We just passed the solstice up north, which means longer but colder days as the winter season officially starts. As part of our yearly tradition, our team looks back at all the stories from the last year and we vote for our favorites. (You can also see the top stories from 2020, 2019, 2018 and 2017).

Here are our top five picks as well as links to some runners up. Happy new year!

Don’t Build it: A Guide for Practitioners in Civic Tech by Luke Jordan. We loved this guide for its straight advice “Does this project need to happen? Probably not.” and also very practical recommendations. “If you just remember these… If you can avoiding building it, don’t; if you have to build it, hire a chief technology officer (CTO), ship early, and mature long; and if you can’t do that (or even if you can), draw on a trusted crew, build lean and fast, and get close to and build with your users as fast as possible.” In addition to the guide itself, the responses from notable civic tech and governance leaders made the publication even better, including Tiago Peixoto on DemocracySpot, Koketso Moeti in iAfrikan and World Economic Forum, Rustam Khan in The Tech, Lwazi Maseko for the Civic Tech Innovation Network, and the Stack Overflow Podcast.

Pandemics, Policy, and Privacy: A New Guide on Using Data During Crises by Will Sullivan and Innocent Ndubuisi-Obi Jr. This Q+A explores a new technical guide on how to use people’s movements to answer policy questions during crises while keeping data anonymous and private. This MIT News story gives the highlights, and you can check out the guide “Making the Most of Mobility Data (CDRs): A Guide for Policymakers” and a summary of the research results on the effectiveness of lockdowns in Sierra Leone (indeed the mobility data shows compliance).

Trust as a Prerequisite for Compliance: Assessing Trust in Sierra Leone During Covid-19 by Will Sullivan and Rodrigo Cordova-Ponce. The pandemic has shown the importance of trust and trustworthiness in implementing effective public health policies. Last year, we conducted two national surveys in Sierra Leone to help the government respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Findings from the second survey show how much trust people have in different authorities, which can inform how to best communicate public health measures and promote compliance. It’s also worth highlighting lessons learned about the challenges with reaching vulnerable communities during crises and how we tried to address these in our research design. 

Governance Innovation Bootcamp Culminates in Pitch Night by Will Sullivan. This project is part of a governance innovation initiative at MIT GOV/LAB created to combine tools from social science and human-centered design to make governments more accountable to citizens. We just kicked off the next iteration in Nigeria with some exciting media coverage from the Ekiti State Government, AllAfrica, the Nigerian Tribune, and more. 

Predicting Development Aid Outcomes with Machine Learning and Using AI to Finance the Things That Matter by Luke Jordan. These pieces, by MIT GOV/LAB’s practitioner-in-residence, were part of an exploratory research project looking at how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can advance democracy in the developing world (more on Luke’s exploration in a Q+A and specifically looking at graphing the world’s largest legal dataset). 

Look for some extra reading over break? As a final shout-out, congratulations to MIT GOV/LAB Director and Founder Professor Lily Tsai, who just published a new book “When People Want Punishment”, about how retributive justice helps authoritarians solidify public support. Get the quick take summaries on MIT News and the MIT Technology Review.

Photo by Elisa Coluccia on Unsplash.