Our research agenda includes a focus on technological interventions and how technology can build or hurt the relationship of trust between government and citizens.  Bridging the gap between citizens and government involves managing trust between these two entities.  Citizens’ trust in government has continued to decrease in many parts of the world, while governments have not been able to take actions that increase that trust.  

Coinciding with these trends, governments have moved to using more and more technology for governing purposes, including providing public services through digital modes, using digital information systems to gather information from citizens, asking citizens to report corruption, and gathering preferences from citizens. Technology thus becomes a mode through which governments can more efficiently govern, but at the same time, it can build trust or erode trust.

Below is an overview of technology-centered projects at MIT GOV/LAB:

  • Social implication of AI/ML: Professor Lily L. Tsai and Media Lab collaborator Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland won an MIT seed grant to probe the social implications of generative artificial intelligence. Their project will evaluate the benefits and risks of AI-augmented social media and deliberative democracy platforms, and technologies designed to overcome polarization, build trust, and enhance participation in an era of democratic backsliding. The paper “Generative AI for Pro-Democracy Platforms“ is available online
  • The future of AI/ML and governance. Luke Jordan, a 2021 MIT GOV/LAB practitioner-in-residence, recently published a working paper “Mind the Aid Effectiveness Gap” with the World Bank that highlights the importance of tailoring development projects to local contexts (check out the paper highlights). He shared takeaways from his residency on the potential for using AI/ML in civic and governance tech and published a policy paper on “AI and the Future of Government.”
  • Understanding the role of technology in bureaucratic work. In this project, we study the impact of technology’s role on governance in Sierra Leone’s public health bureaucracies. Specifically, we explore the use of the healthcare software, DHIS2, in Sierra Leone to understand how technology affects information collection, decision-making, and bureaucratic work. Paper forthcoming.
  • Digital public services. This project is a part of a collaboration with Busara, where we study the various ways that the Kenyan government implements digital public services. We explore the partnerships that the Kenya government engages in to make digital public services happen as well as the experiences of users of digital or in-person public services and ask whether these efforts help to increase trust in government and improve citizen relations with government.
  • Civic technology. Our team supported research to better understand the potential of civic technology projects in collaboration with the Omidyar network (see the recap here). Additionally, we collaborated with Grassroot, a civic technology group in South Africa, to better understand the possibility of teaching community organizers over WhatsApp. 
  • Graduate student research. Graduate research fellow, Jerik Cruz, is using machine learning tools to help build a large-scale database of government audits in the Philippines. Cruz has already used the data to identify transactions between local governments that may be associated with corruption, and other researchers may use the database in the future to study financial and accountability-related behavior. Jerik won the MIT Prize for Open Data for his project.

Photo by Albert Stoynov on Unsplash.