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Dear MIT GOV/LAB Community,

While we continue to work from home, we’re excited to launch “Don’t Build It”, a guide by Luke Jordan on how to start a new civic technology project (or, better yet, how to avoid building something in the first place). Luke, founder of Grassroot in South Africa, is currently MIT GOV/LAB’s practitioner-in-residence, a position created to provide partners space to reflect and time to explore new projects. 

The guide provides a clear-eyed dose of reality on civic tech, and practical advice on teams, timelines, metrics, and more. If you’ve ever been asked to “build an app,” this guide is for you. More on the guide in MIT News

Luke is also working with MIT senior Christina Warren to conduct exploratory work on how artificial intelligence and machine learning can complement efforts on advancing and defending democracy. 

By training a model to write Shakespearean sonnets, they’re learning how a similar model might fare at writing legal documents, which must also follow specific syntactic rules. They’re also using machine learning to map relationships between judges, cases, laws, and more, using the world’s largest legal database. 


Here’s some other projects we’ve been working on the past few months, and our top 5 stories of 2020 in case you missed it.

Research on Covid-19. We’re conducting an exploratory survey to better understand how the pandemic is shaping relationships between governments and people living and working in informal settings. Meanwhile, we shared with the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability the challenges with reaching vulnerable people for our surveys in Sierra Leone. Our study with the Institute for Governance Reform was also featured in an edX course on how the pandemic is affecting people living in slums and informal settlements in the global South.

A new initiative in governance innovation. We’re combining evidence-based analysis from social science with problem-solving skills from design to better collaborate with practitioners on governance solutions. Our design team is piloting an innovation bootcamp in Sierra Leone for teams of government officials with an interest in creative approaches to governance challenges. 

MIT News features on research by MIT GOV/LAB affiliates. Professor Guillermo Toral has been studying why in Brazil, the quality of healthcare declines around elections, also highlighted in BBC News Brasil. Leah Rosenzweig, PhD, co-authored a paper showing that while a soccer team’s victory can stoke anti-refugee sentiment, messaging that promotes diversity can counteract these feelings. 

Working on our action plan to support anti-racism and Black lives. We’ve been piloting a mentorship program pairing local undergrads from under-represented backgrounds with MIT Political Science PhD students to collaborate on research. We also co-sponsored a panel discussion on systemic racism in academia; check out our reading list for bettering our understanding of systemic racism.

We hope you are safe and well, and we’d love to hear from you. Please drop us a line to catch up. (