inputs of the diverse contributors were not aggregated, the software would have been unusable. Surowiecki claims that for decentralization to be useful, it has to be collectively distilled and aggregated by benevolent central figure or authority like Linus. Today, similar central authorities might be new media tools such Govloop and Facebook
Surowiecki’s book is an interesting and engaging read. Its simplicity and ability to make complex ideas simple to readers with no economic or psychology background is a strength of this book. The author cites many examples and anecdotes to prove his theses. He also discusses cases where the features of a wise crowd were not utilized and the negative consequences. Two examples – the Challenger and Columbia disasters- demonstrate this point. The author also convincingly shows how the wisdom of crowds can be applied to businesses and markets. Despite the strengths of this book its flaws detract from its theses. First, the book concluded as an anti-climax for me, as the author fails to clearly state how the wisdom of crowds can be applied to democracies and governments. My guess is that it cannot because issues like democracy and politics are highly emotive. One only needs to view or listen to opinions on politics to see the failure of the wisdom of crowds. I wanted the author to be more convincing about his conclusions in the last chapter on democracy and participatory government and his conclusion that even though the crowds make not make a “wise” decision, the “decision to make them democratically does” was a cop out (p.272). Second, the author fails to clearly state how aggregation can be applied without losing the advantages of decentralization. For instance, in his discussion on information sharing among government agencies, it would have been very useful if the author had suggested how the information of the decentralized units could be aggregated. In terms of predicting markets, how often is the crowd wise? The housing bubble tells a story of the failure of the wisdom of crowds. The author also fails to clearly define concepts such as what the wisdom of crowds is, cooperation problems and aggregation. He uses case studies to illustrate his point.  Some chapters and case studies in the book do not flow and makes a reader wonder how it relates to the wisdom of crowds. For instance, the author seems to go off tangent with some examples such as the Milgram experiment on conventions. As someone who is from a non-western culture, I would have appreciated a more diverse focus as most of his examples are from the United States and western countries; his theories may not be applicable to other parts of the world
The author also offers readers like me a crash course in business, economics and psychology. I have found the book very useful in enlightening me about “short selling” as a price mechanism discovery and markets in the United States. The book has also been valuable in introducing me to conventions and cultural references in the United States. When I view threads on articles I read, I try to find or fail to find examples of the wisdom of crowds and other readers may also try this experiment after reading this book. In a period where we rely on experts and leaders, this book provides a counter narrative to the wisdom of expert groups and leaders. The author’s discussion how decentralization has to be aggregated and not just for its sake is valuable. Surowiecki has succeeded in promoting the wisdom of crowds and harnessing the resources of diverse people to solve problems. We one reads the book, notions of expert wisdom are challenged and an appreciation is developed for the features of a wise crowd. This is because a wise crowd does not have to be large in number.
The book further aided my understanding of the concepts in our open government and e-participation lectures on how government can act as platform and turn collective complaint into collective action. The wisdom of crowds has proven useful in gov 2.0. The federal government’s initiative such as taps into the collective wisdom of crowds. As Beth Noveck (2010) notes the failure of the EPA to utilize the wisdom of crowds may have impeded its ability to carry out one of its mandates. Another example of the wisdom of crowds is patientslikeme where patients come together to share information about their health challenges. Patientslikeme is an interesting case study because it is another instance of decentralization being aggregated. We can also associate the wisdom of crowds to crowd sourcing. This however comes with the caveat that the wisdom of crowds cannot be used to solve wicked problems such as climate change or in voting the right people into government.
As a reader, it would be insightful to read an updated version of the book to see the case studies Surowiecki would use in this age of Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 where recent trends strengthen his theses on crowd wisdom compared to the exemplars in the book. It would also be interesting to read Surowiecki’s take on the Arab spring and Occupy Wall Street protests in the context of the wisdom of crowds. The book’s greatest contribution is that it has challenged expert wisdom and made a case for the wisdom of crowds. It has shown that crowds are not always unintelligent. Surowiecki’s book is intellectually engaging and well written. The author should consider writing a revised version of the book.

Noveck, B.S. (2010). The single point of failure. In Lathrop D & Ruma L. (Eds.). Open government: collaboration, transparency, and participation in practice (p 49-70). CA: O’Reilly Media Inc. Kindle edition.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Module 4 and 2 other things

The e-government projects in the class example
Heeks (2003) states that " e-government- the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to improve the activities of public sector organizations- brings with it the promise of greater efficiency and effectiveness of public sector operations"(p.2). The examples below show how the Federal government tries to achieve effectiveness by making information available to citizens and allowing them participate in decision-making by bringing issues that concern them to the forefront without going through red tapes. is a very good example of a moderation system in that issues are sifted by the signatures they gather- this encourages collaboration among citizens.- is an excellent site for research information both national and international. It is quite unfortunate that the site is going dark (thankfully, some datasets are still available on the site). provides cloud computing services for government agencies, businesses, and people. This site is truly a trendsetter and considering role the US government played in the evolution of the internet, this shows that the government is not letting up. allows citizens follow the money allocated to the recovery act., and all allows citizens participate, share their stories, and inform the government on issues that affect the people. All the sites are in compliance with Section 508 and  explicitly state their privacy policies.  My favorite sites are I find it interesting that issues i thought would garner the highest signatures were not even on the list on the wethepeople petition list. The initiatives on if properly advertised would bring out the creativity in citizens. I believe that the government has to do more in emphasizing the availability of these e-governmen initiatives and disabuse thoughts that initiatives as this are a waste of taxpayer funds
City of Richmond, VA
 Wohlers (2007) notes that "e-government can profoundly shape government and citizen relations"(p.6). One of his ideas also is that e-government if properly harnessed would enhance democracy. Indeed, e-government provides an avenue for greater participation because access to the internet is inexpensive and e-citizenship may be the future. However, as Wohler notes e-democracy however is still in its growing stages. Many governments have embraced the idea of e-government and e-democracy and adapted it to suit their purposes. 
The site I chose is the Mayor's Participation, Action and Communication team (MPACT) (City of Richmond, Virginia). MPACT encourages community participation and city action by allowing citizens to report priority issues such as potholes, overgrown lots, abandoned cars, non-functioning streetlights online or by mobile apps. The site also provides data on issues opened and closed. The concepts that are operationalized in this site are citizen participation and collaboration. The availability of concierge service on the website provides for accountability and transparency. In sum, MPACT allows the government of Richmond address the issues that affect the residents of Richmond ensure efficient service delivery. The project also allows the city government ensure that the services delivered to the people have public value as determined by the citizens and not by the government.
The technologies being used are online services, mobile services, call centers, and mobile apps and interactive maps. These technologies are accessible to all. Physical communication and interactions are also used in the form of sector meetings. 
MPACT does a good job of ensuring accountability and tracking. The concierge services allows residents to track and follow up on issues. The site also provides information on cases opened and closed. The number of issues reported show that citizens use this e-government tool. However, I would suggest that a moderation or recommender system be put in place. This system would address issues that come from all areas in the city. This may prevent an overactive section of the residents from dominating and receiving government services just because they are active.

Heeks, R. (2003). Most e-Government- for- Development Projects Fail. How can risks be reduced?  
Wohlers, T.E. (2007). Comparative E-Government: Trends and Sophistication at the grassroots. 

Answers anyone?
1) Is there any real difference between e-government and e-democracy?
2) The article (E-government paradox: Better Customer service doesn't necessarily cost less) argues that citizens should be engaged and involved in the use of e-government; the article also lists steps -I totally agree-. My question is if citizens want lets say a computer but do not know how the computer would look like or the structure it would take, does the government follow the idea citizens come up with or does the government take the lead and build the computer?

On another note, I found this site while looking at Yuma County's website. It is a private initiative that incorporates what e-government can do. Enjoy the games.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Social Networking and The School Lunch Program

A public administration challenge that I believe can be addressed using the tools of social networking is increasing participation rates in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the reframing the perception of the program by providing nutritious meals for school children
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federal program implemented in 1946 was designed to “safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities” ( I would use Tempe Elementary school district as an example
Poppendieck (2010)  describes the NSLP as a program that has been saddled with the tasks of alleviating poverty, ending hunger, reducing waste, controlling spending, and overcoming childhood obesity, along with its original goals of safeguarding the health and well being of the nation’s children and encouraging the consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities. The program is a reimbursable one; that is, schools and States get reimbursed by the Federal government based on the number of meals provided. Thus participation rates is related to revenues. There are three categories for the meals- full price, reduced and free meals. For more information on the school lunch program, please check here. I would focus on two challenges that face this program; the problem of access for eligible families who do not participate and achieving the program’s goal of providing nutritious meals and not just meals for children.

The problem of access and low participation rates: Poppendieck (2010) defines the problem of access as the barriers between an eligible child and a school meal. These barriers are application, certification, verification and price of the meal. Parents who are eligible for free and reduced price lunches may not apply for the program for reasons such as stigma, inability to understand the complex procedure and for something as simple as returning the form. See Tempe form here
The school district the forms are available online but parents have to print out the forms and return to the school. This creates the first problem of forms not being returned. A suggestion is that the District can develop a system where parents can fill and submit the form online. This eliminates the problem of application. Tempe's  application form is well structured such that the burden of proof of eligibility for low-income families is removed from them.
Lessing (2006) gives various examples of how constraints (market, architecture, law and norms) can be used to change behavior and how the constraints can complement one other.
Tempe's architecture is that of "stickiness" that is,  residents are very involved with the government  and know what they want (personal communication with Charlie Meyer, Tempe City Manager). The District can complement the present architecture by using social media to drive the goal of increasing participation in the program.The District has a facebook account where information and activities are shared with parents. However, there is no information on the page about  the school lunch program. The district can use its facebook website to promote the school lunch program, make parents aware of the benefits program, upload the menus on facebook, upload pictures of kitchen preparing the meals, encourage parents to volunteer and serve meals to kids, encourage online discussions and forums and respond to enquiries by parents and guardians.
On providing nutritious meals for schoolchildren ( and not just meet calories and dietary requirements), the buy-in of parents is necessary to  change the negative perceptions of the program. Research (Poppendieck, 2010; Gordon, Crepinsek, Nogales, &Condon, 2007; Quinn, Husley&Ponza, 2009) has shown that some parents do not allow their kids participate in the program because the meals provided are unhealthy. A look at the menu validates this concern. Schools are faced with challenge of serving meals that children would eat and not waste and providing truly nutritious meals. This challenge can also be addressed using social networking. Arizona has programs that promote healthy eating, the problem is that people are unaware of these programs and the literature is academic.  Tempe School  district can create online forums where parents can share ideas on the meals to be  provided and methods of food presentation to children.  The district can send tweets and update their Facebook status with statements like “ an apple a day keeps the doctor away” that promote developing healthy nutrition habits for kids and parents, upload pictures and videos of celebrities and kids who eat “their vegetables”, share the successes of programs undertaken to promote healthy eating, and upload nutrition training for parents. Social networking can be used to change norms of what children want to eat and what they should eat.
Using this tool provides an inexpensive means of increasing participation rates, getting feedback and evaluating the program and gaining new ideas on how to implement the program.


Gordon A, Crepinsek M.K., Nogales, R. and Condon E. (2007). School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study- III: Volume 1: School Food Service, School Food Environment, and Meals Offered and Served.

Gordon A,Fox M.K., Clark M, Nogales, R., Gleason, P, Condon, E, and Sarin, A. (2007).School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study-III: Volume II: Student Participation and Dietary Intakes. Poppendieck, J. (2010). Free For All, Fixing School Food in America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press

Mirtcheva, D.M., Powell, L.M. (2009) Participation in the National School Lunch Program: Importance of School-Level and Neighborhood Contextual Factors. Journal of School Health. 79(10). 485- 494.

National Research Council of the National Academies. (2010). Developing and Evaluating Methods for Using American Community Survey Data to Support School Meals Programs (Interim Report)
Retrieved from

Quinn M., Husley L., and Ponza, M. (2009). Factors Associated with School Meal Participation and the Relationship between different Participation Measures. Retrieved from

US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. (2008). The National School Lunch Program: Background, Trends and Issues. Retrieved from

The power of an engaged public official

Disclosure: The title of this blog was modified from my chosen example. I read this article and I thought to myself "public administrators can apply this on job and their lives would be easier". In this article, Rob Markey shares his experience of how he got exceptional customer service from Jetblue because an "engaged employee" addressed his  twitter vent. As public administrators we have learned to differentiate between the private sector and the public sector and how private sector models cannot be applied to public agencies. This article shows otherwise. At one time or the other, we have had terrible experiences with public officials and agencies, we have had to drive to see offices where our requests could have been handled online. I visited the Facebook page of Tempe Elementary School District and a parent complained about the non- availability of a meal for her child. There was no response on that thread from the District. We can only  imagine the decision that parent took. If she withdrew her child from participating in the program, that means a loss of revenue for the district.  As potential public servants if we utilize the benefits social media tools provide, we may be more efficient and effective in service delivery to  clients and citizens. We can also make people believe that government works and it is not all red tape.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Answers anyone

I went through some of the articles that addressed the issue of privacy and I wonder how the "problem of invading privacy" would be addressed  in  countries where individual rights do not take precedence over group rights. For instance on the issue of location data, until recently in Nigeria, phone service providers did not have any personal information on customers (For example, I could own three phones and be anonymous, my phone number was not tied to an address or name). Some time last year,  Nigeria's government embarked on project where everyone with a Nigerian (including those living abroad) have to register their phone numbers,provide addresses and other demographic information and thumb print. THe purpose for this project is to enable law enforcement gather location data and tackle crime. Remarkably, there has been compliance. To my knowledge no one has complained about the information on citizens  that would be available to the government.  So my question is if other countries try to do what Nigeria's government  has done what challenges would they face?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I am turning the curve and I am gradually believing the gospel of social media tools and the internet. Chris Anderson's talk on the effects of web video and other tools was spot on- I have so many personal anecdotes on how youtube has literally changed lives and given people the push they needed to succeed or effect the changes they want-. I especially like his example of video and the effects it could have on science. Video may indeed be the future. His talk also ties in with Goldhaber's attention shoppers article
The videos and assigned articles were very for emotional for me. Actually I got emotional from Jamie Heywood's video. However, this reading and this video assigned really touched me. This video because I kind of agree with Jeremy and the article because it just hit me! (can't think of a word that can capture what I felt). In the last year, I have lost school mates that we "met again" thanks to Facebook and after they passed Facebook provided an avenue to celebrate their lives and know that they live on somehow. Sharing with other people who knew them, learning about the lives they lived and getting answers to questions about their death - questions that you cannot ask if for instance you went to commiserate with their family- gives me closure.  I am sure this is one of the unintended uses of Facebook. Jamie's video was quite poignant and innovations like have profound uses and dangers as mentioned in this research for everyone especially patients and their family.  I agree that one of the blessings of the internet is that you can empathize and process your emotions when friends and family face health challenges and one can be there for them when you can't be there physically.

On to happier things. Joining meet up was fun, (I was surprised to see Nigerian events on the site). I joined this meet-up, hopefully my spanish speaking skills would improve. Joining second life and world of warcraft was tough because i did not know what to expect. Wikipedia provided an overview of what the two worlds were about so I joined with a friend. Second life was not user friendly or interactive for a first time user. I kept bumping into people at first and the people around me were speaking in German (I think second life should look into "eavesdropping on people's conversations), I became friends with some strangers who advised me to get a mouse if i really want to enjoy the second life experience. I also had to change my settings from "basic"  to "advanced" on second life before I could really participate. One thing I found amusing was that you could link your "real life" to your second life. My question is why would I want to do that? World of Warcraft was more user friendly and I got the hang of it pretty quickly and was welcomed by other users i met on the site.
It was eye opening to see groups that addressed societal issues such as rape and those who promoted vices  public administration issues that can be addressed in the virtual world. I would like to explore how this tool can be used to tackle the incidence of bullying in schools.